Comics in bags... what a deal!
In today's condition-conscious storage-oriented comics market, the idea of comics in bags evokes a totally different image than the one that I was introduced to by my friend David Lynch (check out part six of this irregular series for more about David). When David told me that the Han-Dee Market on Shorter Avenue was selling three comics in bags for a quarter, I wasn't sure what he meant... but I knew that I had to buy some of them to see what was in those bags!
The Han-Dee Market wasn't one of my usual comics stops, but it was close enough that I was able to convince Dad to stop by there on the way home from one of those evening trips to the Rome News-Tribune. I loved to accompany him on those trips--in part because I loved going to the old offices on Tribune Street, and in part because he would frequently stop at a store on the way home. Since we drove right past the Han-Dee Market and it was a right-turn-in right-turn-out stop, he didn't mind letting me check it out a couple of days after David first told me about the bagged comics.
The Han-Dee Market was one of those "once a month" stores that could never be counted on to have new releases--but they would sometimes have older books, since it seemed that the rack jobber who stocked their racks filled the slots with leftover returns from other accounts. I'm not sure if he was doing affadavit returns and then selling the books or if he was just trying to give the books a second chance to sell before returning them.
(In these pre-direct-market comic shop days, all comics were racked on a returnable basis; the distributor took back what the store couldn't sell and billed them for what was sold. The distributor, in turn, would either strip the title off the cover of each book and return it to the publisher for credit--or, in some cases, he would submit an affadavit of destruction indicating that he had received and destroyed X number of copies. Unfortunately, it appears that virtually every distributor was deceptive regarding returns--either he resold the stripped books for half-price rather than destroying them as he was legally obligated to do, or he sold the old books at full price whenever he could, after submitting his returns affadavit. I often wonder what real sales figures for comics would look like had the distributors told the truth...)
I scanned the spinner rack and found a few comics I hadn't seen, but no bagged books. I was dismayed; could they have sold out since David told me about them? Then, on my way out of the store, I scanned the toy rack, which was usually occupied by off-brand or out-of-date toys; there, mixed in with rejected plastic playthings, were polybags of three comics with a 25¢ price printed on the bag. I could only see two of the books, so I was not only judging a book by its cover, but I was judging three books by two of their covers.
What was in those bags? IW reprints. Israel Waldman was the IW in the company name; he made money by buying the rights to old comics--including the printing plates or photostats--and then reprinting those books with new covers that seemed more in the style of contemporary comics. The stories might date back to the 1940s or the early 1950s, and they might have very little to do with the book's contents--but they were at least indicative of the types of stories you'd find in those pages. There were some superheroes--a Plastic Man book caught my eye--but there were mostly war comics, Westerns, horror/suspense books, and crime comics.
My purchases were truly "mixed bags." One contained two horror/suspense and one Western; the other, a war comic, a crime comic, and a Plastic Man, who appeared to be the same sort of hero as Mr. Fantastic or Elongated Man. And while I didn't recognize the characters or the publisher, I did recognize the style of the cover art on some of the books.
The art that I recognized, as it turned out, was done by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, a team whose work I had enjoyed at DC, where they illustrated Wonder Woman as well as some of the War That Time Forgot stories in Star-Spangled War Stories (dinosaurs and tanks... what a combination!). I didn't know their names, but I knew their style; while it wasn't as dynamic as Kirby's work at Marvel or Infantino's art at DC, it was solid, bold, dramatic art, and I found it appealing. If these guys were working for this IW company, it couldn't be all bad, could it?
Well, as it turned out, the only Andru & Esposito art to be found in my two bags was on the cover of three of the six comics that I bought. Israel Waldman realized that these guys had a sellable style, so he got them to do new covers. Their art looked like DC, but the look of the books seemed more influenced by Marvel; the covers had bold, angular logos, the color schemes were more Marvel than DC, and the horror-suspense books looked far closer to Strange Tales than to My Greatest Adventure.
The books were good, but not great; I could tell even then that these books didn't have a modern sensibility to them. They seemed outdated and in some cases sub-par--but they were cheap, and they were entertaining, and they made good trade fodder once I had read them several times.
They were also frustrating to the newly-born collector in me. I had grown accustomed to looking for other issues of books that I liked; IW books seemed to be published in no numberical order whatsoever, and finding runs of the better titles proved almost impossible. Even worse, the bags were packed semi-randomly, which meant that once I had bought several of the bags, I began to get some duplications--I'd buy a three-book bag that had two books I hadn't read and one that I already had. That made the quarter price far less appealing, believe me.
However, IW offered me a bargain-priced glimpse into a comics era I had never experienced before, and I found that somewhat appealing. It also led me to assume that old comics were worth less than new comics--but I'd find out a few years later that was most definitely not the case...