June 26, 2012
Seduction of the Innocent

   I don't remember a time when I didn't love comic books. I do remember my first one. It's almost like a lightbulb went off in my head and my life didn't start until then. Maybe I have tunnel vision but it's beyond me how they don't hypnotize everybody like they do me. Especially now that there's more variety offered now than in the past 30 years or so. From my point of view, I'm flummoxed that all kids don't fall in love with comic books. It must be like when I'm at a doctor's office, trying in vain to read Golf Digest or Car and Driver magazines. They might as well be written in a foreign language to me! It seems you either have the comic book gene or you don't.

   My first comic was, oddly enough, purchased at a hospital gift shop. My dad was having back problems and, while my mom and I were visiting, I was given some money to buy something at the shop. An issue of Captain America, with a candy-colored logo and backgrounds, caught my eye. I must've reread it a dozen times over the week. Then my mom tossed it away, not out of malice, but she figured it was like a newspaper, disposable. I was crestfallen but got over it somehow.

   Then I spent a Summer with my grandparents in Lakeland, Florida where my grandmother ("Mom-mom") walked me to the 7-11 to buy me comics and a slurpee. Not wanting to take too much advantage of her generousity, I carefully selected six even though I wanted the whole spinner rack. I picked mostly Marvels, and one Wonder Woman. I started out a "Marvel Zombie" probably because Marvel's trade dress was more garish, appealing to me more than DC's photorealistic Neal Adams and Nick Cardy covers, not to mention the scary DC horror titles. Even Marvel's horror titles had a super-hero sheen that seemed safe to me. DC titles like Jonah Hex and Swamp Thing were too grown up for me at the time(When I was older, I began buying DC's when a lot of Marvel talent like Gene Colan had defected there. After DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the indie comics explosion of the 1980's I wasn't as brand-loyal anymore).

   Back to Lakeland: I found the first Marvel Treasury Edition featuring Spider-Man at a second hand store, which cemented me as a fanboy for life. I began drawing my own comics that entire Summer. I even made my first sale, to a kid I played with, a few houses away. I sold him one of my homemade comics for a quarter. I felt quite accomplished, until later that afternoon, the kid came back crying to my grandparents, saying his mom was upset with the transaction. Mom-Mom gave him back my quarter. I was furious! My first exposure to capitalism, quashed!

   After that Summer, I started trading comics with my friends from the neighborhood, Ricky, Rob and Brian. We had no idea of financial value of comics, we just traded cover price - that concept seems archaic now! Then in school at Christmas time, we had a grab bag present exchange and I got a classic model car kit. But classmate Chuckie got 3 comics, a Spider-man, a Captain America and a Fantastic Four(actually an FF reprint, Marvel's Greatest Comics)! Even though I had built my share of models, I was mesmerized at these new comics that Chuckie had. So we traded our gifts, both feeling we got the better of each other in the end. Monetarily, the model was worth a lot more, but I had to feed the beast!

   I also remember being around ten years old, hanging around with my older brother and his friends who were playing pool in our basement. While one of said friends was waiting for his turn to play the winner, he read one of my Iron Man comics. I was stunned to see this, an older teenager reading a comic (this is decades before our now-acceptable geek chic). He read the whole issue, put it down, disgusted, complaining:"I hate when they're continued next issue!" That never bothered me. It just made me look forward to next month-how was Iron Man going to defeat the Controller?

   It would be another year or two before I started becoming a serious collector and stopped trading. It didn't matter, because Rick, Rob and Brian had begun to lose interest as we were entering Junior High (that's what they used to call Middle School for you young'uns).

   My drawing skills improved when I learned how to copy others's work. Being a fan of The Avengers, I decided to draw a jam piece featuring everyone who'd been an Avenger up to that point (back when they had standards-I mean Dr. Druid, really?). I was aping George Perez, John and Sal Buscema. I remember it coming out surprisingly well, considering I didn't have a lightbox. Back then my tools were only Bic pens and magic markers, all kept in a Titan cigar box.

   Another Christmas, my parents got me a set of quill pens, ink and some Dr. Martin dyes, which I had read somewhere was how they used to color comics (before the advent of computer coloring). With this upgrade in equipment, I tried more ambitious illustrations, this time without referencing others' art. They weren't as good as the Avengers piece, but I was trying to take the training wheels off. One was a Doctor Doom piece, the other a Micronauts piece. My parents were very proud of my burgeoning skills and would have me show off my art when guests would come over. My parents really liked the Avengers piece more(because it was better due to my swipes), but I would stew over that fact. I started bringing out only the Doom and Micronauts pieces, and my dad would innocently say: "No, Drew, bring out the good (Avengers) one". I would eventually comply, but I had begun to develop a surly and defeatist attitude. Eventually, one day, dad wanted me to bring out the "good one", and I informed him that I tore it up(I actually did it!). My folks were livid! Looking back, it was a stupid thing to do. Chalk it up to artistic temperament.

   In my early teens, I became close friends with Deerwood, who shared my passion for comics, and we would write and draw our own, and we spent countless hours plotting how our comics were going to crossover in a shared universe like Marvel and DC's. I had drawn my own comics when I was seven, but these new ones with Deerwood, were more advanced (for me, anyway). I had managed to write, pencil, ink and color 3 issues of the "Cosmic Crusaders" before I started attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. So I had to put my comic drawing aside to learn other things like perspective, lettering and packaging design.

   After graduating AIP, I took a production job doing promotional brochures for a toxic-waste disposal company, of all things. It was during this time that earning a paycheck was more important to me than living my comic book dreams, so I, in another fit of foolishness, threw away all of my homemade comics. I really, really regret that. I'd be posting that stuff on Facebook now.

   After several jobs where I learned pre-press production and developed a steady enough hand, I finally got the nerve to send art submissions to Marvel, DC, Image and others. This time I wasn't going to let artistic temperament get the best of me. It took a few years of rejection to sharpen my skills and finally make the big time. As I've said before, there's nothing like the first time seeing your name in the credits of a comic book.

   One final note: Early on in my marriage, I tried to get my wife Karen to read the occasional comic book that I thought would be considered cool. She was reticent to read any, even ones that I worked on, knowing that for most of comics' existence, it's been boy-oriented smashface. I decided to try to impress her with Birds of Prey #8, the issue that established Oracle's romance with guest-star Nightwing. but after she read it, I was met with , well, not quite indifference, but not the enthusiasm I was looking for either. She did say it was very nice the way one approves of a friend's puppy. If it were a National Geographic or a Jane Austin novel, that'd be a different story. Actually, that's unfair. She did actually read an entire trade paperback of Sam & Max Freelance Police by Steve Purcell because she enjoyed the comedy and artwork. But I've since stopped trying to convert her to reading any comics on a regular basis. I, on the other hand, have no hope of outgrowing comics. No sense pushing my agenda on her. She supports the craziness of the freelance artist lifestyle, so I really can't ask for more.
All characters & their images are property of their respective copyright holders. All original content (c) Drew Geraci. Please request permission before reprinting or reposting elsewhere.