Staff : Al Sjoerdsma
Judging on age alone, Al is the most senior of us all. By day, Al is a mild-mannered librarian, but this is only a cover for his secret identity as an accomplished playwright.
Al is our resident historian, responsible for the most detailed of our "Looking Back" series of historical reviews. Al is also an expert on early Silver Age Marvel.
All Spidey comics, Alan Moore's ABC line, current Punisher series, new and old series by Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart, Jack Kirby, other series not worth mentioning since I got behind on them and lost track of the storylines (e.g. Thunderbolts, Avengers), Oz Books, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Bobble Head figures, works by Philip K. Dick, Tim Powers, Samuel Beckett and Thomas Berger, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episodes, other stuff.
Comics were very big with my peers when I was growing up. I read every bizarre comic you can imagine, from Hot Stuff to Popnecker the Fat Fury (still one of my all-time favorites), from Jimmy Olsen as the Giant Turtle Boy to Archie's MadHouse, from the mid-60s Captain Marvel who separated his body into different flying parts when he yelled "Split!" to Classic Comics of Frankenstein and King of the Khyber Rifles. Sometime very early on, I got ahold of a copy of Amazing #7... Spidey vs. the Vulture and was struck by the odd but compelling Ditko drawings... still being too young to really pick up on Spidey's sarcasm and sense of humor. I remembered it, though. About a year later, I latched onto another Spidey comic (though, strangely enough, I can't remember which one) and turned into a full-fledged Marvel Maniac.
I had a close friend who was a big DC fan. He and I would ride our bikes up to the Drug Fair every week (a long drive on very busy streets... I don't think our parents ever really knew what streets we were on... it would have scared them to death). He would buy a bunch of DCs and I would buy a bunch of Marvels. We'd go home, read them, swap, and read the other guy's books. Then we'd keep them all together in paper grocery bags in the attic. My parents always complained that they were taking up space and we'd have to move them to his attic. His parents always threatened to throw them away and we'd move them back. I was absorbed by the doings in all the Marvel books... the Inhumans in the FF, Hulk and Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish, Thor vs. Hercules... but the book that fascinated me most of all was Spider-Man with the question that was driving us all crazy... who is the Green Goblin? (As I recall, the answer of Norman Osborne was pretty disappointing. He was, I think, a fairly recent addition to the book and I'm not even sure I knew who he was when the revelation came.) And I loved that Ditko art, so much that I didn't care for Romita at first.
This went on for several years, this collection put together by my friend and I. Then one summer I went on vacation leaving the collection at his house and when I got back, I learned that his parents had made him throw the whole batch away. Shortly after that, I decided that I was probably too old to be reading comics and I quit. I still remember seeing a Spidey book on the rack and wanting it... but choosing to not buy it.
I was away from comics for a number of years, until my senior year in High School. Then, while in a 7-11, I saw a copy of Marvel Tales. On a whim, I picked it up. It was a reprint of ASM #67 with Spidey thinking he was shrunk by Mysterio and I loved it. So I went searching for other Spider-Man books. The first ASM I found was #138 (which I am doing a Lookback of right now, as a matter of fact) with the Mindworm. I learned a couple of things very quickly. Gwen Stacy was dead (yes, I missed the death of Gwen Stacy when it first came out) and Harry Osborn was now the Green Goblin. I didn't like either development. I was crazy about Gwen and still prefer her to MJ. But, believe it or not, that dopey Mindworm story was great fun and it sucked me in even further. I kept buying Spidey, Marvel Tales, and Marvel Team-Up until I went to college in the fall of 1975 and discovered something I had never seen before and couldn't believe existed... a comic shop. It was the Eye of Agamotto in Ann Arbor and it is long gone now but very fondly remembered. It also featured something I never expected to see in a store... back issues of comics. Suddenly, I was able to simultaneously read the then-current Jackal/clone storyline and the death of Gwen in ASM #121-122. I went on a determined search for all the Spideys I owned as a kid plus the ones I had missed in the meantime. Which brings us up to date except to say that I hung with the books until those issues in the 260s with Red Nine and the Commuter. Somehow, after all that great Roger Stern stuff, these issues didn't seem worth reading. So I didn't. But while I stopped reading for quite some time, I kept buying them. At some point, years later, I sat down with all of them and caught up... which was the only way to read clunky storylines like Round Robin and Maximum Carnage. If I had read them as they came out, I might not be with you here today.
All Ditko, Spider-Man NO More-Death of Foswell, Doc Ock wins, Death of Gwen, Jackal clone saga (first time), Roger Stern's stuff particularly with odd previously non-Spidey villains like Stilt Man and Foolkiller, Venom on the deserted island, Clone Saga (still, IMHO, the best thing in the books for the last ten years - even though it failed on many levels)