Duane Pesice is a writer, musician, and self-taught expert on Cephalopods. He blogs regularly at PlanetModeran.net.
I got to thinking about the subject of "the book that has most influenced me" and kind of surprised myself. Had to go back a really long way, back to 1966, to find the one book that set me on the path to tomorrow. It wasn't even a book. It was a comic book.
More specifially, it was an issue of Marvel's The Avengers-#33, to be precise. It had most of the recognizable Avengers crew (Thor, Cap, Iron Man), a lot of movement and color, and it had some vaguely scientific stuff that filled my five-year-old brain with wonder (The Serpent Squad, I seem to recall, were the villain). I remember just being "opened up" by that comic in a way that has only happened a couple of times since. I read it in the little drugstore at the corner of 55th and Kildare, southside Chicago. I had allowance left and blew that on the same month's issue of the Fantastic Four (don't remember which).
That led to a seventy-issue run of the Avengers for me (I missed #104 because I was sick for a couple of days. It took me twenty years to find out what happened to Hawkeye.), and a 200-issue run of the FF. The writing, the art, everything just clicked. The stories led me to real stories. I was naturally attracted to Bradbury and was able to collect that first round of Tolkien Ballantine paperbacks. I, Robot was in my bookcase by the time I was eight, the same year I discovered Lovecraft through reading Dr. Strange (who I found out about by reading the current issues list in the middle of each mag, under the fan mail).
My first piece of writing, in 1967, was a comic book. I remember distinctly reacting badly to Gene Colan's art and the villain Stilt-Man in an issue of Daredevil and deciding that I could do better. I had only drawn boats and things before, very childish renderings. I remember drawing the people from TV Guide over and over to get the relative sizes of facial features right, and the development of my villain (an antihero named Chevron after the gas station two blocks away). My first short story starred Cthulhu and Randolph Carter.
Stan Lee name-dropping Harlan Ellison in the letters column provided the last kick into today. I recognized the name and spent my allowance for two weeks on the two-volume paperback copy of Dangerous Visions. On the way home from buying that set, I found a copy of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction lying on the sidewalk. It had Cordwainer Smith in it.
By the time I was twelve, I had somewhere around 200 books, having discovered used-book shops, piles and piles of comics (nearly all Marvel with some Gardner Fox stuff), and had written my first novel (fanfic starring Black Bolt and the Inhumans).
It's possible that I haven't grown up much since then, or maybe the circle remains unbroken. Comics and HPL and SF are still my comforts both for reading and writing, and I've just begun work on a webcomic/graphic novel containing all of the above and Hunter Thompson and Elvis to boot. And Groff Conklin and James Baen and Bernie Wrightson and especially Jack "King" Kirby, and Roy Thomas and Stan "The Man" Lee-I can't thank you enough.