More Back-Roads Bookscouting for Old Comics & Rare Books

This is the second half of our road trip adventures looking for interesting old comics and rare books down in Oregon. The first part of it can be found here for those who came in late.

If someone asked me which is hotter, the surface of the sun or central Oregon in August, I'd really have to think it over. I had forgotten how unbearable it gets in late summer. Our second day in Eugene the temperature was already in the nineties by ten-thirty AM. I am sure that any residents of Las Vegas or Amarillo or wherever are sneering at us for being sissies and they'd be right, but that's how we roll in the Pacific Northwest. My people are a pale and damp tribe who fear the sun. And with Julie's allergies I was just grateful we hadn't arrived the week the farmers set the fields outside of town on fire. (This is a real thing.)

The previous day we had done bookstores and comic stores, so I was adamant that my wife get a turn. Julie likes thrift shops and antique malls, and also Joe and Rhonda wanted to look at records. I was interested in both, but my main hope was that there would be air conditioning. So we started at CD World over in west Eugene. While we were nosing around Joe noticed someone standing in the next aisle and beckoned me over to him. "This is my friend Scott," he told me. "I told you about him, he wrote the book about Night Gallery."

It was indeed Scott Skelton, who not only co-authored the book on Night Gallery but also has provided DVD commentary on both Night Gallery and The Twilight Zone. We chatted for a couple of minutes. I would have liked to pepper him with questions about the book and about Rod Serling, but I restrained myself. A guy should be allowed to browse the record store stacks in peace on a Sunday morning. But it did amuse me how little had changed in the forty years since we were in high school: Joe still knows everybody.

Rhonda found a record she liked, and my bride had loaded up on old vinyl 45s for our brother-in-law Wayne, who is also a musician. Julie was especially pleased at finding the original single for the Monkees' "Daydream Believer," which is a favorite of his-- every band Wayne's been in has ended up covering it at some point, I think.

Then we moved on to thrift stores. There was both a Goodwill and a St. Vincent's almost literally around the corner from the record store.

Goodwill was a bust but we hit paydirt at the St. Vincent's. They had a really first-class book section going on.

There were also a number of old comics under glass. An eclectic and interesting selection of oddities, most priced at three dollars.

I fell for a Claw the Unconquered from 1978, mostly because I have a soft spot for all the also-ran books from the 1970s barbarian glut. Besides, I was kind of in the mood for it, having picked up a couple of sword-and-sorcery paperbacks in the course of our excursion the day before. One of those, Norvell Page's Flame Winds, had seemed oddly familiar. It wasn't until we got home that I realized Roy Thomas had adapted it for "Flame Winds of Lost Khitai" early in his original Conan run.

Joe was at my elbow, watching me take pictures. He had read my previous columns about bookscouting and asked me about the process. I explained that for me, it was mostly just goofing off and gathering column fodder. I had basically a three-tier ranking system. "Category one is stuff that is interesting enough to take a picture of and write about, but not enough to spend money on. Category two is stuff that looks kind of cool and is worth risking a couple of dollars on. Category three is a genuine rarity that you grab instantly. The Claw comic and this book here are both Twos."

The book in question was something I'd found in the 'vintage' section. Rampart Street by Everett and Olga Webber, a second printing from 1948 still in the jacket, for three dollars. The Webbers were a husband-and-wife team that specialized in 'hot-blooded' historical romances. This one was a moderate success, helped along by a a paperback edition that was really quite lurid in its design.

You often see it pop up today on websites that specialize in 'bad girl' paperbacks or 'bondage covers.' I daresay the Webbers would probably have been okay with this, even though the book itself is pretty tame by the standards of a modern bodice-ripper. They knew which side their bread was buttered on.

That was it for the day's bookscouting. We did a lot of other stuff on the trip as well, which I'm mostly leaving out because it's not relevant to books or comics or geek culture, but I did want to mention one more fun blast from my past.

Long ago, when I was in high school doing the speech-and-debate thing, on out-of-town weekend competitions several of us would sneak out of the hotel at night to go dancing. One of those times was during the State competition at University of Oregon, when a rock-n-blues band called the Xplorers was playing a Friday night dance at South Eugene High School. We had been alerted to this by both the South Eugene debate squad and also by my old friend Joe, and the upshot of it was that the dance was packed with debate nerds that night. (Someone should write a learned paper some day about the Venn diagram showing the intersection of debate nerds, science-fiction geeks, and aspiring rock musicians. There's a LOT of overlap there.)

We even managed to make a bootleg tape by hooking a boom box to the sound board. (I think that was how we did it-- it's been forty years, so my memory is somewhat dimmed.) But it was a really high-quality recording, and the band was pleased to have it as well. After the bootleg of the Xplorers gig was endlessly duplicated among our crowd, their popularity at school rose to the point that later that year my own high school had them up to play the senior graduation kidnap party. Joe and I roadie'd the gig.

Their lead guitarist was a fellow named Henry Cooper, who played a wicked slide guitar as well as the harmonica. He went on to great success touring with folks like Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Duffy Bishop. But he still lives in Eugene and was playing a gig with his own band out at Agrarian Ales that afternoon. And it was free admission.

Of course we had to go. The chance to see the Xplorers again -- well, one of them, anyway-- was impossible for me to pass up. Henry's only gotten better in the intervening decades, and he was pretty damn good to start with.

So that was our afternoon.Julie was enchanted. She loves the blues and Mr. Cooper's the real deal. Joe introduced us to Henry and reminded him that we had met before. Henry looked a little bemused but he did vaguely remember the gig in question. "Oh yeah, sure, the high school thing." I am certain he had no memory of me or the huge debate-nerd fandom that had sprung up for his band once upon a time in the spring of 1982, but he was gracious enough to pretend.

Just for the hell of it, I experimented with our camera's video function and recorded one song. It's up on YouTube here. Sadly, you can't see our favorite part of the show: the three-year-old boy just offstage on the right who was bouncing up and down to the music and clearly longed to play the drums himself. His mom probably wants him to be a doctor or a lawyer, but that ship had sailed by the end of the first set. Another youth ruined by rock and roll.

Monday we said our goodbyes and headed up towards Portland. We had decided to stay overnight there both to visit friends and also because I wanted to stop in at Cameron's. Anyway, Eugene to Seattle is too long to drive comfortably in one day, especially if you avoid interstates like we do.

So Monday was an ambling drive up 99, stopping to visit with our friends Terese and Kevin in Corvallis-- that was lunch-- and Marcia in Portland, which was dinner.

Tuesday morning was Cameron's.

It remains my favorite bookstore in the world, though there are many others that are far more extensive in selection and provide a much more congenial environment. Most Portlanders consider Powell's the never-miss stop, and certainly it's world-class. But... Cameron's is mine. I find it tremendously soothing that after four decades it continues to be the same place I loved spending hours in as a teenager, no matter how gentrified the city around it has become. It still doesn't have AC, but thankfully the heat wave had broken.

There were lots of comics and magazines lying around haphazardly the way they always have them at Cameron's.

A huge box of Mad back issues priced at fifty cents each was tempting but I passed on it. Instead, I wandered over to the 'media tie-in' shelf, where you find the oddest of the odd and the lamest of the lame. I grew up before the home video revolution, and in the olden days these paperbacks were what we had instead of DVD or Netflix if you wanted to whistle up your favorite show on demand.

I had been thinking about the McCloud paperbacks I had seen my last time through there about a year previously. They were still there, but after examining them more closely I decided against them, mostly because they were just episode adaptations. This was very common back in the seventies-- there are novels based on individual episodes of Charlie's Angels, Starsky and Hutch, and of course both the original Star Trek and the animated one. There were lots of new stories done for paperback as well, and often, as Alan Dean Foster did with the Star Trek Logs, there would be a sort of hybrid where you'd get an adaptation in which the author would insert a lot of new material.

I ended up getting a bunch of other stuff instead of the McClouds, mostly because it was even odder. The prose novel adapting Gene Wilder's Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother was one I grabbed right away, because I collect Holmes pastiches and I'd had this one when I was a kid. Like-new copy, too. It seemed appropriate considering Mr. Wilder's passing had been all over the news that day.

I also fell for the first S.W.A.T. novel, Crossfire!, which is one of the aforementioned episode adaptations. I had never seen the episode it was based on, a script by Robert Hamner called "September Red," but I picked it up because I like Dennis Lynds. Lynds went on from doing work-for-hire like this to become a hugely respected mystery writer. And it was even under his own name, which was not common. Most folks know him as "Michael Collins," creator of Dan Fortune, but my first encounters with him were as Three Investigators scribe "William Arden," and later he did the sixties revival of the Shadow under the name "Maxwell Grant." A few Nick Carter: Killmaster books were him as well. He was astonishingly prolific.

The Burke's Law was on a whim, just because it was so old and because it was an original, not an adaptation of an episode. It's by a guy named Don Tracy, who started in pulps and then, as "Roger Fuller," had a pretty good run doing this kind of licensed tie-in book. He wrote books based on Peyton Place, The Defenders, and even the 'unauthorized' Fugitive novel, Fear In A Desert Town. I'm not a fan of Burke's Law but I had enjoyed my copy of Fear In A Desert Town well enough that this seemed like it was worth risking a buck on.

So far this trip everything I'd found had been strictly category two, mildly interesting books cheap enough to give in to an impulse buy. (Though I am hugely sentimental about the Gene Wilder Holmes paperback, it's not actually a "rarity "or anything.)

But we did find a snatch-up-instantly Category Three in Scappoose, at the Goodwill there.

We usually stop at the Scappoose Goodwill because we have good luck at that store, and we much prefer taking the old Highway 30 north out of Portland as compared to the interstates. It's a prettier drive and there is rarely any real traffic to speak of, plus there are a number of nice little cafes and such on the way.

They actually had a lot of cool comics collections there this time. Nice hardcover albums like Talbot's The Tale of One Bad Rat, some Bilal collections, and Asterix.

Of course it was all larded in with a bunch of B.C. and Family Circus paperbacks, and nothing really jumped out at me as being worth snatching up. However, there was also a new little shelf designated as "Vintage," and that one was where the real score showed up.

Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave, a first edition from 1961. Pristine. Not a beat-to-shit ex-library edition covered in stickers with the cover falling off, which is how you usually see them. This was like new, the real thing, with the illustrations by Brinton Turkle and everything.

Now, you have to be a certain age to really get what a find this was. But most of us geek types in the fifties and sixties who came to science fiction novels in our childhood got there one of two ways. Either through a Heinlein juvenile, or through the Danny Dunn series. There were fifteen of the Danny Dunn books in all, and a genuine first in good shape goes for anywhere from forty to a hundred dollars in the collector market. Like Trixie Belden and the Three Investigators, the Dunn books were not as widely known as series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but the kids that loved them loved them a lot. Which is why the books are so hard to find in good shape. They were mostly sold to libraries and schools and youngsters read them to pieces. Fossil Cave is the sixth in the series, and though it's on the low end of the spectrum, it was still a forty-dollar book for sale at Goodwill... for two bucks.

Plus, I loved Danny Dunn when I was a kid and they hold up pretty well today just as fiction. That's definitely a Category Three on my own bookscouting scale.

So that was our trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about it; we certainly enjoyed ourselves living it.

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