Camping Chronicles: How Cornwall and X-Men Ignited My Comic Passion

  • 01/05/2024

Being born in the 80s, as a teen I found myself engrossed in the vibrant world of 'Saturday Morning' cartoons, albeit often indulging in them after school on weekdays as well. Shows such as The Real Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Thundercats, and Swatcats held sway as perennial favourites. Reflecting on their intros today, they stand as examples of some of the finest original Japanese animation of that era, although I must confess my knowledge in the matter is modest.

In around 1994, the BBC introduced X-Men: The Animated Series into its programming lineup, typically airing on Wednesday afternoons, if memory serves me right. While characters like Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman were familiar, the Children of the Atom were entirely new to my realm of awareness. From the instant I beheld that opening sequence and witnessed Wolverine bursting forth from the underbrush in his bright yellow spandex, a profound fascination took hold. There was an ineffable allure to these characters, their powers standing as peculiar and distinct among their superhero brethren. Despite their status as a cohesive unit, each member boasted an individualistic aesthetic and persona.

At this point, I grasped their affiliation with Marvel and their extensive lineage of comic iterations, however this was an era preceding the widespread advent of household internet connectivity, rendering the acquisition of such information a far more arduous endeavour than it is today.

You couldn't just pull open a browser and type in a Google search for local comic shops. The best thing we had was a telephone directory called Yellow Pages...

To be honest though, part of me preferred it that way, looking back now. It added a sense of mystery to the hobby. However, that’s a different blog post.

Fast forward a year or two, to our customary annual camping holiday to Cornwall in the picturesque southwest of England. Accompanied by my parents and two brothers, we ventured to the local supermarket to stock up on provisions. As was customary for children of our era, our trajectory invariably led us to the magazine section, where we would typically peruse video game periodicals, wistfully yearning for the comforts of home and our trusty Mega Drive. However, this particular instance diverged from the norm; my attention was immediately ensnared by a familiar cuboid insignia—a beacon of recognition amidst the array of magazine covers—an X-Men comic. Right there, in tangible form!

Though it transpired to be an issue of X-Force, its X-related lineage was unmistakable, and the character adorning the cover was instantly recognisable to me: Cable, a figure previously encountered within the animated series. The artwork depicted another character - Stryfe, using his telekinesis powers to pummel cable and send him somersaulting towards the reader. I was in awe of all the details in the drawing. All the crosshatching and dynamic poses. A surge of excitement coursed through me.

Recalling my first experience of devouring its contents from cover to cover, I struggle to articulate the profound sense of gratification it gave me. While the animated series boasted a considerable following in the UK, delving into the tangible pages of the comic felt like tapping into the source material, the genesis of it all. It was a strange blend of familiarity and newfound depth, as if I had been initiated into an exclusive enclave of aficionados. Among the ensemble of characters, some familiar and others newly introduced, figures like Maverick and Omega Red captured my imagination with equal intensity.

It's strange, but I invariably associate the X-Men with Cornwall. This connection likely stems not only from the personal significance of acquiring my first comic there but also from the team's ties to Scotland, particularly through Muir Island and Moira MacTaggert, as well as their affiliation with the British contingent, Excalibur, which has connections to the Arthurian legends.

Cornwall's rich Celtic heritage and enigmatic history seem to meld seamlessly with these elements, all neatly categorised in my mind within a folder labeled nostalgia.

During those camping excursions, nestled within the confines of my personal tent, I would lose myself in the pages of this comic, illuminated by the soft glow of my headlamp. It became a sanctuary of sorts, a haven where I could immerse myself in this alternate reality. Each panel was scrutinised with meticulous attention, savouring the intricacies of the artwork. While the narrative unfolded as part of a larger crossover within the X-Men universe, my focus was primarily ensnared by the visual tapestry laid before me. The deft hand of Greg Capullo, whose penciling adorned the pages, left an indelible impression, solidifying his status as one of my favourite artists. The prospect of his return to Marvel really stirs the excitement within me.

Though my recollection may be tinged with a degree of haziness, I distinctly recall scouring various shops in the months to come, sporadically stumbling upon additional issues. Acquiring American comics proved to be a formidable challenge in the absence of a local comic shop. Frankly, the existence of such places in the UK hadn't even crossed my mind until much later. Yet, as time would reveal, my perception of comic collecting would undergo a transformative evolution in the years to come.