Ten Days on the Road, part one

When Julie and I decided we were going to stop going to the San Diego Comic-Con, what we ended up doing instead was taking back-roads vacations here in the Northwest... and somehow we always seem to stumble across lots of comics and other geeky stuff anyway.

This year was no different.

What was different was that for the first time in a long time we could actually afford to take a real vacation and not just a long weekend. So we decided to take a couple of weeks and go on an extensive wander throughout Washington and Oregon.

The first leg of the trip involved taking a ferry across Puget Sound from Seattle to the Peninsula, and then down the coast through Aberdeen to Seaside. Here's a map for those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about.

Our primary purpose, was, of course, to goof off, but our secondary mission was to look in on any and every bookstore and thrift shop that caught our attention along the way. One of the pleasures of this kind of trip is staying flexible enough to stop wherever you feel like it, and one of the pleasures of being an adult is that there's no one to tell you No, you can't have it if you decide you want a book. When I was a kid traveling with my folks on vacation, there were all kinds of cool comics racks and book stands scattered throughout the little mountain towns along our route, but I was limited by.... well, by being a ten-year-old kid, basically, my vote never counted. If I wanted to stop at a cool-looking place or stay a little longer at the store to look though a spinner rack, that was too damn bad.

So call this the I'M Driving Now And We'll Stop Wherever We Damned Well Please tour. The trouble is, today most of those spinner racks are long gone. But we found a few things.

For example, on Route 8, approaching Aberdeen, we saw a sign on the side of the highway -- it was just spray-painted stencil on plywood, but it clearly bore further investigation.

Aberdeen's known primarily for being Kurt Cobain's hometown. It's an admittedly bleak little place, and we don't usually stop there, but this was too good to pass up. Since the downtown is only about twelve square blocks, it didn't take long for us to find the Star Wars store.

We weren't sure exactly what to expect -- I think I had a vague notion of some sort of gamer/comics place with a strong Star Wars bias -- but this was something extraordinary.

It just keeps going, shelf after shelf of vintage Star Wars toys and collectibles, from every era. All of it lovingly restored and displayed. Some is 'mint in the box' but most of it's been rebuilt by hand.

Mr. Sucher himself appeared out of the depths of the shop to say hello. He asked us if we needed anything in particular and I admitted my primary interest was comics. He lit up and directed me towards his magazine rack, where he had a bunch of 80s-era Marvel books -- plenty of Star Wars titles, naturally, but quite a few other things too.

It was a bit startling to round the corner and be faced with a life-size cutout of Sarah Palin.

"She's a little out of your wheelhouse, isn't she?" I asked Mr. Sucher.

He beamed. "Usually I dress her up," he explained. "One week, she's Darth Vader, and then the next week she's Princess Leia. So as not to play favorites," he added helpfully. "But today someone's rented the Leia costume, so she's just on her own."

I found myself wishing she had been dressed up... I kept catching the figure out of the corner of my eye and thinking a real person was standing there.

None of the comics were worth picking up, though Mr. Sucher was lobbying hard for me to get the Marvel Special Edition Star Wars tabloid. "It's the one that has the whole story," he said. "They did one earlier split across two issues but this has the whole thing in one." It was priced at fifty dollars, which is just plain silly, and even at half-price (everything was half-off that day, apparently) twenty-five dollars still seemed absurd for a reprint of a reprint.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sucher had been so pleasant, and so gracious about letting me take pictures of his store for this column, that I felt like we should spend some money. Nothing really jumped out at Julie or me as being something we wanted, though.

Fortunately, though, we have a six-year-old godson. Phenix loves Star Wars. So we found him a vintage lightsaber.

Our friend Lorinda is also a huge Star Wars geek -- Rin is a member of the 501st, I believe, and has worked Star Wars Celebration a number of times -- so we decided she needed a Spudtrooper.

With that, we said our goodbyes -- we would have departed Aberdeen itself but Julie had spotted a Salvation Army thrift shop just down the street, and we decided it was worth a quick look.

There were a couple of interesting finds to be had in the book section. I was looking over the juveniles more intently than I normally would, partly for Phenix since he is becoming quite an avid reader, and also Rin had asked me to keep an eye out for something that the two third-graders in her life, Finn and Kerowyn, might like. Additionally, she'd asked me to look for anything by Patricia Wrede.

So when I saw Ms. Wrede's adaptation of The Phantom Menace, I figured I might as well snag it. After all, I reasoned, Rin probably already had it but she might not have one as pristine as this one was. It was was a lovely, nearly-new looking copy complete with a slipcase.

Next to it was Geek Magnet, by Kieran Scott. Never heard of it, knew nothing about the author, but with a title like that, how could I not? I'm willing to risk a buck on a nice hardcover, especially if it looks like a fun book. Chances are it'll get passed on to Katrina or Rachel after I'm done with it, it appears to be something about a high school drama department and that's totally their thing. (I've often remarked that there is some sort of genetic link for teenage girls between cartooning in middle school and drama in high school -- at least, a great many of our alumni end up doing plays in high school.) Anyway, we'll see.

At the register I remarked that the copy of The Phantom Menace was something of a find and I was a little surprised no one had snatched it up to sell to the Star Wars store up the street.

"People do that with the toys," the clerk told me. "There's a couple of fellows that come in here searching through the toys two or three times a week. Sometimes they take the broken ones and rebuild them."

Aberdeen is notorious for its high unemployment and general poverty, so it pleased me to hear that our demographic is actually creating work for people, in a very small way. I suppose that it might very well have been Mr. Sucher and his son themselves the clerk was referring to, but I'd like to think that he is the buyer that is funding an improvised Santa's workshop of refurbished Star Wars toys. Aberdeen's the kind of town that could use something nice like that. Every little bit helps.


We continued on down the coast highway to Seaside, where we were spending our first couple of days. I am not going to go over every inch of our trip, since this is mostly about our bookscouting and comics-related adventures... but I'm going to take a brief moment to talk a little about the Lewis and Clark interlude, because it was so cool, and it both began and ended as something comics-related.

Some of you may recall that the whole reason I'm a little bit geeky about Lewis and Clark is because of John Severin.

The Adventures of Lewis and Clark was one of the first -- possibly the first -- books I ever owned, back when I was seven years old. That was one of the books I learned to read on, and the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery made a huge impression on me, in large part due to John Severin's breathtaking illustrations. He made it all look real and believable in a way that a great many kid's books didn't then (and still don't today.)

Fort Clatsop, the camp at the mouth of the Columbia River where the expedition wintered in 1805 before turning back home, is very close to where we were staying in Seaside. I'd pestered my parents into taking me there once, when I was eight years old, but I didn't really remember anything about it and I wanted to be sure and go back this trip.

Something I hadn't really been aware of -- I mean, I sort of knew it but I hadn't really grasped the scale of the matter -- is that the Lewis and Clark expedition were all over this part of the country and a great many of those sites are designated historical parkland now, scattered all through the Seaside and Astoria area. It wasn't until we were looking at the map at the Dismal Nitch rest stop that it really hit home.

Clark's spelling was occasionally eccentric, and in the case of Dismal Nitch, it stuck. It wasn't particularly dismal the day we were there, but I shudder to think what it must have been like for men dressed in simple homespun and buckskins, camped on those wet rocks for almost a week in the midst of a November storm.

Even today, winter on the Oregon coast is no picnic. Icy rain, howling wind... and they were stuck on the side of that bluff for six days straight with not much shelter and less food, waiting until the weather calmed enough to chance taking their canoes across to the other side. It's a miracle no one died there huddled in the rocks. I took a couple of pictures but you really have to see it for yourself to get the true sense of it. The ranger at the Lewis and Clark museum told us that the Corps of Discovery were essentially the Navy SEALS or Special Forces of their day, and when you see what they went through you can believe it. Those guys were hardcore.

The visitor center at Fort Clatsop was a lot of fun, and really something to see. Lots of cool multimedia displays, models and exhibits, and even a small theater where they show a couple of different documentary films every hour.

There's a painstakingly researched re-creation of the fort itself, since of course the original is long gone, and the adjoining museum is staffed with lots of helpful park rangers and guides in period dress.

There's a big wooded area all around the museum and the Fort Clatsop reconstruction, where the guides give talks and demonstrations about the historic expedition. (Sadly, we just missed the morning demonstration by the guy who showed how to load and fire a musket, we arrived just as he was packing up his powder horn.)

And, of course, there was the gift shop. Lots of postcards and stuff, but also a fairly extensive library of books about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. I had a vague hope that perhaps my beloved children's history book with those amazing Severin illustrations would be there, maybe in a new edition, and I could pick up a copy for Phenix -- but no such luck. We resolved to keep an eye out for it for the rest of the trip, though.

There were, however, a number of books about Sacagawea, the young Shoshone bride of the expedition's guide, Charbonneau.

Sacagawea was an extraordinary young woman, and it's not really surprising that she continues to fascinate historians. I already told you the park ranger's characterization of the Corps as being 1805's version of the Special Forces, and how rough the expedition had it at Dismal Nitch. Now imagine coping with all that when you're a twentysomething Native American girl with only a vague grasp of English and carrying a newborn baby on your back.

Anyway, there were quite a few books about her and two caught my eye. (Thinking of Phenix had reminded me that we were shopping for Finn and Kerowyn, too, and Rin had said Kerowyn liked stories of 'warrior women.' Sacagawea certainly should count as one -- and she was REAL.)

Marion Tinling's Sacagawea's Son is actually the story of little Pompey Charbonneau, the baby that was born on the expedition, who grew up to have an amazingly adventurous life of his own. I also flipped though Peter Copeland's The Story of Sacajawea but put it back when I saw it was a coloring book. It was beautifully illustrated, though, and seemed to be the closest in spirit to my old Severin book. We ended up getting the Tinling and a couple of postcards.

After Fort Clatsop, we went in to Astoria proper. For one thing, it was lunchtime, and for another, I'd been told by any number of folks after our last Seaside expedition that we should visit Astoria's one comics shop, Amazing Stories.

It really is a very nice place.

We wandered around in there for about forty-five minutes, mostly just looking through the used trade paperbacks and back issues and stuff. We were still kind of on patrol for things for the children, so Julie bird-dogged an issue of Jonny Quest for Phenix, and I picked up the trade collection of Untold Tales of Spider-Man for me...

...and also, right in the middle of all the kid's comics was a copy of Peter Copeland's Sacagawea book. I decided Fate was trying to tell me something, so I picked it up again and gave it a closer look. Although technically it could be used as a coloring book, there was a real narrative, it was more like a storybook profusely illustrated with black-and-white line art. Almost a graphic novel, really, and clearly being sold as one. What the hell, I thought, and tossed it on the pile. If Kerowyn wants to color in it she can, but it's a real book, I don't feel like I'm insulting her intelligence.

The clerk gave me a quizzical look and I explained about our visit to Fort Clatsop and John Severin and how this was clearly the same kind of wonderfully illustrated historical adventure and.... at that point I think his eyes glazed over a bit, but he put on a game face and tried hard to look interested.

We felt so guilty about monopolizing him like that we ended up spending about three times as much money as we were going to -- Julie picked up a ceramic Winnie-the-Pooh bank for our niece, as well -- so it all worked out.


That went on rather longer than I thought it would, so I'll stop here. Next week we wrap up the coast and head inland with a few pulps, rare monster books, vintage Westerns, schlocky-but-beloved SF paperbacks, and even some comics. See you then.

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