Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Life With Comic Books: Part 2

A brief introduction:
My name is Paul Howley, owner of the Eisner Award winning pop culture collector's store known as " That's Entertainment " in Worcester,Massachusetts. My store has been around for over twenty years and it's been a long and interesting combination of events and people that has brought my store to its current place. It is not my intent to boast or brag about my store or my life…I just want to tell you my


I was a lucky comic book collector. In 1966 I had found a store owner that allowed me to open the bundle of new comic books every Tuesday afternoon, pull out the comics I wanted to buy, and display the remaining comic books on his magazine rack. I had first shot at almost every comic book published…well, at least first shot of any comic book that the distributor decided to send this little store. In those days, the retailer couldn’t order individual titles. They would take whatever titles the distributor dictated. This meant that comic book readers and collectors would frequently miss issues of their favorite titles…but there was nothing we could do about it. There were no comic book specialty stores yet. I bought one copy of every Marvel and DC superhero comic. I also continued buying most of the Harvey comic books, with my favorites being Spooky, Hot Stuff, and Stumbo …and oh..those 25 cent Harvey Giants…those were the best of the lot! I ignored the Charlton comics mostly because of the frequently ragged edged cutting process they used. It was odd that it bothered me though, because in those days, condition of our comic books was not an important factor. We just wanted to have every issue we could get our hands on!

Around this time I ran out of places to put my comic books so my father installed shelves along one wall in my bedroom. He even put a lock on my bedroom door so that my four little brothers and my one sister wouldn’t be tempted to touch my collection. I carefully sorted my comics and stacked them carefully on my new shelves. In those days, there were no price guides around to use as references, but a comic book dealer named Robert Bell would send you a “checklist” of Marvel Comics and a free plastic storage bag if you sent him 25 cents. This was a great way to know which comics we were still missing.

In the 1960’s, many barber shops had comic books around to amuse the kids while we waited for our turn to get our haircut. I talked my barber into letting me trade him some comics I no longer wanted for his copy of The Fantastic Four Annual #3 featuring the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Around this same time, a young neighbor needed treatment at a big hospital in Boston. One day while my little friend was waiting to see his doctor, he saw a large pile of early Marvel comics that someone had donated including Fantastic Four #8-12, some early Spider-Man, and lots more. Even though he was only about 6 years old, he knew that these were comic books that I’d want to have! He convinced the nurse to let him take the comics and bring double the amount of comic books back the next time he came in. The nurse figured that the hospital would end up with twice as many comic books for the kids to read so it was okay with her….and it was certainly fine with me! I supplied the comic books for my friend to trade and I turned a bunch of comic books that I had already read many times into comics I had never read. A “win-win” situation.

In 1968 I started high school. The small town we lived in could not support a high school on their own, so two other towns joined our small town to form a regional high school. This meant that the kids from our town would suddenly be in school with hundreds of “new” kids…which translated for me into new sources of comic books! I asked many of my new schoolmates if they had any old comic books. Many of them were thrilled to just give them to me! They figured they were now in high school…way too cool to be reading comic books. I gladly accepted their charity. Some of the other kids sold me their old comics…sometimes for 25-50 cents each. I didn’t get any really old comics in this way, but it helped to fill in missing issues on my “checklist”. But it wasn’t too long before my new supply of comic books was exhausted. Now what? As luck would have it, one Tuesday afternoon while I was sorting the new comics at my favorite corner store, I introduced myself to a kid who was also looking through the comics. We talked for a while about our favorite comics and favorite storylines. When I finally asked his name, he gave me some long, almost unpronounceable, foreign sounding name, but he said “you can just call me Garber”. We became good comic book friends. He introduced me to some other kids with interest in comic books and we’d occasionally get together to play spy games (we were all fascinated by James Bond and the TV show of The Man From UNCLE). By late 1968, I could tell that Garber was losing interest in comics, so I offered to buy some of his older comic books from him. He had sent away for a dealer’s list of comics for sale (it was Howard Rogofsky’s list…at that point in time…the highest priced dealer we had run across) and he decided he’d be willing to part with some of his older comic books for about half of what Rogofsky was asking. I was still only 13 years old and on a very limited budget, but I bought as much as I could afford. I bought a fair condition copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 for about $20.00…I bought Marvel Tales Annual #1 (a nice thick comic!) for about $4.00 and many more. But I ran out of money. That Christmas I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my Mom had found my “checklist” and had gone to visit Garber! She bought me a beautiful copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #8 for $8.00, a Strange Tales Annual #1 for $5.00 and a few others for a total of about $20.00…it may not seem like much now, but it was one of the best Christmas gifts I’d ever gotten. We were always treated to cool Christmas gifts as kids…I got lots of Man From Uncle items, Marx Playsets, Aurora monster model kits, GI Joes, and of course, Captain Action…but this gift of nice old comic books was the most personal gift of all. This took a lot of effort on my Mom’s part. You couldn’t just go to a department store and find old comic books!

Next column: Comic books versus GIRLS!


  1. My Mom got me a Marvel Collector's Item Classics #1 that she paid $2.00 for.

    Moms are the best.

    Christmas of 1971 my cousin gave me an Amazing Spider-Man #3 for Christmas.

    Cousins are the best.

    And no lie...a drunken priest (Father Dan) and his retarded sidekick once gave me a bag of early Silver Surfers and Spidey 83-87.

    Drunken priests are the best!

  2. Cool blogs, Paul. I followed you here from the Channel D Yahoo U.N.C.L.E. group. Keep up the good info.