THE CULTURE OF COLLECTING
A personal history detailing the experience of going from young collector to long-time dealer of comics, pulps, & beyond. By David Alexander
Thank you for looking at our web site. If you enjoy old comic books, pulp magazines, movie posters, auto racing and sports publications, original illustration art, old photographs and magazines, and other related collectibles then we have a lot in common.
Even if you don't see any thing you cannot live without, we hope you will get a kick out of seeing what we have available. When you examine old publications it is like looking back at the fabric of society that brought us to where we are today.
Our collection has been decades in the making and at present we only have around 10% of the collection on line. We are attempting to scan, accurately grade and describe every item that comes through our hands. The inventory generally consists of items printed prior to 1980 and our emphasis is on material published before 1965.
Collecting really became accepted and thus popular in the mid 1970s. Prior to 1975, there were only a handful of comic book stores in the US. Between 1975 and 1985 over 10,000 comic book and baseball card stores opened in the US. Store operators tried to locate all the older material they could and began to horde contemporary material. This has caused comics from 1965 to date being easier to locate. We try to specialize in items that others do not offer for sale.
Many people have asked me how I got involved in collecting. Here is the story of how it all began.
I can vaguely remember comics in the late 1940s. I remember a few spinning racks in drug stores and a couple of downtown newsstands. Anytime I saw them, I begged my parents for comics. Somewhere they must have found some back issue comics because I recall having a few large logo DC issues: Action, More Fun and Adventure. In the early 1950s my mother got me a subscription to Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. They probably came for two or three years. This is a bit off track, but if anyone has a copy with my name and Tampa address on the subscription label, I'll give $200.00 for the copy.
Artists' styles became very apparent to me at an early age. Each publisher had a different look. I felt that comics were a piece of art and not just a pamphlet to be read and discarded. The covers struck me as being posters and I found them to be very captivating. When I was about eight years old I stayed home from school one day with a cold. My mom was gone for part of the day and I decided to do some decorating. I really loved the comic book covers so I decided to make my room a comic cover gallery. I cut the covers off my 300 comic books and neatly thumb tacked them to the walls. There were rows of Batman, Superman, Captain America, Red Ryder, Wonder Woman, Planet, Tarzan, Roy Rogers, Jungle, Jumbo and many other titles. I could lay in bed and enjoy all the covers at once. This was the coolest room anyone ever had. At least it was til Mom got home. We didn’t realize that I had destroyed what would now be about $25,000 in Golden Age Comics. She was mostly concerned about the holes in the walls and made me take the display down. I don’t recall what happened to those books.
During elementary school I tried to accumulate comics. My big break came in 1956 during the 6th grade. I must have been the biggest fan in my school. You can see in my 6th grade class photo that I am the only one wearing a comic book t-shirt—Davy Crockett, who was the big comic book and TV craze in 1956. As the year was drawing to a close, my buddy, Dan (in the striped shirt at the far right), told me he was moving and he and his older brother had to get rid of stuff before the move. He did not collect comics but his brother did and wanted to sell his collection. I gathered every cent I could get my hands on and went to his house where his brother showed me a long run of Blackhawk and many other comics. He had one Golden Age
issue, Blackhawk #27, which he sold to me for 25 cents. Two and a half times cover price. There were many other early 1950s issues for which I paid 10 cents each. That was the first time I paid over cover price for a comic book. If I had ever told my Mom what I paid for that comic book, you would not be reading this story now.
After I got the collection in the 6th grade I was really fired up to find more comics. My best source turned out to be Walker's Magazine Exchange on North Florida Avenue, about a two mile bike ride from my house. Back issue comics were a nickel each or six for a quarter. For a dollar I could fill up my bike basket. Old Man Walker and his crusty wife used to stamp their name and address on every item in the store. Over the years I have found several collections with the Walker's stamp on them. I am always looking for more. Of the hundreds of old bookstores I have been to, Walker's was the only place that sorted comics by genre. Westerns, War, Funny Animals and Romance always had the largest stacks but the ones I constantly bought were from the Superhero, Jungle, Mystery and Horror piles. You could trade comics in, but you had to trade Western for Western, Superhero for Superhero. Old Man Walker did not charge a premium for the more elusive titles, but he was smart enough to try to keep a balance to the inventory.
The other book store in bicycle range was Eiron's Used Books on Grand Central Boulevard, just east of the Hillsborough River in Downtown Tampa. Eiron was as rough as they'd come in the late 1950s and looked like a New York City stereotype with an accent to match. He did not carry comics but he had a variety of Pulp Magazines. I had never seen Pulps before then and Eiron had a nice selection in a showcase. Bedsheet Amazing Stories from the 1920s were $1.50 each and standard size pulps were $1.00 to 50 cents each. This was 1958 and I've been looking for Pulps ever since. Eiron always seemed mad when I wanted to buy Pulps and said I should not waste my money. Maybe he had better customers, but I bought as many Pulps as I could afford. My first issues of The Spider, G-8 And His Battle Aces, Dusty Ayres And His Battle Birds, and Fantastic Adventures all came from Eiron.
He also dealt in remaindered magazines. These were magazines that had the titles stripped off. If you have collected comic books or magazines long enough, you have undoubtedly seen copies with the titles stripped off. The distributors would pick up unsold copies from newsstands and strip the titles to return to the publishers as credit for unsold copies. The stripped copies were required by the publishers to be destroyed at the distributors warehouse. This rarely happened and Eiron was the guy that got these black-market copies in Tampa.
I first laid eyes on a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland in Eiron's Book Store. Famous Monsters of Filmland was a landmark magazine that first appeared in 1958. When I saw the first issue of Famous Monsters it was in a pile of about fifty three-quarter cover copies. Even though the title was missing it was like nothing I had ever seen before. My pals and I were big movie fans and while we loved the westerns, the horror films had a special appeal. No other publication had ever given credence to horror and monster movies.
I could not wait to read that magazine but for reasons that have disappeared from my memory, I was unable to read it that night. I took it to school the next day with the intention of reading it in study hall. When that period had arrived, I tucked it behind my notebook and and became consumed with the images and stories that Forrest J. Ackerman put into that first issue. I had made it to the 8th page, studying every photo and absorbing every word. Somehow my teacher, Mrs. Rodriguez, worked her way behind me so she could see what had captured my attention. It was like a sneak attack–she grabbed the mag from my notebook, marched to the front of the room, tore it in half and tossed it in the garbage can. That was in 1958. I never saw another copy until 1970.
A Need for Speed
The next year I was in high school and trips to Walker's and Eiron's became less frequent. One of my last visits to Walker's was quite memorable as I picked up Showcase #4–The Return of the Flash, Lois Lane #1, Jimmy Olsen #1, Challengers #1 and several Atlas issues of Captain America and Human Torch. These treasures were six for a quarter. Those days were great for collecting comic books, but cars and girls become more important in high school. I can still remember seeing Fantastic Four #1 in a spinning comic rack. I read the story in the store but didn't buy the book. I had other things on my mind.
The Florida State Fair has been a big wintertime event since the early 1900s. My parents would take me every year. Somewhere in the late 1950s I started going with my friends. Each year the IMCA Sprint Cars would hold five races on the big fairgrounds half mile dirt track. I never had money to buy a race ticket but one of my buddies figured out that the ticket stubs were the same color as a Juicy Fruit gum wrapper. If you held the wrapper just right it would look like the edge of the ticket stub. It worked for me and my life was never the same again. I got the same thrills from those dirt slinging open-wheeled monsters as I did from reading a pile of comic books a few years earlier. These races were only held for two weeks in February of each year. When it was over you would not want to wait another year to hear those Offy engines again.
I had no direction in 1962 when I graduated from Hillsborough High School so I decided to attend the newly opened University of South Florida. Vietnam was becoming an issue so it was not a hard decision to continue in school and get the student draft deferment.
USF was in the sticks, far out of town on Fowler Avenue. The only sign of life east of the university was the newly opened Golden Gate Speedway. It wasn't long until I was going to the track almost every day after classes. On many afternoons, some driver had a car at the track for testing and practice. Within a couple of months, I would bypass school most days and go directly to the race track. This did not translate to good grades.
Stock cars had an incredible appeal to me. The colorful graphics and lettering had a visceral appeal to me just as comic books had a few years earlier. By 1963 I had my own race car. This was a beaten 1949 Pontiac fastback four door sedan. I had no funds to get it race-ready, so after I disassembled my sisters swing set, I pulled the car to the track and had the welder make roll bars from the poles that held up the swings. No one ever checked the thickness of the roll bars and fortunately the car never flipped. I guess in a way my sister and I were partners in the car.
The car was black and we placed #77 on the sides in a bright gold paint. I put a flame paint job on that junker that was the envy of the track. The car had a flathead straight 8 cylinder motor. I never was able to get the car to complete more than 5 laps before it conked out. I knew nothing about mechanics and still don't today. The car never finished a race, but man, was it fun. Sadly I never thought to take a picture of it. Although I don't have any photos of my race car, I did see my picture at Golden Gate Speedway in a mid 1960s issue of Cavalcade of Auto Racing.
This was the best era of stock car racing. Every car was homemade, there were no factory built cars. I was able to rub elbows with some of the top Short Track drivers in the Southeast: Buzzie, Emil and Wayne Reiutmann, Will Cagle, Bill Roynon, Dave McGinnis, Dick Pratt, Pete Folse, Dave Scarborough, Buzz Barton, Maynard Troyer, Bobby Allison, Cush Revette, Possom Jones, Larry Brazil, Jack Arnold and many others. Although I was having a ball at Golden Gate Speedway, my time at USF was not productive and this fascinating experience was not what my parents had in mind for my future. They decided that a smaller campus would be the turning point for me so in 1965 I was shipped to Rome, GA and enrolled in Shorter College. When I left home, I had 22 boxes in my closet. They were loaded with all the comic books, pulp magazines, paperback books, movie magazines, sports publications and racing programs, and photos that I had accumulated up to that point.
When I used to tell people I went to college in Rome they thought I was really cool until they found out it was Rome, GA. The city was located midway between Atlanta, GA and Chattanooga, TN. Don't get me wrong, while the culture was a shock for me, the geography was fantastic. Mountains, hills, streams, caves, rivers, dirt roads, and woods provided lots of fun for someone who had spent his life near the beach. Many of the kids at Shorter were there for the same reason as myself—they did poorly at their first school and this was a sort of "last chance" school. Everyone wanted to maintain their student draft status and still have a large dose of fun. I got involved with the Phi Delta Tau fraternity and was the president for my final two years in 1966 and 1967. A lot of crazy things went on—things that will never appear on this web site—but we will include a few of the more tame photos.
During my last term in college I had to take a job and the only thing I found was a position with a magazine distributor. It is strange how things work out. My responsibility was to strip the logos off the comic book covers so they could be returned to the publisher for credit. Now if you have been wondering who it was that stripped all those comic book covers, it was me. The guy that ran the place let me have all the three-quarter cover comics I wanted. I took them to my dorm room and although I did not get the same excitement from reading them that I had a decade earlier, I was intrigued by some of the classified ads in the Marvel titles. People were actually advertising to sell back issue comic books, pulp magazines and movie posters. There was even a collectors fan magazine, the Rocket's Blast - Comic Collector, advertised in the classified section of the Marvel comics titles. Robert Bell, Howard Rogofsky, Passaic Book Store and Grand Book Center all offered catalogs featuring old comics for sale. I sent away for all of them. Rogofsky's catalog was the best as he actually gave detailed information about which characters appeared in each issue. His price for Superman #1 was $15.00 in 1967. My thought was that while I was pleased to see an interest in the old comics, I would never be able to pay $15.00 for one comic book. Boy, was I wrong.
Go West, Young Man
Graduation finally arrived. Man, did I want to get out of Georgia. It was fun for a while but got stale after a couple of years. A few of my fraternity brothers and I decided we should head to California. We heard so much about California in the 60s—hippies, hot rods, rock music, movie studios, etc.—that it made me feel like I was required to go there.
Hollywood Boulevard was one of the first places to see when you went to California in the 1960s. Cool cars, unusual people, strange stores, comic book and movie poster stores—this was like heaven! I really got back into comics at the end of the1960s. I had my 22 boxes of comics and collectibles shipped out from Florida and placed some sales ads in the Rockets Blast - Comic Collector. As soon as the ad broke I got responses from collectors who wanted to buy and sell. Over the next couple of months, I maxed out my MasterCards buying collections. I realized I was either going to have to get in the business full-time or file for bankruptcy.
In the late 1960s, Hollywood was the center of comic book and movie poster collecting on the West Coast. You could find over half a dozen big collectors stores in the Hollywood Boulevard area. The original was probably Cherokee Bookshop, a rare book store that opened a comic book department that eventually had the largest selection of Golden Age comics in the world. They built their inventory up before most people knew comics had a collectors value but did not maintain their inventory and by the late 1970s were surviving on past glories. Collectors Book Store, also known as Bennetts Book Store, had a massive selection in the early years of high grade Golden Age comics and an incredible movie poster inventory that had depth from the silent era through the 1950s, all in high grade. They ran a series of auctions in the 1980s that devoured their inventory and were never able to build it back. Of all the Hollywood area stores, they had the widest selection with a huge amount of pulps and original art, in addition to comics and movie material. Larry Edmunds Cinema Book Store had tons of movie material as did Hollywood Poster Exchange. Everyone who collected was in Hollywood on Saturdays going from store to store and meeting with their buddies on the street. It was almost like a collectors convention every weekend. Those few years were probably the most fun of all my years of collecting. There were no reference books or price guides in print. You had to live by your knowledge and experience. If you could tell the style of the publishers and individual artists, you were way ahead of the game. I had a knack for spotting artists' styles ever since I first saw comics as a child. Many stories were unsigned so the ability to identify artists became important.
In 1970 I saw an ad for the first San Diego Comic Book Convention, so I loaded my books and drove to the El Cortez Hotel in Downtown San Diego. I was one of about 35 guys who took a dealers table at that inaugural event. It was a wild, wild trendsetting event and is remembered today as a landmark weekend in the history of west coast comic book collecting. There were probably around 150 people at that first event and it really took off. The 2007 show had an attendance somewhere north of 125,000 rabid comic book, film and animation fans. It is now held in the new and large San Diego Convention Center and takes up several hundred thousand square feet. If you didn't get there before the crack of dawn, you had to park a dozen blocks away and take a cab to the convention center. The National Sports Collectors Convention and the Pulp Magazine Collectors Convention, known as Pulp Con, both began at about the same time. Both of these are the biggest events of their type but they have both moved around the country and never developed the same following the San Diego Comic Con has. Oddly enough, the Pulp Con has never had an attendance much over 300 people but it remains as one of the best events of the year.
The American Comic Book Company
One of the people who responded to my Rockets Blast - Comic Collector ads was Terry Stroud. He knew a lot about comics and eventually we started to buy collections together. After a couple of years of working together, we combined our collections and formed the American Comic Book Company, headquartered in Studio City, CA. This was during the period when comic collecting came out of the closet. People were bringing us comics by the truckload almost weekly. The sheer volume of material that we had to deal with required that we open additional locations. During the decade and a half that ACBC existed, we had stores all over the Los Angeles area including Studio City, Burbank, Westwood, Long Beach and Huntington Park. The Studio City store was on Ventura Boulevard, near the intersection at Laurel Canyon, and was only a few blocks away from CBS Studios and dozens of film and TV production companies. We were less than a five minute drive from Universal Studios and NBC Studios. Every day at lunchtime it was like a convention in the store. Loads of people in the movie and TV industry and comic book fields spent their lunch hours with us. I can't come close to remembering everyone who stopped by during those years, but some names that come to mind are: Walter Koenig, Ricky Nelson and his mom Harriet, Don "Red" Barry, Don Bluth, Robert Williams, Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George DiCaprio and his son Leonardo, Clint Eastwood, Harlan Ellison, Carroll O’Connor, Wes Parker, Roy Thomas, Wally Wood, Terry Garr, Monte Hale, Gordon Scott, S. Clay Wilson, Gary Owens, Frank Frazetta, Canned Heat, Danton Burroughs, Beverly Garland, Rick Griffin, Susan George, Doug Wildey, Mike Royer, Sushi Chef Nozawa, Jim Steranko, Mark Evanier, Billy Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, Don Rico, Cecilia Pedroza, John Pound, Sergio Aragones, William Shattner, George Pal, Phil Seuling, Burne Hogarth, Bill Stout, Forrest J Ackerman, Bruce Hamilton and many, many others.
The store operations did not detract from our mail order business and we had ongoing catalogs being developed constantly. Shortly after The Comic Book Price Guide was created by Robert Overstreet, we began to contribute historical, reference and pricing information. This was easy for us to do as we were always researching items that came into our possession. When we approached the overall history of comic books and other popular culture publications with a sociological overview, it was very enlightening. We were able to trace trends in publishing and isolated new genres of comics that had not been previously recognized. During this era I coined the terms "Good Girl Art" and "Esoteric Comics", which are still being used today.
I never kept track, but I think I created and edited over 250 mail order catalogs, offering all types of comic books, movie posters, sports publications, original illustration art and other paper collectibles. The largest were in the range of 80 to 90 tabloid pages which were issued as supplements to The Buyers Guide For Comic Fandom, as it was titled before Krause Publications bought it and changed the name to The Comic Buyers Guide. Many of these catalogs are collectors items today.The distribution of new comic books changed dramatically in the mid 1970s. The new model was for distributors to sell nonreturnable comics to the stores at a bigger discount with no return privilege. Comic stores would buy extra copies to sell as back issues in the future, so this system worked well for every one. Every one, that is, except for the guy that took my old job stripping covers off the comics to return as credit for unsold copies. American Comic Book Company was the first West Coast store to receive comics directly from the printing plants by air freight. We had people driving 75 miles one way to get those books on new comic day. The original ACBC store was a second floor retail location and we often had collectors lined up outside the hallway, down the stairs and around the block to get those new comics first! One of the best images ever of that store was rendered by William Stout, our resident artist. We really worked on enhancing the status of collecting in the mainstream culture. We had artists and creators in our stores to meet the fans several times each year and had the best artists working on our catalogs and ads. William Stout did a ton of work for us as did Scott Shaw, who managed the Studio City store before he was hired as an animation director at Hanna-Barbera. John Pound and Sergio Aragones also worked on various projects for us. Robert Williams provided lots of illustrations for catalogs and did several Price Guide ads in the 1970s and 1980s. His talented wife, Suzanne, did most of our catalog layouts for over a decade. Bob and Suzanne were big race car fans and we spent many weekends at Ascot Park Speedway in Gardena, CA attending the California Racing Association (CRA) sprint car races as well as visiting Phoenix International Speedway and tracks in El Centro, Ontario, Corona, and Rivereside.Riverside.
Occasionally, I would acquire a large collection of Auto Racing memorabilia and Bob, Suzanne, and I would call our racing buddies and have a racing party. We would read and trade old issues of National Speed Sport News, old race programs, car mags, photos and other stuff and have loads of fun. People in mainstream culture often don't see the fun in this, but collecting is an addiction. It is like a drug that will not let you go. Recently I have been in touch with several customers who I had not heard from in decades. For various reasons each had stopped collecting. But they had one common trait. They could not stay away from it and are all attempting to rebuild their collections today.
Please check back soon for the continuation.