Realizing I’ve done a bunch of these now, I thought I’d put links to them all in one place to make it easier to read through them. (That’s probably more for my reference than anything else, but I’d love for anyone else to read them and share their own experiences about the shops they grew up with, or these particular shops if you happened to also buy comics there.)
A lot changed at the end of my third year at University of Arizona. My family was living in Phoenix, just off North 19th Avenue, way up north of West Bell Road. I don’t remember how, but I landed a summer job at a nearby Minit Lube. I mostly took service orders from cars that drove up, squeegeed windows, and vacuumed the floor mats.
Everyone has a job they survive. This was mine. The people were nice, and that was the best part of it. This was an open-air, drive-through oil change place. That meant you were not working indoors, where the Arizona summer temps could be tempered with air-conditioning. The boss was generous with using petty cash to get us Gatorade, water, or sodas from the Circle K next door several times a day to help us avoid dehydration, so that was nice. It paid slightly more than minimum wage — about $4 and change per hour.
But this was an especially cruel summer. On June 26, 1990, the temperature in Phoenix set a record: 126 degrees Fahrenheit — that’s 52 degrees Celsius for those of you who live outside the U.S. I was not working that day. I was home, with the shades drawn, the AC on, cold drinks in the fridge, watching movies on VHS in the dark.
At one point, I remembered I had left several music cassettes in my car and decided to save them. I put on flip-flops, grabbed my keys, and went out to the car. I opened the door and quickly grabbed the hot tapes, pulling my shirt out like an apron to carry them indoors. As I was walking back to the front door, I thought I had stepped in some gum. Looking down, I saw my flip flops were melting on the concrete driveway. I hurried inside and did not re-emerge until the rotation of the Earth had put a merciful end to the sun’s daily punishment.
A few weeks before that, my Star Trek fandom hit new heights with the broadcast of the third-season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation: “The Best of Both Worlds.” What a stunner! The third season had really taken off, and the show was now firmly boldly going into new territory in exciting, well-crafted and thoughtful ways. I miss it.
I remember catching early that summer a couple episodes of The Flash on CBS, which clearly took a lot of visual inspiration from the Tim Burton Batman movie success of the year before. It didn’t click with me, and was canceled at that point after only one season.
In theaters, there was Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. This movie was very hyped in a clear attempt to emulate the success, again, of Batman. The miscalculation was in not realizing that Dick Tracy hadn’t been a character people cared about for decades at that point. There had been no resurgence of interest, or reframing of the character for the times, as Batman had gotten from The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. It was just an old comic strip, and the only strip back then that had any kind of active audience was Calvin and Hobbes.
Dick Tracy could have overcome that if the movie was better, but it wasn’t. It was a bunch of old actors putting on silly makeup to turn an old comic strip no one read anymore into a movie that no one really ended up caring much about. I haven’t seen the movie since it came out, though I do have a DVD somewhere of it.
Other cool stuff going on that summer included the release of Back to the Future, Part III, which prompted a thorough review on my part of the previous two films in that series. In the end, only the first is a really great film, but the others are at least entertaining.
Less interesting was Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Not at all up to the standards of the first one — a movie series of true diminishing returns.
It was Spider-Man #1 (Aug. 1990) that drew me back to AAA Best Comics. I had a day off work the day the issue came out, June 19, 1990, and decided to head over to Ken Strack’s shop to pick up a copy. He had moved down the street — he was always on North Seventh Street — into a slightly larger space.
He had ordered plenty of copies, and I picked up two each of the green cover and the silver cover, and one each of the green bagged edition and the black bagged edition. I believe the bagged editions are still unopened in my collection somewhere.
I distinctly remember Ken raving about a new DC series called Shade the Changing Man. The first issue was recently out, and he talked up the striking Chris Bachalo art. I can’t remember if he gave it to me or if I paid for it, but I found myself agreeing with him that it was cool, and coming back for the next issue for at least the next two or three years.
It was overall a fun time to be reading comics, which still were cheap. Most DC and Marvel series cost $1 per issue, which made it easy to buy a stack of new, untried books for not a lot of money.
Marvel had this new-series program, where they introduced a new first issue each month for the first half of 1990. Among them were Ghost Rider, the John Byrne She-Hulk, The New Warriors, Guardians of the Galaxy, Byrne’s Namor: The Sub-Mariner, and McFarlane’s Spider-Man.
I was in on Spider-Man and Namor. The others, for whatever reason, struck no nerve with me. With Namor, the appeal was the art. Byrne was using duotone paper that gave his work a new element. And he had some good ideas for the character that made for a really fun read, namely having Namor forage lost treasure from the ocean floor to turn himself into a captain of industry.
I was still reading comics that summer. I recall really enjoying the various Batman and Star Trek series.
X-Men was in an unusual but still very interesting place. In the main X-Men title, writer Chris Claremont split up the team after Inferno and scattered them across the world. Many found completely new identities, with older characters fading away and new ones, as always, coming in. There were a lot of single-issue stories, with the overarching story building in the background — sometimes so deeply, it wasn’t clear to the reader, or even perhaps to Claremont himself, where things were going and how. These were the last Marc Silvestri issues, which were followed by a series of fill-in artists awaiting the inevitable arrival of heir apparent Jim Lee later in the year.
Fans were impatient with this approach to X-Men.
I recall reading in a copy of the Comics Buyers Guide a letter from a fan who answered another fan’s letter asking what the hell was going on in X-Men. The reply letter ended with a plea to Claremont to return to more conventional comic book storytelling, and a note from the CBG editors stating they paid the letter writer a small fee for all the work he put into answering the question.
The introduction of Gambit was much hyped, though the execution of it was a mess. It took a while for the comics to find some space in which to convey anything about him that wasn’t superficial. And I remember reading that Days of Future Present crossover between the Fantastic Four, The New Mutants, X-Factor and X-Men annuals, and being flat out unable to make sense of it. There was some nice Art Adams art in the X-Men episode, though.
The other X-Men titles seemed like they were in a bit of another universe. Excalibur’s Cross-Time Caper seemed to go off the rails a bit as Alan Davis wasn’t drawing every issue and there were even a few writing fill-ins for Claremont. The momentum, clarity and humor the book had in its earlier days burned off quickly and the title soon was passed around the Marvel office like a hot potato.
The same was true for Wolverine. After the solid but underwhelming arc by Archie Goodwin, John Byrne and Klaus Janson, there were fill-ins galore with a variety of artists and writers. And these issues came out while the book was published twice monthly in the summer months. These were supposed to be highlight issues, top stuff meant to drive traffic into comics shops. And it was far from special material.
In Louise Simonson’s corner, X-Factor had been a bit lost since Inferno, and in 1990 also was rotating through a series of fill-in artists drawing stories that at best were treading ground. I understand there were plans for Cyclops and Marvel Girl to finally marry and be parents to baby Nathan, but soon crossovers and changes in creative direction would push back that actually happening for years.
I had stopped reading The New Mutants shortly after Inferno. But Ken recommended issue #93 to me, and I was indeed impressed at Rob Liefeld’s more testosterone-driven take on these characters. That issue had Wolverine both inside and on the cover fighting Cable. I quickly put together the issues I had missed, which was very easy — I paid $3 for issue #87, which is now a key from that time.
As up and down as Marvel was, DC was even more more hit and miss. I tried Green Lantern, with the original Emerald Dawn series, followed by a regular title. This character just didn’t work for me. It was the same with Lobo. Everyone went ape-shit crazy for this character, but it was all one joke to me, and not one I found funny at the time.
I did very much like Justice League, which at the time was the brainchild of J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen, and really quite funny.
Another title Ken recommended to me was Doom Patrol, by Grant Morrison. This was my first Morrison book, and it immediately stood out as something different, daring, and fun to read. I came on with issue #32, and it was years before I filled in Morrison’s run back to #19. But I bought every issue going forward and really enjoyed that book.
It was a quiet summer, to be honest. I was looking forward to going back to university in the fall, mostly because I had been hired as a reporter for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and was really excited to be a part of that team and to finally get some real experience in my chosen field of study.
For comics, it was in some ways the quiet before the storm.
These books were still enjoyable and worth buying while they were so cheap. But they also weren’t really satisfying, either.
When the bottom didn’t fall out after the year of the Batman movie, it felt like there was an explosion waiting to happen. That there were new heights to reach. That all it would take was the right book at the right moment, and comics would vault out of the shadows and into the mainstream. The signs were there, with an influx of brash boys in comics shops wondering aloud why Batman doesn’t use guns, or why Marvel doesn’t make Todd McFarlane draw Wolverine, or expressing in plainly lustful language their admiration for Jim Lee’s latest rendering of a swimsuit-clad Psylocke.
I don’t remember why I stopped shopping at AAA Best when I started my junior year at the University of Arizona. Instead, I starting shopping weekly in Tucson at Fantasy Comics, which is located at 2745 N. Campbell Ave.
Fantasy was in an unremarkable one-story building, with a glass case at the front full of its more expensive comics. New releases were racked to the immediate right. The rest of the current comics were stocked in alphabetical order in racks that stretched to the back of the shop. The main floor featured lots of back issues. Charlie Harris, a frequent DC “letter hack,” either owned the store or worked there.
One of the most memorable things for me about shopping at Fantasy was that back issues were in heat-sealed bags. To get them open, you needed scissors, so there were lots of discarded comic bags in my trash.
Into the Trek comics wormhole
I fell deep into Star Trek at the time. DC published in August new Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation series that I really enjoyed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had done poorly at the box office and with critics, but Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third series debuted in September and was by far its best to date.
But it was the classic Star Trek comic that really caught my eye. It had clever scripts by Peter David and slick art printed on good paper from the team of James Fry and Arne Starr. And nothing beat those covers by Jerome K. Moore. They are spectacular and I never tire of looking at them or admiring the skill Moore brought to those illustrations.
My Star Trek obsession led me to a Star Trek convention experience that cemented my fandom for that franchise. It was a weekend Creation Convention at the Tucson Convention Center, with special guest Patrick Stewart.
Prior to Stewart’s entrance, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Richard Arnold, previewed upcoming episodes of The Next Generation. These were sneak peeks at some of the best in the series’ run: “Deja Q,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Sins of the Father” and “Captain’s Holiday.”
Stewart appeared for a charming Q&A session at the end of the day. Among the secrets he revealed: He had accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona. But the offer slipped through through the cracks and after landing the role of Captain Picard, he never looked back. What might have been!
Marvel’s X-Men on the rise
The other hot franchise was X-Men. It had been a best-seller for years at this point, but new artists raised the excitement to a new level. Jim Lee’s arrival on X-Men seemed inevitable after lengthy runs on Alpha Flight and Punisher War Journal. He did a few issues here and there at first, before taking the full reins in the summer of 1990. At the same time, Rob Liefeld also was pitching in on X-Men titles and getting some heat. He took over the penciling chores on The New Mutants in 1990 and introduced Cable, another high point. Erik Larsen took over penciling The Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane, who was set to launch a new Marvel title. With Marc Silvestri jumping from X-Men to Wolverine, the seeds of the Image revolution were taking root.
But Star Trek had sort of taken over my mind. I collected the first DC series, re-watched the movies and original TV shows, and even enjoyed some of the Star Trek novels. “Writer of Stuff” Peter David was the creator whose work I most enjoyed, leading me inevitably to The Incredible Hulk.
Lost in the aisles of Bookman’s
Fantasy was but one of the shops I frequented that year. Another mainstay was Bookman’s, a used-book store that filled a former grocery store space with tons of fascinating objects. Each visit took hours, it seems. I’d start with out-of-town newspapers and move on to a newsstand section full of old and new magazines. Then there were aisles full of used books, cassettes, CDs, and bargain low-grade comics. I always flipped through Comics Scene and the Comics Buyers Guide, catching in the latter news of a Peter David signing at All About Books and Comics in Phoenix. I skipped out on school to drive up from Tucson in time to hit the Thursday evening event.
The Hulk tour hits Phoenix
The signing was part of a tour promoting David and artist Dale Keown’s work on The Incredible Hulk. Keown had only drawn two issues of Hulk at this point, and the signing was sparsely attended. That gave everyone a chance to hang out with David and Keown and chat about a lot of things. David signed several Star Trek issues for me, a Next Generation novel he’d written, and some Hulks. He joked about calling his editor back in New York to rave about the warm Arizona weather.
To my surprise, Keown hailed from Alberta, so we talked about Canada and Arizona, as well as comics. I remember he sold the splash page to The Incredible Hulk #367, his first issue, for about $150. A few years later, I saw the same page for sale in another Phoenix-area store for many multiples of that.
The signing was part of a mini-tour that continued that weekend to comic shops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All About produced a poster for the signing similar to the McFarlane one I wrote about previously. Mine is framed but in storage.
Hunting for back issues in Tucson
After that, I started seriously looking for back issues of The Incredible Hulk. David had been writer on Hulk for about three years, and I began by tracking down his back issues. I often visited a Tucson shop called Comics and Things, located in a strip mall at 3934 E. Grant Road, in search of Hulk and Star Trek back issues. It had a good selection of recent back issues but soon vanished into the ether.
The writing and art on Hulk surprised me. David started with a fairly conventional Hulk story with McFarlane on art. Their collaboration ended with a satisfying climax that completely changed the series’ premise. David next turned the Hulk gray and got him a job as a high-end Las Vegas bouncer named Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves drew this run and did a fabulous job before disappearing from the world of comics.
Hulk was so good that Sam Kieth drew the fill-ins — if you could call them that.
Keown drew Hulk for the next three years, and it became was a huge hit. David stuck with the title for years after, and still writes new Hulk stories from time to time. Great stuff.
How much is too much Batman?
This also was a time when Batman was still riding high on the popularity of the Tim Burton movie. So Batman was super-hot and DC released in the autumn of 1989 Legends of the Dark Knight #1. Promoted as the first new solo Batman book since 1940,this series set free top talent to do their ultimate Batman story.
The first issue also marked the first time I remember variant covers from a major publisher, as DC promoted the book with a second cover that came in four different colors. They said in the book that it was “just for fun,” but the result surely made DC’s accountants happy as fans decided they needed to have a copy of each color — and therefore bought four copies of that first issue.
Pointing out the differences between Tucson and Phoenix, that first Legends of the Dark Knight sold out immediately down south. The same was true of The New Titans #60 and 61, which were key parts of the current Batman storyline, “A Lonely Place of Dying.” I easily found both on my first comic shop stop on my next trip to Phoenix.
Picking up from where I left off: I left home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson shortly after my 18th birthday, in late August of 1987. My birthday gifts that year included a box of Tide powder, to do my own laundry with; and a dish-drying rack. All profoundly sensible items I needed and used.
I did not live in the dorms at U of A because doing so was so popular at the time that you had to apply a year in advance to get a spot. A year before, I still was in Edmonton, so my application was far too late to get me in. Instead, my Dad took me down to the Tucson sometime that summer and we found a two-bedroom apartment to rent and put out an ad for a roommate. I eventually got a response to the ad from a student coming to Tucson from New Jersey — also a freshman. We ate a lot of Domino’s Pizza those first months.
The apartment complex was quite nice. Our lower-level apartment had plenty of space and came furnished. There was a pool and hot tub in the complex, along with coin-operated laundry machines and grills for cooking. There were plenty of students living in the complex. A few fun girls, too. It’s still there, now called the Arcadia Park Apartments. There was an ABCO grocery nearby and bus lines we could pick up along East Fifth Street that took us directly to campus for classes. Neither me nor my roommate had a car.
I brought along my comics, and stuck them in my bedroom closet. I had maybe two and a half long boxes at this point. What I wasn’t sure of was where I could get comics in Tucson. Turns out, the answer was easier than I thought.
A quick look at the phone book revealed a comic shop within walking distance — not far from where I caught the bus to campus. It was called David’s Used Books And Comics most of the time; other times it was The Comic Corner. I don’t remember what the sign out front said, but I do remember it being in a small mall-type building at 5031 E. Fifth St. that is still there today.
The shop was set up in the standard way: New comics on racks around the side, with bins full of back issues in the center. There was a section at the back that had magazines, British comics and fanzines. The walls featured the usual higher-value back-issue comics, with the counter area at the front with display cases for the most-valuable and rare comics. This was all on the left half of the store as you walked in; the right side featuring mostly used paperbacks of all sorts.
So this solved my comic book sourcing problem, and I quickly set up a free pull list for all the titles I was following at the time. Still pretty heavy on the Marvel and X-Men line, which was gearing up for The Fall of the Mutants crossover.
I have a very clear memory of awaiting Excalibur, and buying the bookshelf special edition in December 1987, on probably my last visit to the shop before my first semester wrapped up. (I did well with grades — 3.6 GPA that first semester, I think.)
I also remember looking forward to Marvel ramping up its annuals with the Evolutionary War storyline that spring. And the artwork of Marc Silvestri on X-Men and Walter Simonson on X-Factor was exciting and vital.
I definitely remember buying everything related to Fall of the Mutants at David’s, including a copy of The Incredible Hulk #340, with the now-famous Todd McFarlane cover, for cover price. McFarlane’s art was starting to gain attention in Hulk, especially once he started inking his own pencils.
I was already subscribing to The Amazing Spider-Man when Todd started working on that title with issue #298, meaning I bought my copy for 20 percent off the cover price of 75 cents! And I distinctly remember the sense of excitement that came along with picking up The Amazing Spider-Man #300, which McFarlane penciled and inked, and features the first full appearance of Venom. It’s still a very popular book. I will get soon to the tale of how I got my copy signed by McFarlane the following year.
I also remember very vividly the debut that fall of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show aired on the Tucson Fox station in syndication on weekends, which meant episodes aired on Saturday afternoon and repeated the following Sunday morning. That made it an easy show to catch, and I remember the hubbub when the DC Comics adaptation arrived at David’s, with that great Bill Sienkiewicz cover, the same week the show premiered. I didn’t scoop it up that first day it was on sale, and had to wait a while to grab a copy.
It’s hard to explain now how much that show meant to fans back then, even as it was roundly and correctly criticized for not being especially good. And the only reason I can think of that sticks is that at the time there was almost no sci-fi of any kind on TV at that time.
Earlier in 1987, ABC had a minor hit airing the sci-fi series Max Headroom, which starred Matt Frewer as futuristic journalist Edison Carter and was based on the British talk-show character concept. (I’d like to think it had some kind of influence on Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan comic book, which came along about ten years later). It was really good — a minor classic, even — but short-lived.
There also had been a very interesting ABC series called Probe, which Isaac Asimov was involved in and featured former The Hardy Boys star Parker Stevenson as a scientific prodigy who drove his assistant, played by Michelle Castle, more than a little crazy in the mode of Holmes and Watson. It ran for eight episodes in 1988 and was canceled. One of its producers, Michael Piller, later went on to contribute many great episodes to Star Trek: The Next Generation and co-created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager before cancer took him at far too young an age in 2005.
And there was Sable, based on Mike Grell’s excellent First Comics series, Jon Sable, Freelance. This one only lasted seven episodes in late 1987 and early 1988, but was almost a decent adaptation of the comic. I recall reading a few issues of the book back in the day and seeing a trade paperback as one of the first graphic novel collections to be found in regular bookstores at the time, alongside Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and Saga of the Swamp Thing. I’ve since read the whole series and really enjoyed it. The show was a pale imitation, but it was at the time the only TV adaptation of a comic to air on a network since The Incredible Hulk.
I think with Star Trek: The Next Generation, the collective audience for that kind of material — today scattered across endless series and streaming services — was concentrated in this one show. The ratings for it were very good, and I remember hearing very soon after it began airing that a second season was already ordered. The rest, of course, is history.
I really enjoyed the show, myself. It didn’t really matter that it wasn’t as good as the original. It was new Star Trek, and I liked the characters despite the often-weak early scripts. I remember one rainy Saturday afternoon when I took a study break to grab some comics at David’s, a sandwich from the deli next door, and watch the newest episode of the show, in which Tasha Yar met her demise at the hands of a pile of oily goo. I also spent a lot of time reading news magazines and newspapers, and watching current-affairs shows like Nightline with Ted Koppel. That was part of what led me to study journalism. Good times.
Back to comics: There was a growing sense that something was happening in comics. As I mentioned, graphic-novel collections from Warner Books started showing up in bookstores, and almost every newspaper and magazine in the country ran at some point a story on comics like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Love & Rockets and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I’d noticed for the first time fans buying multiple copies of new issues in the hopes their value would go up. And the entire hobby seemed to be rising. Debates in shops were lively, respectful and pretty fun to take part in.
When that first year ended, I packed up and went back to Scottsdale for the summer. I didn’t know then that David’s would be gone when I came back a few months later. It was a great spot and a lot of fun to visit. I don’t know if I would have continued buying comics without it being so close to my first home away from home.
My family moved Oct. 2, 1986, to Scottsdale, Arizona. We lived in a home in what was then the north edge of town, somewhere between Shea Boulevard and Cactus Road, just west of 92nd Street. My comics collection at the time fit in one long box.
Of course, the first thing I did was consult the phone book for a nearby comics shop, finding several listings but none nearby. The first one I found and the closest was Fog Hollow Comics, located at 3215 E. Thunderbird Road, almost nine miles away. (Thanks to the AZFandom.org folks for recalling its name!) It’s still today an 18 minute drive, without traffic, each way, from our old address. So it wasn’t convenient, but at least it was a place I could make it to once my perception of what’s too far away to drive to adjusted to Arizona standards.
At the time, there were no freeways in the area. Phoenix and Scottsdale were massively spread out areas with nary a two-story building in sight. It was, truly, a city built more for cars to live in than people. And being on the edge of Scottsdale made pretty much everything you wanted to do, aside from going to the grocery, a trip of 10 or more miles on surface streets with lights that never synched up except to ensure you hit every single one in red.
Nonetheless, with two younger sisters and two working parents, my drivers license made sure I was kept busy dropping off or picking up somebody around the entire north quarter of Phoenix in a yellow 1972 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Thank god it had a tape player. It did not have AC. That deficit’s seriousness would not make itself fully known, however, until the following spring and summer. Either way, it was a lot of time spent in the car.
At the time, I was buying pretty much only Marvel comics. I knew exactly which ones were coming out each week, thanks to Marvel Age Magazine, and I had them on subscription at Fog Hollow — my first pull file. Money was tight, so I’d calculate the exact cover price minus the discount plus the sales tax to ensure I could pay for my comics before making that drive. More than once I paid for my weekly haul to the penny.
Fog Hollow was located in a strip mall suite and, unlike many comics shops, had large windows on two sides of the space and was therefore bright and open and inviting. There was the usual back-issue bin in the center, with new releases on racks around the edge. Under the back-issue bin, behind a small door, was where the subscriber books were kept.
I remember on my first visit finding at least two comics that eluded me in Edmonton and really shouldn’t have: X-Men #192 and Power Pack #27. The former I just never could find in any of the back issue bins at the shops I frequented despite being only a couple years old and all the issues around it being easy to find. Power Pack #27 was part of the Mutant Massacre storyline and had sold out instantly in Edmonton, but was still racked in the new comics when I rolled in to Fog Hollow. That made me happy, and I was a steady customer of the shop through the summer of 1987, when it closed.
I remember stopping in on Friday afternoons to pick up my books. (New comic-book days on Wednesday were not a thing at that time — at least not one I was aware of.) I’d take home the comics I was reading at the time — from memory, standard Marvel stuff, such as X-Men, The New Mutants, Alpha Flight, The Amazing Spider-Man, Classic X-Men, X-Factor, Marvel Saga, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, The ‘Nam, Strikeforce: Morituri, Power Pack, some New Universe titles and Cloak & Dagger — and would spend most of the evening after dinner reading, re-reading, admiring and thinking about the new books. I didn’t have anything else to do, really.
Among the cool items I procured at this shop: A copy of X-Men #141 that I scored for a whopping 50 cents in the back-issue bin, and later took to the 1993 San Diego Comic-Con to be signed by both Chris Claremont and John Byrne; a second printing of The ‘Nam #1, as I was completely in love with this series and the great Michael Golden art; Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, which was easily one of my most re-read books for the next year; and a copy of the first printing of the Wolverine TPB, collecting the original miniseries by Claremont and Miller, costing me a whopping $4.95, plus Arizona sales tax. (A quick note: I had a tough time adjusting at first to sales tax because there was none in Alberta. There, if it cost 99 cents and you gave them a dollar, you got back a penny. In Arizona, if it cost 99 cents, you had to hand over $1.07.)
Fog Hollow was run by a woman named Susan Putney, whom I later realized wrote a graphic novel for Marvel called Spider-Man: Hooky, that was drawn by no-less-a-great than Bernie Wrightson. When I eventually acquired a copy, I really enjoyed it. I also found a site that referenced a quote from former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who said he really liked Putney’s work and thought she could be good — but she kind of vanished after Hooky and Shooter himself was out at Marvel around the same time.
A little Googling reveals Putney also wrote a science-fiction novel called Against Arcturus that was published in 1972 as a a flip-book paperback with Time Thieves, by no-less-a-great than Dean R. Koontz.
I remember she would ring up my sub titles and give me a knowing “good reads,” especially the third week of the month when X-Men, The ‘Nam and Marvel Saga all arrived.
I also remember lusting after the copy of X-Men #94 displayed behind the counter. I recall her mentioning how she’d already sold one to a kid who paid the $100 or so the book cost in cash. You never know what a motivated kid can do.
There was an arcade-style video game in one corner, that played a music loop the staff had memorized and timed down to the second. And I remember one time the staff opening a box from the distributor that included fresh copies of First’s Lone Wolf & Cub reprints. I was not yet smart enough to pick those up, but the staff was sure excited.
Later that summer, I remember coming in to pick up my books one Friday afternoon and Susan was upset, said that the store was closing and subs’ orders had been transferred to another store, called AAA Best Comics, over on North Seventh Street — even farther away from home. It was sad, she was nearly in tears. I said thank you, I had really enjoyed shopping at the store and was sorry to hear it was closing. I didn’t know what else to say — I was only 17 years old.
I proceeded to get into my car, and trek on down to AAA Best Comics, which was a fixture in my life for the next eight years or so.
And I think I may track down a copy of Against Arcturus.
But before that, my next post will feature a detour to the longstanding champion of Phoenix comic-book shops, also sadly no more. Stay tuned.
There were a few other Edmonton comic shops from the time that I visited but no longer remember. I’ve hunted online for any trace of these shops and they are, I’m sure, long gone and exist now only in the memories of those who shopped at them.
I recall one shop located on Stony Plain Road that I visited some time in 1986. I know the year because the woman who was working there was having a loud conversation with a friend about how much she was enjoying both Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s The Man of Steel. There were plenty of back issues in this shop, which is what I remember the most. And I remember scoring a beautiful copy, that I still own today, of this pivotal issue of X-Men:
This was my first issue with Paul Smith art and, when I got it home, I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. It was double-size, had all kinds of amazing stuff happening in it, and it concluded the long-running Brood saga with a satisfying punch — and still ended with a cliff-hanger that ensured next issue was going to be even better. This was a high point of writer Chris Claremont’s long run and did a lot to cement X-Men as my favorite comic book.
The other shop I recall was located in West Edmonton Mall. For those who don’t know, WEM was as much an amusement park and tourist attraction as it was shopping mall. When it opened in 1981, it was just a nice mall. Big for the times, but nothing too special. It had the usual anchor stores, food court and movie theater (six screens!) where I saw Time Bandits more than once. In 1983, the mall doubled in size and exposed its ambitions, adding an NHL-size skating rink, even more movie screens, a huge McDonalds, and an amusement park area called Fantasyland that featured a handful of rides and attractions for mostly younger kids. In 1985, it doubled in size again, adding a third set of movie screens, a second food court, submarine rides, a dolphin tank, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, miniature golf, a massive water park with a wave pool and slides, and two theme streets: Europa Street, which evoked a European feel for high-end fashion stores as tenants, and Bourbon Street, with restaurants and bars for lovers of the night life. There was a hotel with theme rooms planned, and Fantasyland doubled in size, adding a triple loop rollercoaster and “drop of doom” style ride for older thrillseekers. Yes, it was a lot. And legal action from Disney did prompt a name change from Fantasyland to Galaxyland.
When the second phase opened, it included an area for smaller retailers who sold things like sunglasses and jewelry. I forget the name of that part of the mall, but it was located above the massive video arcade in Fantasyland. You’d take an escalator up from Fantasyland, and then if you went to the immediate left, there was a small comics shop that sold new issues and had a modest selection of back issues. I remember buying there a copy of Power Pack #1 for $3, which was a good deal at the time. And the store ended up being drawn by former Edmonton resident John Byrne into Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985).
The issue starts with Alpha Flight — newly reunited in the previous issue with its founder, Guardian, who was believed killed in Alpha Flight #12 — undergoing a training exercise with the Canadian Military near Red Deer, Alberta. This takes up 12 pages of the issue’s 22 pages. Guardian then gets a message from his wife, Heather Hudson, that Alpha Flight is needed at West Edmonton Mall! They arrive and some man in a suit tells them everyone was chased out of the mall by these super-powered types who called themselves Omega Flight! The team splits up and each member is defeated by a member of Omega Flight — with help from a mysterious benefactor. Finally, we find Heather, who’s in front of the mall’s real comic shop when Guardian finds her.
Byrne draws the shop pretty much exactly as I remember it, though there appears to be more Byrne issues on sale there than I remember them having.
The story concludes with Guardian revealing himself to not be James McDonald Hudson, but the android that previously posed as Delphine Courtney in the death of Guardian arc. The story continues into Alpha Flight #27 (Oct. 1985), Secret Wars II #4 (Oct. 1985) and concluded in Alpha Flight #28 (Nov. 1985), which was Byrne’s last as writer and artist on the series.
The comic shop eventually moved to a larger retail space on the lower floor. There, it was the last comic shop I visited prior to our family’s move to Arizona. I distinctly remember that visit, and buying copies of the just-released X-Men #213 (Jan. 1987) with Sabretooth fighting Wolverine on the cover, and a copy of The ‘Nam #2 (Jan. 1987), which I had seen in a report on one of the American network news shows and decided to give it a look.
The only other comic shop I can recall was in the now-defunct Heritage Mall. It was mostly a gaming store, but they did have a small rack of comics and I recall thumbing through copies of Star Wars #104 (March 1986) and Power Pack #21 (April 1986) there, likely while just killing time until the next bus home.
And that’s it for Edmonton comics shops. I’ll do one more post on my newsstand experiences there, then move on to shops in Arizona.
The opening of Warp 1 Games sometime in 1985 or 1986 cemented the Whyte Avenue strip of Edmonton as its comics capital. Warp One opened at 10332-81st Ave., which was almost exactly one block south of Comic Master on Whyte Avenue. (The old Warp 1 location is currently the Tea House Cafe.)
Warp 1 was a large store. I remember entering into a large lower area with I want to say blue carpet, and a line of racks for new comics along the left side. There was a little loft, where you went upstairs to an area with back issues both in long boxes on tables, and on the walls. I remember a window that was round and may have been a dome. I thought it looked cool, remembering having visited on rainy days where the effect of it was enhanced.
Warp 1 was best for back issues. Its selection was deeper than other shops in town and it was easier to track down issues older than a year or two. Back issues were reasonably priced, though condition often varied more than at other shops. It seemed to have more newsstand copies of comics, which means Canadian newsstand copies that have in recent years become in-demand variants.
I never cared for the newsstand copies. They usually were in lesser shape, and I honestly preferred the cleaner look that Marvel in particular used for its direct market copies, with that “M” design and the nice, big issue numbers. The newsstand issue numbers were squished and crammed into a tiny box to make room for the Comics Code Authority symbol, and presaged my typographical interest and subsequent distaste for distorted type.
Among the comics I remember buying at Warp 1 are Secret Wars II #6, X-Men #170, and The New Mutants Annual #1. My X-Men #170 is a very nice-condition Canadian newsstand copy, which may put a few extra dollar or two in my pocket should I ever sell it.
The other thing I remember buying at Warp 1 was a copy of Bill Sienkiewicz’s poster of The New Mutants. It was and is a stunning piece of work that just looks great. Warp 1 was the only store where I had even seen one and so I bought it in September 1986, just a month before we moved to Arizona. I wish I still had it, or that Marvel would re-issue it, as it’s very hard to find one and they’re quite expensive even if you do.
Of the stores I’ve written about so far, Warp 1 is the only one that is still in business. Online, I found this profile of the store from the Sequential Tart website. When I visited Edmonton sometime in the 2000s, I stopped in with my friends at its new location on Whyte Avenue at 99th Street. It was still a solid shop, though it had changed with the times to be more focused on graphic novels than back issues, even then. Warp 1 is still open, and has two additional locations called Warp 2 and Warp 3. I’m sure I’ll check it out again whenever I find myself back in Edmonton.
Though Starbase 12 was the best stocked store around, Comic Master was the most convenient shop for me to get my comics fix from in the mid-1980s. Located at 201-10326 82nd Ave. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Comic Master was found on the second level of a two-story building on the city’s cosmopolitan Whyte Avenue strip. You accessed the store by entering a door at the far left side of the front of the building and climbed the stairs, took a left into a small hallway and another left through the door into the store itself.
Comic Master was not a big shop, but it was open and benefited from a bank of street-facing windows that let in a nice amount of natural light (at least when there was some natural light to be let in). It had the usual racks for new comics with most of it space devoted to back issues. Comics of note were on wall racks for display purposes. And at the register, a large glass display case for more expensive books. I recall the layout of the shop changed more than once.
I recall stopping in one summer day to find the shop had found almost all of the remaining issues of Marvel’s Star Wars comic I needed at that point. I think these were mostly issues from 1982 and 1983, and included my copy of Star Wars #68, which I wrote about here.
What made Comic Master convenient was its location. I was attending high school not far from Whyte Avenue, so the strip and its shops were a popular after-school stop. It also was close enough to home to be easy enough to swing by on weekends. I recall one day in the autumn of 1985 borrowing the family truckster (it was a station wagon with faux wood paneling, I promise) to head over and get the new issue of Star Wars — issue #103, I believe. I forgot, however, that daylight saving time had ended overnight and found I had to wait for the better part of an hour for the store to open.
At the time, I was looking for recent back issues to the series I liked. One of which was X-Men, and I distinctly recall feeling lucky to pick up for a couple of bucks a copy of issue #171, a key issue in which Rogue joins the team. At the time, it was the oldest copy of X-Men in my collection!
There was an amazing bonus to visiting Comic Master, in the form of a second comic shop located right next door. The name of the store escapes me. There was no sign, and the shop was essentially a narrow hallway with racks of old comics on one side of the store. They were racked in all kinds of strange bags and were generally cheap and perhaps of slightly lesser condition. But when looking for those back issues, I almost always found stuff there I needed but had eluded me at other shops in town. I specifically remember scoring my copy of Star Wars #61 there, which was one of the best of the Marvel series with a great cover by Walt Simonson.
And if that wasn’t enough, another shop opened within a block of these two shops soon thereafter. But that’s another post.
I don’t recall if this was the very first comic book shop I ever patronized, but it was the first one I remember looking forward to visiting. It was located at 10627-101st Street in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, just south of the big Brick furniture store, which remains a prominent local retailer.
The first time I visited Starbase 12, probably in summer of 1985, my dad was with me, and he thought it was the craziest thing he’d ever seen. Even the idea of a comic book shop was still a novelty back then.
I used to take the bus from school downtown to the shop, pick up some new and back issues, and then head to my dad’s office, on the 16th floor of what was once the CIBC building and is now known as Bell Tower, at 10104-103 Ave., and hitch a ride home.
The shop had a bi-level back issue rack in the middle, by which I mean there was a top level of comics and a lower level. They were all filed alphabetically by title, as is the norm. Back-issue comics were bagged but not boarded, and the shop would put the comics in the bags with the flap on the back side of the comic. The price tag was put along the top of the front side of the comic, and the flap taped over the price tag. I assume that was to prevent people changing the prices.
The back issues were the big draw. For someone just starting out, they had plenty of copies of recent issues of most books, going back a year or two. For some reason, I remember the rack as being orange in color. Prices were usually a dollar, or $1.25, for recent back issues, which wasn’t bad considering the cover price on Marvel and DC comics at the time was 95 cents in Canada and 75 cents in the U.S. On the plus side, there was no sales tax in Alberta, so you didn’t have to allow for that calculation when trying to maximize the $10 bill in your pocket.
New comics were on racks around the perimeter on about three sides in all. These were multi-level racks, so there were, I think, three rows of comics on the top level, and the same on the lower level.
The fourth side had a small glass display case for more expensive comics, and a rack for larger items like the old Marvel Graphic Novel books.
I have strong memories of buying a number of comics there: Marvel Star Wars comics, early issues of Power Pack and Cloak and Dagger, as well as my first X-Men comics, which were issues #203, #204 and Annual #9. I also remember going in there the day Classic X-Men #1 came out in the spring of 1986, and also coming home that day with an Alpha Flight Annual #1 and X-Men #209. I also remember buying Marvel Age #36, with the David Mazzuchelli cover, and Power Pack #20 there around Christmas 1985.
In 1986, the shop was celebrating Marvel’s 25th anniversary by having a drawing for a copy of Fantastic Four #1. I remember seeing that book in the display case, blown away that it was selling for a whopping $100! I don’t remember what condition it was in. I entered, but did not win.
The last time I visited the shop, sometime in 1986, they had put a rack of discount back issues in the front lobby. (You came in the building’s front door into this small lobby, and opened the door on the right for Starbase 12 and the door on the left for whatever business was in that part of the building.)
I don’t know how long the store lasted, though I recall noting on a subsequent visit in 1988 or 1989 that it was no longer there.
But perhaps because it was the first really well-stocked comic shop I frequented, it set the bar for the many shops I would frequent in the future.