Sunday, February 15, 2004

Tony Collett and Fred Hembeck (on 2-11) recently posted about what it was like to buy comics before we had such things as comics shops and drivers' licenses and such. Since I always seem to be ready to reminisce at the drop of a hat, come with me now, into the dim and dusty byways of days gone by:

The 1960's
Ah, the decade in which I was born, 16 days in. I don't remember exactly what the first comic ever bought for me was...I'm mostly sure it was a copy of Tales To Astonish 50, December 1963 cover dated with Giant-Man and the Wasp vs. The Top. I also remember a comic with a science fiction story featuring a character named Talos, who became the omnipotent ruler of his world but became a tyrannical despot and eventually was killed, or killed himself, or something...I forget. Anyway, I don't think it was a Marvel or DC because it had the A. Machine lettering style that was popular in EC comics...but the early 1960s were a bit after the time for EC's. Charlton, maybe? Oh well. Of course, I was totally dependent on my folks for the change with which to get these magical funnybooks, and fortunately (except for one ugly situation when, as a result of being unruly in church one day, my father took a stack of my comics and burned them! I got a lot of pleasure, years later, showing him the price guide value of those comics he destroyed...heh heh...) my parents were supportive of my habit. So usually, when we went to town, they'd give me 50 cents (enough to buy four, count 'em FOUR comics then!) and I'd buy whatever caught my eye at that time. The first places that I remember that carried comics in my home town (Horse Cave, KY, remember- see links in the links section) were drugstores and grocery stores. Many of my early purchases were made at Dorsey Drugs, a corner shop which had a pretty good-sized selection as I recall.

Other Horse Cave outlets at the time, and bear in mind my memory is fuzzy and I may be getting my timelines mixed up a bit, were Caverna/Rexall Drugs, which had a pretty good selection of Marvels, DCs, and Harvey; Houchens Markets, the "big" supermarket in town which usually carried magazines only (along with Marvel 25 cent annuals) but always had Warren publications like Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie, and Blazing Combat!; Ben Franklin Five & Dime, which eventually expanded when Dorsey Drugs went out of business in the mid 60s and carried mostly Gold Key comics, in the 60s at least; and Stevenson's 5 and Dime, which carried Gold Key and Dell, mostly, and was renowned for its Toyland at Christmas. Believe me, I knew where each and every comics rack in Horse Cave was, and what would be on each of them.

But that wasn't the only place where I got my pre-pubescent fix, no sir! Both my parents worked full-time jobs back then, so I stayed with my grandparents for about 5 years. My grandparents were always driving to nearby Glasgow for doctor appointments, and that meant a trip to the big department store in town, J.J. Newberry's, which used to carry DCs by the score in a wall rack. I remember buying most of my Silver Age DC comics there. There was also a drug store on the corner in Glasgow, an Ely's store, proprietor of which I can't remember, where I remember getting a lot of late 60s Marvels and DCs. It was there that I remember buying the Avengers issues that featured the wedding of Yellowjacket/Hank Pym and the Wasp, and several of the Adams/Thomas X-Men, and it was here that I first saw DC books like Beware the Creeper, Bat Lash, and Hawk and the Dove. As I said before, my Dad worked all week, and his job required him to travel to various grocery stores and gas stations in a different area every day, to take orders and collect money for the wholesale grocery company for which he worked. He often let me accompany him on his routes, when school was out...and a big highlight of this trip was finding new comics on the racks at the various small grocery stores, drug stores, and such he would visit. Sometimes, the grocery proprietor would know of my jones and find an old box of comics from the back that I could go through, or would have a son who had a collection, as was the case with one grocer, whose older-than-me son had a mind-blowing collection of every Marvel comic published up to 1969 or so. I have totally forgotten who this guy was, or where this was or anything that would help me track him down to see if he still had them (and most importantly, would he want to sell them!!)...all I can remember is stack after stack of the most primo Lee/Kirby/Ditko/Colan stuff you can imagine, and about 30 minutes to look through them. I think perhaps his name was Doug something. Oh well...

Another late 60s place I remember getting those X-Men comics, along with many issues of the Spectre, Green Lantern and Showcase among others was the 5 B Key Store, a supermarket on the other end of Horse Cave which was run by a fellow named Blair with his family in mind, hence the "5 B" part of the name...whose son Tommy was a friend of mine and whose older sister Marsheena was always an object of early teenage lustful fantasies. Anyway, moving right along, that's about it for places where I bought comics, or had them bought for me, in the Sixties. Listing them here, I'm a bit surprised that there were as many of them as there were, especially now that about the only place you can buy a comic book is in a specialty store. Nobody carries the things like they used to, not even the large grocery store chains around here. Now, we move on to that decade in which I started earning my own money and driving:

The 70's
In the 70s, things changed a bit for me and my comics habit, which was so firmly entrenched in me now that all my folks could do was shrug and give me a dollar or two. Many of my childhood outlets went out of business or dropped comics completely, so I found new places. During the early 70s, I got a lot of comics in Bowling Green when my parents would go down there to shop. Many came from a drug store on the corner of the BG square which no longer exists, literally- the building itself was torn down and is now a gaping hole in the structure of the Square itself! My friend Dave Puckett (who has helped me with a couple of place names) worked in a head shop a that location in the 70s, pre-demolition. Maybe it was all those hermit crabs they sold. Anyway, the convenience store had just come into vogue, so my main local outlet was the Junior Foods store on the four-way of Hwy 258 and Old Glasgow-Munfordville Road, ironically just down the road from where I live now but in those days a short bicycle ride away. I bought a great variety of DC and Marvel stuff there, many of which are still favorites such as the O'Neil/Kaluta/Robbins Shadow, Phantom Stranger (actually, my first issue of PS came from Cave City Drugs), War of the Worlds featuring Killraven, Tomb of Dracula, and Warlock.

The other two Horse Cave comics sources remained the same as before: Caverna/Rexall Drugs, which sold selected DC and Marvel 25-centers plus Warren magazines, music magazines like Creem, and oddly, Canadian music mag Beetle, plus Castle of Frankenstein and often carried Doc Savage and Justice Inc. paperbacks (I had acquired a taste for them early on in the 70s). Also, Ben Franklin 5 & Dime continued to carry Gold Key, but also started adding several DC titles...and it was here where I bought many of my fave DCs from this period, including Adventure Comics with the Spectre, The Brave & The Bold, which encouraged my nascent fanboyism by printing many letters and team-up suggestions that I would send them, and Superboy Starring The Legion of Super-Heroes. It was here I picked up many issues of Justice League, many of the Kirby Fourth World books, and more than a few issues of Action Comics, depending on the back feature. The local Houchens had pretty much stopped carrying any kind of genre magazine like the Warrens they used to stock, but fortunately a new store opened next door in the strip mall, a Dollar Store-type business which had a great magazine rack stocked with Warrens, DCs and music magazines, so what I couldn't get at Caverna Drugs I got at this store, the name of which eludes me at present. There's still a store of that nature there to this day, but it's called Family Dollar and they ceased to carry magazines long ago.

My folks would go to Louisville many weekends, and give me my allowance which I would take and spend on an album, and comics or paperback books at whichever Louisville mall we would patronize. It was in Louisville, around 1974 or so, that I first encountered the shape of the future: a comics shop. It was a small shop just off the Bardstown Road, the name escapes me, but when I went in I was amazed. They had not only new comics, but wonder of wonders back issues as well! I was able to get copies of Swamp Thing#'s 1 & 2, along with a copy of The Shadow #1, which I had missed. It was wonderful- and it was also short-lived. They were gone, out of business, not long after. Eventually, I discovered that I could get back issue comics through another recent discovery: mail-order. but that was often expensive with postage and stuff, plus, you had to wait for weeks sometimes. Even so, I remember a couple of packages received in the mid-to-late 70s that absolutely made my day. By 1976 I had gotten my driver's license, and along with that came the realization that the Haxby News Co. delivered the latest comics and magazines a day or two earlier to Glasgow than they did to Horse Cave, and to Bowling Green even earlier than that! So, eventually I began driving out of town to get my fix, and the comic run became a part of my routine.

It was sometime around this period that I met my good friend, the aforementioned Mr. Puckett, while working at the same pizza place. He worked in the kitchen, and I was a dishwasher. In the course of our conversation, not only did I discover that he was the same Dave Puckett that had had a letter or two printed in several comics in the 60s and 70s, but we had met several years prior, and had traded comics! I had traded him a copy of Detective, featuring the first appearance of Batgirl, for some MLJ comics...who got the best of that deal I'll leave up to you. Anyway, we struck up a friendship which lasts to this day, though both of us have held several subsequent jobs and have lived in several different locations. I got more than a few books through Dave, who has had and sold and re-acquired some mighty impressive collections in the 27 years I've known him! It was just before that time, about 1975, that I made another important discovery: The Great Escape store on Division Street in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by there one day coming home from a vacation in Florida, and my mind was blown. They had not only a huge (to me, at the time) selection of back issues, but magazines like the Comics Journal, paperbacks, albums, and all kinds of stuff! I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Anyway, as soon as I was confident enough in my driving skills to do so, I would drive down to the Great Escape once a month or so, when I'd get a paycheck from my job at Carmen's Pizza and later Pizza Hut. And this is pretty much how my comics buying habits went for the remainder of the decade: Jr. Foods and Minit Marts in Glasgow and Horse Cave, Ben Franklin's, and the Hallmark store in Bowling Green with the occasional trip to Nashville. Before the decade was over, I was out of school, working at R.R. Donnelley's and hopelessly married. Which takes us to...

The 80's!
Through early part of the decade, I mostly bought my comics in Cave City or Glasgow, at convenience stores and such. Also, I got a few in the mail and from Dave. But sometime in the early 80s, that all changed when a fellow named Sam Falin, along with his partner Rickey Sheppard, opened up the first comics shop (that I was aware of, anyway) in Bowling Green, called Vintage Books. Not only did they have back issues, but they carried a full line of new comics as well, and altered my buying habits forever. Falin & Sheppard soon parted ways, though, and Sheppard moved the store to a location closer to the square, where he set up shop and lasted for a couple of years. It was here that I bought many of the comics that rekindled my somewhat waning interest in the field, such as Thriller, Aztec Ace, Zot!, American: Flagg! and Starstruck. While Sheppard eventually had to fold, two new shops popped up in BG: Kathy & Gary Brown's Pac-Rat's, and James Miles' Books & Buttons. At Pac Rat's, they actually had a subscription service, soon to be described as "holds service" or "pulls"...and I think most of you are familiar with that concept. For a while, I visited both stores once a week, sometimes being able to get books at one that I couldn't at another...but I grew tired of driving across town to the old BG Mall, where Mr. Miles' shop was located, so I eventually stuck with the 'Rat's. A year or so went by, and the Browns sold their interest in their store to The Great Escape, which by now maintained a store in Louisville and one other in the Nashville area. For some odd reason, they kept the name Pac-Rat's, and slapped a "Great Escape Store" tag on the end.

And that's where I bought my comics from then until now, with occasional purchases coming from spinner racks here in Horse Cave or in nearby Cave City (where I lived from '79 till '82). And that pretty much gets me through the 90s, in which Pac-Rat's moved twice and eventually adopted the Great Escape store name, and the Aughts (2000's), in which GE moved to its present location in another part of Bowling Green.

Of course, I understand that these place names will mean nothing to the majority of you reading this, and I appreciate it if you've made it this far. And y'know what? While I'm mostly happy with my comics shop as it is, the very first thing I'd do if I had a time machine (after I went and bet a thousand dollars on the Jets to win the 1969 Super Bowl) is go back to Houchens or Dorsey Drugs and load up on comics from that crazy wall rack. Oh yeah.

No comments: