Some folks might remember, as I do, The Bus from Heavy Metal Magazine in the '80s. I wasn't a regular HM reader back then (though I have had a subscription for a number of years now) as I honestly wasn't really the target audience back then; my comics reading then was mostly limited to superheroes and independent comics that smacked of superheroes, but were only kinda-sorta.
However, the major exception was Marvel's Conan line of black & white magazines, which lead me in a roundabout way to Heavy Metal and The Bus.
I grew up in a town that my father always referred to as "subrulia" - too close to your neighbors, too far from the grocery store. The options for buying comics were, shall we say, limited. There was a convenience store that carried them, but the selection varied from week to week so much that it was hard to follow a particular series (though I tried). One thing they always had--though on the magazine stand instead of the comics spinner--was Marvel's black & white line of Conan Magazines. I was already familiar with Conan from Bob Howard's short stories and novellas (which I devoured way too early) and got hooked on the comics, as well.
But the magazines didn't come out nearly often enough for my taste and many times I'd ride my bike to the store only to be disappointed there were no good comics and no new Conans.
Until the day I spotted suspiciously-familiar looking art on another magazine's cover: Frazetta on Heavy Metal. Well, I'm actually not sure if it really was Frazetta, to be honest, I don't seem to have whatever HM that was still in my possession, but it sure as hell looked like the art from one of my Conan paperbacks., even if the name on the magazine looked like it was a music magazine.
Well, obviously it wasn't and as I flipped through the magazine, I was shocked to discover the comics inside. I mean... what the hell were these? It was definitely not something I should have been reading, I realized that immediately.
And I didn't buy it that day, but I wanted to. I wanted to pretty badly, so came back a day or two later, convinced the clerk at the register wouldn't even sell it to me. As I recall, they (I don't remember if it was a man or a woman) didn't even bat an eye.
Haha, success! I took it home and poured over the pages, amazed there were such comics out there. They didn't look or feel anything at all like what I was used to. Was I hooked? I can't honestly say I was... but, after that I flipped through HM whenever I saw it and occasionally bought it when it looked promising.
And one thing that made it promising as far as I was concerned... was The Bus.
Like a lot of people, my introduction to comics was comic strips.
And here was The Bus, probably the weirdest comic strip I'd ever seen.
The concept was so simple. A man and a bus and the bizarre things surrounding them. Easy set-ups: a waits for a bus and something bizarre occurs. Or something happens while he awaits the bus. Or occasionally, the bus itself is what's bizarre. You get the idea.
The writing was minimal, but elegant. And like the writing, the art was simple, but clean and attractive, unlike the often hurried, blobby art you find in typical newspaper-strip bigfoot cartooning.
The art was beautiful, the stories were... bizarre. Often nonsensical, always surreal. I often had no idea what was supposed to be funny and that was part of the fascination. Was it some sort of adult humor I wasn't mature enough for? Or did my brain just not work right to fit itself around the humor?
I didn't get it, but I loved it.
And years later, when I started going to comic conventions and so forth, I sought out Heavy Metal back issues--initially for specific artists--and in one of the very first, there was, almost hidden in the back amongst ads, a Bus strip. A comic I'd forgotten about until then. And it came flooding back, how much I loved the weird little strip I didn't understand. I started looking for issues of HM specifically for Bus strips, until other collecting obsessions overtook me.
Well, imagine my delight when, a couple years ago, I saw a little hardcover collection of every Bus strip in my comic book shop - published by a French company I'd never heard of (that I don't think even does comics otherwise - at least not in this country). It was expensive, though. Very expensive for such a thin tome, and as much as I wanted it, I held off... until last year when I saw that the same company was publishing a sequel edition of all-new Bus strips. Without any thought, I pre-ordered it and bought the first book.
I waited until I had both in my hands and read them back to back in one sitting. And I'm so glad I did. The surreal humor, the beautiful art... I was not only able to recall the strips I'd read as a kid and enjoyed, I understood so much more than I did back then. It really was worth the wait.