Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
When I put up the first column about Lincoln City, the consensus response both at home and in print was that we’d missed all the good stuff.
That had a simple solution– go again.
Twice, actually. We went down to Lincoln City in April for a weekend to clear our heads and take a break after the craziness of the Emerald City Comics Convention, and by the time you read this Julie and I will have just returned from our annual anniversary road trip… again to the Oregon Coast, this time to Newport. Just a few miles south of Lincoln City.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be combining both excursions into a big ol’ sprawling bookscouting exploration road trip series of columns. I’m not going to get into a whole thing about which place we visited on which trip… for the most part we tried not to go anyplace twice, and in any case it would just be dull to recount the minor differences between visits for the places we did return to.
So instead, I’m breaking it out by geography, just telling you what we found and where we found it. Overall, between the two expeditions, we came across enough interesting old books and comics in strange places for at least three columns… or maybe four. We’ll see.
Our trip to Oceanside last year had taught us that the distance from our home to Lincoln City is really too far to do in one day– at least, too far for the way we like to do it, which is avoiding the interstates as much as possible. So we arranged to spend the first night in Seaside.
For us, that of course meant a night at the Hillcrest Inn.
They were pleased to see us– it’s nice to be treated like ‘regulars’ even if we’re only there once every year and a half– and if you ever need a place to stay, well, it’s still the best deal in Seaside.
This trip was more about Lincoln City and exploring the coast further south, but that didn’t mean we weren’t open to stopping on the way, and certainly we weren’t going to miss our regular stops in Seaside. We found some time to go check out Buck’s Book Barn, which is exactly what it sounds like.
I didn’t turn up anything there for myself, though Julie found a textbook she had been wanting for her classes.
I always have better luck next door anyway, at Seaside Antiques.
Usually it’s with old pulps and comics, but where I hit paydirt that day was the Whitmans. One of the short-list items I always have an eye out for are the Whitman Authorized Editions, which were a series of juvenile hardcovers starring various licensed characters from television, movies, and comic strips. (Similar to the Big Little Books, but these were normal-sized.) That day I found one for Wagon Train, from 1959– in amazingly good shape, and she only wanted eight dollars for it.
The other find was Gun King of Melted Rocks by Randolph Hale, a hardcover western adventure from 1941. I can’t tell you much about it other than that I enjoyed it– it was just one of hundreds of western novels that appeared back then. Apparently, Mr. Hale only authored one other novel, The Prodigal Bandit in 1940. These wartime-edition hardcovers usually didn’t spotlight author bios in the back as is customary today, but instead used the jacket flap and back cover for house ads pushing other books from the same imprint. So Mr. Hale remains a mystery. And the internet’s been no help. (There was a theatrical producer by that name, which muddies the waters a bit. Pretty sure it’s not the same guy, but I could be wrong.) Whoever he was, Randolph Hale knew how to get it done; this was a fun book and I will have an eye out for the other one.
And that was mostly it for us and Seaside. I should add, since I have left it out of previous accounts, that we always make it a point to stop at the aptly-named Pig ‘N’ Pancake when we’re in town.
I mention this mostly because I know comics fans love their junk food, and though we are usually pretty good about our diet we never can resist the siren song of the Pig when we’re driving through. They know how to do serious breakfast there and we always find time for one stop, at least.
Considering the amazing variety and weirdness of the junk foods available in Seaside, though, in fairness I think that confining our gluttony to one sinful breakfast at the Pig ‘N’ Pancake is evidence of really extraordinary restraint.
The Pig’s gift shop is full of kitschy awesome as well… this time we found a CD of Latin jazz arrangements of old nightclub standards. That amused us in the car all the rest of the way down the coast.
Just south of Seaside we found a thrift store that we’d never checked out, and decided to stop and take a look. We were instantly charmed by two young ladies who had a table set up selling fifty-cent cups of lemonade in the lobby.
What we had found was the thrift outlet for Helping Hands, a nonprofit shelter and rehab organization helping homeless people in the area get their act together. Julie noodled around the back while I asked the two fellows in the vestibule who seemed to be more or less in charge of the place what the organization was about. They were happy to tell me all about it.
Helping Hands is different from other shelter organizations and treatment centers because it’s not terribly structured. They have lots of schooling opportunities, job placement partnerships and so on, but they try to get their clients to do things on their own. One of those things is working shifts at the thrift shop, and the good humor I saw from these two fellows told me they were getting something out of it. I’d had some experience in that area myself, years ago. It’s a little thing, but there is enormous rebuilding that happens when someone puts you to work after you have felt useless for a long time. Even if it’s something as simple and menial as sorting and stacking stuff in a junk shop, it still is an improvement over nothing.
Apparently the area has been especially hard hit lately because a lot of the fishing had shut down for the season, due to debris from the Japanese tsunami disaster floating around in the waters off the Oregon coast. No fishing means there are suddenly a whole lot of people out of work, and most of them with not very many other marketable skills. I’d read about a hunk of dock washing up on Newport beach, but I was surprised at the idea of fishing just completely shutting down and said so.
“Can’t risk snagging or tearing the nets,” the older of the two told me. “A commercial fishing net runs about fifty thousand dollars.”
So Julie and I both wanted to be supportive of the efforts of Helping Hands and were determined to buy something.
The trouble was, we didn’t really see anything we wanted. There was a small bookshelf out front but it was a little too beat up for us, especially since it’d take up almost the entire back seat and we still had most of our trip in front of us. Books, themselves, were a bit thin on the ground– Helping Hands is much more about the restored furniture, dishes, and kitchen knick-knacks– but I did turn up one interesting little piece.
The Girl with a Talent, by Mary Hampden. This was a British novel published by the Religious Tract Society of London, the inspirational tale of one Dot and her Pollyanna-esque efforts to achieve justice for the poor and find love for herself. It was part of the Society’s “Girls Series,” which also featured the titles Stella’s Pathway, Miss Nettie’s Girls, A Young Oxford Maid, and Mermaidens: A Sea Story for Girls.
I’ll be honest– as novels go, this is not a terribly brilliant or exciting one. Young Dot is kind of insufferable.
But part of bookscouting is appreciating books as artifacts, and this one is lovely. You can tell by looking that it’s a full-on letterpress piece– which is to say, it was printed with actual lead type and engraved illustration plates, hand-sewn bindery, the whole thing. These techniques are all relegated to crafting classes today but they used to be industry standard.
The copyright on this is 1898, but I am pretty sure this is a later edition– a little internet research has turned up, variously, third, fourth, and fifth editions, it was in print through at least 1924. I’m going to say this is probably the second or third edition, based on the 1906 inscription and the fact that it’s bound in green cloth with gold foiling on the spine… later editions apparently used black or blue cloth. Still in great shape after at least a century.
The Helping Hands folks wanted five dollars for it. We gave them twenty and told them to put the rest in the shelter kitty. I looked it up upon getting home and found that it’s moving in the ten or twelve-dollar range. Not really a score and I daresay the folks trying to sell theirs online have had the book listed for months or years. But I still like it.
Anyway, Helping Hands is a nice place and a good cause, so we considered it money well spent. If you go by there– it’s right on the coast highway, 101, just south of Seaside– it’s worth a stop. Though it’s not much for books there’s a lot of great old wooden furniture. Tell them the book guy sent you. And be sure to try the lemonade.
The next stop for us was Rockaway Beach.
Just a few minutes at the Hope Chest thrift shop there; this was another place that was not particularly bookish, there was only a tiny book section in the back. But it did yield a couple of minor scores.
Vampire Stories was not in any way rare or collectible, but it had a bunch of good stuff in there that, amazingly, did not duplicate any of the stories in the other vampire collections I have here, not even the Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories. Plus the introduction was written by Peter Cushing, which made it worth having just for that alone.
Mildred Wirt’s The Painted Shield was just because I have a soft spot for vintage juvenile mysteries, especially the ones nobody’s ever heard of, and anyway it was a lovely hardcover from the 1950s for seventy-five cents. Turns out Mildred Wirt Benson was one of the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s early workhorse writers and authored many of the early Nancy Drew and Dana Girls mysteries. Sadly, this wasn’t the 1939 first edition of The Painted Shield, but a 1950s reprint. Still, even the fifties edition turns out to be roughly a fifteen-dollar book and it has enough history to it that I certainly have had seventy-five cents worth of entertainment out of it. The book itself is a typical Nancy Drew mystery, except it doesn’t actually star Nancy Drew: young Frances and Benny Wayne are vacationing with their Aunt Harriet and Uncle Jim. Jim’s old partner has received an anonymous letter warning him of vandalism to a property he handles for a client in Mexico, and asks Uncle Jim to check it out since they’re headed that direction. When they arrive the family meets a young Mexican girl named Lolita who is the daughter of the owner and is searching for her missing brother who was searching for a missing Aztec treasure. Naturally, Frances and Benny get involved in the search for the brother and the treasure, and it’s a pretty good time.
That was it for quite a while. We did stop briefly in Tillamook, but there wasn’t really anything of interest there. Our experiences at Buck’s and Seaside Antiques had already shown us that stock at these out-of-the-way places doesn’t really turn over a lot; most of the comics and pulps at Seaside Antiques were the same ones we’d seen there three years ago. We were looking for new places anyway.
But we didn’t find many– at least, not many thrift stores or garage sales or book places. We did see lots of odd things… Neskowin, for example, is a strange little beachside settlement where the speed limit is ten miles an hour, and there’s a sign on every front lawn to remind you.
And since it’s the Oregon coast, of course we saw all sorts of eccentric people and eccentric vehicles.
We only made one more stop before we hit Lincoln City proper, though, and it was this place. The Red Barn Flea Market is indeed actually in a converted barn, just a couple of miles north of Lincoln City.
The place certainly doesn’t look promising from the outside, but I pointed out to Julie that flea markets are normally really good territory for bookscouts and it was worth a look, especially since we’d noticed it on the last trip and skipped it.
And, what do you know? They really did have a pretty nice book section.
I hit paydirt right away, actually; there were two nice hardcovers on a ONE DOLLAR! CHEAP! table sitting in front of the book section. One, Chicks in Chainmail, just looked like a fun read, and– say it with me– for a dollar, why not? This is, as it turns out, about what it sounds like– an anthology of fantasy stories with female protagonists. The back cover amused me with its plaintive self-defense– “A WOMAN thought up this title! Honest!”
The other was a really nice first edition hardcover of Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison. I had that book at home somewhere, but not in this classy an edition, and again, this was a dollar.
Those were what I considered the big scores, but there were other things too. Paperbacks were only fifty cents, so I ended up with several impulse buys. I fell for a western paperback, Brad Ward’s Thirty Notches, just because I like westerns and this one had a cool cover.
The X-Men First Class was the first actual comics trade I’d seen on this trip so far, and even though I already had it in hardcover at home, I can always use digests as giveaways for my classes. Anyway, it was in like-new shape for fifty cents.
The Red Barn find I enjoyed the most kind of sneaked up on me, though; it was strictly a hell-why-not impulse buy, giving in to a fanboy nerd moment. If anyone asked me, I’d have had to admit that as far as I knew no one was ever excited about this particular book but me and maybe its author, which is probably why the copy they had looked brand-new. But I have a fondness for licensed tie-in books, especially the ones from the era of my youth, and even more especially the ones that are licensed from short-term, one-season wonder television shows.
So you can just imagine my delight at finding Then Came Bronson #3: Rock!
Then Came Bronson was one of a wave of youth-oriented, ripped-from-the-headlines dramas that suddenly appeared on American television in 1969 and 1970– the same wave that included shows like The Mod Squad, The Young Lawyers, The New People, and The Young Rebels, among others. Bronson was basically the same formula as The Fugitive, except where Richard Kimble roamed from town to town looking for the one-armed man so he could clear himself of a murder charge, Jim Bronson wanders from town to town because he is sick of working for the Establishment and wants to find the Real America, and himself. Each week he gets embroiled with some new dysfunctional young person trying to somehow deal with a crabby old person, and Bronson teaches them how to just understand each other and groove together. Everyone thought it was ripped off from Easy Rider, but in fact Bronson was first.
Anyway, this paperback owned me from the second I saw the back cover copy– FOLK ROCK FREAK-OUT! But even better is this exchange from the teaser page in the front:
THE GROOVY LADY AND THE BIKE FREAK
“Listen, baby,” Renee whispered. “You’re a bike freak and I’m a groovy lady; why the hell should those guys on the other side of the bushes get uptight over a couple of cats like us?”
Bronson shook his head. He didn’t know exactly why… but he was determined to get closer to where the motorcycle gang was camped in order to find out. But before he could make any kind of move, a hand grasped his collar and there was a sharp point pressing against the side of his neck. “It’s a knife,” said the voice, “and it goes in real easy…”
Who could resist that? I read it to Julie out loud and she was reduced to hysterics; for the rest of the trip, any time I wanted her to crack up laughing I addressed her as ‘groovy lady.’ (In fact, it still works today– I just tried it now, typing this, and she’s out in our front room giggling over it.)
But the joke ended up being on me, sort of. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it as a book. But I read it through that night at the hotel and I have to give it up for writer Chris Stratton. In spite of the wince-inducing groovy slang, Rock turned out to be a pretty good book, about the plausible tensions that would spring up between old-timer residents and a bunch of hippies and biker visitors when a big outdoor rock festival comes to a small town, with our man Bronson caught in the middle.
Even more embarrassing to me, I’d completely misread the value of the thing. I usually have a pretty good eye for what’s valuable… not professional-dealer-level, but I hit more than I miss. But not this time. What I thought was just a kitschy joke purchase– fifty cents– actually may have been the biggest score we’d come across this trip in terms of investment vs. resale, judging from what the Bronson books are going for from dealers.
Lesson learned. I may have to look for Mr. Stratton’s other efforts now, including his one previous Bronson book.
Not a bad haul, really, but we were just getting started. Lincoln City and beyond would prove to be where all the really good stuff– rare books, old comics, even original art– was to be found.
….But this is getting a bit long already, so I think I’ll stop here and leave that for next week. See you then.
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