Even when I was at my absolutely poorest in life, when I had to account for every goddamn cent I spent, when I was living in the worst flats and just getting by week to week, there was still room for comic books.
I was 20 in 1995 and had moved away from my home town to Dunedin, where a lot of my mates were at university. I still had no interest in higher learning, I just wanted to hang with my mates, so got a room in a house on a precarious cliff and tried to be a grown up.
But the New Zealand job scene was a grim fucking place in the mid-90s. All I had was a certificate in business computing and two years experience in a goddamn fat factory, and it took me months and months to find a job. I got $126 a week from the dole, which was just enough to pay the rent and bills. I had a food budget of $18 some weeks and lived on cheap eggs, cereal and packet pasta snacks.
Every couple of weeks I had enough to buy a bottle of port to take to parties and get smashed on (rigorous testing had established this as the cheapest way to get pissed without resorting to meths. If I was feeling extravagant, I might spend an extra $1 to get some Scrumpy, but that was about as far as it went.) And I had just enough money to see one movie at the cinema every week, as long as I went to a cheap-arse Tuesday afternoon session. I didn't have a car and didn't bother with public transport when I could walk everywhere.
I was a grown-up, out in the world for the first time, freezing my arse off in the Otago southerly like a real adult, and even then I was still a complete comic geek. And as poor as I got, as desperate as things got, there was one second hand shop that was selling a lot of Byrne Superman and many, many issues of the 2000ad spinoff Crisis for $1.50 each, and I was young and dumb enough that I was literally willing to go without food for those comics.
I was still getting Preacher, The Invisibles and the Legion of Super Heroes every month, but new comics were an extravagance that had to be budgeted for. But for several months, in between looking for jobs, I would still scrape together enough money for half a dozen old comics from that shop.
It got to be a bit of a grim winter in a Long, Dark Teatime Of The Bedsit kind of way and I was getting my kicks whever I could, and one of them was getting some New Adventures of Hitler or Straitgate into my system. I hadn't got Crisis since the first 20 issues and was fascinated by the increasingly murky depths that Pat Mills and pals were exploring in World War 3, and the desperate experimentation that didn't always pay off. And if that all got a bit much, I could buy a Superman and read him kick Metallo's arse.
That old junk shop and its small trove comic treasures was a beacon of light. Years before, I'd stumbled across some GI Joe comics there exactly one month before I became absolutely obsessed with GI Joe comics, and by the time I got back they were all gone. And there I was, nearly a decade later, and addicted to those four-colour thrills. I legitimately went without meals to load up on more of them.
I haven't been that poor since, and don't know that I'll ever be that obsessed with comic books like I was when I was 20. I got rid of the Superman comics ages ago, but still have the full run of Crisis that I completed from that store. And who knows what's going to show up at the hospice shop around the corner next week....