The Summer of 1973 - Part II
In my last column, I started my tale of the three conventions where I exhibited during the summer of 1973. At this point in the story, I've hitchhiked from Colorado to Detroit with 50 expensive comics stashed in the bottom of an aluminum frame backpack. After spending a cold and rainy night sleeping under a highway bridge outside of Gary, Indiana, I am finally walking down a ramp into an area near downtown Detroit.
From the moment I got about halfway down the ramp from where I was let off, I knew I was in a weird area of town. The burned out buildings were a dead giveaway. For those of you who've never heard, Detroit was a racial battleground during 1967 and 1968. If I recall correctly, over 200 people died in the city during the riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and entire neighborhoods were burned. By pure bad luck, my last driver had let me out right in the middle of one of the worst areas. Now I think it goes without saying that the residents of this urban wasteland were almost entirely of African-American descent. That didn't bother me, as I had gone to a school with a 90% black student population during 4th grade, and found that I got along with everyone just fine. That having been said, I was also in Benton Harbor, Michigan when parts of that town burned during the nasty race riots of 1966. What I saw during those riots was that certain people of both races went completely crazy, and random violence was not uncommon. Throw in the explosive growth in urban drug usage that followed during the early 1970's, and I think you can understand why I had a bad feeling that I was in the wrong part of town.
In the end, even this this seemingly desolate wasteland, I found people who were willing to help me. It took a while, however, as the first few people I saw on the street scuttled across to the sidewalk on the other side of the road to get away from this crazy white boy hoofing it through this obviously very dangerous area. I finally found a nice African-American lady who asked if I needed help, and directed me to where I could catch a bus to the neighborhood where Dr. Jerry Bails lived. The bus driver on that first bus was really nice, too, giving me detailed instructions on which transfers I needed to make. In less than an hour, I found myself on the wonderful tree-lined avenue where Dr. Bails lived with his wife (Jean?). There was no one home when I first got there, but I was deliriously happy to just sit on his front steps, soaking in the morning sunshine.
When the Bails family returned, I was warmly welcomed, and told that I could use their guest bedroom on the second floor, which also doubled as Dr. Bails's office for his numerous activities in publishing fanzines and comics guides. The minute I walked into that room I knew I was in heaven, as there were stacks upon stacks of old comics everywhere. The smell of all that old paper was a wonderful bouquet that I love to this day. Dr. Bails and his wife were wonderful, taking care of me throughout the weekend, even though they had never met me before in their lives. I will never, ever, forget their unbelievably generous kindness to me when I was just another poor young boy with a dream.
The next morning, Dr. Bails drove me to the old downtown hotel where the convention was being held. After he dropped me off, I registered as a dealer, found my dealer's table, and then began walking around the room with my 50 comics. The plan I had formulated to succeed at the convention with such a small inventory was to bring my best books, and trade them for stacks of issues of lesser value. As I recall, I had brought a nice selection of mid-range early Marvel comics such as SILVER SURFER #1, AVENGERS #4, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #8, plus plenty of old 10 cent DC's, a few Golden Age books, and a small group of EC comics. With some assiduous wheeling and dealing, I converted those 50 very nice issues into about 2,000 inexpensive bulk books during the first couple hours of the show. I then hustled like crazy to put my new acquisitions into alpha-numeric order. As a consequence, by noon of the first day of the convention, I had a very full dealer's table, despite having hitchhiked to the show!
I really don't remember much about the deals I did at the show, but I do recall that I had to really scramble on Sunday to reduce my inventory. I was quite the little wheeler-dealer in those days, and as a result, I think I had over 2,500 books to get rid of before the show ended. On Sunday afternoon, I began offering some very advantageous reverse trades to some of my fellow dealers, and ended up the show with not only a group of 50 nice books that were equivalent to the 50 I had brought with me, but also about 1,000 extra bulk issues, and about $400 in cash. Dr. Bails then very generously agreed to haul my extra books back to his house, and helped me box them up for shipping to my parent's home. I had pulled it off! Not only did I make enough money at the Detroit show to pay for my table at the upcoming Dallas convention, but I had also managed to increase my base inventory by yet another 1,000 issues. It was beginning to look more and more like this little comics business that I had started in Junior High School might just be the career to which I would dedicate the rest of my life.
To be continued...
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