When I was in elementary school, my favorite game to play at recess, or really any time I had to opportunity to run around outside and I could get at least one other kid my age to cooperate, was (surprise) superheroes. Now, keep in mind, this was the early eighties, deep in rural farm-country Ohio. The first of the cartoons which would lead to the popularization of then lesser known superheros, was about a decade out. The nearest comic book store, even the nearest store of any kind that sold comics on a regular basis, was about an hour's drive away. Suffice it so say, this was neither a time nor a place where comic book heroes were prolific.
Fortunately, as I've mentioned previously, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, who lived much closer to places where at least news-stand comic books could be procured. As such, my knowledge of lesser known characters was more extensive that that of most of my classmates.
Movies and cartoons of mainstream characters were current at the time, so I was usually able to find at least one victim to humor me. It would usually begin with the other kid(s) asking me what character I wanted to be. I'd usually pick some obscure character from the X-Men, the Defenders, or, most often, a half baked idea of a particular member of the Avengers (more on this character next episode), followed by a long description of what they looked like and what they could do. After these epic and informative diatribes, my playmate would often return with something like , "OK whatever. I guess I'll be Superman".
Eventually, as I got a little older, when I would ask another kid what superhero he wanted to be, the answer would be "I don't". I realized then that my knowledge of more esoteric superheroes had outgrown my contemporaries, as much as their interests had outgrown me.
When I was ten, however, I met a kid named Wade. It became very apparent that Wade liked comic books and superheroes at least as much as I did, and we quickly became friends. After a few weeks, I rode Wade's bus from school to his house for our first official outside-of-school hang out. Wanting to show off what I thought of as my impressive comic book collection, I brought a handful of my finest pedigrees, namely a few battered copies of the Defenders, a battered copy of the Avengers, a battered copy of Captain America (notice a pattern?), and a copy of Rom.
(Don't worry. If you're not familiar with any titles or characters I reference I'll probably cover something about them eventually. If you can't wait that long .....well, that's what Wikipedia is for.)
Wade showed me his room when we got to his house. It was immediately clear that, in terms of comic book fandom, I was out of my league. The walls of Wade's room were plastered with comic posters. It was a thing of beauty. It was pretty clear that he was more of a DC guy than me, but since I just kind of floundered around and picked up a little bit of everything anyway, I can't with any kind of retrospective honesty say that I was a clearly defined Marvelite at the time anyway.
After letting me recover from my moment of shock and awe, Wade asked me if I wanted to see his collection. While, of course, eager to peruse a new batch of comics, and curious to see what someone else might collect, my expectations were fairly meager. My "collection" at this time, after all, had been pretty much just a dresser drawer full of poorly maintained issues (a few of which had long ago forever shed their covers) of whatever random thing had caught my attention, and I didn't have any other standard by which to compare.
Wade, however, opened (what I remember to be, thirty something years later) a walk-in closet, with shelves full of well stocked comic book long boxes. I was stunned, not only at the amount of comics he had accumulated, many of which were older than than we were, but at the care that had been shown them. Wade's comics were standing upright in the boxes, each bagged and boarded, none of them worn and haggard from misuse. They were arranged alphabetically by title, and then numerically by issue, as opposed to being tossed haphazardly in a pile.
To modern, younger readers this might not seem like such a big deal. Keep in mind, though, that this was at a time when comic book stores were still relatively few and far between, and in a place where they were nonexistent. To me, this was a game changer. In the immortal words of male model Hansel ("He's so hot right now"), it changed my "whole perspective on shit".
During my friendship with Wade I came to view each issue of each comic not just as an individual story, but as a thread in an every growing tapestry of history and continuity. I learned to better understand what I did and didn't like, to move on from just sampling titles to begin actively collecting issues of specific titles as they were released. I also learned not just to appreciate the stories within the comics, but to respect the books themselves as the vehicles by which those stories are delivered to our imaginations and consciousnesses.
Sadly for our friendship, my family and moved to another state a few years later, and Wade and I lost touch. Oddly enough, it was around this time that my collection started to peak, as I now had better access to comic book stores, as well as the paraphernalia to preserve my comics. To this day, however, I still view my friendship with Wade as the catalyst that helped me progress from a comic book hobbyist to an actual collector.