Let me back up here a few of months to keep what follows in context.
One Sunday in early-September, immediately after summer vacation was over, (spent at Maxfield Lake, about an hour outside of Detroit) in 1967, I high-tailed it on my bike ten miles to my favorite Detroit downtown used-comics haunt, Ron's Books. On that late summer day the brakes hit hard as my bike skidded to a halt in front of a small, old man/old paper smelly place of great stature. Trash and treasure. In the window was there was a card which advertised The Detroit Triple FanFair for the Labor Day weekend.
A comic book convention! In Detroit?!
And I’d missed it!
Broke my heart when I read the dates- it had been thrown only two days before! “Why didn’t we get our butts back to Detroit sooner?!" My “Noooooooooooo!!!!!” echoed down Woodward Avenue, in my best William Shatner.
I swore an oath that I'd not miss another next one, and a year later I attended the very first of my very many conventions. I remember it as clearly as I can losing my virginity. It was held at the Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel in downtown Detroit, and my mother/driver had a great deal of trouble finding it. I nervously forked-over the two bucks, got a program, and proceeded to the dealer’s room/ballroom.
Entering the space my collector cherry was popped.
Over two hundred collectors looking at 5,000 comics at least. More comics and fans than I’d ever seen in one place. And, as a geek, I knew that I was safe among other geeks at last.
“They speak my language!”
Comics I wanted, comics I could own, and some high-ticket items I’d never attend. Still, I had twenty-five-dollars-paper-route-money in my pocket and it was burning a hole.
First buy was FANTASTIC FOUR #14, to fill a gap. As I toted it around the convention floor numerous fan-boys drooled at the sight of the Jack-Kirby-of-it and offered to buy it. The more they wanted, the less I wanted to sell. Apparently there had been a glitch distributing that particular issue in the Detroit area and all the boys wanted it.
FANTASTIC FOUR #14 still under my arm, I sidled up to Tom Aulshuler’s Able-Man Bookstore table and examined many issues I wanted, but couldn’t afford under a clear plastic sheet. However, after a few purchases from a guy named Jerry Bails, and in particular FANTASTIC FOUR #14, did I mention that I own FANTASTIC FOUR #14? And it’s not for sale?, I had twenty bucks left in my pocket, Tom’s issue of ALL-WINNERS #1, centerfold out, called like a train-whistle in the night.
“Centerfold out. Be a bum, and ride the rails!”
Did I mention I picked up a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR #14?
I bought ALL WINNERS #1 on the spot, and was very disappointed to confirm the Simon and Kirby CAPTAIN AMERICA story had been truncated by a missing centerfold, but I knew what I was getting into. Years later, I finally saw those two pages, to my great relief/satisfaction.
Like taking a good shit.
At that show, I met Richard Buckler (every one of us Detroit artists were inferior, and knew it,) top-of-the-totem Comic artist wannabes, and through him a number of other local comics personalities including Mike Vosberg, Alan Milgrom, Sam Viviano (MAD art director these days), guests Al Williamson (I peed with him in the men’s’ room! Put THAT in your resume!), Jim Steranko, and a while later, Jim Starlin. He was missing from the scene because he was vacationing himself in sunny Vietnam at the time.
Okay, back up. In 1968 I published my first fanzine, THE ARDVARK ANNUAL, featuring a brief interview with Stan Lee (done over the phone, but I was never sure whether I was being scammed by Al Hewtson or not), but I taped it.
At fourteen-years-of-age I was all-over this fanzine thing. Well aware of it. Foot in. Figured out what I wanted to do: Publish my own. Based on taste, went out and bought a couple of reams of paper, printed it on an old, clunky mimeo unit, and stapled it together myself, then personally distributed it if I could get my mom to drive me all over town.
It was a twelve page issue with a massive press-run of twenty-five copies. Some of these were sold at the Able-Man Bookstore. Tom asked me why I’d named it the AADRVARD ANNUAL, and I really wasn’t sure.
“Was it because you’d be listed first in the phonebook?”
Then it was clear: The name of the store was the Able-Man Bookstore so he’d be listed first in the phonebook.
And this was my first concussion with marketing.
Good thing AAA Books didn’t open in our area.
Through Able-Man, I met Arvell, and Desmond Jones, owners and ringleaders of a Detroit comics fan club called The Fantasy Fans and Comic Collector's Group, or the F.F.C.G. Though I hadn't seen them, these guys had produced ten or eleven issues of THE FAN INFORMER not too far from me. I was impressed, and threw in with them immediately.
I had several phone conversations with Arvell and we got to be buddies instantly, like all Marvel fans.
Eventually, he kind of paused in a conversation, and in a very sincere and confidential tone, admitted “You should know… I’m Black.”
What to make of this?
“Well, yes, I knew that from the first time I talked to you.”
And strangely, his relief became my realized relief as well.
No so much between us personally, but the whole racial thing swirled below our feet as long as I knew him. I think he felt obligated and pressured to take an anti-White stand but just didn’t have it in him.
I met his very militant girlfriend once in the Saturday day back room, and she acted like she didn't like me but that wore off pretty quickly.
After too many two-hour trips to the East Side of Detroit to work on FAN INFORMER, I quizzed Arvell about why he had never visited me. After all, his mom had served me my first grits and molasses, washed my stinky clothes, and had told me to go to bed. By that point we were kind of family. Why hadn’t he visited my family, eight months later?
“They don’t like my kind where you live,” he finally admitted.
“And I risk life and limb to visit you every weekend? Get your ass over here.”
I remember some angry Black boy giving me stuff as I was waiting for the very sporadic late-afternoon bus to take me back home, two or so hour’s later home. A week later the same angry Black boy entered the back-porch F.F.C.G. studio and was slightly humiliated when I called him out on his stuff. Not a wanna-be thug, really, just angry at any 1968 White boy. Especially the 4’8 one, on the wrong side of town.
1968 started to smooth out for me. The steady stream of great underground rock at night, and mainstream A.M. all around it. On the stands, Marvel Comics ruled and was our God. The indoctrinated knew. Like heroin. Next fix please, please. More comics.
I’d sort them each Thursday. Weakest to best on top in a stack of six charges of fantasy.
A cut way above the stinking grind of the majority. So it was for many boys. Marvel comics took them to a place that anesthetized their pain and filled them with power, poetry, and wonder. We worshipped at the alter of the squeaky comic stand. “Hey Kids Comics” was our battle call and the hunt was on every Thursday night, or whichever night was the new comics night in your town.
It was my passion and fetish, more was not enough and the hunt for back issues went to amazing absurdity.