Free comics since 2023


01-04-23 | Greetings, my friends! How does one get into comics? Not comic heroes, mind you. Actual comic books! Growing up in the 1990s, heroes like Batman and Tintin were omnipresent. I loved them, but I wasn’t ‘obsessed’ with them. So what turns the casual reader into a comic book fanatic? How does one go from liking Batman to obsessing over him? My story begins … of all places … in Germany.

The comic book was a much larger part of a child’s daily life in the 1990s than it is today. Or at least it was in the Netherlands. Before the internet and mobile phones, comics were a cheap and welcome distraction to me and my peers. And it wasn’t considered to be a nerdy pastime either. Donald Duck was and remains one of the most popular weekly magazines in Holland. And everybody read Suske & Wiske, the seminal Belgian adventure comic. This was casual entertainment: acclaimed yet disposable.

My first introduction to Batman was the classic 1966 television series. I was much too young to follow the storylines. And not speaking English at the time obviously didn’t help either. Yet it struck a cord with me. It was loud and colourful, with a clear distinction between goodies and baddies. Batman was fun! That’s all I needed to know. I did not, however, lead me to reading the actual comics. That wouldn’t happen until a few years later, when Batman the Animated Series hit the big time. I got hold of a few Batman comics and poured over them, reading them from cover to cover several times. But then again, the same applied to my few Star Wars and Thunderbirds comics. Comics to me where VHS tapes without television. A way of experiencing your favourite film series when you weren’t supposed to be watching television. Don’t get me wrong: I was a nerdy kid. But at this point, they might as well have been read-along-books with audio cassettes.

Well, that all changed one summer holiday, when me and my family trekked to Germany. In those pre-internet days, browsing through toy stores and book shops was endlessly fascinating. You’d always stumble across something quirky that you’d never heard of before. This particular summer it was Batman in the Sixties. Ah yes! Batman in the Sixties! If memory serves, I first laid eyes on it at a train station kiosk. A beautiful Carmine Infantino cover set it apart from the other comic books. The image of Batman & Robin stalking the rooftops instantly invoked memories of Adam West. Biff! Pow! Splat! The trade paperback was in German. I didn’t speak German. Not even a little bit. But I bought it anyway.

To this day Batman in the Sixties is one of my most prized possessions. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The compilation follows Batman’s transformation from jolly crime buster to grim avenger. He goes from Dick Sprang’s barrel chested detective, to Carmine Infantino’s pop-art icon, culminating in Irv Novick‘s Dark Knight. A colourful journey, invoking the spirit of the classic television show. To top it all off, the book was filled with profiles and info about villains, gadgets and bat-history! Pity I didn’t read German …

This single album cemented my love of Batman, and classic Batman in particular. More to the point, it cemented my love of comic book Batman. The films and series were fun, but this was something else. Something to be studied, collected, compiled. All I needed was one final push to turn me into a fully fledged comic book collector. That push came the very next year, when coincidentally, Adam West’s Batman was shown on television once more.

This posed a challenge, however. Batman was shown on Wednesday afternoons. School would traditionally finish early on Wednesdays. We left the building at 12:30, with Batman starting a mere five minutes later. Mercifully, the school was near my childhood home. If I ran fast enough, dodging cars and little old ladies, I could pop in a blank VHS tape and record the programme. By now my English was quite good, so I was finally able to appreciate Batman for what it was. Nevertheless, I was still far too young to see the humour in the programme. To me it was simply the ultimate adventure serial. I was hooked. To this day, Adam West is my favourite actor to portray the caped crusader. Unironically, I might add. You never forget your first.

It was around this time that I discovered the abundance of trade paperbacks DC Comics regularly put out. At my local comic book store I ran across an English copy of Batman in the Sixties. After flicking through the German edition countless times I was finally able to fully experience these timeless tales. From Batman in the Sixties I progressed to The Superman & Batman Generations, Batman – Strange Apparitions and eventually other American, British and European comic series. All because of that one trip to Germany. Na, wunderbar!