My Geek History Part 2: Comic Books

The sad fool had previously shared his descent into the abyss of geekery known as board gaming. Now, be prepared for a far more sordid tale: the history of this young lad’s folly in the realm of sin known as comic books.

Part 2: Comic Books

“I believe the first comic book I ever read was Doraemon. Doraemon is a huge cultural phenomenon in Asian countries, and Malaysia is no exception. The quirky little gadgets pulled out of the 4-Dimensional pocket of a blue cat robot from the future stoked the fires of my young imagination and lead to my lifelong love of comics and science fiction in general. Who has never wished to own a “Pintu Suka Hati” (Anywhere Door, essentially a teleportation device), or fly around with “Buluh Terbang” (Helicopter Thingy/Take-Copter!)? I remember how cheap those comics were back in Malaysia, around RM 3.50 – RM 5. This was the main reason I read those comics, as they were affordable to a little kid with not much pocket money. Yeah, I knew about Spider-man and Superman from the cartoons but I never considered buying American comics as they were rarely available or if they were, weren’t cheap.

Comics House and Tora Aman were the two main publishers of Malay-translated manga (still are, I think) in Malaysia and I ate up pretty much anything they printed. Doraemon, Crayon Shin Chan, Ranma 1/2, Detective Conan, Dragon Quest, Dragon Ball, GTO, Get Backers, Rurouni Kenshin, Slam Dunk, Dr. Slump, Hunter x Hunter and One Piece were all manga that I collected and read back then. The really influential ones were Doraemon, Dragon Quest, GTO, Rurouni Kenshin, and One Piece. Those were the ones I would never miss, and I would always save up my pocket money and rush to the little convenience stores right next to my primary school to get the latest issues.

The only English comics I owned when I was younger were the Calvin and Hobbes collections. I cherished those, especially the ones with the beautiful colour pages. I still remember receiving my first Calvin and Hobbes book as a present. I think it was “Something Under the Bed is Drooling”. Calvin and Hobbes books were a big thing, since I couldn’t buy them on my own and had to wait to ask my parents to buy me new ones, but each one was a delight. I don’t think I ever owned any other collections of newspaper strips, since Calvin and Hobbes was my favourite by far. I always left it to last when reading the comic strips.

Wait, I lie. I also owned collections of Lat comics. However, since I was too young to appreciate the political /current affairs cartoons I never really considered the Lat comics as newspaper strips. I associated Lat more with the Kampung Boy and Town Boy series, which are just amazing collections. If you ever have the chance, I would highly encourage you to look them up. I think they may be some of the best Malaysian comics ever made. They’re certainly classics in Malaysia, but since the stories are autobiographical some of the references to Malaysian culture may get a bit lost (I’m not actually sure as to how accurate they are, but I don’t think that really matters. What matters is that the essence of the story seems to ring true). It’s definitely not representative of a “common” Malaysian experience, but I could certainly identify with it more than stories set in other countries.

My first real exposure to the Marvel and DC superhero comics were through the Saturday morning cartoons of the 90s: Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men and WildC.A.T.s. However, I was never really interested in reading the comics as they were not as easy to find. Also, why read the comics when I could watch them duke it out in all their animated glory? I do remember reading some Clone Saga Spider-Man issues at Pizza Hut somehow. I think some Pizza Huts used to have a few copies of comics back then?

My next forays into comics happened with the huge wave of webcomics in the late 90s and early 00s. I remember I started out reading Penny Arcade and Megatokyo but I have no idea how or when I started exactly. From those first few comics, I sought out links to other webcomics and ended up reading a fair amount of them. Some other webcomics I remember reading from back then were Exploitation Now, PvP Online, Inktank, RPG World, Little Gamers, Mac Hall and Strings of Fate. I still read webcomics regularly to this day, but my reading list has obviously changed since some of the early comics have either completed or were abandoned and I’ve discovered more to add to my list. Webcomics were my stepping stone to other printed comics, since webcomics creators sometimes made reference to other comic works which piqued my curiosity.

Finally, one fateful day I somehow stumbled upon scans_daily. Oh scans_daily, I would not be the comic book reader I am today if not for you. Scans_daily taught my how to be snarky about comics; it taught me how to poke fun at comics; it taught me how to look for and appreciate the really weird and/or dodgy happenings in comics; most importantly, it taught me how to love comics. The posters on scans_daily really knew how to share their enthusiasm for comics that they loved, and sought to share that love with others. Yes, I was also a cheapskate who didn’t want to pay for comics at that time, but I also thought that scans_daily did a great job of highlighting the bits of mainstream comics that were amazing, and allowed me to gloss over some of the not-so-great material. I also loved the posts that tried to put together highlights from a particular character’s history as it allowed me to appreciate the great character work that had been done for that character without having to hunt down all the actual comics.

The other important thing that scans_daily did amazingly well was highlight less mainstream comic books that I would never have known of otherwise. Oddly enough, I never tought to search for torrents of comic books. Part of it is due to seeing some of the passion the fans on scans_daily had in supporting their favourite series, but the other main reason I will explain later. I think almost every single book that I bought in the early 2000s was directly as a result of having seen bits of it along with great commentary on scans_daily. Series that I picked up directly because of scans_daily include: Invincible, Fables, The Losers, Powers, Marvel Adventures, X-Men: First Class, Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle, Empowered, Nextwave, Top 10 and there are probably others I can’t remember right now. I think since a lot of scans_daily posts I remember were made to promote and discuss less-mainstream comic titles, my tastes were influenced to lean toward those. Also, those series were usually shorter or had just started which gave me a more accessible jumping on point.

The other main factor that lead to me becoming an avid comic book fan is the Rowden White Library. When I first stepped into Rowden White in 2005, I knew I had found my second home. I devoured everything I could find in the comic book sections. Transmetropolitan, Fables, Powers, Moonshadow, Concrete, Sin City, Rocketo, Sandman, Astro City, Watchmen, Batman, Superman, Ultimate Spider-Man, Young Justice, Green Lantern, DC: The New Frontier, V for Vendetta, Flight, the list just goes on and on and on. I would research recommended series on scans_daily, and the next day I would head to Rowden White to borrow them or I would just head over to Rowdy between classes and randomly pick out comics that looked interesting. I really feel incredibly lucky to have had access to such a great library so easily available. Also, since Rowdy usually only had trades available my preference has been to also buy in trades rather than single issues of comics since that was how I had become accustomed to reading comics.

I was also fortunate to have met some friends in uni who shared my interest in comic books and we could share recommendations and discuss stories. Daniel in particularly has been a great resource for recommendations and allowing me to borrow books off him.

Finally, my next big influence is the Major Spoilers crew and their podcast. I stumbled upon them while looking for 4E D&D podcasts to help me get started in setting up my game. I started listening to Critical Hit, and when I saw they also had a comics podcast and had done podcasts regarding comics that I liked I started listening to that podcast too. As I usually prefer to read non-mainstream DC and Marvel comics, their coverage of those titles helped me to keep abreast of happenings in those properties and helped me decide what stories I wanted to pursue. I found my tastes aligning with their recommendations pretty well, and I have made a few purchases based on their reviews and discussions. The Goon, The Escapists, and Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors are some of the more recent purchases I have made based on their reviews.

And that brings me to today. Writing a blog post about how I got into reading comic books. There are so many great books I read in Rowdy that I want to eventually own, and even more wonderful stories I want to read, and still more being written and drawn every day. I feel like it really is a great time to be a fan of comic books, as there is a lot of amazing work that has and is being produced. So, look forward to some reviews and recommendations of comics that I enjoy and I hope you will enjoy them too.”

5 responses to “My Geek History Part 2: Comic Books

  1. In much the same way, you have been such a strong foothold into the world of comics. And perhaps even moreso, board games. Daniel too, but my preferences are for less dark, more humour, more camp.

    I look forward to future teachings should you be so kind as to bestow them upon me.

    And it really freaks me out how your music tastes are identical to mine…

  2. You give me us too much credit. Anyhoos, if you like humour and amazingness you really should check out Atomic Robo (if Rahul ever gets Volume 1 & 2 back to me, you can borrow the whole set). For something a little campier, you should check out the Marvel Adventures: Avengers series. It’s an all-ages book, and it has some pretty wonderful “Why The Face?” moments: e.g. Snakes on a Quinjet, the MODOC Avengers, Spidey and Giant Girl playing “World of Slaycraft”. It’s a little bit like the Brave and the Bold, but for Marvel.

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