As a kid, when I was first getting into comics in a big way, there weren’t yet any comic book stores, not that I was aware of, not that were anyplace that I could ever get to. So opportunities to come across older comics were slim, limited to stores that might not rotate their stock very regularly, and whatever stashes of older comics the other kids in the neighborhood might have.
Once or twice during this early period I sent away for back issue lists advertized in the classifieds sections of the comics themselves, usually from Howard Rogofsky’s dealership if I recall correctly. But while I’d pore over those lists and imagine what all of those older comics were like, I never sent away for any of them. It was too abstract a proposition to me, sending what was then a lot of money for me to somebody somewhere in exchange for something I didn’t even get to see and might not like. Too risky.
The one place I did get to see older comics came around once a year, and that was at the yearly Crafts Fair at the Smith Haven Mall. For about a week every year, during the summer I believe, the Mall would lease out space within its halls to dealers of all sorts, typically people who made their own pottery or jewelry or figurines or what-have-you. But always among those people there were two or three guys selling old comics. Typically bunched together in cardboard boxes, typically bagged by hand–which is to say, with whatever they could get to constitute a comic book bag that would protect the issue from window-shopping hands, comic book bags having not quite standardized yet.
I can recall vividly the issue of FLASH at the top of this page, #153, from what i think was my first encounter with old comic book dealers at the Crafts Fair. I didn’t have any money that day, I don’t think, but I was able to spend five or ten minutes rifling through the older issues while my Mother looked at something-or-other. I already knew who the Reverse-Flash was from the current FLASH books I had read, he was a character that fascinated me. And so, the image of this cover remained fixed in my mind for years. Strangely, once I was able to get to comic book back issue shops on a more regular basis, I never specifically sought it out–I read the story at first reprinted in a 80 Page Giant that I picked up at some point.
Knowing that a Crafts Fair was upcoming meant squirreling away whatever money could be had for a few weeks in preparation, so there’d be enough of a war chest when the day rolled around. There was also a need to get my parents to take us to the Mall, but that wasn’t terribly difficult–we seemed to go to the Mall at least once every week or two. Once there, I tended to try to maximize my expenditures, which meant buying a lot of giant-sized reprint comics. By this point I would have been getting into Marvel comics and was particularly obsessed with the Fantastic Four. While I had already read the story from the second issue in a recently-issues paperback collection, I can recall buying this first issue of MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS from a dealer at one of these shows. Mine was in much crummier shape than the one pictured here, it had no back cover among other things. But I remember being very excited because this was a genuine first issue, and of a title that still existed (MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS became MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS with issue #23.) I didn’t pay more than a buck or two for it–my absolute limit in those days for a single comic book was $5.00, and It would be some time before I crossed that threshold.
There was also an earlier Crafts Fair that I can remember for different reasons. Specifically, I know that CAPTAIN AMERICA’S BICENTENNIAL BATTLES was being pushed heavily as part of the event. I can still recall the announcer describing how Mister Buda would select a year, and Captain America would find himself transported to that year through time. I didn’t buy or read CAP’S BICENTENNIAL BATTLES at that time, but I did get to meet Captain America, which was the big draw of the event, a personal appearance.
Being both a hardcore fan and a bit of a know-it-all, I wanted to ask Captain America a question that only a true-blue fan would know about, that would display the depth of my knowledge as well as ascertain if the fellow in the red, white and blue costume was in fact genuine, or simply a colorfully-clad impostor. And so, beforehand, I had scoured through the scant reference books that existed at that time, and when Cap came around to where I was seated, answering questions and taking photographs, I had a query to put to him:
“When you were missing from 1949 to 1953 and 1955 to 1964, where were you?” I asked.
Poor Cap, just a shade befuddled by this and wanting to get back to safer waters as hastily as possible, quickly replied:
before moving along.
I think the timing is all wrong, he hadn’t yet done the job, but knowing that for a time Jonathan Frakes, television’s Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, had made ends meet by portraying Captain America at personal appearances and store openings, I like to think that he was the Captain America to whom I asked my asinine question. In my memory, whenever I think back to that moment, it’s his voice that I hear.