Ah, the thrift store. If you’re like me, it’s a place that excites. As a collector and purveyor of the cheap, almost nothing beats a good thrift store.
What can I find?
A Simpson’s watch!
An awesome mug!
Do I need this forgotten band t-shirt?
A Rheostatics CD!? I can’t believe it!
Records, records, records …
Any Kurt Vonnegut books?
What about comic stuff?
In a local comic shop’s bargain bin, it’s easy enough to find something enjoyable. Good? Not always, but enjoyable isn’t too hard when it comes to old, forgotten comics. Shops looking to get rid of old stock might start selling off Denny O’Neil’s Question for a dollar a book. Buy it! They may need to clear some space and figure fifty cents an issue isn’t a bad price for Peter David’s X-Factor. Grab ‘em while you can! But the Salvation Army? I can’t speak for all thrift shops, but in my experience, getting a decent comic for a decent price can be tricky.
I’ve perused many a thrift store in my day and the situation is usually the same — poorly taken care of back issues thrown in with the magazines or children’s books. Sometimes there are a few interesting finds but all too often the comics are over-priced (I don’t want to pay a dollar if the cover is falling off) or few and far between. Again, this is my experience and if you folks have some much loved thrift store finds, I’d like to hear about them!
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve stumbled upon some great stuff while thrifting. I read my first Groo while shopping at a thrift store, found Simon & Kirby’s Fighting American hardcover for real cheap and even picked up John Byrne’s She-Hulk graphic novel. For every Groo though, there have been five clone-saga Spiderman issues with the owner’s name written on the cover. For every Simpsons issue in readable condition, there are ten mullet-era Superman comics that might have lived several years between couch cushions. The problem isn’t necessarily in the quality or condition of thrift store comics, but when you have a fair bargain bin at a store specializing in comic books, it’s hard to justify the purchase elsewhere.
So what good is a thrift store to the average comic collector? Well, besides the scarce gems to be found (again, my experience), there’s still plenty of comic-ish stuff to discover and enjoy! What am I talking about? Stuff like…
Hero Illustrated #3
I was not a comic collector in 1993. In fact, I was only four years old. I can’t say I missed out on the 90s comic craze entirely; I was well versed in the basics of the X-Men and the Batman movies were the “grown-up” videos I couldn’t wait to watch! I did, however, miss out on an era of comic-related publishing that is now ruled by the internet. I think I read my first Wizard Magazine around the same time the first X-Men movie was coming out, and didn’t get into collecting comics seriously until years later. My fandom grew from websites, forums and endless hours flipping through long-boxes. I never had a magazine to tell me what was hip, new and collectable, so when I found the first three issues of Hero’s Illustrated on the magazine rack at a local thrift store, I jumped on them.
So what does issue 3 have to offer us? How about a Marc Silvestri/Brandon Peterson/Dan Panosian 3-page gatefold cover! If that doesn’t put you in a 90s comic mood, then flip it open and you’ll be treated to twin ads announcing the “Return of Superman” (from the grave, of course) and Batman #500 (from the Knightfall storyline). After skimming a few pages, it’s clear there was a lot to be said about comics in the 90s. In fact, let me list just a few things you’ll find in here:
- An article announcing Rob Liefeld’s exit from his Extreme comics
- Info on The Woody Allen Story comic
- Plenty of Youngblood, Prophet and other Image pin-ups
- Reviews for comics such as Bone #9, Madman Adventures #3, Daredevil: Man Without Fear #1, Deathmate Prologue, WildC.A.T.s Trilogy #1 and Warlock Chronicles #3. Which ones would end up in the bargain bin? They had no idea back then.
- Jim Valentino talking about 1963 (the Alan Moore comic, not the year)
- An interview with Frank Miller about his work on Daredevil (including a cool timeline of his work)!
- An interview with Spike Lee on his upcoming line of comics (say WHAT!?)
- A nice article on which plastic you should bag your comics in
- A David Lapham Warriors of Plasm pull-out poster!
- A spotlight on Marc Silvestri’s work
- Todd McFarlane saying whatever the heck he wants in a very long interview
- A very interesting, in-depth yet concise look at the 100 most influential people in comics. There’s quite a few people here I didn’t even know about. Very cool to look back at this list 20 years later.
- McFarlane, Liefeld, Valentino, Larson and Lee interviewed about Image comics firing, cancelling, shipping late and how they treat creator’s rights. It’s sad to see how Hilary Barta got screwed (according to the article).
- Reader cover art!
- News on the coolest movies, video games, toys and trading cards
- Top 10 hottest comics at the time
- A focus on Star Trek comics
- Price guides galore!
- Tons of huge, colourful ads, letter columns and pictures you’ll want to cut out and put on your wall (you can by the way, it’s not like you’re cutting up a comic…right?)
And that’s just a quick look. There’s so much crammed into this issue, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something. Perhaps it’s a series you didn’t know about, or a movie that was never made. Or perhaps you didn’t know who a certain creator was, or that they were a jerk (or just acted like one during interviews). If you need another reason to pick this up, let me know. I could go on and on!
The Untold Legend of the Batman
Written by Len Wein, Illustrated by John Byrne and Jim Aparo
I imagine recommending this book may illicit some initially negative reactions. I mean, this was originally a three issue mi
ni-series published in 1980, and if anything that would be the format to read it in. This is a Tor pocketbook reprinting with no colour and (on average) two panels per page. That means whatever interesting layouts were conceived in the original series are now compressed and repackaged for convenience. The printing is fine and the pages are now that lovable yellow, but surely this can’t be the ideal way to read a Batman mini-series? I beg to differ.
I tend to baby my comics. I don’t let them breathe the fresh air outside their bags unless I’m reading them. Rarely will one be pulled out on public transportation. If I’m bringing them from one place another, you better believe they’ll be in several waterproof bags with something hard and flat to keep them from folding. They can’t play with children, go near greasy food or stay out past 11. Well, you get the idea. This, however, is welcome bathroom material. No newspaper on the train? Sure is handy having a pocketbook you don’t particularly care about. Waiting in the park on a misty day? Might as well read some Batman, who cares if it gets wrinkled! Having a comic story I can take anywhere, read anytime and not worry about is very liberating. If I collected such things and paid more than a single dollar at the thrift store I might have a different opinion, but right now this is my go-to format for care-free comics.
I’m not one for origin stories and I’ve never been crazy about Wein’s writing so right off the bat this book doesn’t seem like it holds much appeal. The real enjoyment comes from Byrne and Aparo’s art, which, even printed in black and white (or yellow, it would seem) still holds real charm. These guys know how to draw an intense Batman. With two panels a page you’d think something would get lost from comic-to-pocketbook translation (and I’m sure something does) but the art is still something to marvel at.
I certainly wouldn’t keep a three issue mini-series from 1980 bagged and boarded in the bathroom, but thanks to Tor and my local thrift store I’ve found a way. Isn’t that exciting?
Bloom County: Babylon – Five Years of Basic Naughtiness
Written and Drawn by Berke Breathed
If you collect comic books and don’t know what Bloom County is, you might be doing it wrong. Comic strips don’t read exactly like comic books, but they are infinitely more accessible, more universally loved and provide (arguably) more satisfaction frame to frame. But I don’t need to tell you that, because chances are you read comic strips. We all know Peanuts. Garfield, Foxtrot, Family Circus – these are often household names. You read them, your grandma reads them and probably even your non-comic reading girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse reads them. Everyone does, and it seems like at one point everyone bought comic strip collections too. In almost every thrift store I’ve been to I’ve been able to find a comic strip collection. I have no idea why so many people get rid of their Calvin & Hobbes, Far Side and Bloom County, but boy am I glad they do!
Bloom County was the first comic strip I fell in love with. My parents had a few collections lying around and as a kid I’d regularly devour them. I probably didn’t understand about 80% of the jokes, but that didn’t stop me from reading, re-reading and laughing my head off anyways.
Sure, with a reading level higher than a 3rd grader’s and a rudimentary knowledge of 80s politics this book makes much more sense, but Berke Breathed can draw funny for any age. Just look at Bill the Cat. That is one funny looking character no matter what gag you stick him in.
I know humour is rather subjective and even if we all love Batman, we might not agree on King of the Hill. I don’t get Scrubs and a few of my pals don’t get Arrested Development. It’s just the way things go, I suppose. I wouldn’t hesitate for a second, however, to give each and every person I meet a Bloom County strip. Sure, they might not get it at first. Maybe they don’t know about Mary Kay, or don’t understand a time when computers were new and exciting. That shouldn’t stop you! For every one-liner about Reagan there’s at least a dozen jokes even your dog would laugh at (I may be exaggerating, slightly).
The first time I read through this collection (which covers many different eras of Bloom County’s history), I probably missed about half the jokes. That’s the beauty of it! Go back, re-read and laugh some more. You’ll want to, trust me. If you still don’t get it, go read Marmaduke. Somebody has to enjoy it, right?