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Last Sunday’s Outing

by  in Comic News Comment
Last Sunday’s Outing

Well, our trip to the Seattle Comic-Card show was kind of a bust as a cartooning-class field trip, but we got some shopping in and said some hellos.

I wasn’t expecting that many of my cartooning students, to be honest, but I did think we’d have at least three or four. But in the end we only had one kid show up while we were there, and even he was late; we almost missed him.

While I was looking around for students who weren’t there, Julie said brightly, “Well, we can shop.”

So we did.

Randy’s Reader Comics was there, which was all I needed to see. He’s been our Bronze Age connection for the last couple of years. Always great books, usually just for a buck or so each.

Randy’s got kind of an odd system for these smaller shows. He generally doesn’t bring his entire inventory, but rather, say, DC books alphabetically from M to Z, and Marvel books from A to M, or something. Rarely will you see the whole alphabet.

This time it seemed he had most of his Marvel books, though, so I took the opportunity to close some minor gaps in my collection of Marvel’s 70’s titles.

Probably the most satisfying was finally getting Captain Marvel #41 and #42, from Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom’s tenure on the book.

Usually when people talk about Steve Englehart’s work at Marvel they talk about Avengers or Dr. Strange, but I really loved his Mar-Vell. It was every bit as cosmic and trippy as Jim Starlin’s, but Englehart added some discipline to the storytelling, and made good use of the lore of the Marvel Universe that had been established up to that point. Probably the high point of the run was their “Trial of the Watcher” storyline, where Uatu the Watcher is brought to trial by his peers for the crime of interfering with Earth’s destiny. These two, #41 and #42, came shortly after that and launched the book in its new space-opera direction. In a classic 70’s Marvel riff, the Kree Supreme Intelligence revealed to Mar-Vell that everything in the book up to that point, including bonding Mar-Vell to Rick Jones, was actually a master plan to remake the Captain into the Supreme Intelligence’s perfect opponent. Then he sent Mar-Vell and Rick off into space so that their great game could commence.

“Everything you know is wrong!” and “It was all PLANNED!” were fairly common ways to shake up a book at Marvel in the 70’s (I was getting a little jaded about it even at fifteen– after all, by then I’d already seen it with Spider-Man and Dr. Strange) but still, in this case it was a really smart story and cleverly integrated both ideas. As a direction, it didn’t last long, but I sure dug it at the time. It still holds up pretty well, even though everyone’s long forgotten about that particular storyline. It became one of those continuity bits that writers afterward all tacitly agreed to ignore whenever Marvel brings back the Kree, sort of like Mike Murdock in Daredevil.

Apart from the fact that I remembered these books fondly and have been trying to replace them for years, they served to plug the last holes in my Captain Marvel collection. This is extremely satisfying to my inner nerd. With the addition of the recently-released Essential Captain Marvel I now have the entire run here in one form or another. (This, however, does not mean that I’m not still rooting for an Essential Captain Marvel Volume Two, because more people should see that stuff. Don’t forget that even though Starlin gets all the credit for the ‘acid-trip’ era of Captain Marvel, it was Steve Englehart that had Rick Jones actually drop acid in a fit of youthful stupidity in #35– because, really, once you beat Annihilus what’s left to do in the Negative Zone? It’s not like there’s a TV or even a magazine– and the resultant acid trip leaked through their telepathic bond, causing the Captain to hallucinate in the midst of a critical battle. “Mayhem on the Moon,” indeed!)

In a similar vein, I was also able to nail down a couple more Shang-Chi books I needed.

I’ve been picking away at these for a few years now. I wrote about that quest and how I originally got hooked on the book in an early column years ago, but I should add that Master of Kung Fu is a fun book to collect in back issues, period. This is because A) it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see the book reprinted, B) it’s good, C) it’s accessible, and D) it’s difficult enough to find that the hunt is entertaining, while at the same time E) it’s cheap enough to still be do-able on a budget. These two were from late in the run, with art from the late Gene Day. Every time I look at this era of Shang-Chi’s title I’m sad all over again at how we lost such a great artist at such a young age.

The real score this time out, though, were the Marvel Burroughs books.

I not only picked up the last issue of Marvel’s Tarzan I needed to complete the run…

…#21, as it happens, a chapter right in the middle of a long story that went from #16 to #24.

But even better, to my great pleasure I was able to scoop up about twenty of the twenty-eight issue run of Marvel’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

These were books I was very excited to see back in 1978; I’d only just discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs a year or two before, and I loved what Marvel was doing with the characters. However, that was also when it was getting really hard to keep up with the comics at my neighborhood newsstand, the distribution was getting very spotty and weird.

At the same time, both Roy Thomas on Tarzan and Marv Wolfman on John Carter had embarked on long multi-issue epics. Multi-issue epic plus spotty distribution equals a frustrated customer who thinks it’s not worth the trouble. So I ended up giving up on both Tarzan and John Carter.

It always annoyed me, though, because I’d really liked what I’d seen of the books. The art, in particular John Buscema inking himself on Tarzan and Gil Kane teamed with Dave Cockrum on John Carter, was breathtaking. So in later years when comics shops and back-issue bins became an option, the Marvel Burroughs books were some of the first titles I went looking for. Even there, though, they’re damnably difficult to find.

It wasn’t until I started prospecting online the last couple of years that I had any luck at all…. and the prices are often prohibitive. The Marvel Tarzan I have been able to find without too much trouble, but John Carter is more elusive; even the online dealers tend to not carry the book in stock, or else they want absurdly high prices for it.

All this is by way of saying that Randy had most of the run at a buck each, so we cleaned him out. (Even Julie got excited over that, because she remembered my wistful sighs over the John Carter comics we saw at Excalibur Comics in Portland during our summer road trip. “You’ll never see them again,” she said. “You should just get them all.” My wife, the enabler.)

Julie, amazingly, did a little shopping of her own. Usually she just eggs me on, but she does occasionally like to pick up things for herself. She found this little Silver Age treasure for $2.

Bob Hope was one of the craziest books DC ever put out, especially when it was Arnold Drake and Bob Oksner doing it in the mid-60’s. I am rather fond of it myself, but for Julie it was a revelation. “I didn’t know Bob Hope had a comic! We have to get this!” She would have cleaned Randy out of all of them but most of his were too expensive for us.

Julie generally prefers humor comics anyway, which is how she happened to stumble across this forgotten Marvel experiment.

Spoof is largely known only to Marvel historians. An experiment from Marvel’s early “Phase II’ period, it came out in 1970 and only ran five issues in all. I’d never seen an actual copy until last Sunday. We have been watching a lot of the old Mod Squad shows on DVD, as it happens, so this was another one that my bride determined we had to have. It is pretty funny, and it has terrific Marie Severin art.

And, like myself, Julie is prey to the occasional nostalgia buy.

My wife has a soft spot for the Smurfs and she’d never seen the original strips, and anyway this came out of a quarter box.

All of this takes a long time to write up, but really it only took place over the course of about twenty-five minutes. About the time that we looked up from ravaging Randy’s back-issue boxes, there was my student Edwin from Aki.

He’d actually made it. Genuine education would in fact be taking place after all.

Well, maybe. The truth of the matter was that Ed was really more about the shopping, as well. He’d brought his cousin and they’d just come from the CD and record show that was taking place in the next hall over. So they were afire with the bargain-hunting fever themselves.

Once that gets hold of you, there’s not a lot to be done. Edwin ended up spending most of his show rooting through the 3-for-$10 trade paperback boxes, scoring a couple of Spider-Man collections and a Dark Angel manga book.

We did try to spend at least a little time in Artist’s Alley, though we didn’t speak to any of the big-name guests like Steve Lieber or Paul Chadwick. We did say hello to Quenton Shaw and the gang from QEW, because they’re always great with my kids. William Johnson had some nice tips for Edwin, and it made an impression when he showed Ed his thumbnails from his sketchbook and then the finished pencil art for those same pages.

As for me, I was startled and pleased to see Ken Steacy sitting at a table just across the aisle from Randy’s.

“This is the guy that did that story about the Catholic space mission that you liked,” I told Julie.

I was trying to be quiet so as not to geek out too obviously, but Mr. Steacy has good ears. He beamed and said, “That’s me!”

Caught out in my moment of being starstruck, there was nothing for it but to own up. “That strip was my favorite thing in the old Star*Reach,” I told him.

It pleased him. “Wow, that dates you,” he said, laughing.

I admitted it. “Once you have the gray hair and the cane, I think you might as well own it. That train’s left the station.”

We chatted a little bit about The Sacred and the Profane. Apparently it was being shopped as a possible movie. Steacy explained that he’d been putting together proposal packages for other producers, and his wife had exhorted him to try doing such a package for his own work, to use himself.

Julie laughed and said, “See, this is why artists need spouses, to push them.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Mr. Steacy agreed.

And we said hello to Ben Hansen, who remembered us from previous shows and wanted to know how the class was doing. Just down from Ben was a fellow named John Aegard, who has an interesting little indie book called Greeter; sort of a humorous look at a sci-fi version of Wal-Mart, but that doesn’t really do it justice. You can find an online version of it here.

He also had these hilarious little cards for sale, foldout safety procedure guides like you see on a commercial airplane. Except John’s were for things like zombie attacks and pirates.

Julie loved them instantly, so we ended up getting a couple of them. (Our pastor likes pirates, and Mr. Aegard was wonderfully patient with us while we rambled on about it to him. It seems like the least I can do by way of appreciation is plug his stuff here.)

On our way out, Julie reminded me, “Weren’t you going to say hello to the Secret Fortress guy?”

She meant occasional CSBG commenter Alvin, who’d mentioned he was going to be at the show. “I haven’t seen him,” I said.

“That’s what I’m saying, he’s right there.” She pointed.

Sure enough, there he was. He looked up and said, “Hey, it’s Greg Hatcher.”

I must have looked startled. He explained, “I saw that picture in your column and I thought, hey, I know that guy, he’s bought comics from me.” I am embarrassed to admit that I did not recognize Alvin’s face at all. However, once I glanced at his back-issue boxes I knew his stuff, and I even remembered which books I’d bought from him. I got most of my 100-page Batman and JLA comics from Alvin, about five years ago. The fact that I didn’t remember the man but instantly recognized the way he bags his books probably says something disturbing about me.

Anyway, Julie insisted we take his picture (“For your column!”) and Alvin was very gracious about it. At least this way I’ll know him next time.

Alvin told us he’d recently opened a comics shop in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, on Stone Way, and he has a web site where you can shop online as well. Some good stuff there and I’d encourage you all to check it out. After all, he reads our stuff here, so he’s got taste, right?

And that was our day at the show. Thanks to everyone we saw, especially those artists that were so cool to Edwin. Next time, I hope we’ll have a bigger crowd of kids for Artist’s Alley, but I imagine we’ll probably do just as much shopping, too, so dealers can rest easy; you won’t be neglected.

See you next week!

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