The Summer of 1973 - Part IV
Moving along on my telling of the story of my three-convention tour of 1973, in my last installment my best friend Bob Conway and I barely escaped the clutches of the Texas State Patrol on the way to the Dallas convention. Once we arrived there, however, all the difficulties of travel were more than justified. While the show was not huge by any means, it was very respectable in size (150 dealers tables?), and was being presented in the downtown Sheraton Hotel, a very nice facility.
What was most important to me about the convention, however, were the wonderful people I got to meet at the show. I don't remember everyone who was there, but some names that pop immediately to mind were Bruce Hamilton, Russ Cochran, Tony Annello, Tanner Miles, Larry and Irving Bigman, Joe Bob Williams, Bud Plant, John Barrett, and Bob Beerbohm. By this point in time I had been reading fanzines for many years, and knew the names of the biggest dealers in the country by heart. Getting to meet them in person, however, was a genuine thrill!
Also at that particular convention was Harlan Ellison, living up to his bad boy reputation by offending practically everyone in the state of Texas with his profanity-laced keynote address, and his genuinely derogatory depiction of the Lone Star State. I recently spoke with Joe Bob Williams (who helped organize the show), and he mentioned that Harlan had reportedly had a bad experience when previously speaking at Texas A&M University, and that may have contributed to his being less than diplomatic in his comments. In any event, I understand that Harlan was officially disinvited from any further Dallas shows after that one colorful appearance.
As regards my selling at the convention, I don't remember all that much about the experience. I do recall helping Bob score a MYSTIC #1 (Timely) for his collection, and then wheeling and dealing throughout the convention. Don't take that vague recollection too lightly, as the important part of starting any business is slowly building your working capital through advantageous dealing. While I may not remember the specific transactions, the import thing to remember is that I strove constantly to build my inventory. My limitation in this case was the size of Bob's car trunk, but that still was plenty enough room for me to buy some very nice books.
One very important way in which I made money in those pre-Internet days was to buy comics in far away places like Texas, and then bring them back to my customers in Colorado. While newspaper reprint comics (Tip Top, Ace, Famous Funnies, etc.) and most Dells sold very poorly at home, EC's and early Marvels sold great. So my goal at the convention was to convert as many books that I owned that were not salable in Colorado into books that would turn over immediately upon my return home. If I could generate a little extra cash at the convention on the side, all the better. The key issue as far as I was concerned, however, was always whether I increased the long-term potential of my inventory. Even waaay back in 1973, I had an unshakable belief that old comics would soon rise in value, and that the more comics I could purchase before the prices went up, the better off I would be. I still have that belief in the long term of the comics collectibles market today, which is why I continue to purchase large groups of old comics as quickly as my budget will allow. To paraphrase Freewheelin' Franklin: "Comics will get you through times of no money, better than money will get you through times of no comics..."
Another critical element of my drive to get going in the comics biz was to absolutely limit my cash expenditures. While I had made some pretty good money at the Detroit convention, Dallas was better for obtaining comics than cash. The KOA campground where Bob and I were sleeping was only about $4 per night, but after the show ended on Sunday afternoon I decided (in my infinite drive to save money...) that we would be better off if we drove straight home. Bob didn't agree with me, but since he could sleep in the back seat either way, he was happy to let me drive. This almost proved to be a fatal decision for both of us. I like long-distance night driving very much, but when dawn rolled around, and we were on I-25 midway between Trinidad, Colorado and Walsenburg, Colorado, I fell asleep at the wheel. When I woke up, we were traveling at 70 MPH+ in the grass in the middle of the interstate! Blessedly, there were no rocks or gullies in that particular stretch of road, or we both would have died on that beautiful summer morning. As it was, I immediately steered as hard as I could to the right, and we gradually traveled up the side of the road embankment, and ended up with a thump on the pavement. At this point Bob finally woke up, and asked what had happened. I told him "Well, we almost just died, but now everything's OK." Bob and I still talk about that moment on the few occasions when we meet for lunch, and often speculate what might have happened if we had died that morning. Would someone else have found the Edgar Church comics? Or would they have all ended up at the landfill as originally planned? How would that have changed the comics market as we know it today? When you think about it, all it would have taken is one little gully in the wrong place, and life might be very different today for a whole lot of people.
To be continued....
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