If you've been to a convention and gazed at the prices on old 'Wall Books' or done a quick search of key Golden Age books on eBay, you were likely shocked by the prices people are asking. Don't get too discouraged, as there are plenty of fun, old books that can be had at reasonable prices. Here's a quick look at some affordable gems from the 50s.
For years, I ignored Bobby Benson's B-Bar-B Riders simply because the name made the series seem ridiculous. That was my loss, and I'm sure I passed up many great bargains over the years and have kicked my self repeatedly since them. This is a fine series from Magazine Enterprises, based on a popular radio series. The main Bobby Benson strip is quite enjoyable, but the highlight of this series are the other strips, including Dick Ayers' original Ghost Rider (who was all of the place at ME), the Lemonade Kid and Red Hawk. This series is full of wonderful Bob Powell artwork. I've picked up half of the 20 issues, and I don't think I've ever paid more that $15. There are a couple of issues with more of a horror vibe that sell for much more, but are still relative bargains. AC Comics has reprinted some of this material, so that's another way to test the waters.
Charlton's Racket Squad in Action is pretty much lost to the sands of time, but it's a really fun series. Essentially, it's a police procedural that focuses on examining and exposing various sams and con games. It's quite fascinating to see how the criminal mind worked back then and how many creative ways were found to bilk people out of their money. The art is mainly from Charlton mainstays such as a young Dick Giordano, Tony Tallarico and Sal Trapani - but with contrubtions from Chic Stone and even Joe Shuster. Over the years, I've managed to pick up a 8 issues in the VG- to Fine range, paying somewhere between $8 and $15. There are a couple issues that feature Ditko covers, and those command much higher prices. The final issue is a 68-page Giant, and can be a bit tougher to find in decent shape. If you see one of these books at a nice price, I highly recommend picking it up.
Harvey Comics may be best known for Richie Rich, Casper and the gang, but in the Golden Age they were producing some great books in a variety of genres. Fighting Fronts and Warfront and two great war titles that will definitely please anyone that hates 'Reds'. Harvey had a stable of very talented artists back in the day, and these books are a great way to get a taste of what Lee Elias and Howard Nostrand brought to the table. Later issues of Warfront included contributions from Jack Kirby and Bob Powell. These serve as a real time capsule and are a great way to read some cheap 50s anti-Commie material. As an example, I recently picked up a VG copy of Fighting Fronts for $5.99. How can you go wrong?
In my opinion, the Cisco Kid books are worth picking up for the covers alone. I'm a real sucker for painted covers, and most of these are gorgeous and full of charm. Let me be environmentally friendly and re-use the word 'charm' to describe these stories. Much like Dell's Lone Ranger series - the adventures of the Cisco Kid are lots of fun with evildoers being twarted and rights being wronged. Elsewhere, I've described the artwork of Bob Jenney as 'subtlely beautiful' and I'll stick with that description. He knows how to move a story along and uses shadows and silhouettes in very Tothian manner. I've managed to pick up a bunch of these books on eBay in the VG to Fine range and have yet to pay more than $10.
There are plenty of more bargains to be found out there folks, it's just a matter of being a bit more open minded about the material and having the right mixutre of patience and hunting skills. I'd be happy to hear suggestions of other great affordable gems from the 50s.
For more classic comic talk, feel free to stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent