I don’t feel nostalgia when I read my older comics. Nostalgia involves yearning and longing, and I just don’t feel that way. When I read older comics, say, Justice League of America #101 and Detective Comics #429, both published in 1972, I experience memories from that time. The memories are sparked by the comics themselves, and then it becomes something so much more: they take me back as if I never left, it feels once again like 1972. The 10-year-old boy still has a thriving existence in the 43-year-old man. I feel of the time, but with an extension, from there to now. After all, I’ve had the comics with me for an additional thirty-plus years. They’re part of me, my life and history, and they give me a feeling of great pleasure. But nostalgia? No, I feel that in something completely different.
The other night we were watching a documentary on The Mamas and the Papas on PBS. I’ve never been really “into” the group, but I know of them, and I’ve heard their big hits, “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday,” on the radio many, many times over the years. But I don’t recall “Twelve Thirty,” although there was a familiarity to it. When they performed it in its entirety, I was filled with overwhelming emotion. It’s a beautiful song with a lovely, haunting refrain, “Young girls are coming to the canyon, and in the morning I can see them walking…” As it was sung in rich harmony, I was overcome with a yearning and longing for something I was never part of. I was in it, being 6-years-old when “Twelve Thirty” was a single in 1967, but I obviously wasn’t into the pop music and culture of that time. I was learning to read and being introduced to Peanuts and putting puzzles together. But the feelings while watching The Mamas and the Papas were not about myself in my childhood, it was about what I had missed, and missed missing. Pure nostalgia.
My girlfriend bought a Mamas and the Papas greatest hits CD last Friday so I spent all of Saturday listening to it over and over while reading comic books. It was a mixed bag of old and new titles I enthusiastically indulged in, from Justice League of America #100-102 (the return of the Seven Soldiers of Victory) to the current JSA: Strange Adventures; from selected issues of Steve Englehart’s runs on Avengers and Defenders to Vertigo’s Triggerand Vimanarama. No nostalgia here at all, just sheer enjoyment in reading a wide range of comics completely in the now. But with The Mamas and the Papas playing in the background, there was nostalgia in the air. The music was of a different generation, and I wondered what it was like to experience it when it was fresh and new at a time of cultural upheaval. You don’t get that feeling while reading the comics of that era for the first time decades removed, the majority of those books do not reflect the time. But the music does. The music was very much a part of the change.
Do I ever feel nostalgic when it comes to comics? Yes. 1986. That was the year Crisis On Infinite Earths came to an end and completely changed the DC Universe. Frank Miller produced The Dark Knight Returns, Superman and Wonder Woman were dramatically revamped, Watchmen was released, and the first part of Maus had been published. That was the year I felt comics were changing in a big and good way. I felt I was a part of it. I don’t feel those kind of changes in comics anymore, and I long for that kind of positive change. Nostalgia, pure and simple.
So what have I learned? The differences and connections, I suppose. Where nostalgia fits in my life, where it’s all memory and recollection, and where it all blends together to enhance what we really have, which is today.
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© 2004, Jim Kingman