by KC Carlson
Hello from the Outer Banks of North Carolina!
You’re supposed to be reading the epilogue to Never-Ending Story (which WILL end next week after I get home). The reason you’re not reading it now is because A) just hours after arriving at the vacation house, I succumbed to some mysterious illness which caused my head to feel like it was on fire, while the rest of my body was freezing (despite it being in the mid-90’s, temperature-wise, outside), B) in my feverish state, I managed to accidentally sit on my glasses, completely smooshing them (and breaking one of the lenses), and C) I’m in a beach house that appears to only have internet access when the wind is blowing at 22 1/2 mph in a southwesterly direction (which it is not).
So I’m sitting here with my face two inches from the computer screen (who thinks to bring back-up glasses to the beach?!), dripping sweat into my keyboard while typing with my mostly blue fingers, and without access to needed research to complete the complicated article I had planned. Instead of dwelling on this nonsense, I thought I’d talk instead about comics on vacation.
Some of my favorite comic reading has been done on vacation. When I was a wee lad, my parents would thoughtfully load me up with comic books for the long car trip to a vacation cabin in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin. My favorites were the DC 80-Page Giants (especially the Batman, Flash, or Justice League issues) or the giant-sized Mad specials — either called The Worst From Mad or More Trash From Mad. These usually had some kind of special addition, like stamps or bumper stickers or stencils (do they still make stencils?), or occasionally something really cool like the Mad Mobile (which I later discovered hung in the Mad office reception area) or a Mad flexi-disc (which wasn’t all that flexible as they were actually “printed” on really stiff cardboard). Of course, I couldn’t actually listen to the record until I got home, which made the the vacation seem like it lasted forever!
Back in those days, comics distribution was kind of spotty, so going to a new area meant that you could possibly find comics you never knew existed before. That’s how I first encountered comics from publishers Charlton, King, and the bizarre Harvey superhero books, like Bee-Man and Jack Q. Frost and something called Fighting American, who looked like Captain America, except it was funny and had really strange villains. Years later, I finally realized that Fighting American was actually by the same guys (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) who created Captain America.
Of course, because of poor distribution, sometimes I couldn’t find my usual favorites while on vacation, which made holes in my collection, many of which I didn’t find until years later, when I was old enough to go to comic conventions by myself. Which made it really hard when I missed the second part of a two-part story — like the Legion of Super-Heroes story where a bunch of the Legionnaires were killed at the end of Part 1. I finally got to read how they survived a decade later. Of course, I had later issues where the characters turned up alive, but somehow that didn’t matter.
The best part of vacation were those times when we checked into our cabin and discovered that previous renters had left behind stacks of well-read comic books. A lot of these were so-called “kids’ comics” — most of them Dell or Gold Key, featuring myriad animated characters in a four-color, motionless, and soundless medium. Some characters translated oddly to comics. Mute in the cartoons, the Road Runner and Coyote series was one of the odder comic books, firstly because they now talked, and the Road Runner (named Beep Beep for the comics) always spoke in rhyme. As did his wife (Matilda) and their three sons! (Shades of Huey, Dewey and Louie!) In his first comic book appearance, the Coyote was named Kelsey, and later, one story indicated that his middle initial (“E”) stood for Ethelbert — neither of which obviously became canon.
I read a ton of comics like this when I was very young, and I stopped when I discovered superheroes. (You couldn’t buy everything with a 25-cent allowance!) But I always loved this second chance to go back and read Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories by the “good duck artist” (Carl Barks), when I was a little older and could appreciate them more.
It was also during one of these summer vacations when I first fell in love with Archie. (Well, Archie comics, anyway, although I did have a huge crush on Betty Cooper which continues to this day.) There were always plenty of Archie comics in the pass-along piles in the cabins, and a family friend, several years older than me, gave her Archie collection to me when boys and water skiing became more interesting for her. I think she noticed that I read her Archie comics over and over every year when we came up to the woods.
Archie was the perfect comic for summer vacations. The Archie creators were incredibly smart to set their stories in the season in which they were published, so the comics that came out in the summer months were full of fun seasonal activities — going to the beach, hanging out at the Lodge’s pool, water fights, surfing, cookouts, summer jobs, camping, baseball, bicycle riding, and other typical teenage summer activities. Oh, and lots of Dan DeCarlo swimsuit Pin-Ups, too!
As an adult, summer vacations aren’t always as much fun as they were when I was a kid (especially this year!), and the big baskets of pass-along comics seem to be a thing of the past. But I can instantly bring back those great summer memories, just by picking up and re-reading one of those great old comics. Hope you kept all yours!
KC CARLSON says everyone should own at least one comic book with the words “Summer Fun” in the title!
Classic comic covers used in this come from the Grand Comics Database.