Tag Archives: Nostalgia Zone

A Great Red Ryder Cover

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This month’s great cover comes from 1946, smack dab in the middle of the Golden Age of comic books. I spotted this comic while posting inventory online for Nostalgia Zone. I’ve never read any Red Ryder comic books and, since this issue was published in the 1940s, I don’t know how ethnically insensitive it might have been toward Native Americans. I’m guessing there was some stereotyping involved. It was pretty damn unavoidable in those days.

That said, let’s have a look at this cover.

Overall, what I like about this cover is the feel of the brushwork. The artists from those old days had such command with the brush. The artist who drew and inked this cover is Fred Harman. He created Red Ryder and he wrote and illustrated the cowboy’s adventures, first as a newspaper comic strip and later adapted it for comic books. Harman’s drawing style is simple and fluid. And his inks flow gracefully.

The cover shows Little Beaver, the Navajo boy who was Red Rider’s kid sidekick, as being the mischievous sort. He appears to have set off a rather large firecracker in a soup can, startling Red Ryder and Thunder, Ryder’s horse. And this is what caught my eye, prompting me to declare this a great cover. Take a look at Little Beaver’s face. Harman masterfully places such an impish look in the eyes of Red Ryder’s youthful cohort. It’s done so simply, but we have no doubt as to the boy’s attitude. It’s beautiful.

Although, I would advise Little Beaver that it might not be the smartest trick to play on a man with a six-shooter on his hip.

Packing Peanuts!

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Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants!

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Look at it. Take a good look.

No, this isn’t my monthly installment in my great comic book covers series. A new cover will be declared great next week. My regular readers – do I have regular readers? – know it’s the first week of each month when I feature a great cover. This cover, although pretty good, is significant for another reason…

It is the very first variant comic book cover.

In 1986, someone at DC Comics hit upon the idea that if a variant cover was made available, collectors would buy two copies: One regular cover and one variant. That means more sales. They called it a “special collector’s edition.” Here’s a fun fact: Anything labelled as a “collector’s item” or “collector’s edition” probably isn’t going to be very collectable.

The sales must have increased, because by the 1990s the number of variant cover editions skyrocketed! Jim Lee’s new X-Men series for Marvel Comics, premiering in 1991, had five different covers for its first issue. One was a gatefold combination of the other four.

Well, a serious collector just had to buy all five.

One good aspect of the variant cover mania was that collectors couldn’t get the variants from the newsstands or from drugstores. They had to buy them from their local comic book stores or through mail order dealers. This was good for those dealers, because it would bring in customers.

But then the mania went even deeper. The comic book publishers came up with the idea to make very limited amounts of variants that comic book dealers could get if they ordered a certain number of the regular cover issues. So, if a store ordered 20 copies of a certain comic, they would receive one particular variant. If they ordered 25, they’d get a different variant and so on depending on how many copies were ordered. The more copies ordered the more limited the variant. Order enough copies and the store could get their name on the variant issue. In some cases, order an insane amount of copies and the store could get a variant with original art drawn directly on the variant cover. Oh, but of course, the stores still had to pay for the variant copies.

The variants would get progressively more limited in print runs the more regular issues were ordered. This led to comic book stores having buttloads of regular issues in order to get the rarest of variants. Chances were pretty good the dealers would be stuck with several regular copies, because not enough customers would buy them. So, the variants might have some value, but the value of the regular issues would be driven down and the stores could end up losing money. However, the comic book companies could claim big sales numbers, despite the fact those sales were to dealers rather than to collectors.

Personally, when I was still an active new issue collector, I did buy into getting the variant covers. For a while. Then the comic prices began to go up and up. (The next two lines should be read in cranky old man voice.) Why in my day, a kid could buy five comic books for a dollar! Now they’re lucky if they can get one for five dollars!

So, I didn’t stick with the “get those variants” practice. It was just too expensive. I soon lost interest in collecting the new comic books and, sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped buying them.

For the better part of the last two years, I have been working part time for Nostalgia Zone, an excellent comic shop in Minneapolis. Nostalgia Zone made the decision not to be a dealer of new comic books, instead we deal in back issues. You can get the newer books, but not as they are issued and we’re limited to what we can pick up through shows or customers selling to us.

My main job is to enter inventory into our online catalogue. I enjoy the work, especially when entering Marvel silver and bronze age issues. There are plenty modern age books that I enter along the way, and I discovered something about variant covers:

I hate them.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of excellent illustrations. And I’m all for artists getting work. (Hint, hint: dimland.com) But, when you are entering information for a comic book and you have to search and search to figure out which cover it is, it gets frustrating and time-consuming.

The other day, while entering some newer comic books, I came across Archie Comics’ Afterlife With Archie. I’m told it’s an excellent series. Well, that’s cool, but it didn’t help me when Comics.org listed 71 different covers for issue number one. SEVENTY-FREAKING-ONE! (Comics.org doesn’t even have all the covers scanned yet!)

But hold on there, Sparky! Marvel’s Star Wars series from 2015, for its first issue comics.org lists 77 covers! SEVENTY-FLIPPING-SEVEN!

Oh, for the love of Mike.

Check those bargain bins, kids. There’s bound to be dozens of the regular cover editions. For cheap!

Packing Peanuts!

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A Great Teacher. An Iffy Book.

I’m a skeptic. Being a skeptic, I try to think critically about extraordinary claims. I want to assess the strength of the evidence for such claims before I accept their veracity. I’m highly doubtful of ghosts, psychics, ancient aliens, cupping, Futzuki pads, homeopathy, etc.; but, if you show me good evidence for their existence or efficacy, I’m willing to stop doubting.

This blog isn’t about skepticism. It’s about looking back fondly at the past. After all, Warehouse Find is the official blog of Nostalgia Zone, a store dealing in old comic books and toys and other fun stuff from the days of yore. I normally save my skeptical observations for my blog at dimland.com and my internet radio show/podcast Dimland Radio. (Yes, I know, shameless plugs.)

However, earlier this week an old school friend of mine and I reminisced about a teacher of ours who had a profound influence on us. I credit this teacher with setting me on the path to skepticism and critical thinking.

His name was Roy Raymond and he was my junior high English teacher. Don’t ask which grade, because I can’t remember. Anyway, he was an excellent teacher as well as a funny one. He liked to claim both his first and last names translated to royalty or king or some such. He told jokes and allowed his students to do the same.

Although it didn’t hurt, his being funny didn’t make him a great teacher.

He was able to make his students feel comfortable and receptive to learning. He challenged us. He made us think.

And when it came to reading the classic American novel Of Mice And Men written by John Steinbeck, he did something I think was an example of brilliant crowd handling. He read the book to us in class, but before he did he had a little talk with us. He said he intended to read it as written. He wasn’t going to gloss over any of the swear words and racial epithets. He believed to do so would lessen the impact of what Steinbeck was trying to say.

That’s when Mr. Raymond did the brilliant part. He told his class that he believed we were old enough and mature enough to understand context. And telling us that stroked our egos a little and got us to minimize the shock or giggling when our teacher said a swear word or the N word. Brilliant crowd handling. And it’s a great book.

Another book that’s not nearly as great factored into an important lesson taught to me by Mr. Raymond.

strangely-enough

Since the fourth grade, I have owned a fascinating little book which I purchased through the Scholastic book program for a mere 35 cents. It was author C.B. Colby’s collection of weird, creepy, and mysterious tales of ghosts, haunted houses, disappearing people, lost treasures, and many other bizarre occurrences titled Strangely Enough! Its cover suggested the short stories within might all be true by asking, “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?”

In my youthful gullibility, I believed these stories to be true. Many of them included names of people and towns. And some had dates for the mysterious happenings. Dates! These must be real! No one would make up names and dates!

I was so convinced, I took a pen to the cover to draw an arrow to the words “Fact” and “Real.” You can see the arrows in the close-up image of the cover of my well-worn copy below.

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Oh, and look that cover. So good. There were other printings of this book with other cover designs, but this is the one I like. It’s a terrific illustration that so completely captures the tone of the book. Just look at that green hazy night, those black and dormant trees, and that figure racing through the night. Is it a witch? A devil? A lunatic? A frightened villager? And is that ball lightening in the sky? Or, maybe, a flying saucer?

I was very taken by this book and I wanted Mr. Raymond’s opinion of it. He had encouraged his students to read and share with him what we were reading, so I handed Strangely Enough! to him. I told him the stories seemed to be true and that there were names and dates and everything. He took it and had a look.

When he returned this most favoritest book of mine to me, he burst my bubble as gently as he could. He explained that these stories couldn’t be simply accepted as true just because some gave names and dates. He told me that most readers wouldn’t bother researching the stories to see if the names and dates were real and that the author knows that. He also explained the “Fact or Fiction? Real or Imagined?” questions were part of a gimmick to give the stories a little more impact.

I was a bit crestfallen that Mr. Raymond didn’t validate my opinion of the book, but I didn’t resent him for it. I didn’t react by doubling down and believing the stories even more. I didn’t accuse my teacher of having a closed mind. Instead, my mind opened. I didn’t quite understand at the time, at least not consciously, that Mr. Raymond was essentially telling me, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I see that now. And I have learned that Strangely Enough! is mostly urban legends – apocryphal tales meant to warn and thrill readers. Some stories might actually be based on real events, but are told through the filter of mystery-mongering. A more rational explanation was likely available, but the author preferred to go with the mystery.

Mr. Raymond is no longer with us. I don’t know exactly when he shuffled off this mortal coil, but I will always fondly remember him. And I will be eternally grateful for his helping me to think critically and not be so gullible.

Thank you, Mr. Raymond!

Appreciate your great teachers and give them your thanks.

Packing Peanuts!

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