I have to confess that my passion for comic books started to decline when the price of Superman's monthly adventures rose from ten cents to fifteen cents. I was probably a year or two away from fifth grade, when I would learn how to calculate percentages. But I didn't need advanced math to know that this was a precipitous price increase and to feel the first frisson of discontent at the way corporate America treated the lowly consumer.
Not that I actually paid for most of the comic books I read. In Glen Rock, N.J. in the 1950s, comic books were purveyed by the owners of what were called sweet shops. The sweet shop always had a soda fountain and the daily newspapers. It sold cigarettes and cigars, though it would be a while before I succumbed to the temptation of tobacco. There was a shelf full of candy bars. Baseball cards were a seasonal offering. And the sweet shop had a rack full of the latest comic books. Superman and the DC stable were my go-tos, but they also had Archie and his friends and, if I remember, some true romance comics that I did not touch for fear of cooties. Marvel was a blip on the horizon.
Anyway, the preferred practice of me and my friends was to save up till we had a quarter--twenty-five cents was real walkin' around money--and go to the sweet shop with the ultimate goal of buying two comic books and a sweet--a five-cent pack of baseball cards with the flat pink slab of gum enclosed, or maybe a Three Musketeers bar if baseball cards were out of season. But one didn't relinquish that quarter quickly.
My specialty was the protracted browse. I might scan the rack and, just from the covers, realize that Superman and Action Comics would be my selections. Then I'd take a look at the latest Batman, World's Finest, Adventure, and maybe a Green Lantern or an Aquaman. The goal was to read as many as possible before the man behind the counter said, "Hey, kid! Ya gotta buy something or take off." Thanks to my parents and my teachers (who unanimously disapproved of comic books) I was a pretty fast reader, and I could usually get through two comics for every one I wound up buying. A comic like World's Finest might take a mere two minutes, enough to scan the Superman-Batman joint adventure that was the main piece in every issue, skip over the ads for Charles Atlas's bodybuilding secrets and X-ray glasses--they'd be in Superman, anyway--and give a quick. almost contemptuous glance to the third-tier hero of the B-story in World's Finest, usually something about a jungle daredevil named Congo Bill. I was at the age where I could read fast, make equally fast judgments, but was still too slow to wonder why Lois Lane didn't recognize Superman when he put on his Clark Kent glasses and combed that curly forelock up toward the back of his head.
I don't think kids like me were responsible for the demise of the sweet shop, by the way. I think it was probably the arrival of 7-11 and its volume purchasing power. There was no such thing as a sweet shop chain. It was one of those mom-and-pop operat ions that, regrettably, have disappeared in the general homogenization of the American economy.
Anyway, those days passed. I wasn't a comic book collector, not with younger brothers who wanted to have their crack at whatever I brought home. Thus I escaped the typical fate of a boy who collected comics and kept them, say, in a box at the back of his closet. He'd go off to camp or to college and come home to find that his mother had decided to tidy up his room and thrown them away. I was spared that pain and, thus, the vogue for treating old comic books as valuable collector's items that came and went in the 1990s.
So I wasn't exactly well prepared for Awesome Con 2018, which started a three-day run at the Washington convention center today. But it's been a long winter, and a particularly cold March. I haven't had much chance to photograph outside the studio. I decided to buy a ticket and make some portraits. Turned out I didn't recognize three-quarters of the costumes I was seeing and photographing. It didn't matter.
Asking people to pose for a photograph is not something I'm good at doing. It feels a little aggressive. But the good thing about an event like Awesome Con is that people want someone to pay attention to them. You don't dress up like a Might Morphin' Power Ranger, or a team of them, like the guys in the top picture, unless you want to be noticed and appreciated.
I didn't know whose costumes most people were wearing, but it didn't matter. I just said, "Nice costume! May I take a picture?" and people invariably stopped. They not only stood still for the camera. They mugged, striking power poses, brandishing their light sabres, and somewhat to my chagrin, insisting that I wait until they had their masks on.
I expected to see lots of adults, but I didn't expect the number of multi-generational groups I saw. Lots of dads with sons, passing along the love of comic book heroes. My own father would not have been pleased. He took me to baseball games. He took me to the circus when it came to town. He was a man of his times.
The circus is fading away. Cosplay is taking its place. Well, no animals were mistreated in the making of these costumes. They're strictly synthetics.