Yes, I started out on comic strips but soon hit the harder stuff.
I remember the aha moment. Sitting in the back seat of our car as we zoomed along the highway, I looked out the window at a passing billboard and realized that I could no longer look at a string of letters without seeing words– whether it was something I wanted to read or not.
There were words everywhere — on cereal boxes and birthday cards and those amazing freeway signs: the big “Sherman Williams covers the Earth” sign in Berkeley, with a bucket of red paint pouring over a globe on endless loop, and the neon shooting stars for Admiral televisions, right off the freeway on the way to San Francisco, and then the big Hamm’s sign with the beer glass that filled up over and over. Lights! Words! Irresistible!
I started reading everything I could, starting with the comic strips in the newspaper. Sunday was the best — they were in color, just like now. I loved the funnies in the San Francisco Chronicle: poor little Dondi; punny and clever Gordo, which featured a beatnik spider named Bug Rogers and a cat called Poosy Gato; Gasoline Alley, where the characters had funny names (Walt Wallet and Skeezix?!), and the hard to follow Terry and the Pirates; that goof-off Beetle Bailey; Blondie and Dagwood and his ridiculous sandwiches; and the kids: Dennis the Menace, Peanuts, Nancy and Sluggo. In New York I was introduced to tall and short Mutt and Jeff and those crazy Katzenjammer Kids.
|Dondi:Where is he now?
After a few years I was able to figure out Gus Arriola’s Sunday puns, but most of his hip humor was over my head.
|On Sunday his byline was usually a painful pun
|Richie Rich: Too small to fail?
And then I discovered comic books. Couldn’t get enough of them. I’d even sneak away at birthday parties to search for comic books to read. You could always find me in the kid’s room, sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by a pile of comics. I must have thought Archie and Jughead, Richie Rich, Katy Keene, Superman and Spiderman were more entertaining than what was going on at the party. I had a pretty good comic book detector and usually managed to find them on a shelf, behind some books, or under the bed. Betty and Veronica and Katy and her little sister Sis were good enough company for me– until it was time for cake, anyway.
Even after I started to read, I still loved being read to. We had a giant book of poems called Favorite Poems Old and New, selected by Helen Ferris. This book had hundreds of poems in it by everyone from Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, e.e.cummings, Langston Hughes, A.A. Milne and Robert Browning to Lewis Carrol, Ogden Nash, Don Marquis, Edward Lear, and the extremely prolific Anonymous.
|Just the way I remember it– and it’s still in print!
With all these great poems to choose from, I loved hearing the limericks and the nonsense poems the best. So if you ask me why I eat my peas with honey, or why God in his wisdom made the fly, I’m all over it. Still haven’t seen a purple cow.
I remember loving the language, even if I didn’t know what the words meant. Our dad must have read us “Jabberwocky” a million times at least. It was usually no sale on “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” or listening to Barbara Fritchie pleading for the soldiers to shoot her old gray head and spare the flag when “The Walrus and the Carpenter” was right there. It’s a parent’s lot to do the instant replay and repeat on the old favorites. But even Gelett Burgess got tired of that damn poem:
Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!