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

Exclusive Interview: Detroit music legend & founder of rock band The MC5, WAYNE KRAMER, on his new memoir ‘The Hard Stuff’!

Exclusive Interview: Detroit music legend & founder of rock band The MC5, WAYNE KRAMER, on his new memoir ‘The Hard Stuff’!

*Special thank you to Book Beat & Street Corner Music for allowing us in your stores*

Wayne Kramer probably shouldn’t be alive right now.

A normal human would’ve folded up and exploded decades ago from a pulverizing combination of “Hard Stuff,” like hard music, hard drugs, hard living and hard lessons. Thankfully, however, Wayne is here with us, alive and well enough to tell the ongoing tale of his fascinating existence.

Wayne Kramer and his Detroit rock band the MC5 changed rock music by cranking the dial to totally immersive no-holds-barred high-intensity levels of DNA-mutating volume and they’re also widely credited with inadvertently creating what was later labeled as the genre of ‘punk music’.

While the band itself disintegrated in 1972 in a cyclone of heroin, revolutionary Sinclair politics, disenchantment and becoming alienated and disconnected from each other, the MC5’s music has withstood the brutal and purifying test of time. They came, they saw, they melted faces with blistering full-body knockout attack music and helped forge Detroit’s enduring sobriquet, Detroit Rock City.

It has been said that listening to the MC5 live was like having an out-of-body experience, like exorcising daemonic barnacles and freeing your soul, like a psychedelic journey to pre-birth regression, a glorious stripping away while being thrashed to the point where you suddenly Wake Up, Fully Emerged.

I’m sitting here right now with Brother Wayne Kramer in the back room at Book Beat bookstore.

Wayne is in town from Los Angeles and bookstore owner Cary Loren, formerly of Ann Arbor arthouse band Destroy All Monsters, has kindly given us a fun space to chat.

We’re discussing Wayne’s life and memoir ‘The Hard Stuff,’ which will be published on August 14th by Da Capo Press.

Buy The Hard Stuff here 

https://www.dacapopress.com/titles/wayne-kramer/the-hard-stuff/9780306921537/

Later this year, Wayne is going on a 35-city tour with his band MC50 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of MC5’s Kick Out The Jams. Their tour will culminate in an October 27th show at the newly renovated Fillmore Detroit.

Wayne is also a prominent solo recording artist and has done countless collaborations with people like David Peel, Johnny Thunders, Don Was, etc.

Parts of my life have been written about extensively, especially my time in the MC5. Less so my time in prison and my work with Jail Guitar Doors. Just wanted to have a record from my perspective, straight from the horse’s mouth.”

“I wanted to understand myself better and chronicle the realizations. To sort out the order that things happened in and review some of the stupendously terrible things I’ve done in my life. For years, my friends have prodded me to write a book but I could never figure out how to end it, since the story isn’t finished. The arrival of my son Francis, who is turning five soon, the whole life I’ve lived up to his arrival was one life, so now I can begin the other life. If I die tomorrow, I want my son to have a record of my life straight from me not vicariously from news articles.”

I started writing the book in 2006. Started just casually jotting down thoughts and memories in a notebook. A lot of stuff was in the front of my thoughts and therefore easily accessible. Then I got about forty 3 x 5 cards and put them on a corkboard and created a chronology of events.”

“After a while I had the shaping of what looked like an actual book on my hands, so we engaged an agent and secured a publisher. I’m a musician. Telling stories is my business and lifelong passion and it’s always a pleasure. The book was completed in November 2017.”

MC5: The Motor City 5

Born April 30th, 1948, Wayne Kramer was the founder and guitarist of rock band The Motor City Five, which was later shortened to MC5 in honor of being more in tune with the Detroit auto industry.

Wayne started the band in 1963 at Lincoln Park High School in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a Downriver suburb of Detroit.

At the time, Wayne was the band leader of The Bounty Hunters. He met Fred Smith of The Vibratones and Fred soon merged his band with Wayne’s band into The Bounty Hunters. They played venues like The Crystal Bar on Michigan Ave & Central in Southwest Detroit until changing their name to The Motor City 5 in the Fall 1964.

The MC5 consisted of:

Wayne Kramer guitar, Rob Tyner vocals, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith guitar, Michael Davis bass, and Dennis ‘Machine Gun’ Thompson drums.

Wayne explains:

It started off innocently enough with ‘Hey, any kids want to be in a band with me?’ Ultimately, we ended up with the MC5.”

“The MC5 started at Helen and Gregory avenues in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Tyner lived 4 blocks away, Dennis lived 10 blocks, Fred lived 10 blocks in another direction. My Mom’s house was the center for all of us and she kindly let us practice in the basement.”

“Rob Tyner and I could draw. Rob’s friend Gary Grimshaw could draw chrome, the finish on hot rod cars. So, Gary and Rob ending up designing a lot of our handbills and posters, especially the Grande Ballroom ones. Rob was indeed a gifted artist and cartoonist, not many people know that.”

And yes, it’s true, Rob reinvented everything. He nicknamed Fred ‘Sonic’, shortened our name to the MC5, nicknamed Dennis ‘Machine Gun’, even renamed himself from Bob Derminer to Rob Tyner. He was a very creative man.”

“The MC5 used to play everywhere: school cafetoriums, dances, record hops, bars, clubs, outdoors, indoors, sideways, upside down, you name it, we were there. When you love to play music, it doesn’t matter where you play it. You just establish a good band and put your 10,000 hours in playing your asses off anywhere-anyway you can.”

The MC5 played 400-500 performances over the lifespan of the band. I was 16-20 years old when all this happened, my formative years. At 19 or 20, you’re pretty crazy since your brain isn’t done growing. You’re basically insane until 30.”

“We all have powerful experiences and changes at that age and to be in the center of larger forces at that time like the youth culture movement, government oppression, phonetaps, the FBI building a file on us (yes, I have a copy of the file), was just overwhelming. I remember when I caught my federal coke case, the officer said to me, ‘Kramer, we got shit on you going back to the Sixties’.

“What set the MC5 apart from our contemporaries is we addressed the audiences concerns directly. Since we all shared the same concerns, we felt it our responsibility to help voice these concerns and voice them LOUDLY.”

We were a rock band in a time when rock music came of age and we were a part of a community of young people in agreement to reject the established ideas of how life should be. The hypocrisy and corruption we saw was unbearable as a community. We were being forced to fight a war 30,000 miles away when there was no direct threat to the United States. It was illegal, it was immoral and America, which claimed to stand for equal rights, didn’t give equal rights to all citizens, only a chosen select few.”

“And even 50 years ago, we felt and knew that weed was less toxic than the government claimed. We were commenting directly on this stuff and we were the only band doing so heart to heart, face to face. You felt our music, boy, and you could never un-feel it. Hearing the MC5 live touched you deeply and forever.”

“In terms of people considering the MC5 and The Stooges as the “godfathers” of punk music, I can see where you can connect the dots. The Clash, The Damned, The Ramones, etc, when you asked all those early punk bands who they listened to and were inspired by, almost all of them say the MC5 and The Stooges. To me “punk” has always been around, we just didn’t use that expression. Beethoven, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, all those guys were punks in the sense that they had to reinvent music for their generations. It’s important to have your own sound and be original.”

“The MC5 was not frilly, not snobby, not elitist, it’s just in your face, grab you by the throat, rock and roll.”

MC5 played opening night at the Grande, Detroit’s psychedelic ballroom, thanks to Russ Gibb. The Grande was a magical place.”

We all lived together in the same house as a band. We lived in Detroit, then we moved to Ann Arbor to a place called the Hill Street House for a while, then we had a house in Hamburg, Michigan on Hall Road. It was not far from Hamburg Lake. Beautiful, remote spread in the middle of 10-acres of wooded land, just absolutely spectacular. We loved it. We were a bunch of maniac musicians. You could run around with no clothes on, shoot guns, smoke weed, do whatever you wanted to do, it was great.”

“Our bassist Mike Davis wrote a memoir about his life and MC5 and many stories in Mike’s book are consistent with mine, at least, the fundamental facts. I don’t blame Mike for some of the stuff that was written. I’m sure I was an absolute nightmare to be around. The bad behavior was rampant and eventually, the MC5’s shared creative vision had disintegrated into drugs. Heroin was all-pervasive in Detroit back then and we were young musicians, so everywhere we went, it was already there waiting for us, in our face, you couldn’t escape it.”

“Rob tried quitting the MC5 for 2-3 years. Every year, he’d make a declaration that he didn’t want to be in the band anymore, but he never left. Finally, he and Fred got into a fistfight, and he said he’d had enough. Our last show was New Year’s Eve 1972 at the Grande. I walked off stage mid-show and that was that. The end of an era.”

 

The MC5 Eat LSD with Timothy Leary at Tim’s House in California

“On March 23rd, 1969, we played a free concert in Provo Park. Timothy Leary was there, he liked our show and invited us back to his house in the Berkeley Hills.”

“He had all this liquid LSD that we poured into a big bottle of dark red wine and we drank LSD wine with him in front of a roaring fire in his living room, while his mother-in-law was there!

“The band wanted to go out carousing. I wanted to stay with Leary and have the total LSD experience with the guru and then the funniest thing happened.”

Machine Gun Thompson and I are sitting in front of the fire with Tim’s mother-in-law, Tim walks in with his wife Rosemary and announces “welp, we’re going to bed, you guys have a good night.” He walks away, Machine Gun and I look at each other and I’m thinking, ‘Whoaaaa. I’m tripping my brains out with Timothy Leary’s mother-in-law’. Then I say to Dennis, ‘Maybe we should go back to the hotel.’ Dennis agrees and he somehow drives us back to the hotel.”

 

Wayne’s Favorite Authors

“Dozens of favorites. I read a lot. They run the gamut: Philip Roth, Christopher Hitchens, Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Hemingway, Sam Harris, Luc Sante, etc. My son is going to be five soon and he’s reading some elemental stuff already. I told him that the whole world will open up to you through reading. Plus, you can travel in time through books.”

 

Wayne’s Parents

“The MC5 was formed during our teen years when we were young and trying to break out and establish our own identity beyond our parents, which is important.”

I had a father that abandoned our family when I was little. I was an angry little boy who grew into an even angrier young man. I thought changing my name to “Wayne Kramer” was the perfect revenge, since he would never share in my glory.”

“Later, in my 40’s, I met my father. He was a community activist in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania and he was in the hospital. We built a relationship, I mean you can’t dial it back and recover what was lost to time, but I got to have a more mature perspective on this man whom I was biologically connected to.”

“He had been a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. He came back profoundly damaged and treated what we now called “PTSD” with alcohol, which he said kept the daemons at a distance. It didn’t stop the endless horrors, but it helped create a cloudy buffer.”

“The hole in my development as a boy, not having a model of what manhood is, being left to deal with challenges, responsibilities, dangers without a father was very difficult.”

My Mother did a great job as a single working mom. She’s my hero to this day. I also had 2 younger sisters. My Mom raised us three kids on her own. Single working mothers are the hardest working humans on planet earth.”

 

Wayne Helps Iggy & The Stooges Get Signed

“I was responsible for getting The Stooges a record contract with Elektra Records. Danny Fields asked me if I knew any other group like the MC5. I said ‘No Danny, there’s nobody like the MC5. But, you should see our brother band The Psychedelic Stooges.’”

“We loved Iggy and The Stooges, all of us hung out together, got high together, listened to the same free jazz music. Before then, Iggy was a drummer in a great blues band called The Prime Movers.”

I actually tried recruiting him into the MC5 one time but he left for a brief stay in Chicago with The Prime Movers. Iggy and I are still great friends to this day and I’m proud of how successful he is.”

 

Wayne Gets Arrested During the Detroit Riots

“In July 1967, we were living on Warren and Forest in Detroit by Wayne State University and we had a telescope in our upstairs window. The Riots kicked off and the cops saw the telescope and thought we were snipers.”

“Next thing I know, my doors being busted down and there’s a U.S. Army tank pointing its canon at our house! It’s in the street, right outside our front door! The cops swarmed in, slammed us down and took us to 1300 Beaubien Street, the Detroit Police HQ. They eventually let us go but it was an experience that stuck with me.”

 

On Being Incarcerated in America

From 1975-77, Wayne Kramer did time at Lexington Federal Prison in Lexington, KY for selling cocaine. The experience had a profound and negative impact on him.

MC5 bassist Mike Davis, Stooges roadie Hiawatha Bailey, writer William S. Burroughs, actor Peter Lorre, musicians Red Rodney, Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, etc, all did drug time at Lexington.

Going to prison is a traumatic experience. You are discovering for the first time what it means to not have liberty, to not be free, to be totally under the control of systems and people.”

You never feel safe. You’re surrounded in very close quarters by dangerous people with mental health issues constantly. You have no power over your own life. The sort of helplessness and hopelessness you experience in prison is impossible to accurately communicate unless you yourself have experienced it directly.”

The prison experience is embarrassing and shameful and I don’t know anyone whose come out better. Prison has never helped anyone, myself included. It’s a medieval concept that just lives on and on and on and on. 90% of inmates can be held accountable for breaking the social contract in their communities but imprisoning people runs against a sense of fairness, which really doesn’t exist in America.”

 

Jail Guitar Doors USA

In 1978, London punk band The Clash wrote a song about Wayne Kramer called ‘Jail Guitar Doors’. That song title served as inspiration for Wayne Kramer, his wife Margaret Kramer and his friend Billy Bragg in naming his non-profit Jail Guitar Doors USA in 2008.

“Jail Guitar Doors is a non-profit with a mission to help rehabilitate prison inmates by teaching them to express themselves positively through music.”

“Since my release, I’ve watched the prison population rise for over 40 years. There were 350,000 people in state and federal prisons combined back then. Today, in the United States, we have 2.3 million people in prisons.”

“This tragedy has deeply affected every single community in the country. Sending people to prison is not a deterrent. You come out worse, not better. With Jail Guitar Doors, we try to mitigate the damage by helping the individual rehab through music and change for the better.”

“Just think about it: 600,000 prisoners are released every year. Who do you want standing in line with you at the store? Someone bitter, defeated, revengeful or somebody who has hope and music?

“Earlier today, we took some local musicians to the Ryan Reentry Center in Detroit to establish a songwriting workshop. Today we wore a song about freedom, we helped inmates there talk about childhood trauma and forgiveness. Doing the work itself is the reward.”

“I don’t ever expect to see true justice reform in my lifetime. It’s like turning the Titanic away from the iceberg. But we will continue doing what we can to help.”

 

Detroit to Los Angeles

I’ve been in L.A. for 25 years, it suits my activities. I pay the rent by writing film and TV music. You have to go where your job skills are marketable.”

“Most of the year the climate is spectacular, but it’s been very hot lately. Great community in L.A., lot of friends there.”

“Jail Guitar Doors is based there. We’re on 10 prison yards in California and we have acoustic guitars in 120 prisons in America.”

I visit Detroit often to see family and friends and play gigs and the city will always be in my heart forever.

 

Wayne Kramer Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/waynekramer/

 

Wayne Kramer @ Industrial Amusement

http://industrialamusement.com/artists/wayne-kramer/

 

Buy The Hard Stuff here 

https://www.dacapopress.com/titles/wayne-kramer/the-hard-stuff/9780306921537/

 

MC5 Calendar of Shows

http://makemyday.free.fr/mc5calendar.htm

 

MC5: An Incomplete (But Interesting) Timeline

  • 1963-Wayne Kramer forms The Bounty Hunters. Fred Smith merges his band The Vibratones with Wayne’s band.
  • 1963-Gary Grimshaw moves to apartment building 633 Prentis St, Detroit. Michael Davis moves to the same building and Rob Tyner’s girlfriend lives across the hall from him. Mike meets Rob and gradually becomes the bassist for the MC5.
  • December 1963-The Bounty Hunters play The Crystal Bar (Michigan Ave & Central St, Detroit)
  • Fall 1964-The Bounty Hunters are re-named The Motor City 5
  • May 1965-Rob Tyner shortens the bands name to MC5
  • 1966-MC5 move to the Warren Forest neighborhood in Detroit’s Cass Corridor near Wayne State University at apartment (659 W. Canfield)
  • September 1966-Plum Street (Detroit’s Haight-Ashbury psychedelic district) opens
  • October 7th, 1966-Russ Gibb opens the Grande Ballroom. MC5 plays opening night.
  • October 1966-LSD made illegal
  • November 20th, 1966-MC5 & Velvet Underground play ‘Carnaby Street Fun Festival’ @ Michigan State Fairgrounds, Detroit

  • 1967-MC5 move to Detroit Artists Workshop building and live upstairs (1252 W. Forest) and The Lodge at Warren
  • 1967-John Sinclair morphs Artists Workshop into Trans-Love Energy Collective
  • April 30, 1967-Trans Love produces Love-In concert on Belle Isle @ Remick Music Shell. MC5 plays for 6,000 people. The Outlaws motorcycle gang starts riot.
  • Summer 1967-The Stooges live at first Stooge house (1324 Forest Ct, Ann Arbor)
  • June 9th, 1967-MC5 blow main act Cream offstage at the Grande.
  • July 1967-Detroit Riots
  • August 1967-John Sinclair becomes manager of the MC5
  • Halloween 1967-The Psychedelic Stooges first show ever @ UofM Student Union
  • November 22nd, 1967-The Who play Southfield High School
  • November 24-26, 1967-The Fugs & MC5 play the Grande
  • January 4th, 1968-Russ Gibb finances the MC5 recordings of Looking At You and Borderline @ United Sound System studios (5840 2nd Ave, Detroit). Gary Grimshaw designs the cover. Jeep Holland’s A-Square label releases only 500 copies.
  • February 23rd, 1968-Jimi Hendrix, MC5 & Soft Machine play the Masonic in Detroit
  • March 3rd, 1968-The Stooges first play the Grande
  • April 11th, 1968-MC5’s first-ever show with The Stooges @ UofM Union Ballroom
  • May 1968-Trans-Love move from Detroit to Ann Arbor’s Hill Street House (1510 and 1520 Hill Street). MC5 join the commune.
  • July 1968-MC5 play free concert at the West Park bandshell in Ann Arbor
  • August 25th, 1968-MC5 play Lincoln Park, Chicago during riot
  • September 7th, 1968-JC Crawford first introduces the MC5
  • September 21st, 1968-Danny Fields sees MC5 live at the Grande
  • September 22nd, 1968-Danny Fields sees The Stooges @ the Union Ballroom, Ann Arbor
  • September 1968-Danny Fields gets Elektra Records to sign both bands: MC5 sign to Elektra for $20,000 and The Stooges sign for $5,000. Elektra is known as the label of The Doors.
  • October 30-31, 1968-MC5 record debut live album ‘Kick Out the Jams’ at the Grande Ballroom. The Stooges were the kicker act. Free show.
  • November 1st, 1968-John Sinclair creates White Panther Party based on idea from Pun Plamondon
  • November 1968-The Stooges move to The Fun House (2666 Packard rd, Ann Arbor). MC5 hang out here frequently. Nico lives here for a bit.
  • December 12-14, 1968-MC5 plays on bill with Velvet Underground for 3 days in Boston
  • December 23rd, 1968-MC5 opens for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown @ Olympia
  • January 4th, 1969-MC5’s Rob Tyner is on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine
  • February 1969-Detroit’s famous Hudson’s department store refuses to stock MC5’s albums. In response to this, MC5 runs a full-page ad entitled ‘Fuck Hudson’s’ in local magazines The Fifth Estate, Ann Arbor Argus, The Sun. As a result, Hudson’s department stores pulls all Elektra Records albums from their shelves.

  • March 1969-Creem Magazine debuts
  • March 1969-Elektra Records drops the MC5
  • May 1969-John Cale brings The Stooges to NYC to produce their first album
  • June 1969-MC5 sign to Atlantic Records and get a hefty $65,000 advance
  • October 18th, 1969-Led Zeppelin, MC5, Grand Funk play Olympia in Detroit
  • January 15th, 1970-MC5 release their 2nd album ‘Back in the USA
  • May 1970-MC5 move from Hill Street House (Ann Arbor) out to Hamburg, Michigan
  • August 3rd, 1970-MC5 @ Mt. Clemens Pop Festival in Sportsman Park
  • August 7-9th, 1970-MC5 and The Stooges play Goose Lake Music Festival (200,000 people)
  • April 1971-White Panther Party dissolves
  • July 6th, 1971-MC5 release ‘High Time’ album
  • 1972-Rob Tyner and Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith get into a fistfight
  • December 31, 1972-MC5’s last show ever. Grande Ballroom. Wayne Kramer is so disgusted, he leaves mid-show.
  • MC5’s proposed 4th album, ‘Live on Saturn’ never comes to fruition.
  • 1975-Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith starts Sonic’s Rendezvous Band
  • 1975-77-Wayne Kramer does time at Lexington Federal Prison. Fellow inmates include Mike Davis and Hiawatha Bailey

 

 

 

Exclusive Interview: Detroit’s Eastern Market Manager LONNI THOMAS!

Exclusive Interview: Detroit’s Eastern Market Manager LONNI THOMAS!

 

*Detroit Bookfest would not have been possible at Eastern Market without the love and support of Eastern Market Manager Lonni Thomas*

 

Detroit is a great American city and the Eastern Market Neighborhood is one of the top retail districts in Detroit and one of the top food hubs in the USA.

The Eastern Market District has been around since 1891 and contains over 250 businesses and the entire neighborhood is growing at a rapid rate.

 

Eastern Market (c. 1930’s) photo courtesy of Wayne State University

 

Eastern Market is a phenomenal resource and destination spot. I cannot imagine the City of Detroit without Eastern Market, that’s how important the Eastern Market District is to the entire Greater Detroit community.

The five Sheds at Eastern Market are large consumer buildings and total around 165,000 square feet of space, which is used as both wholesale food market on some days and rented out for a wide variety of public & private events on other days.

Eastern Market Manager, Lonni Thomas, has been a pivotal figure at the Market over the past few years and this is her tale.

 

Biography

Lonni Thomas, Eastern Market Manager

 

“I was born and raised in Detroit. I love working at Eastern Market! I also like to read, write, dance, etc. I also love going to poetry slams. To me, poetry is so emotional and effective and listening to different poetry live can really have an impact on you by making you think differently about things.”

 

Aerial View of Detroit, Michigan USA

 

Lonni Arrives at Eastern Market

“I was adopted into the Eastern Market Corporation family in 2010 as a Farm Stand Fellow. I used to do the food assistance tokens program here, which is designed to help people have greater access to fresh produce. Through that I gained several great relationships, including Dan Carmody and Doshia Barton.”

“I used to volunteer at the EMC office on weekends. Then in 2011, I graduated from Wayne State University and needed a job. The woman who used to design t-shirts for Eastern Market was in transition and before she did, she helped get me into her position and I started designing Eastern Market gear and apparel. Progressively, I started creating relationships with Eastern Market vendors.  And as the variety of my responsibilities increased, I started spending more and more time at the Market.”

“I had office experience from my days working as a WSU Student Assistant, so I began shadowing the Sunday Market Manager at Eastern Market in 2014 because she needed an assistant. A few years later, through a series of gradual internal promotions, I was given the Sunday Market Manager position in 2016. Since then we have increased our footprint significantly and sustainably.”

“I also coordinate the Tuesday Market Community Programs and the Thursday Night Market.”

 

Eastern Market 101

Map of Eastern Market SHEDS

 

“Eastern Market is a historic urban public market. Overall, the Market is robust and vivacious and can get real busy. The Market is a great, safe atmosphere, no matter what day you come visit. We attract a very diverse group of people and the Eastern Market District has a wide variety of merchants.”

“Eastern Market is run by the EMC. The Eastern Market Corporation is a non-profit that was started in 2006 to manage Eastern Market. The City of Detroit owns the land and used to run the Market prior to the formation of the EMC. A group of urban planners pitched the idea of revitalizing the Eastern Market District. The city loved it and let them take over the Market.”

“Our 150-acre expansion plan is in the works. Building on our food hub nickname, the plan is designed to help build the food innovation mission we have and create over 3,000 jobs by 2025.”

 

Map of Eastern Market District

 

“We also have a brewery in our neighborhood now, the Eastern Market Brewing Company. And recently, Henry the Hatter moved from Broadway to Riopelle, just down the street from the EMBC.”

“One thing I love too is that artwork has become very prevalent throughout the District, especially the Murals in the Market series.”

“Murals in the Market has helped create over 100 murals in the district, making us as we say an ‘international public arts destination, while creating a world-class outdoor gallery of art’.”

“Many people want to know how they can open a brick-and-mortar storefront here in the district. I always tell them to contact the owners of the building they are interested in.”

 

The Legendary Dan Carmody

Dan Carmody, President of Eastern Market Corporation

 

Dan Carmody is the President of the EMC. Working with Dan is fun! He’s been responsible for my growth and helping to push me to get certain projects done. He doesn’t burn you for failing, he burns you for not trying.”

“In that 1999 movie ‘Life’, there’s a scene where two guys are standing on coke bottles, trying to keep their balance. That’s what it’s like working with Dan, he’s unpredictable daily, constantly and you appreciate the sense of unexpectedness.”

“Having Dan here is like having some zen monk here at Eastern Market who makes you think about things differently. Watching him give speeches about the Market and how he delivers our mission, it’s remarkable.”

 

Eastern Market’s Largest Events

Eastern Market Flower Day @ 6 a.m.

 

Eastern Market Flower Day started in 1967. The event is only one day long but averages 150,000-200,000 people. We do it in conjunction with the Metro Detroit Flower Growers Association. Flower Day opens everything, it’s the start of our season, the market starts blooming.”

Eastern Market After Dark started in 2010. It’s a creative arts event that we do in conjunction with the Detroit Design Festival. We get about 25,000 people for it.”

 

Detroit Festival of Books (aka: Detroit Bookfest)

 

The Detroit Festival of Books, also known as Detroit Bookfest, is an incredibly positive and popular event. The very first year, there were well over 10,000 attendees, which is just wild for a first-time event to have that many people there.”

“People are excited and curious about Bookfest. Everybody wants to sell books and records and other stuff at it. I get asked almost daily if Bookfest is still accepting vendors, it’s crazy how many people are interested in the event. Bookfest is one of the top vendor events we’ve ever seen in the city, everyone wants to be a vendor. It’s a true phenomenon.”

“Detroit Bookfest this year might have over 20,000 people.”

 

Lonni’s Favorites

Burger @ Cutters Bar (photo courtesy of Yelp)

 

Here are some of Lonni’s favorite go-to eateries in Detroit:

Basement Burger Bar (1326 Brush St) for the turkey burger and the mambo burger

Cutters (2638 Orleans st) and Café D’Mongo’s (1439 Griswold St) are her favorite bars

Stache International (1416 E. Fisher Service Dr) for the Southern Belle sandwich

Andiamo’s (400 Renaissance Center) Italian food inside the RenCen while overlooking the Detroit River

2941 Street Food (4219 Woodward) Fantastic Mediterranean food from a world-class chef

 

Lonni’s Final Thoughts

Lonni Thomas

 

I love Detroit. I was born here, raised here, still live here. I’m here until my cup runneth over. Detroit’s revitalization has been in the making for at least 10 years.”

“We’re witnessing a tremendous transformation right now stemming from a plan created by people who have been business owners for a few decades here.”

“Detroit is often called “the city that grew from ashes” a few yeas ago but in actuality our house never burned down fully because we have such a strong foundation.”

 

 

Eastern Market Weekly Market Days

Tuesday Market

9am-3pm

 

Thursday Night Market

5pm-10pm

 

Saturday Market

6am-4pm

225 vendors; 40,000 guests

 

Sunday Market

10am-4pm

 

Lonni Thomas clownin’

 

Eastern Market Homepage

https://www.easternmarket.org/

 

Maps of Eastern Market

https://www.easternmarket.org/district/maps

 

List of Businesses in Eastern Market

https://www.easternmarket.org/district/directory

 

4th International Mural Fest with 1xRUN in September 2018

www.muralsinthemarket.com

 

Dan Carmody’s article on the Market 

http://detroitisit.com/eastern-market-more-than-125-years-in-the-making/

 

Eastern Market’s 2025 Strategy Plan

http://wxystudio.com/projects/planning/detroit_eastern_market_2025_strategy_plan

 

E & B Brewery Lofts (Located in the Eastern Market District inside the old Eckhardt & Becker Brewery which brewed beer here 1891-1969) 

http://e-bbrewerylofts.com/

 

Eastern Market (c. 1930’s) photo courtesy of Wayne State University

Eastern Market (c. 1930’s) photo courtesy of Wayne State University

Exclusive Tribute: In Nine Kinds of Pain: Detroit Author LENNY FRITZ Died of Cancer But His Legacy Of Inadvertently Creating a Singular Genre of Gritty Detroitica Lives on!

Exclusive Tribute: In Nine Kinds of Pain: Detroit Author LENNY FRITZ Died of Cancer But His Legacy Of Inadvertently Creating a Singular Genre of Gritty Detroitica Lives on!

Lenny Fritz, author & illustrator from Southwest Detroit

I remember Lenny Fritz vividly. He was a big dude who looked intimidating and whose peripheral manifestation evoked possibilities of an outlaw biker or a club bouncer to those who didn’t know him.

In actuality, Lenny was a fun, cool, extremely creative and hilarious individual. He lived down the street from my family’s house on Springwells Street in Southwest Detroit.

His family, the Fritz’s, grew up with my family, the Place’s. The Fritz’s lived at 2655 Springwells Street and my family lives at 2606 Springwells Street. Lenny was a popular figure around the neighborhood due to his good nature and artistic abilities.

Graciously, his mother Mary Anne Fritz and sister Patty Saenz (pronounced ‘signs’) sat down with me recently at Patty’s home Downriver to discuss the uniqueness of Lenny and the enduring impact of his work.

Biography

Southwest Detroit

Lenny was the middle child. He had an older sister Patty and a younger brother Eric.

“Lenny and I were Irish Twins,” says Patty, “We were born one year and five days apart. Lenny was born on June 27th, 1967 and I was born on June 22nd, 1966. He passed away in September 2012 from cancer. June 27th, 2017 would have been his 50th birthday. I miss him so much.”

Lenny went to school at St. Gabriel’s (8118 Vernor) and Holy Redeemer Catholic High School (1721 Junction) in Southwest Detroit.

Lenny Fritz house (2655 Springwells Street, Detroit)

Mary Anne tells us more about Lenny.

Lenny graduated Holy Redeemer in 1985 and went on to WSU. He worked a variety of odd jobs around the neighborhood, including being a janitor at St. Gabe’s and grass cutting at Holy Cross Cemetery. Lenny’s true passion though was writing and illustrating comic books.”

“Lenny was even a Detroit Firefighter for a little while until life took him elsewhere. He was playing basketball in flip-flops in his backyard one day with the guys when he stepped off the curb and broke his ankle. As a fireman, he had the fastest time in doing the stair running exercise drills with 50-pounds of equipment on.”

“Lenny was a regular customer at John K. King Books, a great big bookstore a few miles from the house.”

Exclusive Interview with John King

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

“He also used to hang out at K-Andy’s Bar (8736 W. Vernor) and Bucks Good Eats on Dix, it’s now the Mexican restaurant Mi Pubelo (7278 Dix). Many of these places factor into his work.”

“On Thursday nights, he used to head up to Beacon Bowling Alley (6735 W. Vernor) and go bowling with his Dad, Uncles and cousins. Detroit was the bowling capital of the world back then.”

Lenny was 6’3”, 250 pounds and at one point he had a Travis Bickle type mohawk that he got from Ralph the Barber. He also sported a ‘To thine own self be true’ tattoo on his forearm that he, Patty and Eric all have.”

“Lenny was great friends with Father Anthony Bologna from St. Gabe’s. Fr. Bologna was legally blind and Lenny would drive him around and take him shopping. They would also go to Sunday dinner in St. Clair Shores at Fr. Bologna’s family’s home. He would pick him up at St. Gabe’s in Southwest and drive him out there. While they were out, a trip to the neighborhood grocery store to pick up Fr. Bologna’s favorite Progresso soup was always a must.”

Lenny’s dad, known as Lennie, was a Detroit cop at the 7th Precinct, located at Mack and Gratiot near Eastern Market. His dad would often come home with vegetables and fruit from Eastern Market vendors and nuts from Rocky’s. He was a cop from June 1967 to September 2007. He finished the police academy on the day Lenny was born. Many of his true tales as a cop are woven into Lenny’s writings.”

“About a month after Lenny was born, the Detroit Riots erupted. The National Guard was camped at Patton Park, Dix and Woodmere Street, tanks and all, right down the street from us.”

Patty & Mary Anne Move Out of Southwest Detroit

Southwest Detroit (photo courtesy of Michigan Radio)

The neighborhood used to be great but it changed quite a bit over the decades and became very dangerous with gangs, burned down houses, graffiti, drugs. It was time to leave. Patty moved her family out of Southwest in 1998 after a 10-year-old kid broke into their car.

“My husband Reuben caught a little kid breaking into our car one day,” says Patty, “We called the police but they never came. So, after a few hours, we went down to the kid’s house and it was some kind of big drug dealing house. His parents just laughed at us, they didn’t care. They didn’t care at all, they didn’t even get up. At that moment, I realized we needed to move to get our baby son Ricky out of there.”

Mary Anne moved out in 2004. She is now living on the island of Grosse Ile.

Lenny Goes to School

Western Michigan Broncos

Lenny excelled academically and was a very well-educated man. In 1998, he received his BA from Norwich University.

Then in June 2002, he got his MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. A few of his plays were produced by the Drama department. His final project was entitled ‘Wet,’ which is street slang for a joint of marijuana dipped in PCP.

Wayne State University

Also in December 2002, he received his MA in English and Rhetoric from Wayne State University. He was also on staff at Washtenaw Community College and Owens Community College (Toledo) teaching English and Film History. He later secured a tenure position in the English department at the University of Toledo.

Lenny’s Connections with Chuck Palahniuk, Stan Lee & Charles Bukowski

Mary Anne tells us about some of Lenny’s interesting literary and comic connections.

Chuck Palahniuk

“Lenny was a huge fan of author Chuck Palahniuk (pronounced paula-nick) and he wrote to him once. Chuck surprisingly wrote back and they maintained an infrequent correspondence over the years. In Lenny’s copy of FIGHT CLUB, Chuck wrote “To Lenny-May you never be perfect and complete…” and in SNUFF, Chuck wrote “To Lenny-May your every money shot bring a standing ovation.”

Stan Lee

“Lenny submitted artwork to a contest that Stan Lee was a judge for. Stan Lee picked Lenny’s submission as the winner and Lenny got his caricature done by Stan Lee in the Spider-Man Sunday comic strip along with the original signed Stan Lee comic art.”

Stan Lee draws Lenny in a Spider Man Sunday Comic! (October 10th, 1999)

“Lenny and Charles Bukowski were writing buddies in the 1980’s-90’s on and off.”

Charles Bukowski

“After Lenny passed away, I became the recipient of dozens of boxes of his letters and writings.”

Lenny the Writer

Lenny Fritz

Mary Anne tells us about Lenny’s writing habits and contributions.

“There was a network, a brotherhood support system of writers and comic book people that Lenny belonged to, a sort of feedback loop that helped each other out in critiquing each other’s work.”

“Lenny wrote and drew constantly, daily. He generated copious amounts of notes, most of which are written on scraps of paper and napkins. We have boxes full of his notes and sketches.”

Perg illustration for ‘Perg’ comic book series by Lenny Fritz

“Lenny did most of his writing while sitting in a recliner, keyboard in his lap, in his first-floor bedroom on Springwells. While driving, he used a voice recorder to capture his thoughts while they were hot and fresh and would later transcribe them into his computer. I still have his original tapes.”

“While working on his Masters of Education, Collegiate Sports Administration at Wayne State University, Lenny did an internship at the University of Michigan Sports department and out of that grew his long-standing relationship with U of M. Lenny published Krater Quarterly, a nationally distributed literary magazine, from Block M Press. He wrote for the U of M Dekers Blue Line, the booster club for UM hockey. “Deke” means to fake out a hockey goalie. Lenny also did illustrations for U of M which were sold as officially licensed material and merchandise.”

poster designed and illustrated by Lenny Fritz for the University of Michigan

In Nine Kinds of Pain (2011) by Leonard Fritz

In Nine Kinds of Pain (October 2011) Lenny Fritz

In Nine Kinds of Pain’ is a book written by Lenny Fritz. I’m an avid reader with a 2,000+ volume personal library and I’ve never encountered any other book like this one in terms of distinctive styling, unclassifiable-ness and comic book mingling.

Here’s the synopsis from New Pulp Press:

“Baby. She knows how to play the streets of Southwest Detroit. But when her boyfriend entangles her in his life of criminal treachery, she’s forced to go underground to stay alive. Her pursuer? The mysterious Tall Black Man, a cold-blooded dope dealer who believes she’s ripped off his stash. Baby flees to presumed safety in the arms of Father Anthony Costa, a drunken, delusional priest, and Dallas Sharper, a Detroit cop gone off the deep end; she hopes to buy more time to figure a way out. Throw into the mix the Canadian Mafia, some killer cops, and an unyielding city, and you have just another week in the Murder Capitol of the World. IN NINE KINDS OF PAIN is a fast-paced, beat-of-the-street story of torment and redemption, of failure and salvation, that proffers crime fiction at its best.”

The book centers around a group of morally conflicted characters and takes place entirely in Lenny’s old neighborhood of Southwest Detroit. The narrative is interspliced with comic book panels illustrated by Lenny, giving it a graphic novel-eqsue feel. The writing is so good and the situations so bleak and characters so grim that it’s hard to put the book down. After finishing it, you immediately want to re-read it.

This book is not for children. This book is not for people with faint hearts and rosy visions of idyllic settings. This book is for people who want to read about gritty characters and thinly veiled true-life stories written in Lenny’s own distinctive style. The story is not linear and its told in short, violent vignettes interspersed with ‘Here is Wisdom’ narration guides for non-Detroit natives.

Comic book panel by Lenny Fritz

Some of the characters include: Baby the prostitute, Father Costa the delusional alcoholic Catholic priest, Dallas the mentally unstable Detroit cop, Tall Black Man the dope pusher, Jimmy Bible the redneck cop, Frankenstein Anson Davis, etc. All characters are locked into an existential bloodsport of survival of the fittest.

The characters in the book essentially equate being a resident of Southwest Detroit to being an inmate at a prison. Each character is trapped in their own personal prison and all characters are trapped inside the prison of Southwest Detroit, where it is impossible for them to escape from. Escape is impossible because after living there, they cannot function in the outside world.

Living in the nebulous purgatory of Detroit’s Southwest side has made them crazed and ghostly, it has created a unique form of acute insanity, a permanent deranging of the soul, which cannot be gotten rid of. By existing in the realm of Southwest, they have each been robbed of their humanity and turned into quasi-monsters. Remember, this is just a book. Lenny was a die-hard Detroiter at heart.

I imagine that the title ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ refers to the multi-dimensional realms of suffering you can live in simultaneously. There were 9 Circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno and there’s 9 Kinds of Pain in Lenny’s Southwest Detroit.

excerpt from Lenny Fritz

Mary Anne offers her recollections of Lenny’s book.

“Around 2000, Lenny started the initial idea for ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’. It wasn’t titled until after he finished the manuscript.

90% of the material in the book involves real people and true stories from the neighborhood with some minor embellishments.”

“The book was published in October 2011 by New Pulp Press, a publishing house which was based in Colorado at the time. After its release, Lenny did a few book signings in Ann Arbor & Detroit, however, shortly after its release, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in May 2012.”

“Lenny and I lived in Monroe at the time of his illness. Lenny was a professor of English literature at the University of Toledo. He had just completed spring semester classes mid-May and was diagnosed with esophageal cancer at the end of May.”

“While he was in ICU at the University of Toledo Medical Center and unable to speak, we would steady a pen in his hand and he would write in a binder to communicate with us, never once needing to look at the page as he jotted. His body was collapsing but his brain was still true and clear.”

Lenny tragically passed away on September 13th, 2012. It was an overwhelmingly fast death and still difficult to deal with at times. We just want to keep his memory alive. He was 45 years old when he died.”

Throughout his work, Lenny offered many haunting premonitions. His 2000 thesis for Wayne State alluded to September 11th over a year before it happened. And in his book, he spookily alludes to his own death a few times.

Lenny won a Fireball Award from Spinetingler Magazine for having one of the 25 greatest opening lines in crime fiction. The opening line is, “This is Detroit, so welcome to the jungle.”

Throughout the book, Lenny pays illustrative homages to Daniel Clowes, Margraret Kilgallen, Jorge Longaron and Alden McWilliams. In a separate project, Lenny illustrated the cover for Jake Hinkson’s book ‘Hell on Church Street’.

Overall, ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ is a fascinating read and would make a great movie. The film would have to be raw, gritty and shot on location to do it justice.

Although it has never been discussed by anyone, I am labeling Lenny’s unique work as the beginning of ‘Detroitica’. Detroitica will henceforth be defined as a literary sub-genre of crime noirs which contain elements of the gritty, erotic, surreal, underworld, criminal and insanity specifically taking place in and around Detroit. The genre was inadvertently created by Lenny Fritz.

Lenny’s Unpublished Book: ‘You Can Kill Anyone’

illustration by Lenny Fritz

Mary Anne tells us about some upcoming projects.

“Lenny was originally going to do a trilogy and he wrote a second companion book called ‘You Can Kill Anyone’. The book is about Jimmy Bible, a character mentioned in the first book.”

“Lenny described Jimmy Bible as “one of those ‘redneck cops’ who can’t seem to draw a line between reality and the video game Grand Theft Auto.” The book is about Jimmy Bible spiraling down but becomes a love story involving Jimmy Bible, Plain Jane Dunleavy, Spanker and other characters.”

“A company called 280 Steps based in Oslo, Norway was going to publish the book in November 2015 but they never did. It was scheduled for release but kept getting delayed as ‘to be published’ and now the company no longer exists. Fortunately, I own the intellectual property rights to all of Lenny’s work and we will be actively pursuing the publication of this book in the near future.”

Lenny also has several short stories that we are going to compile into a book and publish.”

Fond Memories of Lenny & the Fritz’s

Lenny Fritz

Lenny’s mom Mary Anne sold my dad his first car in the 1970’s and Patty has my Aunt Mae’s rosary.

My Aunt Mae & Aunt Dae, two hilarious Italian sisters (real names Amelia & Adele Miglierino), also lived down the street at 2576 Springwells. They had glass bowls of stale candy corn around the house, a dog named Rocky and they used to argue frequently and call each other “Pep” and “dog in the manger”. They used to give my cousin Tim and I coffee and crackers starting when we were 4-5 years old. Coffee, cream, about 20 spoonfuls of sugar poured in from the restaurant-style sugar jar and we would dip saltine crackers in the foul concoction. My Aunt Dae wore a hairnet, terrycloth shorts, slipper socks and would wander the alleys of Southwest Detroit picking dandelions and collecting discarded toys and assorted trinkets. It’s a miracle she was never mauled by a pitbull or bopped on the head. Lenny and his family knew them well.

Patty recalls some fond memories.

“Your Grandma used to babysit us. I remember she would make pancakes in various shapes for us. Then years later, I babysat Renee when your Aunt & Uncle lived over on Wendell. Lenny would do these elaborate chalk drawings with her on the sidewalks.”

“Every summer, our whole family would go to Camp Dearborn in Milford for 3 weeks. It’s a tent village of large wood frame tents with canopies. The tents have beds and bunk beds, they’re very spacious and we would rent 8-10 of them for 100+ people. We have a big family, I have 35 first cousins. While we were at camp, your Aunt Sue “watched” our house for us (aka: she threw parties).”

“At camp, Lenny would organize football teams, The Fritz Blitz v.s. The Fritz Connection. He made t-shirts for the games at Sheridan Sport Shop on Vernor Hwy near our house. Archery, swimming, rowboats, etc, the summer dream. We had so much fun.”

Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD

Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD (2000) By: Lenny Fritz

Lenny’s master thesis ‘Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD’ is 244 pages long and was written in 2000. This engrossing 42-chapter novel is a fictional account of the last week of the life of Jesus Christ.

In the book, Lenny describes it as “I strayed from the known events of Jesus, and created a world in which the supernatural plays a key role in the characters life. God & Satan also play significant roles in the manuscript, battling for control over Jesus and his decision to be executed.”

It is considered a “lost rarity” by fans of his work. If you want to read it, it’s housed at the Wayne State University storage thesis collection at Adamany Undergrad Library in Detroit. To go read it, fill out this storage request form:  https://library.wayne.edu/forms/storage_request.php

Christ Recrucified Two Thousand One AD (2000) By: Lenny Fritz

Final Thoughts

R.I.P. Lenny Fritz

Mary Anne, Patty and Eric will be at the Detroit Festival of books selling copies of ‘In Nine Kinds of Pain’ for $10.00 each.

The final resting place of Lenny is at Our Lady of Hope Cemetery in Brownstown. He is cremated. His ashes are inside a bronze Krater-style urn with black enamel etching. The urn sits inside a polished marble niche.

Friends, family, the city of Detroit and readers everywhere lost Leonard Daniel Fritz too soon. But his legacy lives on.

R.I.P.

Leonard Daniel Fritz

June 27th, 1967-September 13th, 2012

Lenny Fritz

Krater Magazine by Lenny Fritz

Krater by Lenny

Lenny Fritz

Lenny illustrated the book cover for Jake Hinson’s ‘Hell on Church Street’

Lenny’s etching on the front page of the Dekers

Rendering by Lenny Fritz

Rendering by Lenny Fritz

illustration by Lenny Fritz

In Nine Kinds of Pain by Lenny Fritz

 

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

 

You have to hand it to John King. He’s a self-made businessman who built a fifty-year powerhouse of books.

He’s outlasted Borders Books, watched the rise of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and survived razor-thin years of the Great Recession. Even with hordes of hipster millennials myopically glued to their smartphones and Kindles, his bookstore thrives and prospers still.

John K. King Used & Rare Books is a Detroit institution. Many people have amassed entire personal home libraries over the years just by shopping here. You can lose an entire day among literally 1,000,000+ books spread over 4 floors and 900 categories housed inside an old glove factory.

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Repeatedly voted one of the top bookstores in the world by numerous publications including Business Insider, CNN, and others, John King Books is a must-visit spot on the Global Bookstore Trail, that grand design connect-the-dots map of outstanding bookstores running in a serpentine pattern across the globe.

Many bibliophiles from around the world have made a pilgrimage here to Michigan’s largest bookstore, to shelves overflowing et infra with spectacular inventory ranging from: standard classics, paperbacks, hardcovers, selective esoterica, illuminated medieval manuscripts written on vellum, woodcuts on china paper, armorial bookplates, books bound in crushed Moroccan leather, old rarities sporting beautifully marbled foredges and endpapers, etc. The dust jacket was invented in 1832 and many early examples are here as well.

Let’s Go Inside

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

You enter the parking lot on a blind curve and pull up to a bluish-grayish building with a giant faded glove painted on it, and park at a hard slant in the oddly angled driveway, which overlooks a busy expressway.

You enter the building and ascend into book heaven. That lovely characteristic “old book smell” of lignin acids breaking down in the pages of old books wafts up your nose like a curled finger of smoke in an old cartoon.

Wandering John King’s is a sort of calming, meditative experience and patrolling the old wood floors with you are a dedicated army of a dozen employees in red aprons.

John King walking through John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

I walk inside and John King greets me. “One thing you should include in your article is we’re the only radio dispatched bookstore in the country. All employees have walkie-talkies here. That, plus I’m blessed to have a great staff of people using those radios.”

Tom Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr.) the rare book room manager, Toni Caron the office manager, and Darlene Weaver have all worked for me since the 1980’s. Deb Lee, the store manager, has been with us since the early 1990’s. Let’s head to the basement, I got something to show you. Hey George,” John nods at a customer. He knows many customers by name. And there are thousands of regular weekly customers here.

John takes me downstairs and we find Tom Jr. and Steve sifting through hundreds of boxes of books. John is wearing a green Italian army jacket and starts dusting off books with a paint brush.

Thomas W. Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr) the Rare Book Room Manager (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We just bought the entire collection of a book hoarder in Detroit. He died, so his heirs sold us his books, everything in his house and then at the end, they asked us if we wanted to buy his actual house along with it, so we did.”

“Everything is always busy. Very seldom can I sit down and have some free time. We did an estate in San Francisco a while back where the woman left a giant multi-million dollar mansion in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. I was called in for the books. When I got there, I found the books abandoned, neglected, covered in rat shit. So I’m up there flinging the rat shit off books, trying to find the buried treasure. Only ended up finding a box and a half of mediocre stuff. Here’s a woman worth tens of millions of dollars and she lived like a homeless person. She also drove an old Buick Century that was full of actual garbage. It was crazy.”

Tom Jr. chimes in, “We also just acquired a rare and highly coveted leaf of the Gutenberg Bible.”

John says, “Oh yeah, we gotta show that to him. Let’s go!”

John King: The Early Years

John King (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“I was born in Detroit and grew up on the Southwest side near St. Andrews Parish on McGraw. I still visit the neighborhood pretty frequently. I have a dog. A white maltese named ‘Sophie’ and I usually take her down to Clark Park or the old Train Station on my bicycle with me since she fits right in the basket. Toni has a dog, too. A shih tzu pug named ‘Charlie Dickens’ and the two dogs get along great together.”

“I’m very glad to see El Club the music venue opened near Clark Park. When I was a kid, that building used to be an old Lithuanian Club. You had to have an actual key to get inside there, since it was a private social club. You’d go in there and it was a private bar with a bunch of Lithuanians drinking. Always some fun immigrants therein.”

“I attended Fordson High School in Dearborn. It’s a really cool castle-looking building. My guidance counselor there was Elsie Freitag. Not only is she the reason I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent but she covered for me when I frequently skipped school to go sell books.”

John King (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“I used to take the bus into Downtown Detroit all the time. Since I was only a kid, I could only go into bookstores in the Sixties. Detroit had about two dozen old bookstores back then. And I thought wow I can make money doing something I love: selling books!”

“I was an opportunist. I didn’t have a corner like a drug dealer. You know, I’ll shoot you if you start selling books on my block (laughs) it wasn’t like that. I was more peripatetic selling books out of the trunk of my 54 Packard. Later, I sold them out of a 59 Cadillac hearse.”

“Back in the old days, it was romanticized having a used bookstore. But the reality is you have to be tenacious. Running a successful bookstore goes by some but not all principles of business. I had no formal business education. Had to learn everything the hard way, had to learn by doing. I made all the classic rookie mistakes and even invented some new ones.”

old store sign from John King store when it was at 214 Bagley Street (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Back in the 50’s and 60’s in Detroit, the golden age of Detroit used booksellers, the people who ran the bookstores were almost always very eccentric personalities. You know, Damon Runyon type characters. I found them interesting and entertaining and I learned the book trade by watching and through osmosis. There wasn’t a ‘How to Be a Used Bookseller’ book, you just had to get out there and start doing it.”

“Then I went to New York for a little bit to attend college, came back, attended Wayne State University on and off for seven years, selling books the entire time. Now I have no time for anything. I’m busy every day of the year hustling books. I should’ve stayed in school and become somebody and been retired by now.”

History of John K. King Used & Rare Books

Tom Jr. (photo by Ryan M. Place)

John’s current main building, 901 W. Lafayette Blvd., is actually his third location over the years. Tom Jr. fills in the gaps for us:

“This building was built in 1906 by an architect named Stratton. He later married Mary Chase Stratton, the Pewabic Tiles lady. Since he built this place before they met, there are no Pewabic tiles here. Up until 1929 this building was a hat factory. Then it became the Advance Glove Company.”

“When the expressway came, instead of knocking the building down, they physically moved the entire building here. In 1947 this building was put on Alabama gum wood rollers and rolled here from 250 feet down the block. Then in 1981, the glove company went bankrupt and left the building vacant until John purchased it in 1983. We officially opened here January 1st, 1984.”

John K. King’s bookstore when it was at 214 Bagley Street, Detroit

John chimes in:

“Yeah I had two other locations before this one. My very first actual store was in 1971 in Dearborn. It was located on West Warren Avenue at Miller Road across the street from the old Camelot Theater. We were there very temporarily, less than a year.”

“I was there against my will actually, meaning due to the building we were in. A sordid cast of people lived upstairs from us. Drug dealers, thieves, prostitutes, etc, a lot of really nice people. The cops were always coming in. And the very first person to come into my bookstore stole an expensive book. That’s how my bookstore career started. He stole a book on Civil War Regimental History. Him and his whole family were thieves. One of the guys, his cousin, used to get hired to work at museums just so he could steal stuff out of museums over time.”

“By the end of 1971, we had moved to the Michigan Theater building at 214 Bagley Avenue in Downtown Detroit and we were there until moving to this location in 1983.The Bagley location reminded me of the old 4th Avenue bookstores in New York City.”

John K. King’s bookstore when it was at 214 Bagley Street, Detroit

“I also still own The Big Book Store on Cass, which we’re closing soon. Opened in the 1930’s, it’s Detroit’s oldest bookstore. It’s been at its Cass location and run by Bill Foulks since 1988. Over the years, we’ve mainly used it as a warehouse for duplicate books. Some German developers approached me recently about buying the building. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I sold the building. It’s nothing personal, just business.”

“We also own John King Books North in Ferndale. That store opened July 1st, 1988. Tom Jr. used to manage it one day a week for 15 years. Now, Jason Schusterbauer is the current manager. There’s maybe 60,000 books there.”

“We have so many books, we could open ten book stores if we wanted, there’s just no time.”

John King’s Rare Book Building

John’s Rare Book Annex (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Behind the main bookstore, there is a slightly smaller, prairie-style building with some added stained glass windows, which used to be an architect’s office. This building is John’s Rare Book Annex and is not open to the casual window-shopping public.

Thomas W. Heitjan, aka: Tom Jr., has been the Rare Book Room Manager here for years. Tom Jr. grew up on Detroit’s Eastside. He lived one block down from Richard ‘White Boy Rick’ Wershe on Hampshire Street. Tom Jr. has worked for John since 1985. Tom explains:

“We have about 30,000 books here. Toni Caron is our office manager and the Rare Book Annex is closed to the general public due to zoning and security issues. We would love to open it to the public, we just don’t have the ability to make it a tourist attraction.”

John’s Rare Book Annex (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“Once a year, we let the Detroit Historical Society do a public tour here. Otherwise, it’s for private collectors who are vetted and noted and display serious intent. For example, somebody flew in from New York City recently and bought $100,000 worth of books here for their own private library.”

“When we buy collections of books, we sometimes end up with collections of other things like circus posters, statues, etc. That’s how we acquired this interesting Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago.”

Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We do a lot of estate work, at least 2-3 per week. We travel all over the country to source books. John likes the Bay Area, so we’re out there several times per year for book collections. There was one estate in Daly City where no one but us attended. We ended up finding a treasure trove of old movie books signed by movie stars. Some books had 20+ signatures throughout the book.”

Some choice books at John King’s:

leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1455 AD) photo by: Ryan M. Place

So, about that Gutenberg. John recently acquired a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (1455 AD). This is an incredibly rare piece. Tom Jr. explains:

“The Gutenberg leaf we have features the Gospel of St. Luke where Jesus is instructing his disciples on how to cast out daemons. Beelzebub is mentioned twice. It’s incredible to actually have a page from the world’s first printed book.”

old books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Here is a short of list of some other goodies:

  • First edition Federalist Papers (1788)
  • First edition Book of Mormon (1830)
  • First Great Gatsby
  • Salvador Dali original drawings
  • First edition Treasure Island (1883)
  • First U.S. edition Through the Looking Glass (1871)
  • First edition On the Road hardcover
  • Books with fore-edge paintings. These images are hidden until you fan the book.
  • An entire section of books inscribed on their flyleafs by U.S. Presidents
  • Several books signed by Henry Ford
  • Kate Greenaway original painting
  • Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91

Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

The Pablo Escobar book, yes this was drug dealer Pablo Escobar’s personal book. It features fun caricatures his friends put together from drug cartoons, his facsimile signature and then his actual signature and fingerprint. Very rare item. A copy not as good as ours, their version only has the facsimile signature, is currently for sale on Ebay in Miami for $100,000.”

Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

John’s Rarest Book: the one that got away

The Curtis North American Indian Set

“The one I remember most vividly is The Curtis North American Indian set. We sold that in October 2012 for $1.44 million dollars at Swann Galleries in Manhattan.”

“The set consisted of 20 folios, 722 large photographs on Japanese tissue and 20 text volumes with 1500 smaller photos. The photos were so evocative, you almost wanted to cry looking at them, realizing how beautiful they are and how these people were just wiped out. The photos were printed over a ten year period. It was particularly rare because it was a totally complete set and also, many of the photos were signed by Curtis himself. I miss it.”

“When we can, we try to shake each book to see if any stray ephemera falls out. Sometime in the late 1980’s, our employee Tom Schlientz was shaking out a book one day and some Mark Twain photos fell out. These ended up being personal unpublished photos that were taken by Twain’s friend. The photos featured Twain riding in a wagon with a little girl and a horse. They were taken sometime around the turn of the century in Hartford, Connecticut. We sold the photos.”

Famous Customers at John King Books in Detroit

John King store receipt inscribed by John K. King

John King Books is world famous. The list of well-known people who have been customers here is far too long and varied to include here. People like David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Zappa, Timothy Leary, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Jay Leno, Martin Sheen, Alice Cooper, Governors, Senators, the Levin brothers, Roger Smith head of GM, Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal), Sonny Elliott, Carmen Harlan, Edie Adams, Neil Giraldo, the famous British female impersonator Dame Edna, etc, hundreds of others.

Tom Jr. displaying beautiful fore-edge painting (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

 

Here are some anecdotes from John King:

Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, was just here with his bodyguard who stayed twenty feet from him at all times. Charlie collects jazz stuff and we sold him some great jazz books.”

Teller the Magician sends us a Christmas card every year saying we’re his favorite bookstore in the world.”

“Former Michigan Governor John Engler got along surprisingly well with my dog. My dog was a Democrat and still didn’t bite him. Engler turns into a mannequin on television but in-person he’s shockingly fun and lively.”

“Actor and Detroit native Curtis Armstrong comes here. He once went on an estate call with me. Curtis was in Moonlighting, Risky Business, the Revenge of the Nerd series, etc.”

Richard Gere actually shot a movie here inside our store back in 2011 called ‘The Double’.”

The Book Club of Detroit

Great books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“A great guy named Tom Schlientz worked for me for about a million years. He took over Charlie Boesen’s bookstore and then worked for me. He was also one of the founding members of The Book Club of Detroit back in 1957. Tom started working for me in the late 1970’s and worked for me right up until his death in 2006. Through Tom, I became a lifetime member of the Book Club of Detroit.”

The Haunting of John King’s Book Store

John King’s Bookstore is haunted (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Many people think that John King’s Book Store is haunted. Over the years, there have been numerous reports from customers of supernatural & unexplainable phenomena including: footsteps and whisperings in empty hallways, lights turning on and off, feeling like they’re being watched, inanimate objects suddenly moving, doors and cabinets opening and closing, items disappearing and reappearing, feeling something lightly brush past them, unexplainable cold spots, etc .

Years ago, we bought an estate of a murder-suicide victim. When we moved her books and other objects to the 4th floor, strange things started happening. Lights would go on and off randomly, we would hear bizarre noises, books would fall off the shelves by themselves. We weren’t scared, it was just irritating.”

John King’s Bookstore is haunted (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Tom Jr. chimes in:

“The paranormal people came in a few years ago and claimed to have located one authentic ghost. They told us that back when this was a factory, a man killed himself on the 3rd floor. He fell in love with a female co-worker. She rebuffed him, so he killed himself up there. And his ghost haunts the 3rd floor.”

John King on The Future of The Book

John K. King print catalog

Many people think that the book itself is doomed by technology, that people are only selling off personal collections and not buying books these days and that online sales have eclipsed regular store sales. According to John King, none of that is true.

The future of the book is secure. Books have lasted over 500 years and they’ll last another 500. If books were going to become obsolete, why is Amazon.com opening brick-and-mortar stores with physical books in them?”

“Right now, the Baby Boomers are croaking. Some of their subject collecting is fading. Those books that they collected so vigorously are no longer important to the next generation.”

John K. King print catalog

“It’s fluid, everything changes. Except for a few of the enduring classics, people’s tastes are fickle when it comes to books. You grow up with something and it’s in demand several decades later and then it’s gone.”

“Only a mere 10-15% of our sales are online. AbeBooks.com is our favorite online selling platform. We’re still basically a brick and mortar store and that’s where we’re most successful.”

“We discontinued our famous print catalogs about 10 years ago. However, we still have digital catalogs online. Again, we would love to do the print catalogs and could still afford to do them, except we just don’t have the time, staff or manpower to do it.”

John’s Final Thoughts

Tom Jr. and John King on the roof of John King Books with the old Train Station in the background (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“We oftentimes deal with a lot of people who have unrealistic expectations of what their books are worth on the buyer’s market. Usually, it’s some nutty person who tells them ‘Oh, your book is rare, it’s expensive’ and then we have to be the bearer of bad news and give them a reality check. My policy is to be straightforward, to the point and up front about everything right from the get-go. I don’t mess around.”

“Also, a lot of people who should come here don’t come here because they’re still scared of Detroit. Downtown Detroit is safe now, it’s not like the old days. I remember back when we were at the Michigan Theater building and we were paid by a New York City bookseller to deliver a book to a Grosse Pointe customer. His customer could’ve just come down to our store and saved the New York price markup. We have customers who travel here from Japan, France, Italy, and other countries, so locals have no excuse.”

John K. King Used & Rare Books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Most people’s bookstore experiences are limited to going to Barnes & Noble. They only have maybe 10,000 books per store and it’s a confusing store. They encourage employees to be robots who have to look up on the computer every time to see where a book is located in their own store. We don’t need computers here. Each member of our staff is a knowledgeable expert with years of experience. Plus, there are no donuts or coffee here, just books. We have store maps, we’re better organized and have better prices, so come down and visit us, we’d love to see you!”

As you can tell, an entire book unto itself could be written about the history and importance of John King Books. A store that has factored into so many people’s lives over the years, it serves as a major literary conduit, a hub for all those interested in the pursuit of books.

John King thrived and prospered through one of the most economically tumultuous periods since the Great Depression, the Great Recession of 2008-2016 and he did it in the fair city of Detroit, no less! We’ve all been through some serious flak together here over the years.

John King on the roof of John King Books with downtown Detroit in background (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

In 2013, the city of Detroit experienced Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Over the decades, since the 1967 Detroit Riots, 50 years ago this year, we’ve experienced massive population loss and devastation. But Detroit is on the rise. Big time. And John King is still here, riding the crest of a new wave of growth and prosperity.

Part of the reason that I personally love going to John King’s is you never know what sort of great books you’re going to find. There’s always something different and the thrill of the hunt is exciting.

It was an honor being able to sit down with John King and Tom Jr. We are grateful for the existence of John King Books and deeply indebted for having such a tremendous resource in Detroit and thankful for all they’ve done for the community over the past several decades.

If you have never visited John’s store, or if you haven’t been there in awhile, do yourself a favor and get your butt down there to buy some great books!

John K. King Used & Rare Books business card

 

John K. King Used & Rare Books homepage

www.rarebooklink.com

Contact

kingbooks@aol.com

John King’s online store at Abe Books

https://www.abebooks.com/john-k-king-used-rare-books/171666/sf

John King Books (12718 W. Warren, Dearborn) circa January 1972