Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tip Top

The other week we were in Wellfleet, on the Cape, having lunch at a restaurant called "The Bookstore." Sure enough, there was a bookstore in the rear of the building, kind of tucked away from view. I went in to look for a notepad, but what I expected—a high-end type of place with things like notepads—I did not find. Instead, what I saw first was racks of comic books. Very old comic books, in plastic slipcovers. Porky Pig, Superman, Baby Huey, Casper, Classics Illustrated, Sad Sack. It was a dream of my long-lost childhood!

But my time was limited. We were due back at our friends' house. I wondered: could there possibly be a "Nancy"? I flipped through a few sections. Then, wonder of wonders, I came upon a Tip Top comic from 1944 with who but Nancy and Aunt Fritzi on the cover! Aunt Fritzi, dishy as ever, is shampooing Nancy, who is shampooing her cat, who is licking her kitten.

Ernie Bushmiller, Nancy's creator, was almost as famous for his slightly odd, mechanical gags as he was for his clean, minimalist, art. The two styles served each other well. And for some reason having to do with that amalgam, the strip still had a hold on me. It took me to a safe and placid world where there was always some building or bush on the horizon, a suggestion of bricks on a wall. And here was this Tip Top from 1944, full of Nancy strips. But it was fifteen dollars (originally a dime!) and we'd just been talking about needing to budget. Reluctantly I put it back.

I became obsessed with the unbought comic book all week. I could write about it. It would be a touchstone to my past. (Except it wouldn't, I knew. It would enter that archaeological twilight zone of my souvenirs and touchstones, held captive in a folder in a file cabinet or collapsing box in the storage room or closet. A touchstone to neglected touchstones, if anything.) That parenthetical caveat went unheeded, of course. We were going back to Wellfleet the following week. I couldn't give the lady my $15 soon enough. (Hey, there were Porky Pigs going for $100!)

So what did I walk out of the store with? A comic book some kid had bought for ten cents back in 1944. It proved to have only twelve Nancy and Fritzi strips, followed by something called "The Triple Terror" about a double agent in a cabal of Nazi sympathizers called the Silver Swastikas, followed by "Gordo," about a fat Mexican guy who always gets in trouble ("Why don't somebody told me those befor'? CARAMBA!") followed by "Tailspin Tommy," about Yanks fighting Japs, followed by "Billy Bumlin" and "Jim Hardy," followed by a few ads, one for saving paper for the war ("Let's Collect Scrap...to Help Win the Scrap"); one for playing something called the Clarinet Harmonet; and one for a set of books that teach Scientific Boxing, Police Wrestling, and Police Jiu-Jitsu ("Be the Master — not the Slave").

Oh well. Twelve Nancy and Aunt Fritzi comic strips is portal enough for wherever it was I was trying to get to. Nancy world, where it’s all plain and clean-lined and tip top, tickety-boo, copacetic, and hunky-dory.

Actually, that Tip Top cover is almost enough, with the promise of an old time preserved. And what does an old time offer that the present time can't? Not sure. A kind of secret code. Decipher it, send in 200 boxtops, and you can win one hour as a ten-year old again. Or maybe you get a ticket to the Reading Room, where you don’t exactly become a kid. You just get to read comic books, inhabit those restfully vapid panels, until you’re ready to go back to the real world.


  1. Hal,
    Loved this post. My Overstreet comic book price guide tells me that you got a fair price (considering the condition), and that if it had been in pristine, mint condition, it would have set you back maybe $130.

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