I caught the comics bug fairly early. Spider-Man, to absolutely no surprise. On the other hand, how many kids get their first comic while mushroom hunting?
Anyone from outside the MidWest who stumbles across this and asks, “What the fuck is mushroom hunting?”, it’s pretty much what it sounds like: go out into the woods, walk around for a bit, find mushrooms, pick them if they’re good, and bring them back to cook and eat. Okay, so the technical term would probably be “mushroom gathering,” but being a patriarchal society, Americans like words with more masculine connotations, and nobody ever heard of a masculine “gatherer.” My family loved mushrooms, as many Michiganders do, so mushroom hunting was a pretty regular ritual when I was a kid.
Particularly, this was something my brother and I would do with my dad whenever he had us for a couple weeks. My great-grandmother had a place up in Harrison, a quiet town that always seemed perpetually entangled with the woods from what I remember (handy Michigan map: on your right palm, it would be roughly an inch–maybe inch and a half–below your ring finger. We vaguely called it ‘Up North’). We’d stay for a few days: nights mostly spent trying to fall asleep in a darkened room and the smell of pine; often, moonlight would keep me awake, and it would be the only thing, ‘cuz there would be absolutely no sound. Days would be getting snacks and supplies for the day and then going deeper into the woods to forage for mushrooms. Can’t say I enjoyed it. Even as a kid, I preferred being indoors, and if I was outside it was to make use of the space for whatever imaginary playland I invented for myself, but was never at home in the woods or looking for those morels (which I didn’t even like eating). I was the odd one out in the family. However, I did enjoy spending time with my older brother and my father. That never seemed to diminish, even when that meant braving the outdoors.
When it comes to this sort of thing, days, dates, or even how old I was is all hazy to me. The number that stuck in my mind for the longest time was 5, but I would have actually been 7 based on the cover date below. My parents had been divorced a few years by that point, and this was one of the rare times I got to spend with my dad. I’m never sure of this, but I don’t think he ever knew what to make of me (and probably still doesn’t), the awkward little boy who spent more time inside his head than most, but goddamnit he always tried. Always supported my pursuit of writing and drawing, and never seemed to mind that I preferred movies to motorcycles (not that I didn’t love those, I just never found it interesting to tinker with them). Maybe because my brother took more after him in that regard, but he was still pretty even-headed about it (benefit of only having to put up with me a few weeks out of the year?). In any case, this particular trip would end up cementing the course my childhood, adolescence, and now even my supposedly adult life would take, and it wasn’t even anything major: just a spinner rack.
Now, again, my memory has been fuzzy on this (and I’ve really been thinking of asking Dad about this moment), but here goes: We were in a convenience store, getting whatever snacks, drinks, etc. we were getting for the day’s hunt. Don’t remember if I’d ever been in there before, but if I did, I never noticed the rack before. Was just a few feet from the counter, and it was stuffed with comics. I was fixated on an issue of Amazing Spider-Man–#377, written by David Micheline and drawn by Jeff Johnson, as some quick digging has revealed, featuring Styx and Stone (mercenary guys who called each other “Mr.”) and Cardiac (doctor wearing some cool armor with goofy shoulder pads and carrying a stick, fighting insurance companies and the drug industry)–because I had not been into superheroes before, but I knew who Spidey was. Who didn’t, right?
It was very much the cover, drawn by Mark Bagley. What wouldn’t have caught my imagination? The whole ‘hero’s in danger’ aspect, the guy in blue all toothy grin, and that terrifying Nosferatu hand coming from vaguely in my direction? I was fascinated. I was hooked.
So, my dad was at the counter, and notices me looking at this comic rack. He comes over, and points to the Spider-Man I’m looking at and asks if I want to buy it. I don’t remember my answer, but it was likely some variation of “yes,” since he pulled it off the rack and put it in with all the junk food. I probably read that issue a hundred times; and sadly, I still can’t remember anything about it other than the characters that were in it, but man was I hooked. I lived in a small town (Michigan map: half-inch above the middle of the wrist), and would have to hunt comics for the next couple decades, finding some in pharmacies and grocery stores, others in garage sales and flea markets, occasionally even catching the rare nearby comic shop. It became a hunting-gathering ritual all my own, to track down as many comics as I could. My parents–mom, dad, and step-dad–would tolerate it; sometimes, I’d get picked on at school for liking Spider-Man; other times, I made some good friends over it. The Amazing itself was torn to shreds by my cat a long time ago, but in my mind it’s still a prized possession, even though it most definitely was a product of the bad old 90s.
To this day, I’m still hunting. Pharmacies and grocery stores stopped selling them, and most of the comic shops went out of business while the woods my family used to mushroom hunt were chopped down, and I long since stopped going to flea markets and garage sales, but I keep at it. Even found pretty good hunting spots in three cities. Much as I never really cared for mushroom hunting, amazingly it helped define who I am today.