Comic Collecting and Eary Fandom in the 1960's
My brother, three years older than myself, was still alive when my cousin's boyfriend offered to give us his box of old comics. My brother and I were to split them up, taking turns choosing one each. I had my eye on a cover of Superman getting kryptonite eyeballed by a big gorilla. It was of course 1959's Superman #127, featuring the first appearance of Titano.
The year we received the box was sometime before 1965, because 1964 was the year my brother, at age 11, died. At that point I was eight years old and probably knew Superman more from his tv show, "The Adventures of Superman", than I did from the comic books.
I couldn't read, so my cousin read those books, and later others, to me. She'd let me lean against her and she'd scratch my head while she read. It was a comfort zone I would look to re-experience for many years to come as, along with comics in general and Beatle music, it helped get me through the difficult time of my brother developing cancer and dying. When I finally did learn to read well enough I hid the fact, I didn't want to give up snuggling with my cousin. But one day when I approached her with a Superboy comic she told me I could read it by myself. Bonus sad day.
I remember going into a candy shop and seeing on the rack Spiderman getting clobbered by Sandman, and Electro, and the Human Torch blazing around. I didn't exactly know the characters but they caught my eye. There was a mystique about them that the Superman books didn't have.
Maybe it was because their heads were hidden. I remember a friend telling me one day that he had an issue of Fantastic Four where the fire guy shuts his flame off and we could see his face. That was a big deal. I mean, yea, I recognized his face, but it was just not until then that I realized the blond haired guy and the fire guy were the same.
Or maybe it was the artwork. I didn't know Ditko by name, but his artwork was the first I distunguished from other artists'. I remember opening up an issue of Konga and realizing it was the same artist. There was something about his artwork that made me dizzy. But there was also something about the art on a cover of Fantastic Four, with the FF bent low before a pharoah, that had me running to the park to beg my mother's friend for a dime to buy it.. Or were they already 12 cents at that point? Actually, I recall my favorite comic at the time was 25 cents: an 80 page giant featuring Supeman and all his super buddies.
My real comic book education began when I discovered Bill's bookshop in Union City, NJ. It was stocked with back issues of Superman family books, and Batmans, and Blackhawks, and army guys fighting dinosaurs, that Bill sold for a nickle. Then one day I heard a customer ask to see the Marvels. Bill kept them in the backroom and only brought them out upon request. And he charged 10 cents for them, twice as much as he charged for the Supermans, so I figured there was something mighty important about them. I remember the first stack he brought out had on top a cover where the Juggarnaut was rising out of the floor to face the XMen, and there was that fire guy again.
I knew the XMen. I had bought one of their issues out of a machine in a department store. That cover showed the winged member trapped behind glass while his partners duked it out with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was my first encounter with a seemingly continuous tale. While standing in line in first grade, I imagined owning all the issues of the tale. And now with Bill's bookshop, there was a chance of making that happen, if I could just come up with enough dimes.
I worked in my father's print shop, stapling and collating papers, for those dimes. I bought all the first issues of XMen, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, read them, then returned them to the store where Bill would buy them back for half of what he sold them to me for, and I'd use that money to buy more comics I hadn't read yet.
I suppose I was responsible for ending the oasis of Bill's book shop, because I was the one who responded to an ad that eventually appeared in comics for Rocket's Blast Comic Collector, the premier comic adzine of the day. I ordered my copy of RBCC, got it through the mail, and opened it up to discover "Holy Cow!" those books Bill was selling for nickles and dimes were actually worth dollars. There was even an ad running where some one was offering $300 for any available issue of Action #1. A clever kid would have gone to Bill's and bought out his stock, but instead I went and told Bill what I discovered. And so my era of cheap back issues came to an close.
My favorite part of RBCC was the ads for fanzines. I loved fanzines. My favorites were probably Gary Groth's Fantastic Fanzine and Alan Light's All-Dynamic. When I started my own fanzine, True Hero, Gary and Alan both contributed, and Joe Sinnot did a beautiful 8.5x11 finished pen and ink of the Thing reading True Hero for the cover of my 3rd issue.
Conventions were different back then, smaller, more intimate. Pros were happy to do sketches for fans. Even toward the end of the 60's I stood in just a short line to get a free sketch of Batman from Neal Adams. That was at Phil Seuling's convention at the Statler Hilton hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden, probably around 1968, it was the year Adams was trying to form a Union to get artists and writers better pay.
And that's a sketch of my memories from those early days. Maybe when its not so in the middle of the nights I'll write more about it if anybody's interested let me know.
And if you got time take a gander at some of the superhero paintings I do nowadays at http://cosmicpaintings.com/