Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The Comic-Book Reading Judge From Corpus Christi, Texas
My family moved around a lot when I was a kid; we lived in several places in California, Alaska, and in 1974, my parents moved our family to Corpus Christi, Texas. It was a real culture shock for me to move into what they call The Bible Belt.
I went from having lots of friends at my old home to having none. I had to adjust to life at Hamlin Middle School, where a strange concoction of Rednecks (aka the White kids), Mexican-Americans, and African-Americans attempted to get through to high school. Compared to the Norman Rockwell-esque school I had attended in Anchorage, I was faced with kids who seemed like adults. They were selling drugs between classes and talking about wild parties the night before. Violence seemed to be ready to erupt at any minute—the Rednecks eyed the black kids with steam pouring out of their nostrils as they walked near each other. I belonged to no group. I felt like I existed in the Phantom Zone.
I was lucky to have one thing in my life remain constant: comic books. And in those days (before specialty stores), my senses were poised to detect comics wherever I could find them. I was like Kraven the Hunter wherever I went. I had scoped out three places that I could reach on my bike: a drugstore, a supermarket, and a 7-Eleven. All three received comics each week, although only the 7-Eleven specialized in monster magazines from Marvel and Warren. One day at the supermarket, I found Howard the Duck #1 on the lower rack of the magazine stand. I had to reach between a lady’s legs to grab it. I had no idea about the speculation fever on this comic, it was just special to me because Howard had first appeared in Man-Thing. Howard’s tag-line, Trapped In A World He Never Made, seemed like my life at the time.
All of this was happening when I was thirteen years old. I hadn’t really known anyone else my age who was as fanatical about comics as I was. I certainly didn’t know of any adults who read comics (outside of the comics professionals in New York City).
One day, I read an article in the newspaper about a special store in Corpus Christi that only sold comic books! I asked my Mom to drive me over there. I don't recall the exact location, but it was in an older suburban area, probably a house that was converted into a store. Inside were dozens of boxes of back-issue comic books. We met the owner, a Mexican-American man who was also a Judge in Corpus Christi. Judge Margarito Garza.
This was a historic occasion! For the first time, I met an adult who was also a comic book collector! Not only that, he was a well respected person in the community. My enthusiasm burst out of my mouth, a constant stream of chatter about this or that character. My Mom seemed both amused by the Judge and impressed by the store. We talked with him about the recent Wonder Woman TV movie starring Lynda Carter. I’m paraphrasing from 30 year old memories, but he said: One thing about that movie didn’t work for me. Wonder Woman is walking down the street in that outfit, and every guy just walks right by her. If any woman dressed like that and walked by, I would definitely take a look!
His store seemed like paradise. The Judge didn’t sell new comics, only back issues, but he had all the ones I lusted after. All 18 issues of Silver Surfer were in the back issue bins, along with the Kree-Skrull War issues of Avengers, and all kinds of King-Size Annuals I had wanted to buy. The walls were adorned with posters, including some reproductions of famous comic book covers the Judge had drawn himself. The one he did for SHIELD #1 looked so interesting that it led me to Jim Steranko's work.
My money didn’t go very far in Judge Garza’s store. I made several return trips. Since either the Judge or his patient wife were there running things, my Mom felt safe with having me visit there. One day I found them preparing a stack of comics for another customer, and saw an item that looked interesting. It was a fanzine called the Comic Reader. I had never seen a fanzine before. It was a mystery to me how you could even buy one! But it was fantastic, with a neat cover and loaded with news on upcoming comics.
I think my Mom was worried about how much time I spent with comics. She probably remembered the newspaper articles from the 50s about Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent. The Judge did me a great favor by explaining to my Mom that comics were good for kids. Contrary to popular belief, comics had good moral values; they kept young people out of trouble. (Which was true in those days.) There it was—comics had been stamped with a seal of approval for my Mom—by the ultimate authority figure.
We left Corpus Christi in 1976 to return to California. I was relieved to get out. My parents even seemed very relieved to leave that world behind. I didn’t really miss anything about that area—except for the Judge and his wonderful store.
Note: This is an adaption of an article I originally wrote in 2006.
A reader named Corando Gallegos left a comment on my original post with their memories:
…the Judge's name was Judge Margarito Garza. Even though I grew up in Alice (a town about an hour west of Corpus Christi), my mom would come to Corpus once a month and leave us at this haven of comic books. It was located down McArdle and Airline and was there for the longest time. Unfortunately, after the Judge died awhile back the store was sold and closed and is not there anymore. My brother and I would spend all day there reading and looking for the right combination of issues we wanted. Even worse, I moved away for awhile and did not realize what had happened to this place until much later. The Judge himself was the biggest comic fan I knew and while he was strict with his customers he was fair and his store had it all! Now fortunately, there are a few places again in Corpus to buy comics but nothing like this one where you hang out lose yourself in the world of superheroes and science fiction.
Visit Judge Margarito Garza’s Wikipedia page to learn more about him and his superhero creation, Relampago!
Thank you to his friends and son Lawrence who wrote me a few years ago. Nuff said!
Update: Here are some additional comments that appeared on my previous blogging platform: