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CSBG Archive

Saturday in Lincoln City (Despite Parental Warnings)

This is the concluding installment of the tale of our recent excursion to the Oregon coast; a place that we discovered is much better bookscouting– and comics-friendly– territory than one might suppose. Part one is here, and part two lies below the fold.

*

Saturday the weather broke and we actually saw the sun for the first time in weeks. I suggested to Julie that we should wander further down 101 to Lincoln City and see what was to be found there, since our friend Rob had mentioned to us several times that there was good hunting down that way for books and comics. Julie was up for it, and so off we went.

Here's a better map than the one I gave you last week. We were staying in Oceanside, and Lincoln City is maybe another forty-five minutes to an hour's drive south of there, depending on your route. 101 is faster, but the coast road's a lot prettier.

I had not been to Lincoln City since I was eight years old. My family used to vacation there occasionally, but then for some reason my mother got a bee in her bonnet about the place, complaining that it was “cheap and tawdry.”

In fairness, it probably was, but that just means GREATNESS for the under-10 demographic. I’m sure my mother despised the old Pixie Kitchen, for example, but I thought it was made of awesome.

When you're eight, a restaurant like this is Disneyland with fries. Really.

With its funhouse mirrors in the vestibule, the glass-box diorama tables with seashells and plastic elves, and the weirdly hypnotic not-quite-animatronic displays in the back garden, it was a wonderland for me …and probably my snob mother’s worst nightmare. Still, she usually relented once per visit and let our family have dinner there.

(Aside– apparently there are quite a few kids of my generation who grew up with fond memories of the tickytacky delights to be found at the old Pixie Kitchen, because several of them have web pages devoted to it. Check out this one, which even has video of the low-rent animatronics in the back. God bless whoever took those home movies, because I think Julie suspected I was making it up.)

What I loved about Lincoln City back then really had nothing to do with its location on the Oregon coast; I never cared that much about the beach. No, it was that all the restaurants seemed to be for me (the Pixie Kitchen was just one of several that were covered in cartoon characters and offered candy and toys in the lobby) and, even better, the grocery stores all had comics.

One of my most vivid memories of Lincoln City was reading my very first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA on the carpet in our hotel room, because it was raining out. To this day I remember being vaguely bothered that Cap was apparently really DEAD, but the history recounted by a grieving Iron Man was all very cool and interesting, so it evened out.

I honestly couldn’t tell you a thing about the trips themselves or what we did the rest of the time; what was burned into my memory for over forty-two years was the magnificence of the particular comic books I got there.

These two also came from Lincoln City, later in the same year. I don't know how I was granted not one but TWO comics on the same trip... it might have been birthday money.

… and the almost equal greatness of getting to eat at places like the Pixie Kitchen and Lil’ Sambo’s, with their kid’s meal giveaways of taffy and prizes.

So I was curious to see how much of Lincoln City’s “commercial tackiness” (Mom’s phrase) had survived the last four decades.

The Pixie Kitchen is long gone, apparently burned to the ground in the 1980s after having gone through a couple of changes in ownership and an attempted revival. Astonishingly, though, Sambo’s is not only still there, but apparently has been granted historical landmark status of some kind.

No, really. LANDMARK. It's right there on the sign.

Everywhere else in the country the entire chain has been hounded out of business by people claiming, with justification, that “Sambo’s” is a horribly racist name for a restaurant… but in Lincoln City, the place is a landmark. I couldn’t quite decide if I was horrified or delighted by that.

What we were definitely delighted by was the local library, which advertises itself defiantly in neon despite clearly being considered a secondary attraction to the Culinary Center.

We adore libraries that are willing to GO THERE with the neon.

Once you find your way up to the second floor, though, the Lincoln City Driftwood Library is a really lovely place.

On the left is a better look at the hand-carved bench you can see from the street; the right is a view of the main library.

The staff were really cheerful and friendly considering they were working on a holiday weekend… of course, I suppose they might have been ducking their families the same way we were. Still, we appreciated it, especially how very gracious they were about letting us use their computers despite our not having a library card.

Because I am nosy, I glanced at their comics section (Dewey Decimal 741 and thereabouts, they are still putting them in with the nonfiction art books) and saw a really nice current cross-section of graphic novels from DC, Marvel, Vertigo, Minx and a smattering of indies along with the usual newspaper-strip collections, as well as a lot of manga digests lying around in the Young Adult section.

Nice to see both of these in a public library.... somebody at the Driftwood branch has a good eye for stuff Our People would be interested in.

I also spent some time looking at their bulletin board– considering they’re serving a town of around 8000 people, the Driftwood Library’s got a lot of cool things going on. Open-mike poetry, author events, movie nights… all kinds of stuff. Well worth stopping by, if you are ever passing through (and the neon sign says “OPEN.”)

But we were really more interested in checking out the bookstores and thrift shops, of which there were many. We started at the south end of town and started working our way north, which brought us to our first stop, Brady Books.

Despite its unprepossessing exterior, this is a very cool place.

Over in the mysteries I found a nice Kyle Mills hardcover I didn’t already own, and since the place was having a sale on hardcovers– buy two, get the third one free– I decided to look over the juveniles and the westerns.

There was a shelf of ‘vintage juveniles,’ and though most of it was not to my taste, there were a couple of adventure titles there. The one I fell for was Ken Holt in The Secret of Skeleton Island.

Ken Holt, another Stratemeyer fizzle. I have a soft spot for these.

For those who don’t know (probably all of you reading this) the setup is that teen sleuth Ken Holt, son of “world-famous correspondent” Richard Holt, solves mysteries all over the world with his pal Sandy Allen. The Ken Holt books were yet another from the juvenile series factory at Stratemeyer, and Ken did fairly well, considering– the series ran from 1949 to 1963, eighteen books in all, written by husband-and-wife team Sam and Beryl Epstein under the pseudonym “Bruce Campbell.” No Hardy Boys, certainly, but a markedly better showing than, say, Christopher Cool or Biff Bewster. Skeleton Island is the first of them. No dust jacket but in pristine shape otherwise, and six bucks was a very reasonable price.

Julie had found a book on sign language that she wanted, so that was our third hardcover. But while I’d been noodling around the westerns I’d found a shelf next to it that filled me with joy: “Men’s Adventure.”


Once I saw these, Brady Books owned me.

These are as close to the old hero pulps as one is likely to get in modern publishing, especially if you can find the short-run series that are not Mack Bolan or any of the Bolan spinoffs. Those are the ones that tend to be the most interesting.

Brady’s had plenty of Mack Bolan, to be sure. But to my delight, he also had all sorts of other, weird stuff. Unfortunately, it was a cash-only place, no debit cards, or I’d have probably just cleaned him out. As it was, I settled for three I’d never heard of before that looked like they’d be fun.

The Magic Man is Briggs O’Meara. Briggs was Irish but raised by his Russian grandparents who were eventually murdered by the NKVD. So then Briggs put all his language skills, his gift for acting, and his angry Irish mojo into becoming an instrument of vengeance. Eventually his one-man war against the KGB got him recruited by the British Secret Service for super-secret ultra-nasty espionage missions in places normal agents would never dare to go.

There were four Magic Man novels in all, by David Bannerman. “Bannerman” is actually David Hagberg, who started as one of the many guys pounding out Nick Carter: Killmaster paperbacks and also wrote some Flash Gordon books in the eighties, before he eventually hit it big with his Kirk McGarvey series. (I haven’t read those, but I gather Briggs was something of a warm-up gig for the character of McGarvey.) I picked up #3, Pipeline From Hell, in which Briggs frees a bunch of prisoners doing slave labor on the Siberian pipeline. It was moderately entertaining but not enough for me to go looking for the others.

In another time, these guys would be alternating leads in something like DIME DETECTIVE.

Cade was rather more interesting. When the Cold War was declared to be over with the collapse of the Soviet Union, several pop-culture pundits wondered what would happen to the thriller genre… without the KGB as a big bad, where would the genre go? Well, judging by this entry and the next, it just took a slight step sideways into dystopian SF territory. Marshal Thomas Jefferson Cade and his cyborg partner Janek have to deal with bad guys both human and mutant in the “terrifying New York of the 21st Century.” There were only three of these — Darksiders, Hardcase, and Firestreak. I ended up with the second one, Hardcase, and again, it’s kind of a hoot but not something I really need more of.

No, the real score was the third one. Swag Town, “first in a new series!” and endorsed by– wait for it– “Chris Claremont, bestselling author of Grounded.”

Claremont endorsed this? And they put it on the cover? I HAD to see what it was all about.

And the back cover copy sealed the deal.

All this AND a Claremont recommendation. Really, it was just calling to me.

The funny thing is, I really did enjoy this and I’ll be tracking down the other two Swag adventures, Full Clip and Kill Crazy. The premise is similar to Cade but Swag’s dystopian New York is a lot better thought out. Basically, in this premise the disaster was economic– the banks failed through corruption and increasingly bad loans that eventually collapsed (this was written in the early 1990s, by the way.) Only in Swag’s world, there was no government bailout. Instead, the whole economy came crashing down and now the U.S. is a former superpower, existing largely as a playground to be divided between international interests, the Russian and Asian mobs, and anyone else whose currency hasn’t collapsed. The tone of the thing is very similar to Soylent Green, which many folks forget is a pretty fair future-cop noir mystery right up to the ending that everybody remembers. Come to think of it, the Swag novels would have been a perfect vehicle to turn into a Charlton Heston movie around 1974 or so, if they’d existed then– they definitely have that vibe.

Anyway, both Mr. Claremont and I recommend them, if you should happen to run across one at a garage sale somewhere. Or you might try Amazon.

Mine are already on the way. Apart from the fun of the books themselves, I kind of love that on the cover of #3 Swag is rocking both the mullet AND the Hawaiian shirt. Not even Mack Bolan himself would dare to do that. Thanks to Mr. Harris for the images, they're just too good not to share.

No comics at Brady’s, sadly, but we certainly had found enough other stuff to be satisfied.

We did see a bunch at the three antique malls up the street. Longboxes full of weird old 1990s indie bad-girl books, Archie digests, stuff like that. Not a lot of DC or Marvel, though.

This pile of trades was about all that really caught my eye. I was moderately tempted by the Punisher collections but they were a little too beat up for me at the price-- most of this pile was $10 to $12 each.

The antique places are more for Julie than me. I was content to browse around and take pictures.

The toy shelves are always fascinating. The Island of STAR TREK Misfit Action Figures gave me the giggles-- you've got Cannon Fodder Crewman Guy from FIRST CONTACT, Pirate Worf from GENERATIONS, a Kazon from VOYAGER, and a Mugato. They had multiples of all of these... must have been some kind of warehouse find. As for the clown, I took that one just out of disbelief that anyone would think that nightmarish thing was appropriate to give to a child. It creeps me out even in the photo.

The books were a sorry selection in all three of the places; lots of Left Behind novels and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. And some stuff that was just weird… mostly not in a good way.

Boatloads of NASCAR romance novels. Yes, these exist. Apparently someone at Harlequin thought NASCAR and bodice-ripping passion are two great tastes that taste great together.

I didn’t find anything for me, not even in the place that had a wall of paperbacks for a quarter each, but Julie turned something up for herself. My wife loves Peanuts and she collects Charles Schulz ephemera… not in any sort of organized way, but she knows her way around the stuff. She found a nice boxed set of the little Peanuts Philosophers books for about twenty dollars.

For once Julie scored, and it was even COMICS.

There was a facsimile reprint of these a couple of years ago, but these were the originals and they were in great shape.

By this point it was getting dark and we still had the drive back to the hotel in Oceanside, so we called it a day. Sadly, we didn’t get to a lot of the places we wanted to– Robert’s Bookshop and Bob’s Beach Books were especially tempting, but they were closing by the time we were done with the antique malls… and, well, we had to save something for next time.

But all in all it was great fun. I should have known a place my mother loathed so much would turn out to be my kind of town. The grocery store spinner-racks may have gone, but there’s still lots of comics to be found in Lincoln City… and certainly, Rob was right about the wealth of bookscouting opportunities there. We’ll definitely be back.

*

So that was the coast trip. Maybe next time we’ll even budget some time to, I dunno, go to the actual beach. But that seems unlikely.

Have a happy and safe New Year, everyone, and I’ll see you next week.

20 Comments

I’ve never heard the term “sambo,” used as a racial slur. There is a Russian martial art called “sambo,” which is similar to judo. That’s what I thought of when I read the name of the restaurant.

There is a Russian martial art called “sambo,” which is similar to judo. That’s what I thought of when I read the name of the restaurant.

I like it! Who knows… maybe if they’d thought to somehow incorporate the 1970s martial-arts craze into their marketing, they might have made it. But the association with this sort of thing is what killed them.

Have you really not read the book little black Sambo?

Is it just me or did the cover artist on that Swag novel do his/her damnedest to make the hero look like Mel Gibson circa the first “Lethal Weapon”?

The Ken Holt series was positively not a Stratemeyer Syndicate production. Yes, it was published by Grosset & Dunlap like several other series but it was the efforts of a husband and wife author team, Sam & Beryl Epstein as you note. Although I have not read these, they are very highly regarded among those who read the series books of this era.

Boys’ series from the Stratemeyer Syndicate in this era include the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift Jr., Bret King, and Christopher Cool. Girls’ series entries are mainly Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls from this period.

The Ken Holt you have is the most common one, #2. Many middle and late books in the series are very hard to find.

James

I love finding out all these nooks & crannies of the Men’s Adventure paperbacks you’re exploring. I never paid much attention to these growing up other than knowing it was mainly, Mack Bolan, Remo Williams, and various Post-Apocalyptic attempts at similar series.

Apologies if you’ve already talked about it in some previous column, but have you ever seen or read the Lone Wolf books by Mike Barry (actually New Wave SF author Barry N. Malzberg)? I’ve read one online review of one that was negative, but I remember reading an article in a book about crime novels where the last one in the series is praised because Malzberg’s instincts as a New Wave author take over and has the main character engage in long stream of consciousness monologues directed at a personification of Death and other literary tricks that makes it sound like an interesting curio in the Men’s Adventure field at the very least.

Yes, I have many fond memories of the Pixie Kitchen – that place was beachside LSD for little kids. As for Lil’ Sambo, I recall driving through Lincoln City about 10 years ago with my wife and being surprised that the place still existed under that name. Had no idea it’s considered a historical landmark.
Interesting that you couldn’t find anything at that antique mall. Usually there’s some pretty good stuff (I mean books and comics) at antique malls on the Oregon coast. On that same trip ten years ago, I bought a nice stack of books (mainly non-fiction) at an antique mall in Newport, and I recall seeing comics in several little nooks and crannies. The only problem is that a lot of the times the prices are a bit steep, as you noted with those Punisher books.

Pixie Kitchen sounds a lot like Ella’s Deli in Madision, WI, a circus-themed restaurant which similarly has dioramas in glass-block tables, animatronic figures on tracks (various hand-made superhero dolls “fly” back and forth across the restaurant while you’re eating, for example), odd buttons that turn on lights and toys, and all kinds of circus-related ephemera (including a carousel in front). Good, traditional deli food, too.

Cei-U!: The cover art on that Swag novel screams Mel Gibson to me too. I thought the artist was perhaps also tapping into a Mad Max vibe with the leathers on #1, which fit in with the future dystopia theme of Swag.

Greg, thanks for the explanation.

Karl, I’d never heard of that book until now. I looked it up on wikipedia. The article mentions the restaurant chain.

As always, this was a great column.

As my wife pointed out to me, 1) there are actually multiple sub-genres within romance publishing (i.e. western romances, espionage romances, etc), and 2) NASCAR actually has a pretty sizable female following (who may admittedly be following it for the racers and not the racing). Given that, NASCAR-themed romances actually make sense, in a demented sort of way.

Given that, NASCAR-themed romances actually make sense, in a demented sort of way.

Oh, I’m certain of it. Just seeing that there are that many of them out there tells me there’s an audience. And anyway I’d be the world’s biggest hypocrite to pick on any kind of genre fiction considering how much I love macho paperback stuff like Swag, or even just superhero comics themselves. But it was such an unexpected mashup that it gave me the giggles.

Speaking of unexpected genre mashups, there was another one on the Men’s Adventure shelf that delighted me– the Overload series by Bob Ham. That one is about a couple of former commandos who’ve returned to the civilian life to… open a trucking business. They roam the country in their 18-wheeler dealing out bloody justice to backwoods Satanist cults, domestic terrorists, and anyone else who has it coming. Books include titles like Rolling Vengeance, Ozark Payback, Highway Warriors, and Alabama Bloodbath. I can just imagine the pitch… “It’s like Mack Bolan, except there’s TWO of them, and they’re TRUCKERS!!” If we’d had more cash at Brady’s I’d probably have gotten a couple of those too.

Truthfully, I get the giggles thinking about a LOT of those kinds of pitch meetings. “Two words for you, chief– NASCAR and ROMANCE!” Or “It’s Mack Bolan– but in the FUTURE!! And he’s got a cyborg partner!!” Or “Like James Bond– but he’s IRISH!!” And so on.

Overload sounds like exactly the kind of old Men’s Adventure series I seek out: i.e. the really preposterous ones. I’m sure it cannot top the Bodysmasher however, the pro wrestling men’s adventure hero, complete with Captain Lou Albano as his sidekick.

Great column as always Greg. I’ve just realised I always read these, but have never commented to show my appreciation. I’ll need to seek out some Swag…

That clown is CREEPY.

Pixie Kitchen ROCKS. Then they tried to do Pixie Land once, after Disneyland opened. I remember driving past it on the way to Tillamook, and it was all boarded up.

Just a bit of luck that I stumbled on your report about my little town.

Just for the record, “Sambos” is no kind of official landmark, and there are plenty of us in town who are unhappy about the name and refuse to eat there. The name offends a lot of people, and has given the town an unjustified reputation as a racist stronghold. They had a chance to change the name (my suggestion: “Original Sam’s”) when they were closed after the fire, but arguing its so-called historic status and the nostalgia factor. I never going to begrudge somebody their nostalgia, but I think they should have changed it to something less loaded when they had the chance.

Anyway, as for bookstores, you really missed out in not getting to Robert’s Bookshop. It’s a big, sprawling maze of a place full of cool books and print collectibles of all kinds, but the real threat is that it doubles as a museum for many of Bob’s personal collectors items, especially artwork. Many of the walls are hung with the original paintings that were covers for vintage paperbacks (usually displayed with the actual book), and you can spend an hour or more just browsing the walls before you ever get to the books. Also on the walls are vintage posters and advertising, and old toys, models, and other antiques can be found on to of many of the bookcases.

You’ll also find some of this stuff at the much-smaller Bob’s Beach Books (same owner) which has a pretty good selection of graphic novels, but Robert’s is the real treasure trove.

It’s also worth a stop at the Pop Culture Collectibles store in Streetcar Village on the far south end of the city. Plenty of used comics, die-cast cars, action-figures, toys, and other collectibles. While you’re there, wander across the parking lot to North by Northwest Books, run by the guy who used to run the famous Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Plenty of rare mystery and crime fiction, and a strange and macabre assortment of antique medical collectibles.

Hope this helps you plan your next trip.

Lincoln City is also home to several comic writers (I’ve written Marvel tie-in novels, but no actual comics), but I’m not going to violate their privacy by saying who they are.

Hope this helps you plan your next trip.

Oh, yeah, we’ll definitely be back. We were sorry we couldn’t spend more than an afternoon, and ESPECIALLY sorry that we missed Robert’s. We could tell it was awesome just from the outside. And certainly we will look into your other suggestions as well.

Thanks for dropping by! I have both of your GENERATION X novels here, as it happens, and liked them quite a bit.

Looking forward to an eventual Saturday in Lincoln CIty The Sequel.

My understanding is that the Lincoln City Sambo’s is officially “Li’l Sambo’s” and is completely unrelated to the old Sambo’s chain of restaurants.

I’m looking forward to reading about your visit to Robert’s someday.

And Steven, thanks for the tips about Streetcar Village – I’ve driven past it many times but never stopped.

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