With Futher Ado #300: RIP My Comic Book Reading Dad

My dad just passed away, and we’re all dealing with the grief and the loss. I am struggling to write one of the eulogies, and I’m hoping that writing this 300th “With Further Ado” will be a good “warm-up” exercise for writing that difficult speech.

It makes sense to shine the spotlight (Batsignal?) on my dad as he really was a comic book guy. He grew up trading comics, as did many of those kids from late 40s and early 50s. He would tell me that his favorite was Crimebuster (and his monkey) from Lev Gleason’s BOY Comics. In fact, a few years ago, Joe Kubert gifted my dad with an autographed sequence from when he worked on that series all those years ago. It was a joy to buy him back issues of that series every time I’d stumble across affordable copies.

My dad also enjoyed reading The Phantom and Prince Valiant Sunday strips in the newspapers. He loved the sweeping adventures, and of course, the father-son themes of each strip made if fun for me to enjoy each one with him.

He always referred to the Phantom’s real identity as Kip, and not “Kit” as it clearly was in that mythology. I was perplexed by this for years. And then he shared with me one of his favorite books – The Son of The Phantom by Robert Dale. This was from a Whitman series in the 40s publishing prose adventures of newspaper characters like Blondie and Dick Tracy. In this novel, the young Phantom was called Kip. Clearly, character continuity wasn’t as big a thing back then.

I was able to return the favor years later, when we teamed up our character Captain Action with The Phantom from King Features in a miniseries and graphic novel from Moonstone Publishing. It was a big deal for me to able to dedicate that book to him.

Unlike most of the kids from his generation, long after he outgrew comics, his comic-nerd son dragged him back into it all.

I liked comics from the get-go! My dad, who had been a high school and college quarterback, was probably a bit perplexed with a son who liked Batman better than Joe Namath or Larry Csonka. It wasn’t that I didn’t at least like these football stars. (Everyone liked Broadway Joe back then) I just liked comics better than football. My dad just rolled with it. He always leaned into what his kids liked. He had that ability to adapt his tastes and passions into whatever his children or family were into.

He was so supportive. Sometimes he would watch The Fantastic Four or Spider-Man cartoons with my brother and I Saturday mornings. And on Sunday, after we’d feast on macaroni at our Italian dinners, he’d buy me comic. These Sunday rituals would end in the same way – with a trip to Pauline’s.

Pauline’s was one of those little stores called newsstands, but today we’d call it a convenience store. But it wasn’t a chain like 7-11, it was literally a Mom & Pop store. It was dark and dingy, with a million different items. Milk, bread, newspapers, and magazines were the staples. Cigarettes too, upon reflection. One long aisle stretched down the middle. Flanked on one side by packaged goods that you might have forgotten at the grocery store and on the other, by a row of coolers with frozen treats. And at the end, beckoning to me like the Emerald City called out Dorothy – the spinner rack!

This squeaky, twirling tower of magic was filled with an endless supply of comics. My younger brother would usually make a beeline to the shoddy plastic toys sold upfront, squirt guns, paddle-ball-racquets and that sort of thing. Sometimes he’d wander over to the comics. But I was always focused, like a guided missile, to that spinner rack. Comics became a mandatory dessert to my Sunday macaroni dinner.

Pauline’s was actually run by my great-uncle Bill and his wife Pauline. That was typical. Growing up I assumed that everywhere you’d go you’d either meet a relative or some great friend of your parents. I pictured the adult world entirely populated by relatives and high school best buddies of my dad.

My father had an unwritten law that I was allowed one comic book each week. His overwhelming generosity always seemed to bend this rule, as he’d routinely buy me more than that. And of course, being sick meant that he’d bring home a stack of comics for me. Being sick was never better.

But as I got older, I knew that part of becoming a man was being responsible for buying my own comics. And he’d always look through and see if I had any of his favorites in my weekly stack. He always read Jonah Hex and Master of Kung Fu. As we both got older, he’d gravitate towards his favorite creators. He loved anything by Joe Jusko or Mark Wheatley.

In recent years, I diligently have been buying Sunday newspapers and clipping out the Prince Valiant strips for him. My dad really enjoyed reading The Phantom when artists like Mike Manley or Jeff Weigel would post strips online.

He was a generous soul, and in the last few years, he loved going to bookstores and buying me books about comics as gifts. I’d be sharing of over the “good stuff” that I was finding in comic shops or conventions. I guess, in a way, his comic reading finished up the same way it started: trading stuff with other comic fans.

I already miss this guy terribly. My first and best comic buddy.

Portions of this week’s column first appeared in my Weekly Pilgrimage essay, first published in Rob Kelly’s Hey Kids, Comics!

One thought on “With Futher Ado #300: RIP My Comic Book Reading Dad

  1. Great tribute to your dad, Ed. Pauline’s is where I got hooked on Archie comics. I loved going there to “spin the rack.” Good memories.