Friday, 7 March 2014

Old comics smell good.

My name is Russell Payne and I love old comics.

Comics offer a unique opportunity halfway between film and book to tell a visually rich story that can be savoured or rushed, packed with detail, speaking to both hemispheres of the brain at the same time, and by happy co-incidence, they often feature robots, aliens and superheroes.

Most new comics though, they don’t do much for me, what I really love is old comics. Specifically, good comics published before 1987, ideally late 1960s, early 1970s. Early seventies, a good vintage, the comic equivalent of a fine wine, not only is the original content superior, the aging process has causing subtle chemical shifts in the actual thing, making it fuller bodied, more mature with a cheeky suggestion of oak and cherries.

The look, the smell,  the feel of old comics. I know rationally that what I should really be concentrating on here is the artwork and story. Who pencilled it? Who wrote it? Who inked it? Who did the cover? What characters are in it? What happens to Superboy when Teenage Robots Revolt? I know these are the things that matter, so why am I opening the mylar bag anticipating having a good sniff of some old paper?

While at the same time being aware that what I’m smelling is a combination of the comic itself decomposing & whatever mould and bacteria have come to live in it over the past 40 years, I still breathe deep as if I was appreciating the perfumed soft hair of a lover. I linger over the woody overtones, the metallic bite where rusty staples have started to grow little oxidised barnacles on them, the flaky and jagged page edges that devalue it in the money blinkered eyes of CGC but just make me love it all the more.

Just holding an old comic makes me happy, knowing that once it nestled in a spinner rack, maybe grabbed for a few cents by a scrappy young street kid, read over and over and then lovingly stored away, changing hands over the years before I notice it for 99p, no reserve on Ebay or at a convention bargain box.  Here’s some I bought this week, they smell of pure joy.

Am I being irrational? Is it some olfactory memory that I’m hanging onto? I don’t know, but I do know I’m not alone. I’ve seen people, when they think no one is looking, sniffing their comics too. I don’t care why I do it, I like it, I love old comics and I love the way they smell and after a while, when I’ve finished the smelling, I sometimes like to read them. All this enjoyment from old comics, and we haven’t even opened one yet.

A new comic costs what $3.99 now? Worse still, new comics smell of chemicals, they’re all shiny, slippy, glossy and perfect, the colours are cocky and over-saturated, too bright for my liking, don’t even get me started on the content.

Maybe I’ll buy it in a few decades when the colours have faded and it smells right.

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