Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
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.
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.
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.
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.
… 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.
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.
Once you find your way up to the second floor, though, the Lincoln City Driftwood Library is a really lovely place.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
And the back cover copy sealed the deal.
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.
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.
The antique places are more for Julie than me. I was content to browse around and take pictures.
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.
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.
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.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.