The Smell of Old Yellow Paper

Earlier this month, I donated my entire comic book collection to charity. It's a 33-year old collection that dates back to one of my first books, Uncanny X-Men #171, the issue when Rogue first joins the team.  For 60 cents, I was hooked, and the cover still gives me a thrill: Rogue running from the rest of The X-Men with the tag line stamped, "Welcome to The X-Men, Rogue...Hope you Survive the Experience!"  Eventually I went on to collect other titles in the Marvel and DC canon like The New Teen Titans, SpiderMan, Alpha Flight, Justice League and many more.

Uncanny X-Men #171
During inventory, I noticed most of the titles dated back as early as 1983 to 1986/ '87, after which everything stops cold. Even my collection's chronology tells an unlikely story about me; because that was around the time my father, in one of his black rages, ordered I never collect comics again. I still remember how he sealed the demand with a crack across my face. Not to veer too far off topic, I'll just say that I wish I can tell you my father was an evil man. It would be easier to hate him and put him in a neat little box with a label on it.  But the fact is, like all of us, my father had his demons. It's not excusing some of the lousy things he did, but it's a hard-won sense of peace when you realize and learn your parents are only human too.  But that's for another time.

Eventually, I went off to Binghamton and living away granted me the autonomy to pick up where I left off, which explains why my collection grew again with titles dating back from 1990 to 1993. It trailed off again when I graduated college. I was coming out of the closet, coming to terms with my identity, all while trying to figure out the complications of dating, a rite of passage for which the teenage years are usually reserved. On top of this, the pressure to find steady work became one of my foremost priorities. Still, I always returned to take a peek and see what was going on, buying an issue here and there to read what my favorite heroes were doing.

Over time, I carefully bagged my collection away in the basement, gathering dust, waiting to get forgotten. So maybe I was ready to let go. And then I knew I was ready to let go when I re-read the story line from one of my first and favorite series, Batman and The Outsiders #1. I found it unreadable. It seemed flat and unrealistic. I didn't have the fantasy and suspension of disbelief filter as I once had, and worst of all, the sour realization flashed before me that comic books were nothing but socially acceptable soap operas for boys.

Batman and The Outsiders #1

But even if there was no rush of childhood nostalgia, that doesn't mean I still can't honor what comic books meant to me. Comic books made me fall in love with the written word. My vocabulary increased exponentially. So what if I never get the occasion to use words like polyglot, higgledy-piggledy or quidnunc in a sentence? At least once a year, I still manage to work words like kerfuffle and scuttlebutt in a conversation. But more importantly, for a kid who held his secrets hard in his heart, I loved the fantasy and escape they provided.

While I was rummaging through my collection, getting it ready for donation, what really got me was the particular damp and musty smell of old yellowing paper, the thin, cheap kind on which most comics were printed before the 1990s. The scent shot me back to an image of that hideous blood-red velvet sofa my parents must have bought out of a pimp's truck.  I remember storing my cherished copy of Alpha Flight #1 underneath the cushions, hoping it would remain flat and safe.

Alpha Flight #1 John Byrne

And I also  remember begging my mom for 60 cents so I could buy the latest copy of Amazing Spiderman #252, the issue that debuted his new black costume.

Amazing Spiderman #252
Sometimes I don't know if I'll ever feel like a kid again, but looking at these old covers gives me some hope. Though most of my books are gone now, I kept a few back to remind me of that hopeful possibility.

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