Exclusive Interview: Zubal Books in Cleveland has over 3 million books: Touring the family business with co-owner MICHAEL ZUBAL!

Exclusive Interview: Zubal Books in Cleveland has over 3 million books: Touring the family business with co-owner MICHAEL ZUBAL!

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

One of the world’s great bookstores sits in the Tremont West neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.

Zubal Books has over 3,000,000+ books. It’s a solid operation packed to the brim.

If a standard book is around 300 pages long, that’s 900 million pages on average, thus, almost one billion pages are represented here. That is a fantastically staggering stockpile of the printed word. On a clear day you can read forever.

Zubal’s maze-like hallways are lined with books, containing a supply of brainfood even Methuselah or Henry Bemis would find seemingly inexhaustible.

At the center of this book-tsunami are the Zubals, a bookselling family of Ukrainian heritage.

The patriarch, John Zubal, started selling books in 1961 out of the family’s house in Parma, Ohio. In 1973, they moved to their present location, which is a complex of large buildings.

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

His wife Marilyn and sons Michael and Tom work here, along with his grandchildren. They’re an entrepreneurial family with decades of experience and rare expertise.

This skilled family has been passing down the book trade for generations, helping to enrich the world by supplying books to millions of customers. Yes, they’ve found their niche.

Eldest son, Michael Zubal, is one of the current heads of operations and he’s been kind enough to give me the grand and delightfully disorienting tour where your head is spinning with books by the end, there’s so many.

Aside from being a book hunter with an eagle eye for quality books, one of Michael’s secret weapons is his excellent memory and quick recall for obscure facts and figures and remembering which books are shelved where without having to consult the database.

Zubal’s is a well-oiled machine where everything is shelved by unit number and Michael & family are always on the go, filling up the outbound table with domestic and international orders and zipping around the store.

In 1998, Zubal Books closed to the public. For the past twenty years, they have sold primarily online and by appointment-only.

Touring the Zubal’s Spread with Michael Zubal

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We were just on the West Coast for a week and bought 3,000 books. Then I went to Geneva, Switzerland to hang out with my son. I was surprised to find that Geneva is far more Parisian than Germanic. Also, our perch tastes sweeter here. Anyway, I think the jet lag and time changes have scrambled the circuits in my brain, I’m still re-adjusting.”

The total square footage of our operation here at Zubal Books is about 360,000-square feet.”

“Our 60,000-square foot four-story main building was built in 1925. It was a Cleveland Public Schools textbook repository, then a Lutheran publishing company for a brief period. There’s a massive freight elevator here and thousands of old wooden pear crates we use as shelving.”

“On top of the main building is a perfectly preserved circa 1954 apartment we call The Penthouse.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The Penthouse has great views of the downtown Cleveland skyline and everything in here is from the 1950’s and in spookily immaculate condition (ie: furniture, appliances, grasscloth wallpaper, 3-sided fireplace, snail patterned tiles, etc.). It’s like stepping back in time. Anthony Bourdain visited us in 2007 and this was his favorite room. It would also make a great movie location. Every Friday after Thanksgiving, we play poker up here.”

“In addition to our main building, we have some attached annex buildings. One is from the 1890’s, it was previously attached to an old greenhouse. One of our recent (1978) additions has steel grating floors so you can see three stories below you. Another building features an old speakeasy with an in-wall pocket picnic table that folds out.”

“Then, a few hundred feet down the street, we have the 300,000-square foot old Hostess Twinkie factory, which has cavernous rooms filled with shrink-wrapped pallets of books that need to be processed (ie: priced, catalogued and databased). Hostess closed the factory in 1989 and we acquired it in 1994. It took us five years to hunt down the property owner. Real estate attorneys did title searches. Turned out it was a corporation in St. Louis that owned it. They accepted our first offer without hesitation.”

Prior to 1973, we had 5,000 books at our home in Parma, Ohio and about 5,000 journals and periodicals in our basement, garage and breezeway. We also had five small storage areas around town in sheds, converted garages, storefronts, etc. We even built a pully lift to transport books to and from the second floor in one warehouse. Finally, in 1973 we consolidated everything into this property and our operations have been here ever since.”

The Focus of Zubal’s

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

On average, we sell around 250,000 books per year. We specialize in academic, scholarly, obscure, out-of-print, first editions, sci-fi and technology.”

“We also deal a lot in physics, mathematics, history, art, philosophy, signed books, chemistry, engineering, occult, collectible bindings (Easton Press, Franklin Press, etc.), anthropology, and theology.”

“Our biggest customer segments are academia, scholars, post doc students, PhD researchers, think tanks, universities, and finnicky collectors.”

Acquisitions librarians working on collection development at universities also contact us.”

“In terms of buying books, we frequently get calls from academics approaching retirement and estates will call us before holding public sales.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“What I personally really enjoy handling and researching are Modern Literature books from 1920’s-1960’s. Prohibition Era to the Hippies.”

“The concentrations I specialize in are math and physics. I’m constantly boning up on bibliographies, histories and genealogies of modern physics. We deal with a lot of physicists and mathematicians.”

“My father is a trained historian. He almost became a PhD, but he didn’t want to be in academia, he wanted to sell books full-time. He instilled pride in us on efficiency and discretion doing deals.”

We also have a store of around 2,500 books inside the main building that people can visit. It’s a random assortment of clean, mostly modern books spanning a range of different topics.”

“For various reasons, I haven’t had a Book Scout for over six years. We had a regular Book Scout for twenty years prior to that. One day we sat down and analyzed the results. We were ultimately disappointed at his pricing scheme. It was not justifying our continued relationship with him. Smart guy though, great eye, he does the rounds.”

Michael on the Book Business

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The book business, like every business, has peaks and valleys. The labor involved is tough. Books are usually on the second floor of houses. The hauling and processing can be very time-consuming. I’ll see a load of books someone inherited, and they just want the books to find a good home. Sometimes there’s so much stuff that no money is exchanged because the values are moderate to low and they just want someone to haul the books away.”

“Right now, we have about 300,000 books listed online. Our main platforms are Amazon, AbeBooks, the Zubal website, then all the other websites we list on. We do hourly updates on all the site so that sold books are removed as quickly as possible.”

“Back in 1998, Dick Weatherford’s company Interloc (which later became Alibris) approached us. We started listing on Interloc, selling 1-2 books per day. Then AbeBooks followed, then shortly thereafter, Amazon.”

“When we became an Amazon lister, I would talk almost daily with Tiffany Linnes at Amazon. She worked directly for Jeff Bezos, that’s how small they were at the time. Since then, Amazon has acquired AbeBooks and owns it.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Prior to 1998, catalogs were our primary source of sales. Once the internet hit, we immediately realized it was a viable medium. We closed our physical store to the public after reviewing our inventory control methods. We found listing by subject matter was irrelevant. We buy and sell internationally, daily, and routing books to their proper location is incredibly time-consuming.”

“How do we choose what to list online? There’s no real method. On occasion, I’ll get a collection on consignment, which jumps to the front. Currently, I’ve been working on Engineering books. We spend a lot of time working with physics, math, engineering books.”

In terms of collectors, we don’t see completists anymore. Most people these days want specific titles versus wanting everything by a particular author.”

“Occasionally, we sell items via Heritage Auctions in Dallas. We sell maybe a dozen high-end items per year through there. We sold a Batman # 1 (1940) comic book through Heritage. It had no rear cover and still went for $8,500.”

Quick Bio of Michael Zubal

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“My father’s grandparents were from a farming village near Lvov, Ukraine, which is now in Poland, thanks to Stalin. They were hard workers who came here to work in the steel mills.”

I’ve been working with my dad in the book business for as long as I can remember. At six years old, I was working as a kid on Saturday’s. My older sister and I would haul and stock and shelve books for him. We traveled all over to Chicago, Philly, Washington, New York, etc. My dad would do the deals and I’d come along to help move stuff. Being fully immersed in the book world my whole life is kind of an oddity. Because of this, at a very early age, I found I had a more advanced worldview than my contemporaries.”

I did my first big deal when I was 18 at MOMA in NYC. I was buying books. Then I turned around and sold what I bought to a college. From that moment it was game-on.”

“I was also a state-licensed auctioneer for a little while. The auctions were quite popular, especially in the pre-internet days. We’d have 40-50 bidders in house and the auctions were fun.”

“When I’m not working on books, I’m playing bass in my jazz band, Slap Quartet. My brother Tom is also in the band, he plays guitar. We have another guitarist and a drummer. The name of our band came from dad. He said rock was a short-lived anthropological phenomenon (SLAP). We modified it to Simply Love All People. Been playing since I was 14 years old. We do mainly 50’s-60’s bop. My big influences are Miles, Monk, Coltrane and Mingus. I play a 5-string electric and an acoustic upright bass.”

Most books Zubal’s has ever acquired at once

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The most books we’ve ever acquired at once were 85,000 books from the Museum of the American Indian Library in the Bronx, which was created by Archer Huntington.”

“It was a collection of Anthropology, Americana, Western, and American Ethnography. They sold it to Cornell University, which only kept 1,000 of the rarest volumes. Then Cornell called us. We ordered three semi-trucks and eight of us went down there. The eight of us loaded the trucks in two days.”

“Two months ago, I went to a house in upstate New York and pulled out 2,000 books myself from the second floor. Couple whiskies later that night, I was fine.”

Selling and Renting Bulk Books

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

1,000 books or more is considered bulk. We sell and rent bulk books mostly to movie studios, hotels, interior designers. Sometimes they just want certain color bindings to match the color scheme of a room or they’ll say things like ‘we need twelve-feet of books from the 18th century.’”

“Our books are appearing in the TV show Succession in the upcoming episode where the characters go to Hungary.”

We even help outfit booksellers who are just starting out in their careers with bulk amounts of books.”

“Also, we pulp poor quality books all the time. Fortunately, there’s a pulping facility three blocks from us.”

The Zubal Vault

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

We have an off-site vault of especially rare and favorite books.”

An example of some items from the vault:

– 1st edition Wizard of Oz (1900) $450,000; pristine like-new condition.
Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali (1969) massive folio where each plate is signed by Dali.
Boccaccio’s Decameron on vellum. It’s only one of three copies in existence. The binding and even the pages are vellum. The book was created around 1899 and is a modern work of art.
Common Sense (1776) Thomas Paine. At around $250,000, it’s the most expensive book Zubal’s has listed online.

Final Thoughts for Now

Michael Zubal @ Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“One thing I absolutely love about the book business is the thrill of the hunt. Never fully knowing what sort of treasures you’re going to discover.”

As booksellers, we must have a keen eye, know the material and be discerning. You have to know what you’re handling and the quality.”

“My dad is 80. My parents are gonna keep on going at it here. Will I be here when I’m 80? Hard to say.”

“As for customers and visitors, we do encourage people to email us their Want Lists. We will keep these on file and let you know if your book comes in. Also, I’m happy to give tours. They typically run 1 hour and 30 minutes. You need to email us in advance so we can set a day and time.

“I love the city of Cleveland. We’re currently seeing an explosion of new upscale housing in the city, which for the past 40 years was unheard of. The food scene is surprisingly complex and interesting. The art scene, especially the Cleveland Museum of Art, is fantastic. The people of Cleveland are generally friendly, helpful, laidback and polite.”

My brother and I have been in the book business for 40 years. After doing something for so long, you should get good at it. We were happily born into the trade. It’s a bonus in life to have a job where you handle the printed word daily.”

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Zubal Books
2969 West 25th Street
Cleveland, Ohio 44113

Contact
info@zubal.com

 

Homepage
https://www.zubalbooks.com/index.jsp

Amazon
https://www.amazon.com/sp?seller=A3OI5MNY5V1ONO

AbeBooks
https://www.abebooks.com/zubal-books-cleveland-oh-u.s.a/581/sf

Alibris
https://www.alibris.com/stores/zubalbks

Biblio
https://www.biblio.com/bookstore/zubal-books-cleveland

 

Ryan’s Top 3 Things to Experience in Cleveland after visiting Zubal’s

Slyman’s Deli (3106 St. Clair NE) open Monday-Friday 6am-2pm; 216-621-3760; get the corned beef sandwich on rye with swiss, toasted, with 1000 island, mustard, mayo.

Slyman’s Deli in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Slyman’s Deli in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

West Side Market (1979 W. 25th Street) open daily 7am-4pm; 30,000-square foot market of food vendors built in 1912 with a 130-foot tall clock tower. If you see them, try the cotton candy grapes.

West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery (12316 Euclid Avenue) 285-acre rural garden-style cemetery founded in 1869; John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness are buried here along with U.S. President James A. Garfield. Check out the Garfield Memorial. Open April-November from 9am-4pm, it’s a 180-foot tall 3-story monument. The coffins of Garfield (who was assassinated in 1881) and his wife are in the lower level.

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Garfield Memorial @ Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Honorable Mentions:

Edgewater Beach (7600 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway) free, public beach; there’s also a greenspace, fishing pier and concession’s building; 11am-9pm concessions, 3pm-8pm bar; this area is located next to the Edgewater Yacht Club

Cleveland Arcade (401 Euclid Avenue) Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm; this Rockefeller-built indoor shopping mall from 1890 is a classy 5-story arcade

The Loop (2180 W. 11th Street) 7am-9pm daily; two floors of vinyl records and a café on the ground floor

Hingetown Pizza Mural (2817 Detroit Avenue) Mike Sobeck graffiti art located behind the Schaefer Printing Building

Hoopples Bar (1930 Columbus Road) open 2pm-2:30am; two-story bar with an outdoor patio in The Flats; great burgers and live music

Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Hingetown Pizza Mural in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Zubal Books in Cleveland, Ohio (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Exclusive Interview: Touring the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection of 350,000 items @ Michigan State University with head honcho RANDY SCOTT!

Aerial photo of MSU (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Michigan State University is a sprawling and beautiful campus of leafy trees, ubiquitous green & white team colors, and intriguing experiences, such as visiting the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection.

Located in East Lansing, about 1hr 30mins west of Detroit, the school was founded in 1855 as a prototype land-grant university and renamed MSU in 1964.

MSU currently sits on 5,200-acres dotted with 566 buildings. Over 50,000 students attend here. There are 27 resident halls and over 900 registered student groups on campus. Yes, this place is massive. It’s one of the largest universities by population in the USA.

MSU’s Nuclear Physics graduate program ranks # 1 in the nation. Magic Johnson & Sam Raimi attended MSU simultaneously in the late 1970’s. Fun factoids abound.

I’m here visiting the MSU Library, the building which contains the main portion of the comic collection.

Red Cedar River (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

You park on the north side of Spartan Stadium in Lot # 62 W (99 Red Cedar Road, East Lansing). You ‘pay by plate’ by the hour. Then, use the footbridge to cross the beautiful Red Cedar River and enter the library doors straight ahead.

Once inside, the Special Collections Reading Room is on your left. This is where you’ll read the comics.

As the world’s largest library/academic comic book collection, the MSU Comic Collection is a true world resource.

Sure, Mile High Comics in Denver has a self-estimated eight million comic books in three warehouses and a single individual, Bob Bretall, in Mission Viejo, California has over 105,000 comics.

But the MSU Collection is catalogued, indexed, available to the general public free of charge and managed by comic book expert, Randall W. Scott.

Randall W. Scott, or “Randy” as he prefers to be called, is an MSU Special Collections Librarian, Comic Art Bibliographer, and head curator of the MSU Comic Art Collection. Working here almost 50-years, Randy has one of the greatest jobs on the planet: reading and archiving comic books.

Yes, a state university had the foresight to bankroll Randy’s unique expertise and thus, help fund a world-class collection of pop culture artifacts in the form of comics books. We’re so jelly. Randy, I want your job.

MSU’s Comic Book Curator and Head Honcho: Randy Scott

Randall W. Scott, aka: Randy, head of the MSU Comics Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’ve always enjoyed comic books. I like the format of blending words and pictures. I also read a lot of books without pictures. Mainly, I like thinking about how the literary form of comic books works and is evolving. Comic books are different from every other kind of storytelling. And I like the theoretical questions associated with comics and collecting comics.”

“I grew up on a farm in Alpena County in a little town called Hubbard Lake. I like to practice reading in other languages like French, German, Spanish. My foreign language level is fair. But my level of reading comics is pretty good.”

“In the late Sixties, I migrated to Lansing and attended MSU while working at Curious Book Shop, a used & rare bookstore run by Ray Walsh. I was Ray’s first employee and the comics buyer there back when Curious had an upstairs that was all comics. Stan Lee did a signing there once! I met Ray while we were both students at MSU. He was famous for riding his bike around campus in a trench coat.”

The Paper (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

“As a student here at MSU, I worked as a writer and editor on an underground paper aptly called ‘The Paper’ and toward the end of its lifespan, it became absorbed into SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. There was a national movement for underground papers at that time. Detroit had The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor had The Sun and so on. In June 1969, we had a convention in Chicago where SDS split and The Weathermen became one of the splits, so I briefly became an original Weatherman before it became the Weather Underground.”

“I have a B.A. from MSU and an M.S. in Library Science from Columbia with a concentration in cataloging and indexing.”

I started working in the MSU Library back in 1971. I had various jobs, including being a preorder typist, whereby I would send out orders to jobbers to order books. I started cataloging the Comic Art Collection in 1974 when I developed a system for indexing and cataloging them and I’ve been here ever since.”

“In 1975, a high-school student stole our Amazing Spider-Man # 1 comic book. We knew who it was but couldn’t prove it. Today, in good condition, that comic is worth around $100,000.”

“After that happened, I decided to take on the job of looking after the Comic Collection, during my lunch hours, as a volunteer.”

 

MSU Comic Collection: At 350,000 items, it’s the World’s Largest Library Comic Book Collection

MSU Comic Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Randy and I head downstairs, one floor below the Reading Room.

The Comic Collection is housed in long rows of electronic Spacesaver mobile storage units. The lights are on 120-second timers, thus, if there’s no movement for 120 seconds, the lights go off.

We have the main core of the collection here. Then we have about 700 shelves of international comics at an offsite, remote storage warehouse.”

 

Russell Nye: Creator of the MSU Comic Collection

Russell B. Nye circa 1978 (photo courtesy of: Michigan State University)

The MSU Comic Collection started in 1969-70 when MSU professor Russell Nye donated 6,000 comic books, mostly 60’s-era Marvel superhero comics, to the university.”

“Around 100 of the comics were his, the rest were from some of his senior students who donated their collections to him for his new Pop Culture course.”

“Nye taught in the English department from 1941-79. He was an early proponent of Pop Culture Theory and I had him as a teacher. Nye was a gentleman, always wore a suit, taught 19th century American Literature and had an inquiring mind.”

“At the time, comics were deemed ‘inappropriate material’ by academia. However, Nye was respectable, he had also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so they couldn’t deny this pop culture scholar’s donation of comics.”

Comic Buyer’s Guide issue # 1 (1971) image courtesy of: Michigan State University

“Comic books had already been around for over 100 years and it took them that long to get academic recognition. I did Independent Study with Nye and wrote a paper called ‘Comics in Libraries’ where I argued for their inclusion.”

“Prior to this, academic libraries had been reluctant to collect and study comics, which they foffed off as ‘subliterature’. It was revolutionary times. The spirit of the time was to open things up and do what hadn’t been done before.”

“Nye wasn’t thought of as a radical but being a proponent of putting comic books in libraries was definitely a radical idea at the time. It’s hard to fathom now because it’s more commonplace. Now over 50 libraries have permanent comic book collections.”

 

It’s a Midwest thing: Michigan and Ohio Lead the Charge

Bowling Green University’s Popular Culture dept. (image courtesy of Bowling Green University)

“Ohio’s Bowling Green University started a Pop Culture department around the same time. The Journal of Popular Culture started in 1967 at Bowling Green and was edited by Ray Browne. They now have the Browne Popular Culture Library, which is the world’s largest collection of pulps, dime novels and ephemera.”

“In 1977, Lucy Caswell started the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, which is now the world’s largest repository of original cartoon art.”

It was a Midwest thing. We started putting comic books in libraries, then NYPL followed suit after a few years and now it’s a global thing.”

“In 1978, the Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection was officially titled as a branch of the Special Collections. This collection includes the Comic Art Collection, 10,000 volumes of sci-fi (mostly monographs), probably 5,000 books, magazines & fanzines, and loads of Popular Fiction (ie: dime novels, pulps, detective, westerns, etc).”

MSU Library’s Carolyn Blunt (c. 1973)

 

A Taste of the Goodies

Young Allies # 1 (1941) photo by: Ryan M. Place

The hardest part of being a Comics Librarian is cataloguing. Cataloguing is a daily, ongoing process. On January 1st, 1981, we stopped using the filing index card system.”

“Every year we get deliveries of 12 to 20 boxes of comics sent via UPS. Gerber invented mylar comic sleeves. I order these babies 5,000 at a time. Cataloguing all this stuff takes time.”

“We have 7 copies of the original Obadiah Oldebuck here, the first comic ever created.”

Obadiah Oldebuck, the first comic book ever printed (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have the personal microfilm collection of Detroit comics guru Jerry Bails and the #1 CAPA-Alpha (1964).”

“We have all sorts of comics: Young Allies # 1 (1941), Walt Disney Comics and Stories No. 1 (1940), Wonder Woman # 1 (1942), R. Crumb’s Zap # 1 (1967), etc.”

“We have about 600 Underground comics, 10,000 volumes of Manga, 1 million comic strips donated by Dick Webster, and large holdings of Eclipse, Marvel, DC, Fantagraphics.”

“We have the King Features proof sheet collection from NYC (1930’s-1990’s).”

Rodney Ford scrapbooks (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We have 530 scrapbooks of daily newspaper strips. They came all at once from Rodney Ford in Sacramento, California. Over 100 titles from the 1920’s-1970’s. He made the scrapbooks meticulously by hand.”

“We have 17,000 Golden Era comics (1938-52), the first 1,000 of which came from Jim Haynes, a Connecticut racetrack owner who grew up in Port Huron, Michigan.”

“We have the Lexikon der Comics, the only copy in North America. It’s a German language encyclopedia of comics.”

“The list goes on and on. MSU has a tradition of keeping the best two copies of each item. Our triplicates we give to the MSU Surplus Store to be sold, and proceeds of these sales come directly back to the library to continue supporting the collection.”

Lexikon der Comics: German language encyclopedia of comic books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU’s International Comics @ the Remote Storage Warehouse

MSU International Comics inside Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

After touring the main collection, Randy drives us to an offsite warehouse in Lansing, about 15 minutes away from the main library. The facilities coordinator, Josh Maki, lets us in.

The warehouse is divided into two massive rooms.

One room contains international comic books on 10 and 12-foot-high steel shelving. The other room is a high-density storage bay of 800,000 books and bound journals. Big blue-box air scrubbers clean the air.

This is but one warehouse in a complex of warehouses. The others are: Folio, Special Collections and RSA. The comics warehouse is RS-F and called ‘remote storage’. Spread across the complex, there are around 1.7 million items.

MSU Remote Storage warehouse (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Here we have about 700 shelves of international non-American comics from all over the world. For instance, we have 1,800 comics catalogued from India alone.”

“We have shoe boxes full of two million daily comic strips, plus big boxes of proof sheets, Sunday sections, etc.”

“The most we ever paid was $130,000 for 13,000 European comics in the 1990’s.”

“We get about one international visitor per month, mostly from Europe and Asia.”

“When visiting, please remember that international comics must be requested at least three full days in advance.”

Funding: Where does the money come from?

“I get a little slice of the annual MSU Library book budget. I also have a couple of endowments which provide funding. Our total annual budget is around $40,000.”

“In regard to acquisitions, I have a Collection Development statement that I follow when we want to acquire new material for the collection.”

In addition to the budget Randy receives from MSU, generous supporters also lend a hand by giving funds in support of this collection.

For more information on ways you can support the collection, contact:

MSU Libraries’ Development Office

517-432-0708

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

MSU Special Collections

MSU Special Collections Rare Book Collection (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Established in 1962, the MSU Special Collections department contains 450,000+ printed works, several manuscript and archival collections, a huge stash of ephemera, and more.

MSU has a massive collection of Sixties Radicalism pamphlets and papers. You can find these in the American Radicalism Vertical File (ARVF).

The Special Collections Rare Book Collection is at the end of the comics collection, behind a vault door, inside a temperature-controlled room.

It contains the Charles Schmitter Fencing archives. And the oldest printed book at MSU: Scriptores Rei Rusticae (1472, Venice). They even have a Book of Hours here.

 

Randy’s Final Thoughts

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Well, I’ll need to retire one day, I suppose.”

“My replacement will need to be enthusiastic about comic scholarship, knowledgeable in the field of comics books and care deeply about growing the collection and understanding how important it is.”

The MSU Comic Collection is always open to donations of comic books. If you or someone you know wants to donate their collection, they can email or call the MSU Libraries’ Development Office.”

“Personally, I think it would be cool if the library put a little more recognition into the comics, such as the graphic novels. We have a ton of graphic novels, including the first-ever, Will Eisner’s ‘A Contract with God’ from 1978.”

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“There’s a future in academic comic study. It just depends on administrative attitudes. Currently, MSU offers two minor degrees in Comics.”

“Every February, we host a two-day long MSU Comics Forum here on campus.”

“Visiting scholars with an MSU netID can apply to stay overnight at the Owen Hall Grad Dorm here on campus.”

Plan a trip. Let us know you’re coming. We look forward to seeing you.”

MSU Comics Forum (courtesy of MSU)

 

Donate your comic collection to MSU by emailing Randy Scott and the library development office:

scottr@msu.edu

giving@lib.msu.edu

 

Search the MSU Comic Collection here

https://lib.msu.edu/findbooks/

 

Randy’s Comic Index

http://comics.lib.msu.edu/index.htm

 

Russell B. Nye Popular Culture Collection

https://lib.msu.edu/spc/collections/nye/

 

MSU Comics Forum

http://www.comicsforum.msu.edu/

 

Map of MSU Campus

https://maps.msu.edu/

 

Library of Congress has 150,000 comic books

https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/comics.html

MSU logo (image courtesy of: Michigan State University)

Ryan’s Final Thoughts

Having toured the collection multiple times, I feel it necessitates its own building.

Due to the size, importance and future growth potential of the collection, MSU should consider centralizing the entire collection under one roof exclusively.

You could also add a museum component to this, complete with display cases, regular events and periodic in-person signings.

 

Ryan’s Recommendations on Visiting the MSU Comic Collection

While visiting MSU, you might want to make time to check out the following:

 

1.) Brody Square (241 Brody West) campus food hall

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Brody Hall (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park in the Kellogg Conference Center parking garage (219 S. Harrison Rd.) for $1.50/hr. Walk directly across the street to Brody. Up on the 2nd floor is one of the most ingenious campus food hall concepts ever created.

Brody features 9 to 12 food stations. For $10.00 per person it’s all you can eat, all day long. And yes, this is open to the general public.

They have a wondrous array of food featuring things like:

Burritos, sushi, spicy crab soup, Cajun fish with mashed potatoes and gravy, Hudsonville ice cream (get the Cake Batter with chocolate syrup), 15 breakfast cereals, pepperoni pizza, vegetable spring roll, miso soup, mango slush drink, pasta with spinach and alfredo, breadsticks, and more.

Also impressive is their automated tray system. You walk over to a moving wall of empty metal racks and slide your tray in and it disappears into the back for the cleaners. Every university in the country should replicate this food hall model.

 

2.) MSU Dairy Store @ Anthony Hall (474 South Shaw Lane) 9am-8pm

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Dairy Store grilled cheese (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park out front at the meters. 8 minutes per quarter or use your credit card.

This is an ice cream parlor open to the general public and run by the MSU Department of Food Science. All the ice cream is made right here at MSU. You can even buy half-gallon tubs!

I recommend trying a double scoop of the Sesquicentennial Swirl and Dantonio’s Double Fudge.

Also try the Grilled cheese on sourdough with a cup of soup.

 

3.) Curious Book Shop (307 East Grand River Ave)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Curious Book Shop (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Park directly behind the store. $2.25 for 90 minutes maximum.

Opened in 1969, this is a used & rare bookstore with a large sci-fi section.

The store is owned by Randy’s friend Ray Walsh. Ray has done a tremendous number of good things for the book community over the past several decades.

Ray puts on the annual Michigan Antiquarian Book & Paper Show.  You can usually find Ray himself a half mile down the road, running his other bookstore, Archives Book Shop (519 W. Grand River).

 

Some Other Cool stuff in Lansing:

Potter Park Zoo (1301 South Pennsylvania Ave, Lansing)

Zoobie’s Old Town Tavern (1200 North Larch Street, Lansing)

Lansing Brewing Company (518 East Shiawassee St, Lansing)

Meat BBQ (1224 Turner Rd, Lansing)

Randy Scott (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Special Collections gift of Jim Haynes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Comic Collection cataloguing (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Comics Librarianship Handbook by Randy Scott

Randy Scott at work in the MSU Library basement (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Exclusive Interview: The Comic Book Wizard of Ypsilanti, GEORGE HAGENAUER, Reflects on 50 Years of Collecting Thousands of Comics, Artwork and Books!

Exclusive Interview: The Comic Book Wizard of Ypsilanti, GEORGE HAGENAUER, Reflects on 50 Years of Collecting Thousands of Comics, Artwork and Books!

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer is a funny guy. He is the man of a million, brilliant, chattering tangents, weaving in and out of multiple stories simultaneously like a Benzedrine-crazed Grand Theft Auto driver, yet he never loses the threads. His stories and thoughts are engrossing, they envelop your curiosity.

George is also a walking encyclopedia of comic books, comic art, illustrations, books, pulps, and obscure knowledge.

He owns about 2,500 pieces of original comic art and illustrations. He currently has 1,500 pieces online at Comic Art Fans. In addition to this, he owns the art for two complete 1915 animated cartoons, which he has started restoring, and he owns 5,000+ books and probably tens of thousands of comic books.

We frequently hang out at my favorite drinking establishment in Michigan, The Corner Brewery in Ypsi, where you can find me holding court at least once a month. George, wearing a Hulk t-shirt & bike helmet, will bike up to The Corner on his dad’s old 1936 bicycle from his house a few blocks away and we’ll drink dark beer and talk comics and books for hours.

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Right now, we’re at George’s house in his basement. I’m sitting in a comfortable old rocking chair. George has famous Chicago author (who was born in Detroit) Nelson Algren’s stained-glass lamp hanging over his favorite reading chair. Beyond that are bookcases overflowing with brainfood, mounds of treasures, stacks of rare papers, long boxes of comics, framed original art, heavy-duty locked fireproof filing cabinets, etc, everywhere.

George notices me admiring a piece of art at the foot of his stairs.

Dick Sprang, the Batman artist, an old friend, did that. He was a great guy and quite talented. Recently, I did a statistical analysis of my art collection and came to the conclusion that I have 10 different collections of artwork. The core of my personal favorites are: Chicago history, the history of mystery, paper giveaway premiums, pre-code comic book covers, pulp art, etc.”

George Hagenauer holding original art for Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Gannymeade Takeover’ (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“My wife Mary Ellen and I moved to Ypsilanti in 2017 to be closer to our daughter Megan and our granddaughters. Freelance work helps supplement my Social Security. I’ll be doing a ‘History of Mystery’ exhibit this October at the Kenosha Public Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin and to prepare for it, I’ve been reading a mystery novel every other night.”

“Current interests for me are wide-ranging, depending on mood. For instance, right now I’m really into French crime novels of the early 20th century. Also, silent films and 1930’s cinema. In terms of comics, I’m digging on some European stuff like Corto Maltese (1967, Hugo Pratt), Modesty Blaise, and Garth (the British comic strip from Frank Bellamy). I’m from Chicago and Chicago fandom in the 50’s and 60’s wasn’t superhero, it was heavily skewed toward EC, horror, crime, sci-fi, which is also what I like.”

BIOGRAPHY: The Guy Behind The Guy, Behind The Guy

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Born in 1950, George grew up on the South Side of Chicago. George lived in Roseland (South Side Chicago), then as an adult, Ravenswood (North Side Chicago).

From 1968-1972, he attended Northwestern University, graduating with a degree in journalism and political science. While at Northwestern, he set up an Ivan Illich Learning Exchange, one of the first in the USA. This was a program geared toward school reform, deschooling, and non-institutionalized independent learning. It came about because George’s friend knew Ilitch personally. He was considered the bridge between South American leftwing radicalism and the USA school reform movement.

That was followed by 10 years starting and running a city-wide adult literacy program in Chicago and then 25 years with 4-C, a nonprofit program which provides support for early childhood education programs in many counties near Madison, Wisconsin.

Daredevil Battles Hitler #1 (1941) image courtesy of HA.com archives

George has always been a comic fan and collector and in 1976 he was part of the team that started the Chicago Comicon until it was bought by Wizard World.

In 1990, he moved from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin, where he lived before moving to Ypsi. During this time, he wrote over 200 columns on original art for the Comic Buyer’s Guide.

“Also in the early-to-mid 90’s, I wrote some non-sport trading cards, including the infamous Eclipse True Crime cards, the set of Serial Killers and Gangsters. I collaborated with Max Allan Collins on it. Max is a MWA Grand Master mystery writer. He did ‘The Road to Perdition’, which later became a movie starring Tom Hanks that they filmed in Chicago and Grand Haven, Michigan. I did research for Max’s historical novels and he asked me if I could help with the trading cards, I said sure. So, I did the Gangster cards and the ladies did the Serial Killer cards. We also co-wrote a book on ‘The History of Mystery’ and a book on ‘Men’s Adventure Magazines’. Both were nominated for best mystery non-fiction with the Men’s Adventure book winning!”

George Hagenauer holding original Kelly Freas drawing ‘Dukes of Desire’ from 1967 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“I’m a member of the Comic and Fantasy Art Collectors Amateur Press Association (the CFA-APA), which while having the amusing title of “amateur”, actually over 40% of the current membership are professionally published nationwide.”

“In addition to being a comic & pulp reader, I’ve been a heavy reader of books in general my whole life. Books are tools. I buy books because they’re useful for building knowledge.”

“As for my heritage, my Mom was 3rd generation American of Swedish descent. My Dad was 4th generation American of German, Austrian, Irish, Bohemian and Scotch descent.”

George Hagenauer III: The Early Years

I’ve been collecting books and comics since I was 10. I was into adult sci-fi before I was reading Superboy!”

In the mid-1950’s, my parents didn’t want me reading super-hero comic books, so my dad would bring me Boys Adventure Series books featuring Tom Swift inventing the motorcycle and things like that. Books he read as a kid. They were available in used bookstores for a quarter as opposed to the new versions which were a dollar or more. That got me into a host of used bookstores at a very young age.”

 

“My first actual experience with comics was my dad reading me at age 4 or 5 ‘Uncle Scrooge McDuck’ by the great Carl Barks for Dell Comics. It was written for kids but had many subtle adult undercurrents. You could find them at dime stores or glorious Skid Row book stores for a nickel each.”

“Uncle Scrooge is this amazing satire on American Capitalism, published under the Disney imprint by Dell Comics via Whitman Publishing out of Racine, Wisconsin. Barks worked in manual labor jobs before being a cartoonist, so his work often features characters with great, real-world perspectives.”

Dell Comics oddly tend to be ignored by most collectors. I collect them heavily. In the 1940’s-50’s they were extremely subversive. Dell was doing stories like Donald Duck selling furnaces for Uncle Scrooge to Cambodians, Little Lulu early proto-feminist comics (Now Girls Allowed) and even Tarzan’s promoting positive race relations (Brothers of the Spear).”

Mad Magazine’s Free Fall Ferris circa 1956 (image courtesy of online archives)

“Then, I discovered Mad Magazine. Free Fall Ferris by Wally Wood, one of the cartoons therein, was brilliant. So, as a youngster, I was periodically exposed to Uncle Scrooge and Mad Magazine, which is an odd combination and probably explains a lot about who I am. Tales Calculated to Make you Mad”.

Chicago’s 3 Skid Rows in the 1960’s

Skid Row Chicago (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)

“One thing that frequently brings back a lot of memories is remembering seeing books on North Clark Street when I was a kid. At age 10, my dad would give me a $1.00 and send me to Skid Row for books. ‘Here’s a dollar, go to Skid Row,’ he’d say.”

“Books were 15 cents to 20 cents on Skid Row. Early wacky Roy Rockwood steampunk stuff from 1905 and Carl H. Claudy, got me into sci-fi. Then, I started going to the library, reading Heinlein, Asimov, Dick, etc. Back then librarians were worried about what you were reading. Now, they’re just worried if you’re reading or not! On Skid Row, I was finding used copies of John Campbell’s Astounding sci-fi magazine for pennies.”

Chicago had three Skid Rows at that time: North, South and West. The North Skid Row area was loaded with bookstores all run by incredibly eccentric human beings.”

You’d be stepping over rummies in doorways to go buy your comics. Pimps, hookers, drug dealers, junkies and a 10-year old George Hagenauer. $3.00 would buy me 60 comics on Skid Row! You just couldn’t beat the prices, it was worth dodging the shady characters and obsessively watching your back. I was buying early Marvel Comics off the stand for cover prices. Some of those comics in high grade are worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more nowadays. Unfortunately, mine all went when they hit $10 because they paid for my first quarter in college in the late 60’s!”

Chicago Skid Row: Acme Books and ABC (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)

South Skid Row was along South State Street and had the YMCA Hotel where Chicago’s monthly comic convention was held starting in the late 1960’s. I always wanted a Gustave Dore’ 1883 folio edition of ‘The Raven’. When I was 9 years old, I saw they had a stack of 10 in this used bookstore in the Loop on the south side of the river. At the time they were $8 each!  Way more money than I could afford. Today, I think they are still way more money than I can afford. West Skid Row ran along West Madison Street. Today it is the site of Oprah Winfrey’s studio – back then it was where mass murderer Richard Speck was caught in 1966.”

“I spent most of my time on North Skid Row. It ran along Clark Street had four used book stores run by possibly the most eccentric group of book dealers ever known. This was part of the old “Hobo Bohemia” neighborhood where hobos slept after jumping off in the Downtown Chicago Trainyards. The neighborhood ran from Clark Street to Bughouse Square.  Across from a residential hotel (i.e. partial brothel) inhabited by a host of seedy characters, you had Acme Books (414 N. Clark Street). with ABC Magazines next door. On the same block you also had Gallery Books.”

“My favorite store was ABC Books and Magazine Service. ABC sold a lot of racing forms as well as almost any other magazine published since the 1800’s. The building dated back to right after the Chicago Fire and was heated by a potbelly stove. Whatever was unsaleable went into the stove for heat! If you went after books on the top shelf (10 feet up) you had to brush off the soot.”

Acme Books had a Superman #1 in their window for $100. And Green Lantern #1 and Batman #1. Acme was run by Noel Roy, a man who looked like popular Marvel supervillain, the Red Skull. After his wife died he was assisted by Sam La Chappelle, a redhead girl with a bouffant hairdo who attracted and maintained the attention of a lot of predominately young male collectors.”

Acme Books (Skid Row, Chicago) featuring Sam La Chapelle (left) and Noel Roy (right). “They sold comics, books and had a heavy-duty safe full of rare books. Those comics up front, which were considered ‘secondary’ at the time, would be worth a lot today!”-Hagenauer (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives)

Gallery Books was the most legitimate looking of the three, with first editions by Hemingway and the rest lining the walls. When Weird Tales left Chicago for NYC, Tony the owner of Gallery Books, bought their files and had multiple mint copies of every issue for sale. Tony had an apartment in the back of the store. Most of the bookdealers sold pornography either under the table or more openly. In the case of Tony, he traded porn to various pickers for 1st edition Hemingway’s and real treasures.”

“In the early 1960’s, I’m at Gallery buying nickel comics and while I didn’t know it at the time, the boxes were atop a low flat file filled with original Brundage pastels. Margaret Brundage was a cover artist for Weird Tales (1931-39). She and her husband met at the Dill Pickle Club, a radical Bohemian club created in a stable during Prohibition just off Bughouse Square.  Bughouse Square was a free speech center. Anyone could pull up a soapbox or stand on a park bench and speak or rant about any issue. The Dill Pickle brought that atmosphere inside with Hobos hanging out with major Chicago writers.”

Weird Tales (1934) featuring Conan. Art by Margaret Brundage. (Image courtesy of Hagenauer’s archives)

“Margaret’s husband was a Wobbly (IWW union) organizer and the first cover image ever of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ is a portrait of her husband, the Wobbly organizer! He was active in the Sixties Counterculture, the Hobo College Movement and the Anarchist Press in Rogers Park. She played a key role in developing the South Side Community Arts Center in Chicago African American Bronzeville neighborhood. The center is still there serving the community.”

“Out of all the characters though, there’s one guy who particularly stands out. On a scale of 10 for eccentric bookdealers, Bill Ostfeld of William Ostfeld Rare Books, sometimes located on North Clark Street skid row (depending on if he was keeping up on his rent) would be a 12 . He was notorious. The photo of him here is from an article in Genesis where he claims to have given Hugh Hefner the idea for Playboy and that Hefner owed him for an umbrella he borrowed!

Wiiliam Ostfeld, notorious Chicago book dealer. (photo courtesy of George Hagenauer’s archives via Genesis)

“At one point he had a Superman # 1 from 1939 hanging in the front window of his shop for only a cool $25.00. Bill liked to play the game of ‘how much can I get out of the store before its padlocked?’ Bill could be a difficult guy. He even threw a book at my head once. Once comics became collectible, he was known to sell the same collection to multiple mail order dealers in other states often right before he changed locations. Ozzie dealt porn openly.”

“Beyond Skid Row, I always loved going to the Harding Museum as a kid. It was this cool Gothic stone castle on Lake Avenue in Hyde Park, a glorious medieval fantasy mansion full of suits of armor and weird trinkets. Unfortunately, the place closed in 1982 and everything was ultimately transferred to the Art Institute of Chicago.”

Detroit Triple Fan Fair (1964-77)

image courtesy of DTFF archives

Detroit has an enduring legacy of great shows. For example, September 4th-7th, 1959 the 17th World Science Fiction Convention was held at the Fort Shelby Hotel in Downtown Detroit. The toastmaster was Isaac Asimov with the assistance of Robert Bloch!

But what really put Detroit on the convention map was Detroit Triple Fan Fair.

Started in 1964, the Detroit Triple Fan Fair was the first regularly held comic book convention in the United States.

Jerry Bails, the Father of Comic Book Fandom, moved to Detroit in 1960 to teach at Wayne State University. Jerry lived on Brooklyn Street at the intersection of Plum Street. Plum Street was Detroit’s psychedelic Haight-Ashbury-esque neighborhood in the Sixties.

Jerry Bails and wife in Detroit (photo courtesy of Inter-Fan)

Jerry Bails also got a young George Hagenauer into collecting original art. In the pre-internet days, nobody knew the full extent of what existed.  Jerry decided to create a database of all the comics in existence with credits, when possible, for artists and writers. In 1967 he did this through his fanzine and offered prizes for the most data entries on comics not in the Bails collection. George entered the contest and won a piece of free art. The Bails database ultimately morphed into the Grand Comic Database currently maintained by MSU.

In 1964, the Detroit Triple Fan Fair (DTFF) Convention was started by Robert “Bob” Brosch (of Allen Park) and Dave Szurek (of Detroit’s Cass Corridor; a monster magazine enthusiast). The DTFF featured 3 fandom realms: comic books, science-fiction and film.

In 1965, Jerry Bails took over DTFF with the help of native Detroiter, Sheldon ‘Shel’ Dorf who came onboard and helped expand it. He had studied briefly at SAIC (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and moved back to town. The Fair swelled to massive attendance.

In 1970, Shel moved to San Diego and immediately started the San Diego Comic Con. Still running to this day, the SDCC attracts 160,000 attendees.

The Detroit Triple Fan Fair lasted until 1977.

Genesis of the Chicago ComiCon

Chicago ComiCon

“In 1972, Nancy Warner, this Chicago antiques dealer, started a show called the Nostalgia Con. After a couple years, she grew weary of it and in 1975 sold the show to Joe Sarno. In 1970, Joe had bought one of Ostfeld’s closed bookstores, then he opened his own shop in 1973, the Nostalgia Shop on Lawrence Avenue.”

Joe Sarno’s Nostalgia Shop in Chicago (image courtesy of Sarno Fanpage)

Joe Sarno was the nexus point for everything relating to comics in the city of Chicago. He had started a comic club in his basement on the North Side (Pulaski and Lawrence Avenues) and had 30-50 people there. A guy named Dave Denwood later let them use the community room at Northwest Federal Savings & Loan Bank on West Irving Park Road, so they moved the get-togethers there and they grew tremendously. Joe was a dual-fandom guy, he loved sci-fi and comic books. Everybody liked him, no one ever had a problem with him.”

Stan Lee (left) and Joe Sarno (right) at the first Chicago Comicon (image courtesy of Sarno Fanpage)

“So, Joe took over the con from Nancy. Joe then called Ross Kight, Larry Charet, Mike Gold, myself and some others. From 1972-2002, Larry Charet ran Larry’s Comics (1219 W. Devon Ave, Chicago). Anyways, Ross later bailed, the rest of us hung on and we held the first Chicago Comicon on August 6th-8th, 1976 at the Playboy Towers Hotel. Admission was only $2.50! We had about 2,000 attendees and Stan Lee and Jeanette Kahn as guests. The Chicago Comicon ended up becoming the second largest convention in the USA, behind the San Diego Comic Con.”

“In 1997, Wizard World came in. They bought the Chicago Comicon, rebranded it toward their magazine and turned it more into a media con.”

Hagenauer: Collector Stories

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

In addition to his basement of treasures, George has a packed off-site storage unit (essentially an adjunct library) tucked behind a green steel roller shutter door, full to the brim of comics, books, ephemera, etc, all stored on shelves he put together of scrap wood and discarded pallets.

My rule of thumb is only very rarely have more than one copy of anything. The few extra ones I have, must go. Also, anything that I lose interest in has to go. This is especially true as I age, given there is no one in the family who wants most of this stuff. The new house is a lot smaller, so the storage locker is designed as a reference library for the books I use in historical research but no longer have space for in the house.”

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“One of the sad things I have had to do is help several widows of friends of mine figure out how to dispose of their late husbands’ collections. If you want to maximize value, that is not an easy thing to do as often it means dividing the collection up and selling it in different venues. Most auction houses do well with some material but not great with others. A lot of dealers I know buy material at auction for resale. So, figuring out what the best strategy is to dispose of a collection, can be an interesting puzzle.”

“Helping my friends’ widows caused me to think about an exit strategy. I mean, one friend’s rather large and complex collection took something like 12 years for the family to sell. So, right now, I’m working on an exit strategy, which is why I’m restoring the cartoons and doing the museum exhibit among other things.”

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I’m a reader. I also collect artwork. Everyone is a temporary custodian of their possessions. You really don’t truly “own” anything, you’re just a temporary steward until you die. Art is another way to connect to the stories, authors and books that you enjoy as you can see the art daily on your walls. I display artwork at libraries and museums. I’m curating the upcoming ‘The History of Mystery’ exhibit at Kenosha Public Museum using mystery and detective related art to tell the story of the development of the mystery genre in America in all its different media. I want to turn it into a low-cost touring exhibit. To do that I need a sponsor to cover the costs of the framing material.”

In 1968, I went to college, got rid of stuff, then immediately re-accumulated 1969-72. When you get into collecting, when you’re active and knowledgeable, you start running across lots and collections.”

Detective Comics #2 (1937) image courtesy of HA.com archives

“One tragic example is Richard Martin Fletcher. He was a comic artist from 1936-64. He died and his family wanted to sell his house and studio, which was inside of a shed on the property. They told the workers to tear down the studio and trash whatever was inside. They found $1 million worth of comics congealed in barrels of water where the roof had leaked. So, yes, he had amassed a fortune but it cruelly, ironically, paradoxically, was utterly ruined in the end.”

“It’s pretty fun amassing too, though. One particularly memorable haul I had was when I used my relatively inexpensive clarinet and saxophone as collateral for a stack of Golden Age comics. This was at Kings Three Antiques in South Evanston, Illinois, which was a rathole antique store that had uncharacteristically incredible finds like hand-carved Polynesian deflowering tools in the main display case, pieces of Samurai Armor, and amazing early Japanese carvings.”

Military Comics #9 (1942) image courtesy of HA.com archives

As a collector, you also come to enjoy the various shops and their owners. For instance, all the used book dealers in Cleveland would close mid-day and play poker and drink. The game floated between their stores. It would be at hosted by John Zubal at Zubal Books one day, then by Mark Stueve at Old Erie Street Books the next. Zubals is still there but Erie is no more. Old Erie Street Books (2128 E. 9th St, Cleveland) 1976-2018 R.I.P.”

“Another great place was Renaissance Books in Milwaukee. They used to have a 5-story warehouse, built in the 1880’s, it was a quarter of a block of unpriced books 5-stories tall. The books were unpriced, they’d price them at the counter. Incredible selection of stuff. Renaissance is still around, but only inside the Milwaukee Airport and Southridge Mall. The main store closed in 2011.”

Hagenauer on the Art & Business of Collecting

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

I have always tended to collect more to read than to have an amazingly nice condition copy of something. Also, working my whole life in community-based non-profits, I have never had a lot of money to spend. So, if I can accumulate all this stuff, anyone who puts the time in and learns a lot about the areas that interest them can do it as well.”

“And because of the internet, this is probably the best time to collect books and other material related to them. Though frankly you often will do better buying at shows. I once did an article for the Comic Buyer’s Guide on one visit to a big comic con. I didn’t have to pay admission because I was doing a panel discussion so there was minimal overhead. I had saved up about $200 and bought a lot of material at the con. With a few exceptions (about 20-25 dime novels circa 1900 I got for a dollar each) all of it could be found online for about the same price. But buying online in most cases meant shipping costs. When I compared the buys at the show to buying online, the show was 40% cheaper. I also like the social aspects of shows talking to dealers and other collectors.”

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Still it helps to consider all costs when looking at buying something. When looking at realized prices at auction it also helps to take into account seller, grading and buyer’s fees.  That $100 item at a major auction house may have netted $65 to the seller, $80 on eBay etc. If you decide you want to later auction it, you need to take that into account. I saw a highly successful businessman, the type of who makes money daily in big deals, very savvy in that world, buy a high-end piece of comic art and lose $8,000 on it due to first selling it too quickly at auction and not taking into account the various rules that can help you or hurt you at auction. In any area there is a lot of knowledge that needs to be developed, you can’t just hop in at the high-end and expect to make a killing.”

“Dealers will sometimes take into account the costs involved in selling online when pricing for shows, resulting in cheaper prices at shows”

“A key aspect of the internet is that is has made a large amount of material not scarce. I like to collect Yellow Kid buttons, which are pinbacks from the 1890’s of the first successful comic strip character in the USA. It used to be you would see one or two a year at $15-25 each. If I had the cash, I would pick one up. Now any week you can find a dozen or more on eBay going for under $30. If I had the cash or the inclination, I could double the number of buttons I now own. To the average person these are scarce. To those of us who collect them they are now oddly common. When I wear the buttons to shows, most people have no idea who the Yellow Kid is.”

George Hagenauer displaying his Yellow Kid buttons (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“In some areas, prices have dropped even lower with the rise of the internet. Dime novels are usually 100+ years old and quite scarce. They usually go for a lot less than pulps or comics. I periodically pick up issues at shows or online for $5 or less.  No one knows the characters, the text is small, and now if you want to just read them, digital copies are online for free or on discs with hundreds of issues on one disc for less than $10.”

Yellow Kid Button (image courtesy of online archives)

“In contrast, there are plentiful copies of first appearances of popular comic book characters that have appeared in the last 25 years that are going for far more money than a really scarce surviving dime novel. People know the comic book character but don’t know the dime novels. Scarcity often takes a back seat to demand.”

“As digitization and copies proliferate online, prices shift around on older books, often with dust jacket-less copies dropping in value. That makes it a really neat time to start collecting as a wide range of books become far more affordable. I have a friend and his wife who are into mysteries. Retired and with limited space they only buy paperback versions but look for the earliest editions possible. He tends towards hardboiled, she towards more conventional mysteries. They are having a great time collecting and reading on tight budget. Whatever area of paper that interests you, there is probably a way to start collecting it today.”

George Hagenauer’s copy of The Challenger, a rare 1946 comic book about backing socialist coups in Greece (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The other interesting aspect of this is often the cheapest prices are at specialty shows. The dealers have less overhead than a store, but the key thing is the amount of material available. I bought a lot of mystery books, all early vintage paperbacks from the 1940’s & 1950’s, at last year’s Windy City Pulpcon for $1 each. They were solid reading copies. Some specific books I needed and didn’t get there, I bought online or at DreamHaven Books. Online was usually the most expensive option due to shipping, though some titles still came in at only $2-3 a book with free shipping.”

What kills areas of collecting is lack of new blood, an inability to attract younger members/collectors, which is why many collectibles flatline over time. For the new collector or the uninitiated, it is often hard to figure out value. A lot of people steer clear of collecting comic art because of perceived high prices. What gets covered and promoted in the press are the top dollar prices for the high end or high-grade collectible material. Comic art is a good example. You’ll hear about the Steve Ditko Dr. Strange page that went for $66,000. If you are into Dr. Strange or Spider-Man, you don’t hear about the fact you can pick up published pages from more recent issues for $75 or get drawings done by some current artists for far less than that. As a result, new collectors feel they cannot even start. And yes, if you want some specific artists and characters, you can’t start unless you are rich. But if you want a nice piece for your wall they are out there for sale or trade. This weekend, for example, I got two original published cartoons by a major Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist for $20 each, which is about equivalent to the cost of a current graphic novel, for each one.  And that was at a major online auction house who has had record prices on comic art. ”

Black Cat Mystery #50 (1954) image courtesy of HA.com archives

“I have a portrait from The Life of Pancho Villa by the great illustrator Wallace Smith from 1918-ish, I bought it online, it’s a fascinating piece.  The artist is relatively unknown, an associate of the Brundage’s at the Dill Pickle Club and it’s an historic piece. Interests like this in more off-trail areas, you can find stuff cheaper, undervalued or misidentified. Your collection is an extension of who you are, it becomes a part of your identity.”

“And that is true about almost any area of book of paper collecting. The shows, the online auctions or sales platforms like www.ABEbooks.com are out there to browse. There are tons of neat material to find and be interested in. You just need to spend a little time hunting for it and that is part of the fun. That and for me the social aspects getting to know other collectors, is the best part.”

George Hagenauer holding original art Life of Pancho Villa from 1918 by Wallace Smith (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“In Ypsilanti, there is a group of comic book fans that are meeting in a microbrewery once a month to socialize about comics, network and do a little trading. Ann Arbor has a group forming. I am surprised more of that is not happening in other areas like mysteries, militaria, romance novels, children’s books etc. Being social is not just posting online, being social is getting together with others with similar interests. That is why I love shows like the Detroit Festival of Books and the Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention. Lots of interactions and lots of learning from other people.”

“And the learning, the intellectual activity is what I really enjoy. Collect what you really truly find interesting and find other people who are interested in the same stuff. Link up with like-minded people. Don’t buy purely for investment. Buy for enjoyment for yourself and others. The ultimate goal of all collecting is that so other people can enjoy your collection.”

One fun aside: BILL HELMER IS FAT FREDDY

Bill Helmer (photo courtesy of Adam Gorightly)

“Decades ago I made contact with a guy named Bill Helmer in my neighborhood in South Evanston, Illinois who wanted to sell or trade a pile of Golden Age comics.”

“Bill had moved to Chicago in 1969. He was a key editor at Playboy Magazine at the time. This was back when Hef lived at the original Playboy Mansion in Chicago. I periodically helped Playboy with graphics research for years.”

Bill Helmer’s card (image courtesy of Adam Gorightly)

“Helmer had a pile of EC Comics and other obscure Golden Age Comics at his house, a Thompson sub-machine gun and a Japanese helmet with a skull on a shelf. His knowledge of Prohibition-era history is unparalleled. Among other things Helmer founded the ‘John Dillinger Died for Your Sins Society’. He has been the major influence on most research done on the Capone and Depression era bandit gangs. So, I bought some comics and got to know him.”

“During and after college Bill shared an apartment with Gilbert Shelton who did the Furry Freak Brothers, whom he knew from Texas, when Gilbert was doing Wonder Warthog, in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin.”

Fat Freddy (based on Bill Helmer) from the Fabulous Furry Freak Bros.

Bill, Gilbert and this other guy moved to NYC, these 3 guys were roommates and they became the inspiration for the Furry Freak Bros.  In the comic, Bill became Fat Freddy. Gilbert painted amazingly good cover recreations of EC Comics on the ceiling of this apartment. Bill had photos of the ceilings with the Jack Davis style rotting corpses and Graham Ingels’ ghouls. It was pretty wild.”

Comic Miscellanea

Obadiah Oldbuck (printed in Germany, circa 1837, the world’s first comic book)

“Some of the oldest comic books are from Germany and Switzerland.

One of the oldest comic books, I believe, is Obadiah Oldbuck, printed in Germany in 1837 and later reprinted in America.”

George Hagenauer’s This Magazine is Haunted #13 (1953)

“A cool comic you should take a look at is ‘This Magazine is Haunted’ (1951-53) from Fawcett Comics in NYC. Great supernatural comic from Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Moldoff. I have some original artwork and comics from Shelly. The original Fawcett archives were divided up between 3 dealers. I knew all 3 of them. The warehouse was sold off in the 1980’s. Moldoff designed the original concept but lots of artists worked on the comic. I own a small painting of the host, Doctor Death, done by Shelly years later.”

George Hagenauer’s painting of Doctor Death (from ‘This Magazine is Haunted’) done by Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Moldoff

George on Living in Ypsilanti

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Ypsi is such a cool city! The social aspects here are incredible, the people you talk to are amazing.”

Washtenaw Community College is an amazing resource especially for seniors like me, who can attend classes free if they are not filled. I took a photoshop class so I could work on graphics. This knowledge is helping me do restoration work on two animated films from 1915. It’s amazing to see figures move on the screen after being lost for over 100 years.”

Ypsilanti is one of the most intellectually stimulating communities I’ve ever been in. I love all the fun, random conversations. You run into people and start talking and it becomes something magical and interesting.”

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Plus, many cool spots are here like The Corner Brewery, Hedger Breed’s White Raven Books, Cross Street Books, Sidetracks, Dolores Mexican Restaurant, Cultivate Taphouse, etc. It’s an incredible concentration of cool shops and places. One of the last bastions for viable antique stores.”

“Also, fun fact, Perry Preschool in Ypsi is historical in terms of early childhood education. They did a historic study here from 1962-67, which showed how important early education is for human growth and development.”

“My barber, Alex Fuller, has a literacy program inside his barbershop! That’s investing in your community. And there are barbers across the city especially in the black community who are doing the same thing. I don’t worry about waiting when I go to the barber because there are so many neat books to read.”

“Ypsi, there’s some incredibly good stuff happening here.”

The Ypsilanti Comic Roundtable

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“The Ypsi Comic Roundtable is a group of people including myself, Ryan Place, James Arnoldi and about 12 others who meet the first Thursday of every month from 6:30pm-10pm at the Ypsilanti Alehouse and…you’re invited to join us!”

James Arnoldi started it in November 2018 and it’s an interesting example of what people should be doing more of.”

“The YCR is just people interested in comics, getting together in-person to talk comics and trade/sell comics over beer. This would be a good model for book collecting groups as well. Start small, very focused, with discussion groups. Much like tidepools by the ocean, it’s where life starts.”

Contact George

*If you’re interested in buying/selling anything, especially comic and illustration art, comic books, pulp art, rare movies from the silent era and 1930’s, etc. or for information about the Ypsi Comic Roundtable*

George Hagenauer

yellowkd@tds.net

 

Hagenauer profile on Comic Art Fans

https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerydetail.asp?gcat=4536

 

The Host Shelly

https://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?Piece=1528704&GSub=82174

 

Hagenauer Ebay

https://www.ebay.com/usr/georgehagenauer

 

Comic Link

http://www.comiclink.com/

 

Ypsilanti Comic Roundtable

https://www.facebook.com/groups/770177856658436/

 

 

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer: “Charles Biro invented true crime comic books in 1912.” (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer’s Prohibition-era flask (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer, “These are railroad spikes from where Frank Nitti committed suicide. Also we have a Maxwell Bodenheim from Chicago Literary Times.” (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer: “This is ‘Space Pirates’ by Kelly Freas. It’s painted on burlap!” (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer: “This is another Kelly Freas piece. It was done in 1969 and used in Wolfling by Gordon Dickinson.” (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer: “This is a rare bound volume of Black Mask.” (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Ryan Place writing notes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Ryan Place writing notes (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

George Hagenauer (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

All Star Comics #38 (1948) image courtesy of HA.com archives

National Comics #33 (1940) image courtesy of HA.com archives

The Thing #16 (1954) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Baseball Heroes (1952) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Suspense Comics #11 (1946) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Superman #45 (1947) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Cat-Man #9 (1942) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Crime SuspenStories #22 (1954) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Crack Comics #1 (1940) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Silver Streak #6 (1940) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Detective Comics #2 (1937) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Great Comics #3 (1942) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Batman #3 (1940) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Mask #2 (1945) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Cookie #17 (1949) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Green Lantern #1 (1960) image courtesy of HA.com archives

All Star Comics #8 (1941) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #1 (1958) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Dennis the Menace #1 (1961) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Mystic Comics #2 (1940) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Batman #73 (1952) image courtesy of HA.com archives

Jerry Lewis #78 (1963) image courtesy of HA.com archives