By Walton Simons
Although I haven’t done a survey of my fellow Wild Card authors, I’m guessing many have been (perhaps still are) comic book fans. Wild Cards was technically birthed from a game, but its origins clearly arise from the seemingly endless supply of four-color heroes and villains who’ve inhabited the pages of comic books over the course of many decades.
My personal history with comic books begins somewhere in the late 1950s. I don’t remember the first comic I ever read. My memory is good, but not that good. However, I’m almost certain what the occasion was. Every year, sometimes twice a year, my family would drive from our home in Austin across the Louisiana state line to visit my mom’s relatives in Baton Rouge. This was before the Interstate highway system was completed and it was a long haul, over eight hours. With four kids and two parents in the car, it was wise for Mom and Dad to give us trouble-making kids something to do. There were license plate games and look-at-that-over-there, but no way was that keeping the four of us occupied all the way to Baton Rouge. So at some point one of the grownups figured it would be a good idea to buy a few comics to keep us busy. Disney was the gold standard for kid-friendly entertainment, so that was what we got. If there were Mickey Mouse comic books I don’t remember them, but Uncle Scrooge made a real impression on my young mind. I had no idea who Carl Barks was, or that he was a genius, but I loved Scrooge McDuck. One story in particular, “The Money Champ”, stuck in my mind. In addition to Scrooge, Donald, and the nephews, it featured Flintheart Glomgold, two huge piles of money, and shrinking juice. A Donald Duck story, “The Titanic Ants,” also holds a special place in my memory.
I couldn’t say when I started to get a bit of input into what comic books made the journey with us, but I can pretty much guarantee my first selection was an issue of Turok, Son of Stone. Turok and Andar were two Native Americans who had stumbled into a forbidden valley with dinosaurs: lots of dinosaurs. At that point in my life there was nothing I loved more than dinosaurs. There were also prehistoric pygmies, giants, poison arrows. . . and who cares. I mean, dinosaurs!In addition to boatloads of dinosaurs, or “honkers” as Turok and Andar called them, Turok had fabulous painted covers. So every trip I lobbied for Turok to come along with us.
At some point I got old enough to ride my bicycle up to the local drug store, usually accompanied by friends. In the back was a soda fountain and a rack of comic books. So now, as I nursed my cherry coke or cherry phosphate and shot the breeze with my pals, I could read a few comics. I was still stuck on Uncle Scrooge and Turok, but also branched out to comic adaptions of movies and occasionally Classics Illustrated. Most of those were a bit sophisticated for my young mind, but certain titles like The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, were worth reading and re-reading.
The first super-hero comic I read was Journey into Mystery#101, featuring Thor vs. Zarrko. I’d recently been immersing myself in Greek and Norse mythology and this was too good to be true, so I chose it for one of our trips. The Thor story was a two-parter. Sadly, I didn’t get to read the second part. In fact the next Thor I read was Journey into Mystery#113, for next year’s summer vacation. Something happened within the next 12 months, because by then I was devouring most of the Marvel super-hero titles. I’m guessing my allowance went up, or I started earning money from mowing lawns. My favorite was Fantastic Four. During the first year I followed FF, the comic introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, Silver Surfer, and the Black Panther. Few titles have had a run like that. In any case I was a total junkie. And there was great fun in knowing that any Marvel character could pop up in any comic book in the Marvel Universe.
In those days, Marvel and DC were like Ford and Chevrolet or Hertz and Avis. Kids tended to have brand loyalty one way or the other. I was on the Marvel team, obviously. I wasn’t a member of the MMMS (Merry Marvel Marching Society) but I did have MMMS stationery. A friend next door, however, collected DC superhero comics. So I read those when I was visiting. He was heavy on Legion of Super-Heroes, but there was also a Batman comic with the title “Robin Dies at Dawn.” It looked great. The cover was Batman carrying Robin’s corpse across a gaudy alien landscape. The rub, of course, was that Robin didn’t die at dawn, or any other time of day.
This was my first experience with the faux comic book death. Something Wild Cards doesn’t do. Dead is dead in our universe. It didn’t turn me off DC, since it soon became obvious Marvel played the same game. Eventually I succumbed and started reading DC comics, too. My DC favorites tended to be the less popular titles: the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Metal Men, and the ‘war that time forgot’ issues of Star-Spangled War Stories, because dinosaurs. A couple of decades later I wrote a pair of stories for DC comics, thanks to an introduction from fellow Wild Carder Bob Wayne. They didn’t know that I’d been a Marvel loyalist back in the day, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
I was too young to read EC comics as a kid, but luckily Warren Publishing brought those days back to life with Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella. To be honest, I didn’t read Vampirella(or the excellent but short-lived Blazing Combat) because the Warrens were magazines and cost 35 cents. The black-and-white horror stories in Creepyand Eeriealso hit my sweet spot. I’d never seen anything like them before. Not to mention that they were beautifully illustrated. Soon, they too were stacking up in my closet.
My love of comic books grew out of my love for other things: dinosaurs, mythology, monsters, and horror. Growing up without comics would have been dreary indeed. Did my near-addiction to comics — okay, addiction — as a kid put me on a path to becoming a Wild Cards writer? Probably. This is a tip of the hat and big “thank you” to the talented people who produced them. My childhood was so much more exciting because of their work.
Hopefully, some Wild Cards readers feel the same way about us.