By Chuk Suffel
I can't remember when comics became part of my life.
I feel like there was always at least one or two lying around. I have some beat up, coverless Kamandi and Two-Gun Kid books whose lineage I'll never trace. My older sister had an Archie or two but they didn't hold my attention. Though neither of my parents were fans of comic books both were avid readers and encouraged me endlessly to read (encouraged = dumped mountains of "classics" on my head). So I drifted through my childhood into my teens reading the occasional comic book, loving them but not having the money or opportunity to purchase comics regularly.
Then came high-school.
Like many, high-school was my first true taste of autonomy. I took the bus and train to school everyday. I soon realized that if I spent a little less at lunch I'd have a little more to spend at Les' Candy Store on my way home.
The store was a throwback. It was a newsstand, candy store and (even in the 80's) sported a soda fountain. Les was the type of guy who didn't mind you sitting at the counter drinking a cherry coke and reading the comics, as long as you bought one. Comics became important here, and Chris Claremont's X-men became my family. We had the same issues, family problems, and clashes with authority. I ate it up.
Twenty some odd years and hundreds of comics later I was like many collectors out there: buying the series that interested me and following certain characters, artists, writers. There are many titles that affected me on various levels, many I'll never forget. I was by no means what I would consider a comic book geek; I've never had the type of mind that retained things like what color turtleneck Oliver Queen was wearing when he got shipwrecked. I envy that level of fandom. But I loved comics.
I even had a fleeting brush with writing them thanks to a friend. Juan, an artist who worked on biographical comics for a small local company had received a script he just couldn't work with. Somehow he convinced his editor to let me rewrite the script, so got as many books on the celebrity as I could. We threw out the old script and I started writing. It was a blast. I had written in grammar School, wrote the inevitable bad poetry and short stories in high school but this was so much better. Seeing my words and descriptions interpreted by an artist was surreal. I had known from the start I wouldn't see credit on that project. It had been fun though, and my dreams of writing my own book seemed more real.
Those dreams culminated in a midnight brainstorming sessions at the diner with a few of my friends. Juan, myself and a few other guys created characters, a story, and a universe. But the idea of self publication? In the early 90's we didn't even know where to start, and after seeing how that local company treated its writers and artists I didn't see much hope. Those dreams got further away as work and family became more real.
Then in 2011 things changed.
I had been collecting more heavily in recent years, and even had a pull list at Royal Collectibles in Forest Hills, NY. My friend Diane, who works there, was always one to steer me toward new and interesting stuff. She took pains to point out the small press stuff, but I wasn't an easy sell. My tastes were still in the Marvel vein. Though she had steered me toward collecting some of the Bat family titles I was still resistant to the idea of the "indie publisher". One of the books she had recommended was American Dark Age; it was not only small press but also written by a local.
I don't remember why I didn't pick it up. I probably passed simply because it wasn't my usual fare.
New York Comic Con 2011 was a real blast. I met many cool people, saw amazing stuff. As I walked through the aisles searching far and wide for interesting stuff I ran into Juan. He told me in no uncertain terms there was a book I needed to see, and brought me to MegaBrain Comics table. Meeting those guys and seeing them doing it was an eye-opener. They had their first issue for sale, I recognized the book and now with the push from another friend I picked it up.
That night on the train home I pulled out my haul and flipped through the stuff I'd picked up. Among them was American Dark Age #1. At first glance? Not really my thing. It had a 2000 AD / Heavy Metal kind of feel that I had little experience with outside of Judge Dredd. But the more I read, the more I enjoyed. The writing was excellent, and the art? It was different, decidedly not mainstream. Like Les' Candy Store all those years ago, I ate it up.
At that moment I knew I had to tell people about this book. I guess I'd been looking for an outlet for years really, something I felt I could contribute to. But it was that book that launched my website whatchareading.com and led to a forum where I could tell people about books they just shouldn't miss. More importantly, American Dark Age made me a rabid advocate for the self-published. It made me realize that there is some really good solid stuff out there that people need to know exists.
If you ask the people at Royal Collectibles they'll tell you that I started as a total Marvel fanboy. Since that NYCC? The smaller presses have gotten more and more of my money. Kickstarter is a good friend of mine. And at comic book conventions? I love the panels and I love the signings. But if you want to find me look in artist alley or at the small publishers tables. I'm wandering around looking for that next great and unheard of book. The next book that may make me love comics even more... if that's even possible.
As for my own book? That may never come to pass but as long as there are good titles out there I'll keep writing and one day...who knows?
Want to read more from Chuck Suffel? You can always find him here.