On History: Remember Those Old Comics?

By | Tuesday, March 07, 2017 Leave a Comment
Like a lot of avid readers I know, I usually have several books that I'm reading more or less simultaneously. I keep two or three in the nightstand by my bed, one or two in my laptop bag, a small pile on the desk in my library, plus whatever I've got on my Kindle at the moment. Which books end up in which spot depends in part on how/when/where I might end up reading them. Hardcovers or otherwise heavy books tend not to find their way into my laptop bag, since those are books I read while in transit and I don't want to carry around the extra weight. The stuff on my nightstand, by contrast, tend to be larger because I'm sitting comfortably in bed when I read those.

Anyway, I'm frequently scanning my bookshelves and long boxes for replacements as I read through things. I figure I've only read about half of everything in my collection, so there's plenty to choose from. But what strikes me is how often I'll spy a title that I don't immediately recognize and think, "This doesn't look familiar. I bet it's one of Dad's old books." But then when I pull it down and flip through it, I'll recall reading the story (although I won't always recall the story itself!) and remember that it's some book I picked up cheaply at a Half Price Books or something only a year earlier. Obviously, it wasn't a memorable story.

But I've also had instances where I come across some comic that I've had for thirty years or more, but haven't looked at in at least twenty years, and yet I can remember curiously distinct details. Hell, I purchased a piece of original Kurt Schaffenberger art recently because I remembered that particular page so vividly from my youth, despite it coming from a pretty lousy back-up story.

And yet, I couldn't tell you why I have a copy of Green Lantern: No Fear, what it might be about, or whether I've actually read it. But there it is, sitting on my shelf. (A subsequent search on my blog reveals that I bought it in a major discount bin back in 2007. Still no idea if I ever read it though.)

That doesn't mean that the stories I read as a kid were necessarily better -- just that several factors are different that predispose more recent reads to become more forgettable. To wit...
  1. When I was a kid, I had read far fewer books obviously. It's easier to store them in long-term memory if you don't have decades of other books in there as well.
  2. The earlier books got re-read more often. I had more time than money back then, and wound up re-reading books several times because I couldn't afford new ones. These days, I've got more books than I have time to read, so re-reading very rarely occurs.
  3. As a child, we tend to be more impressionable in general. So whatever we come across is more likely to leave a memorable impression than anything we see as adults.
  4. But, most significantly, I think, because I had read fewer books, many of the ideas presented in those early days seemed fresh, even if they weren't. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" isn't a funny joke to you because you've heard it a million times. But it could be hilarious to a five year old who's never heard it before!
There are any number of ideas, visuals, and even cliches that struck me as a child, but I later learned were merely continuations or references to earlier material. And, interestingly, there were things that were genuinely new, but I didn't appreciate them for as innovative as they were because EVERYTHING that I came across seemed new and innovative. That's why, when I finally read the Galactus trilogy, it didn't have a particularly large impact -- I had already read dozens of Galactus stories by that point, and had even seen him physically beaten.

My point is really just that we sometimes ascribe more power to works just because of when we encountered them, not because they were necessarily better or more original than what we see today.
Newer Post Older Post Home