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from Clever Magazine?
By Madonna Dries Christensen
During my childhood, kids rarely had pocket money. If we did, a nickel or dime had plenty of purchase power, and comic books were in our price range. Historians of pop culture have labeled the 1930s-1950s the Golden Age of Comics, with the 1940s its peak. The first comic books, produced about 1933, were reprints of newspaper comic strips. These soon were replaced by original stories, illustrated with pictures, in a magazine about seven inches by nine with a glossy cover.
Some subjects were popular with boys, some with girls, while
others appealed to both. Boys liked cowboys and Indians, war, crime,
horror, science fiction, Terry And The Pirates, and superheroes Captain
Marvel, Superman, Batman, and the Green Hornet. Girls fancied Wonder
Woman, Nancy and Sluggo, Little Lulu, fantasy, and romance (the latter
two being pretty much the same thing for our age group). Both genders
might choose Mutt and Jeff, Blondie and Dagwood, Archie and his pals,
Disney characters, Tarzan of the Apes, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,
to name a few.
After a comic book had been read several times it lost its
appeal. It was then that its owner entered the world of Comic Book
Swapping. Condition was everything; a pristine copy obviously had more
value than one that a younger sibling had been reading or the dog had
tried to eat for lunch. It might take two or three tattered issues to
equal a like-new edition. You had to know the territory.
In my small town, the Kingpins of Comic Book Swapping were
two sisters, Ramona and Judy, who lived down the alley from me. They
must have had more comic books than any kid in town, probably more than
all the other kids combined, maybe even more than Baxter’s Newsstand,
which was barely more than a walk-in closet, with only a few shelves
devoted to comic books.
The problem with the girls having this private enterprise
was that they most likely already had the comic I wanted to swap. My
only chance was to get up at dawn, be on Baxter’s doorstep when a new
shipment arrived, buy a comic book in which the ink wasn’t dry, read it
right there, and then race down the alley to visit the czars. That
happened only in my dreams, so I had to be content with the hand I was
dealt—dog eared comic books.
Ramona, the elder, was a year younger than me (but bigger), and Judy was
a couple years Ramona’s junior. Judy wore a hearing aid and glasses and
she had an obvious physical and intellectual disability of some sort,
but she was no slouch at merchandising. For me, it was a lesson in
humility encountering either girl, but they were partners, rendering
them more intimidating. I was timid by nature, anyway.
They led me to their realm, an enclosed porch where they stored their
inventory in cardboard boxes in an order more complicated than the Dewey
Decimal System. I showed them my comic book; they each cast a cursory
eye and, in unison, said, “We already have that one.”
I waited, knowing their technique was to reconsider. Even if they had
it, my comic book would be good enough for them to swap with someone
else (a sucker). Their fingers fluttered over the tops of the boxes
until one of them plucked out a magazine—clearly not the cream of the
crop. “We’ll trade you this one.”
With barely a glance, I took the deal, grateful to escape
from their den of thieves. Then, it often happened that on the way home
I’d discover that I’d already read the comic in my hands. Oh, well,
maybe I could swap it with someone who didn’t have the collection that
Ramona and Judy had—which was any other kid in town.
Decades later, four pristine issues of True Comics
came into my hands. I began to fantasize that I walk into a comic book
swap meet, and there they are—Ramona and Judy. Huddled between boxes,
they look like those elderly hoarders we hear about and pity. I don’t
pity these two.
I stroll to their booth and place one of my perfect True
Comics on the table, the other three copies clearly displayed in my
hand. The aged partners study me and don’t recognize my face. They
examine my offering and then look at each other, their secret language
still intact. But I understand; they don’t have this vintage edition of
True Comics and are lusting to get their inky hands on it.
Judy wets her index finger and flips through a box. Ramona rummages in another, and another. Judy makes a selection and shows it to Ramona. Ramona nods, and Judy offers me a glistening Superman, his muscled arm ending with a clenched fist aimed at me.
I shake my head and say, “I already have that one.”
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