www.cbr.com

The Bookman's Weekend

...with apologies to John Dunning. But after a Saturday at the Seattle Antiquarian Bookfair and a Sunday at Aki-Con, that title seemed appropriate.

There was a strong comics/geek presence at both shows. We bought a few items and said some hellos, but mostly what we did was look at amazing stuff we couldn't afford and sigh. So I figured I'd run the best of those photos here and you could sigh along with us.

Saturday first.

Last year was our first visit to the Antiquarian Book Fair and we were a little overwhelmed. It was all so amazing. This year we were determined to be a little more grown-up about walking the entire floor first and making sure we were getting the best deal before just blindly lunging for something, credit card in hand.

For the most part I contented myself with just browsing, and occasionally taking pictures of the really cool stuff.

For example, there was a fellow who had an amazing collection of James Bond rarities. All the British first edition Ian Fleming hardcovers from Jonathan Cape, the original galley proofs for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Man With The Golden Gun, stuff like that. But the one I had to pick up, look at, and photograph was one I'd only read about, never seen.

The original hardcover edition of Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies... by James Bond. The book that happened to catch Fleming's eye as he was pacing the office in his Jamaican home, trying to come up with a name for his secret agent character. (There was also a copy of Mrs. Bond's memoir of how they eventually met Fleming, and I shot that one too.)

For the first twenty minutes or so we stuck to our resolve to just look and then circle back around to spend money. That lasted until we got to Book Gallery's display, about four spaces in on the first aisle.

They had a whole bunch of series juveniles, mostly adventure stuff from Stratemeyer like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and so on... you know, the usual suspects. But on the very bottom shelf, tucked away almost out of sight, were a couple of Three Investigators hardcovers.

Regular readers will know that I am very fond of the Three Investigators books, and these were, of course, first editions in splendid shape. I finally settled on the only one they had that was authored by the actual series creator, Robert Arthur: the sixth title in the series, The Secret of Skeleton Island.

[caption id="attachment_90639" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="With series books like these, the easy way to tell if it's an actual first is to make sure that the last title in the list of books in the series is the same as the one in your hand. SKELETON ISLAND actually has an error in the first printing as well-- it lists the first book as the MYSTERY of Terror Castle, when every fan of the series knows it's the SECRET of Terror Castle."]

[/caption]

Of course, the booth where it's hardest to maintain my self-control is Fantasy Illustrated.

But their stuff is so astronomically out of my price range that there's really nothing for it but to take a few pictures and sigh.

We did have a nice chat with the owners. (Most of the folks running the booths understand completely that the majority of attendees can't afford the high-end stuff, and they're very gracious about letting you ooh and ahh and take pictures.)

They also had an amazing run of the self-published Edgar Rice Burroughs novels from the forties and fifties.

And even a few comics.

But, honestly, we can't afford to be genuine rare-book collectors. It's just a hobby for us. So we regretfully bid farewell to the Fantasy Illustrated booth and moved on.

Fortunately, Bud Plant's booth was just a little further up. And that's much more our speed.

For example, almost right out of the gate, I found this. Another Lone Ranger pulp.

It was just a facsimile edition from Adventure House, but it did take the sting out of never in a million years being able to justify dropping a grand on the real thing from Fantasy Illustrated.

They also had a nice collection of limited-edition Robert E. Howard books from the 1970s. I fell for one of those as well.... Tigers of the Sea, featuring Howard's Viking hero, Cormac Mac Art. That was a sentimental pick for me-- I'd had the Zebra Books paperback edition in high school, it was the first Howard non-Conan book I'd bought back then and I remembered liking it a lot. When Julie heard that, she insisted that we buy it, because my birthday was coming. Which is true, really, at any time of year. But I didn't need much of a push and it was only thirty dollars. (Which is a STEAL at the Book Fair.)

[caption id="attachment_90904" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="On the left is the crappy paperback edition I had when I was in high school; amazingly, even this shitty Zebra Books edition (with the annoying ad for Kool Menthols bound in the middle) is a collectible now. On the right is the much classier first edition hardcover that Julie gifted me with at the show, 'because your birthday is coming up.' My wife is AWESOME."]

[/caption]

That sated our booklust for a little while and we wandered on.

Last year most everyone had some kind of display of Oz hardcovers. This year there was still plenty of Oz on hand, but really, from what we could see the clear winner for popular fiction was Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It took me a while to figure out why everyone seemed to be getting their Burroughs on, and then it dawned on me that, duh, not only is there a major movie coming out ("John Carter") but it's also about to be the 100-year anniversary of the first publication of Tarzan.

The Burroughs fever reached its climax when we came across one particular glass display case.

In the lower left corner was a complete set of the Ballantine Tarzan paperbacks-- the white ones, the set that preceded the black-border editions with the Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo covers.

[caption id="attachment_90631" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="These are nice enough books but there's no reason in the world to keep them under glass. "]

[/caption]

I had to know, so I asked the guy. "The white Ballantine Tarzans under glass? Really? Is it because it's a set?"

He nodded. "Yeah, a guy asked specially for them so we brought them. Two hundred and fifty for the lot, which is only about eleven each." Then he grinned. "I always tell people, when it's under glass, it doesn't mean that it's valuable, it just means we like it. At home I've got a first-edition hardcover of The Silmarillion under glass up front, it's just a thirty-dollar book, and people ask me about it all the time. 'Hey, I've got that at home, is it rare?' and I always say, 'naw, we just LIKE it!' "

Couldn't argue with that.

The other interesting conversation we had was with a fellow who had mostly history books. But he also had a number of very nice first-edition Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald for really low prices: Thirty to forty dollars each for what are often two or three hundred-dollar books. It was a deal and I told him so, adding that it was kind of a surprise to see something like that in a room full of smart dealers and professional bookscouts.

"Well, it's not always about who's knowledgeable and who's not, or if you're putting one over on a dealer or not," he explained. "Sometimes it's about what your specialty is. You have something come in that you know is good, but that your regular customers aren't going to want, what do you do? You don't want to hang on to it for years. You drop the price down some and turn it over quick. It's just good business. There's a fellow here who specializes in military books and I always visit his booth first to see what his odd-man-out books might be, because he does the same thing, prices 'em low to move quick."

I hadn't thought of it like that, but it was good to know, and I filed this bit of bookscouting wisdom away for future reference. I looked wistfully at the McGees, but I already had them at home in one hardcover edition or another. I almost bought Free Fall In Crimson because mine's one entry in an omnibus edition and it felt criminal to pass up this beautiful first for thirty dollars, but I talked myself out of it.

Then we reached the last booth on the end and saw this display of MacDonalds. Under glass, and for cause this time.

The price on each one was somewhere between three hundred and six hundred dollars (This guy had Darker Than Amber for $1500, and it wasn't even signed.) Free Fall In Crimson was relatively cheap, one of the three-hundred-dollar McGees.

I told Julie, "That's it, we're going back," and we doubled back to the historian's booth and bought the thirty-dollar edition of Free Fall I'd been admiring. I don't need a house to fall on me.

I'll probably hang on to it because Travis McGee is a favorite of mine and I am sentimental, but still, even though I have no plans to sell it on eBay or anything, it felt like a score.

And that was our day at the Antiquarian Book Fair. We even stayed within our budget this year.

*

Sunday was Aki-Con, over at the Hilton hotel in Bellevue.

Aki-Con is a low-budget anime and manga event, with lots of film screenings and workshops and so on, but really, like the best conventions, it's much more a gathering of the tribe than anything else.

Normally, this would not be our kind of show at all, but we had a special reason to be there.

This was the first time that former students of mine were manning a table at a show all on their own, no input from me, no connection with school, just getting out there and doing it. Former Madison Cartooning students Katrina, Amanda, Stephanie and their friend Naomi had gone in together on a vendor's booth at Aki-Con and were selling their own goods -- not just art but handmade jewelry, hats, and kitty ears. (I'm told that kitty ears are money at a manga show.)

We didn't get there until Sunday afternoon, so we didn't get to see the girls' table display in full flower-- they'd mostly SOLD OUT by the time we arrived. I was floored. "You turned a profit?"

"Oh yeah," Katrina said, a trifle smugly. Then she paused. "Well, we totally did on the booth, not so much if you count all the supplies we used to make stuff. But we did all right."

And clearly they were having the time of their lives. Amanda and Naomi were out doing some Sunday-afternoon shopping when we arrived, but then Katrina said, "Look who made it!" and almost in the same instant I had an armload of squeeing Amanda. (She's in college up in Bellingham this year, but had driven down for the show.) Naomi waved and then set about showing Stephanie her newfound loot.

Amanda wanted to ask me about Creative Writing as a major, and we discussed it for a few minutes. Then we said our goodbyes and headed back out into the hall again, just to see what else was going on. We found a Sailor Moon standup where you could take a picture of yourself as a Sailor Scout, and I got one of Julie.

There wasn't anything in the dealer's room or Artist's Alley that really interested me, though I enjoyed seeing all the young people manning their own tables selling prints and 'zines. We saw a lot of people enthusiastically greeting one another -- "Oh, hey, I know you on DeviantArt!" was something we overheard at least a dozen times.

Julie did better. There was a woman selling handmade purses and she had some really extraordinarily crafted pieces. Julie waffled a bit but when I sternly pointed out how much money we had blown on me at the Antiquarian Book Fair and that it was clearly her turn, she allowed herself to buy a purse.

I can't remember the woman's name but her business is called Prairie Knoll Stitchery, and her DeviantArt page is here. I gather she's a regular on the manga/anime circuit. Worth checking out, if you are in the market for that sort of thing.

And with that, we decided we'd call it a day-- all the happy and enthusiastic teens running around the lobby were making us feel decrepit.

So we headed out to the car. Julie saw my expression and asked what was wrong.

"I have empty-nest syndrome," I said, embarrassed. "I have no right to... I mean, I'm really proud of the girls, don't get me wrong. They are certainly more than capable and, Christ, they've been working shows and selling their art since they were twelve years old. And this is a manga show anyway, they know way more about that stuff than me. And lord knows we didn't need all the show-prep headache and so on." I sighed. "But ...even with all that... I kind of miss being the adult. They're adults themselves now. All grown up."

Julie snorted. "Amanda practically tackled you, she said she'd been specially wanting to talk to you about her writing and her major. They were thrilled you came out. You're just being silly."

Well, it wouldn't be the first time my head tried to sell me on a silly idea. But it was hard to shake that bleak, bittersweet feeling, nevertheless.

*

And that was our big show weekend. We missed out on Geek Girl Con, but it's probably just as well, since the other two had put quite a large dent in our finances as it stood. Maybe next year.

See you next week.

tom king
King Leaving Batman By End of 2019, Has More DC Projects In the Works

More in Comics