After participating in Top Shelf Friday on Bluesky last week by posting an image of Superman vol. 2 #50 and telling a brief anecdote about acquiring it, I decided it was time for another self-indulgent post about comics, me, and comics and me. After all, I’m paying for this site, so I’m allowed to be self-indulgent.

The comic in question.

The slightly longer version of the anecdote goes like this:

It was autumn, 1990. I was a freshman at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI, sitting in my dorm reading a newspaper. In particular, I was reading an article about an upcoming issue of Superman in which, after 52 years, Superman was finally* going to pop the question and ask Lois Lane to marry him.

While I had access to a comic shop at this point in my life, I hadn’t set up any kind of pull list or subscription box at said shop. While the story in this issue didn’t dominate the national news in the same way that the story in #75 would a little over two years later, it did still cause a stir, so by the time I got to the comic shop all copies had been sold out and none had been set aside for me.

I went out in search of a copy at any other place I could get to that sold comics, but had no luck.

Ultimately, I recruited my mom and my sister into the search.

This paid off, as when I returned home for Thanksgiving break I was greeted with a copy that my mom had found at a Holiday gas station.

Relating this anecdote got me to thinking about something I’ve referred to periodically in my writings about comics: the inconsistency of my access to them.

Growing up, and even into the period before my hiatus from regular comic-buying, comics were fairly ubiquitous, being sold in places far beyond specialty comic shops. Yet even so, my ability to buy from – or even get to – those places was limited.

With that in mind, lets take a look at where I did and didn’t get my comics from when I was growing up and the impact that matters of availability had on my comic-buying habits.

Grocery Stores

The vast majority of the comics I bought growing up were purchased at grocery stores.

Pretty much every grocery store sold comics, but what mattered the most is how many and which comics they sold, and which stores we went to.

While it went by many names over the years, there was one store where we did the vast majority of our grocery shopping, and the options for comics were rather limited.

It wasn’t a store that had a spinner rack, opting instead to devote a section of the bottom two or three shelves of a standard magazine rack to its selection of comics.

That was how most of the grocery stores sold comics. There were very few stores that had spinner racks, and those were stores we didn’t go to very often unless they had some kind of special going on that my mom couldn’t resist.

Even then, merely going there didn’t mean it was a certainty that I would be allowed to get any comics.

Still, going to other stores beyond the regular one was always something of a treat, as the selection of comics would usually be different – the stores with spinner racks always had more comics than the ones without – so even the possibility of being able to get some comics was exciting, as it would often be comics I couldn’t find at my regular store.

And while it was the store I went to regularly that doesn’t mean that there was any regularity to the selection of comics, either because they just didn’t get some specific comics in a given week or because they were all sold out by the time I got there.

I’ve mentioned that I once went months without seeing an issue of X-Men anywhere, and that sort of thing often happened. Sometimes a given title would just disappear and I wouldn’t know if it had been canceled or it just was no longer available at Big Saver/Green Acres/Festival Foods.

That irregularity and the occasional surfeit of choices afforded from going to different stores made things kind of chaotic for me and I responded by being even more chaotic in how I decided on which comics to grab on a given shopping trip.

I would try to buy some comics every month but find it impossible, but at the same time I would simply not buy a given book every month even when it was possible to do so. I might flip through it to find out what happened in it, but liking a particular title wasn’t a guarantee that I would always buy it. Sometimes because I had to make difficult choices because of financial limitations, but sometimes for no discernible reason at all other than that I guess I was just accustomed to missing issues every so often.

Related: Why Comics?

But you know what was cheap and even readily available at the tiny local mom-and-pop store? Comics.

Gas Stations

Road trips and family vacations frequently resulted in more comics for my collection as they helped keep me quiet in the car, and most of those comics were picked up at gas stations. In particular, the aforementioned Holiday gas stations.

Most of them, like most of the grocery stores, didn’t have spinner racks. What they did often have were comics that had disappeared from the shelves elsewhere, so I could often find comics I’d missed months before.

That was a common feature of taking trips to places, especially places that were even more remote and isolated than where I was from. The tiny stores in places like Copper Harbor and the gas stations along the way were often the closest thing to back issue bins for me.

Miscellaneous Stores

There were lots of other little stores that I would only get to occasionally that sold comics. Mostly convenience stores or little mom-and-pop corner stores. Some of them I got to more often once I was in high school and attended Upward Bound in the summer, but most of them were rare visits as a kid.

The local mom-and-pop only sold comics in mystery packs, so it was never a source for any new comics.


There were a couple of places that were considered newsstands even though they weren’t exactly what the word would typically bring to mind.

Neither of them were places I got to very often, and neither of them survived much past my childhood, but it was cool when I did as they had much larger selections of comics than any other store.

Used Bookstores

I also got a lot of comics from used bookstores, often with the credit my mom got for trading in some of her own books.

The one we went to most often just had disorganized piles of comics that I would sift through to find anything good. The selection wasn’t always the greatest, but luckily as a kid I wasn’t all that discerning.


The other place I sometimes got comics from was just, you know, wherever.

Sometimes they just showed up.

I remember one time my parents had been away for a couple of nights and when they came back my mom had a big box of – mostly Charlton – comics. Where did she get them? I don’t know. Some used bookstore, I guess.

Another time I got a bunch from my oldest sister when she worked at a thrift store and she brought me the comics that someone had donated.

Still another time – when I was probably too young for them – she gave me a bunch of issues of Heavy Metal. No idea where those came from.

It’s also worth noting that I wasn’t always brought along on every shopping trip, so sometimes my mom would just grab comics for me. Sometimes I’d ask her to look for something specific, but mostly she’d just grab some comics indiscriminately.

This often led to me ending up with duplicates, or with things I’d never have considered buying, but I wasn’t likely to complain because comics. (And also MAD paperbacks. She got me a lot of those, and they were always appreciated.)

My mom didn’t drive, so she didn’t often get out of the house on her own, but every so often she would catch a ride to town during the day with a friend or my aunt and she would get all of her shopping done without the whole family having to make the trek in the evening.

One occasion in particular stands out. It was a Friday, sometime in the spring. I was at school, in 4th grade, and was told that my mother was on the phone. I went to the office, curious as to why she would be, wondering if maybe my grandmother was ill or something.

I was greeted with, “I got you so many comics!”

She’d made one of her infrequent daytime trips to town, had grabbed me a bunch of comics, and was so excited about it that she couldn’t wait until I got home to tell me.

She excitedly listed them off, making sure that they were comics that I wanted – they were; she’d done a great job that day – and that there weren’t too many that I already had (there was one, but that was fine).

As I think I’ve mentioned before, my mom was a reader and she was happy to have another reader in the family, even if what I read was mostly comics and MAD. She assumed, correctly, that it would lead me to read other things in time.

Plus, I like to think that I wasn’t too demanding as a kid. All she had to do was keep the comics coming and I was happy.


While subscriptions weren’t terribly expensive – and usually represented a savings – I didn’t often have enough money to spare to spend a bunch of it all at once on comics that I wouldn’t receive immediately.

I did, however, have a few subscriptions growing up.

I didn’t have great luck in my choices, though. The first comic I subscribed to was canceled shortly after and I had to choice something else to fill in for it. Years later, something similar would happen when Action Comics became Action Comics Weekly and I had to pick something else.

The other problem was that I lived on a rural carrier route, with one mail carrier responsible for delivering the mail to several small towns.

In one of those towns there was someone whose name was almost identical to mine, with the only difference being that he was a John.

The carrier would often delver his mail to me and my mail to him. Typically, this would be easily sorted out the next day, but that wasn’t always the case if the carrier accidentally delivered my comics to my similarly-named counterpart, as he would sometimes keep them.

That wasn’t immediately apparent, as the delivery schedule wasn’t particularly consistent – or at least I didn’t do a good job of keeping track of the schedule – so it would sometimes take a month to realize that I hadn’t gotten the previous month’s issue.

Occasionally, my mom would talk to the carrier about it, and sometimes I would get my comic a few days later, but often an inquiry would be met with a denial.

My mom wasn’t too inclined to push and would tell me to be more accepting, as the other John was developmentally disabled, and getting my comics probably made him happy.

Which, sure, fine. But it didn’t make me happy.

Still, it was one of the reasons I didn’t often bother with subscriptions even when I had the money for them.

Disordered Buying

So that’s kind of an overview of the haphazard way in which I acquired comics growing up. As I said, the chaos of it kind of fostered chaos, and it led me to making weird buying choices in response to the unpredictability of my options.

It’s why, for example, when I did have regular, consistent access to comics once I lived within walking distance of a comic shop, I didn’t initially establish a box.

Eventually, after I moved to Marquette full-time rather than just during the school year, I established one, but the idea of doing it never occurred to me on my own and I initially rejected the idea when the employee at the comic shop suggested it.

Getting the same books, consistently, month after month? My brain just wasn’t ready to accept the concept.

I will say that when I was growing up it was a lot easier to buy comics in a random fashion, as most mainstream superhero comics had self-contained, one-and-done stories, there were a lot of non-serialized anthology books, and most serialized comics were written on the underlying assumption that any issue could and would be someone’s first issue. So it was very easy to catch up on anything you missed as previous issues would be recapped in some fashion.


I don’t know that I really had a point to make, but I do think it’s kind of interesting to look back to a time that’s almost the inverse of how things are now, when comic books were everywhere but had very little impact on the larger culture.

Beyond that, in terms of self-reflection, I think the odd buying habits that I developed and that were forced upon me had some positive effects in terms of exposing me to some comics I might not have read otherwise and, I don’t know, teaching me some sort of lesson about how you can’t always get what you want?

Mostly I just wanted to write this up for the same reason I’ve written the other Reference posts: having something that I can point to in order to explain what I mean when I bring up some aspect of my personal history as it relates to comics.

So the next time I mention my inconsistent access to comics and my chaotic purchasing decisions in a post on here or on Comicsky or wherever, you’ll understand what I’m talking about if you’ve read this. And if you haven’t read it, I can point you to it.

*In the main continuity, anyway. In imaginary stories, and on the no-longer-in-continuity-at-the-time Earth-Two, there had been plenty of Super-weddings.

Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.

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