Friday, December 4, 2009

My Life With Comics: Part #1

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 have brought my store to its current place. I am not a talented writer, so please try to overlook my lack of writing ability. It is not my intent to boast or brag about my store or my life…I just want to tell you my story.

MY LIFE WITH COMIC BOOKS:THE HISTORY OF A COMIC SHOP: Part One

I was born in 1955 and my comic book life began in 1959 when an old friend of the family gave me my first comic book. It was a “Batman” comic! I don’t remember which issue it was, but it started my life long interest (some might say obsession) in comic books. I remember walking from my home in Belmont, Massachusetts to the local “spa” to plunk down my ten cents for “Felix The Cat”, “Hot Stuff The Little Devil”, “Casper”, “Little Lotta”, “Little Dot”, “Dick Tracy”, and the occasional superhero comic. By 1961 I had amassed a collection of almost 500 comic books. In 1961, that was a huge collection! I only knew of one other kid that had a larger collection and he was nicknamed “The Comic King”. (years later, I bought his comic book collection!) I would buy as many comic books as I could afford. Condition didn’t matter to me…at one local variety store they sold comics with the covers torn off for only five cents each so I bought a bagful of early Marvel comics and cool “Batman” and “Superman” related titles every chance I got. Each week on the way home from church I would buy a comic, a soda, and a candy bar with the quarter my father would give and still have a nickel left over! You see, comics were still ten cents and soda and candy bars were five cents each in 1961. In 1961, comic books were seemingly sold everywhere…supermarkets, drugstores, corner variety stores, and of course, at local newsstands. But in the early 1960’s my family moved from the big city of Newton, Massachusetts out to the country town of Bolton, Massachusetts. I went from finding comics everywhere to a town that had no comic books. This little town didn’t even have a store of any kind. The center of the town had a blinking yellow traffic light and that’s all. I had to be content with rereading my existing comic books for excitement. At some point in 1964 I was allowed to ride my bicycle about two miles away to a nearby town that had two stores with small selections of comic books for sale, but now comics were twelve cents each and neither store sold comics without the covers for five cents! What was I going to do? I couldn’t afford to spend twelve cents each for my comic book “fix”! I decided to start asking my school friends to sell me their old comic books and most of them were thrilled to be able to get some cash for the comics they no longer wanted. By 1965 my collection had doubled in size to over 1000 comics. But it wasn’t long before my friends were out of comics to sell to me. What was I going to do now?

I began writing and drawing my own comic books featuring a superhero known as “Insect Man” and I would pass them around to my classmates. A group of kids would play superheroes during recess and I was “Insect Man”. A buddy was “The Masked Mosquito” and some kids were content to be villains. I included them all in the “Insect Man” comic books.

For my birthday, my Dad drove me all the way to the “big” city of Marlboro Massachusetts to an actual newsstand called “ Delaney’s” and he gave me two dollars to buy any comic books I wanted! At twelve cents each, this was a dream come true! This newsstand was amazing to me as a young kid…there was an entire magazine rack filled with comic books! Keep in mind, this was before comic book specialty shops…today’s collectors are fortunate to be able to get every comic book they want in one location! I bought some of my favorite titles and some comics that I had never tried before. It was a super birthday gift, but soon I was looking for more comics to read.

Then I discovered something that profoundly changed my comic book life. I saw a classified advertisement in a comic book from a man who had “back issues” of comic books available for sale. I sent off my twenty-five cents for his catalog of comic books and was eagerly anticipating being able to buy lots of old issues for a penny or two each. Imagine my shock when I got the catalog and saw that this guy was charging higher than the original cover price for old comics! The cheapest comic book for sale in his catalog was fifty cents! Some of the old comic from the 1930’s and 1940’s were as high as $90.00 for a single comic book! My father thought the decimal points must have been in the wrong place…can you imagine Batman #1 from 1939 was almost $60.00? Marvel Comics #1 was $90.00…Action Comics #1 was $70.00…Spider-Man #1 was $6.00…Fantastic Four #1 was $10.00…This was outrageous! This catalog guy must be crazy to think that people would pay that kind of money for old worthless comic books. So I sent away for a catalog from a different comic book dealer. Hmmmmm…he’s charging big money too! Maybe there are other people in the world who want these comics and are willing to pay a premium to get them. It took a little convincing, but my father eventually allowed me to start buying older comics from these dealers. I bought lots of early Marvel comics including Daredevil #1, X-Men #1, Avengers #1, early Fantastic Four, early Spider-Man, etc, but my father “drew the line” when I wanted to send the $60.00 for Batman #1. “That was ridiculous,” my Dad told me. (many years later I ended up paying $250.00 for a Batman #1)

In 1966 I went to the big city of Worcester, Massachusetts with a friend because we heard that there was a bookstore that also bought and sold old comic books. So I packed up some of my 1950’s DC comics and brought them to this bookstore. The owner gave me five cents each in trade towards Marvel comics from 1964-1966 at 50 cents each. Looking back, it wasn’t a very good deal, but it helped me fill in some of the issues I was missing in my collection of Marvel’s.

When I was eleven years old I got an idea…I wrote directly to Marvel Comics and asked them if they had any back issues available for sale. To my delight, they sent me a list of comic books available …actually it was stranger than that…the list was actually a list of the comic books that were NOT available. They said that any comic book they had published since 1961 that was not on this list could be purchased for twelve cents each plus a small postage fee. I sent them as much money as I could to fill in lots of missing issues in my Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense collections. Within a year or two, Marvel discontinued this service.

I continued to ride my bike to the next town to buy my regular weekly comic books but I was frequently disappointed to find out that I missed the newest issue of Spider-Man or Fantastic Four. I asked the storeowner what I needed to do to be sure that I wouldn’t miss another issue. He told me that the new comic and magazine shipments were delivered every Tuesday morning. If I wanted to be sure to get the comics I wanted I would have to be at his store early Tuesday morning. Since I had to be in school, I suggested to him that if he left the wire-bound bundle of comic books and magazines behind his counter, I would come there on Tuesday after school, would check his invoice, and neatly display his comics and magazines on the rack for him, saving him some time. This would let me have the first pick of the comic books I wanted. He thought it was a great idea. For the next four years I did this for him and quite a few times I was able to buy the one copy of a comic book that the store got. This storeowner always treated me with respect and kindness even though I was just a young kid with only a few dollars to spend each week. This kindness and respect would influence my business decisions in later years.

Next column: My comic buying becomes an addiction.

6 comments:

  1. My wife's cousin bought Delaney's a few years ago...it's now called Snookie's.

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  2. Hi Paul! I'm going to cross-link to your blog from mine, Mark's Super Blog. http://markssuperblog.blogspot.com/
    If you decide to list links, please consider me too. -- A Super-Kid and a Kid from U.N.C.L.E., Mark Alfred

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  3. cool post, it brought back such memories for me. i have been fascinated with comic books ever since my dad picked up one for me at the gas station when i was a little boy. batman has always been a favorite...now i take my boys to the local shop...fun.

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  4. that was verry enjoyable,i have one complaint however,lol,your chapters need to be longer,that was verry cool,if peter billingsly were still a kid he could play young paul,but serriously,that was realy enjoyable paul,i signed up to follow your history,please include as much detail as you can remember on the "early"days,name drop ect....im looking forward to more installments,best ,jim

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  5. wow I remember these guys very well. Paul was cool, Jay was full of himself. The way Jay tells the story is a pile of crap. I listened to his podcast and was thrilled to hear his crippled.

    I remember Paul as a good guy, but Jay was lower then human waste.

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  6. Nice post, Paul! As promised .. I'm going to read everything! :)

    ReplyDelete