Batman and me
(or how the heck did I get into all of this)
Today the antique and collectable shops in London's Church Street attract collectors and tourists the world over. Back in the '60s though it was just an unfashionable road in an unfashionable part of west London, only noted for its run down Edwardian buildings and its large Saturday markets. Back then my uncle owned a small general store in the street. Each Saturday he would erect large trestle tables outside the store to sell off the housewares he'd bought in some deal or other. One week he might be selling pens, another it could be cakes and, occasionally, it would be toys. What he sold was usually cheap and cheerful. Stuff he didn't want to stock but wanted to move on very quickly.
One Saturday he had a stall piled high with just Aurora plastic model kits. A close out deal from some warehouse or another. I don't recall now how well they sold, but at the end of the day he got his helpers (me and my cousin) to shove those that were left (a lot!) into one of the large rubbish skips. My overiding memory from that time was of my cousin and myself jumping up and down in the skip trying to crush these leftover kits into every available corner there was. Who knows how many future precious treasures we destroyed that day. Fortunately though I had been reading comicbooks for a while by then and the exploits of Batman and Superman were familiar to me. At least I had the foresight to save one Superman and one Batman kit for myself.
Although I was eleven when the TV series first hit the airwaves back in 1966 I had actually discovered Batman some 3 or 4 years earlier. The first DC comic to enjoy national distribution in England was, in fact, Batman 1 in 1940. However, because of the escalation of World War II, and the paper drives that it brought, it was also the last for some 19 years. When full distribution of DC comics resumed in England in October 1959 not only were they 3 times the price of home produced comicbooks, but newsagents kept them so high up on racks , well out of reach of spoiling hands (like mine), that it was difficult to even get a close look to see what they were like. Not that I was interested anyway. I was just 5 and quite content to get my cheap, weekly, poor quality funny paper with only cover color and repetetive storylines. Or so I thought.
Being a kid growing up in a area of London where there are lots of youth clubs around, it seemed quite natural that, not only did we go to regular school during the day as normal, but we also attended youth club twice a week after school. I don't now remember much about what I did there but it was directly as a result of attending that I was first introduced to Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the vast array of DC's then pedigree stable. All the kids would be picked up from their homes in a small bus for the short journey, and one day one of the bigger kids on the bus had a bag full of them. Seeing the bright glossy covers and the amazing characters close at hand I was immediately smitten.
In the days that followed I pestered my dad so much to buy these comicbooks for me that one Saturday morning, while we were out shopping in one of the local markets, he took me into a nearby used book shop. It was to become a familiar haunt, and although I visited this shop pretty much every week for the next few years, I will never forget that very first day. In the small area beside the counter where he took his money, the old store owner had three or four piles of used American comicbooks. And I mean piles. I was an averaged sized kid but I still could not see the covers of the top comicbooks without first taking them off the pile!
My dad gave me 10 shillings (about 2 bucks then) and, at 4 used comics for a shilling, I was able to buy 40 comics. (If you decided to return any you got half your money back but I never did). Also he kept the annuals and 80-pagers on the counter itself and charged double for these. The Batman annual no1 that I have in my current collection came from this source and cost me the grand amount of 10 cents by current equivalents. I often wondered in later years what gems I had missed - especially all those early Marvels which I did not like but are worth such big $$$ today.
My comic collecting slowed down a bit when I hit my early teens and by the time I left school to pursue a career in the Navy I had not read a comicbook in 3 or 4 years. In fact (sadly) I ended up selling a large chunk of the collection I had built up. However, I was not to know then that the bug would stay within me and I was destined for a quick return to my childhood hobby.
Two or three years later, when I was based in Singapore, I came across a market stall in the Chinese quarter, by the old Cathay Cinema, that had a few comicbooks on the table. After inquiring if he had more I was stunned when the trader pulled out a huge pile of 40s Batman books from a cupboard under his stall. Excited all over again I bought the lot and had them shipped home. I was once again hooked, but this time I was to stick with it for the next 25+ years.
That was in 1974. Over the next few years I managed to rebuild a pretty healthy collection of DC comics, most of which I still own, although only the Batman related ones today constitute a part of my collection. The rest are safely stored away awaiting the right trade deal to entice me to part with them.
The fateful day so far as toys and other memorabilia was concerned occured in 1978. I was at a friends house, a fellow Batman comic collector, and we were reminiscing about the toys we'd had (or wished we'd had!) as kids. The talk got around to Aurora model kits (remember those great ads in the monster mags and on the back covers of the comicbooks?) and my friend said he still had some unbuilt ones up in his loft. After we had got them down and done the nostalgic bit we made our minds up to get some more and off we toddled to our local model shop. Although it seems strange now, when we asked if he had any, the owner said he still had quite a number of these kits sitting in his stockroom. He got them down and we bought all the ones we wanted (I got about 30 that day including 4 of the Batman related ones) and left the rest - although they were less than $3 or $4 each! You have to remember that very few people collected these 'newer' toys in those days and anyway I had already spent pretty much a whole months salary. Even so, I have never been able to get so many vintage items in one go as I did on that day. Unfortunately, however, having suddenly sold a such large batch of what he considered to be old stock, the proprietor was encouraged to put the rest out and they were gone in a matter of days. (As an aside, on that first day I turned down a Gigantic Frankenstein MIB -he had two - because the box was 'too big' and, at the princely sum of $5, 'it did nothing for me'!).
And it went pretty much from there. I started to attend the 'swapmeets' in the late 70s - where only trains, tinplate items and die-cast toys graced the dealers tables, while Batman and other TV toys were relegated to the 'cheap' boxes under the tables. Still I can't complain. Pickings were exceedingly rich and prices were exceedingly low, and many of the vintage toys I have today came from that period. Some I have never ever seen for sale since.
Today, I try to balance a full time career and my family (Elaine my wife, Naomi 7 and Jack 5) with an undiminshed interest in acquiring more rarities for my Batman collection. I still attend a number of shows each year in England, Europe and the US and rely on a network of dealers and contacts to alert me when that special piece comes along.
Here's to the next 25+ years!
It’s been 17 years since I wrote that introduction to my website above. Since then, I’m sorry to say, I have not changed, or added to, any of the content – despite the fact that the collection has grown substantially. For that I can only cite a lot of other projects that took up my time plus a lack of website technical ability. However, as a Christmas gift last year my son, Jack, decided to surprise me and bring the site into the 21st century. I hope you like it as much as I do