I can say with the utmost certainty that I would have spent a majority of this quarantine — were I the 13-year-old that my son presently is — reading my comic books, organizing my comic books, bagging the ones that I had bought bags for months (if not years) earlier and slipping the cardboard inside said bag to give the comic book the proper support.
Especially if we’re talking the early — ’60s 12-centers. Those were — and still are — the era deserving of the most respect, in this collector’s opinion (although, personally, the 20-cent era offered up some new characters who’d go on to become personal favorites, joining the time-honored ranks of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Spider-Man.
There would have been sprints to the mailbox, since I was big into mail-order, snagging issues from as far away as Texas that I couldn’t find in stores like the Paperback Trader, which sat nestled on the corner of Trumbull and Whitney for decades.
I’d methodically open the manila envelope to unveil, say, “Amazing Spider-Man” #123 (where Spidey took on none other than Luke Cage, a recent Marvel creation at the time, who would decades later get his own series on Netflix), looking upon it as if it were treasure. Heck, to me it was.
Fact is, to me comic books still are.
The occasional comic book convention would lumber into town, set up shop at the dearly departed New Haven Coliseum, and my mom would drop my sister and me off with whatever money we’d saved since Christmas or a birthday to do our best to grab what collectors refer to as “key issues” (not the kind therapists address).
My sister was far more comfortable saying to a complete stranger three times her age, comic book in hand with a price of $20 written across it: “I’ll give you 15.” I’d be stunned at her audacity. I didn’t have that kind of guts. More often than not she scored those issues, too, but many was the time the man would counter, “Let’s say 18.” Still, she’d talked him down.
She would leave a comic book convention with three issues to my one, and all of hers would be in “near mint” condition, while my lone one was often simply “good.” There’d often be an ad clipped out of one of the pages of my comic, but I’d never opened the book before buying it to have discovered it, or the cover would simply fall away after the second read, right off the staples.
And read them twice I did. Three times, sometimes four. Especially “Amazing Spider-Man” with Steve Ditko doing the drawing or very early “Daredevil.”
It seemed like the Paperback Trader was the only game in town, and those comic book conventions were scattershot at best, not nearly as consistent as boxing and, especially, wrestling matches. These days, with the annual “TerrifiCON” and “ComiCONN” events that careen through our casinos in the summer - and now with the actual actors who either voiced the characters in the cartoons of my youth or played them on the little and/or big screen - comic book collecting is not only back, but inarguably bigger than ever.
Furthermore, the comic book stores: Sarge’s in New London had become this mythical land I longed to journey to for years before I finally got there. Well worth the drive once I finally did, too. The guy’s got 10-centers from the early ’40s! More recently, I discovered Uncle Fred’s Comics in Deep River. That was a night.
I had been decked out to see a show at the nearby Goodspeed Opera House, my daughter in tow, when we spotted it coming up on the right. It was closed, of course, as we were heading to an evening performance, but she texted her brother to alert him of this discovery and we pledged to drive out there in the coming summer weeks. When we did, not only did we find a store literally full of comic books, but stuff both old and new, both in-demand and obscure.
What’s more, this guy Fred is coughing up vinyl too. That’s right - he has albums going back just as far as his comic books, and even 45’s. It’s one of those places where you can find that issue - or record - you’d long since given up on for a very fair price, but also a bin with the words “Everything in this bin is one dollar.”
That’s where my daughter found “Meet...The Beatles.” Yes, that “Meet...The Beatles.” We say, you gotta meet Fred! His spot is a bit middle-of-nowhere, but there’s a Grand Apizza right next door, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.
We couldn’t wait to get home and put that Beatles record on the turntable I have sitting in the living room. Sucker didn’t skip once. My son scoured his comic book scores, mostly stuff from the ’70s. We called my sister to tell her of this day so reminiscent of so many from our childhood. She asked him what comics he got. “’Ghost Rider’ #2,” he told her, his enthusiasm palpable. She stayed in the game long enough to know this was no throwaway issue.
“How much?” she asked. My son told her what the price was, but also how he was a dollar shy of the asking price and Uncle Fred waved it off with a smile, such a gentleman is he. “That’s awesome,” she told the boy. “I bet I coulda gotten the guy to knock five bucks off.”