Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

A Comic Book Hoarder Anniversary, or, Does Anyone Remember Gift Certificates? Or Waldenbooks, for that matter?

That’s right, today is a notable Comic Book Hoarder Anniversary, as I’m celebrating 25 years as being a full-time comic book geek!

I figured I might be a total weirdo, but once I thought about it, I’m sure I’m not the only one that can pinpoint when they went from casual comics reader to full-blown comics geek.  In fact, I’d guess most of us know when we became the nerds we are.  It’s part of our geekiness, the ability to rattle off seemingly irrelevant information!  And celebrating something nerdy like a Comic Book Hoarder Anniversary is part of the fun of this hobby.  I like to think so, anyway.

So I actually wrote a lot of the rest of this piece almost 5 years ago, when I wanted to blog regularly at the other place.  Since there was no interest shown in it at the time, I’ve had to wait to reveal this to the world until now.  Don’t you feel special?  I’ve edited some things, but copy and paste was my friend here!

Let me tell you WHEN I became a raving comics fanatic.  I can’t tell you why, because I just don’t know.  I don’t think.  Maybe some time I’ll make an attempt to explain it somewhat.  Right now, though, let’s discuss the significant date of December 31, 1991.

I got a 10 dollar gift certificate for WaldenBooks for Christmas 1990 from my uncle’s family on my dad’s side, and needed to use it by the end of 1991.  Because gift certificates expired.  They take your money but tell you it goes bad in a year.  WTH?  Ahem.  Moving on….

I turned 12 the summer of 1991, and I was in seventh grade, junior high, hating most every minute of it, but I had discovered the work of Stephen King.  I had read Firestarter for a book report (my memory tells me I was chastised a bit for using it due to his “lowbrow” nature, but I could be misremembering that), and I started to get my hands on everything he’d done.  Even 25 years ago, that was a lot.  Even so, there’s stuff I missed, like for example I STILL haven’t read Christine.   (Note: that still holds true 5 years later, not surprisingly!)

Anyway, there was a book that came out called Shock Rock that had a King story in it, “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”.  The anthology’s concept was rock’n’roll horror stories, and the King one is pretty good, from what I remember, but I’m not sure where that book is so I can’t check.  There were a number of other memorable, creepy, disturbing stories in that book (Vargr Rule familiar to anyone?) (note: once the Warren Ellis James Bond arc came out, I finally found out that Vargr wasn’t a made-up word!  YAY!), and I’m glad I got it.  The comic geek in me would like to point out that there is a prose story in there by John Byrne.  Yes, THAT one.

Anyway, that book was probably 5 or 6 bucks, and I didn’t figure that they’d give me the change on that, so I needed to find something else.  At this point, I’d probably been losing interest in the other 2 big interests in my life to that point, astronomy and baseball.  Astronomy, while interesting, just wasn’t as appealing as the writer’s life I wanted because of King.  Baseball was probably waning as an interest as well.  I was realizing that I was NOT going to be a big leaguer (slow learner), and baseball card collecting was losing its interest with me as well.  (Were the Mets still good in ’91?  If not, that probably made a difference too.)

I DID have an interest in comics, though.  I’d acquired others in the past (which I’m sure I’ll discuss in the future), but they didn’t immediately clamp into my brain.  But there was a spinner rack in the corner by the magazines at this Waldenbooks in the mall (actually, it might have been a Coles books, which was a subsidiary, I believe.  We had both!), so I took a look, and that changed my life.

I found 3 comics that were, Goldilocks style, about the right price: not too much, but enough to put me at or around 10 bucks, any overage covered by the amount I was making delivering Pennysavers.  The 3 that hooked me were Spider-Man 18, Wolverine 51, and Marvel Tales 257, which reprinted the first Hobgoblin story.


Hoarder Anniversary Spidey GR
How would you not buy this, as a 12 year old boy?
Spider-Man 18 was by Erik Larsen, probably the last thing he did for Marvel right before the Image debut.  It also has Ghost Rider on it, and it was SO COOL to my 12 year old brain.  Spidey and GR fight Doc Ock in a mall (this is from memory, ok?  I haven’t read it in ages.), and I think the Hulk gets involved maybe.  Rockin’.  (Note, on the GCD, the Hulk is NOT listed as a character.  Although I think he shows up later in this storyline.)  Funnily enough, as we discussed in the last Flippin’ Through Previews, an Erik Larsen Spidey omnibus was offered with this storyline in it. I even hinted I’d be writing about this!
Hoarder Anniversary Wolverine
Who else can I kill?! cries the man in the gaudy yellow costume!
Wolverine 51 had Wolvey and Jean Grey in it, or something.  At the end, the 6 armed lady Spiral shows up, and I learned the word “nuance”.  Who sez comics ain’t edumacational?  I thought Silvestri was still drawing that, but I am wrong, it was Andy Kubert.  Also, reading the GCD entry, I finally get what was going on in that issue now.  Huh! (Note: I am more confused, 5 years later….)
Hoarder Anniversary Marvel Tales
Perhaps you should face your enemies, Spider-Man? You might be able to fight them better!
Marvel Tales 257 was a reprint of the first appearance of Hobgoblin (and sported, I now find out from the GCD, a cover by Klaus Janson, so no wonder I love his stuff!).  (Neat side note: When I looked up this issue on the GCD to look at the cover, I actually didn’t know the issue number, but based on the number/date of some other issues listed, I took a guess, and picked the right one the first time!
Well, I thought it was interesting, at least.)
So, Image guy Spidey, Kubert Bro Wolvey, and older Stern/JRJR stuff.  Who wouldn’t get hooked as a 12 year old boy wanting to feel KEWL!?
Those 3 did it for me, and I’ve been collecting ever since.  However, I don’t have those issues any more.  (I did recently [ahem!] pick up the Spidey issue in a back issue dive.  Also, 5 years later, I think I have gotten the Wolverine issue as well.)  At some point in my collecting, I traded those issues away.  It was either to my cousins (and I was therefore able to read some of these comics a few years back when I stayed at their place for a bit.  Actually, thinking about it, it was closer to 15 years ago, I think.  Wow.  I am old.) or to some neighbor kids.  I don’t think they were the only things I traded (I seem to remember having had an issue of Slash Maraud, and that ain’t in the collection anywhere), but it’s a bit surprising to me that I did trade away those 3, my early entries into comics.  I usually had/have more veneration for those kinds of things.  Oh well, what are ya gonna do?


So yeah, that’s the story.  The Comic Book Hoarder Anniversary, celebrated every New Year’s Eve at Casa Travis, and this year it’s a special 25th Hoarder Anniversary with extra-size gatefold chromium cover!  Yeah!

Or not.  But I hope you enjoyed the story of when Travis became a Comic Book Hoarder.  Sometime we’ll try to delve into the why and how (genetics and cheapo back issue bins, essentially — dammit, I just blew an article opportunity!) as I continue to talk about comics and stuff here at the Atomic Junk Shop! (Parenthetical asides and all!  I loves ’em!) Heck, I can even tell you the LAST comic I bought at the local Waldenbooks!


  1. mike loughlin

    What? John Byrne has written prose? Wow. I hesitate to ask, but is it any good? Was the whole novel anout refuting what Chris Claremont wrote in First Flight?

    I read that Stephen King Rock & Roll Heav n story, and remember it in far greater detail than I realized. Mostly, I remember a) I wanted to see that concert at the end of the story, thus reducing the horror a bit, and b) I was disappointed that Jimi Hendrix was only mentioned in a throwaway line. C’mon, King! Your ’50s fetish did not serve you well there.

    I remember Waldenbooks. The one near me neve had comics, then it got gobbled up by Barnes & Noble or Borders. Coincidence? I think not.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Mike: As noted below, Whipping Boy is a horror book. It’s not bad – a bit generic, but decent enough. I didn’t know it had any connection to Next Men – maybe I should re-read it at some point!

    2. Jeff Nettleton

      Waldenbooks was owned by Borders and they phased the name out and rebranded the mall stores as Borders Express, then shut them down. That company had been hemorrhaging money for years and the mall stores didn’t have enough variety to attract enough customers to cover the rising mall rents of the 90s. B&N owned the B Dalton stores and phased them out by the end of the decade. Retail rental rates skyrocketed across the 90s, doing more to kill smaller bookstores than the superstores or Amazon. Both Waldenbook and B Dalton were part of the same companies that ran superstores, yet they were too costly for them. I worked for B&N for 20 years, so I got an insider view of this.

      Waldenbooks was better about jumping onboard the comic book bandwagon earlier. However, I always found that independent bookstores had the best selection. For me, my retail gateway was a small local chain, called the Book Emporium (they had a few in the Central Midwest), which had a comic rack and a pretty good newsstand. They lasted until I hit college, in 1984. The Univ. Of Illinois’ bookstore, the Illini Union Bookstore, had a pretty good selection, and had things like Asterix and Tintin, as well as the First Comics graphic novel line (and Lone Wolf & Cub) as well as reference books, like Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones’ The Comic Book Heroes. Apart from that, we had an independent bookstore in the mall, at the opposite end from Waldenbooks, that had a great comic rack and newsstand, an awesome sci-fi section and was where I bought Son of Origins and The World Encyclopedia of Comics.

      I remember when the Byrne book came out. I don’t believe it had any connection to Next Men (never heard anything like that, at the time) ; but, I did not read it.

      1. I did neglect to mention, but yeah, the comics were from a spinner rack next to the magazine stands.

        Was Coles the more discount/liquidation part of Waldenbooks, do you know, Jeff? That’s how I seem to remember them, but that might just be that I got more liquidated stuff there than the Waldenbooks. I’ll have to talk about some of the things I got there at some point. They still have the increasing discounts sticker on some of them!

  2. dalgoda7

    Waldenbooks was one of the few places other than an LCS that had comics that weren’t all bent up in a wire spinner rack… they were also the first ‘civilian’ store I remember that started carrying graphic novels & TPBs in the mid-80s.

    My first comic *ever* (that I can trace with my memory, 40~ years on) was Detective Comics #468. I loved comics as a kid, but didn’t consider myself a ‘collector’ until age 11, when I saw a longbox full at my friend’s house. Marvel Universe #1 flipped a switch in my brain – I loved how organized and serious it was to me. I started buying & trading comics randomly for a few months without any huge regularity and found that I loved them and wanted THEM ALL.

    For my 12th birthday, I’d been given a subscription to 3 books – Avengers, X-Men, and Defenders (group books = more characters pound for pound!). My subscriptions kicked in with the May 1984 cover date – the same month as Secret Wars #1, Spider-Man 252, and a mess of other notable books. That same month, I started buying a bunch of other Marvels (I disdained DC as being ‘too boring’ until Crisis, a year or so later) and from then on I was picking up a dozen or two books a month… without fail for the next twenty years.

    I gave up monthlies in general around 2005/2006, and have pared my collection down to a couple hundred sentimental issues. These days, most of my comic purchases are books *about* comics and comic creators (TwoMorrows, etc), or the occasional archival underground/indy reprint.

  3. Caanan

    Larsen’s Spidey is what got me in to the superhero comics too. I started round the same time at issue 15, the issue with a Beast team-up. Before that I’d been collecting Disney comics since I was around 9, I think. Actually collecting – putting them in bags and everything. The only way I remember this is because I wanted to show my friends at school in grade 5 my awesome comic collection, and by that time, I had a stack high enough to reach the side of my chair that wouldn’t stay there, because they were in super slippery mylar bags and kept falling on the floor.

    I wish I could say I was a hoarder though. After Spidey, I started collecting X-men comics at the time of X-Cutioner’s Song, up until shortly after Chris Claremont’s return on Uncanny. Due to finances, I had to stop and sold my entire collection (X-Men 1-100 and something, Uncanny X-men from the Jim Lee days to those Claremontian issues, Gen X 1 – 50-odd, and X-Factor 1-100-odd (with some missing) – Sold it all to pay my rent one month.

    Like I said, I wish I could be a hoarder, but I also wished I could be a cartoonist for longer. Doesn’t really pay the rent. 😉

    1. Greg Burgas

      You know, Caanan, your last paragraph depresses me so much. The fact that you’re not getting more work when Tyler Kirkham and Tony Daniel get to draw DC comics is a travesty. A TRAVESTY!!!!!

      1. Caanan

        Thanks Greg! Sadly, I think my time is passed. With my health the way it is now, I don’t think I could ever keep up with the breakneck pace of 22 page comics per month. It’s just one-offs and little jobs for me now.

        (I wasn’t going to say, but all those fun comics got me 350 bucks. *sob* I forcibly removed one guy who tried to offer me 80 though!)

        1. Aw, man, that’s too bad about not doing more comics than what you do, Caanan. That was you on that Monster Elementary book, right? (Not that I got it yet, but I keep seeing it in Previews lately.) Always dug your stuff at the Line as well.

          I totally justify my hoarding as “well, someday, if I need to sell these, I can at least get some money out of them”. It’s a better vice than smoking or drinking or watching too much sports, in that sense, at least!

  4. Simon

    Today is the first day of your next 25 years of comics. Use them wisely!

    – “It’s part of our geekiness, the ability to rattle off seemingly irrelevant information!”

    Geekiness or Asperger’s? Heh.

    – “WaldenBooks”

    Thoreau, Porcellino, Dan & Le Roy?

    – “I finally found out that Vargr wasn’t a made-up word!”

    Tolkien derived his warg wolves from it, too.

    – “Who else can I kill?! cries the man in the gaudy yellow costume!”

    I think his name is Madness? Cover sez, “Cry of Madness”.

    – “Marvel Tales 257 [sported] a cover by Klaus Janson”

    Did he do it all? That flat and ugly Spidey seems from a different hand.

    – “thinking about it, it was closer to 15 years ago, I think. Wow. I am old”

    “Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
    “You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
    “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
    “No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

    “And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
    “Racing around to come up behind you again
    “The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
    “Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

    “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
    “Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”

    (Pink Floyd, “Time”)

  5. Edo Bosnar

    I also remember Waldenbooks, but I don’t remember any of the ones I frequented (in Salem, OR) selling comics. In fact, with the exception of one non-chain bookstore in a shopping mall that had a spinner rack (also in Salem), I really don’t recall bookstores selling comics. Before I discovered comic book shops, I had to rely on the often spotty distribution of grocery stores, drugstores, etc.
    Interesting that you have a such clear instance of just when your fascination with comics began. I first got my grubby little hands on a comic book (Marvel Tales #59) when I was about 6, and was instantly bitten by the comics bug, but I only became a hardcore fan (by which I mean following a number of specific titles month-to-month) after getting my first issue of X-men (#120), which I think was purchased in a grocery store.

    And yes, I also find the expiration date on gift certificates a rather significant pet peeve.

    Mike L., yes, Byrne has written a few prose novels. Never read any of them, but the one Greg B. mentions above, and another (I think it’s called Fear Book) are horror stories.

      1. Eventually, I’ll get around to talking about my “pre-history” with comics before the December 31 date, but I liked comics some before that. These comics are the ones that sealed the deal and made me go, “yeah, this is what I want to think about for the rest of my life”.

        Well, retroactively, that’s my thought process.

        And the gift certificate line was a throwaway, actually. Now with the stuff on what is essentially debit cards, there is no “expiration” per se, although they want you to use them ASAP. In NYS, I believe, new Democrat leader Chuck Schumer pushed to get legislation so that the companies at least stopped charging fees for barely active gift cards.

        Why do I know that much about that?

        1. Le Messor

          “new Democrat leader Chuck Schumer pushed to get legislation so that the companies at least stopped charging fees for barely active gift cards”

          … they used to do that?

  6. tomfitz1

    I’m canadian, so I’m guessing that Waldenbooks is an american thing.
    You’ll have to forgive me my less-than-memorable ignorance there.

    However, being a John Byrne fan of the good ol’ days, I did buy and read both FEAR BOOK and THE WHIPPING BOY (the latter mostly because of its tie-in into the JOHN BYRNE’S NEXT MEN series).

    I don’t hoard comics much anymore. I still have a bunch of hcs, scs, and omnibuses.
    Since everything is digital now, and you can fit most collections into flash drives, I don’t keep print issues longer than 6 to 12 months.

    Yes, print will always be better than digital, but what can I say? Space is always going to be a problem. 🙁

  7. frasersherman

    My becoming a comics reader and a comics nerd were simultaneous: JLA 30, when I was six years old. So much cooler than anything in my life. Or on TV. Or in regular books.

    I worked Waldenbooks for ten years (and yes, Simon, the name was meant to evoke Thoreau). Best job I ever had outside of writing. I’d probably say the same if I’d worked at a different chain, but my boss was exceptional and I don’t know anyone else would have been as good to work for.

  8. M-Wolverine

    We had the odd comic as a little child; some collections, and of course the priceless Marvel pocket books telling the gr a test early stories of Spidey, the FF, Hulk, Cap, and the Avengers. (Who needs Masterworks?) Biy superheroes were still more of a cartoon thing. And Batman ’66.

    I became a full blown collector in a more circuitous route. GI Joe cartoons had ads for the comic, and the animated ads for what was going on in the comic always seemed cooler than the show. (And of course they were). So I got a subscription. They had these things before comic shops. But of course, in the ads were a subscription page for all the rest of the line. (Maybe 20 books totial, including Transformers and STAR comics?) So, mommmmm think we could afford one? Maybe Spidey? Which one…uhh, Amazing? Then Spectacular and Web, and Iron Man, and….. Then comic book stores popped up…with the back issues! Little by little. Then one of those garage sales with a full run of old Iron Man and Cap issues post Tales of Suspense, as well as other older (but not retiring with) books.

    Then you have a collection.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Yeah, I’d have to check my boxes for all the details, but am sure Iron Man 1 and Cap 100 on for awhile, early FF and Spidey, but I’m sure mostly post issue 100 on those, and various other old Marvel. I don’t think I have too much really old Thor, so probably not him. And it’s not like I got Hulk debuting Wolverine. But those I remember because Iron Man was my brother’s favorite. And I realized Cap “started” with 100.. My mom probably paid $30-50 bucks for it all. Probably a guy graduating college and getting his stuff out of his parents house. Back issues hasn’t completely blown up by then, but even my mom knew it was a haul and she didn’t even realize how much. Not that I’m planning my retirement on them. They were read, then reread. But they were and are in pretty good condition. As long as I can keep my basement dry.

      2. Caanan

        Talk about garage sales… When I was 12 or 13, there was an ad in our local paper from a guy selling his whole collection at 3 bucks a piece, and when my brother and I got there we found it was 60s and 70s issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and other stuff. We only had allowance for about three things each, and didn’t really have much knowledge of a comic’s worth but knew we were at least looking at something incredible, so we pleaded with our dad to take us to the bank and come back with next week’s allowance too. Our dad gave in, but the guy lived way out of town and by the time we drove in to town and all the way back out again, someone had come and bought everything.

        I can’t remember all the ones we got, but I know for sure, for 3 bucks, I got Amazing Spider-Man 46 (the first Shocker) and my brother got 50. Yes, Amazing Spider-Man 50 for 3 bucks. (This must have been around 1991-92.) They were “very fine” condition, in hindsight, and yes, we did end up flipping all of them when times called for it. 🙁

        When I was 17, I was talking to a comic collecting friend of mine in high school about that score, and it turns out he had also visited that same guy that day. Eventually, it became clear it was a rather legendary event in the small-town comic buying circuit around rural Victoria, Australia. Guys at the big comic meets in Melbourne would even occasionally talk about it.

  9. Eric van Schaik

    I have been a comics fan since I was 7. Being from Holland, that means Lucky Luke, Asterix, Gomer Goof and many many others.
    Later there appeared translations of X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk and Fantasic Four (Kirby/Lee) in black and white.
    Years later in colour with translated Fantastic Four by Byrne.
    But most of the books were European.

    One day I visited my LCS Blunder in Utrecht, and there was an enormous amount of cool looking American Comis with Sylvestri on X-Men, Breyfogle on Batman, McFarlane on Hulk and later Spider-Man and I haven’t stopped collecting ever since.

  10. Louis Bright-Raven

    John Byrne has had 3 novels published: FEAR BOOK, WHIPPING BOY, and a Wonder Woman Novel, GODS & GODDESSES. The “Next Men tie-in” isn’t really so much a tie in as it’s the two lead characters from WHIPPING BOY made a cameo in an issue of JBNM to sort of market the novel, and are never really seen or mentioned again. I guess it also suggests that FB, WB, and JBNM all took place in the same “universe”. As for the quality of said novels, Byrne received a Bram Stoker Award nomination for FEAR BOOK for Best First Novel in 1989 (alongside with J. Michael Straczynski’s DEMON NIGHT and Kevin J. Anderson’s RESURRECTION, INC.), and WHIPPING BOY received two nominations for literary awards. The WONDER WOMAN novel did not fare so well.

    I also own the SHOCK ROCK collection Travis mentioned, specifically for the Byrne short story featured in it “Hide In Plain Sight”, and HOTTER BLOOD, also from 1991, which had another Byrne short story, “Nocturne”. (At the time, I was a ‘third degree Byrne Victim’ and had to have a copy of all his professionally published works. I pretty much own a copy of 98-99% of everything Byrne did from 1974 through his first year writing / drawing WONDER WOMAN – which I think is about 1996-97, IIRC. When he ‘took his toys and went home’ on went on publishing hiatus with JBNM and DANGER UNLIMITED, I basically stopped buying from him, and have really only supported his creator owned stuff after that, and sometimes not even that stuff in more recent years.)

    As for the short story “Vargr Rule” you mentioned, Travis – that’s Nancy Collins, who is also a comics writer in addition to her short fiction and novel writing – she was writing SWAMP THING for Vertigo right about the time that anthology was published.

  11. Louis Bright-Raven

    Oh, and Kurt Busiek also appeared in that HOTTER BLOOD collection with a short story entitled “Confession”, so if you’re a Busiek fan, you might want to hunt that down.

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