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Warren Bernard

Blockbuster First Issue!

My Youthful Descent into the Burning Cauldron of Comic Book Collecting Hell

Chicken pox, measles and the mumps. I had all of the pre-vaccine childhood diseases, but it was tonsillitis which had me undergo my first, and very scary, stay in a hospital. A mere 7½ years old at the time, I still remember to this day being wheeled into the horror-movie operating room, that when I saw it on TV later, reminded me of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. They put a cone with cotton in it over my nose and mouth and slowly dropped ether (yes: ETHER!!! Can you believe it?) on it until my consciousness faded into an electric buzz of lightning-like hallucinations and they hacked those tonsils out of my throat. I woke up some time later in a large room with lots of beds with other kids in them.

Eventually, my parents came and gave me a comic book to help pass the time as I spent the night in the hospital.

Superman issue number 161 with Superman flying down to land while being fired upon by soldiers. Bullets and shells from a bazooka, along with shells from a tank’s machine gun and canon, ricocheted off his chest.

It was a Superman comic book. The cover had Superman flying down to land while being fired upon by soldiers. Bullets and shells from a bazooka, along with shells from a tank’s machine gun and canon, ricocheted off his blue, red, and yellow embossed chest. I had never seen anything like it and was immediately hooked.

Inside were two stories, one about the cover, but the one that struck and stuck into my seven-year-old brain was the one titled The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!. Poor Superman loses his parents when he brings them on a time-travel vacation so they could see if they could find Blackbeard’s treasure. The Kents become infected with a disease that neither modern medicine at that time nor Superman’s access to advanced technology could stop. I felt really bad for Superman, because, well, it showed that even the most powerful being in the Universe had his limits.

Superboy is powerless to save his adopted parents, Ma and Pa Kent. They lie in bed, disappearing as Superboy attempts to put them in the Phantom Zone to protect them.

This first taste of the drug known as superhero comics wound up costing me a life-long addiction to collecting many, many comics of various types.

A few years later in junior high school, a classmate and I started talking comics. He was looking to sell his Adventure Comics featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This was the time of Ferro Lad’s death and the Fatal Five, and every week or so he brought some more issues with the great writing of Jim Shooter. But there were holes in his run which I needed to fill, and fed with my predilection for collecting coins and stamps that my grandfather instilled in me (curse you Grampa!!!), I started down the various levels of collecting hell to locate those missing issues.

I descended further into that hellish comic book collecting cauldron for Superman. An ad in a local classified ad booklet led to my first Golden Age comics when I was 14, purchasing some mid-1940’s Superman issues from a collector. In a few years I had every Superman from 1957 through 1973, with a bunch before then, plus stacks of other DC comics.

A few months before I purchased those first Superman Golden Age comics, my parents moved us from New York City to Maryland. There, in my 10th Grade class, I met my buddy (to this day) John, who had a near complete set of Marvel comics. I had never seen them before, as my neighborhood candy stores, barbershops, and newsstands only carried DC Comics.

Of course, I quickly hooked on those and began assembling my own collection. Fast forward another half-decade. To pay for college, I wound up selling everything, including my Superman collection.

Cartoons for Victory by Warren Bernard

Fear not reader, though indeed I had given up my superhero comic book collection (which yes, I deeply regret not saving), my descent into collecting comics just took another turn. I found that by the time I was 20 or so, I had lost my love of superhero comics and got into underground comics and indie comics. Over the course of time, I added Sunday pages, New Yorker cartoons, political cartoons, WW1 and WW2 cartoons and single panel cartoons to my addiction list. The addiction got so bad and my collection became so big, that about 15 years ago a library addition was added to my house.

For all of the darkness that my collecting brings to my bank account and my psyche when I lose an auction, a few good things have come out of the collecting monkey that sits squarely and permanently on my back. Over the past 15 years or so, my collection has contributed one way or another to over two dozen books on various topics of comics history. I co-wrote one book that was nominated for an Eisner Award and wrote another that was also Eisner-nominated, both books containing a plethora of images from items in my collection. I have had the honor of lecturing at a number of institutions over the years, as well as contributing to a number of museum exhibitions. A few years ago, I donated a number of pieces to the Library of Congress, who will get more of my collection as time goes on.

All of this is due to that gift of Superman #161.

And yes, to this day, I hate going into hospitals…


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