Comic books are a vehicle we use to temporarily escape our reality. They take us to a place where good guys get to win. A place where doing the right thing is the norm, not the exception. Comics can make us laugh and make us cry. Great stories open insights into the real world. More importantly, they provide glimpses into how the world could be. They provide us with heroes when real-life ones can be hard to find. Our fictional heroes challenge us to live up to the same ideals they display month to month.
Captivated by Bronze Age Comics
I’ve been an avid comic book reader since the 1970s. I cheered on an undersized Canadian hero as he first popped his claws to take on the Hulk and Wendigo. Alongside the Hulk, I choked up a bit as Jarella died in his arms. Professor X and I traveled the world to recruit an exciting new team of X-Men. I eagerly waited as comic book storylines paused to focus on secondary characters when their main heroes were off battling in a Secret War.
The Wire Racks
There were no comic stores in the little Upper Michigan town I grew up in. We had three ways to get our comic book fix.
The least desirable choice was to pick a plastic bag off the wire rack at the corner market. These sealed bags contained two comics, but the top third of the cover (and sometimes the first few pages) had been sliced off to allow for resale. You could see what the top book was but the one hidden beneath it was anyone’s guess. Sometimes you got lucky and got another issue of one of your favorite heroes. Other times it could be a great introduction to heroes you had never heard of before. That second book is where I met the Metal Men, the Freedom Fighters, and Klaw. It also allowed me to wander through Houses of Secret and Mystery with caretakers Cain and Abel.
The second option for locating comics was our neighborhood drug store. Often comics were mixed in with a variety of other magazines on the spinning wire rack next to the counter. The challenge here was the clerk behind the counter, who frowned upon young men perusing the merchandise. Here you had to shell out your hard-earned thirty cents based upon the cover of the book alone, and those could be quite misleading back in the day.
A Hidden Cache of Comics
My favorite option was the IGA grocery store. Ours kept stacks of comics in a little alcove near the produce counter. While mom shopped I could browse through several titles before selecting the one I was allowed to bring to the checkout with her.
None of these methods guaranteed that you could follow a multi-issue story. Often it was years later before I learned exactly how my hero escaped that sticky situation to defeat his foe.
Keeping Books vs. Collecting Books
Sadly, very few of these classic early Bronze Age comics survived my childhood. Collectors will cringe as I tell how we spread open the cover on an old window pane supported on brick legs like a tabletop. Below it shined a bright light so we could trace our heroes onto paper, creating new stories and new heroes. Sometimes comics got traded away for other treasures. I even lost a few on a bad bet in a game of marbles. I remember ruining Hulk vs. Abomination and Rhino because I spilled my cereal bowl as I was re-reading it for the tenth time at the breakfast table.
A few of my books survived these tragedies and were plopped into an old cardboard box in my closet. As high school turned into college then into “real life”, I continued to purchase my favorite series. These got less abused than my earliest issues did, and eventually I graduated from racquetball boxes (which fit comics quite well) into my first official comic book box.
Turning This Mess Into a Collection
Twenty plus boxes later I decided it was finally time to turn my boxes of memories into an official collection and look seriously at their value. I’d like to invite you on this journey from comic reader to comic collector. This is not a “how-to” manual, because I really have no idea what I’m doing. What does “slabbed” mean? When did Fine and Near Mint condition change to a numeric rating system accurate to a decimal place? Along the way, I will be soliciting your advice on how to best do this. My first question for you is an easy one and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment.
What got you hooked on comic books?