by KC Carlson
I’m here to tell you some secrets. Roger Ash collects Quick Draw McGraw comic books. Wayne Markley collects a bizarre teenage series published by Harvey Comics called Bunny (“The Queen of the In-Crowd!”) that reads like the creators were smoking the staples. (So do I. Collect the book, I mean. Not smoke the staples. But… hmm…) I’d tell you what secret book Beau Smith collects, but he hasn’t shot me in the face for a couple of weeks now, and I’d really like my nose to fully grow back. It’d be a safe bet that it would have girls in it. Or guns. Or girls with guns. Okay, it’s Little Lotta in Foodland. Didn’t you ever wonder how she could afford to eat so much? Answer: She couldn’t. She held up grocery stores at gunpoint. True story. [Roger, is it still April?]
I think everybody has at least one quirky comic book that they love enough to collect. Or if they don’t, they should. It’s kind of essential for those of us who have been collecting for decades and already have pretty much all of the really important (emphasis facetious) stuff we want. I think Roger collects Quick Draw McGraw just so he has something to look for at shows while he’s waiting for artists to finish the sketches that he’s commissioned. Plus, he really likes horses. And guns. And horses with guns. What more reason do you really need?
Part of this is trying to recapture some of the sheer fun that we had as little kids reading comics for the first time. And not having our first experience be with a superhero comic book. Just like kids today are more likely to start reading with some of the many wonderful non-superhero comics like Bone or Smile or Owly or Amelia Rules!
OH CRAP, HE’S GETTING NOSTALGIC AGAIN…
It was a completely different world back then. (First of all, it was spelled super-hero back then.) Super-heroes shared the spinner racks with genres which barely exist today, including Westerns, Romance, Funny Animal, Science Fiction, and Action-Adventure. Most of these comics shared two overall traits: kids weren’t excluded from reading them (mostly) and many of them were actually funny. What a concept!
I loved The Flash and Justice League of America and, eventually, Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers, but I also bought and read Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories; Fox and Crow; various Archie titles, especially Archie’s MadHouse; various Harvey titles, mostly Casper and Hot Stuff; Melvin Monster; Sugar and Spike; and a ton of Hanna-Barbera (Yogi Bear, The Jetsons) and Warner Bros. (Bugs, Daffy) characters. I also bought a lot of Dell and Gold Key adaptations of then-current movies and TV series and every issue of MAD Magazine. I miss having those kinds of choices in print today.
As I grew older, a lot of these titles either drifted away or I stopped buying them in favor of more and more super-hero titles. Plus, I had to start paying for my own movies and, eventually, college, food, and shelter… Part of the reason we stop reading little kid comics is that we stop being little kids. And we especially don’t want to be caught reading little kid comics by our peers.
Today, we’re getting to the point where almost every significant super-hero comic book from that era has been lovingly collected in some form or another. Not so, many of my other childhood favorites. If I (and my friends above) want to catch up with Jughead or the Road Runner (who talked in rhyme in the comic books) or Stumbo the Giant — those characters who have largely been forgotten (or at least not compiled) — we have to dive into the long boxes at comic shows and conventions.
Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to find them.
One problem in collecting more esoteric comics is that dealers don’t always bring this material to comic conventions and shows. They’re faced with ever-increasing fees to buy tables — which may mean cutting back on the number of tables that they can afford. Regardless of how much space they buy, they need to get the highest return possible per square foot, which means determining books to bring by genre and profitability. That’s why you find mostly superhero comics (arguably the most collected genre) and high-ticket “key” books from back-issue dealers.
If you’re collecting non-superhero books, it’s easier to find first issues or more “collectible” issues of a run than run-of-the-mill issues of the series, which aren’t as well-known and thus less desirable or likely to sell. If you’re looking for Archie Comics, for instance, you’ll see a lot of first issues or first character appearances, or the Giant-Size Annuals of the 1950s, or the Archie and Betty & Veronica titles (both highly collectible), but if you’re looking for a random issue of That Wilkin Boy or Pep from the 1970s or 80s, you might be searching for a while. The upside of this is that you will most likely find it in a dollar box eventually — but you’ll have to paw through a bunch of lame superhero stuff that was over-ordered or nobody cares about anymore to get to the Archies.
SMASH YOUR COMICS AGAINST THE WALL!
Another thing you’ll encounter collecting kids’ comics is a higher percent of comics in really awful shape. Many of them were folded in half and put in a back pocket or otherwise abused (or just read and re-read to the point where they fell apart). A common problem with kids’ comics (especially Disney comics like Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories) is that a lot of them were purchased by subscription — and the comics were usually sent folded in half and wrapped in thick brown paper. Overstreet actually has a designation, “subscription fold”, for this kind of defect.
Missing pages or clipped coupons are also defects that crop up frequently in comics aimed at youngsters. A lot of kids actually did tear out the Archie Pin-Ups from those comics. Also, I frequently see coupons for subscriptions or Sea Monkeys or X-Ray Spex or guns missing from comics — frequently meaning the story on the back of the page is missing its last panel! These kinds of defects are sometimes not caught by sellers — since they’re inside the book, and most grading is based on the condition of the outsides. So you need to carefully inspect every comic you look at by counting the interior pages.
A lot of old kids’ books are harder to find simply because no one thought to save them. All the media stories about making money on old comics feature the Action and Detective and Captain America and Superman and Batman comics that are worth big bucks — so most people just saved those titles! Early Archie and Harvey and Dell comics are collectible as well, but not as “sexy” as the superhero books are to the media, and they ultimately don’t always fetch mega-prices (first appearances of classic Disney characters excepted).
A NONNY MOUSE
Another way that collecting kids’ comics differs from collecting superhero books lies in how we perceive them. The collectability of superhero comics is often determined based on the creators who worked on them. Superhero creators are revered in this field, and even some of the most obscure superhero artists of the 40s and 50s are well-known enough now to be collectible.
Most kids’ comics were produced anonymously, long before comic credits were a standard. Even today, most kids’ comics from back then aren’t properly indexed with creator names, unless you can find an expert in the field who can identify art styles. Writers are even tougher. In some cases, we know who the primary writers were, but not necessarily the exact stories/features they wrote. Although a few can be guessed by their writing style or by regular assignments. Superhero comics have been well indexed and documented over the years. Most kids’ comics have not – or at least not widely published or circulated.
Comics associated with Walt Disney or Hanna-Barbera or other large entertainment companies were also big on keeping the work anonymous. A lot of us kids thought that Walt Disney drew everything — at least until we were old enough to know better. Archie Comics didn’t allow creator credits until 1980. Most of the other kids’ comics publishers didn’t last that long.
Plus, publishers knew that keeping their creators anonymous was good for business. Known creators like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby could command larger page rates than guys that nobody knew. Keeping talent anonymous made it harder for them to claim ownership of what might be a valuable property decades later (as many current comic book court cases attest.)
If you’re trying to collect more esoteric kinds of comics, one of the best ways is to start going to local comic shows and letting some of the established retailers who always attend know that you are looking for this “off the beaten path” material. Many of them may have such material at their shops but don’t bring it to shows for reasons mentioned above. But if they know they might have a potential sale, they’re usually happy to bring what they have to the next regular show.
I was out on the road working conventions a few years ago, and I was lucky enough to be working for somebody who put the word out to all his “road warrior” buddies that I was collecting Archie comics. Before long, these guys were bringing me multiple boxes of stuff to look at, at almost every show. I literally bought thousands and thousands of Archie comics — most for a buck or less — over just a couple of years. The books you want ARE out there! Sometimes you just have to ask for them!
Collecting comics from my childhood is immense fun. There’s a wonderful sense of “Hey, I remember that story!” or the nostalgic feeling of everything being so simple. I miss those days. That’s why I’m having such a blast collecting old Archie comics — only a couple hundred to go for a full run back to (around) 1958. I love that old stuff!
Not enough guns, tho–
KC CARLSON SEZ: YEOW! BY NODES! HE SHOT BY NODES!!
Disclaimer: KC’s lawyers would like us to mention that there were no guns in Little Lotta or Archie comic books. Quick Draw McGraw was another story, however. That guy was crazy! Beau has guns, but he would never shoot anybody… except maybe himself while trying to show off.
Remember, cartoon characters don’t kill people. Superheroes do.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.