Comic Books

by Harry T. Roman

You know you are getting old when the stuff you played with and read as a kid is now referred to as "collectible". Things like Lionel trains, Dick and Jane books, PEZ dispensers, Barbie dolls, and comic books.

Where do you buy comic books today? Probably in a specialty comic book store like the ones I see every now and then squeezed in among other little stores in older shopping districts. Until a few years ago, there was a large store on Broad Street in downtown Newark not far from my office, but it went out of business.

At these modern day comic book palaces you can buy the new versions of the books as well as their older more pricey volumes from yesteryear. Often I have seen young boys and their parents visiting the stores on a Saturday. These stores carry all sorts of other marketable things like posters, novelties, or statues depicting favorite characters. Many old/used bookstores now have a comic book section where you can purchase the revered old ones. They are usually wrapped in heavy protective plastic. They did not use the best, most durable paper back then.

What did we know about collecting them for their future value? We just strolled into the corner candy shop or soda fountain and had our pick of funnies, mysteries, adventures, war stories, or Walt Disney comics. My favorite comic book-luncheonette store was on the corner of Roseville Avenue and Second Avenue. There were racks and racks of those great color comics, ready to transport you to a very different place, limited only by your imagination. You laid down your dime or fifteen cents and off you went to another all expenses paid dimension.

“Hey Slim (all Newark candy store owners were named Slim), did the new Supermans come in yet.”

“No kid (all kids are called kid by the Slims of the world), maybe on Thursday.”

“How about the Fantastic Four?”

“You’re in luck. I got a new batch in the back this morning. Hang on and let me take care of my counter customers and then I’ll get you the latest copy.”

Do kids today follow the monthly issues and stories like we did, waiting for them to arrive? Are there even monthly changes to the magazines any more? I must admit, I have lost touch with the genre.

I read quite a few in my day, and a wide variety it was:

Green Lantern
The Fantastic Four
Donald Duck
Mickey Mouse
Scrooge McDuck
Sergeant Rock
War Stories
Archie and Jughead

MAD magazine was something of a new trend when it arrived on the scene, with its political overtones and sophisticated humor-- definitely suited for the discriminating palate of the pre-pubescent, rebellious type. Saw a recent issue and it still has the same anti-establishment tone and pages jam-packed with humor and irreverent pokes.

I am sure the girls had their comics, but I must confess I cannot remember a one. They also had those movie and romance magazines to keep them occupied, and the fashion and beauty ones too. Real he-men didn’t read that stuff in my neighborhood, unless you wanted a kid named Rocky to stuff you down a sewer.

I did not save a one of my boyhood comics. I probably traded them away for others; and when I got married and moved out, Mom most certainly tossed any remaining ones that could have been lingering in some forgotten pile in my room. What a shame. Those old vintage editions are worth some fine coin today. Over the last 15 years I have collected the old Dick and Jane school readers; and comic books have increased in value just like those old readers. Comic books are a nice business, maybe even a nice retirement avocation.

I enjoyed being whisked off from one adventure to the next with each monthly installment. Whenever we went on vacation or down the shore, it was reason enough to raid the old piggy bank and make a quick visit to the comic stands, loading up with the latest adventures to keep me fortified and up to date while away from home.

There must have been 50 or 60 different ones you could choose from every month. And that smell of a new comic book when you opened the colorful pages! It was probably un- healthy back then to inhale those petroleum-like smells from the inks, but that’s what gave it an almost forbidden ambiance, along with some scantily-clad maidens in distress, about to be rescued by some over-muscled super hero. Supergirl…….now there was a girl who knew how to dress! The places those comics took me I have not re-visited in many years. I wonder if they seem the way they did back then? Is Slim still behind the counter?

Looking back, there was an awful lot of violence and fighting in those books (conflict-as the politically correct writers refer to it today). But our generation didn’t seem to produce an overabundance of violent people, or drive-by shootings. I like to think the comics stimulated our imaginations, much like radio did. We seemed to know the difference between fantasy and reality. And if we had any doubts, our fathers could focus us with a good swift kick in the pants (amazing how therapeutic those swift kicks were!).

Comic books could be read in school if you were creative. You could always slide an issue inside a nice big history book in school if the lesson for that day was particularly boring. Nah……nobody ever did that…right?!

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