Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
This is the final installment in a series of columns about various places we found rare old books and comics and stuff on our last two trips south down the Oregon coast. The first part is here; the second is here; the third is here; and the last one lies below the fold.
There were other bookstores in Newport besides the Newport Book Center, but really we had better luck at the thrift stores and antique malls.
For example, the only place we found any comics at all was at the Cheap Frills Antique Mall.
And even those were a mixed bag. The trouble with antique mall books and comics is that they tend to be priced and sold by people with no idea at all what they have. Sometimes this can work in your favor, but far more often it means you’re looking at quarter-bin crap, lovingly polybagged and priced at nine or ten bucks an issue.
I did, however, find an E.B. Mann western, The Valley of Wanted Men, a 1940s hardcover that wasn’t too terribly beat up. No jacket but the binding was tight and it was only three bucks. And Julie found other entertaining junk.
We also did moderately well at a thrift shop we found quite by accident, just bumbling our way from Newport Book Center back to the hotel. Pick of the Litter benefits the local animal shelter or something, and it had a haphazard, but well-stocked, book section.
Mostly junk, but I did turn up a couple of nice hardcovers.
The Moon and the Sun I picked up just on the strength of Vonda McIntyre’s name, I’ve been a fan of her books since I read Dreamsnake back in high school. Doctor In Love is one of the “Doctor in the House” series, a very popular line of British comic novels from the late fifties and early sixties that was even adapted for film and TV a couple of times.
That one wasn’t really for me, it was for my Young Authors TA, Tiffany. Tiffany is a student of the romance novel, in the same way I am a student of pulp-hero fiction of the 1930s, and we’ve talked a lot about the historical romance, the gothic romance, the comic romance, etc. I always tell her that if she’s going to wallow in the stuff she should at least start with the classics, and here was one. So I bought it and put it in the pile for Tiffany’s birthday.
(Aside: when we go on these jaunts, we aren’t looking just for us. There’s usually a secondary quest as well– the “Rin’s STAR WARS hardcovers” pile, the “Kerowyn might like that” pile, and so on. This trip it was the “Tiffany’s birthday” pile, which was largely classic romance, and also books about the craft of writing. We dropped off the lot at her birthday party a couple of weeks ago, and I got a nice email from Tiffany the other day thanking us and especially mentioning Doctor In Love, so I guess it was a hit.)
We also spent a fair amount of time idling around Newport’s waterfront, which is an odd mashup of a working fishing wharf and and touristy time-wasters like the Undersea Gardens, the wax museum, restaurants and gift shops and so forth.
But the one place I really wanted to see, and the one of interest to comics fans, was the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum.
It’s an entertaining enough place, but it’s really more like walking through live dioramas of the Ripley cartoons and TV shows than a celebration of the actual Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
We enjoyed ourselves, especially since I got to amuse Julie with my Jack Palance impression. (The secret is the random hissing inhale and the total glee in describing something disgusting. “When we come back–hssssss– we’ll visit a tribe of aborigineeeessss whosse– religiousssss ritessss include eating– FRIED MONKEY BRAINSSSSS!”)
But the frustrating part is that there’s hardly any mention of the fact that the whole enterprise exists because of Robert Ripley’s syndicated comic strip. In fact, you’d never know there WAS ever a comic strip from visiting the museum, except for a couple of framed original art pieces scattered randomly through the place.
However, it didn’t really get under my skin until we were in the gift shop. “Aren’t there any actual Ripley’s books?” I asked a clerk.
“Oh sure,” she chirped brightly, and pointed at a row of garish neon-colored photo encyclopedias.
“No,” I said patiently, “I mean the actual Ripley’s books. The comics. You don’t have anything like that?”
Not only did she not have them, she had no clue what I was talking about. And she worked for the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, for Chrissakes. The girl probably thought her place of employment was a spinoff from that TV show with Dean Cain.
Oh well. I guess it’s just one more piece of evidence that I’m getting to be a cranky old man. But I remember when the Ripley’s collections were second only to Peanuts and B.C. when it came to comics having a presence on the paperback spinner racks.
Later in the car I was trying to explain my horror to Julie at there being not a single book of the strips the damned place was NAMED FOR available for sale at the gift shop, and it developed she’d never actually seen a Ripley’s collection either. Well, she’d seen the books on the racks when she was a kid, but never actually picked one up– so then and there I determined that we would find some. We had a new quest for our book hunt.
That was our last day in Newport, as it happened, but it didn’t mean there would be no more opportunities to look for books. We had determined to come home by a different route, cutting across Route 20 over to Highway 99 West and head up north that way to Portland.
And we looked. We found nice places in Corvallis…
And in Amity and Toledo and all the other places we stopped for a look. Not just no Ripley’s, but no real finds at all as far as books were concerned.
So we decided we were making good time and we could afford to stop and have lunch in Portland; specifically, we had hoped to stop at Rose’s Deli, but apparently it’s gone. There’s some sort of trendy fern bar or microbrewery or something there now.
Fortunately, though, there was still Powell’s, and we decided we’d give their coffee shop a try.
Visiting Powell’s is something of a traditional pilgrimage for book people here in the Pacific Northwest. We don’t always stop here when we come through Portland, though, because it’s right smack in the center of downtown. Traffic’s always a nightmare and it’s a hassle to park and there’s always a crowd. And the prices are such that there are few bargains to be had. But we hadn’t been there in a few years, and anyway that day I was on a mission.
The store itself is huge, with three separate floors full of stacks in a building that fills an entire city block. You can easily get lost– in fact, staff offer you maps at the front entrance.
I started at Graphic Novels, thinking surely there’d be a couple of Ripley’s paperbacks there.
No such luck. So then I went and looked at Licensed Novels.
Nothing there either. At this point I was getting annoyed, so I found a clerk with a computer station and asked him. Again we went through a whole thing where I had to describe what the damn books looked like.
If it sounds like I’m hammering on this too hard, you have to understand that from my perspective it felt like I was having to explain to a naval expert what an anchor looked like. First the Ripley’s gift shop girl, and now the guy working the graphic novel section at Powell’s, had no idea what the hell I was talking about– and this is a paperback series that ran for fifty-plus years, and for many of those years it also tied in to a national radio or TV show. Moreover, there had been at least forty separate titles IN the series. Yet a clerk in the store named for the series, and now a guy working the biggest graphic novel section of a bookstore on the west coast, had no clue at all what these books were, they’d never seen one. To me that’s crazy. I mean, they weren’t random strangers off the street.
But the bookstore kid leaned into it like a champ, he was so annoyed at his own ignorance I couldn’t stay annoyed myself. Soon he looked triumphantly up from his computer to tell me that yes, they did have Ripley’s Believe it Or Not books… in the Trivia section of the store.
Well, okay, whatever. He directed me and I hustled over there. Julie followed, because now she was interested.
At first it looked like there was nothing but the neon encyclopedias again, but then I saw one of the trade collections of the Dark Horse Ripley’s and decided that was a half point, anyway. So we got that.
Other items had already found their way into my hands as I was looking through the other sections. The original Night Stalker novel by Jeff Rice, and Jim Butcher’s Spider-Man book. I don’t actually think it’s possible to come out of Powell’s empty-handed, certainly not if you are a book person.
The Ripley’s thing resolved for the moment, Julie went to look at the psych books (this is her new thing, since she’s going to school for her social work degree) and I went to look at “Vintage Juveniles.”
Most of it was stuff I already had or it was priced too high, but I did find a couple of Whitmans that looked kind of interesting.
There were only three Tom Stetson adventures in all, and here were two in remarkably good shape: Tom Stetson on the Trail of the Lost Tribe from 1948, and Tom Stetson and the Blue Devil from 1951. Only three bucks each, which is a deal at Powell’s. File it under impulse buy.
And there were a couple of really nice scores, too.
A Gene Autry Authorized Edition still in the jacket for a mere four dollars, and — I was especially pleased about this– the very first of the Three Investigators books, The Secret of Terror Castle, for five dollars. The Terror Castle wasn’t a true first or anything, but it was the original hardcover edition, still with Alfred Hitchcock. (A glance at the back cover showed me that it was probably the one reissued to coincide with the release of The Secret of Skeleton Island, since that was as high as the list of other books in the series went.)
We decided that should probably be enough. We could have easily emptied our bank account there.
The Ripley’s thing was still bothering me, though, and I asked Julie if she minded if we stopped at Cameron’s on our way out. “He’s got to have one,” I reasoned. “He’s got thousands of trashy paperbacks there, it’s really better than Powell’s for that stuff most of the time.”
Julie agreed but said she’d just as soon stay in the car, since the dusty shelves in Cameron’s play hell with her allergies. I promised to be quick.
Inside, thankfully, was the owner himself. I described the books and he was nodding instantly. “Sure, sure, I don’t know if I have any… they’d be over with the other comics paperbacks.” He pointed.
At least he knew to put them where they belonged. But again, no luck. Lots of Peanuts and B.C. and Wizard of Id, but no Ripley’s.
He did still have a bunch of the Laser Books for a buck each, so I picked up a handful as a consolation prize.
When he was ringing me up I told him about how he was the first person I’d spoken to who actually remembered the Ripley’s books and he was scandalized. “What? Seriously? Powell’s didn’t know? There were, like, thirty of those!”
“I know!” I felt absurdly validated.
When I got back to the car Julie nodded at a group of kids huddled on the corner. “Ask them if they’re hungry,” she hissed at me.
“They’re homeless, I think they’re runaways.”
“We’re not giving them money,” I said. Julie is very softhearted, so it usually falls to me to be the bad guy. “Doesn’t help, we’d just be enabling their–.”
“No, I know.” My wife scowled at me, knowing I was right. “But they can have the food. The blueberries and the chips and stuff.” She meant the road snacks we’d picked up in Corvallis. Two bags of chips and some pop and also some blueberries from a produce stand.
They hadn’t tried to panhandle me as I passed them, and we really didn’t need it. So I hollered at them, “We don’t need this, do you guys want it?”
It would have broken your heart to see how quick they tore into the snacks; I could tell it was breaking Julie’s. I hustled her out of there while the kids were still saying thank you.
“You can’t take them all home and fix them, baby,” I told her gently as we pulled out on to the road out of town.
“No.” Julie sighed. “I just feel stupid now. After I was so upset about Rose’s.”
I could have argued, but I let it go. No point in beating it into the ground.
But I daresay we were both feeling a little embarrassed about our crankiness earlier in the day over silly stuff like wanting a particular book or a particular restaurant. “First world problems,” I think the expression goes.
And that’s about it. I hope you all enjoyed this– I certainly enjoy writing these reports, though I never intend them to sprawl on for 15,000 words over the course of a month.
Bless you all for your patience, and I’ll see you next week.
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