Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors'  Community - Part Five: The Crime of The Century


Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors' Community - Part Five: The Crime of The Century


Part Five: The Crime of The Century


[ Skip recap ] The story so far. A long time ago, in a galaxy…

Regan: Shut it!

Me: Jack?

Regan: I think you'd better stop. It'll be better for both of us.

And now for the shipping forecast: after a period of sustained waffling and tired plot devices, we now get into the main thrust of our story.

Joker: The real joke is your stubborn, bone deep conviction that somehow, somewhere, all of this makes sense. That’s what cracks me up each time.

Bruce: The world only makes sense if you force it to.

Bane: Let the games begin.

Bruce: Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

Joker: You’re harder to kill than a cockroach on steroids.

S1 E5. 1975. Without any discernible sexual tension, I have understandably failed to consummate the relationship with my comic collecting partner, despite the script writers manipulating us into entirely predictable situations from which we entirely and predictably did not conjugate our way. Rather than trying to keep you, dear reader, hooked by this hackneyed contrivance (see, we’re not gonna go down this one), let’s just remind ourselves why. In one word: ugly. To be honest, I’d prefer to do it with two words. But the first would be too rude.

Joe was the living definition of ugly [ uhg-lee ]: very unattractive or unpleasant to look at; offensive to the sense of beauty; displeasing in appearance.

It wasn’t his fault. Probably his jeans. No, actually he didn’t wear them. No fashion sense. #Tumbleweed. #Dadjoke. His lack of sartorial wherewithal just added to the package. Nevertheless, he was my partner and we shared a collection of US Marvels that numbered in the hundreds. So, with me - though arguably just outside West Reading, Joe - fully West Reading, and my other mate, Andy D - on the western fringes, you could say we had a community… of… [pregnant pause]... [host looks at camera]… [dramatic music]… [host looks at audience]… [music  continues]… [palpable tension]… [ta-da]… West Reading Comic Collectors.

Audience: Yay!

Leonard: Hallelujah!

Host: Now let’s crack on and see how the ranks swell.

Ross: I like ranks. Especially swelling ones.

MJ: Go get ‘em, tiger.

In May, the price of generally distributed Marvels, those new(ish) titles that turned up as regular as clock-work every month in our newsagents, rose to 9p. That might seem like very little nowadays but it was a tidy sum back then, enough to buy three Curly Wurlies. However, it pales in comparison to the cost of buying a new-new Marvel, like the ones that were currently hitting the racks in the US, that were three months ahead of their cover date; or, more importantly, those ones that weren’t distributed here. These latter ones, our unseen overseas cousins, back then we called them imports, though now we say ND. They were usually around 20p for horror or reprint titles - Beware, Chamber of Chills, Dead of Night, Jungle Action (pre-Black Panther), Marvel Double Feature or Marvel’s Greatest and so on, rising to 25p for B-list titles such as POTA, Avengers, MTU, Tomb of Dracula and the X-Men reprints (those issues prior to 94); 30p was reserved for the big hitters like Captain America, Hulk, Marvel Premiere, Master of Kung Fu and Spider-Man. The real dogs, mostly war-related, went for as little as 15p, with titles such as Combat Kelly, War is Hell and the Sgt Fury reprints in Special Marvel Edition. Perversely, a few titles commanded the princely sum of 35p, oddly with the likes of Spidey Super Stories and Frankenstein.

In the general case, these imports were also significantly dearer than your average back issue, which typically ranged from the cover price, now 9p of course, or less if discounted, rising to 20p or 25p. They only got to 30p or beyond if they were an early issue such as the first of a title, if it was quite old or scarce, or featured a renowned artist such as Adams, Wrightson or Steranko.

Hence, imports were considered to be gold dust and inevitably were just as hard to come across. I still have several lists I compiled from this era, and it is evident how much I paid specific attention to (a.k.a. took some pride in) the number of imports in my collection. Like they say: different times, different values.

Anyhow, back to the subject of pricing. Remember that this was the mid-seventies, a manifestly sexist and racist era of differing, politically incorrect ideologies and an almost entirely different language. It was a time when it was considered normal for a bloke to whistle at anything in a dress, to pinch a girl’s behind or demean anyone who looked different, be that the colour of their skin, their sexual identity, or their physical capability. Yet, when it came to comics, in another case of diametric opposition to the era’s discriminations and today’s standards, there was no differentiation or stigmatisation between the UK variants and their US counterparts. Both were valued equally. In other words, it didn’t matter if it was pence or cents on the cover. Each were valued the same. They were cherished in the same way for their heroes, their covers, their stories and their art. In this regard, we were way more woke then than we are now.

Here’s a thought, ‘w’ and ‘y’ are very close in the alphabet. Swap one for the other in woke and what do you get? As Stanislaw Lem put it: man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.

Note one: if you fancy a mental mind frick (also see note three), read Lem’s Futurological Congress.

Note two: Solaris is pretty good, too. No, not the one with George. The book.

Note three: on the subject of words and letters therein, did you know that Western comic heroes could not have the name Flick? The reason: because the letterers used upper case, it was so easy for the bottom of the L in Flick to run into the I. Imagine the furore that would cause!

Note four: ditto Clint, but on a comic-castrating scale worse than Wertham.

Harry: Go ahead, make my day.

Okay, Harry. Let’s see what we can do. Ah, here we go. Some culture. An extract from The Complete Poems by John Wilmot…

Bawdy in thoughts, precise in words,

Ill-natured though a whore,
Her belly is a bag of turds,
And her Clint a common shore.

Back in our enlightened past, in addition to any lack of currency discrimination, neatly placed cover price stamps such as the all-too-common Thorpe and Porter’s “T&P” were not viewed as blemishes, disfigurations or value detractors. Nowadays, when antiquities are restored, their warts and all are often kept, to maintain their character – just watch Restoration Workshop. In stamp collecting, a neat cancel can add to the value of a used stamp. So, why aren’t the T&P stamps viewed in the same way? It’s part of a comic’s character, its legacy, its place in history. Crazy, isn’t it?

All in all, I guess we cannot really call it a fairer or more equitable playing field, but it was certainly easier, more navigable and less fraught.

Right. That’s enough of the Good and the Bad. Let’s get back to… Ugly Kid Joe and perhaps the most significant aspect of my partnership with Herman Munster…

Mrs Doyle: G’wan, g’wan!

Me: Frankenstein’s monster?

Mrs Doyle: G’wan, g’wan, g’wan!

Me: Oh, okay. Dammit. Gollum. Dammit. Hang on, that actually was the name of another mate, but he didn’t collect comics though he did play guitar.

Mrs Doyle: It doesn’t matter. There is always time for a nice cup of tea.

… was the fact that Joe lived in the heart of West Reading. And his mum, likewise Irish and Catholic, also made a nice cup of tea, though Andy D’s mum, ditto Irish, ditto religious persuasion, went one better and supplied accompanying lashings of buttered toast with our cuppas.

West Reading was/is a land of once two up and two down terraced homes - cheaper housing - that had, even then, been extended from their original form with other rooms added, particularly bathrooms though these were mostly downstairs, tagged onto the kitchen. Each had a very small front garden, though a slightly larger back, often just a yard, seldom more. They were originally homes for factory workers, Suttons Seeds and Huntley & Palmers being the main industries in the town’s Jurassic era. A few years later, this legacy was celebrated by CB Band enthusiasts who called themselves the Biscuit Town Breakers.

Voice on radio: Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck. Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy.

Giuseppe: What'sa matter you? Gotta no respect? Whadda you t'ink you do? Ah, shaddap you face.

Michael Corleone: There are negotiations being made that are going to answer all of your questions and solve all of your problems. That's all I can tell you right now.

Most importantly, West Reading was a fertile breeding area from which emerged a horde of fellow collectors. It turns out that someone was related to someone who knew someone who was married to someone who knew someone who knew Joe. As a consequence, the drums began to beat loudly, far louder down here than in the headier climbs of the Tilehurst borders where I lived. The sleepers awoke from unquiet slumbers in their quiet earth and arose. And, like birds of prey, they soared upwards into the perennial blue skies and flew and circled and then they descended on Joe. Comics in hand. Wanting to trade. Not visibility salivating, but one could sense the juices sloshing around inside their mouths. Fortunately, Joe knew better and he shooed them away. But, in doing so, he spilt the beans.

There's talk on the street,

There’s a new kid in town.

Sonny Corleone: Bada bing, bada boom.

And they knew where I lived.

Vito Corleone: I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse.

Michael Palin: And now for something completely different.

Orson Scott Card: Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space…

With a flurry of wings, the birds of prey took wing and headed my way. It wasn’t exactly like the arrival of the Keystone Cops, more they came in ones and twos, mostly on foot and sometimes on bike. It was like Joe was the Mole Man (uncanny resemblance too) and these were his subterranean minions who had now emerged into daylight. But instead of being set on nefarious ways, all they wanted to do was swap. And swap we did.

Michael Corleone: There are negotiations being made that are going to answer all of your questions and solve all of your problems.

Moe Greene: Yeah, let's talk business, Mike.

Jack Woltz: Now you listen to me, you smooth-talking son-of-a-bitch, let me lay it on the line for you.

Usually, I managed to get the upper hand and more often than not felt quite satisfied with my acquisitions. However, I soon met my match. My nemeses were Andy W and Andy T, another partnership who bargained hard, with the added advantage of two onto one. Remember that Joe was very much a stay-at-home troglodyte with that inherent complexion and those misshapen features (cough, Gollum, cough, Gollum). So, even though I was outnumbered, I don’t think either of us came out on top of our first deal. They offered me Fear 3 rather persistently and noisily, particularly the younger of the two partners, Andy T, with his extraordinarily loud voice for one of diminutive stature. This double-sized comic chock full of Atlas reprints wasn’t a hot item back then, but it sort of interested me, mostly because it was very early Bronze Age, though with the sort of cover which made it look like it was from the Silver Age. I only caved in at the end just to get rid of them and restore some quiet.

Hello comic, my tired old friend

I've come to hate you once again
Because your pages softly browning

Stories of horror we’ve been spurning
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

From that rather odd and stressful first encounter on my front door step, years later I went on to form bands with both separately, and AW went on to become my closest friend. I guess he still is, if that term is still applicable to us now married men who went from sharing a bedsit at the edge of the town’s heart a few years later (the stories I could tell about that time of my life) to now living in a satellite town (me) and village (him) at the opposite arse-ends of its urban sprawl.

Note five: in the pre-pandemic days, we still met up once a week to catch up and have a couple of pints.

Note six: now? Do you remember Kirk’s scream in The Wrath of Khan?

Charlie Brown: Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, 'Where have I gone wrong'. Then a voice says to me, 'This is going to take more than one night.’

Because the two Andies were like-minded hard-ballers, we ended up mutually respecting each other and staying out of each other’s ways. However, we both wished each other well in our endeavours and occasionally helped the other party in deals with the other collectors. We also pooled our Dick Dastardly minds to try and get the better of our competitors.

Simon: Wild boys (wild boys) never lose it, wild boys always shine.

Doctor Evil: Oh hell, let's just do what we always do - hijack some nuclear weapons and hold the world hostage, yeah? Good.

At the bottom of Joe’s road, where it joined the Oxford Road, on the corner was a second-hand shop. It belonged to the brother of Cyril, who also owned a second shop, aptly sharing his name and much closer to town. In the next couple of years, it was this other brother’s more successful concern that would become a regular trove from where we purchased several used LPs at really good prices, like £1 each. Many were in almost new condition so real bargains were to be had. The first three I bought were all in one hit, consisting of Trespass and Nursey Cryme, both by Genesis, and The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack by the Nice.

However, it was the lesser brother’s shop at the bottom of Joe’s road that held the next motherlode from which we mined further treasures. They were mostly DCs piled deep in a box, but we dug out some real gold: amongst others, a few of those classic O’Neill/Adams Green Lanterns including a Dutch version of issue 85, captioned “Neee! Speedy is een Junkie!”, some Adams Deadmen and Wrightson Swamp Things. Once again, it was more wonderful art on which to rest the eyes.

Note seven: notice how no stone went unturned. We really searched everywhere. If it didn’t move, we checked it out. Apart from food shops. We weren’t that desperate. Nor would we ever buy any food, or sweets, or cans of Coke. Because that money was sacred, it was sanctioned, it was ring-fenced: for comics, only comics and nothing but comics.

Note eight: this ethos was common across our community. Let’s face it, our pennies were hard earned or hard saved. They were few and they were treasured. And this mindset stuck with us on our further adventures into collectordom when our horizons expanded a few months later. As we shall see in later instalments. Can I sense your anticipation?

Red: I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

Hot on this second-hand strike came London Road, just south of the town centre. For quite a period, this modest little newsagent by the Turk’s Head provided a constant supply of new though not entirely recent comics including quite a few imports: Marvel Double Feature 5, Marvel’s Greatest Hits 53, Marvel Premier 19, Marvel Spectacular 13, Marvel Spotlight 17, Marvel Triple Action 22, Nick Fury 3 and Spidey Super Stories 2. From that cast list of non-Oscar contenders, you can rightly suspect we missed out on the good stuff.

And all the time, our circle of contacts grew, as did the outrageousness of the deals. In this time, I acquired the likes of FF 111 and 142; Defenders 18 and 19; Ghost Rider 7; and Subby 61 and 62. Now we really did have a convoy, rubber duck, and we really could call it the West Reading Comic Collectors’ Community. So, let’s say a big hello to honorary new members and regulars Ivor E, Winston H, Jerry H, Mark K and Michael W, though Michael would forfeit his membership before long for a crime so daft it beggars belief.

Einstein: Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

Vito Corleone: You can act like a man! What's the matter with you? Is this how you turned out?

Michael Corleone: Don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry.

One of our newbies lived a spitting distance off the Oxford Road, on the other side of Willis and Shorts to Joe, and arguably closer than a well-aimed gob to the elevated railway line that emerged from a deep cutting below the Tilehurst Road and passed over the Oxford Road by way of the aptly named West Reading Railway bridge. This was Winston H, an Afro Caribbean with startling blue eyes. He was also a huge Luke Cage fan. For a while we became big friends and he went on to educate me in ways I never expected.

MJ: Face it, tiger…. you just hit the jackpot!


Yup, he introduced me to Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust and the wondrous yodelling of Focus Live at The Rainbow. This was my first exposure to real music beyond BBC playlists, Top of the Pops, my sister’s teenybop dross and bubble-gum glam. It had a lasting effect.


Watching him dash away, swinging an old comic (Luke Cage),
Sake and strange divine,

Uh-h-h-uh-h-uh you'll make it,
Passionate bright young things, takes him away to read (don't fake it),
Sadden glissando strings,
Uh-h-h-uh-h-uh, you'll make it.

Winston never had much money and seemed to live on a promise of forth coming riches. I can’t remember if there was ever much point to his stories of imminent wealth, but we never believed them. For instance, there was this supposed £5 pound note that he could see in their open attic, sitting on the lip, just beyond his reach from their landing floor and no matter how hard he tried to jump up and grab it, it always just eluded him. We never had the heart to tell him that a well-placed stool could be the answer to his problem. Actually, a well-placed stool could be the answer to many folks’ problems, particularly if they are fartipated, excrementally challenged, bunged up,

got the builders in, the chunky dunky…


Rolf: Can you tell what it is yet?

Dick: Ooh, you are naughty.

Jones: They don’t like it up ‘em.

Winston’s best mate and neighbour was Jerry H, an equally enthusiastic reader, but less so collector, with whom we seldom mixed. He was rarer than Spidey 121. I seem to remember he became a drummer in a relatively successful local reggae band. Not that this piece of trivia has much to do with anything right now in our story, but it does highlight how many of us teenage comic collectors went on to become musicians. This also included Andy D. So, between us, we would have three guitarists, me, and Andy’s T and D; and two drummers, Jerry and Andy W.

Note nine: Tim S from school and sort of collector would take up the bass. Someone has to, I guess.

Note ten: As someone once said, ‘We don't hate bassists, we despise them. Can't even play a proper number of strings! Might as well play a cardboard box with elastic bands.’

Note eleven: Tim L didn’t go on to play anything. He probably got dentures.

Note twelve: Alf W was voted the kid mostly likely to die from flatulence.

Editor: We apologise for that slight against bass guitarists. They are wonderful human beings. Shy and retiring.

Striker: Surely you can’t be serious?

On the other hand, there was Michael W of differing ethnic extraction, who as we now know had a significantly evil part in our saga, albeit a rather stupid one that, in retrospect, I would say was on a par with Bill Pullman’s Earl Mott in Ruthless People (1986) …

Lt. Bender of the police, whose authority has been challenged by Mott, speaking to Mott over a bullhorn, while he is trying to steal a ransom from a man dressed as a clown: GIVE THE BAG TO BOZO, DROP THE GUN, AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR.

Mott: Who said that?

Lt. Walters to Lt. Bender: This could very well be the stupidest person on the face of the earth. Perhaps we should shoot him.

Don Corleone: Don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry.

At this point in the story, I am jumping slightly ahead in the time line, but I include it now whilst we discuss these other characters and Michael W in particular, because every tale needs a threat, or indeed a supervillain, before it gets too far down the road. So, let’s get the lobotomised Walter White bit out of the way without any further ado…

As with many of the others collectors, Michael was an occasional visitor at my front door step to do a swap – only a select few were generally accorded the privilege of being allowed inside. There was once when we had arranged to meet up after school to do a trade. When I returned home on my bike, the first back as usual, he was standing at the top of our drive, looking a little concerned. He apologised, told me that he had to get home and, more worryingly, that he had just seen someone run down to the bottom of our garden. This was a good 80 metres long, sloping downwards from top to tail, the extent of it visible from where we were standing at the end of the drive, looking through the usually open side gate at the front of the passageway alongside our bungalow’s back door. From this vantage point, he explained how this person had pelted down to the bottom, alongside the greenhouse and shed (née an asbestos garage relocated from the drive when the house was extended), then made good their escape through the gate.

I thought this was odd because, though the rest of his account was credible, we didn’t have a gate. Anyhow, after saying our farewells, I checked it out. I couldn’t see any sign of an interloper in the garden beyond, just about visible through some cracks in the separating fence. In addition, nothing seemed amiss and the afternoon continued like any other after school with, yuck, bloody homework followed by TV. Much later that evening when I happened to glance at my unbagged and neatly stacked collection – bagging let alone boarding simply didn’t happen in this era – proudly spread across my bedroom bookshelves, I noticed a certain thinning in most of the piles.

A quick inspection confirmed my fears. Several issues were missing. Of course, in my naïveté, I believed Michael and assumed that a mystery thief had run off with my comics. Need I say, the sinking feeling in my gut was about as bad as it can get. I immediately told my parents and, hey, that day saw a paradigm shift. Deflowered now was our family’s innocent trust in mankind and, from then on, we never left our back door unlocked. None of us could credit the brazen villainy of someone who could dare walk through our entire bungalow to get to my bedroom at the front of the house and pilfer my most valuable comics.

Chewits one: It’s the end of civilization as we know it.

Curiously, not even my parents voiced any doubts about the veracity of Michael’s story. However, as luck would have it in that Earl Mott way, our villain really was a dumb prick who deserved to be shot or eradicated by an Infinity Gauntlet. The following day at school (a different one to the boys-only, virgin sphincter uptight RC Grammar I attended) our stupid idiot donated/traded/sold – it was never clear – a couple of my comics to Winston. Two of these were early Luke Cages (issues 3 and 4), which Winston proudly brought around to my house the next afternoon, obviously unaware of their provenance. I recognised them right away. Winston wouldn’t say where he got them from at first, but said he knew where there more.

Chewits one revisited: It’s the end of civilization as we know it.

Chewits two: Not quite professor, it's a long shot but it just might work.

True to his word, he went off and returned an hour later with several others, claiming that he found them on top of a wall in the new estate at the bottom of our road. After some gentle coaxing, I finally encouraged the truth from him and he fessed up the name, Michael W, and his address. My dad was duly informed and later that evening he drove to our villain’s lair, returning a short while later with retrieved booty.

It was a moment of Ren & Stimpy jubilation: Happy, happy, joy, joy.

I was reunited with every single one of the remaining, missing comics, which included some rather valuable FFs and very early Thor’s in Journey into Mystery. I figure, because my father really never understood what these comics meant emotionally or that they had any real monetary value, he agreed with Michael’s father to keep the police out of it. But, at least, that was the last we ever saw of that piece of trash.

Regan: What a wonderful day for an exorcism.

Karras: The power of Christ compels you!

Once rid of this cuckoo demon, our community of friends prospered, opportunities came a-knocking and our horizons stretched further afield. London was calling. To be continued as an anthem plays us out…

London calling to the faraway towns

Business is open and dealers come down

London calling to the comic world

Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls



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