This is a trip down memory lane. As Baby Boomers, our reading choices were very limited when we were young, compared to the vast range of children’s literature available today. We read one school reader per year, mostly page after page of print, with very few line drawings. Then there was the old ‘School Magazine’, a publication of the Education Department. It did not take much time to read.
At home, we had an assortment of old favourite books. We received a new book for our birthdays and for Christmas gifts. A new book! Eagerly devoured and reread many times. Then joy! We were allowed to purchase a comic book with our weekly ‘pocket money’. This was an anticipated delight.
We read our colourful superhero comics and swapped our issues. Superman, The Phantom, Batman, Aquaman, Spiderman, The Green Arrow and so many more superheroes. There was also Dagwood and Blondie. In Australia, Footrot Flats. But our favourite were those superheroes – Truth, Justice and the American Way.
It was all so appealing – fantasy in colour, with captions. The comics in the newspapers early on led to the golden age of comic books. These were inexpensive and colourful, bringing young people and adults back to reading. This age of comic books in the 20th century noted many changes of styles and subjects, with revivals and declines in popularity.
These comic books of our youth had a clear style and showed us battles between good and evil. Our superheroes had quests and dramatic conquests, always beating the villains who were driven by their greed for money or world power. It was truly dreaming for the readers, who believed we could grow up to attain super powers and turn into comic book heroes. We somehow thought we could escape middle suburbia – our daily life – and enter adventures.
Superman really set this style, with ripped muscles, a cape, skin tight leggings and miraculous powers. The stories were straightforward with basic images and the art in the cartoons came in little squares with lots of dialogue, but we loved them.
Part of the whole delight of our comic book purchases was the advertisements they contained. If we wrote a stamped, self-addressed envelope and mailed it to a zip code in the United States, we would receive a strange device to turn us into Mr Atlas! Why did we want to turn into a giant body builder called Mr Atlas? The magic of the whole comic book – heroes, of course!
Then we could send more stamped self-addressed envelopes and receive a packet of dried sea monkeys, which were supposed to resume life and swim in a fish tank. We never found out what they were. “Waste of a stamp!” is all our mother declared. Quite right. It all added to the ambience of reading our comics, such a favourite. All while chewing chewy bars, assorted toffees or chocolates, which these days would drag out all our fillings! They are probably why we had to have fillings!
If only we had kept our comics. These days a once commonplace original Superman or The Phantom comic is now worth a fortune. There is a specialist niche market for the collection of old comic books of our youth. The comics are protected in plastic sleeving, or pasted on cardboard, for preservation. They are worth heaps!