I love hanging out with John. And a few Saturday’s ago, we had some time free of family responsibilities and decided to meet up at the Hartville Flea Market. It’s in the town where we grew up and, although it lacks the charm it held when we were younger, it can still yield the random, unexpected treasure.
Working our way through the stalls, we found a vendor selling comics. As I flipped through row after row of bagged and boarded single issues, I stumbled on Marvel’s Generic Comic Book. When I pulled it out of the longbox and held up the stark black and white cover, John glanced over at it and then me and asked if I’d ever seen that comic before. I answered, “no,” gobsmacking him right alongside me. It’s cover dated 1984 – clearly right in my wheelhouse, but remained under my radar for nearly 30 years!
I’m not naive enough to believe I know every Marvel comic of the era, but their quirky one-offs and stunt publishing endeavors always seemed to hold particular sway over me. Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-Men. Marvel Tails, Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. Marvel Team-Up #74 between Spider-Man and the Not Ready For Prime Time Players. The adaptation of the TV show Sledge Hammer. The entire Assistant Editors’ Month run. (A collection of comics I adore so much, I devote an entire chapter of my book, Deus ex Comica, to the event!) But Generic Comic Book was an unknown quantity.
The price was right, so I decided to give it a go. I pulled it out of the taped-shut bag when I got home, and found no writing or art credits in it, only a “Stan Lee presents” banner across the splash page. I’m ok with that, actually. I mean, it’s generic, so nameless seems appropriate. It took some digging online, but the ever-reliable Comic Book Database tells me that Steve Skeates wrote the book and Larry Hama edited it. No idea who drew it, though.
According to the interwebs, Skeates worked for the legendary Warren Publishing in the 1970s (Creepy, Eerie, etc.), then wrote Generic Comic Book after being out of the industry for a brief time. One story claims Hama asked Skeates to write the book and that led to him getting the writing gig for the Peter Porker ongoing of 1984 that spun out of that Marvel Tails mentioned earlier.
As I was sitting down to read the book, a few thoughts swirled through my head... I wondered if the contents would be geared towards my 13 year-old self, or if it would be a more sophisticated satire that my present, adult self would better appreciate. Turns out, neither version of me found it all that remarkable. Even though I didn’t feel the book succeeded (the story wasn’t particularly entertaining and the art was dodgy throughout), maybe it actually did. I mean, maybe it’s entirely appropriate for a generic comic book to be somewhat bland and to play broad.