The "hunter-gatherer" mentality is instilled in all of us, from shoppers on "Black Friday" to hunters actually hunting animals. As collectors, we preserve our trophies from the hunt for all to see just as the hunter hangs his catch on the wall. Personally I'd rather see an "Action" # 1 or nice original art by Frazetta on somebody's wall than poor Bambi's glassy-eyed head staring down from the wall. Between 1945 and 1958 our family lived with my Grandfather in Bayville, Long Island in the summer and in Hollywood, Florida in the winter. My Grandfather, Charles H. Smith, had been a Lt. Col. In the Army in WWI. He was the company quartermaster at Camp Mills Long Island, and Bringing Up Father creator George McManus wrote him about having his brother Charles stationed there. The letters had drawings of Jiggs and Maggie and were in my Grandfather’s scrapbook which fascinated me at an early age. I could compare those early drawings to comic strips then running in early 1950s newspapers. This was my first experience with one of a kind original art.
On Long Island the next door neighbor’s 12 year old son Charles Penn had a collection of comics dating back to the early 1940s, including Four Color # 9, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold by Carl Barks and Jack Hannah. It’s still one of my favorite comics. He also had then current E.C. comics which I’d never seen on any newsstand; my introduction to the horror comic covers by Johnny Craig and Jack Davis as well as war comics by Harvey Kurtzman.
By 1968 I’m thinking I'm the only comic collector in the whole world looking for old comics in used bookstores and magazine shops, and also reading the newspaper classifieds in "The Washington Post". One Saturday there's an ad offering "Old Comics And Big Little Books $ 10 Each" with a phone number. I call and drive out to take a look. Five of us showed up that day. The group at Charlie Oliver's house included 15 year old Robert Lewis, true comic geek Joe Stoner, and.... two men who worked for the C.I.A. (their names will remain Classified for this article). I asked Charlie where he got the comics and BLB's, and he told us about the flea markets in Pennsylvania and invited us to go along on an early Sunday morning trip.
So, we all meet at Charlie's at (yawn!) 3 AM and head up to Adamstown some 120 miles away in Charlie's 1400 square foot Country Squire station wagon. I remember us flying through Ephrata in the fog on old route 272 and buzzing through a red light at 65 mph. Shupp's Grove was “the place” back then, and the same outside tables are still there today 45 years later, though they're warped with age now. One dealer was set up with pinback buttons under a tree. Ted Hake. I bought a 1935 "Fun Club" button from him for $10.
In 1969 I attended my first comic convention, Brooklyn school teacher Phil Seuling’s New York Comic Art Convention at the Statler-Hilton hotel. Quite the eye opener. New contacts were made and lifelong friendships were developed.
I moved to Orlando, FL in 1973, and became friends with Orlando Sentinel cartoonist Jim Ivey who had opened the world’s first Cartoon Museum in 1967. Orlando had some 40 resident cartoonists including Roy Crane, Leslie Turner, Mel Graff, and Bill Crooks. Jim, Neil Austin, Rob Word, Rich Kravitz and I founded OrlandoCon in 1974. Thanks to Neil Austin’s generosity, Floyd Gottfredson, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Wayne Boring, C.C. Beck, Bob Cummings and others were guests.
In 1974 I moved to Pennsylvania. Chuck Miller and I put on three Lancaster Comic Art Conventions between 1975 and 1977. Guests included Harvey Kurtzman, B.B. Sams, Kelly Freas, and Burne Hogarth. In 1976 I visited Frank Frazetta at his home in East Stroudsburg. Chuck and I discussed the possibilty of an all Frazetta show. Frank’s wife Ellie said Frank would attend. He said he wouldn’t and didn’t but guests at Frazetta 77 included Harvey Kurtzman, Jerry Robinson,, Burne Hogarth, Berni Wrightson, M.W. Kaluta, John Fantucchio, and three busloads of students from the Kubert School.
In 1983 my wife Joan and I moved to Ocean Beach, California. We soon became friends with Shel Dorf, who had founded the San Diego Comic-Con and was Milton Caniff’s letterer on Steve Canyon. Caniff had sent me my first original in 1966, a Steve Canyon comic strip. Shel gave us our first jobs in San Diego I ruled the lines for his lettering and Joan transcribed some of his interviews for the Comics Buyer’s Guide.
We lived in San Diego between 1983 and 1987, and again from 2001-2010. Over the years we met many celebrities . My favorites were Muhammed Ali, visiting his PA training camp three times in 1978 and actor James Stewart which included a visit to his Wilshire Blvd. office in Los Angeles and seeing him at a screening of Anatomy of a Murder. In the comic book field meeting and becoming friends with Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel along with their first DC editor Vincent Sullivan were great moments.
I’m getting older now, and it’s time to share some of the things I’ve hunted and gathered with other collectors who have similar interests. I know they’ll be in good hands.