Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors Community - Part 7: There And Back Again

Untold Tales From A West Reading Comic Collectors Community - Part 7: There And Back Again


Part Seven: There And Back Again


In a community in West Reading there lived comic collectors. Not of nasty, dirty, wet DC books, not without real world heroes and a contemporary charm, nor without a dry, old, musty odour with nothing in them to entertain or to savour: it was Marvel books, and that means comfort.


Recap: so large have our comics collections become, they have started to burst out of their underpants. At least, that’s what we thought. And though we were principally focused on US colour Marvels, we also lowered ourselves to consider DCs of interest and occasional other oddities, like the short-lived Atlas line. More specifically, our fealty was sworn to Marvel’s Silver Age rather than their current issues (the term Bronze Age was far from being coined). And what drove our vassal-ating passion? Simply put, it was because many of the these comics had Kirby and without fail significantly nicer covers.


Gollum: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.


By the way, this meant we slightly extended our definition of Silver Age to include Marvels from the first year or so of the 70s, up to Oct 71, when the prices went up and, just for that month, the page count doubled. This was when the covers became simpler, losing their lovely graduations and richer palettes. It also included the final period of Jolly Jack’s reign before he defected to the distinguished competition.


Some of our community also partnered up with a fellow collector to share the costs, normally a neighbour, or, in my case, long-standing school friend, failed experiment, genetic subvert and pet monster Joe, who lived a mile and a half from me. Our biggest competitors came from the partnership of Andies W & T, also budding tycoons, from just a couple of houses apart at a ten-minute walk from mine. Less of a threat were Luke Cage fans, Winston H and Jerry H (different Hs), who lived equally close to each other, a further five minutes from Joe, but they weren’t serious collectors and mostly penniless.


They were so poor they couldn't pay attention.

They were so poor their daddies unplugged the clocks when they went to bed.

They were so poor they didn't have toilet paper. All they had were corn cobbs which were a dark colour and a light colour. They wiped with the dark one first then used the light one to see if they got it all.


Thought one: I suspect Joe used his fingers.

Thought two: heaven forbid he licked them.

Thought three: then shook your hand. You’d die from hepatitis.


Modern day twist one: I suspect Joe coughed into his hand.

Modern day twist two:  he didn’t sanitize it.

Modern day twist three:  then he shook your hand. You’d die from the disease that shall not be named.


Modern day anecdote: a work colleague of mine was one of the first to go from that disease of diseases. He might have known Joe. I doubt it.


Modern day Joe retort: sorry about everything being a bit of a bummer, you know, what with you dying and all. Still, things could've been worse; you could've been me, and ended-up having a really bad time all the time.


Joe and I had been together in partnership for just a few months, but that short span had seen the heroic increase in the enormity of our collection. This was down to my leg work - or cycle work, accompanied by Andy D – and, apart from some often mediocre and occasionally dodgy swaps, nothing much else from Joe, mostly because he was incapable of pursuing physical activities. Though he could probably manage an open-mouthed kiss with a horse. Below his neck, Joe was relatively human in appearance, four limbed, correctly proportioned, just poorly coordinated. Of course, his head was another misshapen matter… nuff said.


Poor kid Joe! He could not coordinate any form of physical activity. His attempts were unintentionally comical, limbs akimbo, each waving flags of semaphore, each with single mindless purpose, each in varyingly different directions and rotations. Like an overwound oscillating spider, spasmodically imploding and exploding whilst gyrating in wild sexual (or asexual in Joe’s case) abandon. And as for getting him on a bike, well… nuff said.


Yet… somehow…. I wonder… with that degree of independent limb movement, might he have made an excellent jazz drummer? The problem would be for that, to be any sort of drummer, even though they are the butt of so many not-muso jokes, he would have needed at least one musical atom in his body. Sadly, he didn’t. Not musical. Not lyrical. Not artistic. Maybe autistic.


I say, I say, I say: what do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
Boomtish: a drummer.


I say, I say, I say: how do you tell if the stage is level?
Boomtish: the drummer is drooling from both sides of his mouth.


I say, I say, I say: what's the last thing a drummer says in a band?
Boomtish: how about we try one of my songs?


I say, I say, I say: how is a drum solo like a sneeze?
Boomtish: you know it's coming, but there's nothing you can do about it.


I say, I say, I say: what do you do if you accidentally run over a drummer?
Boomtish: back up.


I say, I say, I say: what has three legs and an asshole?
Boomtish: a drum stool.


Snivelling author apology: sorry drummers and ex drummers (Andy W). Just kidding. You really are wonderfully talented people, owed so much by so many…


Regan: shut it.

Reagan: it has been said that drumming is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first.


Thus, mostly for Joe’s inability to move far or fast, our partnership was doomed and it didn’t last much longer. But, at this point in the story, it was still a thriving concern. After all, despite being an obvious target for unrelentingly unfair humour, he was a very loyal friend, had a good sense of human and a very sharp mind, meaning he was an excellent if not sometimes an overwhelming opponent in games of skill and strategy. Furthermore, his tastes were less cosmic and more fantastical, and we split the titles in our collection according to these. I fancied my FFs, Avengers, Defenders, Spideys, Caps, DDs, Black Panthers (Jungle Actions) and Marvel’s more science fiction titles like the Surfer (now pretty much defunct as an ongoing concern), Captain Marvel, Warlock, Killraven (Amazing Adventures) and Deathlok (Astonishing Tales). Joe had the Defenders, the X-Men, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-mariner, Luke Cage, the horror titles, reprints and so on. His tastes were not limited to Marvel, either.


Though each of us in the community were fully paid-up, card-carrying Marvel fanboys with an obsessive penchant for the US coloured originals, as hinted earlier and like Joe who particularly enjoyed his DCs, some had tastes more catholic than others. For instance, I also purchased the expensive US Marvel black and white magazines because I enjoyed their adult content whilst, at the same time, appreciated those DCs by the hot artists du jour: Adams (Green Arrow and Green Lantern, mostly) and Wrightson (Swamp Thing). Though the Andies partnership were fully focussed on the Marvels, Andy W also had a big crush on Kirby’s DC Fourth World comics.


Anecdote one: in a couple of years, that crush would extend to pretty much anything female.

Anecdote two: human, that is. And moved.

Anecdote three: though some of his conquests were dubious.

Anecdote four: ah-hooo.


A typical joke of that era: how do you get [insert name] into a telephone box?

Boomtish: tell him it shags.


Another great joke of that era was about Ged A, who went out with K, the elder of my two younger sisters, who was born exactly one month, one day and seven minutes after me in the same bed in the same house. K and G’s relationship happened around the same time as our story - my sister was quite precocious, you see. It didn’t last long, compulsorily brought to an end when my parents found out he had fondled her breasts one summer evening in the local park. From that point onwards, Ged seemingly stopped growing.


To this day, I not sure if his stunting was a result of the relationship with my sister, who was in actuality an unpleasant pig/cow hybrid with bottle-blond hair (originally ginger).


MC at a stag party, picking on Ged: hey, do you know what this guy does for a living?

Boomtish: he’s a test pilot at Airfix.


After that, Ged took a lot of drugs, sold a lot of drugs, took even more drugs, went clubbing a lot, sold even more drugs then gave it all up. He died.


Anecdote five: three years later, every foray from our homes together as the dynamic duo - Andy W could have been Kid Dynamo because his motor truly never stopped - was in search of the fairer sex.

Anecdote six: the frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg, the egg was a bird, haven’t you heard, comics became girls.

Anecdote seven: my weekly cycle explorations with Andy D leaving no shop unturned became nightly adventures on foot with Andy W around various housing estates and the local parks, including the one frequented by my sister. We were starved and predatory hunters on the search for flocks of grazing females.

Anecdote eight: we also visited youth clubs where we could blag our way in, the occasional disco when we could afford it and, best of all, the house party, mostly invited but sometimes crashed when not.

Anecdote nine: as a result, for every night leading up to my A-Levels and then over their duration, we were out and about, on the town, scouring the neighbourhood and green spaces, rarely with any success.


Anecdote ten: if we had a local, it was the Pond House at the bottom of the hill from Andy D’s house, where we’d sit with our regular gang of West Reading locals though mostly non-Marvelites like Colin G (Tim S would go out with his sister Shirly), brothers Nick and Steve D (Steve would go out with Andy D’s sister Bernadette) and Andy T’s elder brother Paul, who had some minor interest in comics (Paul would build a dividing wall in my second house). Andy T didn’t join us because he was too young but we would form a band in later years. In the end, he moved to Swindon. Someone has to.


Andy D wasn’t invited because he was cultivating a field of explosive acne over his entire face and becoming too alternative, getting into hippy culture then inevitably drugs, albeit mostly cannabis resin. He would progress to become what we now call a stoner, and spend much of his youth living in squats or a converted London bus with his younger brother, touring the free underground festival circuit.


Anecdote eleven: sometimes during the week, Andy W and I would go to the subterranean Target bar in the town centre, but that was not part of our lady quest; this was the other side of our coin, to indulge our musical passions by watching semi-pro bands on the circuit. By this point, Andy was relatively minted, earning a salary as a trainer manager for Waitrose - a euphemism for being deployable at a moment’s notice to whatever department of the supermarket was understaffed. He would buy himself a pint or two and, because I was still at school in the sixth year and usually skint by midweek, he’d splash out 20p and buy me a coke. I would nurse that drink for the whole evening. And they say youth doesn’t have self-control or patience!


Anecdote twelve: two massive regrets, missing those Saturday nights when XTC (even though they came from Swindon) and Twelfth Night played there. Oh yes, and a third: occasionally not practicing enough restraint at the weekend, spending all my pocket money on copious amounts of beer then recycling it in various parts of the town. Did that make me a prehistoric green activist?


Anecdote thirteen: nearly done.


Anecdote fourteen: not only did we go out every night and I really mean every night, but before I had extended study leave for the approaching A-Level exams, I also skived most days off school. Anecdote fifteen: besides adorning one’s tie with safety pins and chains (a pierced ear, Mohican or skinhead haircut meant expulsion), what else could a self-respecting closet punk do?

Anecdote sixteen: ah, yes, when actually attending the institution of tuition, borrow the latest punk single from school mates like Tim S (Damned, Buzzcocks, Magazine, Television) or LP (the Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks or the Stranglers’ Rattus Norvegicus) from son of money-bags dad Tim L. Remember him with his NeverEnding fund and undead army of rotting teeth?


By the way, the best thing about punk? It also killed off all of those pretentious attempting to grow-a-beard folkies at school who dominated the record player in our sixth form common room. Yay, no more endless hours of enforced Bob Dylan. I mean, Bob is okay in small doses, but every one of his albums, end on end? It’s enough to drive Charlie to another scream.


Anecdote seventeen: then there was pogoing - pogoing in discos to Anarchy in the UK, pogoing to Peaches in the West Reading Social club (a men’s working club where fortunately we didn’t get bottled), pogoing at parties to the Ramones (where bottling was less de rigueur and more random), pogoing to the Jam, X-Ray Spex and so on at the school end of year dance a.k.a. disco (with girls from the town’s only other RC girl’s grammar, St Joes).


Anecdote eighteen: I persuaded my mum and dad to stay away on the night of my eighteenth birthday so I could throw a party of my own. And hopefully pogo, though we had lowish ceilings, freshly artexed (which had only just been invented).

Anecdote nineteen: then, later, maybe a slow dance with my girlfriend. Nudge nudge wink wink.

Anecdote twenty: it was a bloody disaster.

Anecdote twenty-one: really, nearly done.


Anecdote twenty-two: Stuart B turned up about half way into the evening, despite being uninvited. However, he brought with him a very peroxide blonde in unhealthily tight red jeans who was Gary Numan’s ex, so he got a free entry. In his wake cameth cousin Dave. Disaster loomed.


Sadly, in the hallway, Stuart took an instant dislike to another long standing (pun intended) friend of mine who was very, very tall (see what I mean).


“What do you do for living?” Stuart asked of Paul D.

“I’m a copper,” said Paul, who might have been six foot four but he regularly wet himself when he was at primary school. I guess he became a policeman as a sort of compensation.

“I [expletive deleted] hate [expletive deleted] coppers!” Stuart roared and gave Paul a Glasgow kiss.


This was right outside my bedroom door. Remember, we lived in a bungalow so this was off the hall. I was thus forced to forego my other intended activity and rushed out to see copious amounts of blood flying over the walls as Paul spun around in pain, forehead grinning with a wide, gory Jokeresque smile. Cousin Dave then went off on one and started headbutting anyone else in his vicinity, leaving a trail of chaos as he battled from lounge to kitchen.


With the assistance of a couple of rather burley mates, we managed to subdue both and expel them quite quickly. Of course, we then had to wind up the bash so we could mop up the damage. And blood.


Anecdote twenty-three: like I said, bloody disaster. Literally.

Anecdote twenty-four: at least I had planned for the such, earlier that evening laying down old blankets over the carpets and removing the door handles from most rooms outside of those intended for party use. So, the splatter analysis and removal were restricted mostly to walls and furniture.

Anecdote twenty-five: I have just realised, this set of ramblings is really like a numbered bullet list. I like lists. Nick Hornby would be proud.

Anecdote twenty-five: let’s return to 1975…


In our community, Andy D never teamed up and remained a loner. I suspect no one wanted to partner him. Instead, he sought solace by indulging in some Warren titles, and went one better than my general appreciation of this black and white genre by being even more red-blooded, in this case with a fixation on Vampirella and her thong-like undercarriage housing. Not forgetting her boobies…


Pause for a moment of silent reflection and possible self-flagellation.


Note one: the appreciation of comics was still seen by the great British public as weird. Low brow. Childish. To be frowned upon. They didn’t know what they were missing. Puny humans.

Note two: the word ‘geek’ existed but was not part of everyday vocabulary.

Note three: the word ‘nerd’ was in our vocabulary but it was nothing to be proud of. If your teenage sister called you nerd, it hurt. If the school bully called you nerd, it usually preceded a good kicking. So, it also hurt in but in an entirely different way.

Note four: we never had cosplay. That would have been a step too far. We wouldn’t have any teeth left if we had and we’d tried going out in public dressed like that. Ah, such prejudiced, judgemental times!

Note five: we didn’t have Instagram, either. Or any social media. The nearest thing, I suppose, was the fanzine, a home-made homily, a limited distribution letter of love, a few sheets of A4, poorly typed with amateur crude art, and then xeroxed with fading black ink. So, we had very few channels for seeing other folks’ fantasies and fixations.

Note six: sadly, intolerance was real, on the streets, around any corner, mostly in the form of ignorant teenage boys, in small self-contained gangs…

Note seven: and not virtual like we have today with anonymous bullies of any age, sex or gender, mass collectives of solitary, like-minded, equally bigoted misanthropes. Ah, such enlightened times!

Note eight: bottom line is, we never saw any pictures of delightful young ladies voluptuously adorned in home-made Vampi cozzies posing seductively.

Note nine: ah-hooo.

Note ten: Andy was happy to lend his Warren magazines.

Note eleven: he might have had a brain with the agility of a field mushroom, but he was generous. The same extended to LPs when our taste for music started to evolve. Way to go, Andy!


After we convinced him to the better so we could strip him of his other good stuff, Andy D now focussed on collecting Captain America. Similar applied to little Ivor E, convinced to pursue Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. He was likewise fleeced.


Note twelve: I wouldn’t say that we were pure evil, the two Andies W and T and me, in our plots and pursuits to rightfully claim our spoils of war from the disadvantaged and weak. Instead, we were more like Diet Coke evil. Just one calorie. Not evil enough. And definitely not ingrained wicked like excommunicated member and thief Michael W, our eX-Man, who was also as evidently stupid as Joe was malformed.


Most of our acquisitions came from the regular monthly arrivals of the latest comics. We’d still find various batches of back issues appearing in random newsagents across the spread of the Reading area and once in a while we’d pick up some interesting finds from a second-hand shop. In addition, swapping was now common and often occurred across our fully-formed community. We had very limited exposure to fanzines and mail order dealers so that it was the extent of our boundaries, our sphere of collecting existence. Our bubble!


… which was about to burst because now paydirt time was here. This was it. The ultimate feeding frenzy. The binge to consume all binges. Four of us, Andy D and I as one pair, and the partnership of Andies D and T as another, had converged in Westminster on a hot, early summer day to collectively lose our mart cherries. On the steps of the antechamber that lead up to the main hall of the Methodist Central Hall, whilst waiting for it to begin at midday, we had already made some profitable acquisitions from other collectors. And not admired the not-sartorial inelegance of the overdressed not Tom Baker Doctor Who impersonator.


Post note: finally!


As the big hand met the little hand in a true northerly direction, the great wooden doors were thrown open.


We were far more restrained than the weeping, hysterical Roller fans of the day much like my sister, and we were also very much unalike the screaming teens of the Beatles heyday in a headlong rush to be with their heroes, though what was coursing through our veins was much the same as both. Pure excitement and joy. And an almost overwhelming smell of musty paper that perfumed the hall’s air. Bliss. Sadly, once we rabid dogs of war and dysfunctional brothers in arms, arguably the four principal players from our comic collecting community, were let loose inside the vast, hallowed chamber of the Central Hall, it soon became apparent that many of the dealers were simply beyond our price range.


It was June 7, 1975, Westminster. It was our first comic mart, and with little more than four pounds to spend each, Andies D, W, T and I all wanted to buy as much as possible for as little as possible.


You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when my school accepted Andy D, I knew he was one of my own. And my wolf pack... it grew by one. So there... there were two of us in the wolf pack... I was alone first in the pack, and then Andy joined in later. And six months ago, when Joe introduced me to two guys, I thought, "Wait a second, could it be?" And now I know for sure, I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves, running around the mart together, in Westminster, looking for comics and bargains. So today, I make a killing!


Of course, because even the earliest Silver Age comics weren’t that old back then, just over a decade, with the most recent being five years old, most were in pretty good condition with prices reflecting this, and those that weren’t were not marked down by much at all. However, as with any mart, most of the tables were taken by the more expensive big dealers with their impressive array of stock and their unaffordable gems arrayed on boards behind them. There were sights of wonder to behold, some beautiful golden age DCs and a panoply of fabulous Marvel firsts.


A savage place! as holy and enchanted,
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted.


These guys were Gods at whose altars Andy D and I were unworthy to offer our paltry sacrifices. Instead, we quickly learned to seek out the lesser immortals with smaller tables and fewer boxes, but with prices we could afford and who were occasionally prepared to barter.


Vito and Michael: we'll make them an offer they can't refuse.


We spent the next two hours rifling through box after box of unbagged comics – a universal constant being that none was bagged let alone boarded back then – and with our carefully selected items held out, we haggled and made right pains of ourselves until we came to agreeable terms.


Dealer 1: but what if we meet a twat in the hall, then what?

Dealer 2:  this is just a dream, this isn't real. This is just a dream, they aren't real. They aren't...

Fanboy: come to Freddy.


When we had finished and spent our loads, then the long journey back began. And it was on this first return from London that we took a slight detour on our walk back to Paddington. To Soho!


Deliberate pause to build a sense of anticipation.


Mrs. Doyle: go on…


We went that way just the once and didn’t buy anything.


Mrs. Doyle: go on, go on…


Not that we had any money left, or that we could afford anything anyway.


Mrs. Doyle: go on, go on, go on…


It was curiosity that took us to Dark They Were and Gold-Eyed.


Mrs. Doyle: it's a bit much for me, Father.


It was located at 10 Berwick Street in Soho, and this was my only visit to the UK’s sole geek speciality shop. They sold a large stock of US comics and their principal lines seemed to be the brand-new Marvels and DCs, shipped directly from the States by air and months in advance of our general distribution crop. What’s more, they had every title, all the Spideys and Hulks we never got to see, each at or close to that minor ransom of 30p. On that sole visit, we never made it to their section of back issues, but Andy would return and how he did was impressive, as we shall see in the ensuing final instalment.


Always the best part of visiting a mart was sitting on the 30-minute diesel express train going back to Reading. A year later would see the advent of the HST that would cut this down to under 25 minutes, but this half hour was just enough time to compare our purchases and lovingly pour over our hard-fought acquisitions. But, most of all, the greatest aspect by a long way was holding them up to our noses and breathing in that heady, musty aroma. If heaven smells like that, then throw open the doors and let me in.


Harvey: do you think they sniff comics in heaven?
Manuel: well, sure they sniff comics in heaven. What else they do?


The downside was that final two mile walk home. We were hungry and parched drier than our comics, which nestled together entirely unprotected in supermarket carrier bags. Had we encountered a thunderstorm... I shudder at the thought.


Thunder, thunder, thunder, thunder
I was caught
In the middle of a homebound trek
I looked round
And I knew there was no turning back
My mind raced
And I thought what could I do
And I knew
There was no help, no help from you
Sound of the damage
Beating on my pages
Turning them to rags

Ruined for all ages
I've been


Of interest, I made one non-comic acquisition at the mart and that was for issue 2 of the nice looking Panelologist, an amateur comic-related mini newspaper that cost 6p. Rather bizarrely, as I first wrote these words, I happened to see that very copy on eBay. Lemme tell ya: no brainer. So, here’s an addendum from a few days later: I now own it and wallow in nostalgia as it mentions names which have since been inscribed into the pantheon of characters who built the early UK comics scene.


A couple of days later on June 22nd, I did another stocktake. That makes it easy for me to identify my purchases, about 30 comics, costing every penny of my four and a half pounds. Here are just a few of them: CA 110 in VG-NM; Conan 22, 25; Doctor Strange 173; Defenders 5, 8, 9; Luke Cage 3; Marvel Team Up 10; Marvel Premier 8; and ...


I almost wept when I saw this and have no idea why I bought it because it was new and we didn’t have much interest in recent back issues. Maybe it was because of this, but more so, I suspect, because it was an import (ND) and I saw it at a marked-down price rather than anything to do with its story – I mean, what the hell is a wolverine anyway? Additionally, maybe its price was determined by the fact that, because the Hulk comics of this era were out of reach, they were not as popular and we collectors had little interest in them. Also odd is that Hulk was one of Joe’s titles, and given there was seemingly nothing of any real interest about it, to this day I have no idea why I bought it; but I did and I gave it to Joe.


Can you tell what it is, yet? Here’s a clue: I had picked up issue 179 a few weeks earlier from London Road. Are you ready? Hold onto your hats, for probably costing way less than the standard import price, I had briefly owned a MINT copy of: Hulk 181!!


Phil: God damn it!
Alan: Gosh darn it!
Phil: Shit!
Alan: Shoot!


My purchase of this unremarkable debut of a certain Canadian X-Man to be, from a London mart just a short while after it had been published and, like all of us back then who didn’t have the fortune of foresight, I had no idea of the significance or immense value it would acquire. Even worse, my fellow comrade in collecting, Joe, looked after Hulks so I had dutifully passed it onto him. However, as they say, fortune favours the brave. But what happened next was not because I was particularly courageous, rather I was a kid of limited means, tired of doing all the running, tired of somebody else’s bad deals, with a vein of determination and a reasonably good business sense, who had the perseverance and imagination to forge their own destiny.


Hey Joe, where you goin' with that book in your hand?
Hey Joe, I said, where you goin' with that book in your hand?


I'm going down to show our spare issue
You know, you’ve bought one in a better grade (yeah)
I'm going down to show our spare issue
You know, you've bought one in a better grade
And that is so cool


Hey Joe, I heard you showed our book around, showed it round, now
Hey Joe, I heard you showed our book around
You got ripped off by a clown (yeah)


Yes, I did, I swapped it
You know, you bought a better one, better than our own
Yes I did, I swapped it
You know, you bought a better one than our own
So I gave it to a clown
I copped it.


Mr T: I pity the fool.


Joe: you said you would never leave me.

Rick Blaine: and maybe I lied. But I've got some collecting to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of.


Our partnership, which we had formed just a few months back, had become a yoke and I could see the way it was going, that it was going to cause me grief and stifle my aspirations. So, Joe, the yokes on you now. We came to a perfectly amicable and mutual understanding and went our separate ways. More of a DC fan, Joe kept these and a few other titles though not too many Marvels, so I took home most of these and, yay, Hulk 181 came back to daddy.


So now I'm alone
Now I can think for myself
About little deals and new issues
And books that I just want to have


How I wish I could tell you that in the years to come, I had it slabbed and it now resides in a bank vault, but such is the starched irony of fate that it was not meant to be. Within a year, I was starting to sell off my collection to fund newly discovered sex (girls, difficult at an all-boys RC school), drugs (alcohol, lots) and rock’n’roll (mostly heavy rock and prog, which all got annihilated by punk in ‘77). Sadly, Hulk 181 was one of the many that went to some other fanboy, probably for little more than I spent on it, bartered on the steps outside the entrance to another mart. More on this next time. But just to reassure you, I didn’t completely lose my faith. In fact, I hung onto my favourite titles which still proudly nestle amongst my renewed collection albeit sans 181, though I managed to get 180 back in the eighties, along with Spidey 129 before they went stratospheric. Spidey 121 always proved too elusive and expensive.


In my opinion, the gem of my collection was Cap 110. The Steranko art meant everything to me. It resonated deep in my nascent artistic core. Disclaimer: I am neither a good artist nor a particularly knowledgeable connoisseur, just a guy who knows what he likes. For the next couple of years, I must have copied practically every panel in that comic, refining my skills.


Probably not coincidently and by sheer perseverance, I went on to get the top grade in my art O-Level. Even took it to A-level, though that all went a bit Pete-shaped and pear-Tong when it came to exam time. This was because I had agreed with Bro Fergus (him of the hoary hose and hairy hands palm-side) that I would produce my final piece, which had to be done on the school premises, over the spring midterm break, accompanied by a radio so I could listen to Radio Caroline and rock out as I drew and painted. But, just a few days before the term came to an end, he told me that the school had changed their mind and would not allow it. So, I had to cram 18 hours into three days in the art room, all without music. This I did, but so pissed off I became that I began to draw rather poorly and very rushed little Adolf Hitlers all over my painting. Yup, I cut off my nose to spite my face and bombed it.

Still, I could always find solace in that Cap 110. I remember one perfect evening a few years later when I was once again making my own copy of yet another panel, having excused myself from an evening of self-conscious posturing and waiting for the slow dances at the end of the Calcot disco. At the same time, I was watching the TV premier of Dark Star, John Carpenter’s first film and a sci-fi gem that seems to have fallen off the radar. BTW, if you like that sort thing then I highly recommend it, especially if you have a penchant for talking bombs and space surfing; though being made in 1974 and on a budget, I suspect in the decades since I last saw it, it might have dated badly. Particularly the alien beach ball. But, once again, I digress.


Let’s get back to that hot summer of 75 when, after our split, I did a subsequent stocktake. This was on July 17th: I had 405 comics, total value £54.75, with 45 imports (the primary focus of my collecting because these were the gold standard), and 56 Fantastic Fours (the secondary focus of my collecting) worth £7.51.


On August 2nd, the day before my 15th birthday and armed with more cash than usual, bumped up by £5 I received in advance from my parents, a not atypical amount for back then, just Andy D, my long-standing companion in seeking out US Marvels, and I went to the next Westminster mart with its accompanying set of long walks. And Tom Baker clone. Here are the highlights of this melee, mentioning conditions where I have noted them: Jungle Action 7; Journey into Mystery 118; Iron Man 8; Silver Surfer 13; Strange Tales 107; Captain America 100 in NM, 113; Spider-Man 24, Sub-Mariner 3; Fantastic Four 39 in G (better than today’s equivalent) and 41.


A stocktake on August 4th indicated 454 comics, value £64.80, with 51 imports, and 67 Fantastic Fours worth £10.55. I had 11 more FFs, which would include one or two recent monthlies, within an overall increase in value of just over £3. So, I wonder just how little those two early FFs cost me? I can also figure out how much I spent at this last mart. Given I would have bought some other monthlies and B&W mags in between this mart and last one with its consequential stocktake, and that the value of my collection had increased by almost exactly £10, I think we can reasonably assume a truly epic expenditure of eight and a half pounds, netting 40 plus comics!


That month of August also saw two other huge opportunities that improved the girth of my collection. The first came via an overly generous friend who couldn’t keep a secret, Winston. He magnanimously let slip the name and address of Gary F, a fellow teen who lived in the relatively new and nearby Dee Road estate. Within a few years, the rot set in and the estate had become a ghetto. My sister, with another boyfriend, a failed Tottenham apprentice called Gary, went on to frequent its purpose-built pub, a rather unpleasant and often violent institution called the Frog. It was notorious as a haunt for buying speed, mostly amphetamine tablets called Blues. The Police raided it once. Within seconds it had been struck by a storm of sapphire snow. The carpet was covered by an inch deep crunchy crust of class B contraband.


If Gary F had been my discovery, or indeed any of the other Andies, I have no doubt that any of us would have so willingly spilt the beans. Instead, we would have picked him dry privately for the next month as our funds were replenished by our weekly income of pocket money. But it was done, the cat was debagged, and we assembled en masse at Gary’s house, circling vultures that morphed into frenzied piranhas when we landed on the front door step and saw what he had to sell. Between us, in exchange for a few pence per comic, we ripped and nibbled every choice sinew off his collection. And what an unusual assortment of 200 or so comics he had, almost exclusively imports. Some were water damaged so they remained orphans and never found a home with any of our community members, but we all took away some fine additions. My best two were Spideys 120 and 121. Dammit, I so wish I still had those now!


Hot on the heels of the Gary episode came a long-awaited visit from my cricket-loving second cousin, Chris C from Scarborough, one from over 40 other, mostly first, cousins just on my mum’s side of the family. Chris was going to stay with us for the rest of the now rainier summer hols and he was coming on the train from way up t’ north, laden with a promised pile of Marvel comics that he no longer wanted. Seemingly, he had grown out of them and, because I was still into them, was quite condescending in that out-spoken, told as it is, brutally honest Yorkshire way (ah, so this is to where we can trace back the genealogy of the snowflake).


Chris…. no! You traitor, you deserter… how could you?


Éowyn: begone foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion. Leave the fanboy in peace.

Marvelite maximus: come not between the fanboy and his page! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lee-less void.


Thus, here was another day that dreams were made from. True to his word and with what must have been quite some effort, when we drove to the station to pick him up with all of his luggage, may your deities be praised, there he was with, count ‘em, 150 US Marvels. That journey back home would have only been more tolerable if our car was warp capable. Twenty minutes later, sat on our lounge carpet, a hideous shag pile monstrosity of dark purple that typified the best forgotten palettes of this period, I opened the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow and discovered a littering of oldies and imports. It was a mint-strewn Nirvana of scarcity, rarity and neo-antiquity. Chris’s collection even included a Silver Surfer 8. A stocktake shortly afterwards revealed a new total of 701 comics, with a value £105.50.


As my collection approached its zenith, contrarily its death knell was also tolling faintly in the distance.


Til the sandman, he comes

Read with one eye open
Gripping your comic tight

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We're off to zero-hero land


To be continued…


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