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Two Superfans Take Manhattan!

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In 1975, Gladys Knight and the Pips did their charming cover of “The Way We Were.

Gladys thoughtfully built on its themes of nostalgia, pleasure and pain. Her recording starts with a spoken-word commentary:

“Everybody’s talking about ‘the good old days, the good old days…’ Well, let’s talk about the good old days.

“Bad as we think they are, these will become ‘the good old days’ for our children.”

GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS – “The Way We Were/Try to Remember”
BILLBOARD HOT 100 #11, August 1975
Something to remind ourselves of.
Thanks, Gladys.

Both Grouse’s recent TNOCS article regarding his magnificent obsession got me to thinking about my own.

Mine culminated in a wonderful weekend in New York City, months after Knight and the Pips hit the Top 20 with their remake.

I hadn’t been very interested in superheroes or comic books before the summer of 1972.

I remember watching Saturday-morning superhero cartoons in the ’60s and ’70s, B.S. (before “Superfriends”).

They didn’t make much of an impression.

What did were the after-school reruns of “The Avengers.

No, not the Marvel supergroup, beloved now through a generation of big-screen adventures. Rather, the British exports of John Steed, Emma Peel and Tara King.

My brother and I lapped up this weekday treat. We soon found ourselves integrating umbrellas and “karate chops” into outdoor playtime with our neighborhood friends.

So, after school one day I walked into Mal’s Pharmacy on Devon Avenue in northwest Chicago and found my attention captured by a comic book cover.

Lois Lane #122, to be exact.

Technically, the title was “Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane,” but I didn’t pay attention to the lead-in.

The adult me understands the questionable themes that the cover artist used to get my attention. The 8-going-on-9-year-old me could only say “they worked.”

I bought it.

It wasn’t long before I picked up Justice League of America, Superman, Wonder Woman, Detective Comics, The Brave and the Bold, and so on.

I was becoming a DC fanboy. Even though that term wasn’t common then, and I wouldn’t have liked it.

The comics’ 20-to-25 cent cost helped.

I even remember buying JLA #107 from a cool vending machine in Schiller Park, Illinois.

Later, when you had to get more than a quarter to buy that book you wanted, it was more of a stretch.

In early 1975, our family was watching an episode of WMAQ’s newsmagazine “Sorting it Out” with Bob Smith and a pre-“Cheers” Shelley Long.

It took us on a tour of The Nostalgia Shop, a store on West Lawrence Avenue that featured hundreds of comic books, old and new. I realized, “Hey! That’s just a few miles from our house!”

I’ll always associate the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue” with trips in my dad’s VW Beetle to the Nostalgia Shop. There we would pick up that week’s new books and, if I’d saved enough, a classic or two.

My brother and I gave passing notice to the X-rated movie theater a block away. As long as we had the latest adventures of Green Arrow, Hawkman, Black Canary and Aquaman, with a Quarter Pounder and chocolate shake from the McDonald’s across the street, we were more than satisfied.

By the summer 1975, house ads began to pop up in DC comics, touting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: the chance to meet the folks who created the comics, at the Super DC Convention in New York City!

And since 1976 would be a leap year, we got the bonus day of Feb. 29 to spend at the show.

My 12-year-old brother and I, the worldly 13-year-old, badgered our parents to let us live the dream.

We figured out a plan. We could stay with my Uncle Russ and his family in White Plains and take public transportation into the city. From there, we could get to the convention hotel and spend three days soaking in the superheroes.

Our plan was that basic. And my parents went for it, on one condition:

We had to pay for it.

So, for six months, my brother and I pulled together every cent we could from babysitting, lawn mowing, a paper route and more. Birthday presents and Christmas presents were contributions to the fund.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure my dad kicked in a little “extra.” After all, we gave our money to him to be deposited – neither of us had bank accounts yet. And even in 1975, I’m pretty sure the cost of two round-trip airline tickets for children from Chicago to New York City would have topped $100.

I was in seventh grade, and my brother, sixth, in February 1976.

We traveled together to New York City, stayed with my uncle, aunt and cousins for three days, and walked the streets of Manhattan unchaperoned.

We went to the front of the United Nations building and marveled at the flags of the various countries. My Uncle Russ, an executive with NBC, took us on a tour of its Rockefeller Center studios and introduced us to John Chancellor.

And, at night, he, our Aunt Audrey and our cousins David and Lynn went with us to a fantastic restaurant in Little Italy whose name I don’t remember. (What I do remember is the mostaccioli – so good!)

All of this was an appetizer to Manhattan’s main course: the 1976 Super DC Convention.

Yes, we spent a little time listening to panel discussions.

And we were grateful to get some autographs (DC Super-editor Julius Schwartz being the biggest “name”).

We even made the acquaintance of Jenette Kahn who, unknown to us, had just become DC publisher a few weeks earlier. My brother and I remembered her as that cool lady we talked to a few times on the elevator.

But we were there for the comics – the Hotel Commodore was like the Nostalgia Shop on steroids! Thousands and thousands of comic books for display and sale. The only questions we had were:

How far would our savings go?

How much time did we have?

And could we carry everything home?

Being more of a fan than a collector, I never wrote down all my purchases, so I can’t tell you exactly how much we spent or what we bought. I recall it being about 100 comic books. (We put them in one suitcase and my brother’s and my clothes in the other, and did not check them.)

I do remember we spent $20 – a lot of money! – on a copy of Justice League #22, the second part of their initial team-up with the Justice Society. Most purchases were in the 25-cent to 1.50 range, and most involved titles and characters from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Despite whatever was going on at the time: the seediness and bankruptcy of New York City; our growing up in two households and shifting homes and schools for the ’75-’76 school year…

…It’s impossible not to think of that time as “the good old days.”  

Gladys Knight had it right.   

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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mt58
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mt58
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April 13, 2023 7:46 am

Such a great story about your “good old days.”
And all of that scrimping and saving – That’s what you call a solid work ethic.

This must have made for a beautiful and lifelong memory for you and your brother.

Virgindog
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April 13, 2023 9:50 am

What an adventure! I can’t imagine my parents letting me go on a trip like that when I was 13. They had a hard enough time letting me to to Boston alone on a college tour when I was 17.

Eric-J
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Eric-J
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April 13, 2023 11:31 am

“The Golden Age of Comics is 12.”

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 13, 2023 12:14 pm

That is no small feat to navigate the streets of Manhattan on your own in 1976. I always kind of knew how it was since learning about the early punk days, but watching The Deuce on HBO gave me a vivid appreciation for just how much has changed. It seemed far more interesting back then, but much seedier as well.

I didn’t collect too many comics; I just read the ones my mom bought for the school kids on her bus route.

I know that George R.R. Martin was an avid comic book fan growing up, and some of his ideas for his Song of Ice and Fire series are sly references to stuff found in early Fantastic Four chapters.

I’ve never myself been to a convention, only academic conferences. I was thinking of going to Ice and Fire Con, but these events seems darn expensive these days!

I never existed in the 70s, but I nevertheless long for those days when pocket change and allowance money were keys to endless possibilities.

lovethisconcept
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April 13, 2023 12:50 pm

Great story. I was never a collector of comic books, only a reader. And I pretty much read whichever ones my older cousins bought. For some reason, the ones that stand out to me were the very few Metal Men and Metamorpho comics, and, of course, the one issue where the Metal Men worked together with Metamorpho. I also loved the creepy Tales from the Crypt. One of them had an illustration of a man with ivy growing out of his eyes that I can still picture. There was no hand wringing about lost fortunes when they were finally thrown away because they had been read to death.

lovethisconcept
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April 14, 2023 10:23 am
Reply to  cstolliver

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Never really sure why one thing sticks and another doesn’t, but that one certainly did.

blu_cheez
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April 13, 2023 7:01 pm

Gah… DC people are the worst – Marvel FOREVER!! 🙂

Great write-up …. my local L.A. store growing up was Fantasy Castle (RIP!), where I bought my first back issue: Star Wars #7 for $5 (big markup in 1977 on a $.35 book, but it was a birthday present), and my first convention was the San Diego Comic-Con in 1985 (when it was still a comic book convention) .

I still spend way too much money on comics, but I love the hunt.

Last edited 1 year ago by blu_cheez
cappiethedog
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April 13, 2023 7:32 pm

The slice-of-life genre in graphic novels brought me back into the fold. I used to collect The Omega Men, The ‘Nam, and Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew. Winners all, right, in terms of commercial value and popularity? I did not choose wisely.

I don’t like the high quality paper of the contemporary comic book. The comic book was never meant to be high art. It’s supposed to be a sort of pulp fiction.

I currently read The Sandman.

Maui-born R. Kikuo Johnson teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. He recently won the Whiting Award for Fiction. The first graphic novelist to achieve this honor.

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 13, 2023 8:31 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

I don’t remember if we’ve discussed Osamu Tezuka before, but if you haven’t read his Buddha series, I highly recommend it. It gets so profound and poignant, while never forgetting its role as zany entertainment.

cappiethedog
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April 14, 2023 3:23 pm

At community college, one of the instructors moonlighted as a script doctor. He accidentally got involved with Baraka, and Passion in the Desert. He’d joke: “I don’t know how I turned into the go-to art house fixer-upper guy.” He showed me an unfilmed screenplay by Robert Bolt called Buddha. (Jason Scott Lee was supposed to play Prince Siddartha.) I wonder if it was at all possible an adaptation of the aforementioned Osamu Tezuka series. Tezuka appears to be brilliant. I may have to use Amazon. (sigh)

Phylum of Alexandria
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April 15, 2023 8:45 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

No idea. Tezuka’s story did get a cinematic interpretation, though it’s an anime from Japan, so I’m thinking it was a different project.

I haven’t seen it because the footage I saw looks antithetical to the spirit of the original story. Looks more like they wanted their own Princess Mononoke.

Eric-J
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April 14, 2023 10:20 am
Reply to  cstolliver

I really want to reread Robinson’s Starman run. In my memory it is one of the most perfect expressions of what it felt like to be a young adult in the ’90s.

(And I don’t know why no one at HBO has green-lit an Invisibles series yet. This seems like a complete no-brainer to me.)

cappiethedog
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April 14, 2023 3:24 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Oh, so Neil Gaiman revived Sandman. I did not know that.

LinkCrawford
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April 14, 2023 11:51 am

I hated superheroes as a kid. Why anyone would watch melodramatic animated dramas when they could watch Bugs Bunny? It wasn’t until I was kind of forced to watch the first Christopher Reeves Superman movie did I realize that superheroes could be cool.

In Jr. High I had a couple of friends that collected comics and would go to mid-town Indy (Broadripple) to a used comics store a few times a year. I tagged along, but I only bought back issues of MAD magazine (RIP Al Jaffee).

Because Mrs. Crawford has a say, I have seen every single DC and Marvel movie that isn’t rated R.

dutchg8r
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April 14, 2023 1:57 pm

You are your brother were some major ballers for young teens in the 70’s, Chuck! Hats off to you 2 for formulating the idea and to your parents for saying ok and providing the Real World Lesson in order to do so. That’s totally awesome. And you totally sound like me at my first record convention – no clue what I bought, I just bought what I wanted because it was THERE!! Money be damned – until the cash was gone, lol.

That is totally awesome you guys had that experience. I was about 12 when I took my first trip out of state without my parents – they trusted me to ride out to Detroit for a sports competition with family friends, and then I stayed with other family friends in a hotel once we got there. Mannn, I thought I was so grown up and totally the shizzle on that trip, lol

Edith G
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April 15, 2023 12:13 am

Great adventure Chuck, the comic fandom is something else, a world of their own, I respect that. Do you think that if you were younger now, would you dare to cross the country to go to a comic-con or something like that?

cappiethedog
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April 15, 2023 6:16 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

My friends and I have long conversation about what our likes and dislikes would be in this era as children. Mainly about music. South Park had a killer satire about the subject. Instead of learning to be good at guitar, being good at Guitar Hero was more important. And the finale, if I recall, there was a Battle of the Bands, one step removed.

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