AH, comic books, precious memories of the past, when comic book adventures filled my mind and spurred on my imagination to greater heights. Sitting up in a cashew tree at the back of my yard, I soared among the planets on Superman's cape, battled the Joker through the streets of Gotham City with Batman, and fought the most amazing gunfights on the wagon trails with as pearly-handled a six-shooter as Kid Colt ever had.
The cashew tree was my escape lair, as we had to hide the comics from my mother who, for some odd reason, thought that the little books were education blockers and would lead her young children down the road to failure.
So we hid our comics under the mattress, sneaked out a couple at a time, and headed for the backyard where mother or no mother, a chance for an idyllic two hours of reading the forbidden stuff beckoned.
Ah, comics. Solace of my youth. They were to us what the television and the iPad mean for today's kids. And I can't say that the kids are the better for it.
In my days our adventures revolved around our superheroes who came flying out of the sky to right wrongs, save fair maidens, and represent goodness triumphing over evil, before riding or flying off into the sunset to return in another edition of a never-ending series.
Unless you were a collector, comics changed hands regularly — in the time it now takes to switch a channel. It seemed as if every "Chiney shop" in those days had a gallery of comics hanging by common pins and stretched out on a string above the counter. If we had no money, we would still spend valuable wow time staring up at the titles, the Marvel and Detective Comics (DC) brand names, and the colourful front covers tempting reader appetites to get between the pages and sort out the latest adventures of the Dynamic Duo, Wonder Woman, the Justice League of America, or the antics of Jerry Lewis or of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
In spite of my mother's watchful eye we were never short on comics. Francis, the son of the Chiney shop owner, was a good friend who would take the best comics off the shop rack and share a read with us around the back. We discovered that another friend, Rodriquez, had a treasure trove of the stuff, so his house became our main trading post. Two outdated Buck Rodgers for the latest Kit Carson. A new Roy Rogers could get you a loan of a Gene Autry, a Jesse James, and a Superman for an hour or so.
And amazingly, one Kid Colt was worth two Lone Rangers, although the Lone Ranger shared space with Tonto and Silver and was more like a three-in-one story.
Another hot trade-off was the picture cards of Hollywood stars that were enveloped in bubble gum packs. Those cards made a popular collection, and a set with Marilyn Munroe, Jane Russell, Stewart Granger, John Wayne, Joan Crawford, and the daring Ava Gardner — always wearing a bathing suit — could buy a whole wad of comics. A combo of Munroe, Crawford, and throw in a Robert Taylor, was worth a Gabby Hayes, Hopalong Cassidy, Durango Kid, and even a love comic like My Desire or The Romantic Thrills.
Originating in the United Sates in the late 1800s, the comic book contained everyday language that was easy to read, as well as slang, colour, and an action story in every section.
It was entertainment at its purest and, on reflection, Mom had nothing to worry about, unless it was the idea of the Phantom shacking up in a cave with Diana, or of Tarzan living with those pygmies in wildest Africa.
Comic book collection is a hallowed tradition and has a large following all around the world. In fact, there is an international Comic Book Collectors' Association (CBAC) registered in the State of California made up of enthusiasts who share an appreciation of the history and significance of the comic book medium. Members meet regularly to exchange the latest information and trends while helping to facilitate buying and trading.
Pardon if I boast, but the trading post of my youth behind Shim's shop in Four Paths must have been the forerunner of the CBAC.
Comics have an interesting history well known to collectors. The first 'real' comic strip is usually acknowledged to be The Yellow Kid, which debuted in 1895 in The New York World as a marketing tool for the newspaper. It worked, and generated other strips such as the Katzenjammer Kids and the famous Mutt and Jeff.
The first comic book as we know it was created in 1933, Funnies on Parade, and became the format of modern comic books.
The introduction of Superman in 1938 turned comic books into a major industry and started what is called the Golden Age of Comics. DC comics, in turn, introduced Batman in 1939, and the popularity of superheroes in that era led to Wonder Woman, Captain America, The Flash, and Green Lantern.
The Silver Age followed into the early 1970s with Spider-Man, Stan Lee and The Fantastic Four leading the way.
Comic book sales declined in the late 1970s from competition from television. The answer was to turn to licensing out characters to television for revenue, and DC and Marvel enjoyed soaring profits from Saturday cartoons such as Super Friends as well as the Wonder Woman series, while Marvel licensed out the Incredible Hulk.
The downward trend was broken in the 1990s when the book industry began marketing new issues of comic books such as Spider-Man and the X-Men as future collector items.
With the roaring successes of Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman as box-office runaways, the comic heroes have been re-energised and books have once again emerged as a major force in a computerised culture.
But you can keep your modern superheroes, as for me I will always thrill to the magic of opening a good cowboy western.
Those western heroes had a life and career of their known. Hopalong Cassidy's career can be traced from 1942 to 1959 in a series under different mastheads and publishers. He gave the children of the 50s the thrill of riding the plains with him until he was replaced by Bill Boyd, he of the old yellow shirt, white hat, tan pants, and two guns blazing.
Rocky Lane of the 1950s shared his comic book series with Lash Larue (the king of the bullwhip), Wild Bill Hitchcock, Smiley Burnette. These are familiar names to early movie-goers as our heroes sometimes played star roles in films like Wagon Raid, Rustlers on Horseback, Vigilante Hideout, giving rise to the sobriquet 'comic movies'.
We idolise the westerns, but in my time were not aware of the black cowboys like Lobo and the Rawhide Kid who finally made it into the comic books in the late 1960s. History now informs us that three out of every five cowboys were Mexican, Indian American, or Afro-American, yet they only were given minor and sub-servient roles.
Lone Ranger's faithful manservant Tonto, an Indian, got his own back in a story where the pair is completely surrounded by gun-slinging Indians ready to finish them off.
"Well Tonto, this is it", admits the Lone Ranger.
"For you, Kemo Sabbay, for you", says Tonto, as he deserts the Ranger and rides across the ridge to team up with his Indian pals.
Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org