Sunday, November 22, 2009


I was watching the 1973 horror classic The Wicker Man yesterday, and, aside from all its other qualities, there was a scene where Sgt. Howie (the late Edward Woodward) enters a seemingly-innocent (everything in this movie is "seemingly innocent") candy shop.

For a brief second, you can see a rack of colorful magazines hanging on a rack by the door. Here's a close-up, as close as I could get:
The second magazine is pretty clearly Jack and Jill, but the bottom couple of mags look like British comics to me--the very bottom one has a Disney feel to it, but of course I can't be sure. Anyone have any ideas?

For those of you who haven't seen the movie, I don't want to give anything away. But if they are comics, I'm amused by the idea of a comics delivery guy whose route includes this very creepy island.

I wonder if they sold a lot of horror comics here, or did the island's young residents buy nothing but family fare to keep the illusion going this is an innocent little community?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Box O' Marvels

sgGeorge Rears - It seems every comic collector of a certain vintage has a story about how at one point their mother threw out/donated/sold their comic collection. Not me. In fact, I am actually the beneficiary of one of those poor mothers who was probably disowned by their child oh-so-long-ago.

I come from a long line of comic collectors. My sister, who is eleven years older than me, paved the way for us by reading comics as through her pre-teen years. I can just imagine here reading Supergirl stories in the back of Action Comics after bedtime by the light of a flashlight.

My sister did quite well in school, eventually becoming Valedictorian in her high school class, so that when my brother, seven years older than me, picked up the habit, my parents if not actively encouraged reading comics, they did not discourage it. My brother bought books in late 60s and early 70s. His era was the "Kirby is Coming" DC, as Jack Kirby introduced the world to the New Gods. He saw first hand the O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series that introduced relevancy to comics, and the "Amazing New Adventures" of Superman produced by Julius Schwartz.

Sometime in 1973 or early 1974, (my details are sketchy on this, as I have not wanted to bring up painful memories) my Mother accidentally sold all my brother's comics at the military base. Apparently there was some misunderstanding, and only some of the books were to be sold. Regardless when my brother came home from school one day, his collection had been re-booted.

Never wanting to make the same mistake twice, my parents actively supported my comic collecting. Never asking me to sell my books, nor complaining about shipping heavy books around when we moved. In fact, in 1980, my mother went above and beyond the call of duty.

My mother for a long time volunteered with the Officers Wives Club of Fort Dix, which ran a "Thrift Shop". The store featured used items ranging from clothes, furniture, and comic books that soldiers could buy when they arrived on a new base, or sell when leaving. The seller took a share of the proceeds, and the other part of the proceeds was used to fund scholarships. By the late 70s, my mother became the manager, and had an advance look at all the incoming merchandise.

Comics were in a sad state during the late 70s and very early 80s: The DC implosion, Marvel running fill-in issues every third month due to the "Dreaded Deadline Doom", The Human would be a year or so before Shooter's ascension saved Marvel (and DC, for that matter, as defections such as Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, and Roy Thomas helped shaped DC during the 80s).

This is the era where I started buying Marvel books. I had been buying the Avengers and Fantastic Four, along with Captain America and Iron Man sometime in 1978. I didn't quite get Spider-Man, as he was so different from anything I had read as a DC addict. They were OK, probably even better than the DC books I was buying. However, it seemed comics weren’t quite as fun to collect anymore...until I came home from school one day to see a long box full of late sixties Marvels!

In this treasure chest were classic comics...S.H.I.E.L.D by Steranko, Lee and Romita Spider-Man, Kirby Captain America, Colan Daredevil, and Tuska Iron Man...curiously, there were no Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four...

I was never a fan of reprints, but these were back issues! I'd like to think I dove right in and read them all, but I didn't. For days, I would just thumb through the books, looking at the covers. It took me a while to get the courage to actually read them, but when I! The old comic smell, letter pages, goofy advertisements that were probably dated when they first appeared, not to mention the great stories--Marvel Soap Opera. Kirby action. I think these were the books were I actually "got" Marvel.

The collection had many gaps, so as I read each book, I craved to know what would happen next, only to be disappointed to see a three issue jump and all the sub-plots already neatly wrapped up. I knew from reading the current books that Spidey was able to pay the rent, but how did he do it? How? How?

These books helped keep my passion for comics alive until I was reinvigorated by The New Teen Titans a few months later. For that, I have to thank my mother, the woman who actually bought the box of comics, rather than selling mine.

I do feel bad for that kid somewhere, though.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forget Santa Claus

sg Glenn Walker - You want to see a little kid's head explode? Forget telling him there's no Santa Claus--just tell him about the Crime Syndicate.

There’s a saying that goes "The real Golden Age is ten." This goes back to second grade, so I guess for me, it's seven. I was on the swings at the old Waterford Elementary School. This was old school old school. Six classrooms, two floors, restrooms and a cafeteria. The building is still there but I kinda doubt it's still a school.

Me, Mark S. and Joey K. were on the swings, talkin' comics. Specifically we were talking about one of the classic quandaries of comic book lore--who's faster, Superman or the Flash? Even at that age, back in the early 1970s, we knew the answer--even though DC Comics wouldn't officially acknowledge it for another decade or so.

For the record, Superman is faster for longer distances and flying, the Flash for shorter distances and running. Duh. Easy-peasy. Now get thee to a comic book bar and start making bets. ;-)

The conversation took an odd turn when mark started telling us about a "backwards Superman," Bizarro, he had seen in one of his older brother's comics. Another fun "fact" of the comics industry holds that the audience turns over every ten years. It's the reason some folks grew up with Wally West as their Flash instead of Barry Allen or Jay Garrick--the next generation turnover. In this case it was true. With Challenge of the Superfriends still a few years away, and "Tales of the Bizarro World" gone while we were in diapers, neither Joey nor I had ever seen or heard of Bizarro.

Joey then countered that he had seen an ad in an old comic that featured a renegade Green Lantern...who had a yellow ring! As we all knew by heart, even at the age of seven: "Editor’s note: Green Lantern’s Power Ring is powerless against anything colored yellow, due to a necessary impurity in the ring." Mark and I stopped swinging and shuddered. We would soon learn this villain’s name was Sinestro. An evil Green Lantern? Wow.

Playing the generation card myself, I brought up a character of equal awe that I had seen in one of my big brother's Flash comics, the Reverse-Flash! He was just as fast as the Flash, came from the future, and wore a yellow costume with red lightning bolts--opposite colors to the Flash's uniform. Arrogant little punk that I was, I thought I had trumped Joey's Sinestro. There was a moment or two of appropriate awe and silence.

And then Joey, very quietly, said something that made our jaws drop.

"There’s an evil Justice League from Earth-Three."

The very concept boggled the mind. Could it be true? We all knew Earth-Two (something I might add, we never had trouble understanding as little kids even though it proved too difficult for grown-up editors and writers to comprehend in the mid-1980s) and the Justice Society, and knew there were two Supermen, two Flashes, two Green Lanterns, even two Robins--but a third Earth? Our wide eyes and dropped jaws spurred Joey to continue, "My big brother says there’s a evil Justice League from Earth-Three. They took over their entire planet and then tried to do the same to Earths One and Two."

We were spellbound. "An evil Superman who gets a new power every time he gets near kryptonite, an evil Flash, an evil Green Lantern, an evil Batman, even an evil Wonder Woman. It took both the Justice League and the Justice Society to beat them. They put them in a prison between the Earths with warnings in every language to never let them out." He said it all almost in one breath. "They’re still there."

Wow. "They’re still there." Brrrr...I still remember that day on the playground in recess when Joey K. blew our minds. When I found out years later that there was no Santa Claus, it wasn't as much as a blow...nor even as scary as finding out there was an evil Justice League from Earth-Three.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mickey Rooney Reads Comics!

Frequent Hey Kids! contributor Rick Phillips sent me this amazing photo of Mickey Rooney, circa 1940, reading an issue of Fawcett's tabloid-sized Master Comics series, which the publisher then smartly used in an ad for the book itself.

What a find, thanks Rick!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Men At Work, With Comics


Doug Slack sent me this amazing cover to a Men At Work single (remember those?), called "Overkill." Why the various band members are reading comics, and how that has anything to do with the song, I have no idea.

But check out those titles! Young Love, Detective Comics, and Plop!?--none of them were current at the time of this single (1983), so these were clearly from someone's collection.

Amazing stuff, thanks Doug!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thank Heaven For 7-11

George Rears - Long before I ever read a comic book, I discovered Slurpees. I am the youngest of five kids, and my brother closest in age to me is seven years older than me. Because I had teenaged brothers and sisters, as a 6 year old, I had access to knowledge that other 6 year olds could only dream about: Wacky Packages, Topps Baseball Cards, and Slurpees...and not just Slurpees, but Slurpee cups.

In 1973, my family lived in Willingboro, NJ, a typical suburban community, with an elementary school in every neighborhood, and streets designed to funnel traffic on to main roads to alleviate traffic. However, the greatest feature of the town was the 7-11 at the entrance to our development.

My brothers and sisters were old enough to bike there alone, but I wasn't, being only 6. I remember their trips to the 7-11, and these amazing drinks they came back with: Slurpees. Cherry flavored and brown flavored (I really didn't know about soda at the time--so I went with "brown flavored"). After a while, I noticed that my family didn't throw out the cups when they were done with them--I didn't realize it at the time, but my brother Dennis was a comic book collector. At the time, 7-11 had licensed over 60 characters to appear on their 7-11 cups.

The Slurpee cups were pretty cool looking, white plastic (about 12 ounces) with pictures of DC characters on one side, and a little 7-11 logo on the other. I say DC Characters, because there were some screwy choices made to put on the cups: Martha Kent, anyone? Mr. Tawky Tawny?

It didn't take long for me to realize I could trade trips to the 7-11 if I was willing to give up or trade my Slurpee Cups to my siblings. See, this was back in the day when the counter clerk picked the next cup in the series, and filled the cup for you. There was no choosing. If he picked Commissioner Gordon, you got Commissioner Gordon. No ifs, ands, or buts. I probably gave away really cool cups like Saturn Girl and Braniac 5, all just for the Slurpee inside.

Flash forward four years, and I'm a full-fledged comic collector, living in Germany. Just one year after trading away Slurpee cups, I discovered comics, and I had become a big fan of the Line of DC Super Stars. Living near the base, I had full access to comic books at the base book store, and access to baseball cards at the base convenience store. When my parents announced we were going back to the States for a visit in the summer of 1977, I immediately thought of how to best take advantage of the situation. My conclusion: Slurpee cups. Must. Buy. Slurpee Cups.

I remember getting to my Cousin's house in Delaware and begging her to take me to a 7-11. I am not sure, but I think from that moment on my cousin must have thought of me as "that weird cousin from Germany." Nevertheless, off we went, and I happily bought a Slurpee. Only to find the cups featured Marvel Heroes! Oh the humanity!

Needless to say, one of childhoods major disappointments set in. Ironically, the Marvel cups pre-dated my collecting of Marvel comics by one year, just like the DC cups of 1973 pre-dated my first Flash comic in 1974. There must be something to this predictive power of Slurpee cups. I'll think I'll try one on the way home.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beyond Here Lies Comics

Bob Dylan has a new album coming out next week, called Together Through Life. The cover sleeve features a photo by legendary photographer Bruce Davidson, so when it came time to produce a video for the first "single", "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'", someone decided to make the video up entirely of photos by Davidson, from the collection known as "Brooklyn Gang."

As you might have guessed, this particular one above caught my eye, featuring your typical 50s teen in front of a rack of comics!

I can make out copies of Patsy Walker, Strange Adventures, and House of Mystery. It seems to my eye that the issue of HOM is #87, which was on sale around March 1959.

Bob himself has made numerous comic book references on his Theme Time Radio Hour show, making the circle somewhat complete.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Comic Book Baron of New Jersey

sg Doug Slack - "Five dollars!"

I said the words slowly and carefully enough to convey the prestige of the four color treasure I removed from the brown paper bag.

My mom hit the brakes and stared with her mouth agape. Perhaps her knuckles whitened as she gripped the steering wheel. I couldn't say because I was busy watching her eyes as they lifted from the comic book in my hands to my face to some point further on out in the distance where she may have been hopelessly looking to see where exactly she had failed. I recognized this expression and braced myself for attack.

The comic seemed like a sound investment at the time. I spotted Tales of the New Teen Titans #1: Cyborg a week prior, sleeved in a thick mylar and pinned to the wall behind the counter of Heroes World. I had been collecting comics regularly for a few years and had just entered the Anal Stage. This is the most regretful, shameful stage of a comic fan's life what with the plastic sleeves and the backing boards and the long boxes.

I was a devotee of the annual Robert M. Overstreet Official Comic Book Price Guide. I would actually spend hours reading that ridiculous book, pouring over titles and prices, admiring the ludicrous supplies advertised in the color pages, wishing I could someday own one of those precious collector's items that were worth thousands.

In my greedy quest to become New Jersey's biggest comic book baron I bought every "Collectors Item!" I could get my hands on. Somewhere within my moronic reasoning synapses, I determined that limited series and one shot issues were the best investment. Something about a limited run translating into increased consumer demand, I think. Occasionally this insistence on collecting first issues reaped quality material such as the original Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries. But it also compelled me to blow cash on Marvel’s Annie movie adaptation and Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew #1 (Guest appearance by Superman?! Double score!).

So there was Cyborg, as rendered by George Perez, posing on the cover of the first issue of
Tales of the New Teen Titans (4 issue limited series!) in all of his cybernetic glory. The hero who was part man, part robot stood firmly in the center of the cover, cyber feet planted a full yard apart, cyber fists clenched as he broke a giant steel chain from around his mighty cyber torso. It was the first time I had ever heard of the character and at least I can say that my initial interest wasn't capitalistic. I actually thought he looked cool.

When I noticed the title had "Teen Titans" in it the dollar signs cha-chinged over my eyes. This was 1984 when
The New Teen Titans was DC's hottest book. The early issues were already worth double digits. Double digits! This was a mere spin-off title, but Heroes World--surely a fair minded establishment--already had it tagged at five dollars. Obviously the value of this book was going places and I could still afford to get in on the ground floor of this excellent investment opportunity.

The following week I returned with the cash in my Wranglers, ready to make my most expensive single comic book purchase to date. I distinctly remember how nonchalant the clerk was about the whole transaction. It was as if she didn't realize what a valuable commodity she was handling. I had assumed brokering this sale would carry the same weight as closing a deal at Tiffany's Auction. If she was impressed at what a big shot comic book collector I was (as I just knew she would be) her manner didn't betray it. Casually--I swear it was almost carelessly--she separated the issue from it's mylar sleeve.

I blurted out, "Oh no, uh, I-I'll take that too!"

"It's an extra fifty cents."

Good thing I brought some extra change just in case. No way was Cyborg traveling home in nothing but a flimsy paper bag.

I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of buyer's remorse. I'm sure every baron has moments of doubt. What I needed was a little reassurance. I needed someone else to tell me I made the right investment. So I showed my mom.
Which brings us back to the station wagon outside the mall.

"There better be something else inside that bag..."

"Nope! This is it!"

"No. Oh... no! Ohhhh you were ripped off!"

"No! No! It's the Teen Titans...and see? Number one! Number ones are always more--"

"Five dollars?!?"

"Well it is over a year old...!"

"It's not even a new one?! No, take it back."

"It's an investment!"

"Go inside and get your money back. I'll go with you."


The horror of such a thing occurring--of my mother dragging me back through the mall to Heroes World to demand justice--was enough to put me on the defensive. I dug in my heels and said, "You don't understand! This is a collectors item! I'm a Collector! This is going to get more valuable!"

"Oh, Doug..."

"Look. I'll make you a deal. Just wait until next year's Overstreet Price Guide comes out and we'll see if it goes up in value. Just let me keep it until then."

In retrospect I don't know what kind of retarded deal that was supposed to be. What happens if she was right? Was Heroes World really going to give me a refund on a six month old purchase? But she relented.

"Alright. We'll just wait until that new book comes out and then we'll see. Grrr, mutter, gripe, five dollars, kvetch..."

After we arrived home I carefully read the issue (lay flat on the table, turn pages slowly from the top corner) then returned it to it's sleeve. I inserted an acid free backing board and sealed the top with scotch tape. Luckily the "T" titles fell in the middle of my long box so Cyborg was wedged safely inside my collection. There it waited to silently appreciate in value and ultimately vindicate me.

Today you can purchase
Tales of the New Teen Titans #1: Cyborg from various online sellers for $1.00. That cost does not include mylar sleeve.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why I'll Never Be As Rich As Bruce Wayne

Rob Kelly - I'll never be as rich as Bruce Wayne.

That's mostly because my parents aren't loaded, so they don't have a Vast Kelly Fortune to leave me. But even if they did, I think my stunning lack of business acumen would render me broke within a few years.

I have two cringe-inducing examples of this, and they both involve Batman.

Back in the mid-1980s, I was working at a Roy Rogers restaurant (mmm...bacon double-cheeseburgers...) and, because of the store's immense turnaround in employees, I was making a decent amount of money--something like $8/hr. That may not sound like all that much, but when you consider I was only about 16, living with my parents, no car, no bills of any kind, and this was around 1987, that ended up being a nice-sized check every week.

Having no bills to pay, that of course meant all my money went to my "habit", which was of course...heroin. No, no, of course I mean comic books.

And, around that time, I had exhausted my local store of its most interesting back issues, so I needed a new dealer (amazing how many terms involving drugs and comics overlap). I went searching for other stores to plunder, and found one in Center City, Philadelphia--Fat Jack's, located and 20th and Sansom.

Traveling by myself into Philadelphia seemed like a wonderful, adult adventure, which only added to the store's allure. And once I got there, I realized this was the store for me--thousands and thousands of back issues, all kinds of new comics I had never seen (what's this thing called Cherry Poptart?), and the walls were covered with Golden Age treasures, books I had never seen outside of an Overstreet Price Guide.

The books that most enticed me were a string of late-1940s issues of Detective Comics, with those gorgeous Dick Sprang covers. Here are three of the approximately 8-9 'Tecs I picked up:
Now, while these issues were reasonably priced, they were still rather pricey for someone in my financial situation. I remember them each going for around $40-$50 each, which means I could basically afford one a week, after I bought all my regular books.

After about two months of this, I decided to move on to other Golden Age books on the wall. For whatever reason, this was the only issue of Detective I left behind:

...I'm sure at least some of you are slapping their heads in Homer Simpson-like frustration right now, realizing that the above book is nothing less than the first appearance of The Riddler, one of the seminal books in Batman's long history.

You see, at the time, I was not as well versed in comic history as I am now, and I thought that The Riddler was a contemporary of The Joker, The Penguin, The Catwoman, etc., meaning I thought he debuted in the very early 1940s, and that this issue was just another appearance.

I didn't know that The Riddler came along a lot later, and was a relatively minor villain, until the Batman TV show came along and catapulted him into the ranks of Batman's greatest foes.

This single issue is worth something like five grand now (there's a copy in absolutely decimated shape on eBay selling for $920!). Had I bought it, it would've been the single most valuable comic book I've ever owned.

And to think, I left it on that wall...

Ok, flash-forward to 1988. I'm in my final year of high school, and word of an upcoming Batman movie is making all of us comic book fans salivate with excitement. Imagine, a Batman movie!

Right around this time, DC ran their whole "Let's Kill off Jason Todd" thing, in a four issue series. You remember it, don't you?:
...I had bought all four issues, because I was a regular Batman reader.

I had no idea, as most people didn't, that a wave of collecting frenzy would hit these issues, and thanks to extensive media coverage of the Death of Robin, these issues suddenly became very, very hot.

Among my group of high school friends, it was known I read comics. So one day, one of the girls in the group approached me. She asked me if I had all four of those Batmans where Robin dies.

I said yes, and she told me her boyfriend desperately wanted them, and would I be willing to sell them?

Before I could think of answer, she told me he'd be willing pay $50 each for all four books. Wow, I thought--$200.00? That's a lot of money, but I said no, I don't think so.

A few days later, she approached me again and said he was willing to up the offer--to $100 for each book.

This was getting serious--$400 for those four Batmans? To a seventeen year old with (again) very few expenses, $400 was a friggin' fortune. A Wayne Family-esque fortune.

But...I still said no. Those issues were beloved to me, they were important, and besides they'd only go up in value (cue Homer again), so I passed.

If I ever had access to a time machine, this is one of those moments I'd return to. After the young me walks away, the old me would grab me(?), slap me around and tell me that within a short time you'd realize those issues were, for all the talent behind them, total crap--ridiculous story, weak art (forgive me, Mr. Aparo), and a ghoulish, nasty gimmick that would presage the blood and guts superhero era that was the 90s.

I'd tell myself that, in less than two years, I'd sell 99% of my comics collection to help pay for art school, and that those issues wouldn't even be counted as anything unique, special, or value. They were just so much more paper stuffed in a longbox.

But of course, I don't have access to a time machine (yet), so I have to live with the pain of realizing that I've had two separate encounters with Batman comics where I left a lot of money on the table.

Sadly, my dream of a Rob Kelly Foundation Building (with a cool tree in the middle of the frigging thing!) will never be fulfilled:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Collect Me If You Can

My girlfriend and I were watching and re-watching(respectively) Steven Spielberg's 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of master con man Frank Abignale (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).

Watching it over again, I had forgotten how much Abignale's love of Flash comics plays into the plot--there's an early shot in the film of some issues sitting on his bureau (top photo), then later he goes around telling people his name is Barry Allen!

Not until a helpful soda jerk clues the FBI Agent Carl Hanratty on the case (Tom Hanks) as to who Barry Allen is does Hanratty start to figure out how to catch him. And after they have and Abignale is in jail, Hanratty brings him a "present" of some new Flash comics (see second photo).

I remember being impressed that whoever was in charge of props made the effort to get period correct issues of the title--that's The Flash #135 seen on top of the pile in photo 1, which came out in 1963, which was correct for that point in the movie.

In the second photo, Hanks is showing The Flash #179, which came out in 1968, which is about when that second scene takes place. Well done!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spirit of '74

sg David C. Morefield - I can't even remember why I was being punished.

Most likely I'd manipulated my little brother into some dangerous situation or other, or shamed the family again with a poor showing at school. The point is I was in hot water with the folks and comics were strictly off-limits until my sentence was served.

The year was 1974. At nine years of age I was past the point where spankings were practical, so my folks had settled on a new form of punishment; taking away things I enjoyed. My most obvious passion, and therefore my primary Achilles' heel, was comics. This wasn't the last time I'd lose access to them for my misdeeds; the worst would come a couple of years later, when during another stretch in the "no comics" icebox, DC and Marvel would release Superman vs. Spider-Man, surely the greatest event in publishing since Gutenberg perfected movable type...and I was forbidden to buy it.

Even in the best of times, it took some effort to get my hands on a comic. I was living in the small town of Saluda, VA, which didn't rate a drug store or corner grocery, so the nearest source for four-color adventures was Marshall's Drug Store in the neighboring town of Urbana. I spent many an afternoon turning that creaky spindle rack, situated as it was between a lunch counter smelling of grilled cheese sandwiches and a magazine stand crammed with the latest issues of National Lampoon, Creem and Tiger Beat (the latter invariably featuring Bobby Goldsboro, Donny Osmond and/or the Jackson Five. Groovy!). It was there I would first encounter the manic energy of the Amazing Spider-Man, the "wow, everyone's in the same book" grandeur of the Justice League of America and the sublime awesomeness of the 100-Page Super-Spectacular.

But not on this day. For now, I'd have to make due with cap gun battles in the back yard, or maybe another Yeti hunt with my Adventure Team GI Joe (with "life-like hair!"...if you're a hedgehog). Or so I thought. Because to my enduring surprise, Dad returned home from his errands that day with a gift for me, a magazine with a colorful cover showing a man in a blue fedora and tattered blue suit standing atop a strange brick structure (A barbecue? A refrigerator-sized jail cell?) confronting a woman in a red dress. The magazine was called The Spirit, and inside were black and white comics unlike anything I'd seen before.

This was unprecedented; in the ongoing Cold War between parent and child, it was a development as momentous as Nixon's trip to China. By handing me this magazine before my sentence was up, it was like Dad was switching allegiances from Mom to me, if only for a moment. Remember, the ban was on comic books, and this publication, whatever it was, wasn't the typical comic. Magazine-sized, with black and white content and drawn in a "retro style" (I didn't know they were actually vintage stories) it was something new, something different.

I mean, who'd ever heard of "Warren Publishing"? On a fundamental level, of course, it was a comic, but by exploiting a seeming loophole, the warden himself had smuggled in contraband. If "no comics" was my prison, that magazine was my cake with a hacksaw baked inside.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised, as Dad had been a comics fan himself growing up. More than once I wished I could've seen his collection of Golden Age books (his favorites were Captain Marvel and a character named Something-Eagle, or Eagle-Something, he could never remember and I've never been able to figure it out). Like so many readers of his generation, however, his comics were lost to time, in this case stored in a barrel in a shed and destroyed by mice(!).

I've never talked to Dad about it--I seriously doubt he'd remember that day anyway--but the whole "Spirit Magazine" episode only ever made sense as a "bonding" thing. Surely as a Methodist minister he wouldn't have bought me the magazine based on the content of the stories, which I'm convinced he never read.

sgI mean, on the very first page of the very first story, a man is brutally beaten (stomped!) to death by mob enforcers and abandoned on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. As the book progresses, another man is struck over the head with a heavy tool and dumped in a garbage truck bound for the city incinerator; a female prison guard gets a face full of scalding steam and lies clawing at her face in a silent scream; people are atomized by martian ray guns, and--most memorably--a beautiful woman doctor strips out of her surgical gown and changes to a dress (in one panel we see a shot of her bare back that, despite showing no "naughty bits," remains one of the sexiest images I've ever seen in a comic).

The fact that all this was drawn in a "cartoony" style somehow made it more shocking, not less. Weaned on DC and Disney comics, I couldn't help thinking, "Is it even legal to print this stuff?"

I pored over every page of the magazine repeatedly, and not just because it's the only comic I had for weeks. Even the ads in this thing were mesmerizing; original James Bond movie posters for $3.50 to $5.00 (today they'd go for hundreds and up), Mego superhero action figures (had to remember to look for those at the department stores!) and in the back pages, a veritable library of books collecting old comics; Superman and Batman From the 30s to the 70s (which I had and loved), Flash Gordon, The Phantom, Mandrake, Underground Comix (whatever those were), something called All in Color For A Dime and a paperback that promised to contain Green Lantern and Green Arrow stories drawn by Neal Adams (my hero! Did he really draw such books? Did Green Lantern really have his own title once?!).

In later years, I'd track down many of those volumes, but nothing could have lived up to the promise of those tantalizing ads. Even more fascinating, though, was the knowledge that I was reading Issue #2 of The Spirit. Thus Issue #1 took on an almost mythical status in my imagination. I knew from an ad that the cover had shown a giant Spirit looking down on a murder, but as the issue had come and gone a couple of months earlier, I might as well have missed it by 20 years. "Back issues" and "direct sales" were alien concepts to me then, and for years to come.

Later on, during another period of punishment (I must have been some rotten kid!), Dad would "bend the rules" again and get me DC's tabloid-sized Bible comic (it was an unusual size, and maybe I'd learn Bible stories, right?) but it didn't have the impact of The Spirit.

Eventually, of course, I'd figure out who Will Eisner was and where the comics in that magazine first saw life. I'd collect every "Spirit" story I came across, and most of the time I'd enjoy them. But nothing would ever match the impact of that first meeting with Denny Colt, Ellen Dolan, Powder, Bleak, Sparrow and the puberty-hastening Dr. Silken Floss.

I've held onto the magazine to this day while so many other artifacts of my youth have been lost to time. It's missing the covers, has holes where I cut out the James Bond poster images and now starts on page 7, but I've got it. And whenever I open it up, I'm nine years old again, ending my comics fast with a feast of powerful imagery and entering a fascinating, exciting, scary world far removed from the cozy confines of Metropolis, Riverdale and Duckburg, and offering a glimpse into still more worlds of adventure in those back-page ads that said, "There's enough of this stuff that you could read it for the rest of your life, kid."

And so I have. Thanks, Dad. I won't tell Mom if you don't.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Deliberate Error

sg Vincent Bartilucci - The last time Rob granted me the floor here at Hey Kids,! Comics! I wrote about my father, Shazam! #12, and a family trip to Scotland in 1974. I ended that piece on a bit of a cliffhanger. Here's a brief recap:

In the summer of '74, my family and I visited relatives in Scotland. Shortly before we returned home, my Uncle Albert purchased a copy of Shazam! #12 for me. That comic book was something of a milestone in my own personal comic-collecting history; it was my first encounter with the original Captain Marvel, who was one of my father's childhood favorites. Cap soon became a favorite of mine, as well. Almost 35 years later (yikes!) and I'm still fascinated by The World's Mightiest Mortal and his whimsical supporting cast.

But--and here's the cliffhanger part--as I mentioned in the first half of this tale, my Uncle Albert purchased two comic books for me on that fateful day in August of '74. Like Shazam! #12, this other comic book was my first issue of a series that I would follow for years to come, a series that would rival even The Brave and the Bold and Justice League of America for my affections.

At the time of the actual purchase however, this other comic book was barely on my radar. In fact, so intense was my focus on the cover of Shazam! #12 that I failed to notice so much as the title on the second comic that my uncle plucked from that wire rack in that Scottish pub (I swear, it was a pub!) we visited. And, since these comics were for me to read on the flight home a few days later, they both went into a bag and the bag went to my mother for safe keeping until our departure. We were airborne before I learned the identity of that other comic book.


Boring old Superman as a boring old kid. Ho-hum.

To be fair though, the cover to that other comic book, Superboy #201, did look kind of interesting, what with the unconscious form of the Teen of Steel lying in the foreground and some other super-hero squaring off with the issue's villain. I didn't recognize either of the combatants, or, for that matter, two additional characters that lay defeated in the background. Whoever they were, they all had neat costumes.

Despite the cover, however, I was still fairly certain that the story itself would be a dud because, as far as the Man of Steel concerned, the folks at DC were nothing but a pack of dirty cheats. Well, what would you call them? In the mid seventies, Superman and Action Comics boasted some of the most dynamic covers on the stands, exciting images that promised thrills and chills and adventure aplenty. Yet beneath those phenomenal front pieces lurked lackluster tales featuring goofy-looking aliens, monumentally outclassed super-villains, and a hero who was never, ever in any real danger. In my learned, seven-almost-eight year old opinion, Superman was dull with a capital D. I couldn't imagine how Superboy would be any different.

The fact is he wasn't any different. Superboy, the character, was just as boring as Superman. But Superboy, the comic book, was pretty darn exciting. Superboy, the comic book, had the Legion of Super-Heroes! And the Legion of Super-Heroes was…the Legion was…

I'm sorry but I just can't do it. I can't continue my tale without making an embarrassing confession. Do not judge me too harshly, fellow Legion fans but …

I originally read the logo of Superboy #201 as Superboy starring The Legend of Super-Heroes.

All these years later, I'm not exactly sure where "Legend" came from. Thanks to my comic book mania, I was a fairly strong reader with a vocabulary that was rather advanced for my age. Whenever I came across an unfamiliar word in the latest issue of Iron Man or The Flash or what have you I'd scramble to the dictionary to look it up. I knew what "invulnerable", "abomination", "supersonic", and a host of other words meant long before any of my classmates. I guess that's relatively common among young comic book fans.

In this case, however, I didn't investigate the unfamiliar word. Granted, I didn't have a dictionary with me on the transatlantic flight from Glasgow to New York. But I had better. I had my folks. I could've asked one of them what Legion meant. But I didn't. Instead, my brain just replaced Legion with a more familiar word. It was sheer laziness; the laziness that sometimes comes with being 'rather advanced' for your age.

I mean, the only alternative to laziness is that I glanced at the cover of Superboy #201 so quickly that I really believed the subtitle read Starring the Legend of Super-Heroes. But, if that was the case, if I had actually misread the logo, why the heck didn't I check it again when I discovered that the darn story took place in the future? I certainly don't recall ever thinking to myself, "hey, isn't a legend something that OCCURRED IN THE PAST?!?!?" Then, of course, there are all the times the words Legion or Legionnaire appeared in the issue. I just flipped thru a reader copy of this issue that I purchased recently and counted them up--19 in the main story, 12 in the back-up! 31 references to the Legion within the issue, averaging more than one a page, and I just sorta glossed over them all! Nope, I'm convinced it was laziness.

The really embarrassing part is that this went on for years. Even after I encountered and understood the word legion in other contexts--heck, even when I realized that the name of the group within the series itself was the Legion of Super-Heroes--I was STILL referring to the comic book as Superboy and the Legend of Super-Heroes. It became something that was willful, deliberate. I knew it wasn't right but I refused to correct myself.

And I guess that brings us back to my father and the tale I related last time. Captain Marvel was one of my dad's favorite characters and he filled me in on a lot of Shazam-lore before I ever set eyes on my first issue of Shazam! But somewhere along the line he had become convinced that Billy Batson, Cap's alter ego, was a crippled newspaper boy. Of course, it was Freddy Freeman, Captain Marvel Jr.'s secret identity, who was lame and hawked newspapers, but dad didn't remember it that way and he wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.

I don't believe for a minute that my father's error stemmed from any mental laziness on his part but I think I'm beginning to understand now why he stuck to his guns all those years. Sometimes what we remember is more important than the truth. Dad remembered Billy with a crutch and a stack of newspapers. I remembered reading Superboy starring The Legend of Super-Heroes. To correct those memories is to bring other, more important memories into question. And we derive too much joy from our memories to start tearing them down.

So, enjoy your memories. During glad times, revel in them. During sad, gain strength from them. Pull them all out and scatter them across the living room table like so many faded photo albums.

And, should you discover that a given memory isn't supported by historical fact, choose the memory. You'll be happier.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My First Comic Shop

sgRick Phillips I went to Phil's Records today perhaps for the last time. Oh I still like the place but it's just that they are moving. I heard about it a couple of weeks ago but I didn't hear the date. I just stop for one last visit and found out that today was the last day. So I bought a little bit more then I planned on.

You see they are moving to an area where I haven't been in about 10 years. So I may ever see the store again. Now why am I writing about a record store when the title is called my first comic shop? Well they also sold comic books. They didn't have a huge supply but I could always go there and find something if the regular store didn't have it and that was rare.

After I left I thought about the first comic book store that I found in my area. My cousin Randy and I saw an ad in the newspaper for Conner's Comics. It was near Industrial Road and both of us had our parents drive us over there to look for the store. My folks must have driven me up and down that road and the side roads at least a dozen times before they gave up hope of finding it.

About a week later Randy and I were going down Dixie Highway to the YMCA. We saw a small store across the street that had comic books in the window. We made a promise to each other to stop there on the way back. After a good time of swimming at the Y we headed home and stop there on the way back.

It was when I was looking at the books that I saw in the window from the street that I noticed something. It was laying flat so it wasn't viewable from the street. I picked it up with my eyes wide in amazement. I called to Randy and held up what I had just found. It was a wood sign and carved into it was the name of the store. It was Conner's Comics. It seems that it was near Industrial Road with the ad came out but soon moved to this location. We wound up finding the store when we quick looking for it.

The store was only at that location for less then a year but I had a lot of fun there and learned alot about my hobby. It was the first time I took a comic book to the store to sell to them. It was Justice League of America #129. Like any kid I folded it up and put it in my back pocket and made my way to the store. When I took it out and tried to sell it the counter person told me the crease made it worthless. That was how I learned to keep them in the best condition that I can.

I only saw one person at the store and when Randy and I talk to him he told us he knew nothing about comic books. He only collected baseball cards. When someone had a question about comic books he had to look it up. I was amazed at that revelation. Why hire someone who doesn't know anything about the hobby? Maybe he was the only one who applied.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Thank Heaven For 7-11"

sg Rob Kelly - Well, our first Hey Kids! poll is concluded, and the far away winner for where people would love to see comics sold again is...7-11!

Despite the fact that if comics were sold on a grand scale in big box stores like Target it would probably have a significantly positive effect on the comics industry, in the end most people who voted went for the place I bet most of them bought comics in the first place, the local 7-11 (or equivalent "Kwik-E-Mart"-esque chain).

I have to say that, while in my head I know that it makes the most sense for comics to be in the big-box stores (have you been to a Target during Christmas?), deep down I think I'd give my left arm to see them sold in 7-11s again--it would just make me feel good.

7-11s are the first store many kids can get to on their own, the place where they can spend their money without their parents approval (heck, from what I remember, most of the stuff you bought in 7-11 would be gone by the time you even got back to your house). At the 7-11 down the road from my house, kids still hang out outside, their bikes off to the side as they eat candy bars and smoke cigarettes. The more things change...

Back in 2007, Marvel tried a brief experiment and started putting together specially-made collections for 7-11 stores, and I was so excited I bought every copy I found. But to no avail; eventually the range of titles dwindled from half a dozen to pretty much just Spider-Man, and then even Spidey disappeared.

I guess sales just weren't there, which kind of confounds me, because at several 7-11s in my area, they regularly stock Wizard--Wizard!--a magazine about comics sells well enough to be in 7-11s, but the comics themselves don't. What's wrong with this picture? I'm not a fact and figures guy, but boy would I love the opportunity to dig into Marvel's 7-11 sales figures and see just what the hell went on.

Even though comics are gone--probably never, ever to return--I have to admit, every time I'm in a 7-11 (which is often) I find my head, more often than not, unconsciously turning towards the magazine racks, in some vain hope I'll see a huge selection of comics there again. It's like my own sad, four-color version of "Christina's World."
Oh well, at least they still have Slurpees.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"From The Sublime To The Ridiculous"

I get a particular thrill following up Richard Bensam's fantastic, moving piece (see previous post) for Hey Kids! with these: photos from a nudie film.

These screencaps were sent to me by Hey Kids! contributor Brian Heiler, who tells me: "
These are shots from the 1963 opus Goldilocks and the Three Bares (yeah, I like old-timey naked people movies) and that buldging comic rack gets featured for about five minutes (it's obviously a one-camera shot).

It looked better on my TV but I had to use VHS to catch it, so it lost some resolution, I could see the Batman logo on my TV."

Wow, what a catch, and what a bizarre place to spot some comics as props--a early 60s nudie film?!?

That's an odd-sized comic rack, it looks like it has two racks on two sides, and then one rack on the opposite side. Wherever this was shot, the kids in the area had a lot more comics to choose from than I ever did. (So not only did they have a porno being shot in their neighborhood, but they had Charltons, too!)

I can't make out the Batman logo, but am I crazy to think that I see Archie's Pep Comics six titles down on the left?

Friday, January 2, 2009

"A New Year"

Richard Bensam - 1974

Just over thirty-five years ago, my family moved from a small town in Pennsylvania to New York City. Both my parents were native New Yorkers returning home after an absence of many years, but my sister and I knew the city only from visits to our grandparents in Brooklyn, or our aunt and uncle in Queens. To actually live in Manhattan would be a radical change in every aspect of our lives.

Sayre, PA was an almost impossibly perfect manifestation of the ideal American small town. It was unbearably picturesque: the town in which Norman Rockwell paintings seem to take place. Fictional towns like Smallville or Riverdale would have seemed bustling and cosmopolitan by comparison. But the town was also narrow minded, parochial, conservative, economically depressed and oppressive, with little hope of escape for those born there. The television series The Prisoner never seemed like science fiction; I always felt as if I'd lived it. The year we moved away, the population of Sayre was under seven thousand people; the population of New York City at the same time was well over seven million.

There was only one building in town more than three stories tall: the local hospital, also the only building in town with an elevator. A whole city full of elevators and escalators and skyscrapers and subways and buses and taxicabs was some kind of crazy space age dream--yet we were moving to a city with heliports on the roof! A couple of years earlier, my family had visited Disneyland and I wanted to spend every moment of it in the Tomorrowland area. The prospect of moving to New York was like being invited to live in Tomorrowland.

Not every change seemed positive at the time. There was a real possibility I would be left behind from my age group and have to repeat a grade, because the curriculum in my former school system was well behind that of New York schools. That would have been humiliating; I only narrowly escaped it. As it was, I faced an uphill climb those first few months in the new school to catch up with my fellow students. (My first day there included a test on expressing fractions in decimal notation, and I had never even heard of a "decimal point" before. I got every question wrong.) This was the first time in my life schoolwork really challenged me, and somehow I managed to rise to the occasion.

(In fact, though I'm not sure how I managed this, I did well enough in the new environment that the following year I became one of only three students in the entire school chosen to learn how to use the school's computer--actually a dumb terminal hooked up via acoustic coupler modem to a mainframe at nearby New York University--writing simple math programs in BASIC. Understand that this was over three decades ago; grade schools then did not normally have computers, and certainly not one available to students, so this was an exceptional privilege. But that came later.)

I don't remember those early months in the city too clearly: mostly the sheer terror of my first day at the new school, followed by a blur of social awkwardness and discomfort over a period of months, combined with a steady stream of culture shock and new experiences. What I do remember vividly is visiting my new school for the first time before the new year began--or more specifically, visiting the combination stationery store/gift shop/newsstand across the street from the school and finding their rack of comics. That's when I saw this:

SHAZAM! #11 was the first comic book I bought in New York. The issue was dated March 1974, but it appeared on the racks considerably earlier. I remember thinking the theme of the cover was a good omen. 1974 was indeed going to be a new year for my family; yes, let's salute that.

Funnily enough, I'm pretty sure the second comic I bought at the same shop would have been this one:

When this turned up, I was profoundly relieved to discover I hadn't missed an issue of the ongoing story. At the time I loved both varieties of Captain Marvel equally, though in more recent years I've become more passionate about the Fawcett original whereas Marvel's version has aged considerably less well...but that's a whole other topic. What mattered was that I'd found a new place to buy comics.

As it happened, three blocks away from my new school (and this gift shop) was something I didn't even dream existed until I saw it for the first time, a few weeks later: an entire store that sold nothing but comic books. Every new comic. Old comics. Original art from comics.

Back in our former town, there were two newsstands on the same block that between them carried most of the latest comics. Both knew me as a regular customer, and I was scrupulous about dividing my purchases between the two out of fairness. At one of them, I was even allowed to go in the back and open the bundle of newly arrived comics to choose my purchases before they were put on the racks. That was how I first saw The Demon #1 by Jack Kirby...and even today, whenever I see that cover, it transports me back to Morley's News on Desmond Street in Sayre.

If by mischance both of those establishments ever missed a comic I wanted, I knew every other place that sold comics within driving distance--testing my father's patience on many occasions. If you had asked me about any town in northern Pennsylvania or southern New York State, I'd have described it as that's the town with the drug store with a huge comics display along the wall. Or that's the town with the smoke shop on the foot of a steep hill, where the comics spinner rack is next to the glass case full of pipes and tobacco. Individual comics were landmarks: That shopping mall in Elmira was where I got Superboy #147. In that poster shop outside Athens I found Avengers #63. Watkins Glen was the perplexing THUNDER Agents #20. My brain was a GPS system of comics vendors.

All this is by way of explaining that getting comics was of critical importance to me. I did not live for comics. I lived in comics. To find a store that specialized in comics changed everything. But I don't remember the first comic I bought there. What I remember is the first comic I bought in New York City, knowing that from now on I was going to be living here.