Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Excavation: The Unearthing

In April of 1925 Lt. Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett embarked on an expedition into the Amazon jungle to find the Ancient Lost City of Z.  They never came back.  Obsession will do that to you.  It will drive you places you didn't know you could go.  
Over this past Fourth of July holiday I had the opportunity to venture into my Uncle Vic’s garage.  I was on a mission.  To peer into the past, to find treasure buried within a labyrinth of old-well-past-their-use utensils, giant, dangerously unstable pyramids made of cardboard boxes, and crude rusty traps composed of ancient appliances.  I suspected significant cultural artifacts from the Golden, Silver, and Bronze age of comic books lay buried in there somewhere and I was determined to find them.  I had no idea what I was getting into.
The complete Watchmen. 

My Uncle Vic is some what…strange, but for the most part he’s alright.  Recently, after many years living in my long time deceased grand parents home, he has moved into a retirement facility.  My brother Tony was tasked with going into the house to move Vic’s things.  No one outside Vic had been in the house in a very long time.  It was not pleasant.

Irony here: It was Uncle Vic who introduced me to comic books when I was maybe 10-11rs old.  It was a Legion-of-Super-Heroes mini-trade paperback reprint of early Silver age stories and a second mini-trade of the then-current incarnation of the team.  I remember reading them and thinking they were interesting, but I had no money and lived in the country, they were cool, I guess.   There weren’t any stores to go buy comics at, and even if I could go into the city 35 minutes away I couldn’t afford it.  I accepted that and didn’t think twice about them.  I was a very practical 11year old.  I remember thinking I read books, not comic books….and those books were a mix of Wells, Bradbury, and C.S. Lewis.  That stuff captured my imagination.  I had to read and reread The Martian Chronicles several times to understand what was going on.  I was not interested in your little picture book.  I was a prick.  My wife just corrected me, I am STILL a prick.

If you’ve never been to northern Wisconsin in July, well….you just haven’t lived.  It’s like being in a sauna, all-the-frickin’-time, it’s hot, mid 80s, and the humidity is through the roof.  You can easily break a sweat sitting still doing nothing.  I would guess it’s akin to being steam-cooked. If you’re lucky enough to have a lake nearby, and because it’s Wisconsin there’s no shortage within a reasonable distance, you might find some respite from the heat.  This being said, I chose to walk in the opposite direction of the lake, and into a hot, musty, dusty, dank, two car garage. 

First comic I see
Rolling up the door I surveyed the landscape. A handful of makeshift rows had been made out of what was worth salvaging from the house.  There were boxes everywhere.  I could see comics peeking through the cracks of more than a few of them.  8 long boxes of comics were stacked in a rack off to the side.  There were 3 more long boxes on the opposite side, plus 3 or 4 more irregular shaped cardboard boxes mixed into the rows.

Green Lantern Green Arrow #85, this is relevant to me because I'm a drug addict.
The smell of mildew was choking.  Mold was visible on things, but not really on the garage itself.   The smell was really coming from the things in the garage, but not the garage.  Tony said the whole house smelled ten times worse.  He had a wear a respirator during the demolition or “he could feel that fuckin’ mold growing in his lungs.”  
 I open up the first box and this is what I see.  Jonah Hex getting married to Mei Ling.  This is Jonah Hex vol. 1 issue #45.  Or what is left of it after years and years of sitting just like you see it here. Jonah decides to marry Mei Ling and give up bounty hunting....for a day. My stomach dropped.  I was pissed.  How could Vic do this!? After going on and on about these books, to treat them like this.  

Yeah, that was the look on my face too when I saw the cover.

It occurred to me this is just a manifestation of Vic's psychosis, he collects but doesn't take care, of really anything.  As I dug through the box it became clear Vic was a western and war comics fan. Old Weird Western Tales, Bat Lash, Rawhide Kid, Sgt. Rock, G.I. Tales, were all mixed together.  I was reminded of my own issues, and my issues of Jonah Hex.  

Jonah Hex vol.1 #1

 This is Jonah Hex vol.1 #1.  Pretty cool.  I wasn't really interested in Jonah Hex until the Palmiotti/Gray incarnation.  I really like their Jonah Hex, it's one of the few comics I have complete runs of.  I remember picking up Azarello's Loveless, The Lone Ranger (Cassaday), and Jonah Hex vol. 3 #1 all around the same time.  I stuck with Loveless just because of Azarello (which is the same reason I'm giving the Watchmen prequels any look-see) but I still don't know what was really go on with the plot, let alone the final few issues.  P&G's Jonah Hex was the exact opposite. Their stories were not complicated but still edgy, they felt purer to the form.  It's exactly what western stories should be, gritty, dirty, and dangerous---with a ton of great artists thrown in to boot.


Also in this box were eight very water damaged Charlton Comics titles.  This issue of Ghostly Tales is #124.  The issue of Ghost Manor is #10.  Demons and hippies and witches oh my. 

They were water damaged beyond certainly any monetary value, but it felt like holding a little piece of history.

The Ghostly tales on the right (issue 69) has a story drawn and written by Steve Ditko.  It was a handful of older Charlton comics characters that Alan Moore loosely based the Watchmen on.

Unfortunately, none of these comics served as his inspiration.

 This is G.I. Combat #85 and #90.  These were in plastic. Published in '60 and '61 (respectively).  #87 is an issue of regard because it is the first appearance of "The Haunted Tank."  The Haunted Tank is about the ghost of 19th-century Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, who is sent by the spirit of Alexander the great to act as a guardian over his two namesakes, Lieutenant Jeb Stuart and the Light Tank M3 Stuart that Jeb commands.

 This is about when I started feeling like maybe I could find some really cool stuff buried in the garbage.  On the  bottom right Batman #181 June 1966, first appearance of Poison Ivy.  The issue to the left of it, #183 is where Batman decides he'd rather stay home and watch "himself" Adam West on television, rather than go out and fight crime.  The self referential is funny, a little reality bending.  Above it, issue #186 features the Joker with a "new hilarious henchmen," a little person clown named "Gaggy."  Here Gaggy is simultaneously blinding and choking Batman while the Joker punches him.   Sounds hot but isn't.  Issue #205 (top right) I thought was great just for the cover art.  Seeing the dynamic duo in the blind guy's glasses is just great.

As the afternoon turned to evening I knew it was going to take me longer than I expected to go through all the boxes.  I was excited to find all this great Silver Age stuff, only to be disappointed by the condition they were in.

Issue #58 of The Brave and The Bold, second appearance of Metamorpho.

The Brave and The Bold #15 & #16.  These get around $50 on Ebay (EA) in VF/NM condition.  These are not VF/NM.  These are almost good.

Green Lantern attempts to avoid a "pink heat-seeking missile." Why no, that's not closeted homophobia at all GL.  Your ass looks really good in those tights by the way.
Justice League America #28, Don't try that shit in Wisconsin fuckers, unions are for commies and Kenyans! We don't like them here, at lest now...for the moment.
Justice League America #18, Don't worry Aquaman,  the Atom will notice when Flash runs into his nuts.

All the Silver Age Justice League issues he has are in plastic bags, most are in pretty good shape.  I'm using "clear and free" dryer sheets in between various pages and each issue in an effort to pull out the mildew.

The orignal Dial "H" For Hero was just goofy.  I guess the new one is too, in a way. 
JLA fights the Animals that fought like Men, face off with an angry cosmic dad, and investigate who murdered Santa.
I was really excited about finding these issues by Jack Kirby.  New Gods #1 has lost all its gloss, but to me it's like she was printed yesterday...
Shazam #1 and Legion of Super-Heroes #1. 

I've always had this thing for the Superman/Flash races as a mythic standard. Like the Trials of Hercules.

I spent all five days I was in Wisconsin on vacation in that garage.  The first days were the longest.  I swore I wouldn't go back in there on my last day.  And I did.  That's when I found all the Mad Magazines.

I left a lot there, tried to repack it the best way I could, move what I felt was really important or valuable to the dry, dark basement of my parent's old house.  

I have only begin to sift through the data.  There is every issue of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing to read.   I am spending considerable time now reading and scanning many of the old issues of Playboy magazine that I uncovered.  I am sorry for the long delay in this post, I have been preoccupied.

I leave you with this:

Playboy September 1982

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