SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
After leaving Shepherd’s Books, we walked for another forty minutes or so before giving up on ‘Antique Row.’ We stopped to regroup with an espresso, then moved north a block to View Street and started back. Eventually we stumbled across Books on View.
We’d seen the sign from the bus, coming up, which is how we happened to be wandering that way. But it wasn’t until we got there that we realized Books on View was actually the Russell Books sister store, that the Russell cashier had told us was ’round the block in the basement.’
Turns out she was totally not kidding about the basement part.
Once we had descended, I got to the juveniles… and for the second time that day was stopped dead in my tracks by a wall full of rarities. They had a couple of shelves designated “vintage” and I just stood and stared for a moment.
All priced really low, considering what I’d seen these books going for online or in U.S. bookstores. I had to stop myself from just grabbing a double armload. What I ended up with were three that were just too cool to pass up.
A couple of Whitmans, mostly because you never see them priced this low: Tarzan and the City of Gold and the first Brains Benton mystery, The Case of the Missing Message.
They also had the Whitman edition of The Return of Tarzan as well as a Lassie by Steve Frazee but I’d already acquired those on last year’s trip to Whidbey Island. (I don’t know what it is about the San Juans and incredibly well-preserved Whitman licensed books, but there are a lot of them floating around in the bookstores there.)
There’s not a lot to say about the Tarzan other than that I have a soft spot for the Whitman pulp reprints (I like their Doc Savage entries as well.)
But Brains Benton was rather more interesting. This was a series that I’d heard about vaguely here and there but never read. I knew it had a devoted fan following, and there’s almost as much collector lore available on the net for Brains as there is for Trixie Belden.
And it was a 1969 edition that looked almost new for $3.95. So I thought why not?
I enjoyed the book quite a bit more than I thought I was going to. Most of these series tend to be knockoffs of The Hardy Boys, but Brains is actually much more of a Sherlock Holmes type, complete with a homemade crime lab out in his garage. (Not unlike Jupiter Jones of The Three Investigators and their camouflaged Headquarters, actually, but Brains came first, in 1959.) Brains is aided by his friend Jimmy Carson, who, like Holmes’ friend Watson, also narrates the adventures. Although I think Jimmy is a bit more awed by Brains than Watson was by Holmes, even, and certainly Jimmy’s a bit slower on the uptake than Watson was.
But it looks to be a fun series. The mystery was plausible and included actual jeopardy for our heroes, and the whole thing moves along at a nice clip, so writer Charles Verral neatly avoided all three of my usual pet peeves in young-adult mystery books.
(For the record, those peeves are– one: the mystery is stupid and doesn’t make sense, i.e., why would anyone think dressing up like a ghost is the best way to scare people AWAY from your secret smuggling operation? It would create a media circus…. two: our hero is never in any danger, which tends to drain all the “adventure” from your adventure story… and three, most damning of all for a kid’s book, the plot unfolds at a glacially-slow trudge. You’d be amazed how many YA mystery books get published that suffer from these basic problems– often, in fact, from all three at once.)
There were only six Brains Benton books originally, though in recent years fans have published several more that, as far as I can tell, are hovering in that gray area between fanfic and authorized pastiche. There also was — almost!– a Brains Benton newspaper strip from Tom Gill back in the early sixties.
The third book was an anthology of short stories, with a title that got right to the point: Thrilling Stories. I picked up because it looked cool and because I spotted two familiar names in the credits.
The authors aren’t listed on the Table of Contents but flipping through the book they ARE credited at the beginning of each story, and I spotted the names Alan Grant and John Wagner, who both worked on Batman and Judge Dredd. I suppose it’s barely possible that the names were a coincidence but considering a quick glance through the book also told me that that Grant’s leadoff entry was about a robot assassin and Wagner’s was about fighting Nazis, I think it’s unlikely.
A book full of “Thrilling Stories of Mystery and Adventure” from a roster that included two Judge Dredd guys was really all I needed to know, especially for a nice hardcover priced at $3.95. (Alan Grant, just by himself, has four stories in this volume; that alone is worth the price.) It came out in 1982 from Hamlyn Press and that’s about all I can tell you. Apart from bare dealer listings, no one on the internet seems to know anything about it or the “Falcon Fiction Club” juvenile imprint it was part of. But it’s a good book and I enjoyed it a lot. If any of our readers across the pond know more, chime in down below in the comments, because I’m definitely interested in seeing more from this imprint.
With that, we decided that was a day’s worth of shopping, so we headed back to the hotel. Here’s the haul from day two.
We didn’t do any shopping to speak of for the next day and a half, but just amused ourselves wandering around the city and seeing the sights.
And, honestly, I thought we were done with the bookscouting part of our vacation. Certainly, we had acquired more than enough reading material to keep me occupied for a while. But there was one more purchase that turned out to be my favorite of the entire trip.
Monday was our last day. Since we had to be out of the hotel by ten and the ship didn’t sail for home until five-thirty that evening, we checked our luggage early and decided we’d take a bus out of downtown Victoria and see a little of the rest of the island.
As it happens, many of the regular city buses are double-deckers, and two and a half dollars for one of the northbound routes gets you just as nice a view of the island as one of the thirty-dollar tour rides. (Plus there’s no one yammering at you over a PA system.)
We just jumped on the first one headed north, and it turned out to be the back-roads route to Sidney. (Actually the name is “Sidney-by-the-Sea” but everyone just calls it Sidney.)
One of our fellow passengers told us, when he discovered we had no destination but were just goofing off until our boat left, that we should get off in Sidney, rather than go clear to the end of the route. “It just goes to the ferry at Swartz Bay, that’s all, the interesting stuff is in Sidney itself.”
Well, he lived there so he should know, we figured. And sure enough, he was right.
Because Sidney, despite a ‘downtown’ that’s only a few blocks long, is a book town that rivals Langley on Whidbey Island. We stumbled across three bookshops in the space of a block or so from the bus stop. (There are eight in all listed on the “Sidney Booktown” web site.)
Though it’s really part of Tanner’s– there’s a connecting door inside– we heartily approved of The Children’s Bookshop being presented as a separate business with its own storefront, with some really nice window display stuff, right next door. We’re all about anything that gets kids to read, and the way the storefront is set up looks very enticing.
However, both were strictly new retail, so we passed them up after a brief look. That’s not our thing.
As for me, they had some interesting things in the juveniles, though nothing jumped out at me as a must-own.
And there were comics, but as I often see in an antique store, they were priced way out of any common-sense range; there’s a misconception that just because a comic book is over ten or fifteen years old, it must be worth something.
It’s hard not to sneer; after all, in the age of the internet, it only takes a few minutes’ research to find out if you have something that’s genuinely rare or not.
Anyway, I passed on the comics as well. But Julie loves her brooch, so it wasn’t a wasted visit.
It had all kinds of great stuff and was almost more of a rarities museum than a book dealer… the items on display were extraordinary.
Rare first editions dating back to the 1800s…
A whole set of aviation juveniles from the 1930s….
And on and on. I was eyeing a bunch of aviation adventure books from the 1930s priced at twelve to fifteen dollars each and trying to decide which one I wanted, when Julie called me to come over and see what she’d found.
She’d found this.
It was Burne Hogarth’s 1972 hardcover comics adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes. This book isn’t a reprint of Hogarth’s newspaper Tarzan. This is an original piece he did for the book market. As such, it’s occasionally cited as being “the first graphic novel” (though I still put Gil Kane and Blackmark in that slot, myself.) I do think that Hogarth’s Tarzan of the Apes holds the honor of being the first hardcover original graphic novel, though I’m not dead sure of that.
Whatever the historians say about its place in graphic novel history, though, it’s an extraordinary piece of work… done by one of comics’ acknowledged masters at the top of his game.
The only place I’d ever seen this book was in a public library, and that one was falling apart. This looked almost new…. and it was only fifteen dollars. Canadian.
I knew I’d never see that kind of deal again. (At conventions it’s usually priced between forty and a hundred.) So I instantly forgot about the aviation books and clamped the Tarzan to my chest, my inner gloat in overdrive. “Yes, we’re getting this,” I told Julie. “Best score of the trip.”
And it was.
That was almost a month ago as I write this. I can see the book sitting a few feet to my right here in the office, and I am still feeling that warm acquisitive glow.
So that was our trip. We decided that next time, we’ll bring the car and just take the regular ferry to Sidney, because that’s clearly where the action is. At least for us.
See you next week.
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