Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Grail Quests

A question that came up several times after last week’s tale of stepping away from OCD collector mania was, “Okay, but clearly you still collect things, right?”

Well… yes and no.

I guess the answer would be– not actively. Not in an obsessed-with-the-complete-set way. But the act of collecting, the fun of the hunt as a separate thing in itself, so to speak, is a hobby I haven’t given up entirely. When Julie and I go on our trips, we spend most of the time prowling thrift shops and used bookstores for things we like.

But I have a couple of rules to keep it from becoming obsessive. First of all, these are things that I am unlikely to encounter any other way — books that are out of print, comics that don’t have a trade paperback edition collecting the stories, stuff like that. Second, the challenge is to try and find these on the cheap; the same as professional bookscouts do. (If I wanted to go online and was willing to spend the money to pay gouger’s prices, I could have all this wrapped up in a couple of weeks.)

With those restrictions in place, it’s much more fun; it becomes a kind of game. So, bearing those rules in mind, here are the things that I sort of always have in the back of my head when Julie and I are out on our thrifting jaunts.

Edward Aarons paperbacks. Sam Durell, in particular. I like the older editions and favor those… chances are that I’d pass on the newer editions, if I came across them in the wild. Which makes it a collecting thing and not just reading, though I do really enjoy reading them.

Really I enjoy all the Gold Medal guys. Donald Hamilton and John D. MacDonald are on the short list as well; I already own both the complete Matt Helm and the complete Travis McGee, so in recent years it’s been the non-series books from those authors. MacDonald in hardcover only, just to make it interesting.

Hamilton westerns, by the way, are a bitch to track down. Still kind of mad at myself for passing on a first edition of The Big Country on a trip to Oceanside a few years ago… the bookstore owner had it under glass for ninety dollars and she was willing to go as low as forty, but I just didn’t want to spend that much on one paperback. Today, it goes for a couple of hundred. Such is the collecting life. But as I said, part of the challenge is trying to do it on the cheap.

Speaking of doing things on the cheap, pulp magazines are WAY out of our budget but I do kind of collect the oddball hardcover reprints of pulp-hero things you saw every so often in the seventies. The Crime Club Shadow hardcover doubles, in particular.

And I always am after the Avenger paperbacks with the wonderful George Gross covers, because after they ran out of the Paul Ernst originals to reprint, Ron Goulart continued the series with new stories. Those don’t exist in any other format.

It’s hard to find good ones because for a while there, publishers would bind in these massively annoying cigarette ads in the middle of the book.

Maddening in and of itself, but often people would try to tear them out…which at BEST cracks the binding and at worst tears the entire book apart. (Learned this the hard way when I was a teenager; ruined my first copy of Cyborg doing that.)

What else? I am always looking for tie-in paperbacks to favorite old shows of mine– but original stories only, not adaptations of episodes. (Because with the advent of home video, we have the actual shows here.)

I have a soft spot for Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus editions, especially the classics. I guess I’d have to say I collect those because I’ll go for one whenever I see it.

That’s a relatively recent itch, though. Mostly because we found a bunch on our last couple of jaunts down to Oregon.

What else? The Hitchcock juveniles, I wrote about here. I’m still after a few of those, especially The Three Investigators. But only the hardcovers, from the days before the Hitchcock connection was edited out of them.

Just knocked Sinister Spies off the list, as a matter of fact, after years of prowling. Happened across it two weeks ago at Half-Price books and snatched it up. Still feeling a little smug about that.

Comics? Hardly anything any more. Even the back issue hunts are largely confined to conventions, and by conventions I mean Randy’s Readers if he’s got a booth there.

But I do still like picking up DC’s seventies 100-pagers, especially from the period when they took over the regular monthly line.

I also have a yen for the similar books from the 25 cents– Bigger and Better! period.

In both cases, it’s because of the reprints (although there is a huge raft of Superman and Supergirl from that time you can’t get any other way.) E. Nelson Bridwell was usually the guy that put those together and he had a good eye for a comics anthology package.

Apart from that I am really not collecting any comics. I was after the Marvel black-and-white magazines for a while, but I mostly have all of those that I want except for a few of Planet of the Apes, and one or two issues of Marvel Preview. I figured they were unlikely to get reprinted, and I was right for the most part– though I have to admit the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and Vampire Tales collections surprised me. (I’m kind of annoyed that just as I was closing in on finishing my Apes run they started putting out hardcover collections. If they included the articles along with the comics I’d have rather waited for those …not that I can afford them.)

So there you go. That’s the short list. My birthday’s in November, if anyone was wondering.

Back next week with something cool.

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  1. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man. I can so relate to your annoyance with those cigarette ads; most recently – about 2 years ago – I found a copy of Don Pendleton’s Guns of Terra 10 with a big True cigarettes ad right in the middle. I always have to fight the temptation to pull those out (otherwise, I’m one of those guys who obsessively removes all stickers and such from book covers – even to the point of using nail polish remover to get rid of the glue that often persistently stays on them).

    Otherwise, though, given where I live, I pretty much had to resort to the internet to find and purchase a lot of the books I’ve really wanted over the years. I’d say my last real Holy Grail is the adaptation of Bester’s The Stars My Destination that’s illustrated by Howard Chaykin – the rarer edition that contains the complete story.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Just remembered another one I’d like to find on the cheap in a thrift store or something when I visit the US: Alan Brennert’s first novel, City of Masques.

    2. I’d say my last real Holy Grail is the adaptation of Bester’s The Stars My Destination that’s illustrated by Howard Chaykin – the rarer edition that contains the complete story.

      That’s on my list too! Only ever saw it once… the first edition, not the complete one… at B. Dalton’s on the remainder table, the year it came out. In 1979 the price of $6.95 or whatever it was just seemed so staggeringly huge that I said “Forget it.” Had I but known…here’s what it goes for today. And here is the complete one. Sigh.

    3. Louis Bright-Raven

      Edo: You shouldn’t need nail polish remover. It should come off with a Sterile alcohol swab. I’ve been using them to remove the stickers off my all my recent warehouse store purchases.

          1. Edo Bosnar

            I moved on to nail polish remover (acetone) after I found that alcohol (in swabs or otherwise) is not always effective.
            I can believe that lighter fluid works quite well, but I’d also be hesitant about using it – if for no other reason than I’d imagine it can do some serious damage to the book (which is occasionally also the case with nail polish remover – e.g. it sometimes removes the ink on older, pre-1980s, paperbacks).

  2. I don’t think I have a holy grail any more — too much stuff I’d like to read, but not enough I have to read.
    I agree those hundred pagers were awesome–I was reading the two Worlds’ Finests recently that dealt with the Brother Batman Didn’t Know He Had, and it was a real kick. While I love the easy availability of old stories in the TPB age, getting reprints of something good back then was such a rush.

      1. Louis Bright-Raven

        Well, I want to see examples of the specifics you are looking for, and what price range you feel is reasonable. Because I am constantly coming across stuff that is from your wheelhouse at conventions and stores and I have often thought, “Hey, that’s a good deal… I’d like to buy that for Greg, but I don’t know if he already has it.”

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    I don’t really have a holy grail anymore. I found anything comic book-wise I wanted years ago, and stopped collecting by the late 90s. I have digital scans of some other things that I was interested in reading; so, I pretty much have comics covered, except for European stuff. I subscribed to Scribd for a while and was actually able to find a lot of books I had been curious about, but weren’t available in English, like Mort y Filemon, Tanguy et Laverdure, Mafalda Passengers of the Wind, The Mercenary, and a few others. I found a few samples on there (and some Alan Ford, from the Balkans) of some of that. Passengers of the Wind is one series I really want to read in English. I’ve only ever seen some art samples, on a dvd series about the history of comics. The other thing would be a complete Mordillo collection. I have one of his books; but, that is it. Thanks to Cinebook, I now have the complete XIII and Valerian, both of which I originally had in the Catalan Communications and Dargaud USA editions, from around 1987. The only other comic Holy Grails would be Esteban Maroto’s Cinco Por Infinito (rather than Neal Adams’ butchery of it, The Zero Patrol) and a “greatest hits” of Diabolik. There were a few digest translated and released in the early 2000s; but, that was about it. Oh, yeah, and Hugo Pratt and Hector Oesterheld;s Ernie Pike, from Argentina.

    For books, not really anything. 20 years as a bookseller found me just about everything I was interested in. The only thing I can think of is Kim Newman’s Back in the USSA, with an alternate history take on a Socialist USA. It’s one of a very few of his books I haven’t read and the only one not reprinted in recent years (even the Diogenes Club books are being reprinted by Titan, now).

    I had just about all of the Ron Goulart Avenger books, having found a whole treasureload of them at a used bookstore, back in the early 90s. I got rid of them, along with a lot of other things piled up, before I ever got around to reading them. I figured they had been collecting dust for a few years, so I wasn’t going to read them and why not trade them in? Got rid of my Doc Savages that way, too, though I picked up a pdf collection of those, for sheer reading fun. Have one for the Shadow, too. Now, if only I had one for the Spider and Operator 5.

    For a while, my Holy Grail was recording all of the classic Looney Tunes and Merry Melody shorts that I wanted, from favorite directors and favorite cartoons. Thanks to the days of the June bugs marathons, on the Cartoon Network, I had all of Bugs (and got the controversial ones elsewhere) all of the Daffy, all of the Road Runner & Coyote and most of the rest I wanted, with a couple of gaps. When they started the Golden Collection, I let my vhs go and I didn’t transfer my home tapes, before cleaning out vhs. Then, they stopped adding to the series and were very hit and miss with what they did include. Youtube used to be a good place for them, before WB started cracking down on copyright violations. Funny that Disney hasn’t been as active on that front, from some of their classic shorts I have seen on there.

    My one other Holy Grail i settled a few years ago. I had seen a movie, pn tv, while visiting relatives. We stumbled onto it part way; but, it had some kind of detective chasing after some maniacal criminal. All I could ever remember was a rooftop chase, with a domed building. I eventually discovered, to my delight, that it was most likely the first of the Fantomas films, from the 60s, with Jean Marais as both Fantomas and the journalist Fandor. I had heard those were great 60s action/camp films and had been on something of a kick, acquiring those, the German Mabuse films of that era, and the 7 Golden men caper films, from Italy. Low and behold, when I watched Fantomas, there is a scene where, Fantomas, disguised as Fandor, steals jewels from a museum and escapes across the roof, including climbing over a dome, to a waiting crane hoist, which lifts him away to escape in a helicopter. It stuck in my head, since I was a kid, as I have a fear of heights (less so now compared to then) and the chase was pretty heart pounding, for me.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Hm, I’m still subscribed to Scribd, but had no idea you could find comics there. Sure enough, just confirmed that they have two Alan Ford books posted – albeit in the Croatian translation rather than the original Italian. I don’t think any of those have ever been translated into English. There are – or at used to be – a number of sites at which the entire series is posted and readable online.

  4. True story you probably know about those cigarette ads:

    Harlan Ellison had it in his contract with a publisher that they could not put cigarette ads in his books, partly because he hated the inserts as much as you do, partly because as an ex-smoker, he was militant on the subject. The publishing company inserted an ad anyway. Harlan went Full Harlan on them. Although better related in Harlan’s essay “Driving in the Spikes”, suffice to say that after trying nicely to get the book
    rights reverted back to him, as per his contract, and getting blown off,
    Harlan mailed 213 bricks postage due to the comptroller of the company (this was back when the US Postal Service would mail anything postage-free, making the recipient pay up), had a Luthuanian hit man friend of his have a talk with him, and then mailed a dead gopher, along with Ted Cogswell’s recipe for braised gopher stew, fourth class mail, where it stank up the mailing room for quite a while.

  5. While it wasn’t a Holy Grail, I was delighted the time I found “Subterranean Worlds,” a book about hollow-earth theories, for $10 in a local store. At the time online used book stores had it for about $80.

    1. Edo Bosnar

      Yeah, I love it when that happens. A few times I found books that I was thinking of buying online in a local library’s gift box, i.e., 100% free – something that can almost be considered providential, since I live in a non-English speaking country.

  6. Andrew Collins

    I’m mostly past my “collecting phase” when it comes to back issue and after-market items. I collect Huntress merchandise as it comes out from DC, and have a whole shelf of Huntress figures and statues in my den at home. But that’s just new stuff, not the great treasure hunting of the old days. The internet helped me complete a lot of searches for things I had wanted.

    The one after market item I would love to have is a hunt of my own making. Back in 2012, Marvel released the Avengers: Trial Of Yellowjacket TPB. I had a copy as it had the first few issues of Stern’s Avengers run. A couple years ago, I was doing a clean out and accidentally grabbed it and put it in the “to get rid of” pile and I didn’t notice it until it was gone to Goodwill. Now copies of it in good condition go for $100+ on Amazon and eBay. I’m honestly astounded Marvel haven’t reprinted it to go along with the Ant-Man movie promotions, but whatever. Maybe I’ll track it down for a decent price someday.

    I’m also a big Get Smart fan. I was able to get my hands on the 60’s novels pretty easily and cheaply, but copies of the old comic book in good condition are very outside my price range. Hermes Press was doing some TV comic reprints there for awhile and I wrote them about reprinting Get Smart. They sent me back a perfectly polite reply about looking into it, but nothing apparently ever came of my request. (I’d be happy if they would ever get around to reprinting the remainder of the Gil Gerard Buck Rogers comic from the early 80’s…)

  7. jccalhoun

    I did my phd on videogame players and a couple years ago I decided to start collecting videogame-based novels. The thing is, I don’t read them. I only buy them used and so I’ve paid a dollar for most of them and never more than three so I figure it is a fairly cheap hobby.

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