Spinner Rack Blues, by Mike Gold
“Ah, you kids today, you’ve got it easy.”
I’m sure over the past several million years that line started more lectures than all the speed freak professors at all the Ivy League schools combined. It also inspired more than a few comedy routines, too, including a classic from Monty Python. But when it comes to comics, you kids today, you’ve got it easy – if you’re lucky enough to live within travelling distance of a friendly neighborhood comic book store.
For the first 40 years of this medium’s history (much longer for Archie Comics), comic book sales were dependent upon spinner racks like the one pictured above. They appeared at local candy stores, drug stores, toy stores, newsstands, train and bus stations, and even some grocery stores. They were low-profit, high-labor efforts that gave parents some place to park the kiddies while they were buying cigarettes and Sal Hepatica.
As comics fans, we rarely had any idea when new issues would appear and we hardly ever knew when brand-new titles would pop up. A handful would be advertised within the comics themselves, but the on sale date wasn’t necessarily accurate. Distributors received the books two to three weeks prior to release date, and sometimes would pass some of them along early if there was space on the truck. Or if there wasn’t, sometimes not at all. Some stores never received books from certain publishers: Harvey and Charlton were particularly difficult to find in my neighborhood.
But for the dedicated comic book collector, it was a way of life. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I’d be at the drug store across from my grammar school with my lunch money in hand. Every weekend, my friends and I would walk one mile down Chicago’s Devon Avenue from Kedzie to Western, stopping at seven different stores that carried comics. Oh we did a lot of other, more annoying stuff as well, but we never passed a spinner rack up.
This disease affected our family lives as well. Stuck in the back seats of our parents’ un-air conditioned eight-miles-to-the-gallon solid lead street coupés, we’d beg them to stop every time we passed some heretofore unseen store that might, possibly, carry comic books. We knew the location of every store that was slow in policing its racks in search of missed issues – and in the hope that, just maybe, they were so inept at sending back the returns we just might find a copy of Action Comics #1 in the back of one of the lower pockets.
It was great fun. Now those spinner racks are collectibles, and the stores that had them are memories.
“Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to ‘ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o’clock at night and lick road clean wit’ tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.”
So the moral of this story – and there’s always a moral – is simple. Because of the old buddy antics of the current presidential administration (Still-President Bush seems to have confused “free market” with “freebasing”), times are extremely tough, particularly on small businesses. Particularly on cockroach capitalists like comic book store owners. So support your local friendly neighborhood comic book store. It may be the slender lifeline that keeps the American comic book medium alive. And, like the rest of us, it’s being stretched to the breaking point.
A tip of the hat to my ol’ pal Denis Kitchen for the photo.