Randall Beach: Goodbye Superman! Selling "my youth" for a pretty penny

The ad in the New Haven Register, placed by an outfit called Comic Book Roadshow, carried this come-on message: “We buy old comics!”

It continued: “Coming to Milford! We buy most old comics published from 1930-1979.”

I saw that ad and I asked myself: Is it time?

I thought about that box of my Superman comic books, saved from the early 1960s. I hadn’t stored them in protective plastic wrappers but still they were in pretty good condition.

I had not re-read them nor even looked at them for many, many years. For decades that box had sat in my attic, its contents ignored. My daughters had never expressed any interest in reading them nor inheriting my collection.

Maybe it was time.

Sentiment, nostalgia had kept me from parting with them for lo, those many years. I had bought those comic books, for 10 cents or 12 cents each, in 1962 and 1963. Once a week I stopped in at Kaminer’s, a small newsstand and variety store in my hometown of Mount Kisco, N.Y.

I was 12 years old in 1962. John F. Kennedy was our president. Americans had never heard of the Beatles, who were then honing their skills in England and Germany.

When I pulled that old box out of the attic last week and started skimming through my comic books, I thought back to those days. I wondered why I’d stopped buying them. I guess I figured I was “too grown up,” “too cool” to keep buying them at 14.

But I’m a pack rat, so there they were, patiently waiting for something, some rediscovery, maybe some fresh eyes, some new appreciation by somebody else. As I have written here before, my wife and I are now in the second year of our “joy project,” where every day each of us offloads something that no longer “gives us joy.” Maybe it was time.

The Comic Book Roadshow ad had also noted they buy baseball cards, “pre-1970.” That made me wince: I had no box of old baseball cards sitting next to the comic books. Like most kids of that era, I had had hundreds of them — Mickey Mantle! Yogi Berra! Duke Snider! Whitey Ford! Minnie Minoso! But in that greatest of all Beach family mysteries, and one of the tragedies of my life, one day they all vanished. They simply disappeared. My mother swore she would never have thrown them out. What happened to them? I’ll never know.

Yeah, but I had my comic books. Before heading down to the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Milford last Saturday afternoon with that box, I did some research on eBay, so as not to be a chump and get “taken.” I got a sense of what Superman comic books from the early ’60s are worth: generally anywhere from $5 to $30, with rarer issues in mint condition fetching up to $180.

I also checked eBay for the value of Howdy Doody hand puppet washcloths and face towels; I have two each. (I told you I’m a pack rat.) I learned that in mint condition they are worth about $20 each. Because the Roadshow people also buy comic and TV-related toys, I threw them in the box with my comics, along with a re-print of a Bill “Moose” Skowron baseball card from the 1950s.

When I walked into the ground-floor room at Holiday Inn that had been taken over by Comic Book Roadshow, I saw four guys with name tags on their chests and just one other what-will-you-pay-me-for-this collector.

Two of the guys wore “Pete” tags. One of the Petes invited me to sit down and unpack my goods. I had counted them: I had a total of 178 comic books; five of them were “Giant Superman Annual” editions that I had paid about a buck for, from 1960-63. I knew from eBay they were worth somewhat more than the 10-to-12 centers.

First Pete picked up my Howdy Doody artifacts and said they were too worn to be worth buying. And of course he immediately dismissed my “Moose” Skowron card as a reprint.

Then he started to look through my comic books. He said, “Too bad these aren’t Marvel comics. The Marvels from these years are worth a lot more.” (Well, I never dug Spider-Man.) He also told me one of my Superboy comics would have been worth a lot more if it hadn’t lost a piece off its cover, and that some of the “Giant Annual” editions would have been worth much more if only their spines weren’t slightly creased.

I was thinking: What the hell? I read these comic books! More than once! I was 12 years old! Cut me a break.

And then Pete offered me $600 for my entire collection. I told him to forget about it. I was ready to “pick up my marbles” and go back home.

But Pete called over Leroy, who went through what I had. He, too, pointed out that some of them were worn and torn and said it was “too bad they aren’t Marvels.” But then he offered me $1,200.

I sat there and looked at my comic books. I’m not a good haggler but I knew this was a time I needed to start haggling.

I told Leroy I wanted $1,400.

Leroy came back with a counter-offer: $1,300.

I took a deep breath and said “OK.”

Leroy went off and then counted out 13 crisp $100 bills and put them on the table. I picked them up.

Pete apologized for low-balling me with his $600 offer.

“That’s my youth,” I told Pete and Leroy as I looked at my comic books for the last time. And then I walked out of there, sad and wistful but not regretting what I had just done. It was time.

When I got home and my wife asked how it had gone, I counted out those 13 crisp $100 bills, laying them on the table, one by one.

“Wow!” she said. “I thought you were going to come back with about $75. Good for you.”

P.S. I still have a few copies of Mad magazine and Famous Monsters of Filmland. And I held onto three Superman “collectors’ editions” reprints so I’ll still have something to admire.