Wednesday, May 14, 2008

George Rears - 1974

George Rears - 1974

Comic books and travel go hand in hand. I guess comics were kind of like The Nintendo DS and Gameboys of the latter part of the 20th Century. Any long trip was usually preceded with the gathering of the comics to bring along for the ride. Even now, before I travel for business, I make sure I have a trade paperback for the plane.

In Berlin, Germany, where I spent my comic book formative years, collecting comics was tough. There were very few outlets to pick up American comics. There was the book store at the Post Exchange, but as I think back, there was one other place--The American train station. During the heart of the cold war, West Berlin was cut off from the rest of the West by the Iron Curtain, and travel to the West was extremely limited.

One of the ways for Americans to travel was something called the "Duty Train". The Duty Train was a sleeper train that took Americans soldiers and their families from West Berlin to Frankfurt overnight. A lot of kids thought it was cool because you got to travel through East Germany and see the "commies". A lot of kids thought it was cool because you got to "camp out" on a train.
I thought it was cool because they had a newsstand at the train station that was a week ahead in putting out their comics (we were a few weeks behind the US due to shipping distances--man the internet would have rocked back then). I don't know why there books were early--perhaps they were shipped via train, and they would unload them immediately?

The few occasions we took the train, I would always make a point of checking out all the comics. My most vivid memory: I discovered that DC was raising their prices to $.25 at the train station...I recall the shock to my system to discover that not only did the really cool red "Still Only 20 cents" become a stark black "The very best 25 cents", but Superman was changing his Secret Identity to Chris Delbart (Superman 283)! All in one month! So much for knowing one's own future--time travel was highly overrated.

The other way to leave West Berlin was via a single highway. The US military strongly urged Americans to pair up, so in case of any problems, one car could drive ahead and inform authorities ahead. As we left Checkpoint Bravo (Trivia time: Checkpoint Charlie took you from West Berlin to East Berlin. Checkpoint Bravo went from West Berlin to East Germany--End of Trivia Time).

On our first trip out of West Berlin, my Dad gave me the important job of watching to ensure the car behind us had no issues. For this task, I would be compensated a whole dollar. That would be in addition to my allowance, by the way. So for the next two hours I sat in the back seat of the car, looking out the back window, making sure my fellow American made it to Helmstedt, West Germany safely!

Needless to say, I did my little bit for the Cold War, and both cars arrived safely in West Germany. Now flush with cash, I took my windfall and headed for the American newsstand. Not realizing I was acting as the poster child for rampant American consumerism, I spent my entire dollar on one book Limited Collectors’ Edition C-31, affectionately known to most people as "That Superman tabloid from 1974 with that beautiful painted cover of what looks to be a Joe Shuster Superman".

As to be expected, I don't remember much from the book. Although, I also don't remember much else from that trip, since the rest that weekend, instead of looking out the window seeing Europe unfold before me, I read Superman stories over and over. This was one of my first experiences with reprints, and I was fascinated with the different style that Superman was portrayed in.

Two things I remember from this book is this really awesome map of a Superman theme park which was "planned" from Metropolis, Illinois. That looked real cool...also, there was a Diorama that you could cut out and create a 3-D Superman scene. I believe that diorama was the first instance of the collector winning out over the kid--I never did it cut it out.

About two years ago I traveled back to Berlin to see what it was like with no wall. I guess I don't have to mention that I brought comics. I didn't bring a trade paperback of a fancy graphic novel, though. I brought a few books from 1974, proudly emblazoned "Still only 20 cents". This time, I guess, I was hoping to go back in time.


RAB said...

I have almost nothing in common with these experiences -- my dad served in Berlin twenty years earlier than that, so I was never there and still haven't been to this day, and anyway he was out of the Army long before I was born -- but I identify with what you're describing here so much. I did a lot of travelling as a kid and always associated places I visited with the particular comics I bought there...and although logic says that must be common among folks like us, it's always still a surprise to see someone else mention it.

Also, I just recently dug out that very tabloid and the Neal Adams concept sketches of the Superman theme park are mind-boggling. Even at twelve years old I knew there was no chance it could ever happen, but I wanted to be wrong.

CaptainJersey said...

I don't expect any of us to have the same experiences... What I like is that although we have had different experiences, we all have had a similar emotion or connection with the books. I had a unique childhood spending 4 years in Germany... but I think most of my experiences with comic books were universal among comic book colletors... The hunt for new and different books, reading them while traveling, etc. I love reading stories from people with completely different childhoods, and then seeing that one phrase and being able to say "I know exactly what they mean"... I guess it is thaat validation that keeps me out of therapy!


wich2 said...

Take a look at this pic-

Harry Donenfeld (I think), head of DC; and the FIRST Superman & Lois actors: Bud Collyer & Joan Alexander (still kicking!)

See what's behind them?

Great weekend,
-Craig W.

CaptainJersey said...

Nice... That is a classic image.