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An ode to certain '80s excesses

Continuing my book shelf tour, this week brings us to the first shelf containing graphic novels. There are several such books on my shelves, mostly X-Men or related titles, like the excellent Elektra Assassin, about which I still harbor dark fantasies that one day some brave filmmaker will take up the challenge of bringing this cult classic to the big screen (or streaming, I’m fine either way). Written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz right around the time when both were just entering the pantheon of comic gods, this 1986 mini-series is delirious, disorienting, violent, manic and psychedelic. Set against a backdrop of political satire, espionage and government conspiracies, weird psychological torture with a dash of BDSM and mythic incest thrown in (well, her name is Elektra after all). It evokes a certain flavor of1980s nostalgia; a sweaty, coke-fuelled, hyper-masculine, end-of-empire criminal excess and technological nihilism. It's an epic battle of bad against really bad against pure evil, played out on blood-soaked South American soil, brought to you by the School of the Americas. The main character is even a dead-ringer for Pablo Escobar.

But I’m getting ahead of myself… here's the list of books on my gold shelf.

Book Tour: the Gold Shelf

Tiger Flower by Robert Vavra and Fleur Cowles

Inventory by the AV Club

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

The Memories of Will Conine by Conine & Whitney

SunShines by Michael Lutin

Jimmy Buffett by Jimmy Buffett

Parrot Head Handbook by Jimmy Buffett

X-Men: Battle of the Atom by Brian Michael Bendis et al

X-Women by Chris Claremont

Elektra Assassin by Frank Miller

Mass Effect Omnibus vol. 1 by Dark Horse

A Massive Swelling by Cintra Wilson

Political Astrology by Michael O'Reilly

Cube Chic by Kelley L. Moore

Journals by Kurt Cobain

100 Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces by Gordon Kerr

Earth from Above 365 Days by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Gorillas by Jill M. Caravan

I was eight years old when my mother, my grandmother and I moved from Seattle to Arizona in a 1963 Bluebird school bus. It was big and yellow and filled with bench seats, which were torn out and replaced with carpeting, built-in cabinets, bunk beds and an antique stove. In those days, they called them "converted" school busses, but nowadays you might call it “pimped.” LOL

We had been shooting for Santa Fe but a combination of late summer heat, dust storms and extremes in altitude finally got the better of the Bluebird, and we just barely made it to within towing distance of Sedona.

Once we were all set up at the campground, my mother and I hiked up the hill to the Circle K that stood at the top like a beacon of civilization. Back in the early 80s, there wasn't much more to Sedona than our campground at one end and the Circle K at the other. While my mother ducked into the ladies room, I spotted a rickety wire carousel of comic books and found myself quickly entranced, standing there slowly turning the display stand to study all the covers.

Up to that point, I had naturally assumed my mother's opinion of comic books ranked somewhere below even Barbie, so when I turned around to find her standing behind me, I was surprised when she told me to pick one—hastening to add, anything but Betty and Veronica.

To mention the name Dazzler in the presence of your average comic book collector in the 1980s was to risk being forcibly ejected from the premises—at the very least, fixed with a stare of utter contempt and loathing, then shunned. But by eight-year old girl standards, she was by far the most intriguing title character in the Marvel Universe; a heroine who was part Barbie and part Blondie with kick-ass mutant super powers—best of all, she did it all on roller skates.

On the way home, I learned that my mother was anything but adverse to comics; in fact, as a teenager she'd had a collection that kids in the 80s would have killed for — first issues of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and The X-Men among others. It wasn't long before I learned how much her collection would have been worth, had it not been abandoned by the side of the road in a broken-down VW bus (along with a soon-to-be ex-boyfriend) many years before I was born. (Ah, the 60s...)

Anyway, Dazzler kept me entertained for weeks as I read and reread it over and over. I was beside myself with anticipation waiting for the next issue to hit the rack. We ended up staying in Sedona for almost two years, during which time our weekly trip to the Circle K became a ritual, with my mother and I scouring the comic book carousel for new issues of a quickly expanding list of titles, including several of my mother's old favorites like Thor and The Silver Surfer.

When we moved back to Seattle a few years later, we traded our sparsely stocked gas station for the heretofore undreamed-of abundance of Golden Age Collectibles in the Pike Place Market. Every weekend we would brave the madness of the crowds upstairs and fight our way down two levels to the store that was always wall-to-wall with teenage boys and grown men with basement apartments in their parents' homes. We would spend hours pouring over the new arrivals wall for our favorite titles, an ever-expanding list that now included Daredevil, Avengers, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and seemingly endless X-Men spin-offs.

We even went to a few combination Star Trek and comic book collector conventions. There's nothing quite like navigating your way through throngs of homemade Starfleet uniforms and Klingons with their makeup melting under the hot convention center lights as you try to determine which vendor has the best prices on John Byrne-era X-Men back issues. They allowed smoking indoors back then too, so you can only imagine the smell.

What made it all worthwhile was coming home and emptying your bags, spreading everything out on the bedroom floor and sorting all the issues by title and numerical order, seeing which storyline gaps you’d managed to fill in, then closing the door and reading issue after issue after issue until you couldn't keep your eyes open any longer.

At the height of my comic book obsession, I dreamed in panels.

By the mid-80s, comic collecting was no longer a fringe obsession; it was a "market" which meant that every purchase was an investment, so every new issue went into an acid-free bag with cardboard backing to preserve it in mint condition and guarantee the highest resale value. Even though I never planned on selling them.

In the early 90s, the comic book industry, which had been supported throughout the 20th century by a very small but fiercely loyal demographic, was seized by "market forces" and rocketed to widespread but unsustainable popularity. There was a widely-circulated story about a guy who sold his mint-condition issue of Fantastic Four number one and bought a Ferrari. (Or was it the other way around?) But the massive publishing boom of the early 90s made comic book collecting an utterly worthless investment pretty quickly. Back issues from this era are now sold for about $1 an issue, often well below cover price.

The 2010s saw my generation basically take over Hollywood, to the point where every major movie released in the last 10 years was either part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars franchise. (I opted out around the time they ruined the X-Men movies by recasting Sansa Stark as Jean Grey, but don’t get me started!)

I recently listened to the audiobook version of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, which rekindled my interest, so I’ve been catching up on the Avengers, Iron-Man, Captain America and other films from the last decade. Who knows, now that Disney has obtained the licensing for the X-Men, maybe they’ll start making good movies about my favorite team again… as counterintuitive as that may seem... and until then, at least we have Deadpool!

Related posts:

Book tour, part 1: Nostalgia, a deep dive into Douglas Coupland and my early adulthood

Books, part 2: the Power of Personality, about astrology and other personality studies

Books, part 3: I heart New York, about my love of and visit to New York City

Order my Badass Goddesses book in paperback, hardback and Kindle/tablet formats.

Check out my RedBubble shop for Badass Goddess art prints, apparel and more.

Listen to the Starzology Podcast featuring me, Alison Price and other special guests.

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Sionainne L. O'Neill
Sionainne L. O'Neill
Jun 29

ah yes, I love a trip down that memory lane 💙 fun times!

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