Stores No More, the Great Playboy Escapade, and CGC
June 29, 2001
I intend to cover a variety of topics this week, including the $661 CGC 9.8 rated Spectacular Spider-Man 1 that recently sold on e-bay (America’s online garage sale; now spanning 2 decades). There is much to discuss, but all in its due time.
My City Was Gone--Sort of
I visited family last weekend. This entailed a drive across the abysmal Pennsylvania Turnpike (ongoing construction now in its 25th year) from Philadelphia to the greater-Pittsburgh area. My family lives in a small town (Rillton, to be precise) approximately 30 minutes from what locals refer to as downtown Pittsburgh. It's a tiny village, but I spent most of my first 21 years there, aside from living on campus for 1 year at University of Pittsburgh. While visiting, I drove around the surrounding boroughs, recalling the many stores where I had purchased my first comics in my youth, my first trading cards or non-sports cards as it were. And this is what I’ve noticed: The stores are gone. Not going, going, going. But gone. All gone. It is, I’m sure, a scene all-too-familiar to anyone over the age of 25 who remembers the days of drug stores and corner shops were comic book spin racks were plentiful. The smaller stores have vanished, replaced by the Wal-Marts and K-Marts and the name-that-marts that have stolen America's personality and replaced it with corporate mega-clone infrstructure. But I’m going too far off my original point, as usual.
At one time, various small businesses shops sold comics, and some of my fondest memories are of these stores. Kavel’s Pharmacy was a mom-and-pop store that was one town over from the tiny town of Rillton. Kavel’s had a certain smell, it was a smell that, in recollection, is difficult to describe. An almost musty smell, a smell of age—not unlike the scent of old paper from pulp magazines and comics from the Gold and Silver ages. Kavel’s carried the complete line of Marvel and DC titles at a time when the newsstand and pharmacy were the staple selling points of the industry. Many were the days that I would walk from school (which was only a few blocks away from the store) to pick up my favorite titles before hurrying back to school ground for the bus trip home. Whenever someone in the family needed a prescription, we took the drive to Kavel’s and while my parents waited for the pharmacist to dispense the medicine, I was free to roam the store, look at comics, purchase candy and trading cards (Wacky Packages, and the Marvel Super-Hero stickers, natch!) and basically be a kid. Kavel’s is no longer there; it’s been replaced by a nail salon with very tacky neon lettering on its windows. Any lingering scents of the pharmacy have been replaced by chemicals and nail colors. But every once in a while, on rainy days in Autumn, a wind will blow through the city and I can almost recapture that scent. Almost.
Many other stores carried comics, so it was never difficult finding them when I was a kid. There were no comic shops in the area; I had no idea such shops even existed. The Five-and-Dime store where my mom worked part-time evenings, and the A&P market where we occasionally shopped for groceries, were probably the two places where most of my comic book purchases (from age 13 to 16 at least) were made. At that time the comic book spin racks would be overflowing with sometimes two or three consecutive issues of a title. It was from these racks that I became hooked on Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Captain America, X-Men, Spider-Man, Avengers, Marvel Team-Up (as well as 2-in-1), Machine Man, Devil Dinosaur, and others. Yea, I was a Marvel zombie in case you hadn't noticed. From these racks I discovered Micronauts, Shogun Warriors (which probably should have remained undiscovered), and various other titles from the Five-and-Dime store just as the store worker was cutting away the binding that surrounded the stack of books. The A&P is no more; it’s still a grocery store, but it goes by the name Shop-N-Save, and they now carry but a handful of comics, if any. The Five-and-Dime became Murphy’s Mart which became Ames. It’s still a department store, but the comics have been phased out and my mom has, to her relief, long since retired from her job.
Rita Jenrette and The Great Playboy Cereal Escapade
I’ll mention one last store because, again, it holds some specific memories that are, at least to me, of interest. Another grocery store that my folks frequented was Foodland (ah, the land of food). Across the street from Foodland was a newsstand (Irwin News and Tobacco, I believe) that carried comics. It was at this store that I first discovered comics. This was the place; it would have been 1973 with me age 9. This is several years before I would start to seriously collect comics. In 1973, I just dug the scary covers on books like Frankenstein, Ghost Rider, and Tomb of Dracula. Check out some of those Dracula covers; they’re still creepy as Hell! Jump ahead to 1977. Star Wars is released. It becomes a blockbuster movie, playing in theatres for an entire year or longer, and it becomes a comic book which, as a rabid Star Wars fan at the time, catches my eye. Star Wars 12 becomes the first comic book that I “collect.” At that time, Marvel ran these really cool house ads that would basically plug five of their books—Hulk, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Master of Kung-Fu, and one other—possibly Captain America (though I cannot remember now and am not about to tear through old comics just for the sake of closure and accuracy). The point being: The ad hooked me. I ventured out and tried these other books, and I tried Spider-man rather quickly thereafter. So I was pretty much hooked within 1 to 2 weeks after purchasing that damned Star Wars comic. So blame it all on George Lucas, Roy Thomas, and the rest who were responsible for its creation. I’m going somewhere with this, really I am, so bear with me.
In 1979 I was 15, was still very much into comics, and still had no life at all—thus I pretty much accompanied my folks on their weekly trips to the grocer, which wasn’t so bad since Irwin News and Tobacco was directly across the street from the grocery. I was also at a stage where I was very much noticing the opposite sex. To that end, I had also noticed Playboy magazine, but hadn’t really seen it too often. One of the news shows at the time, did a report of a congressman’s wife, Rita Jenrette, who was posing for Playboy. The news show displayed revealing pictures of lovely Rita on the tv screen (although they were properly edited for the viewing audience). But at that moment a plan was devised in my hormone-raging brain. At that instant, I decided that I must have that magazine--that particular issue. I devised a simple, 15-step plan. This is how it would work, and youngsters in a similar situation are welcome to use these proven steps to incorporate Playboy into your very own room (be sure to remind me to tell you how I once conned my driver’s education instructor in high school to let me drive the car wayyyyy out to a news and cigar shop so that I could purchase an issue of Marvel’s Bizarre Adventures). And remember, Playboy isn’t pornography, it’s “Entertainment for Men”:
1. I take the trip with dad to the store (mom dogged out on the trip, which simplified things for me).
2. While dad shops for all things edible, I make my typical sovereign to the nearby news shop.
3. While perusing the new comics, I causally drift toward the magazine section and, seeing lovely Rita on the cover of the new Playboy, oh-so-nonchalantly walk toward the counter to pay for my acquisition.
4. When asked by the elderly woman, whose face resembled that of a discerning tea drinker who’d just had experimental cow-ka-ka-flavored Tit Koon Yum, whether I am age 18, I look her dead in the eye and lie “Yes.”
To those thinking, “Hey, that wasn’t so difficult. What’s he making the big deal about?” rest assured there is more to the story. The magazine has been purchased, it is in my possession, it is in a paper bag, it is decidedly larger than a comic book. I’m still a long way from my room and lovely Rita’s naked flesh.
5. I walk into the supermarket and descend into the cereal aisle.
6. In the cereal aisle I discreetly hide the magazine (still in its bag, of course) in between boxes of Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries and Boo Berry.
7. Hoping that there is not a run of General Mills products in the next 10 minutes I wander throughout the store and locate dad. I explain that I need to borrow the car keys because I left a pack of gum in the car. This is cheaper than him buying new gum, so the keys are handed over.
8. Taking the car keys I return to the cereal aisle and retrieve the bagged magazine that would have made one heckuva prize for some lucky youngster.
9. I walk to the parking lot and place the magazine under the passenger seat of my dad’s Ford LTD II.
10. I return the store store just as dad is checking out. So we load up the car and we move to Beverly—well, we drive home.
It’s nearly a done deal. The magazine is safely tucked under the car seat. It is night, which will certainly work to my advantage, and there are numerous bags of groceries to be carried into the house.
11. We begin unloading the car. Mom helps.
12. Walking at double speed, nearly running at times, I manage to offset our follow-the-leader synchronicity, creating a few fleeting moments during which I have a chance, however marginal, to slip the magazine from underneath the car seat into one of the shopping bags being transported from car trunk to kitchen table.
13. I enter the house, and realize that, to my unsurpassed luck, I’ve placed the magazine in the grocery bag containing non-grocery items—shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste. Advantage, Hormone-boy! I place the bag on the stairwell since those items will all eventually be carried to the second floor of the house.
14. As the final bags are brought into the house, I snap to action and carry the grocery bag upstairs, quickly depositing lovely Rita underneath my bed.
15. My mission accomplished, I return downstairs and continue to help with the unloading of goods. Rita isn’t going anywhere.
But I was initially reflecting about comic books, wasn’t I, and shops that are no longer there. Well, that particular store is still there, actually, and it did serve to introduce me to the short-lived Rampaging Hulk (in which my first letter to Marvel was published), as well as X-Men and Moon Knight (which introduced me to the work of Bill Sienkiewicz), and it was at that store that I purchased Daredevil 181 so cut me some slack! After all, I pulled off the greatest coup since Rob Liefeld convinced Marvel that he could write and draw.
It saddens me that the mom and pop stores are gone, that the whole game has changed. Comic books are seldom printed on newsprint any longer. Comic book shops are strange little places. They aren’t like usual stores. A lot of them try to come across as hip and cool, but many are just silly and sometimes intimidating. The stereotype of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons is often no exaggeration. It is as if comic book store owners and their staff watch the film High Fidelity and learn their customer service and manners from Championship Vinyl’s own Barry. And while industry people and store owners alike complain that “the market is shrinking,” “the fan base is diminishing,” and “there is too much new product being produced,” some of these very same individuals are supporting, encouraging, and preaching the new EVIL in the comic book industry. I’m talking, of course, about CGC, the so-called “Comics Guaranty Company, LLC.” I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but I’ve written a short story that I think describes my feelings about this latest market trend. I hope you enjoy it:
The Five Horsemen
a short story by david yurkovich
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse sat around sipping tea, waiting for the go-ahead order. “When,” they wondered, “when can we destroy the world?” Seconds later, a sign was sent forth to them from an evil most fowl; it said: “The rules have changed, you cannot destroy the world until the Fifth Horseman arrives.” Fifth Horseman? There must be a mistake, they thought, and sipped their tea. In the distance, a figure approached on horseback. He met the four and said, “Hi, I’m CGC, also known as the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Let’s rock.”
That wasn't too melodramatic, was it? Good. I hate melodrama.
CGC, or Capitalistic Greed Company, has been “professionally” rating comics for a while now. I think we’ve gone beyond goofy, however, with some of the latest acquisitions that auction fanatics have purchased, and sellers have listed, on e-bay. Last week, a copy of The Spectacular Spider-Man was purchased for a whopping $661.03. This week, a copy of Micronauts Annual 2 has a “buy it now” price of $69.95. Excuse me for one second.
Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Damn, that felt good. Okay, I’m speechless. I do not know what to make of the CGC craze. Were I shrewd, were I ruthless, I would be paying the $15 to $110 per book fee to have my personal collection put through the CGC mill of scrutiny (source: http://www.cgccomics.com/news/articles/grading_fee.htm). But I’m not shrewd, not like that at least. I’ve talked with several industry colleagues who, like I, see the dangerous parallels to this and the speculator craze of the last decade. The Overstreet book value of a NM/M copy of Spectacular Spider-Man 1 is a fraction—a FRACTION—of the amount purchased by fanatic on e-bay. Any long-term value is questionable at best. I planned on spending a lot more time on this topic, but, as a comics fan, I find it all sad and pathetic. CGC is growing fat off of foolish people who genuinely believe a Micronauts Annual 2 is anything more than a dollar-bin book. Anyway, I can’t write any more just now, I’ve got to keep my eyes peeled for that 9.8 CGC copy of Man From Atlantis 1; I hear it’s outselling Incredible Hulk 181 these days!
NEXT: Shock vs. shock (really!), and remembering Bill Mantlo
Comments are always welcome. Write to: David
to voice your opinion.