Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Funnies

I learned to read when I was three years old.

My parents used to tell me this, and my earliest memories of books and stories indicate I was quite young indeed. I remember my uncle, who was five years older, telling me I could not read. I may have been four or five.

You just memorized the book, he declared. I challenged him to bring me something I had never read. He brought home The Cat in the Hat from his school library. I sat and read it to him.

No one questioned my ability to read from that day on.

Long before I started elementary school, I was reading the Roanoke Times. I started with the comics. I remember sitting on my grandmother's lap and sounding out the words as I read Blondie, Snuffy Smith, and Prince Valiant. Yes, I have been reading Prince Valiant for as long as I can remember. I still read it every Sunday.

I don't know how much I actually comprehended, but I must have enjoyed it. I still do. I have missed maybe 30 days of comic-reading in my lifetime.

Before I was 9, I was reading comic books. My grandfather, who lived in Salem, would pay the four of us (my two young uncles and my brother and me) to help him mow the lawn, and every Saturday we'd trek to the Orange Market for a soda, a candy bar, and a comic book, all of which cost about 50 cents (or less).

I was a Marvel Comics reader and I devoured Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, The Black Widow, Spiderman, and Captain America. I read DC Comics, too, but with not as much gusto. In DC Comics I read mostly Wonder Woman, Batman and Justice League comics.

I also read Richie Rich occasionally. He was not a favorite but I'd read him when I was bored.

We tossed our comics into a huge box (it once contained a washing machine, I think) in my grandparent's basement. We must have had thousands of them, because the four of us bought different comics every week and swapped them around. The box went out in the flood waters of 1972 or 1979; I'm not sure which year. It was a small fortune in paper at that time.

I do not read comic books anymore, although I went through a spell of reading them about eight years ago. But I'd been away from them for so long I found it hard to rekindle my interest in those characters.

I still read the comic strips in the newpaper every day. I turn to them every morning before redirecting my attention to the rest of the paper. I don't read every strip - I always try a new comic for several months but if it doesn't grow on me, I stop reading it. Presently there are four of the daily comic strips being printed in The Times that I do not read.

Funky Winkerbean has long been a staple. This comic has undergone several transformations, the most recent last fall. The characters have aged 20 years now.

I am having trouble figuring out who is who in this new version of FW. I don't look forward to this comic strip like I once did. I may have to stop reading it even though I've read it for at least 20 years (or however long it's been carried by the paper).

Things change, I guess. Maybe I've grown older too and that's why Funky Winkerbean no longer makes me smile.


  1. Or because it's hard to relate when half of the strips are insides jokes about life as a high school band director. Uh, OK, I know lots of those, don't you? The strip doesn't exactly have wide appeal anymore.

    Peanuts is still my favorite, but I miss Calvin and Hobbs and Bloom County.

  2. When I read comic books, I tended toward Archie rather than the super-heros. Let's see...there was Archie, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead.

  3. I never read the comics anymore but did religiously in the Daily News growing up. I particularly liked Brenda Starr. My dad used to call me that and I always wanted to be a redhead because of her. I think her love interest wore a patch over his eye. I married a man with one eye, but can't get him to put a patch on.

  4. I loved the comics growing up! I read much of Archie, and always the newspapers.

    I think I learned to read off newspapers as my Dad was a paper junkie. I had to learn to track stock market symbols and such so Dad and I could plot things together.

    I was such a Library Kid growing up. Once a week trip to the public one, and once a week trip to the Church Library. All the teachers at my church learned I liked to read and brought me in so many special books on mythology, history, and historical fiction. I still remember them......


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