Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
“So, what would you think about driving down to the Gorge this weekend?” I asked my bride.
Julie raised an eyebrow. “What brought this on?”
“The hotel we stayed at last summer in The Dalles e-mailed us a half-price coupon deal, and it reminded me that we’d said we should have spent more time there. And honestly… ” I sighed. “I have itchy feet. All that work leading up to Emerald City and then all this other stuff with Young Authors, not to mention the printshop… I’m tired. We need a break. Let’s go.”
“But Marcia was supposed to visit.”
Marcia is Julie’s old roommate from her single days. She lives in Portland now and doesn’t enjoy it, so it never takes much to get her to come see us for a weekend. Marcia is an easygoing person and always congenial company, so I shrugged and said, “Ask her if she wants to come along.”
So Julie phoned Marcia and Marcia agreed that a weekend in the Dalles sounded like a nice change, so we took off Friday morning for Oregon. The plan was to meet Marcia at Mall 205 in east Portland and then head out the old Columbia Gorge Highway, which is a lovely drive and way more interesting than Interstate 84.
We arrived in Portland quite a bit earlier than we’d thought. I’d been in a huge hurry to get the hell out of the Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia corridor on Interstate 5, since this was the first genuinely sunny day we’d seen in 2011 and I was sure there would be a mass exodus of Seattleites feeling the same road-trip urge we’d succumbed to. So for once I was willing to break our usual rule of “no interstates,” at least as far as Portland.
What that meant was that we hit Portland about one in the afternoon on Friday, and we weren’t meeting Marcia until three. So naturally, we went looking for some east Portland thrift stores we hadn’t checked out before.
We ended up at the Goodwill on Northeast 122nd and Halsey. Julie went off to look for shirts, while I browsed the books. I hit paydirt almost right away; there were two Sherlock Holmes hardcovers I didn’t already own, and also a nice hardcover of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot.
The Stephen King was the original Doubleday hardcover and in incredible shape. It looked almost new, even though I knew damn well this had to be a printing from 1975. Thinking it might actually be a genuine first, I got excited for a minute and looked for the telltale mistake on the jacket flap, but no such luck. (The first and second printings of the first edition of Salem’s Lot had a mistake on the jacket flap promo copy, referring to Father Callahan as “Father Cody.” Those sell for anywhere from $1200 to $1500 to a collector.)
This was the third printing, with the name corrected. Still, that was a nice little score… a non-Book Club copy of this edition, and I was reasonably sure this was, is generally sold for somewhere between seventy-five and two hundred dollars. Even the Book Club ones go for thirty or forty when they’re in good shape. Any way you look at it, the $3.99 I paid for it at Goodwill was a good investment.
I was pleased with the Holmes books as well, especially when I saw that John Gardner’s Moriarty was a new book, not some sort of omnibus edition of his previous two Moriarty novels. (I loathed Gardner’s James Bond books, especially the later ones, but I quite enjoyed both his Moriarty and Boysie Oakes series.) This was also a first edition, though obviously much less of a score than the King, and since I hadn’t heard anything about it at all, it came as a pleasant surprise. Apparently this novel was a posthumous discovery among Gardner’s papers and was published just a couple of years ago.
The other Holmes was a bit of a gamble — I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but it was the second Holmes novel from Mr. Vanneman so that told me his first one must have done all right. I actually grabbed it because the jacket said this was the same fellow who’d written Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra, but it turned out that was a completely different book than I’d thought. (I was thinking of the one by Richard Boyer, which is very good, by the way.).
While I was browsing, a thirtyish black woman lunged past me and hissed, “Ah! There it is!” And she grabbed a copy of New Moon by Stephanie Meyer. Then she turned and smiled apologetically at me.
I repressed a snort. Aren’t you a little old for Twilight, lady? I thought, but didn’t say.
She noticed the Salem’s Lot hardcover in my hands. “That’s a good book,” she said.
“Yes it is,” I said, and couldn’t help adding a trifle smugly, “This is an original hardcover edition from 1975, I think.”
“Wow. Do you collect rare books?”
“Not seriously,” I admitted. “We can’t afford it. I just play at it.”
“Everyone’s gotta play,” she said, smiling.
I decided I was being needlessly snooty. So what if she liked Twilight? I read superhero comic books for Chrissake.
She added, “You been over to the dollar bookstore?”
I perked up instantly at that. “No, I’m from out of town. Where is it?”
“Just a couple of blocks over, 122nd and Glisan. Behind the Staples. Hardcovers for three bucks, paperbacks for two. And kid’s books are a dollar.”
That was all I needed to hear. It would have to be our next stop. We still had some time before we were to meet Marcia. I found my wife and told her about this amazing dollar bookstore that was mere blocks away, and off we went.
As it turned out, Dollar Books was the actual name of the place.
It’s a very nice little store, and a great place to grab a book to read on the bus or something. (I especially liked the way they had bundles of four or five similar titles– five by John Grisham, three by Michael Connelly, etc.– tied up in ribbon as “$5 Gift Packs.”) But it was clear that the local bookscouts knew all about it, because it was pretty well picked over. Probably it’s a daily visit for those guys.
I did see one of the hardcover Burroughs Mars doubles with the Frazetta cover, but I already have all of those. And there was a really lovely original hardcover of You Only Live Twice, the first U.S. printing from New American Library, but it was missing the dust jacket. With the dust jacket it was a thirty-five, forty-dollar book or thereabouts; without it, maybe four or five.
Serious bookscouting is about being able to turn a lot of books around pretty quickly — buy for two, sell for ten, that kind of thing. It’s once in a blue moon you luck into something like the Salem’s Lot I’d found at the Goodwill. But doing it for real is too much like work, and for me it’s just a hobby, strictly for fun.
So I let the Bond book go, since I had the hardcover Blofeld omnibus at home anyway. (I’m trying to stop picking up variant editions of things just because I happen to like the books themselves as artifacts… for example, I don’t really need three different editions of the collected Solomon Kane.)
I’d come to regret passing up the Fleming, later. Nevertheless, we didn’t leave empty-handed. I found an interesting hardcover in the juveniles, The Princess and The Hound by Mette Harrison.
And Julie picked up an odd little paperback collection of German short stories, and also a resume-writing handbook, since she’s still hunting a job.
By then it was time to go get Marcia, so we went and found her and then we were on our way.
It was a gorgeous drive and we were really enjoying the sunshine. I never thought of myself as suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it’s been a long, dark, wet winter up here in the Pacific Northwest and we were just thrilled to see real daylight. I had to resist the urge to hang my head out the window like a happy puppy dog on his first car ride.
We did acquire one more book that day. We’d stopped to eat in Cascade Locks, a tiny little town just under the toll bridge at Bridge of the Gods. (Although most folks today refer to the toll bridge itself as “Bridge of the Gods,” my inner pedant compels me to point out that the name actually refers to the Klickitat tribe’s explanation for the prehistoric rock formation that resulted from the Bonneville landslide, forming a natural dam across the Columbia that eventually collapsed and became the Cascade Rapids. There’s nothing particularly divine about the present-day toll bridge, but over the last half-century it sort of inherited the name.)
For dinner we’d decided on a place called Charburger, and the food was better than it had any right to be considering the name. I’d remembered it as being something of a sleazy roadside diner, but my memory was twenty-five years out of date. Someone had renovated it into a nice little lodge-type place with a restaurant and bar and an adjoining gift shop.
The gift shop had several spinner racks full of books. What struck me was that virtually the entire selection was independent small-press stuff, most of it books of local history or coffee-table photo books about the Columbia River country. I don’t think anything there came from an actual book distributor, and I was really curious how five or six different local indie publishers had each gotten a foothold on such prime tourist real estate.
Nothing there for me, but Julie fell for a small five-dollar chapbook about the history of the original Bridge of the Gods. She’s a little bit of a geology nerd.
Still nothing in the way of comics or pulp action or anything like that, though. That would have to wait until we reached the Dalles.
The rest of the drive was scenic but uneventful, and we reached the hotel just at sunset. We were too beat to do anything but crawl up to our rooms and collapse.
The Dalles is located more or less at the east end of the Columbia Gorge country, and is right at the bend in the river where it stops being a real gorge at all and becomes more just hills and farmland. (Because I know someone will ask — the name refers to the rock formations on the riverbank, it’s French for “flagstones.” Those natural flagstones are now underwater because of the dam.)
It’s not particularly a tourist attraction or anything; just a sleepy little farm town, about 12,000 people or so. We like it because it’s cheap and you have easy access to both Hood River and the mountains as well as the rest of the Columbia Gorge country. If you have no particular agenda and just want to relax, it’s a good place to get lost for a couple of days. People are friendly and the food’s good; they eat hearty out there, though, so bring an appetite.
We had, completely by coincidence, arrived on the weekend of the Cherry Festival, and Julie and Marcia wanted to check that out. There was an arts and crafts fair as well as a parade.
Our waitress at the hotel coffee shop was very excited about the upcoming parade– apparently, they had a float entered — and the girls wanted to see what it was all about.
The Dalles– indeed, anything east of Hood River– is generally regarded to be very socially conservative, red-state country. But we were amused to see that the parade was all-inclusive.
There was a Wasco County GOP Tea Party float, followed shortly thereafter by the Cherry Pit Drag Queens, the local state senator, and– our favorite — the Columbia Gorge Belly Dancers.
After the parade, we moved on to the arts fair. The Cherry Festival really had taken over the entire town and a lot of streets were closed, so navigating was a bit of a chore for us ignorant out-of-towners. But we did find a couple of things.
Julie found some agate pieces that she liked, and there was a painter that caught my eye. Her name was Jamie Sleeth and her stuff had an interesting graphics sensibility to it, and was very reasonably priced. Sadly, we have no place to hang anything in our apartment or I probably would have taken the coyote-meditation piece off her hands, at least. I thought I could give her a plug here, though, so I introduced myself and asked her if she had an online gallery I could link to. She said no, not really, but you can reach her at JamiesImaginarium (at) gmail.com if you are interested.
That was really it for us and the Cherry Festival, though. The shops were calling. Old books and comics needed to be scouted. So we headed for the Salvation Army thrift shop on the east end of downtown and figured we’d work our way back.
And there was where I saw the one that got away. Right there, in the “vintage” bookcase they have on the first floor, was none other than…
…You Only Live Twice. New American Library first American edition. Again.
Now, this one was an ex-library book, with a bent spine, covered with stamps and stickers, not even worth the three dollars they wanted for it.
But the dust jacket was safely sealed in library mylar and there were no stickers on it at all, they were all on the outside of the sheath. If I’d had the wit to pick up that pristine hardcover with no jacket in Portland for three dollars, I could have spent another three for this crappy book and peeled the original dust jacket out of the mylar sheath and put it on the good one. Presto, a forty-dollar first edition.
Oh well. Some things just aren’t meant to be. Anyway, there was the haul from Red Wagon to console me.
Red Wagon Antiques was the only place we found in the Dalles that had any comics at all. Unfortunately, they were pretty much the same comics we’d seen last August. Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of turnover in funnybooks there.
But there were a whole bunch of new Whitman juveniles, Authorized Editions, and “TV Favorites,” most of them priced between five and eight bucks. I was tempted to clean out the whole lot of them just because the covers made me laugh so hard– there was something very weird about a lot of them– but in the end I contented myself with just taking pictures of them.
I seriously considered the Annie Oakleys for a while, and I almost picked up the Campfire Girls one just because the concept of the Campfire Girls turning Fed in the 1930s is too awesome not to read further… but I decided I preferred the version in my fevered imagination to anything that Julianne DeVries actually wrote. She did a whole series of these: The Camp Fire Girls at the White House, The Camp Fire Girls Flying Around the Globe, The Camp Fire Girls on Caliban Island, etc. — and as far as I know it was really her and not some house name, but there’s some question as to gender. Some places list the author as “Julian DeVries,” which makes me wonder if “she” was a he using a pen name.
At any rate, I was sure the book did not entail the Campfire Girls teaming up with Elliot Ness for a blood-spattered takedown of the Capone mob, which is the book I would have wanted to read. Better just to leave it to speculation.
In the end I settled for a couple of westerns…
…and the Whitman Bewitched novel.
I didn’t have high expectations for any of the three, but I started Saddle Patrol at the hotel that night and couldn’t put it down. It was actually a very engaging and well-plotted little contemporary western mystery and Carl Rathjen clearly knew a lot about horsemanship.
I should have known I’d enjoy it but it took me a while to remember the name. Rathjen came in through the pulps, contributing stories to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and such, before he settled in as one of the Whitamn juvenile regulars. He did several titles for Whitman, including a Land of The Giants novel I liked a lot that served as a sort of series finale.
Julie also scored some dishes that she wanted, and Marcia found a matted photo that she liked. So we did pretty well out of the Red Wagon again. Still, though, not much in the way of comics.
We decided to try our luck in Hood River, a few miles up the road. Julie wanted to look at Good Karma again, the junk shop at the top of the bluff overlooking the town.
There was even less turnover among the books here than there had been in the Red Wagon store. Clearly this was a once-a-year stop for books at best. (Truthfully, most of the thrift shops at the top of the hill there throughout Parkdale, Odell, and the Hood River area are just yard sales under a roof, they’re not terribly organized. It’s not really shopping so much as prospecting. Or possibly archaeology.)
Amazingly, though, I did find a nice ex-library hardcover of Prince Caspian — the 1966 one from MacMillan. They’re certainly not firsts but they are somewhat collectible, and anyway those were the editions I remembered reading as a kid.
Mindful of my recent Ian Fleming bobble, I picked it up. Anyway, I don’t have it and it was only a dollar. The book was beat to hell, but still intact, and at any rate the dust jacket was in great shape, sealed in that industrial-strength library mylar. If I found another pristine hardcover, jacketless copy later on, I’d be ready.
Still no comics. My last hope was ArtiFacts, in downtown Hood River.
I hoped at the very least to stock up on the latest demented Logan ‘zines.
However, when I arrived, there were none to be found. Apparently young Logan is no longer employed there, and thus lost his bookstore outlet.
“Moved on,” the bored lady behind the counter told me. “I think you can find the stuff online though.”
No, you can’t. I can’t, anyway. He must be one of the thousands on DeviantArt or MySpace or something.
So to console myself, I cleaned out their fifty-cent boxes. They had a lot of macho adventure titles — Sable, G.I. Joe, Mark Hazzard: Merc, stuff like that.
I have a lot of 12-year-old boys in Cartooning this year that would eat that stuff up, so I thought I might as well stock up.
They had an actual ‘zine shelf too and I picked up a couple of books there for me.
Feedback turned out to be a lot of fun. The concept is so simple anyone can get behind it — it’s done by a guy who goes to local rock shows and then recounts his experiences in comic-strip form. I have no investment at all in any kind of music scene, and truthfully some of the lingo is a little out of reach for un-hip, decrepit folks like me– but I loved the sheer energy of the drawing and the sense of humor of the strip’s antic, caricatured style. God knows, if anyone needs a cartoonist to let the air out of them a little, it’s local music scene snobs. A fellow named John Isaacson does it and you can find individual strips here.
The other ‘zine, Avow, I picked up because it was a fiction collection very similar to what I’m having my students do in Young Authors. I had hoped to get a little mileage out of it at school. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit too adult for me to give to my 7th graders, but at least I can show them that other authors publish this way. I thought the stories mostly fell into the “fair-to-middlin’-good” range but I was really impressed with the longevity of the endeavor and the commitment writer Keith Rosson brings to it. His website is here.
And that was our weekend in the Dalles. I do have one or two more bookscouting anecdotes from the road trip back home, but this seems like a good place to stop, so we’ll get to those next week. See you then.
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