In the wake of my recent slimming-down of my massive collection of books, this inaugural edition of Paperback Cover Cavalcade selects five books that survived the cut, books I’ve owned for years and years but have never quite gotten around to reading.
THE SKYLARK OF SPACE by Edward E. Smith
I started visiting the weekly flea market at Syracuse’s Regional Market in the mid ’70s. I was a teenager, and my main shopping goal was to score comics, books, and magazines; rock ‘n’ roll records would join that group of sought-after items in very short order. My first-ever flea market purchase was probably a now-forgotten issue of the 1930s pulp Dime Detective. I didn’t shop at the flea market every week, but I went as often as I could.
Among the regular dealers at the flea market were some science-fiction fans. My stubborn memory won’t surrender details or mental image, but I think it was two or three guys and maybe one girl, all college-age or just a little older. Their wares were science-fiction, fantasy, recent and vintage, books, magazines, fanzines. If they’d also had comic books, Monkees LPs, Playboy, and a corned beef on rye, I woulda found my teenage heaven right there. But close enough! I’m pretty sure they sold me my spiffy softbound trade reprint of two classic pulp adventures starring The Shadow, and they definitely sold me this beat-up paperback The Skylark Of Space by Edward E. Smith.
I had heard of Smith, aka E. E. “Doc” Smith, from…somewhere. Maybe Smith had been mentioned in Phillip José Farmer‘s own books Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, or maybe Steranko had brought up Smith in the pulp chapter of The Steranko History Of Comics. Wherever I had encountered Smith’s name, I knew he had written a seminal space-opera fantasy novel series called Lensman. And one Sunday, as I browsed through this s-f collective’s flea market offerings, one of the sellers asked if there was anything I had in mind. “Something with superheroes?,” I replied. The bookseller nodded, indicated that he knew exactly what I needed, snatched up a copy of The Skylark Of Space, and pressed it in my hand. Buy this, kid. Whether the order was spoken or implied, I obeyed and surrendered the appropriate amount of cash to assume ownership of this Skylark.
If memory serves, this same little collective of fans and purveyors was the driving force behind a science-fiction convention in Syracuse in (I think) early 1977. It was my second convention, following the Super DC Con that DC Comics staged in NYC in February of 1976. Wish I could remember the name of the s-f convention in Syracuse; I betcha I still have the program somewhere, buried deep within my big ol’ stack o’ stuff. There was, alas, no superhero or comics programming–a single comics-centric panel had been planned but canceled when its guest speaker was unable to attend–but I had a blast anyway. I don’t really remember the panels, but I remember scoring comic books (primarily Charltons, Flash Gordon and The Peacemaker) in the dealers’ room, watching the Sean Connery film Zardoz, and attending an after-party where no one was concerned with any need to prevent seventeen-year-old me from enjoying a beer or two. I enjoyed myself very well, thank you.
BEHOLD THE MAN by Michael Moorcock
During that same time frame of my pilgrimages to the flea market, I was also burrowing through the new and used books and magazines at Economy Bookstore. Economy had two locations, one on Salina Street in downtown Syracuse and another in Shoppingtown Mall out in DeWitt. I loved both spots, and I was especially fond of the basement section in each, where the cheap second-hand and (illegal) stripped-cover merchandise dwelled. I recall scoring my cherished copy of Harlan Ellison‘s The Glass Teat in the Shoppingtown basement, and snapping up remaindered magazines downstairs at Salina Street.
It was either at the downtown Economy Bookstore or at North Syracuse’s World Of Books (another favorite spot) that I bought some back issues of Unknown Worlds Of Science Fiction, a black-and-white comics magazine published by Marvel. The only thing I remember about any of them now is a story in the sixth issue: writer Doug Moench and artist Alex Niño‘s adaptation of Michael Moorcock‘s book Behold The Man.
I knew Moench from his work on Marvel’s Master Of Kung Fu, and Niño from DC’s “Captain Fear” feature in Adventure Comics. “Behold The Man” knocked me out. I was a 16- or 17-year-old wannabe writer in a post-Watergate era, questioning authority, flirting with iconoclasm, an agnostic, skeptical of the existence of a deity, and only a short span of time away from falling facade-first for punk rock. “Behold The Man”‘s story of a time traveler who becomes ensnared in Biblical events transfixed me.
It took me years to secure a copy of the Moorcock book itself. I don’t know where or when I finally got it, though I suspect it was in the late ’80s or early ’90s at Syracuse’s Book Warehouse. I wish I could have read it when I was still a teen, and I don’t know if it can possibly have the same effect on 60-year-old me as it might have had on my too-serious, thin-skinned, wide-eyed younger self.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE by Dave Wallis
By my teens, I was a big fan of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, especially the British Invasion. That translated into a love of seeing rockin’ pop performers in the movies, or at least a curiosity about that. I’d seen all of The Beatles‘ movies, I’d seen The T.A.M.I. Show, and I was dying to see things like Having A Wild Weekend, starring The Dave Clark Five. I read music histories and biographies, desperate to learn more and more.
It was in those non-fiction works that I discovered that The Rolling Stones had once intended to make a movie. The proposed movie’s title sounded intriguing: Only Lovers Left Alive. It obviously wasn’t supposed to be as (transcendently) frothy as Help! or A Hard Day’s Night. I eventually discovered that this movie would have been based on a dystopian science-fiction novel, written by Dave Wallis and published in 1964.
Of course, the Stones never made that movie, nor did they star in the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange they were rumored to be mulling. (The 2013 vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive is unrelated to the Wallis novel, and also does not star The Rolling Stones; make up your own undead Keith Richards joke). That back-story of a movie The Rolling Stones thought of making was sufficient motivation for me to eventually grab a copy of the Wallis book, probably purchased at Book Warehouse.
THE POINT MAN by Stephen Englehart
Stephen Englehart–billed as just Steve Englehart for his work in Marvel and DC Comics–wrote a lot of comics that I liked, loved, or even worshipped. I was fond of his runs on The Avengers, Captain America,and The Defenders for Marvel, and his subsequent Justice League Of America and Mr. Miracle stories at DC, but it was his Batman work that really blew my mind. He scripted my all-time favorite single Batman story, 1974’s “Night Of The Stalker!” in Detective Comics # 439. He wrote what I consider the definitive run of Batman stories in Detective Comics # 469-476 (1977-78). I was so disappointed in any other Bat-writer’s attempt to follow Englehart that I wound up giving up on comic books entirely for a few years.
I returned to comics fandom a little while after graduating from college in 1980. When I moved to Buffalo in 1982, I began frequenting Queen City Bookstore and sweeping up deeply-discounted back issues of magazines about comics, primarily The Comics Journal and Comics Feature. In those magazines, I read articles about Englehart, and an extensive Englehart interview, which was where I learned that he’d written a novel called The Point Man.
Had to have that. It took me years to find it. Maybe I plucked it from the shelf of a great book shop in Melbourne, Florida while on vacation in 1994, or maybe I got it at one of the two great bookstores on James Street in Syracuse, or maybe even at Mike Paduana‘s late, lamented, and fantastic Metropolis Book Shoppe in North Syracuse. Wherever, whenever, however: mine, now!
SUPERHEROES, edited by Michel Parry
This one’s an oddity, and I am for damned sure hanging on to it. Superheroes is a 1978 British collection of short stories, each connected to the general titular theme. Several of the individual stories saw their first publication here, while others are reprints, some from the ’40s, some from the ’60s and early ’70s. It includes “Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex,” Larry Niven‘s 1971 rumination on the unlikelihood of Lois Lane ever surviving a night of passionate bouncy-bouncy with Superman. I regret that it doesn’t contain Steven Utley‘s 1977 short “In Brightest Day, In Darkest Night” (a favorite from my Economy Bookstore sci-fi magazine hauls), but it does have Robert Bloch, George E. Clark, Donald F. Glut (creator of The Occult Files Of Dr. Spektor), Norman Spinrad, and more.
I bought this in the early ’90s at a Syracuse bookstore on Salina near the corner of Bear Street, just a block or two from Book Warehouse. I think it was called Bear Street Books? It was one of my very few visits to that store, which closed not long thereafter when its owner fell ill and eventually passed. The only other thing I remember buying there was a back issue of Goldmine magazine from 1986. That issue contained my first published work in Goldmine, the start of a fruitful twenty-year freelance association with GM. I was between subscriptions (and between jobs) when it came out in ’86, and this was the first copy I’d managed to find.
From digging through the bins of every used bookstore I could find to pulling some of my very own work out a bookstore’s back room, I’d say that qualifies as full circle.
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