Thursday, July 29, 2004

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don’t It? (Part II)

Story 2 of 3: The Magazine Trading Post
Two out of the three defining passions from my early childhood were directly related to one another: comic books and drawing. I’m not really sure which came first, but I know that I don’t remember drawing anything when I was a kid besides superheroes.

Understandably, Superman was my first hero. The old black-and-white TV series starring the tragic George Reeves was one of the first television shows to capture my imagination. I’m sure that I was introduced, by proxy, to comic books by my older brothers, because I began drawing Superman, Batman, The Flash, The Atom, and Green Lantern long before I actually began collecting their comic books.

These comic books, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them (and if you aren’t, welcome to the 20th century!) were published by DC National Comics. The star of the franchise, of course was Superman, who started out as a serialized newspaper strip in 1934. The Man of Steel debuted in his own comic book, Action Comics in June 1938. Batman joined the comic book scene with his debut in Detective Comics in May 1939.

There was a tangled web of interplay between detective and “spicy” pulp stories and the introduction of Superman and Batman into the DC Comics line-up, but by the 1950s, the “Golden Age of Comics” were ushered in and Superman and Batman led the way. By the late 50s-early 60s, superheroes dominated the comic book landscape. This is obviously where I came into the picture.

Again, because of how big a part of my life they were, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when my collection began. However, I believe I can accurately credit my eldest brother Jack for turning me on to the greatest discovery a kid like me could hope for: comic book nirvana, a.k.a. The Magazine Trading Post.

The Trading Post, as I always referred to it, was located about three blocks from the house I was born in, on Pitt Street in Anderson, Indiana. I don’t know exactly when I began going there, but I’d imagine it was around 1964, when I was eight years old. I always rode the bus to school, but would often walk home with two of my kindergarten–through third grade chums, Keith and Kurt, who lived about a half of a mile away. From their house it was just over another half-mile to home, but no walk through that neighborhood was complete without a vist to the Trading Post, which was right on the way.

Don’t ask me how I got the money, I think I probably skipped lunch a few times a week to support my habit, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

The Trading Post was as unassuming a place as one would ever imagine. It was in a residential neighborhood housed in the enclosed front porch of the small white house its owner lived in. The proprietor was an old, white-haired lady named Addie. She would greet me at the door with a smile on her face that was as predictable as the cardigan and housedresses that almost seemed to be her uniform. She was always nice to me — that is after she became convinced that I was a serious customer, and not there to damage or pilfer the merchandise.

As the name indicates, The Magazine Trading Post was a place to trade old magazines, paperback books, and comics for ones that may not be new, but ones that you hadn’t read before. Of course you didn’t have to trade. Money was also accepted as tender for Addie’s goods. I never traded one comic book for another, but she did tell me once that the bulk of her paperback stock came to her by way of one-for-one trade.

Given that the store was a converted porch, there wasn’t a lot of room to walk, even for a small boy. Naturally, Addie kept a close eye on me at first, to make sure I didn’t knock over the stacks of the used magazines atop the tables that lined the outside walls. Most of the remaining floorspace was claimed by a number of upright, cylindrical wire racks that held the hundreds of paperback novels she sold. However not all of the turnstile racks were filled with paperbacks. A few held those precious conglomerations of pulp, ink and action: my beloved comic books. The newer editions were always on the racks, while the slower-moving older titles were relegated to the stacks on the tables. By the time I’d been a regular customer for a couple of months, Addie knew that I was no danger to her inventory. She often would just leave me alone to peruse and go back into her house. When I’d found all I wanted (or had the money for that day), I would simply ring the doorbell, hand over the change, smile and move on.

Oh yeah, I did say change. Back in the 60s, comic books had a retail price of 10 cents. Near the end of the decade the price skyrocketed to 12 cents per issue. At the Trading Post, the everyday low price was a nickel.


Comic books were my greatest teacher when I was in elementary school. They taught me about grammar and sentence structure much more than any English cirriculum ever did. I’ll never forget the time I was reading a Superman comic and came across the word superb. I didn't recognize it. So I went to my brother David and asked him, "What does this “sooperbee” word mean?" He smiled at me knowingly and said, "AJ, it's pronounced “soo-per-b(uh).” A light bulb went off in my head, “So THAT’S how you spell that word!"

I credit comic books for teaching me how to read at a time when I couldn’t have cared less about anything that they were trying to teach me in school.

From the very early 60s to around 1966, DC Comics were all I knew in the superhero realm. But sometime around that latter period, no doubt upon coming across one of them among Addie’s stock, I discovered another brand of comics that would sweep me off my feet, and another brand of superhero that would completely engulf my imagination.

Next: Story 2 of 3 (continued): The Magazine Trading Post: The Marvel Group
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