I wanted to start off the blog this year writing about one of several people I know that could be described as artistically motivated. It's disheartening to notice how many people are only motivated by money, fear and anger. It's barely a step up if you include religion and politics. I don't want to indulge in some kind of chauvinism by claiming artists are a better class of people. Half the artist I've known couldn't balance a check book or they had the emotional stability of nitroglycerin but if you asked them about the big philosophical questions in live -they kind of had an answer. As all the rest of my friends and acquaintances usually responded with some version of how to hell do I know.
Tom is an exceptional person, he has seven kids, he is now a widower and for years worked as a delivery truck driver -though he has supplemented his income as an illustrator and trader of comic books. His comic book collection alone is over 100,000 issues. That's a staggering number. To give you an idea how big that is, at one time Tom had them stored at his parents house in his old childhood bedroom. His parents asked Tom to remove the comic books because the weight if them was beginning to structurally compromise the house. He has built this collection on almost a zero budget. People in the industry know Tom and several times has been on local TV in the Philadelphia market to talk about comic books.
So what's on his list for 2013 ? First we start off with the humor magazine Help. It's a personal favorite right out of the Don Drapper / Mad Men era. Like most magazines and self published zines, they burn bright for a short time and then fade away into obscurity. From 1960 - 1965, 26 issues of Help was on the news stands and in the magazine racks. The material was a little more mature than Mad magazine but didn't quite have the bite of the National Lampoon which started publishing in the 1970's.
Magazines and comic books are mostly transient and ephemeral -something that reflects the time they are printed and doesn't always successfully re-invent itself for the next generation. Even the National Lampoon, as successful as it was stopped really being funny by 1985 and finally went out of print by the late 1990's. Humor is rarely hip from one generation to another. Help had plenty of jokes and articles that fit the time with material from Cid Caesar, Jonathan Winters and Ernie Kovacs. There's even stuff from Terry Gilliam and John Cleese from before they were pythons members -with a photo comic strip of John Cleese on a date with a Barbie Doll.
Number two on the list is Negro Romance. There were several true romance comic books specially for the African American audience but this was back in the 1950's. The Civil Rights Movement was only beginning to make any progress and in large parts of America it was really unsafe to be a "racial minority". All the issues were printed in relatively small numbers. I was told they were unofficially banned in some states and sold from under the counter in other places. There almost no pristine copies and the few that go up for sale have been loving read and reread -and even handed down from an older sibling or relative to a younger one. It's not difficult to imagine these comic books were beacons of hope where in the face of open oppression there was still a chance at falling in love.and having a healthy and meaningful relationship.
Now there are a bunch of titles from the 1930's to the early 1960's that are not really comic books nor are they traditional magazines. They were usually marketed for children and young teens. The articles weren't always meant for passive reading but instead were directions to fun activities.
Boy's Life is one of those activity publications and it was able to stay in print because it's the monthly magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. But there were other youth organization other than the scouts. One of those organizations that I'm aware of is Pioneer Girls though that has evolved into Pioneer Clubs for both boys and girls. The Pioneer Girls was very popular 50 years ago in just about any rural town with a Baptist Church.
One time I was cleaning up after an estate sale. Took with me several boxes of unsold stuff. In one box was there was dozens of old comic books and magazines from the 1940's. Of course I had to share my find with Tom. Most of comic books were in poor shape and not worth muck but there were six issues of Calling All Girls. At first I didn't think anything of it until Tom when through the history of the magazine. Tom also knew a buyer. So what would have been thrown in the trash ended up being a small windfall of $50. As an added benefit I met Tom's friend Loop -he runs the coolest little comic book shop in Berlin NJ. So recently Tom mentioned that he kind of regrets not buying those magazines from back then but if I see any more copies of Calling All Girls, I should contact him first.
So far on Tom's list is Help, Negro Romance and Calling All Girls. But I was starting to wonder if Tom was searching for anything a little more edgy.
Now where ever money and fame cross paths it seems the worse of human nature come out. The most famous and profitable comic book character after Micky Mouse is Superman. The story of how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were "negotiated" into selling their rights to Superman for $130, it was probably the most one-sided deal since the Dutch bought Manhattan.
It's the 1950's Nights of Horror was one of those low quality publications that could only be found in adult stores and it retailed for $2 - $4 a copy. The average worker brought home less than $50 a week. A group of boys known as the Brooklyn Thrill Killers viciously beat and drown a man. The Police arrest all four members of the gang and in the course of the investigation they found copies of Nights of Horror. This leads to an Congressional investigation to find a connection between pornography and juvenile delinquency.
And what's the common thread? -Joe Shuster. Though his name is not on any of the art work experts today say that all of the illustrations have his style and the characters in Nights of Horror look very similar to Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
More times than not people throw out old pornography than try to resell it. Check your neighbor's trash -but as Tom would say never judge, there could gold in that vintage smut. Today most people don't realize how much of a connection there was between pornography and the first comic book companies but that's another story for later.
Tom had said that Weird Fantasy and other lesser know titles are picking up popularity by collectors rediscovering what made comic books so much fun back then.
Like Nights of Horror, any pre-war issues of Weird Tales, Weird Fantasy is also on Tom's list.
I remember these comics from my childhood. I grew up in New Jersey and if you weren't racing in the streets as described in a dozen or so Bruce Springsteen songs there was always the race track in Wall Township, the Englishtown dragstrip or Atco speedway.
If Tom was picking comic books like penny stocks, he would say this another quickly appreciating dark horse in the pulp world. You have all those old Hot Rodders now slowly cruising in left lane of life with their turn signal stuck on. They're getting nostalgic for the days when gasoline was 32 cents a gallon and big V-8 was the only engine worth driving. It's one reason why the retro Camero and Mustang are back. It's totally impractical but nothing is more seductive than 400 plus horsepower under the hood.
Northstar was the first openly gay superhero some twenty years ago. His sales as a stand alone character plummeted and his sexual orientation was never mentioned again until recently. As Tom would say glitches like that make ordinary characters real collector's items.
I kind of like because no matter how unique you think you are -underneath it all we are more alike than different.
So may 2013 be a happy and fruitful year for you. If your like Tom the Collector of Everything, hopefully you'll find everything you're looking for.