I don't know how he knows this, but our friend Mark Evanier tells us that fifty years ago this week, Fantastic Four #1 was released. Cover-dated November, the first issue debuted in the supposedly hot, sticky days of mid-August. And I remember it well, if the exact date is a little fuzzy for me.
I was six years old in 1961 and gaping into the yawning mouth of first grade. In a few short weeks, I would venture into the first of my 12 years of indentured servitude in the Tamaqua Area School District. I had no idea what to expect from first grade. Kindergarten was a cake-walk: the coming years would be filled with bitter, single, old women, edging towards retirement, as teachers, and a bunch of strange--stranger than me--kids who would come and go in my life.
But one constant was my brother and my twice-weekly trips to the newsstand. As I remember it, new comics came out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and--at 10 cents a piece--there were plenty to buy each time. I remember a rainy Tuesday and my mom wouldn't let me join my brother (who was 8 1/2 years older than me--and still is) on his mad dash downtown to see what came out. I waited patiently by the door, watching a mid-August rainstorm and unseasonably cool weather whip around outside. Finally he came home, with a slim brown paper bag tucked inside his hoodie. In it was one lone comic book, something new, a first issue: Fantastic Four #1.
"What is this?!" I asked, horribly disappointed that a rainy Tuesday wasn't going to be made better by a giant stack of comics. I was hoping for a new Superman or a World's Finest or maybe even a Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen, not a dumb ol' monster book from that "other" publisher. (I didn't know what to call Marvel then; they weren't Marvel yet, although there was that little "MC" in a small box on the cover.)
In retrospect, that first issue of Fantastic Four deserved its own special showcase as it entered my life. It has had a profound effect on me over the years. It was the first comic book that made me realize--in my own Helen Keller moment--that somebody (in this case, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) actually wrote and drew these things. Lee and Kirby's continual creativity and incredible output made growing up in the Marvel Age of Comics a beautiful, exciting thing, and led me--through a roundabout way--to where I am today, working for the country's largest comics and pop culture convention.
I had no way of knowing that that 10-cent comic book, purchased on a dismal day in August fifty years ago, would have such far-reaching consequences in my life. That each month, for the next 8 years or so, Stan and Jack would have me spellbound in front of a cheap, four-color, pamphlet. That I would haunt my two local newsstands, waiting for the next issue, buying numerous other books from numerous publishers just to tide me over, and get uncontrollably thrilled when summer came and a new Fantastic Four Annual would mystically appear.
They say your favorite comic book is always the first one you ever read. I had been exposed to plenty of comics before August 1961, but I'll always consider Fantastic Four #1 the first comic I ever really "got," on a level far beyond acquiring it. That copy still exists back with my brother in eastern Pennsylvania, tattered and torn, probably unreadable. But in the small archaelology of my life, it's my own personal Holy Grail.