"Gotham's" Azrael Will Be 'Different Than Anything We've Seen in Comics,' Says EP
I’ll level with you — if I’d known then what I know now, we’d have skipped eastern Oregon entirely.
My intentions were good. Over the years, Julie has often expressed a desire to get back to the kind of rock hound activities she had done with her father years ago, digging for petrified wood and geodes and other stuff when she was a kid. And eastern Oregon’s supposed to be a good place for that sort of thing.
At least, according to the internet. The John Day Fossil Beds are there, the Painted Hills, there’s lots of geological wonders to be found in that part of the country. My idea was that we’d spend a day or two over that way and maybe we’d find some interesting rocks and things for Julie, possibly even dig a couple out of the ground ourselves if there was some sort of touristy rock hound thing to be found for duffers like us. And in the meantime, I’d amuse myself seeing if there were any interesting books to be had…. we always seemed to have good luck with thrift shops and antique stores and such no matter what part of the country we were in.
Leaving Sisters was where our luck ran out, though.
The first sign the wheels were coming off the wagon was when we pulled into Dayville, where we’d reserved a room at a local hotel… and the hotel was closed. There was a little sign hanging in the window that said — I am not making this up — “Gone Golfing.”
It soon became clear that not just the hotel office was closed — though it was certainly galling, in the middle of a weekday afternoon, to find that no one was available to take our money for the room I’d reserved in advance, they knew we were coming — but the entire town was closed. Everything. The hotel, the cafe, the tiny little city hall, the rock shop (Julie let out a small sigh at that one.) Dayville was only two blocks long, so there weren’t THAT many businesses, but it was still a little eerie. This was two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, not early Sunday morning or something.
The one place that was open for business was the gas station, where we filled up the car. I asked the hatchet-faced woman pumping our gas if she knew when the hotel was going to be open. She shrugged and allowed as how the golf course wasn’t that far away, the hotel owner shouldn’t be gone that long… couple of hours maybe.
Julie and I decided that sitting out in the baking heat of the afternoon waiting for the hotel guy to get back from his golf game was stupid. (Not quite as stupid as going out to play eighteen holes in desert country in July, it must have been like playing on the surface of the sun… but I’m not a golfer.) Since we hadn’t actually reserved the room with a credit card but just given our name and the promise we were arriving that afternoon, we weren’t committed, so we decided to press on and see if we could find a hotel with someone actually working who would rent us a room.
What we were not aware of was that, this very same week in July, was the Cruise Oregon event. A group of motorcycle enthusiasts were having some sort of statewide rally, and this was the day they all hit the John Day area. The few motels we could find were all booked solid for the next three towns. We finally got the last room available in Prairie City, about two steps ahead of a biker couple that pulled in right behind us.
That kind of set the tone for the next couple of days. Driving miles and miles through a whole lot of nothing, and when finally there was something, it was closed.
No motels, no thrift shops, no nothing. There were no rock shops or anything for Julie, either. She took this much more graciously than I did.
We struck out in John Day, in Spray, in Fossil, and, well, in every little town we passed through. The reason was obvious — we’d thought the mountain towns we’d seen were hurting, but that was nothing compared to what we were seeing east of the mountains.
These desert towns were all dead or dying. Everywhere we looked was poverty, neglect, and despair. The air of sullen defeat hanging over the places we drove through was a palpable thing. Farms lay fallow. Whole rows of shops were boarded up and falling apart. “Ghost town” doesn’t begin to cover it.
Needless to say, there was no shopping and certainly no bookscouting to be had. We were lucky to find a diner open in Fossil that would sell us lunch. (Trying to find dinner in Prairie City the night before, Julie and I had walked into an empty restaurant only to have a woman scurry out of the kitchen and yell at us, “Who left that front door open?!” She did eventually consent to sell us a meal but we had to go around back, to the bar.)
The Big Timber Restaurant in Fossil was a nice place and looked to actually be doing a little business, and the staff were the only people we found east of Sisters who seemed to be in a good mood. The one bookscout-type moment that came during our two days in the Oregon desert country was when our waitress, Chris, mentioned she was trying to get rid of a big box of her ex’s books he’d left at her home. She was about to remarry and she didn’t want any vestiges of the previous man in her life left in her home. She perked up when she heard we were sort of on the prowl for old and rare books. I asked her what was there, and she said a lot of Tom Clancy hardcovers and stuff like that.
“Yeah, most of it probably can go to a Goodwill,” I told her regretfully. “But look through the Tom Clancy books before you let go of them. His first one, Red October, is worth a lot in the original hardcover. No one wanted it originally and it was finally published by the Naval Institute Press, who up till that time only published textbooks and such. Then Ronald Reagan mentioned how much he’d enjoyed the book and it took off like a rocket, that made Clancy’s career. That hardcover’s worth a few bucks to you if he left it.”
Chris thanked us profusely, instantly aglow at possibly snaking a hidden treasure out from under her foolish ex. We paid the check and wished her happiness in her married life.
Outside, I noticed Julie smiling at me.
“She probably doesn’t have it,” I said. “That’d be one in a million for one of those Naval Institute editions to show up here in the middle of nowhere. It’s probably just the same crap hardcovers we see at Goodwill all the time.”
Julie just smiled a little wider and shook her head.
“I know, I know,” I sighed. “I can’t help it. Press the button and the lecture comes out. It’s a nerd reflex.”
“I think it’s cute,” my wife said.
Once more I say to you gentlemen out there — when you meet a girl who not only tolerates your weird nerd hobby but actually finds it endearing, you marry her.
Apart from that, though, the only book-related moment from the whole two and a half days over in the Oregon desert country was finding a hardcover collection, The Saturday Evening Post Reader of Sea Stories, that I picked up for fifty cents from a Methodist Women’s rummage sale in John Day. Mostly because it amused me to have both Ray Bradbury’s “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” and C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower between the same two covers.
That and the time we spent poking around the Condon Paleontology Center at Sheep Rock kept it from being a total loss for both geology for Julie and book hunting for me, but by and large, if we had it to do over again, we’d probably have taken a different route.
We headed north up route 19 back towards the Columbia River, and there we found more congenial country.
We’ve always liked the area around the Columbia Gorge anyway, and it was cheering to see that as we approached Arlington, the local economic conditions appeared to be improving. In particular, we were struck by the amazing number of wind farms that had sprung up since our last drive through the area just five years ago.
They really are very impressive, especially when you see them up close. I kept thinking of Isaac Asimov and The Gods Themselves. Years ago, Asimov had posited in that novel that humanity would continue on a course of action, no matter how destructive that course might be in the long run, if it was financially successful — and that in order to make man even consider trying something different, it was imperative to show an immediate economic advantage to the different approach as well as a long-term ecological one. Because the immediate economic advantage is the only thing people actually care about.
I wondered if we were seeing that scenario play out in real life here, decades later. From what Julie and I had seen, it looked like ranching and farming were no longer viable options to keep people employed in this part of the country, and there was a lot of anger and bitterness and blame being thrown around over it. The situation was so obviously painful for the locals that we’d noticed it right away, and we were just passing through.
But in the middle of all that anger and despair, someone had been smart enough to see an opportunity. Here was a brand-new industry that had taken over the entire valley almost overnight. God knows, the one thing they have in abundance along the Columbia Gorge is wind.
…apologies. I know this is getting rather far afield from books and comics. I mention it mostly because it did lift our spirits, seeing all these people hard at work building something new after a depressing two days of ghost towns. There was something really hopeful about it, a sort of Heinlein “Man CAN reach for the stars!” vibe about it all. As we drove through the towering windmills I kept thinking about Asimov’s postulate and how it applied to what we were seeing around us. I hoped that someone with a similarly innovative idea could use it to bail out some of the other dying towns we’d been through over the last couple of days.
Julie and I are a little sentimental about the Columbia Gorge country, since it was the scene of one of our first dates… well, a sort of date, though really it was more each of us cautiously wondering if this was an actual DATE or just good pals hanging out on a road trip. (Look, some of us are late bloomers, okay?) On that first trip we had originally planned to visit the observatory in Goldendale, but had been sidetracked by all the fun thrift shops and antique shops and so on throughout Hood River and The Dalles.
I’d promised that we would really make it to the observatory this trip, but in the meantime, we were eager to see what we could turn up in the way of books and comics. In particular, I wanted to make some time to drop in on the ArtiFacts bookstore in Hood River.
The bookstore is itself a really cool place, with lots of vintage paperbacks and ‘zines and comics. But what I was really curious about was whether or not a local cartoonist named Logan was still doing his demented comics ‘zines. On our last visit to Hood River his superhero parody book Logan Force was my favorite thing I’d found on the trip.
Happily, both ArtiFacts and young Logan are still in the ‘zine business.
I snatched up copies of everything he had out, which were the last four issues of something called Escapist Fantasys.
This was an anthology book, with various features such as “Captain Mannlee Adventures,” “Hipster Barbarian,” and “Sleazy Spy Action,” but what warmed my heart was a strip starring “Jill Hat, P.I.” Jill had been a member of Logan Force, back in the day, and I was tickled to see that Logan was still doing strips about her.
Even better, this particular strip was about Jill’s shopping adventures…
….browsing through other people’s castoffs and old junk, the same thing Julie and I had been touring the country doing for most of a week. It’s like he knew we were coming and did the strip as a gift.
Anyway. Most of what I said about Logan’s comics work a couple of years back still holds true. The art is often shaky, the spelling occasionally needs work, and the whole thing is sort of raw… but he’s got a terrific grasp of how a comics page should work, the stories are fast and funny and the inking especially shows a great sense of how to lead a reader’s eye. But whatever the flaws in the execution, there’s a joyous raw energy about the whole endeavor, a sort of garage-band enthusiasm to the stuff that I find completely charming. I have no idea if Logan will see this or if he even surfs the comics internet, the books are deliberately low-fi and there’s no web address, just a contact e-mail. (That contact is jillhatpi (at) gmail.com, if you are interested — I imagine if you sent him a couple of dollars for postage he’d hook you up with some ‘zines.)
In any case, if you get to ArtiFacts in Hood River, check it out.
There were a couple of other fun places we found around Hood River and the Dalles that were new to us this trip. No comics retailers to speak of, and few actual used bookstores other than ArtiFacts, but that didn’t mean there weren’t lots of books and comics around. Thrift shops abounded and most of them had books.
We were still looking for fun juvenile books for our friend Lorinda, who’d asked us to pick up anything we saw that “a couple of bright third-graders might like,” specifically her little brother Finn and her foster daughter Kerowyn.
We scored big at a St. Vincent’s in the Dalles. We found all sorts of good stuff in the juvenile section there.
In particular, I was amazed and delighted to find not one but two hardcovers from the Danny Dunn series.
This was another beloved series from my youth, this one more of a science fiction thing. Danny and his mother live with an eccentric professor named Bullfinch, and generally each book in the series has Danny and his friends Joe and Irene get involved with the Professor’s latest invention in some sort of adventure. These were gateway books to science fiction for me, they led me to the Heinlein juveniles and all sorts of other good stuff. I’d never seen them for sale anywhere in more than thirty years of scrounging through used bookstores, and here were two. Ex-library but in good shape, and certainly engaging enough for bright third-graders. Definitely two for “Rin’s pile.”
Two more that would be coming home with me were a Three Investigators mystery I’d never seen, Rogues’ Reunion, and a Henry Reed book, Henry Reed’s Big Show.
The Three Investigators book was, again, ex-library, and it was one of the later entries in the series. So it was kind of beat up. Moreover, it wasn’t written by Robert Arthur and it didn’t feature a cameo from Alfred Hitchcock, but I’d never read it so I bought it anyway.
I was rather more pleased to find the Henry Reed book. This was another series I’d loved in my grade-school days but had never seen anywhere in all the years since. These are humor books, about the misadventures of Henry and his friend Midge in Grover’s Corner, New Jersey. They were written with sly wit by Keith Robertson and brilliantly illustrated by Robert McCloskey. (McCloskey also wrote and illustrated another childhood favorite of mine, the Homer Price books, the first of which featured a wickedly funny Superman parody.) There were five Henry Reed novels in all and this was the fourth, from 1970. Except for a couple of library stamps it looked brand-new.
We found a couple more in the science-fiction section for Rin herself, as well. The Gorgon and other Beastly Tales by Tanith Lee, and Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame.
Rin is a gamer and active in her local chapter of the SCA, so the Tanith Lee seemed like a safe bet, and it was a nearly-pristine hardcover. The other book I was less sure about, but it was about a bunch of D&D-type gamers actually getting transported to their fantasy world, which seemed right in Rin’s wheelhouse, and again it was a really nice hardcover edition. I figured for an investment of 99 cents each we could let Rin decide herself if she liked them or not; she could always pass them along to her school if they weren’t to her taste. So we scooped them both up.
And finally there were a couple of impulse buys for me; two hardcovers on a shelf display that caught my eye on our way out.
I’m not normally one for showbiz biographies, but the Patrick Swayze book aroused my curiosity because I wanted to know if he had any good stories about Road House, my favorite bad movie of all time, and anyway I knew Julie would be interested. Winter Range looked at first glance to be a new hardcover Western, which was the ongoing quest this trip… and as I often find myself saying in thrift shops, “Well, if it sucks we’re only out a dollar or two.”
The Swayze book was interesting, but not exactly in a good way. The narrative was the most amazing combination of one man’s inspirational struggle with cancer, and that same man’s really off-putting Hollywood narcissism and towering insecurity. It was kind of a case study in how one man can be a hero without being particularly heroic — you get the sense, reading it, that Swayze was a wonderful guy to work with, and fought a really noble fight to keep working and get through the devastation that terminal cancer brings to a family… but nevertheless was also tremendously difficult to be a friend to or live with, a guy that made everything in his life about him. Only really worth reading if you are a fan, and if you see it somewhere for a dollar like we did.
On the other hand, Winter Range by Claire Davis was a terrific find, though not exactly a western. It’s set in modern times and more a story of a small-town sheriff that has to uncover that town’s dirty little secret …a secret that, it develops, involves the sheriff’s own wife. That book alone was worth the seven or eight bucks we dropped at the store.
We also found a charming junk shop at the top of the ridge overlooking Hood River.
Good Karma is one of those places that just has shelves and shelves of stuff without a whole lot of organization behind it. (On one knickknack shelf Julie found a big rock with lots of crystallized striations and such on it, and it required a phone call from the clerk to his wife before they settled on a price of five dollars for it.)
As for me, I’d found a couple of paperback spinner racks that were a real blast from the past.
Mostly I just stood there grinning in recognition at book covers I hadn’t seen in thirty years, but I did fall for a couple of licensed books.
The Star Trek entry was from that short-lived period in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Bantam Books still had the license, but had run out of episodes to adapt and hadn’t yet hit on the idea of getting real science fiction writers to do originals (as Pocket Books would a couple of years later when they got Vonda McIntyre’s The Entropy Effect to kick off their line.) Bantam instead mostly published several volumes of fan fiction. I think Perry’s Planet may have been one of the few done by a real professional — Jack Haldeman published dozens of short stories in the SF magazines of the 1970s. (His brother Joe did a couple of the Bantams, as did David Gerrold. I think most all the others were done by either fans, or fans recently turned pro.) I’d never read Perry’s Planet and figured it was worth fifty cents, certainly.
The three Space: 1999 paperbacks I grabbed were a less defensible purchase. I confess that those were strictly nostalgia buys. That was a show where you just had to’ve been there, and at exactly the right age… about thirteen or fourteen. Even then I knew the science was wonky, but it sure looked cool. (Look, I don’t judge you guys when you get all misty about G.I. Joe or Rom: Spaceknight.) A lot of it was just being starved for any kind of space adventure on TV in those days… believe it or not, before Star Wars changed the pop culture map, there was a time when Star Trek reruns were it. Many of us watched Space: 1999 desperately hoping it would get better, simply because it was almost good and it was the only game in town. Anyway, fifty cents a book was cheap enough that I didn’t feel too silly about it. If you’re going to try to “buy back a piece of your childhood,” as Jill Hat says, at least try to keep the cost down.
There were also comics in a couple of the antique stores we saw.
Actually there were two areas in the store with comics, and it was in the second area I hit paydirt. A lot of older Harvey and Gold Key books, and among those was a Korak I didn’t have.
I also picked up a couple of pulpy westerns along with the Korak comic.
Dry Range was one of the Arcadia House hardcovers from the early sixties that I’m very fond of. Powder Valley Pay-Off from 1941 just looked like fun, it got my attention just because I’m a sucker for those old cover paintings. Looking it up after we got home I discovered it was apparently the third of a long-running series of westerns that author Peter Field did from 1933 to 1965.
I almost fell for a vintage 1920s hardcover edition of The Son of Tarzan, as well — I love those original illustrations by J. Allen St. John — but it was beat to hell and they wanted twenty for it, and it wasn’t worth more than eight or nine.
It would have been kind of fun to leave with both Korak comics and Korak prose, I admit, but it was not to be.
The hell of it was, we found so many interesting places in the Dalles and Hood River that once again we blew our shot at the Goldendale Observatory. We did actually get there this time, but it was closed by the time we arrived. Limited summer hours, or something. Oh well.
Once again this has sprawled on way too long, and I appreciate your indulgence if you’ve made it this far.
There’s not a lot left to tell, at least not as far as our bookscouting adventures are concerned. We kept going north after Goldendale, through mostly farm country.
We poked around a little in Yakima and again in Wenatchee, but the pickings were pretty slim — we did find a couple of comics places, but they were closed. Truthfully, by this point we were getting a little burned out, and if we had it to do over again I think we’d have spent our last three days just lazing around in the Dalles and gloating over our loot. The drive through eastern Washington wasn’t nearly as pretty as the other country we’d been through, and the summer heat was so debilitating it became a sprint from one air-conditioned environment to the next. Seattleites aren’t good with heat; ours is a damp country, and we are a pale people that fear the sun.
I did make one last awesome score in Cashmere that was just so insanely unlikely I have to mention it, though.
We’d stopped at a nondescript little antique mall, mostly because we wanted to stretch our legs and were thinking about maybe getting a smoothie from the espresso stand that seemed to anchor the place.
Blessedly, the AC inside was running full-on and it was the first time we’d been comfortable for the last hundred miles or so. And to my delighted surprise, there were half a dozen different stalls with both books and comics.
So suddenly we were in no hurry to leave. Julie had found a bunch of handmade necklaces and brooches that she was very interested in, so I wandered around looking through the book stalls scattered around the place. A lot of maybes, but nothing really jumped out at me. (There was one stall with a bunch of old All-Star Squadron, but as fond as I am of the Justice Society, I don’t think that book was their finest hour, and three dollars apiece was just a little too high for me.)
We were still checking the juvenile books for stuff for Rin’s two kids and for our godson, and suddenly I saw something so unlikely I was sure I must be hallucinating.
Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, the first of the series, from 1956. Not a reprint or a facsimile, the real thing, dust jacket intact, no markings of any kind.
Now, that may not mean anything to you, but it did to me, and I was startled. You rarely see copies of the Danny Dunn books anywhere other than at library sales, and those books are usually beat to hell and covered with library stamps. This was pristine. A first edition like that can go for anywhere from forty-five up to a couple of hundred bucks to collectors.
The owner of this particular stall of the antique mall had it priced at three. Not three hundred. Three dollars.
We’d been nice about our previous encounters with rarities, the Trixie Belden and Red October, but this was strictly a for-profit establishment and I was done being charitable. This was a score. Snoozers lose, baby. I was so superstitious about it that I didn’t even tell Julie what a find it was until it was all paid for and we were once again safely in the car.
That was the last real bookscouting moment. After that we cut straight west across the mountains for home.
So that was the trip. Again, I appreciate your indulgence… I really hadn’t meant to devote an entire months’ worth of columns to it but, well, I get carried away, and people didn’t seem to mind.
Julie’s already talking about next year… we’re thinking either Alaska or possibly Chicago. Either way, there are certain to be lots of books and comics. Because the one thing I learned from this trip is that our people are everywhere.
…well, except maybe for eastern Oregon. But that’s really the only place we’ve struck out in the last three or four years of wandering around. That’s not a bad record at all.
See you next week.