In 1974, The Price of Adventure Was 20 Cents

The first time I ever read a comic book was almost certainly before 1974, but in that year — my ninth year here on Earth-Prime — no trip to the local pharmacy or grocery store was complete without a stop at the creaky, spinning spindle racks that served up comics by the dozens, from humor to superheroes, war stories to westerns, horror to romance.  If I was really lucky — and if I’d stayed mostly out of trouble the previous week — I could usually beg enough change off my folks to buy a few of these four-color treasures (so much better than Pixie Stix or bubblegum, which were gone in mere minutes!).  Then it was a matter of reading and re-reading them until the images were burned forever into my brain.

1974-superman274For instance, there was the cover of Superman #274, drawn by the late great Nick Cardy and like most Superman covers tons more exciting than the story inside.  On this one, Superman is reaching out to the reader (me!) pleading for help as his lower body is stretched impossibly thin and sucked through the planet Earth.  With his left hand, he clings desperately to the books’ logo, crushing it in his super-grip.  Maybe there was a kid out there who could resist that kind of brilliant salesmanship, but whoever it was, he was stronger willed than I.

But if Superman was the early favorite, possibly because he wormed his way into my consciousness through cartoons and live-action TV, Batman soon eclipsed him.  Drawn regularly by the likes of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo and Irv Novick, on occasion by Walt Simonson or Bernie Wrightson and in time by Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden, the darknight detective was a magnet for the best artists in the business.  While Superman and his god-like ilk threw mountains at each other, Batman was a flesh-and-blood human who could be knocked out, beaten up, potentially even killed by things as mundane as poison, knives, guns, long falls, speeding cars…basically anything that could kill you or me.  That certainly made it a lot easier to create dramatic situations to build stories around.  Plus he could be made to work in almost any type of story.  For instance, 1974 saw an obsession with horror and the supernatural, thanks to then-recent movies like the Excorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (and that summer, Jaws).  You could throw Batman into a horror story and have it work — in fact that’s where his roots were, as I  would later learn — whereas no ghosts or goblins could possibly raise a goosebump when pitted against the brightly colored, invulnerable Man of Steel.  Batman had a “vampire” vibe going with those pointy ears and a swirling cape that, depending on who drew it, might billow out as huge as a ship’s sail.  It was this creepy, borderline supernatural take on the character — despite the contemporaneous Super-Friends version and reruns of Adam West — that most shaped my view of Batman.

1974-lce-batmanIf I had to pick a single Batman comic from 1974 to name “most memorable” — and it would be difficult — I’d have to go with Limited Collector’s Edition C-26, a decidedly boring and nondescript name for a spectacular-looking book.  This was the first “tabloid” comic I ever saw; tall as an old LIFE magazine, with cardstock covers and a collection of stories from various eras, topped off with a wonderfully garish red cover with a Neal Adams-drawn image lifted from Batman #251 and destined to re-appear innumerable times on merchandise of every kind for decades to come.  On the back cover was a “3-D Diorama” of Batman leaping onto some bad guys: we were encouraged to cut it out and assemble it for display on a tabletop, and that’s just what I did (who wants to get rich off a “mint condition” comic, anyway?).

These oversized comics, as celebrated on Rob Kelly’s excellent Treasury Comics website, were a huge hit with me and Marvel’s version of the format accounted for, as near as I can tell, almost all the Marvel Comics I bought in 1974.  In a million playground arguments over which heroes were best, I always picked DC over Marvel,  but it wasn’t that I disliked the Marvel characters, per se: in fact, I thought Spider-Man had possibly the coolest costume of any superhero, and Captain America was the bomb.  No, the problem was that no Marvel comic ever seemed to have a beginning or an ending; they started in the middle of a story and ended in a cliffhanger.  Nowadays the “serialized storytelling” approach has been adopted by every publisher, but at the time it struck me as slightly shady, taking my 20 cents and not giving me a whole story.  That, combined with the tone of “Stan’s Soapbox” and the little text adverts that ran across the bottom of every page struck me as vulgar hucksterism; to me, Stan Lee was like the carnival barker who promised you a peek at the dog-faced boy or the Fiji Mermaid; amusing in his way, but not to be trusted.

1974-mte-1Moral posturing aside, it was really came down to simple pragmatism: living in the boonies as I did, with no guarantee I’d even get to go along on those weekly trips into town, there was no way I could count on finding two consecutive issues of any comic, no matter how much I might like it.  So it just didn’t make sense to buy, say, Iron Man in a given month when it was more than likely I’d never find out how he got out of the pickle he found himself in at the end of the issue.

The tabloids, however, were  divorced from the constraints of monthly continuity, being  essentially “best of” collections that cherry-picked particularly memorable stories for reprinting.  Plus, like their DC counterparts, they had some truly awesome covers.  Marvel Treasury Edition #1, starring Spider-Man, was a prime example, with a dazzlingly colored illo of Spidey by the great John Romita.

Not everything was about DC and Marvel, though.  There was the slightly off-kilter universe of Gold Key comics, featuring “almost but not quite right” takes on Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle and the Pink Panther and an unfathomably clueless version of Star Trek,  where every character spoke and acted completely out of character, wearing costumes that kinda-sorta resembled designs seen only in the pilot, living on an Enterprise with a bridge that looked like a 1930’s auto factory and huge plumes of flame shooting out of its warp nacelles.  With the show more popular in 70s syndication than it ever had been on network TV — indeed as a bona-fide cultural phenomenon —  it always seemed incredible that the only people in the world who had no clue about the characters, technologies and backstory of Star Trek were the writers and artists chosen to create the comics.

1974-Magnus-38There was one case where the daft sensibilities of Gold Key worked well, though, and that was in the pages of Magnus: Robot Fighter, a comic built around the loopy concept of a futuristic muscleman whose sole purpose in life was to punch, kick and karate chop rampaging robots into scrap metal.  I’ve seen Magnus described as a sort of future Tarzan, and I guess that’s fair enough; there’s certainly a beefcake angle as he dashes around with bare arms and legs, although it’s more than compensated for by his girlfriend Leeja, whose va-va-voom figure is barely concealed by a skintight nightgown-type outfit seemingly fashioned out of tinted saran wrap.  In fact, Magnus artist Russ Manning drew the Tarzan newspaper strip for years, so there’s that connection if nothing else. “Guy punches robots” seems like a pretty flimsy premise for an ongoing title, but it’s hard to deny the obvious appeal to the average American boy, especially in the days of “Rock-Em, Sock-Em” robots, when we could still pretend we were the masters of the machines and not the reverse.

1974-phantom-61Elsewhere on the spinner rack were the “ghetto” Charlton titles.  If Hertz Rental Cars’ motto was “We’re number 2, So We Try Harder,” then Charlton’s must have been “We’re number 5 ’cause we barely try at all.”  Comics had always been a medium devoted to cheap, disposable entertainment, but Charlton took it to extremes: where most comic covers were slick and glossy, Charlton covers were grainy and course.  Where other companies’ interior pages at least tried to look whiter and prettier than their true pulp nature, Charlton paper had a brownish tinge right off the presses, with raw edges that looked like they’d been torn rather than cut.  Even when we were too young to care about how fairly artists and writers were compensated, somehow we knew the folks at Charlton weren’t paid squat.  But everyone’s got to start somewhere, and if nothing else Charlton was a foot-in-the-door for an impressive roster of future stars including Jim Aparo, John Byrne and Dick Giordano, as well as a refuge for ex-Marvel pioneer Steve Ditko.  Plus they had the license for The Phantom, guaranteeing they’d get at least some of my change, and when they also snagged the rights to The Six Million Dollar Man, they’d get even more (even though that book was lousy).

On the website “Hey Kids, Comics” (and in the book of the same name), I’ve shared my thoughts about another comic from 1974; the Warren Magazine reprint of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which opened my eyes to a whole new realm of comic book history. Indeed, one of the cool aspects of comics in my young mind was the long, vast history of the medium.  I was fascinated by the idea that comics had been coming out every month since my Dad was a kid, and that countless heroes had come and gone in that time, many of which I might never get to see.  Luckily for me, DC launched a series of “100-Page Super-Spectaculars,” each of which led off with one new adventure before offering up reprints from past decades.  This is how I was introduced to Dick Sprang’s amazing take on Batman, to the the goofy-but-terrifying Composite Superman and to the “cooler than the new kids” Justice Society of America.  It was also my first look at comparatively obscure characters like Robotman, Kid Eternity, the Black Condor and the Sea Devils.  Even now, the first thing I look for at any comic convention are Super-Spectaculars to fill the holes in my collection.

1974-xmen87At some point, I gave Marvel another spin, but unfortunately the book I chose was X-Men #87.  Drawn by the  craptacular combo of Don Heck and Vinnie Colletta, this stunningly lackluster story was already lousy when it was first printed in issue #39 and now for some reason it was being printed AGAIN.  Little surprise that within a few issues the title would be granted a mercy killing, but who knew that a couple of years later the supergroup would creep back onto the stands with a retooled membership to become the biggest fan sensation ever.  I don’t even remember if I noticed the X-Men’s return, but if I had I’d have passed, thanks to issue 87.

And that brings me to the other notable comics of 1974: the ones I neglected to pick up.  Great things were happening in the pages of Master of Kung-Fu, but I was immune to the chop-socky craze.  Fans were excited about Tomb Of Dracula, but I stayed away thanks to a general disinterest in horror and a specific aversion to the art of Gene Colan (who I now quite like).  In The Incredible Hulk #181 a runty Canadian anti-hero called Wolverine made his debut, but I wouldn’t have known it as I couldn’t see the Hulk for dirt.  Captain America was wrapping up another of those lengthy storylines Marvel so loved, this one famously featuring a vast conspiracy headed by — we’re left to conclude — sitting President Richard M. Nixon.  Again, missed it.  In the aftermath, Cap would ditch his flag-based costume and shield to become a character called Nomad, but since the red-white-and-blue gimmick accounted for 90% of his appeal to me, that meant I was out.  Swamp Thing was midway through a historic run by creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, but I was uninterested.  Archie and the kids of Riverdale were up to their usual hi-jinks while Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Lil’ Hot Stuff and Uncle Scrooge went for the laughs.  This stuff I would read, and sometimes enjoy, but almost invariably I’d wait and read a friend’s copy, or one I’d found at the barbershop or the doctor’s office.

“Experts” will tell you the comics of the 70s — like the TV, movies, music and fashions of the 70s — were inferior to their 60’s counterparts, that by 1974 the glory days were already gone and the medium had settled into formulaic mediocrity, at best.  But as others have said, “the Golden Age of Comics is nine” (or seven, or 12, depending on who’s saying it), meaning that whatever age a kid discovers and falls in love with comics, that will always be, for him or her, the greatest period of the medium.  Certainly I found a lot to love about comics in this era, enough anyway to keep up the weekly trips to pharmacies, groceries and convenience stores in small town Virginia for another decade, and to comic shops for another decade after that.  If, in the end, comics and I grew apart, I still indulge in the occasional back issue and collected edition, and few beat the appeal of the covers and stories that first drew me in back in ’74, when a quarter could take you to on amazing adventures in exciting new worlds, with a nickel left over for gum.

 

 

 

 

It’s 1974: What’s On the Tube?

We try to keep down the TV time in our house, but it occurs to me even if my kids are watching a lot less than I did at their age, they’re still getting a lot more out of it.  Thanks to cable (meh), on-demand (pretty cool) and streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix (awesome!), not to mention our way-too-large collection of DVDs, they have lots more choices than I ever did, whether it’s modern fare tailored to their age group (and far superior to 95% of the “limited animation” drivel I had in the 70s) or all the best old shows of past decades, available for viewing on the merest whim.

It feels ridiculous to invoke the “you kids have it easy” rant about such a first-world extravagance as TV, but doggone it, watching the Boob Tube in my youth often was the viewing equivalent of walking two miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.  We had all of three channels in rural Virginia…when they came in on our set-top rabbit ears…and most of what was on was garbage.

Okay, so maybe that last part hasn’t changed; 500 channels of crap isn’t a big improvement over three. On the other hand, in such a wasteland, the great stuff really stuck out and made a big impression that lasted well into adulthood.  Since I’ve resolved to look back at 1974 in this blog, let’s look at some of the content that might have greeted you had you switched on your set that year.

cartoons74

Back in that pre-Nickelodeon, pre-Cartoon Network era, the big day for kids was Saturday morning, when we’d rise from bed and turn on the set quietly so as not to wake Mom and Dad while we ate spoonfuls of the kind of classic, crunchy sugar cereals that have helped earned this country the title of “Fattest Nation on Earth.”  (USA! USA!)  Frankly, even at age 9 I could tell the glory days of cartoons were behind us.  Getting up super-early meant you might get a peek at reruns of canceled classics like Space Ghost, Jonny Quest or Bullwinkle, but once the “all-new” network programming kicked in, we were pummeled with tripe like Yogi’s Gang, which force-fed us ecology-minded propaganda with a “sugar coating” of barely-animated and not-even-close-to-funny gags (preferably verbal gags, since sight gags meant animating more frames).  Then there was U.S. of Archie, which had the gang from Riverdale meeting historical American figures in  a successful bid to turn a whole generation into  history-haters.  It should be noted that in 1974 we were well into that dark and joyless period where groups of “concerned parents” had exorcised all violence, humor and joy out of cartoons in favor of “educational content.”

Only when you consider the general awfulness of the Saturday morning landscape will you understand the fondness some of us had for something like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters or how any of us could have considered it even remotely exciting to have Captain Marvel perform bargain-basement super-feats on Shazam.  I also remember sort of enjoying the mercifully mindless and message-free Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, or at least the slapstick segments featuring Ron Hull and his “Emu.”

Outside of Saturday mornings, a kid’s best shot at entertainment was in the after-school slot, which these days is devoted to People’s Court imitators and talk shows featuring on-air paternity tests, “I married my sister” confessions and Slut vs Slut throwdowns, but back then was a wonderland/graveyard for old sitcoms and adventure shows.  This is how I was introduced to shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, The Addams Family and the Munsters, Get Smart, Andy Griffith, Green Acres, Hogan’s Heroes and Leave It To Beaver.  I used to get up before the sun on weekends to see The Adventures of Superman, which came on right after a short music video of “the Star-Spangled Banner” launched the broadcast day on the local CBS affiliate (my kids will never know what a “test pattern” looks like!).  The time slot right before or right after dinner got the really awesome stuff: Mission Impossible, Star Trek and the Wild Wild West. But, as with the cartoons, I was learning that I’d been born just a little too late to see the really good stuff in its prime.

Come prime time, Mom and Dad were in control of the dial (there was no remote!), but some of the stuff they enjoyed rubbed off on me, like the NBC Mystery Movies with Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife, winners all.  I remember one episode of McCloud where Dennis Weaver (or rather his stunt double) hung perilously off the landing skid of a helicopter over Manhattan for what seemed like forever; I recreated the scene more than once by hanging from a tree limb and imagining the city below me, but I doubt I ever hung on more than a minute and a half.  The network tried to expand the winning formula on another night (Wednesday, maybe?) but George Peppard’s Banacek was never in the same league as those other guys, though I remember kind of liking Helen Hayes in The Snoop Sisters.

I remember 1974 as a time when pop culture was obsessed with horror and the occult in general, but generally I was uninterested.  I did love The Night Stalker (which I’ll save for another post) but otherwise the “creepy” viewing experience that left a lasting impression was the made-for-TV movie Killdozer, featuring Clint Walker and Robert Urich.  

The premise of the film was that a bulldozer at some remote construction site becomes possessed by a hostile alien intelligence and runs amuck, killing the workers one by one.  

killdozerIt’s one of those goofball concepts that makes you go, “Wait…what?” but it was just insane enough to really “click” with kids.  After all, thanks to Herbie the Love Bug and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the big screen and Speed Buggy and Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch on TV (soon to be joined by Wonderbug), the initial, major “logic leap” of a sentient vehicle was essentially pre-sold.  Killdozer simply asked, “What if that mind in your ‘living vehicle’ turned out to have homicidal tendencies?”  I gather the film has developed something of a cult following over time, and even spawned a Marvel comic.  Personally I was haunted by the scene where one hapless victim decided the best way to escape a multi-ton killing machine was to hide in a length of flimsy corrugated pipe.  What a way to go, squeezed flat like a tube of toothpaste! (By the way if you’re interested, you can watch the whole movie on Youtube.  There are worse ways to spend a couple hours).

Another movie I saw on TV that year (but was made for the big screen, of course) was the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.  I remember really enjoying the music and the animation.  In retrospect I gather the look of the film was considered “trippy” and “psychadelic” for its era, but by this point I was already a veteran viewer of HR Pufnstuff and Liddsville, and compared to those video equivalents of an LSD trip, Submarine was as tame as Woody Woodpecker.  I think it’s interesting that this early exposure to the Beatles did not make me an instant fan; that would come later, in my teen years.  Maybe that’s because at age nine I was convinced no group was cooler than The Monkees.  And while I may or may not have pegged the Beatles as “Monkee imitators” (I know, I know), I did make a mental note that this “rock and roll” stuff tended to revolve around the names of living creatures: There were the Monkees, the Beatles, the Turtles, the Birds, the Crickets and (rather unimaginatively, I thought) The Animals.

yellowsub

When it came to movies on TV, though, no one was bigger than James Bond.  This was the year I saw Goldfinger, Dr No and Thunderball for the first time, most likely providing my introduction to the suave superspy and igniting an obsession that would stick with me for the next 40 years.  In those pre-VCR days, you had to just pay attention so you could remember everything to talk about it the next day at school.  I recall one of my friends insisting that in the scene where Oddjob puts a Lincoln Continental through a junkyard car crusher to dispose of a man’s body, a stream of blood could be seen trickling from the resulting metal cube as it’s lowered onto the bed of a pickup truck.  I was astonished that I’d missed such an awesome detail, let alone that it had made it onto TV, but I chalked it up to the fact that we were still using a black and white set.  Only years later did I realize that kid was full of beans.

carsmash

Anyway, the only down side to 007 was watching the kissing and “sex” scenes with Mom and Dad in the room.  Before every viewing, they’d say, “Now we’re going to let you watch this, but we want you to understand we don’t approve of James Bond’s lifestyle.”  By which of course they meant sleeping around; shooting people with spear guns or dropping them into giant snowblowers was okay.

Impressive as James Bond was, though, 1974 belonged to the Six Million Dollar Man.  For a kid like me, this guy was an embarrassment of riches:  a super hero, a secret agent AND an astronaut?  All in one? I mean, come on!  I first met Steve Austin in the show’s original Friday night slot, after a cub scout meeting at a friend’s house.  After that, I planned my week around the show and when Steve moved to Sundays I followed (allowing the possibility, a couple of years later, for a 7-10PM block of Hardy Boys, Six Million Dollar Man and Live and Let Die!  If I could’ve voted, the head of ABC programming would’ve been President of Earth!).  Like a million other kids, I bought the action figures, collected the trading cards and spent countless hours running in slow motion in the backyard to be like my hero.  I even folded back the cuffs on my Toughskins leisure suit to mimic Lee Major’s style and practiced constantly to get my left eyebrow to raise on demand (though it never did trigger telescopic vision).  Of course the fun couldn’t last forever: things took a nose-dive by Season 4 and at the end, I considered the show’s cancellation a mercy killing. But in 1974, I was convinced it was not only the best thing on TV but quite possibly the reason the medium had been invented in the first place.

LEE MAJORS

Prior to Steve Austin’s amazing debut, my biggest hero on TV was probably Bill Bixby as The Magician (which actually debuted in 1973).  Again the premise was a canny combination of two things kids love, in this case magic and crime-fighting.  Apparently Bixby went to some lengths to learn magic tricks so he could perform them himself, and the results were impressive, at least to my young eyes.  This was also the first character I remember having a car phone, which was kind of a big deal.  I gather the show had some problems with ratings and production thanks to labor strikes and scheduling issues, which contributed to an early demise.  Too bad: I’d much rather have had more seasons of this than The Incredible Hulk.  Interestingly, this is another show that figures, at least tangentially, in X-Files lore: It’s the show Fox Mulder says he was watching the night his sister was abducted by aliens.

So there you have it, a brief look at the stuff that occupied an inordinate amount of my time as a 9-year-old, and possibly some useful data when it comes time for my psycho-analysis.  I sometimes wonder what shows will leave a lasting impression on my kids, if any:  Will they look back on SpongeBob Squarepants as a classic of the medium?  Will they still think “Wipeout” was the height of humor?  Or will TV matter at all to their generation, given how ubiquitous and accessible it is today?  When I grew up, we had no controls over the vagaries of programming: we had to wait until ABC was good and ready to show us another Bond movie, and when it came on we had to rearrange our lives to make sure we were there to see it.  Power outages, snow storms, breaking news bulletins, road trips, church meetings and (most likely of all) punishments could all keep us from seeing the show we’d waited all week — or longer — to lay eyes on.  And with no VCR, DVR or “on demand” service, we had to pay close attention to everything, because who knew when we might get to see it again?  These days kids know they can see what they want when they want as often as they want, so like as not they’re “watching” while playing on their hand-held game systems or listening to their MP3 players or surfing the internet, or all three.  Maybe in 20 years if you ask them what was on when they were kids, they’ll say, “Hmmm….no idea.”

 

 

 

It Happened in 1974

shazam 1974

At some point in the last few months, I noticed everything happened in 1974.

Well, okay so maybe not everything, and certainly not everything good.  In the headlines that year, Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment in the wake of the Watergate scandal, celebrity hostage Patty Hearst held up a bank with her captors in the Symbionese Liberation Army, Ethopia suffered a civil war and Jack Benny, Duke Ellington, Bud Abbot, Ed Sullivan and Charles Lindbergh all dropped dead.

Not that any of that mattered to me, mind you, as I turned nine that year and didn’t really read the papers.

In celebrity news, devoted husband, father and spokesman for peace John Lennon ditched his wife and kid to indulge in an extended drunken “hiatus” with his mistress and punch out random bar patrons in California,  Paul McCartney hit a post-Beatles career high with his “Band on the Run” album and George Harrison went on tour for the first time since 1966.   Not that I’d have noticed that, either, as I hadn’t quite discovered the Beatles yet and all the records in the house were show tunes, comedy albums or Christmas music.  I did probably care that Sonny and Cher were getting a divorce, but only because my family enjoyed their variety show and now my folks would have to explain to us kids about divorce.  Worse yet, with Cher gone  we’d soon be subjected to the “Sonny Comedy Revue.”

The big movies of the year included The Godfather: Part II, Young Frankenstein, Death Wish and Chinatown, not one of which I’d have been allowed to see (though I did get to see Herbie Rides Again.  Whoopee)

Like most kids (I guess) my focus was on things closer to home: playing astronaut or “Army” in the back yard, bike rides to my friends’ houses, adding to my Matchbox cars collection and mooning over whatever cute girl I’d fallen in love with at church or school that week.

And comics.  And TV.  And more comics.  And more TV.  We didn’t have video games yet, or I’m sure they’d be on the list, too.

For a while now, I’ve noticed that  the things I was interested in when I was nine years old are often the same things I’m interested in, now. Which just to clarify is not so much comics and TV per se, but comics and TV from 1974.  Not that I haven’t picked up a lot of new interests over the years (some of them not even related to comics and TV), but the ones that have stuck with me the longest, and made the biggest impression, all seem to have originated in my childhood and in more cases than not, they all go back to that one year.

I’m not really sure why that would be, honestly.  I don’t know that the stuff from 1974 was any better than the stuff from say 1973 or 1975, but it seems like whenever I check out the copyright on some vintage book or movie or show I like, I keep coming up with 1974 over and over.  My current theory is that it’s because 1974 was also a year of upheaval for me, personally.  It’s the year I moved from Saluda, VA, a place I still think of as an idyllic, “Mayberry”-like small town where everyone knew (and seemingly liked) me to Cobbs Creek, a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” whistle stop with a tiny school, a tinier post-office and basically one little cul-de-sac of houses in the middle of freaking nowhere, and where nobody knew or cared who I was.  Fittingly, my house was right at the terminus of that dead-end street.

As the son of a Methodist minister, I got used to moving around (sort of), but that was easily the hardest of all the moves.  And so it occurs to me that maybe the diversions and silly entertainments in my life took on a greater significance that year, as the real world kept letting me down. I’m reminded of a “Funky Winkerbeam” comic strip from the early 80s (back when it was still funny).  The character known as “Crazy” is reading an X-Men comic (okay, it was #136, prequel to the death of Phoenix issue.  Yes, I know I have a problem) and his (maybe?) guidance counselor, suspecting Crazy’s feeling kind of down, is trying to bond with some small talk.

COUNSELOR: “Comic books, eh?  You know, I used to collect those, too.  I remember when I went away to college, I was feeling really lonely and miserable in this new town full of strange faces.  But then one day I was in a drug store and I came across a spindle rack full of comics, and seeing those characters was like catching up with old friends again, and I didn’t feel so lonely any more.  You ever feel like that?”

CRAZY: “Nah, I just read ’em for the ads.  Did you know you can buy x-ray glasses that see right through people’s clothes!?”

In retrospect, I wonder if I didn’t form such powerful attachments to escapist fare in 1974 because those fictional characters and adventures took the place of real friends and good times.  Certainly I can remember taking some comfort in finding that Batman and Superman were still on the stands, even if the pharmacies and grocery stores I found them in were new to me.  And when the new season of the Six Million Dollar Man kicked off in the fall, I must have felt a little more confident I could tough it out with my old pal Steve Austin along for the ride.

Anyway I figured I’d devote a few blog posts to 1974 since I imagine I’ll have it on my mind from time to time this year, what with hitting the 40th anniversary and all.  Plus as my age inches ever closer to the number-that-must-not-be-named, I’ll doubtless be going through a second childhood soon, anyway.

I was going to end this with some kind of amazing clip from 1974, but the best I could turn up was this Burger King ad.  What the heck, though; it qualifies since anyone who heard the jingle still remembers it 40 years on.  And for all you kids who complain about how tough it is working in fast food, be grateful at least they don’t force you to wear these outfits any more.