Where do you find your inner child?
How many comic books stores have I visited in my life? As a 43-year-old comic book fan, the surprising answer is just three — all of those during the last few months as I traveled to Washington DC for my first visit to the United States.
In Colombia, there were no comic books stores at all. Quioscos were our equivalent. Filled with magazines, newspapers, bombombunes — lollypops — , cigarettes, these street stands looked were like a grocery store — but in addition to food, they were filled with all kinds of reading material for purchase.
My early memories are full of visits to quioscos to discover new issues of Superman, Batman or Spider-Man. Ever since I could remember, superheroes were my thing. But in the 80s, there weren’t many superheroes to be found in the quioscos. Colombian comic readers at this time preferred classic cartoons to fantasy, along with some poor-quality Latino comics, like Memín, Kalimán, El Pantera — these muñequitos were the best superheroes we thought we could get. As Colombians, we were far away of the beginning of the Silver Era: the last revolution of superhero comics led by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and others. Some Colombians who traveled to the United States at that time appreciated the revolution, but we didn’t really understand what it was all about.
So my elders, parents, and close friends all thought those boring muñequitos were what I liked. And when my dad would come home with some comics for me, it was tough because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But what I truly loved were superheroes — those guys with spandex and wonderful powers have always defined, for me, the essence of comic books. My passion for comics is much more than a midlife fad.
But as I grew into adulthood, the quioscos of my youth disappeared over the 80s and 90s. And it hurt me to watch, because Latin American cities lost part of their identity when this happened. Quioscos were a social hub for communities before Juan Valdez and Starbucks filled our cities. People came to buy their papers magazines, and then went to the cafeterias (or fuentes de soda in regular Spanish)soda fountain to discuss news and politics with friends. There were no Kardashians or social media; everything was in the paper. But now, the quioscos are gone, and so are the people I remember gathering there: my father, his friends, my mother and her friends, too.
When I asked a friend if any quioscos remain in their cities… the answer is so obvious that I feel foolish asking. It’s a distant memory, a dream of another time.
I didn’t find quioscos in DC, but I found their essence in comic books stores. And I feel amazed to rediscover this paradise for myself: happiness inside all of these magazines and their colorful fronts. I become a child again — and for a moment, that’s all that matters.