I’ve forgotten why, but I was Googling around and found the image above. I was quite taken with it. I did a Google image search and discovered it came from Weird Tales #14 (July-Aug 1952) and the artist was Wally Wood. I know as close to nothing about comics as is possible without knowing anything at all. I have run across some interior illustrations by Wood in Galaxy Science Fiction and admired them too. I’d love to have a big art book of his work.

I know a little bit about EC Comics, mainly from reading about the congressional hearings in the 1950s and the famous book by Fredric Wetherm, Seduction of the Innocent.

Back in 1963, when I was twelve, my grandmother subscribed to four comic books for me for my birthday. I believe they were to Superman, The Justice League of America, Wonder Woman, and The Flash. I read them as I got them, and carefully saved all the issues before my cousins Bobby and Timmy borrowed my complete library of comics. They never returned them. It didn’t bother me. I much preferred reading science fiction. And I forgot about comic books until the 1970s when I discovered underground comics in a headshop. I tried one by Vaughn Bode and another by Robert Crumb.

Over the years I’ve tried comics periodically but never could get into them. This month I’m giving them one more try because of that Wally Wood cover illustration. I went looking for a scan of #14 of Weird Science on the internet because I wanted to read the story that goes with the illustration. Evidently, the copyright holders of EC Comics keep a sharp watch on copyright violators because I couldn’t find a digital scan.

I then went to eBay, ABEbooks, and Amazon looking for a copy and discovered The EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 1 had just been released. The paperback was $18.18 and the Kindle edition was $13.99. It claimed to collect #12–#15 and #5–6. I was all ready to press the buy button when I saw a mention I should try a free 30-day trial version of Comixology. What the hell. I did. I’m going to give comics one more try.

I quickly loaded the Archives on my tablet only to discover #14 looked different.

It took a bit of research but I discovered there was a 1950 series and a 1951 series, and Archives Volume 1 had the 1950 #14. I was disappointed. Back to Google. I eventually found comics.org and this very informative page. From there I learned there was a 1994 Gemstone annual that reprinted the 1951 #14. I found the cheapest copy on eBay and ordered it. The internet is a wonderful tool! I’ve never used comics.org before but it’s as useful as isfdb.org.

While I wait for the Gemstone Weird Science Annual, I’ve been looking at The EC Archives: Weird Science Volume 1. I can’t say I’ve gotten hooked on comics. In fact, I’m somewhat shocked by what I discovered. The stories and art are very — I wanted to say crude but I don’t want to offend people. Is simplistic a better word? Unsophisticated?

I once took a graduate course in the English department on humor, and we were taught there are many levels of sophistication in humor, although I’m not sure the professor claimed any form was superior to another. Chaplin’s slapstick humor might be as brilliant as Shakespeare’s humorous wordplay.

The 1950s science fiction stories Weird Science are similar in ideas to what was being published in the pulps in the 1920s and 1930s. Now I’m not trying to be superior. My favorite kind of science fiction is novels and short stories from the 1950s. They might only be a step up from science fiction in comic books as comic books are a step up in believability over books like Dr. Seuss or Goodnight Moon. I’m not offended when brilliant literary writers complain that science fiction is adolescent, because I agree with them.

At 70, I’m fully aware that my favorite kind of fiction to read in 2022 is as sophisticated as my mind was in high school (1966-1969). I was an English major in college, and I still read the literary classics, but usually only one per year. When I say science fiction that appeared in the science fiction magazines of the 1950s was more sophisticated than the science fiction appearing in the comics or funny papers, or on the big or little screens of that decade, I’m not claiming it was superior. I’m only saying the stories were more complex and richer in detail.

For example, compare “I Created A Gargantua!” or “Lost in the Microcosm” in Weird Science to The Shrinking Man (1956) by Richard Matheson, the book version of the 1957 film The Incredible Shrinking Man, or The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). None of these stories are realistic, all of them are basically stupid, and all of them are on the level of comic book science fiction. I guess I should up the ante some and also throw in “The Drowned Giant” by J. G. Ballard, as a literary comparison. And even mention that Alice in Wonderland played around with the idea of changing size.

My point in mentioning all these stories is to support my argument that written science fiction in the 1950s was more sophisticated than comic books. Back in the 1950s comic books were aimed at kids who could read but probably didn’t read books. They were a step up from kids’ picture books. Galaxy Science Fiction was a step up from Amazing Stories, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction offered more adult reading than Astounding Science Fiction. And the 1957 science fiction novel, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, was aimed at an even more adult audience.

It’s all about being in the target audience. As I read those collected issues of Weird Science from EC Comics I felt I was regressing back to age twelve. Every time I tried comics again since I was twelve I rejected them as being too young for me and immediately quit reading them after a few pages. This time I kept reading. I even somewhat enjoyed myself. But that scared me. Getting old and being anxious over growing memory loss, made me fear that enjoying a comic book might be the first sign that I’m regressing.

I’ve always considered Charlie Gordon’s rise and fall of intelligence in Flowers for Algernon was modeled the arc of normal aging and decay. Reading Weird Science made me feel like Charlie Gordon when he realized he was on the downward slope of his IQ arc. I’ve noticed this before. I’m starting to struggle with nonfiction and more sophisticated novels.

I can picture myself getting older and reading the Oz books I loved in the 5th grade. The science fiction I love to read now is the same as I loved back in the 8th grade. However, I’m reading it with 70 years of wisdom I didn’t have then, and I’m admiring it more. I still enjoy Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Tolstoy, Lawrence, or even Joyce, but I’m slowly gravitating more and more to the fiction of my adolescence. That doesn’t upset me. I’m glad I have those stories to welcome me home.

I’m not ready yet to read comic books again, or even return to the Oz books, but I can imagine a time when I might be.

James Wallace Harris 3/8/22

13 thoughts on “The Implications of Giving Comic Books Another Try

  1. >> I’m not offended when brilliant literary writers complain that science fiction is adolescent, because I agree with them.

    The opposite for me – literary science fiction trumps mundane literary fiction always. 🙂 GREAT article, Jim! Excellent. (too me is shows the adolescent coming out in those ‘brilliant old literary authors’)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I approach my sixty-fourth year, I don’t mind admitting I’m again finding pleasure in those stories and novels that introduced me to science fiction. I have many original editions of the Heinlein, Del Rey, Norton, and Asimov (Paul French) juveniles. (I just finished the last of the Lucky Starr series.) The Heinlein and Norton juveniles were, as you probably know, considered better than most of the adult fare being published back then.
    So I’ve started rereading one every now and then. Guilty pleasures? Perhaps. But like you, I enjoy a good story. And these are good, or at least many are. If it’s a sign of my diminishing capabilities, so be it. A more glaring sign is that when I pull one of those past treasures off the shelf, I usually can’t recall its details, only that I enjoyed it thoroughly. These are, literally, fond and pleasurable rediscoveries. Getting old has its advantages.
    Looking forward to the next review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, James. I’ll check it out!
    Yep, the Winston series was also influential. Gotta love those Schomburg end boards! Thanks for the link!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. What a wonderful article! I have a few of the original Winston series, some in dust jackets. Two years ago I purchased The Year When Stardust Fell from Thunderchild. Sort of a young adult Alas Babylon. Both good ones.

        I spent many a summer day pawing through my older brother’s collection of Marvel comics. Stan Lee sure had the formula down pat. Still enjoy those.

        And I had to smile when I read “in the limited time remaining,” Carl. Yes, yet another advantage of growing older— I read what I want to read, and to hell with what anyone says. I lent a friend my copy of a Scribners edition of Between Planets. Like me, he often reads in public, usually at coffee shops. He said he would place a napkin over the illustrated pages when he came to them. He felt he’d be embarrassed should anyone happen to see he was reading a “juvenile.” Screw that, and who cares! (I’m also getting grumpier with years. I should probably retire.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I reread The Year When Stardust Fell a couple of years ago. It was a fun story, and I particularly like Raymond F. Jones. Every now and then I’ll read an old Winston. I think nearly all of them are available for the Kindle rather cheap. A recent reread was The Mists of Dawn by Chad Oliver.

          I was never embarrassed to be seen reading science fiction. In fanzines, the old joke was about how to hide your SF while in public. One person said they hid it in a Playboy since that was more socially acceptable.

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        2. There are times I might embarrassed, not to be seen in public reading SFF, but to be seen reading a book with a particularly lurid cover, for example some of the covers of the Del Rey editions of Lovecraft (as much as I like the covers themselves in some cases).

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  4. I recall enjoying fantasy- and science fiction-oriented comics growing up in the seventies, from DC horror comics to the Marvel Planet of the Apes mag. I think returning to such things at our age (I’m 58) might be not just a matter of aging, but also a realization that in the limited time remaining, maybe it’s OK to read whatever one wants, whether highbrow, lowbrow, or middlebrow, from Borges and Kafka to Star Trek novelizations.

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  5. My history with comics is unusual for where I live. I only really started to read comics when I was 5 to 6, around 1960. I immediately gravitated towards Harvey comics—Casper, Spooky, Wendy and some others. My dad was fond of Sad Sack (having been active in WWII).

    But in South Africa in those days we were still very much under British influence, so the kids of my age read the British weeklies—Playhour, Robin, and others.

    I started reading DC comics around 1966. My favorite characters were the most famous ones: Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern. My best friend got into Marvel and when I read some of the Marvel titles, I could see that the writing was better and more adult, but I remained a DC loyalist. Most kids were still reading the British stuff—Tiger, Lion, and so on.

    Come high school (which was five years in my country), I was still reading my favorites, but my interest understandably ebbed slightly. In my university years, I tried to keep on buying them, but I usually didn’t read them any more.

    I still have two boxes of DC comics from around 1970 – 1972. Not big boxes, about shoebox size. They go up to about 1976, but you can tell I wasn’t reading them any more, because I have duplicate copies of some.

    Perhaps one day, I’ll return to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Interesting read – gave me a perspective I had not really considered as such. Always been a fan of varied sci-fi and comics for many years and am pretty much an 80-90s generation person.
    Your assessment is bang-on that comics, especially the ones you referred to amongst the older lot were absolutely targeted at a child audience and a solid chunk of it still is – but I will be honest, it’s evolved since then. There’s the following as I’ve seen it:
    1) the still-targetting-kids segment which is simpler and more fun and even silly,
    2) the harder edged, more mature and at times complex, philosophical and intense stories that target a purely adult or adult-minded audience (and is often prone to disliking being called “comics” which makes me laugh at the need to be pretentious) and
    3) the main-stream. These are a mixed bag. They are not childish, they can cover very adult topics, explore sci-fi, metaphysics, religious iconography, archetypes and a wealth of very interesting things BUT they are geared to be a bit more accessible and less artistic and heavy. They bounce pretty wildly between silly/goofy and dark/intense/heavy but in general yoyo squarely anchored to the mid-line.

    Basically what I mean to say is that if you have someone who you can talk to who has read a lot of comics these past 20-30 years, you might be able to find a wealth of very interesting stuff that can be much like the things you enjoy but as heavy or easier to digest than some of the classic prose to which you refer.
    Of course, it all comes down to many things that only you could answer, including at the start, your instinctive reaction to a prose piece vs a graphic/illustrated piece.

    Thanks for the interesting read. Will make me re-assess my own reading habits as I’ve gotten older.

    Liked by 1 person

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