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CSBG Archive

Long Weekend on the Road (International Edition) – conclusion

Wrapping up the bookscouting trip to Victoria. Part one is here, part two is here, and below the fold is the wrapup.


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.

Into the depths! Believe it or not, this is only halfway down.

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.

This is maybe a third of what was there, but it should give you an idea of the amazing selection if you know anything about young adult books from the 50s through the 70s.

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.

I almost never can pass up a Whitman adventure if it's in good shape.

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.)

Certainly not for Doc purists, but I like having these around anyway. There were only about eight of them from Whitman but they're nice durable little hardcovers for the adventure-loving youngster in your life.

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?

Especially since I thought the illustrations by Hamilton Greene were extraordinary pieces, despite the unfortunate red-orange tint Whitman used to print them.

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.

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Shame this never happened. It looks like it would have been a cool strip.

The proposal didn’t sell, but you can read more about it, and see more samples, here.

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.

Not sure what's going on here on the cover but it sure LOOKS hardcore. And check out that tantalizing Table of Contents!

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.

The illustrations by Kay Wilson are suitably gritty, as well. On the left is Grant's android assassin; on the right are Wagner's nasty Nazis.

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.

The closest we got to books, comics, or illustration over the next day or so was this sidewalk artist guy. Who was pretty good.

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.)

What's more, your fellow passengers tend to be very pleasant... must be a Canadian thing, because it's generally not like that at home on Seattle city buses.

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.)

And here's a map. Since we had not boarded an express, our route avoided route 17 proper but instead wound around it and paralleled it most of the way. Really gorgeous country through there.

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.)

The first was Tanner’s, which was a very nice place.

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.

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However, both were strictly new retail, so we passed them up after a brief look. That’s not our thing.

But just around the corner were a couple of amazing places. Julie found a nice brooch at Galleon Books and Antiques.

As for me, they had some interesting things in the juveniles, though nothing jumped out at me as a must-own.

Here's a partial view of the YA series shelf. They had some Tom Swift, too. I almost fell for one of those, one ghosted by Jim Lawrence that I remembered liking a lot, but talked myself out of it.

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.

The comics were largely quarter-bin crap, but it was all lovingly bagged and priced at insanely high amounts-- between five and ten dollars each. A real comics retailer wouldn't dare have put any of them higher than three. The magazines, I couldn't tell you, but I suspect the same lack of expertise applied there too

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.

However, the real bookscout’s delight in Sidney-by-the-Sea is next door to Galleon Books, the wonderful Haunted Bookshop.

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.

Everywhere you looked were these extraordinary pieces. The REALLY good stuff was under glass but there was lots more right out in the open. Canadians are a trusting people.

Rare first editions dating back to the 1800s…

Note the Dickens.

A whole set of aviation juveniles from the 1930s….

Sitting on top of the case with the Dickens. I almost fell for one of these but found something even better.

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.

OhmyGAWD. I'd never seen one of these that wasn't an ex-library book beat to death.

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.

Check out these pages.

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.


Used bookstores really have a charm that new bookstores lack. Although I know that I could find books that I’m interested in more easily and cheaply online, I enjoy browsing the wares of my local used bookstores. I love finding paperbacks of classic sci-fi novels. The joy of the hunt and the pleasant surprise of finding an interesting novel are a big part of the experience. When I want something specific I almost always order online, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the only brick and mortar bookstores left in a couple decades are used bookstores.

Well, I didn’t find anything about the Thrilling Stories book, but I did find that Hamlyn Press is now an imprint of Octopus Books, and they have this:


coming out soon. One of those 1001 Comics you must read before you die books (which, I think Tony Isabella did one of those. This one’s edited by Paul Gravett.), and Judge Dredd is on the cover.

Also looking up John Wagner and Alan Grant on the wikipedia, I see that Wagner in particular used a lot of pseudonyms, like “John Howard, T.B. Grover, Mike Stott, Keef Ripley, Rick Clark and Brian Skuter”. Grant apparently used D. Spence. I’m wondering if those names also appear in the credits, suggesting that the whole thing is a Grant/Wagner collaboration.

Here’s what you get when you look up “hamlyn thrilling” on the amazon:


It appears that this book was popular enough to get reprinted in 1984.

I love these travelogues, and I love my own finds, and getting “that warm acquisitive glow”. You always convey it well, Greg.

The Brains Benton series was a lot of fun. I’ve been a big Three Investigators fan since I was a kid and picked this series up at library book sales and used book stores because it looked interesting. I found them to be well written and entertaining.

I’ve made a few trips to various parts of Canada and always make it a point during my travels to check out used book shops and comic book stores. I found six higher number Tom Swift Jr. books that I needed at a nice shop on Prince Edward Island. I didn’t find out until a couple of years later that some of them were hard to find and usually expensive and that made me even happier that I only paid $4 each for them. I just wish that they had had the other four high number ones that I still need.

I have that Hogarth Tarzan HC (albeit jacketless), as well as a softcover edition of the sequel, Jungle Tales of Tarzan. I’m surprised that in all the years you’ve been visiting Casa del Cei-U!, you never noticed it.

Wow, really great score on the Hogarth book. And I remember last year you said you found Delany/Chaykin’s Empire for 5 bucks. You must have been born under a lucky star as far as books are concerned…
That Thrilling Stories book reminds me of a lucky find of my own about a year ago: a volume published by Sweeny, called Thrilling Tales, which features entries by Gaiman and Chabon among others, with illustrations by Chaykin. Found it in a libary’s gift bin…

Great stuff as always. I too am all about initiatives to get children enjoying reading. Have you heard about this? I think it’s thrilling.


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