I find that as fans get deeper and deeper into comics, we often develop a slavish respect for the comic books themselves. While originally designed to be a cheap, disposable medium, the standard comic book becomes a thing of awe.
For example, I recently purchased a 1950s issue of Boy Comics for my dad as a Christmas gift. When I read it before I gave it to him (‘natch), I carefully placed the book on my drafting table. I gingerly turned the pages, keeping the book as flat as possible. I kept my coffee far away to avoid any clumsy spills. When I was done I put the comic into a new Golden Age comic bag with a new acid free backing board.
When my dad read it, he sat in his favorite chair, snacked a little and bent back the cover. “That was great,” he told me. He clearly enjoyed it, and he did it without that collector’s mentality. There was a time when I would have scolded him and explained things like “condition”, spine-roll and “collectability”. Now I’m envious of the way he enjoys it all and kind of think, “that’s the way to do it.”
Maybe that’s why I enjoy coverless comics so much. In the old days, the newsstands would buy a bunch of comics and then return the ones that weren’t sold. Over time, everyone realized it would be easier, and shipping would be less costly, to just to rip off the covers, return those and destroy the leftovers. (Sometimes they just ripped off the top third, with the logo.) But newsstand owners often would pass along the coverless comics, or even sell them at a discount.
A comic shop in Cortland, NY, Heroes and Villains, is “a little shop that could.” It’s run by a hard-working husband and wife team. They just acquired a stash of coverless comics and are now selling them for 50 cents each.
I scooped up a small stack and reading them is joyous. Because they are coverless, and essentially non-collectible, there’s no carefulness to the reading. I still can’t bring myself to curl back the pages, but the reading process is very casual for 50 year old comics. And I’ll probably put most of them into my Halloween Giveaway Comics Box, in fact.
I scooped up a few gems that I would never have been exposed to otherwise. For example I just read a copy of DC’s The Unexpected (it was issue # 138 from 1972). This one contained a wonderful Wally Wood story and a gorgeous Alfredo Alcala story. These are the types of stories that will probably never be reprinted, and it’s unlikely I would ever buy a high grade/collectible issue of The Unexpected and read them.
Likewise, I enjoyed the coverless issue of Weird War Tales (#21 from 1974) with a brilliantly illustrated Frank Robbins story. This Twilight Zone-esque tale focused on WWII soldier who was sent back in time to kill Leonardo Da Vinci – in order to prevent the invention of automatic guns.
I have written about how, as a kid, I loathed Frank Robbins artwork , and how I love it now. In fact, I also rescued a copy of Detective Comics #429 from 1972 with Frank Robbins artwork. I did buy that one as a kid, and I remember being confused looking at the Robbins art. “Are they for real? Is this some sort of Golden Age reprint? ”, the younger me wondered.
Some Other Highlights:
The two issues of Doom Patrol I found have beautiful Bruno Premiani artwork. Even though I have the Doom Patrol DC Archives on one of my bookshelves, it’s so enjoyable to read them as comics. And one comic, issue #124 from June-July 1973, is a reprint, but it includes an article by Allan Asherman about previous letter columns – analyzing past fan mail from future professionals Dave Cockrum and Mike Friedrich wrote in.
Paul Levitz also had a letter printed in Amazing Adventures #4 from January 1971.. It’s easy to see that even as a fan, he was on top of it. This issue’s Inhumans story, showcases one of the last Marvel Kirby stories from his Silver Age tour of duty -and it’s easy to see how deflated he must have been at that point. On the other hand, there’s a wonderful Black Widow story with stunning Cola and Everett art, that was written by Mimi Gold. I didn’t know much about her, but I dove headfirst down the rabbit hole and learning about her was fascinating. And just to confirm, she’s not related to Mike Gold.
Michael W. Barr, one of my favorite mystery writers, also had a letter printed in Detective Comics #429 (1972). Even his fan letters are fascinating to read.
Warlock #3 and Conan #17 (both from 1972) showcase vibrant Gil Kane art. It looks like he inked himself in these stories. This is well before he would rely on markers. The vibrancy and urgency of this brilliant artist’s talent shines through on every page.
Can you tell I had fun reading them? It was like eating a greasy burger when you’re usually focused on eating healthy. Or sipping a glass of wine after “Dry January”. What a liberating, unexpected treat these coverless comics are to me.