I began my brutal addiction to comic books in 1980. At the time, I wasn’t overly discerning. I would read both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, but as time went on, Marvel became my main fix with GI Joe, the Avengers, John Byrne’s amazing run on Fantastic Four, and Chris Claremont’s equally-outstanding tenure on X-Men.
I didn’t realize until much later this era of comics was known as the Bronze Age, a time (1970-1985) where the characters remained from the 60s, but the storylines were much, much darker with plots focused on murder, drugs, sex, etc. Some of today’s most popular titles such as X-Men and Batman were saved by the Bronze Age as Uncanny X-Men had gone into reprints and Detective Comics (featuring Batman) was in danger of being cancelled. Claremont’s leadership at X-Men and the tandem of Denny O’Neal and Neal Adams made Batman one of the true standout titles of the time.
Other titles that challenged the status quo of the comics industry were the Defenders, Man-Thing, and Swamp Thing, books that have held up amazingly well and are still good reads.
Cruising the internet, as I’m wont to do, I stumbled across a site called LongBoxGraveyard.com where the Bronze Age never died. Featuring not only blogs and top-10s from the era, its administrator, a North San Diego resident named Paul O’Connor, actually sells comics at ridiculously low prices.
I had a chance to chat with Paul about when his love of comics started and why, like the origins of copper smelting, he remains in the Bronze Age.
Kurt Bali: Do you remember your first comic?
Paul O’Connor: Captain America No. 177, a not especially distinguished or significant issue. I bought it because I thought the character was cool, somehow overlooking that Cap is barely present in the story itself.
KB: What was it about comic books that changed your life?
PO: For me the great attraction of comics was serial adventure at a young age. When I got into comics (1974) we didn’t have lots of television series and young adult properties tailored for younger readers. I was interested in science fiction but a lot of the more accessible writers — like Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein — went right over my head. At the same time, I felt like I’d outgrown the Hardy Boys. Comics were kind of “just right” for my reading level and intellect, and as neither of those things have substantially advanced in the decades that followed, they’re still just right for me.
KB: Your website, LongBoxGraveyard.com, focuses primarily on the Bronze Age of comics. Why that era in particular?
PO: It is because the Bronze Age is my Golden Age. That is to say, the comic book Bronze Age dates to when I was twelve, and the golden age of everything is … twelve. It’s all down to arrested development.
KB: Marvel or DC?
PO: Marvel — those were the books I liked first, in the 1970s their line was wildly inventive (and uneven!) but memorable and sufficiently laden with bizarre lore that it felt I’d discovered a pocket universe. It would be years before I’d come to enjoy DC books (mostly in the 1980s, when guys like Alan Moore and Frank Miller were throwing parts around the shop). I’ve recently developed a nostalgic appreciation for Silver Age DC series like Sgt. Rock and the Legion of Superheroes.
KB: I think for a lot of collectors/fans, there are some storylines that really stand out. For me, it’s Death of Jean Grey and Secret Wars. What are yours?
PO: I was very taken with the long epics in Tomb of Dracula and also Master of Kung Fu through much of the 1970s. The long and winding Vision/Scarlet Witch story from early 1970s Avengers also fascinated me.
KB: You were at ComiCon in San Diego this summer. What were some highlights?
PO: I just did a single, stealthy day on Friday — I don’t like crowds, and I hate to stand in line. I didn’t have to do much of either, thankfully, and got to sit in on panels about the kinds of things I like — Tarzan, Frazetta, Star Trek. Bought some half-price trades, saw several old friends, then was on the road home before the freeways coagulated. A golden day.
KB: What are your thoughts on some of the current trends in comics, such as the New 52?
PO: I am largely oblivious to them. To an extent I remain stuck in 1978. I sampled a few of the New 52 and found them entertaining, but not enough to form a monthly three or four dollar comics habit when I have so many books in my own collection to appreciate and re-experience. I check in on Saga and Hawkeye and sample other new books now and then, but I am a wait-for-trade guy and any trends I notice will be well behind the bleeding edge. It is not that I find contemporary comics inferior (they’re just different); it is more that I am well-satisfied with what I already have.
KB: What are you reading now?
PO: Right this second I’m about half way through the second volume in DC’s Sgt. Rock Archives, and also pages away from the conclusion of Tarzan of the Apes, which I hadn’t read in years but was inspired to pick up again after a Burroughs panel at Comic-Con. I’m also down to the last couple stories in the second Fritz Leiber Fafhrd & Mouser volume, “Swords Against Death” (another nostalgic re-read).