Thursday, August 09, 2007

Number 173

Reprints Make Pappy Happy

In 1970 Mrs. Pappy and I made a trip to Vermont, and stayed with our friends, Tom, Mary and daughter Deana. Tom was a comic book buddy of mine from the old early '60s fanzine days.

Tom was older than us by several years, so he had been around during the original Golden Age, that era from 1939 to the mid-1950s. Tom had amassed an awesome collection, including three of what you could call the Big Four of the comic books: Detective Comics #27, Batman #1, and Superman #1. He was missing only Action Comics #1 to make it the Quadruple Crown of comic book collecting. I was so impressed that I had my wife take a picture of me with the three key books he owned.
Click on pictures for full-size images.
During conversations on those warm August nights Tom and I had some beery observations about the state of the comics. I thought they were going to disappear. The distribution chain for comic books was shrinking, the price had jumped to a shocking 15¢, and the initial joy of the 1960s Marvel Comics boom had faded. I lamented, "Why doesn't someone reprint the old comic books?" We were all familiar in those days with The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer, which contained some of the first actual reprints of complete, color Golden Age comic book stories. There had been the Superman and Batman annuals of the early 1960s. We'd also seen the very poor Captain America reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces in the late '60s. Tom, who worked for a book publisher, said during the Batman craze circa 1966 he'd tried to get his employer to contract with DC Comics for the rights to reprint Batman #1-10. Nix, nix, they said. No market for that old junk.

Flash forward just four years, to 1974. Carmine Infantino, longtime comic artist, was the publisher of DC Comics. Obviously Carmine had wired Tom's house and miked our 1970 conversation, because the Golden Age reprints began to pour out of DC, both in thick 100-page square back annuals and also with the oversized Famous First Edition reprints. Here's a picture of Pappy's reprint versions of Tom's jewels-in-the-crown.

Infantino had some problems at DC; he had the "curse" put on the company by Superman creator, Jerry Siegel, and when DC finally couldn't take the heat from the public scolding they caved in and gave out pensions. As Siegel and Shuster got some recompense for their creation, so was Carmine Infantino shown the door. I'm glad Jerry and Joe got what was coming to them in the last years of their lives, but I immediately missed Carmine, because the reprints came to a halt. It wasn't until DC started issuing their Archive editions that large scale reprinting of the DC line was begun again.

Nowadays both Marvel and DC have their phonebook reprints, Marvel with their Essential and DC with their Showcase lines for Silver and Bronze Age reprints. I've even picked up a couple of those. The biggest commitment I made to reprints was when I resolved to have all of the EC Comics reprints done by Russ Cochran in slipcased, hardbound editions. I have them all now, and I'm very proud to own them.

I can't keep up with all of the available reprints now, and in a strange way that's good. It means the material that has been unavailable for so long is finding its way back into print. It's also why I do Pappy's Golden Age, so you can see online for free the more obscure and even oddball things published in the Golden Age. It wasn't all Superman and Batman, Captain Marvel and EC Comics.

My friend Tom, in those long ago and faraway days in Vermont, showed me a world I'd only dreamed existed, the collectors' nirvana! Box after box, full of comic books from the richest, most interesting era of comic book history. With the reprints I have gotten just a taste of what I saw at my friend Tom's house.


Chuck Wells said...

That's a good story, Pap. And thanks for the photo.

Pappy said...

No, thank you. Nowadays I wear glasses (reading too many comics), the beard is white and the hair is gray, but the maniacal look in my eyes is still there.