Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
This is the latest in a series of columns about various places we found rare old books and comics and stuff on our last two trips south down Highway 101, on the Oregon coast. The first installment is here; the second is here; and the third is below the fold.
We’ll pick up our journey down the coast highway just south of Lincoln City, at Streetcar Village.
It’s a large-scale antique mall, ten different shops anchored by AA Auctions in the back.
Of those nine shops, two are of interest to us.
The first is North by Northwest, the last of the ‘official’ list of Lincoln City’s five incredible antiquarian bookstores that our friends had exhorted us to check out.
It is a very cool place, and full of all sorts of beautiful old hardcover Westerns. What I walked away with, though, was a first edition hardcover of Steve Englehart’s The Plain Man, the latest Max August novel. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was an advance review copy because there was a publisher’s press release tucked inside the flyleaf.
The proprietor of North by Northwest is one Sheldon McArthur. He deals in both rare books and apothecary glass — the place is full of weird old bottles and other antique pharmacy glassware, and I was terrified of knocking something over, but Mr. McArthur assured me with a chuckle that the really good stuff was safely out of the way. He had The Plain Man priced at fifteen dollars, very reasonable considering it’s brand-new in hardcover, and then he let me have it for fourteen because that was all the cash I had on me (he doesn’t take debit or credit cards.) A very nice man.
Across the parking lot, though, was a place much more of interest to us– and to you folks as well, probably, if you ever get down that way.
Suzy’s Pop Culture Collectibles would have had me just with the name, but the word COMICS in big blue letters leaped out at me. So far on this trip we had not found any actual comics shops, and I was wondering if there were any comics retailers at all on the coast south of Astoria.
Suzy’s wasn’t a true comics specialty store, but as far as back issues were concerned, it was more than close enough for me.
In particular, there were a great many magazine-sized 1970s comics from Marvel and Warren, and they’re almost the only exception left any longer for me when it comes to buying single issues of anything. (When Secret Society of Super-Villains, the Gold Key Time Tunnel, and The Legion of Monsters have all made it into some kind of hardcover trade, you know that anything is fair game for a collected edition… and I’m really trying to stay away from buying any more single issue comics that end up in a longbox, not being re-read.)
Aside: It’s a pet peeve of mine that the Marvel magazine stuff– especially the oddball, short-run books– are among the very few comics yet to be collected in book form in any kind of systematic way. (Though the occasional single issue shows up in books like the Blade: Black and White collection or Essential Marvel Horror.) In a world where hugely undeserving current titles are available in hardcover or paperback collections hardly before the ink is dry on the monthly book, you still don’t get real collections of titles like Marvel Preview or Unknown Worlds. Which is a damn crime because those books are AWESOME.
Rights issues be damned– Dark Horse worked it out with the Robert E. Howard people for their reprints of SAVAGE SWORD and the other Marvel stuff, and Marvel figured out how to get Toho to play along with ESSENTIAL GODZILLA. It’s not like it can’t be done. They just don’t do it.
…Anyway, digressing. The point is, Suzy had a ton of those magazines. I love that stuff and I was in heaven for a few minutes until I realized that most of the really good stuff there, I already had.
Then I noticed there were books as well– in particular, more vintage juveniles, including some of the Whitman Authorized Editions we’d been after lately.
Some of the Whitmans were kind of interesting– particularly the 1940s books based on the comic strips Winnie Winkle and Tillie the Toiler– but they were way too beat up for the price she was asking. I was tempted, but they’re not THAT rare…. especially since Robert’s, just up the road a piece where we’d been earlier, had many similar editions, some still in the dust jackets, in better shape for half that price.
Eventually I settled on Gerber and Colan’s Stewart the Rat, and also Marvel Preview #11 with the Claremont/Byrne Star-Lord.
Stewart is one of those books I’d read ABOUT but never actually seen for myself, and it was priced at five dollars; that was less than it originally retailed for. I already owned the Star-Lord book, but it was in great shape for just a buck and I knew I’d be able to pass it on to a good home somewhere. (I’ve already done so, before anyone asks; one of my students got it.)
At this point we were essentially done with Streetcar Village, but since this was the first weekend of the month, AA was gearing up for an auction in the back. Mr. McArthur had mentioned it to us as being a lot of fun, and the reason all the stores were staying open extra-late. Julie wanted a look and I was curious myself.
The auction was indeed a lot of fun– we could tell because after about twenty minutes we began to think about bidding on things, even though most of it was junk we didn’t need and had no room for. (Vintage kitchen appliances, wooden chairs, things like that.) The auctioneer was a fortyish balding man who had a great line of snappy patter and seemed to know half the people in the room, and we soon figured out that this was a monthly gathering of the tribe for Oregon antique dealers.
There was one antique globe with a wooden stand that no one wanted, not even for ten bucks, and I was about to raise my hand to bid five dollars when the auctioneer shrugged and gave it away free to a young lady in the front row who couldn’t point out where Germany was. “You clearly need this,” he told her, laughing. I didn’t begrudge her because obviously the auctioneer was right.
After about an hour it became clear that there were to be no books at all, and we really didn’t want to try and deal with furniture or appliances this far from home, so we took off. Shame though, because there were some amazing deals to be had. If we’d had a truck to haul things around in we might have stayed and bid on some things, but as it stood we were forced to admit that even the bags of books in the back seat were getting a little out of control. So we quietly sneaked out.
And that was Streetcar Village. Well worth your time, and if you should happen to be down there on the first Saturday of the month, you certainly should stay for the auction.
Downtown Depoe Bay is essentially a wide spot in the road as you go south on 101. It started as a fishing town, but like many of the Oregon coast towns, it’s as much or more about tourism as it is about anything else. Depoe Bay bills itself variously as “The Whale-Watching Capital of the World” and as having “The World’s Smallest Harbor.” (I think they mean smallest COMMERCIAL harbor, because there’s a bunch of smaller bays along the coast.)
The row of shops that run along the main drag ‘downtown’ are mostly saltwater taffy places, beer joints and chowder houses, and the occasional Gift Shoppe. Amidst all this tickytacky glory on the boardwalk, though, is a truly extraordinary bookstore: Depoe Bay Rare Books.
One glance in here was enough to tell me that this place was out of our league. There were some SERIOUSLY rare books in there.
Like we’d seen on previous trips to Langley and Sisters and Sydney-by-the-Sea, we’d found yet another hardcore book collector who’d retired to an obscure town and opened a bookshop. In this case it was Betsy Ogden, a wizened, white-haired lady who was sitting in a rocking chair by the front counter, looking pleasant and at peace.
I mentioned this tendency of book collectors to retire to obscure small towns and open amazing bookstores there, and Ms. Ogden smiled and shrugged. “I decided I wanted to grow old here,” she said, “and so I packed up all my books and here I am.”
There was very little among the used books that was in our range, but we’d spent enough time there browsing and taking pictures that I thought, guiltily, that we should get something. I settled for two– a juvenile mystery from Keith Robertson, and a western called Rawhide Johnny.
With that, we said our goodbyes and wished Ms. Ogden well. We hope her semi-retirement continues as serenely as it looked to be going when we were there…. I can only hope we get to grow old like that, in a place with congenial scenery that’s full of awesome books. Julie and I talk a lot about retiring to the Oregon Coast someday, and we could do a lot worse than Depoe Bay.
Newport was our actual destination. I don’t normally bother to mention the hotel unless they treat us really well, and this one did. We’d opted for a place called the Whaler, which was not actually on the beach, but nevertheless had a splendid view of it.
The staff was uniformly helpful and pleasant, and it always tickles me how hotel people perk up when we explain that we are on the prowl for old and interesting books. Mindy the desk clerk was no exception to this and made me promise to tell her where the good spots were so she could recommend them to other guests.
So where are the good spots in Newport? We didn’t find them all, I daresay, but there are a couple of good ones.
Newport Book Center was a very cool place, half a block east from 101 on Hurlbert Street.
The layout of the place is a little counter-intuitive, and the proprietor seemed to be… well, let’s say not a people person. Of all the book people we met along the coast, he was the only one that was less than effusive in his greeting when we walked in, and did not make it a point to engage us in conversation or introduce himself.
But we didn’t mind that he was on the gruff side; we are more than capable of looking around on our own. Within about two minutes Julie came up to me and whispered, “This guy knows what he’s doing.”
I nodded. Prices were fair but I could tell he knew what he had. (I admit it made me smile that Julie bowled it out so quickly; books are usually my department, but I guess she’s picked up something being married to me all these years.)
We kept looking. I found the juveniles, finally, but nothing was jumping out at me. Meanwhile, two teenage boys had come in with a box of used books they were hoping to sell, and I edged over to where I could hear a little better. Yes, it was very rude, but you can tell a lot about a bookstore by what they are buying and what they offer for it. The proprietor was still a bit gruff but he treated the kids fairly and even gave them a couple of pointers. This pleased me.
Julie was beckoning me to join her at another shelf. I quit trying to eavesdrop and joined her. She was pointing at a shelf labeled Media.
What had caught her interest was a hardcover first edition of Aljean Harmetz’s Making of the Wizard of Oz.
“We have that,” I told her.
“But it’s a first! And only twenty dollars.” Clearly Julie had learned a LOT.
So I put it under my arm, and then I noticed the licensed paperbacks next to it. A glance at prices and they both went under my arm as well.
“Don’t you have those?”
“I never knew they existed,” I told Julie. “And with 1960s spy stuff, that never happens. These are super rare, have to be, and probably we’ll never see them again. Certainly not for TWO DOLLARS EACH.”
Finding both a James Bond book and a Man From UNCLE book that were new to me was awesome all by itself. But the ‘media’ shelf find that I liked the most was actually a weird little licensed novel by William Johnston.
The Young Rebels was a show that aired, very briefly, in 1969. It was essentially the Mod Squad in 1776, except instead of a hot blonde girl they had a plump nerdy guy. (Notably, Isak, “the black guy,” was played by a young Lou Gossett.) The idea was to find relevance to the then-current youth rebellion by telling tales of the American Revolution and portraying that, too, as a group of disaffected youth banding together to stick it to The Establishment.
My little brother and I were big fans of the show when it was on, though the heavy-handed allegory was completely lost on us. We just liked the action and the young people that got to make as important a contribution to America as George Washington and Lafayette had.
I hadn’t thought about it in years– not since it aired, really– and then the previous week I’d stumbled across #2, The Sea Gold Incident, also by Johnston.
I’d been tickled to find it, the childhood memory had come flooding back, and I’d resolved to see if I could find the first one. (There were only two books in the series.)
And here it was. From not knowing they were out there to the complete set, four days later. And new James Bond and new UNCLE. For two bucks each.
Some days, even if you are dealing with a store owner that’s dry behind the ears, the bookscouting gods are with you. We bought our books and departed.
We’re edging up to the 3000-word mark here, and that’s probably enough for one day. We’ll pick it up next week with the rest of Newport, as well as a bunch of cool stuff we found on the way home. See you then.
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