The prime objective for an English teacher is not to teach reading, but to create a passion for it. Textbooks for English classes tend to include stories and sometimes novels by Charles Dickens, Fenimore Cooper, Theodore Dreiser, and others of that category. I’m not criticizing them, but they can be a bit overwhelming for a twelve-year-old.
I can’t recall anything we read in grade or high school that has stayed with me. I learned to read early though, before first grade, largely thanks to comic book characters. I started with Dick Tracy and The Katzenjammer Kids when I was about five years old. We vacationed in Wildwood each summer and at about the same time my father handed me a comic book featuring a character in a bat suit. It was his first appearance and I immediately became a major fan. I made up my mind that I would learn to read so I could follow the stories.
Superman and Captain Marvel provided early boosts also. I still recall a story in which Captain Marvel gets involved in a rescue that leaves him covered with mud and dust. He flies over to a remote lake, climbs out of his uniform and dives into the water. While he’s in there splashing around, someone makes off with his uniform and he spends the rest of the story flying around in a barrel trying to recover it.
I also owned Wonder Woman’s first appearance, which happened in a Justice Society story. She was brought on as the secretary and did not participate in their adventures, , which seemed odd, for which seemed odd since she could have taken out almost any of those guys.
I took good care of the early comics, storing them in a cabinet in the basement. I had a lot of the early All-Star Comics, And everything else I could get my hands on. And I needed to follow the dialogue which was contained of course in speech bubbles. The process was easy because I could generally see what was going on. Unlike Dick and Jane.
During World War II, there were ongoing paper drives. I’m not sure why paper was so important, but we were informed that we had a patriotic duty to save whatever paper we could and contribute it to the war effort. Collectors came every Saturday. Eventually I became one myself.
And one dark day, I discovered the storage cabinet in the basement was empty. Our collection was gone. My father explained that we’d had a duty to contribute everything and he didn’t think I’d mind.
Years later, The Wall Street Journal ran a story publishing what had happened to the value of the old ten cent comic books. Some titles had gone to hundreds of dollars each. Since then of course they’ve disappeared over the moon.
My dad was not happy.