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CSBG Archive

Ten Days on the Road, part one

When Julie and I decided we were going to stop going to the San Diego Comic-Con, what we ended up doing instead was taking back-roads vacations here in the Northwest… and somehow we always seem to stumble across lots of comics and other geeky stuff anyway.

This year was no different.

What was different was that for the first time in a long time we could actually afford to take a real vacation and not just a long weekend. So we decided to take a couple of weeks and go on an extensive wander throughout Washington and Oregon.

Beats hell out of I-5. Julie took this because she said I looked very 'writerly.' The hell of it is, I probably WAS thinking about a column. The first leg of the trip involved taking a ferry across Puget Sound from Seattle to the Peninsula, and then down the coast through Aberdeen to Seaside. Here’s a map for those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about.

The idea was always to avoid the interstate. So we went west, straight across to the water, turning south at Westport. Beautiful drive, and recommended.

The idea was always to avoid the interstate. So we went west, straight across to the water, turning south at Westport. Beautiful drive, and recommended.

Our primary purpose, was, of course, to goof off, but our secondary mission was to look in on any and every bookstore and thrift shop that caught our attention along the way. One of the pleasures of this kind of trip is staying flexible enough to stop wherever you feel like it, and one of the pleasures of being an adult is that there’s no one to tell you No, you can’t have it if you decide you want a book. When I was a kid traveling with my folks on vacation, there were all kinds of cool comics racks and book stands scattered throughout the little mountain towns along our route, but I was limited by…. well, by being a ten-year-old kid, basically, my vote never counted. If I wanted to stop at a cool-looking place or stay a little longer at the store to look though a spinner rack, that was too damn bad.

So call this the I’M Driving Now And We’ll Stop Wherever We Damned Well Please tour. The trouble is, today most of those spinner racks are long gone. But we found a few things.

For example, on Route 8, approaching Aberdeen, we saw a sign on the side of the highway — it was just spray-painted stencil on plywood, but it clearly bore further investigation.

Aberdeen’s known primarily for being Kurt Cobain’s hometown. It’s an admittedly bleak little place, and we don’t usually stop there, but this was too good to pass up. Since the downtown is only about twelve square blocks, it didn’t take long for us to find the Star Wars store.

Hard to miss THIS place.

It

We weren’t sure exactly what to expect — I think I had a vague notion of some sort of gamer/comics place with a strong Star Wars bias — but this was something extraordinary.

Inside it's a little overwhelming.

Inside it's a little overwhelming.

It just keeps going, shelf after shelf of vintage Star Wars toys and collectibles, from every era. All of it lovingly restored and displayed. Some is ‘mint in the box’ but most of it’s been rebuilt by hand.

The Wall of Fame had photos of Mr. Sucher with every human who'd ever had anything to do with Star Wars, it seemed like.

The Wall of Fame had photos of Mr. Sucher with every human who'd ever had anything to do with Star Wars, it seemed like.

Mr. Sucher himself appeared out of the depths of the shop to say hello. He asked us if we needed anything in particular and I admitted my primary interest was comics. He lit up and directed me towards his magazine rack, where he had a bunch of 80s-era Marvel books — plenty of Star Wars titles, naturally, but quite a few other things too.

This can freak you out if you're not ready for it.

This can freak you out if you're not ready for it.

It was a bit startling to round the corner and be faced with a life-size cutout of Sarah Palin.

“She’s a little out of your wheelhouse, isn’t she?” I asked Mr. Sucher.

He beamed. “Usually I dress her up,” he explained. “One week, she’s Darth Vader, and then the next week she’s Princess Leia. So as not to play favorites,” he added helpfully. “But today someone’s rented the Leia costume, so she’s just on her own.”

I found myself wishing she had been dressed up… I kept catching the figure out of the corner of my eye and thinking a real person was standing there.

None of the comics were worth picking up, though Mr. Sucher was lobbying hard for me to get the Marvel Special Edition Star Wars tabloid. “It’s the one that has the whole story,” he said. “They did one earlier split across two issues but this has the whole thing in one.” It was priced at fifty dollars, which is just plain silly, and even at half-price (everything was half-off that day, apparently) twenty-five dollars still seemed absurd for a reprint of a reprint.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sucher had been so pleasant, and so gracious about letting me take pictures of his store for this column, that I felt like we should spend some money. Nothing really jumped out at Julie or me as being something we wanted, though.

Fortunately, though, we have a six-year-old godson. Phenix loves Star Wars. So we found him a vintage lightsaber.

Our friend Lorinda is also a huge Star Wars geek — Rin is a member of the 501st, I believe, and has worked Star Wars Celebration a number of times — so we decided she needed a Spudtrooper.

Mr. Sucher kept trying to sell us a nicer lightsaber. We kept explaining to him that it was for a six-year-old, the important part wasn't its provenance but its durability. Finally we settled on this one. And Rin's Spudtrooper.Mr. Sucher kept trying to sell us a nicer lightsaber. We kept explaining to him that it was for a six-year-old, the important part wasn't its provenance but its durability. Finally we settled on this one. And Rin's Spudtrooper.With that, we said our goodbyes — we would have departed Aberdeen itself but Julie had spotted a Salvation Army thrift shop just down the street, and we decided it was worth a quick look.

There were a couple of interesting finds to be had in the book section. I was looking over the juveniles more intently than I normally would, partly for Phenix since he is becoming quite an avid reader, and also Rin had asked me to keep an eye out for something that the two third-graders in her life, Finn and Kerowyn, might like. Additionally, she’d asked me to look for anything by Patricia Wrede.

So when I saw Ms. Wrede’s adaptation of The Phantom Menace, I figured I might as well snag it. After all, I reasoned, Rin probably already had it but she might not have one as pristine as this one was. It was was a lovely, nearly-new looking copy complete with a slipcase.

Complete with slipcase! With a title like that? Come on, how could I not?

Next to it was Geek Magnet, by Kieran Scott. Never heard of it, knew nothing about the author, but with a title like that, how could I not? I’m willing to risk a buck on a nice hardcover, especially if it looks like a fun book. Chances are it’ll get passed on to Katrina or Rachel after I’m done with it, it appears to be something about a high school drama department and that’s totally their thing. (I’ve often remarked that there is some sort of genetic link for teenage girls between cartooning in middle school and drama in high school — at least, a great many of our alumni end up doing plays in high school.) Anyway, we’ll see.

At the register I remarked that the copy of The Phantom Menace was something of a find and I was a little surprised no one had snatched it up to sell to the Star Wars store up the street.

“People do that with the toys,” the clerk told me. “There’s a couple of fellows that come in here searching through the toys two or three times a week. Sometimes they take the broken ones and rebuild them.”

Aberdeen is notorious for its high unemployment and general poverty, so it pleased me to hear that our demographic is actually creating work for people, in a very small way. I suppose that it might very well have been Mr. Sucher and his son themselves the clerk was referring to, but I’d like to think that he is the buyer that is funding an improvised Santa’s workshop of refurbished Star Wars toys. Aberdeen’s the kind of town that could use something nice like that. Every little bit helps.

*

We continued on down the coast highway to Seaside, where we were spending our first couple of days. I am not going to go over every inch of our trip, since this is mostly about our bookscouting and comics-related adventures… but I’m going to take a brief moment to talk a little about the Lewis and Clark interlude, because it was so cool, and it both began and ended as something comics-related.

Some of you may recall that the whole reason I’m a little bit geeky about Lewis and Clark is because of John Severin.

This book is AWESOME.It still amazes me that I was a huge Severin fan and never made the connection to one of my favorite childhood books.

The Adventures of Lewis and Clark was one of the first — possibly the first — books I ever owned, back when I was seven years old. That was one of the books I learned to read on, and the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery made a huge impression on me, in large part due to John Severin’s breathtaking illustrations. He made it all look real and believable in a way that a great many kid’s books didn’t then (and still don’t today.)

Fort Clatsop, the camp at the mouth of the Columbia River where the expedition wintered in 1805 before turning back home, is very close to where we were staying in Seaside. I’d pestered my parents into taking me there once, when I was eight years old, but I didn’t really remember anything about it and I wanted to be sure and go back this trip.

Something I hadn’t really been aware of — I mean, I sort of knew it but I hadn’t really grasped the scale of the matter — is that the Lewis and Clark expedition were all over this part of the country and a great many of those sites are designated historical parkland now, scattered all through the Seaside and Astoria area. It wasn’t until we were looking at the map at the Dismal Nitch rest stop that it really hit home.

We didn't hit all of these places -- I'm not THAT big a Lewis and Clark nerd -- but we did make quite a few.Clark’s spelling was occasionally eccentric, and in the case of Dismal Nitch, it stuck. It wasn’t particularly dismal the day we were there, but I shudder to think what it must have been like for men dressed in simple homespun and buckskins, camped on those wet rocks for almost a week in the midst of a November storm.

Good times.Not so dismal a niche today, perhaps, but imagine it without the leveled-off park and in the pounding rain, and your only shelter is whatever you can hollow out of those rocks to brace your crappy dugout canoe. Oh, and good luck building a fire when everything's getting soaked in spray. No wonder the 'Dismal' name stuck.Even today, winter on the Oregon coast is no picnic. Icy rain, howling wind… and they were stuck on the side of that bluff for six days straight with not much shelter and less food, waiting until the weather calmed enough to chance taking their canoes across to the other side. It’s a miracle no one died there huddled in the rocks. I took a couple of pictures but you really have to see it for yourself to get the true sense of it. The ranger at the Lewis and Clark museum told us that the Corps of Discovery were essentially the Navy SEALS or Special Forces of their day, and when you see what they went through you can believe it. Those guys were hardcore.

The visitor center at Fort Clatsop was a lot of fun, and really something to see. Lots of cool multimedia displays, models and exhibits, and even a small theater where they show a couple of different documentary films every hour.

The museum display showing the Corps route through Oregon.There’s a painstakingly researched re-creation of the fort itself, since of course the original is long gone, and the adjoining museum is staffed with lots of helpful park rangers and guides in period dress.

On the left is the rebuilt Fort Clatsop. On the right is a model of the salt works on the beach in Seaside where the expedition made their own jerky and so on using sea salt.On the left is the rebuilt Fort Clatsop. On the right is a model of the salt works on the beach in Seaside where the expedition made their own jerky and so on using sea salt.There’s a big wooded area all around the museum and the Fort Clatsop reconstruction, where the guides give talks and demonstrations about the historic expedition. (Sadly, we just missed the morning demonstration by the guy who showed how to load and fire a musket, we arrived just as he was packing up his powder horn.)

Julie shows her inner explorer.

Julie shows her inner explorer.

And, of course, there was the gift shop. Lots of postcards and stuff, but also a fairly extensive library of books about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. I had a vague hope that perhaps my beloved children’s history book with those amazing Severin illustrations would be there, maybe in a new edition, and I could pick up a copy for Phenix — but no such luck. We resolved to keep an eye out for it for the rest of the trip, though.

There were, however, a number of books about Sacagawea, the young Shoshone bride of the expedition’s guide, Charbonneau.

Sacagawea was an extraordinary young woman, and it’s not really surprising that she continues to fascinate historians. I already told you the park ranger’s characterization of the Corps as being 1805’s version of the Special Forces, and how rough the expedition had it at Dismal Nitch. Now imagine coping with all that when you’re a twentysomething Native American girl with only a vague grasp of English and carrying a newborn baby on your back.

Sisterhood is powerful.

Sisterhood is powerful.

Anyway, there were quite a few books about her and two caught my eye. (Thinking of Phenix had reminded me that we were shopping for Finn and Kerowyn, too, and Rin had said Kerowyn liked stories of ‘warrior women.’ Sacagawea certainly should count as one — and she was REAL.)

Lots of these at the Visitor Center. Lots of these at the Visitor Center.Marion Tinling’s Sacagawea’s Son is actually the story of little Pompey Charbonneau, the baby that was born on the expedition, who grew up to have an amazingly adventurous life of his own. I also flipped though Peter Copeland’s The Story of Sacajawea but put it back when I saw it was a coloring book. It was beautifully illustrated, though, and seemed to be the closest in spirit to my old Severin book. We ended up getting the Tinling and a couple of postcards.

After Fort Clatsop, we went in to Astoria proper. For one thing, it was lunchtime, and for another, I’d been told by any number of folks after our last Seaside expedition that we should visit Astoria’s one comics shop, Amazing Stories.

This really is every bit as nice a place as we were told. It really is a very nice place.

Julie tries to signal Spidey. We love this display window.We wandered around in there for about forty-five minutes, mostly just looking through the used trade paperbacks and back issues and stuff. We were still kind of on patrol for things for the children, so Julie bird-dogged an issue of Jonny Quest for Phenix, and I picked up the trade collection of Untold Tales of Spider-Man for me…

Been wanting this for a while. One of these books is never wrong.

…and also, right in the middle of all the kid’s comics was a copy of Peter Copeland’s Sacagawea book. I decided Fate was trying to tell me something, so I picked it up again and gave it a closer look. Although technically it could be used as a coloring book, there was a real narrative, it was more like a storybook profusely illustrated with black-and-white line art. Almost a graphic novel, really, and clearly being sold as one. What the hell, I thought, and tossed it on the pile. If Kerowyn wants to color in it she can, but it’s a real book, I don’t feel like I’m insulting her intelligence.

The clerk gave me a quizzical look and I explained about our visit to Fort Clatsop and John Severin and how this was clearly the same kind of wonderfully illustrated historical adventure and…. at that point I think his eyes glazed over a bit, but he put on a game face and tried hard to look interested.

We felt so guilty about monopolizing him like that we ended up spending about three times as much money as we were going to — Julie picked up a ceramic Winnie-the-Pooh bank for our niece, as well — so it all worked out.

*

That went on rather longer than I thought it would, so I’ll stop here. Next week we wrap up the coast and head inland with a few pulps, rare monster books, vintage Westerns, schlocky-but-beloved SF paperbacks, and even some comics. See you then.

10 Comments

As always, I get wildly envious when you write about your adventures through my former neck of the woods. I’ve made the drive around the edge of the peninsula from Port Angeles down to Astoria, and it’s such gorgeous country. And it’s always cool to see what kind of weird stuff you guys pick up.

In addition to Cobain, Aberdeen also produced not one but three comics pros: John Workman, Bob Smith and Robin Synder, all of whom were high school buddies of Bill Wormstedt, who you met at the CBR dinner at ECCC.

And by an amazing coincidence, I’m currently reading Stephen Ambrose’s Meriwether Lewis biography “Undaunted Courage”

In addition to Cobain, Aberdeen also produced not one but three comics pros…

See, I think that trumps Cobain. But I’m a huge nerd.

Wow, I think that trumps Cobain as well. Must be something in the water in Aberdeen.
Like Greg B., I also get bit envious, and really nostalgic, when you talk about your road trips to the Pac. NW, especially Oregon. I have many fond memories of Seaside, and nearby Cannon Beach…

Is Fort Clatsop the Winter camp where they all voted on what to do next? I’m not much of a Lewis and Clark expert, but everything I’ve ever read about the expedition made a really big deal out of that moment, because Sacagawea and York were given an equal vote with everyone else.

And another thing, I totally sympathize with the plight of the young you on road trips with parents who don’t want to stop at cool-looking bookshops, etc. That was the story of my pre-driver’s license youth. One particularly frustrating episode that repeated itself pretty much every time we headed out to the coast on one of those west-bound highways out of Salem (route 22? can’t remember…) was this dumpy-looking roadside place about halfway there with this big sign in front that listed all of the used goodies found therein, with the magic words “and comics” at the end. I still have distinct memories of that tantalizing sign disappearing in the distance as our car rushed on.

Is Fort Clatsop the Winter camp where they all voted on what to do next? I’m not much of a Lewis and Clark expert, but everything I’ve ever read about the expedition made a really big deal out of that moment, because Sacagawea and York were given an equal vote with everyone else.

Close. It was Station Camp, where they were able to set up a slightly better base than at Dismal Nitch. The vote was on whether or not to cross the mouth of the Columbia — which is no joke if you’re talking about trying to do it in a homemade dugout canoe you’ve hacked out on your overland hike — stay, and build Fort Clatsop in the first place.

Greg, I really enjoyed reading about your adventures. I have always enjoyed that sort of exploring.

I echo your sentiments vis-a-vis traveling as a child. Even today, an unexplored comic shop still excites me like nothing else. It always made me sad to miss out on such adventures as kid.

Captain Librarian

July 31, 2010 at 11:32 am

Ha! I ordered Geek Magnet book for the Young Adult collection several months ago. It got decent reviews, though it may be more of a chic lit book.

Man, I love those good ol’ visitor centers! We do those pretty well in the Northwest. I just watched Ken Burns’ Lewis and Clark documentary and I’ve been wanting to head south and explore that area. At least for now, I can live it vicariously through you, Greg!

Oh, and thank you so much for stopping in that Star Wars shop; I used to have a girlfriend who lived in Hoquiam and every time I went to visit her I passed that by, extremely curious, but without the fully formed need to go check it out myself.

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