by Mike Sangiacomo
Wednesday means New Comic Book Day. You walk into your favorite shop, where everyone knows your name, and start rooting through the new releases: Batman, another Batman, another Batman; Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man, Miles Morales Spider-Man, the Spider-Man: Hunted…
Didn’t I already buy this?
You go home, start digging into the stack. Read the comic once and put it away. Perhaps forever.
I enjoy new books, but I admit I spend a lot of time re-reading old comics. There is something comforting about the way the old Legion of Super-Heroes interact with one another. Sure, it was a simpler time and sometimes the stories were laughably obvious, but I feel like I know these characters.
Same goes for early Avengers, Challengers of the Unknown, Fantastic Four and many others. I like the familiarity that comes with re-reading Fantastic Four #5 for the fiftieth time.
Collectors will note that every time I break out an old box and read the books I am decreasing their value a bit. Just a bit.
This is true, but who cares? I bought the comics to extract pleasure from reading them. I get no pleasure from simply having them bagged and boarded and stowed away.
Though it would be great to find an old comic I had never heard about.
Which brings me to my latest acquisition: “Wham-O Giant Comics” No. 1 (and only.) This 1967 oversized comic is newspaper sized, measuring 14″ x 21″ and containing work by many of the greats in the comic business.
Because of its odd size and very limited distribution, the comic is a true rarity. Not only that, it is freaking magnificent!
Just look at the collection of writers and artists who created new work for the collection:
Wally Wood, Andre LeBlanc, Steffenagan, Ernie Colon, W.T. Vincent, Virgil Patch, John Stanley, Ward Kimball, Lou Fine, Andre LeBlanc, Mike Arens, Dennis Ellefson, Ernie Colon, Marvin Stein, John Ushler, Sururi Gumen, Marvin Stevens/ George Wilhelms/ Warren Tufts/ W.T. Vinson/ Willie Ito/ Shean, and Ward Kimball.
Wham-O had me at Wally Wood.
I always wanted a copy, but I’m too cheap to spend $100 on a near-mint copy.
That’s where the comic lover in me comes out; I found one for $20.
It’s in horrible condition: sun-bleached pages, a tattered cover with rips and tears taped (TAPE, the horror!) together, the whole thing folded in half with a permanent crease.
But it was complete and it could be read. That’s all I cared about.
The book is worth reading just for the complete introductory story of Wood’s “Radian,” a noble superhero that looked exactly like Wood’s “Dynamo” from THUNDER Agents. Come to think of it, all the characters in the story looked like Wood’s characters from THUNDER Agents, but that’s cool.
I loved the story and all the others in the anthology. It is a pastiche of every kind of comic known to man. There are stories about superheroes, science fiction, gladiators, rascally kids, romance, along with puzzles and games.
Wham-O is everything a comic lover could want, and it sold for 98 cents.
And now, I have my own copy I can read and re-read until it falls apart, which may not be long, judging from the condition.
My point here is that comics are not meant to be encased in plastic and put in a dark room. They are meant to be read and enjoyed, even passed around until they fall apart.
I was signing books in Philadelphia a few years ago when a guy came up to me with a beat-up copy of my book, Phantom Jack, not the trade but the actual first issue of the comic. He apologized for the condition but said he enjoyed it so much he kept re-reading it.
That was the biggest compliment I could have gotten. I signed it with a nice inscription and even gave him a fresh trade.
The biggest bargains in comic shops today are the cheapie boxes, the buck bins or even quarter bins. Go through them and pull out a bunch of books you never read and see what treasures you will find. And don’t worry about the condition; the rougher it looks the more someone loved it.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Wham-O Giant Comics #1, check out Matthew Peterson’s wonderful review:
Michael Sangiacomo, who has been writing a comic review column since 1992, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.