Wednesday, January 30, 2008

George Rears - 1975

sg George Rears "The Thrift Shop"--Back issues didn't exist when I started reading comics. Or at least, not in my little world. From 1974-1978 I lived in West Berlin, Germany with only the US exchange book store that sold new comics. That is it. Nothing else. except on occasional, The Thrift Shop. For anyone who has lived on a military base, you know what I mean. For others, I need to provide a quick definition:

Thrift Shop: Volunteer run store found on military bases that allows users to consign items for sale. Often used by incoming families to buy goods when they arrive on a new base and by outgoing families to get rid of goods to make weight allowance when they move away.

The cool thing is, due to the transient nature of the military population, the stuff in the thrift shop usually wasn't that old. That was key for an eight year old scavenging for toys. However, the coolest thing is that occasionally families would dump their comics in the thrift shop prior to moving, since comics added "unnecessary" weight when moving, and families were only allowed a certain number of pounds to ship.
To my young eyes, the world of comics started in 1974. Nothing else could have happened before, since I hadn't seen it. I remember my brother showed me these mysterious, ancient books when he found some at the Thrift Shop, and it opened up a new world for me: Why isn't Wonder Woman wearing a costume...(Get your mind out of the gutter, she was wearing a white jump suit.)..When did Supergirl (my first crush) have her own comic? Why isn't Batman in these issues of World's Finest? I didn't pick up any of them, as I was saving my money for the newer stuff. The logic of an 8 year old: The newer stuff must be better.

I did start asking a lot of questions, though. My brother, seven years older than me, bore the brunt of most of these questions. He explained why Supergirl was, in theory, more powerful than Superman (Superman had half his power drained in Superman #233 by the sand creature) and why Hawkman had left the Justice League (All of Thanagar had suffered from an Equalizer disease). He even tried to explain Earth X to me, but I wasn't quite ready for that. I understood Parallel Earths with numbers (Earth 1, Earth 2, and Earth 3), but this letter thing was too much.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate these older books, and I started prowling the thrift shop for new (or I should say, old) comics. You never knew when they would show up, but when they did, it seemed like everybody found out at once and converged on the place (It was probably just three kids, but my memories keep telling me it was hordes of children). Over time, though less hidden treasures were found, as the typical stay for a family was around three years, and we were getting closer to that day ourselves.

As an older, more discriminating fan, my brother collected Superman--probably due to the Julius Schwartz edited revamp in 1970. Being the annoying young brother, I went with Action Comics--the Superman stories weren't as good, but the backups rocked.

One day, the Be-all, end-all hit. I guess a long term resident must have moved. It was eerie. I had seen books for sale at twenty cents, and then there were these exotic books that went for a quarter (from the 1971 DC failed expansion experiment). This time though, there were 15 cent books and 12 cent books! I furiously looked through these books--comic history before my eyes. It was like heaven. Except for one problem: While I was looking, other people were buying. All I have to show (or not show) for the whole event is an image ingrained in my brain of Superman #174. It's funny, though, in my memory, Clark is hanging on the other side of the cover, and I picture a bigger clock. To this day, I still do not know what happens in this issue.

I don't think I ever bought a book from the Thrift Shop in Germany, but I learned a lot. I think exposure to those earlier books gave me a sense of history--and dare I say it--continuity that I would not have had if I had just read newer books as they came off the shelf.

This wasn't my last encounter with Thrift Shops, tough...eventually, when I returned to the States, the Fort Dix Thrift Shop would play a big role in learning to appreciate Marvel Comics, but that is a story for another time.

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