O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Continuing the account of our wander across the Pacific Northwest in search of old comics, out-of-print books, and geek culture in general. Part one is here, for those who came in late.
We’d chosen to spend a couple of days on the coast to kick off the first leg of our road trip mostly because we really enjoyed our stay there a couple of years ago, and since these trips are my anniversary gift to my bride, I’d tried to front-load it with stuff I knew she’d enjoy. We started by driving down the coast from Seattle to Seaside, one of our favorite places in Oregon.
After a couple of days there we’d be driving inland from Seaside to Portland for a night, and after that it was all new territory for us, out to the Santiam River valley and eastern Oregon.
In Seaside I’d made certain to book us into the same hotel. Astonishingly, the owners remembered us from the weekend we’d spent there a couple of years back and greeted us like old friends.
Once again I’m going to plug them because they are awesome. It’s the Hillcrest Inn, on Columbia, just across the street from the Seaside Aquarium. If you’re ever in Seaside there’s simply no better place to stay. It’s cheap, clean, non-corporate, roomy, and they take great care of you. (One of these summers I think Julie and I might rent one of their cottages for a week or so of lazing around, if we could find a couple of other congenial souls who’d be willing to split a beach house for a week with a pair of boring middle-aged teetotaller bookworms like us.)
So even though we spent a lot of time visiting places in Astoria we hadn’t been before, we also were sure to budget time to visit the two great places we’d found on our last trip — Buck’s Book Barn and Seaside Antiques and Collectibles.
I found a couple of interesting things in Buck’s. Since seeing Jonah Hex a few weeks back I’ve gotten on a bit of a Western kick again, especially the older hardcover stuff from the fifties and early sixties when cowboy heroes ruled pop culture. I turned up a nice copy of The Adventurers, by Ernest Haycox, and also The Comic Book Mystery, a juvenile by Janet Townsend I picked up simply for the title. As I mentioned last week, we spent a lot more time on this trip hunting for interesting children’s books than we normally would have, because our friend Lorinda had asked us to keep an eye out for things for her kids, and also our godson Phenix is turning into quite a reader.
Sadly, I discovered later that The Comic Book Mystery hardly had anything to do with comics and wasn’t all that much of a mystery, at least not for middle-aged me. So we put it in the pile for Rin, thinking one of her kids still might get a kick out of it. It wasn’t a bad book by any means, just not a terribly challenging mystery to solve, and the “comic book” connection was that labored old saw about smugglers hiding coded messages in a comic story, a plot twist that is completely unbelievable to anyone — like, say, me — who knows even a little bit about how comics are produced. Nevertheless, the illustrations by Richard Cuffari certainly lifted the entire effort a level or two, they were really quite breathtaking.
The Adventurers I was rather more pleased about. You don’t hear his name that often these days, but Ernest Haycox was one of the first and greatest Western pulp novelists, publishing hundreds of stories between the 1920s and his death in 1950. The original Stagecoach starring John Wayne, along with both Abilene Town and Man In The Saddle starring Randolph Scott, were all based on Haycox stories, along with literally dozens of other lesser-known film (and later, TV) westerns throughout the 40s and 50s.
Ernest Haycox was a local boy, from Portland, Oregon, so it wasn’t unreasonable to find some of his stuff in Seaside. But this was a really lovely hardcover that looked nearly new despite being half a century old. The Adventurers was Haycox’s last book, published posthumously in 1954. It wasn’t a first edition or anything, but it did date back to the fifties and my inner bookscout was pleased at the score.
I also purchased a more modern Western novel, Richard Crockett’s Trooper Smith, mostly because I thought the jacket copy sounded kind of cool and it was next to the Haycox in the hardcover Westerns.
It’s the story of an outlaw named Smith that’s pressed into service by a desperate cavalry commander to rescue a young woman and her father before the massing Apaches to the south move in on the commander’s fort… and in the course of trying to get the girl to safety, Smith discovers his own inner nobility that he and everyone else thought was gone. I’m a sucker for a redemption story and this sounded like fun so I picked it up on a whim. It wasn’t until we got home and I looked it up that I discovered that this book is a bit of a rarity from 1995; Crockett self-published it and it only had the one edition. Usually it goes for about thirty bucks and the Book Barn had it for six. So again the inner bookscout was pleased.
But, same as last time, Seaside Antiques next door was where the really cool stuff was.
Although the place is billed as an antique shop, and there are of course antiques, what I love about it are the stacks of books, pulps and comics that are there. I found a couple of cool things right off the bat…
Some of you may recognize “Franklin W. Dixon” as the author of the Hardy Boys books. That was a house name used by all the Stratemeyer Syndicate authors that worked on those books, but this was the first time I’d discovered that “Dixon” was ever applied to another series. This series actually predates the Hardys — Ted Scott had his mid-air adventures starting in 1927, twenty in all, until the series ended in 1943. Since I’m somewhat interested in Stratemeyer Syndicate juveniles and this was a series I had read about but never seen, I thought I’d check it out. Especially since this one, Rescued In The Clouds, was only the second entry in the series, published in 1927, and the lady had it priced at three dollars.
Likewise it felt almost like fate running across an issue of Gold Key’s Dagar the Invincible just a couple of days after finishing the mammoth column about barbarian heroes in 1970s comics. And though most of the comics in the store are bagged and boarded and neatly on display in about half-a-dozen longboxes, this one was dumped in the dollar kid’s pile next to them along with a bunch of copies of Brigade — you can put together an entire run of Brigade from thrift shops and antique places for pennies, if you were crazy enough to want to — and a couple of coverless copies of Casper the Friendly Ghost. I have no idea why Dagar was consigned to this ghetto, unless it was the Gold Key brand. Unlike the other older books in the pile, it looked brand-new. At any rate, I snatched it up so fast it left a smoke trail.
While I was discovering those, Julie had disappeared into the back of the store. My bride loves to shop but almost never for herself, it’s always for other people. She’s really more of a shopping enabler. Anyway, she had remembered that, on our previous visit in 2008, there had been a huge stack of Zane Grey’s Western Magazine digest-sized pulps buried back there…. and that I was on my vintage Western kick again this trip.
Julie called out to me that I should join her and I did. The little nook where she was standing was all about Westerns, actually. Amazingly, the Zane Grey digests were still there, and for the same price, $3.50 each. I picked up the three pictured above because they were in the best shape and thus less likely to crumble when I read them. From 1949, 1951, and 1952 respectively.
But those weren’t actually the big scores. Right next to the Zane Grey pile were several older western pulp magazines bagged in mylar. Now, I’d wistfully eyed several of the pulps there on display during our last visit, and even taken a photo…. simply because, for fans of my generation, the closest we ever get to these magazines is usually a paperback reprint, or maybe a facsimile edition from a specialty house. I’m not a capital-C Collector or anything, but over the years I’ve always had the itch to own a real pulp magazine from their heyday, just to hold in my hands and really get the sense of what it was like when they ruled the newsstands.
The closest I’ve ever been to the real thing, after years of reading reprints and devouring books on pulp history and even contributing to the literature on the subject myself once or twice, was on our last visit to this little antique shop in Seaside, Oregon. But I’d talked myself out of buying one then because the asking price for one of them, which was usually about fifty dollars, seemed like a foolish amount to spend just to scratch an itch. (Though let the record show that Julie was encouraging me to get one of the Weird Tales hanging on display. “You keep saying ‘what the hell, we’re on vacation,’ and I can see how much you want it.” Fellas, when a girl loves you enough to not only let you spend that kind of money on your hobby but actively cheers you on, marry her.)
Anyway, I’d talked myself out of it, but Julie hadn’t given up. The pile she found next to the digests were priced much more reasonably — and they were Westerns.
The pick of the lot seemed to be the Summer 1948 issue of Giant Western. It was the real thing, an honest-to-God pulp magazine and not a digest, and seemed to be in good enough shape that reading it wouldn’t destroy it. And, hell, it was just four and a half bucks, which is cheaper than the Superman Elseworlds comic that came out this week.
So I bought it. Finally, I own an actual pulp magazine from the 1940s. I haven’t read it yet but just looking at it was enough to delight me every time I did it for the rest of the trip. In fact, glancing at it here in the office as I am typing this still makes me smile. There’s something truly satisfying about crossing something like that off your maybe-someday list.
But that wasn’t even the best score from Seaside Antiques. Next to the pile of pulps in mylar was a small bookshelf, and on that bookshelf was….
The Bandit of Hell’s Bend by Edgar Rice Burroughs, from 1925. This was another one of those things that I’d read about but never seen for myself… Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first full-on Western, and in a remarkably well-preserved hardcover edition from the 1920s. The story is an awful lot of fun and was even a comic at one point… Al Napoletano adapted it for the Burroughs fanzine The Jasoomian in 1973.
The book was priced at $9 and I snapped it up. All in all, it was quite the haul that day; I think between the two stores we probably dropped fifty or sixty dollars. But Seaside’s always been good to us. If you ever get down that way, be sure to check out both Buck’s and Seaside Antiques, and let them know that comical book internet-writer guy sent you.
The following morning we hit the road for Portland, taking the old Columbia River Highway.
The old Route 30 goes through country that is largely forest with a few small towns scattered along the route. Most of the small towns seemed to be hurting.
We’d noticed it a little on the drive down 101 from Seattle, but it hadn’t really registered… we were too giddy at finally being on vacation and anyway, Aberdeen always looks like it’s falling apart. But as we drove out from Astoria we started to see that every other storefront seemed to have a big FOR LEASE banner hanging over an empty retail space, or worse, had just been abandoned. Continuing along Route 30 it got more and more pronounced. Town after town with nothing but a gas station, a tavern, maybe a grocery… and a lot of empty shopfronts and boarded-over windows. By the time we stopped in Clatskanie for lunch it was really getting depressing.
The last time we were there we’d found an antique mall that had a lot of interesting old books and things, particularly juveniles, but that place was closed up tight. We circled the downtown a couple of times after lunch, sort of half-looking for an interesting thrift shop or a bookstore or something like that, but mostly just shaking our heads at how many businesses had folded since our last time passing through in the summer of 2008.
We did turn up a flea market and there were a couple of mildly interesting finds there.
I found a James Bond book for me and Julie found a children’s history of Oregon for Phenix.
We were still kind of on the prowl for a copy of the Lewis and Clark children’s history book with the John Severin illustrations for him, and Julie thought this one was at least in the ballpark. It was illustrated by Kurt Wiese, who was a staggeringly prolific artist in his day. He did the first American edition of Bambi in 1929, as well as the Freddy the Pig children’s series by Walter E. Brooks. He also did some extraordinarily dark and moody pictures for The Wreck of the Dumaru, by Lowell Thomas. My grandfather was one of the Dumaru survivors, as it happens, and so I’d always felt a sort of slight family connection to Mr. Wiese… the signed first edition of his Dumaru book is a family heirloom, or it once was, anyway. (I’m not sure what happened to it… Mom had it, and when she passed away I assume my brother got it.)
Anyway, apart from all that, I reasoned that if I couldn’t find a Severin-illustrated Lewis and Clark book for our godson, a Wiese-illustrated Oregon history book was a fair runner-up.
But the real find was, once again, Julie’s. I’d stepped out to find an ATM — the depressed lady that ran this cramped little place had told me in a bored voice that it was cash only, no exceptions — and so while I ran across the street to find a bank, Julie continued to pore over the kids’ book section trying to find something either for Phenix or for Lorinda’s third-grade readers.
She found three of Ian Thorne’s Crestwood Monster Series.
They were ex-library and beat to hell, but nevertheless intact and perfectly readable. She’d found Godzilla, and continuing to search had come up with The Blob and Dracula.
“What do you think of these?” Julie asked me.
“Are you kidding? Those are gold,” I told her. “When I was a kid those things were probably the biggest-circulating copies of anything in the school library. There was a whole series of them.” The Crestwood Monster Series were regarded with great fondness by horror fans of my generation — for many of us in elementary school, these books were our introduction to the classic films we were sent to bed too early to see on the Saturday night late show. A man named Ian Thorne wrote them, and though they were kid’s picture books he tried to include all sorts of history and things like that. The Dracula book, for example, talks about Vlad Tepes as well as Stoker’s novel, and even summarizes a few of the different attempts at filming the story. And all lavishly illustrated with photos, usually borrowed from the collection of Forry Ackerman.
Julie was pleased at finding something I was so clearly delighted with. (Shopping enabler, remember.) We dug through the musty stacks of battered children’s hardcovers one last time and turned up one more, Mad Scientists.
“Phenix needs these,” I told my bride. “After all, as his godparents we are responsible for his education.” We piled the Crestwoods on with the other two books we found and picked our way through piles of junk to pay the depressed lady proprietor … there was no register, she handled it all out of her jeans pocket. In fact, the place was so cluttered and cramped that we ended up having to complete the transaction out on the porch.
With that, we took our leave of Clatskanie, feeling pleased with our finds and even a little virtuous at having done something stimulating for the local economy. Of course, it was only ten dollars at the flea market and another twenty or so for lunch, but from the looks of the place, that was probably more than that downtown retail district had seen in a while.
And once again I seem to be running out of room. So we’ll pick this up next week, with the story of what we found in Portland as well as an amazing cartoonist we stumbled across in Silverton…. and the riches no one knew he had. See you then.
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