Comics Dealer Extraordinaire Robert Beerbohm: In His Own Words

January 6, 2010

Robert Beerbohm at Wondercon 2008

Robert Beerbohm at Wondercon 2008

Just read RC Harvey’s glowing tribute to his friend and mine, Shel Dorf. I met and got to know Shel at the very first “real” San Diego Comic-Con 1970 held at a hotel there.

I roomed with Bob Harvey at the motel around the corner from Shel’s San Diego area house a couple years in a row there, interviewing Shel alongside one who is probably our greatest living comics historian. I am proud to call both “friend.”

Which has made me think back to some of my early days in the comics business – a hobby which got out of hand many decades ago.

Entered organized comics fandom age 13 responding to GB Love’s first display advert in Marvel Comics, which caused me to send a dollar in thereby receiving RBCC #45 plus the second Comics Collector Handbook and Alter Ego #7 in the mail soon thereafter. I was hooked from the get-go with Rocket’s Blast*ComiCollector, placing my first mail order advert by #47 Oct 1966. I was now 14 years old.

The following summer I took a Greyhound bus to Houston Texas for my first Comicon held June 17 18 1967, turning 15 at that show. There were maybe 120 of us there. Then began coming in yearly for some years to alternating “Southerwestencons” in Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City.

Twas at the 1972 Multicon in Oklahoma City I was fortunately blessed with a one on one private audience early Sunday morning before the “masses” had woke up with Will Eisner, then attending his second comic book show ever (first one with Seuling in 1971).

After discussing the 40+ rare Spirit tabloid-size sections I had tucked under my arm from our chance encounter in the spacious hotel lobby, our conversation turned to how to “save” the American comic book, then reeling from the beginning of soon-to-be continuous price hikes thru the 70s following the then-ongoing industry collapse which followed the demise of the once hugely popular twice weekly Adam West Batman TV show.

Will suggested emphatically “we” needed to go after college age “kids” (as he called people my age then). We needed to plant comic book stores on top of the huge university campuses, then begin the process of turning them on to being regular readers of comics.

But I am getting ahead of myself here in the chronology…

Made it to my first “Seulingcon” in New York City summer of 1970. That was an eye opener of what the potentials in the “world” of comics could portend. We were wheeling, dealing, getting buried with all kinds of comics treasures we had here-to-fore only read about in the fanzines ads of the day. Plus we were hustling contribs, wanting to continue a ditto fanzine we had started.

My friend Steve Johnson and I, having published our fanzine FANZATION for 5 issues 1969-70, were fortunate to publish a letter by Steve Ditko in #3 which Fred Wertham quoted out of on the subject of creativity in his last book, The World of Fanzines.

In FANZATION #5 we published my friend Jerry Bails discussing the early origins of his ideas on how and why he essentially kick-started present-day comics fandom in 1961, plus friend Jack Promo writing about getting into EC comics fandom with its fanzines of the day along with his memories of working with Jerry, Shel Dorf and others starting the first true full-blown comics convention The Detroit Triple Fan Fair back in 1964.

At the 71 New York Seuling rendition, Steve and I bought a lot of EC era prelim art by Roy G Krenkel of Williamson and Frazetta EC stories, Roy having done detailed preliminary panels to every story by these gents. Must have been over 100 of these panels with prices ranging from 50 cents to a buck apiece. I still have a few stuck away.

Plus at the same time as they walked up together, I helped Al Williamson replace every full page Prince Valiant Foster Sunday 1938-1942 from a huge stash of multiple copies of each I had scored from Robert Brown, Oklahoma City just a few weeks earlier at the Dallas comicon. Seems Al had long ago rubber cemented his Foster PVs into scrap books, 20 years later, the old cement was eating thru the paper, leaving ugly stains. We ended up with maybe 60 Secret Agent Corrigan original art newspaper dailies. I had scored these multiples of every PV page for 50 cents per page

Then a woman walked up who began eyeing our table (of three tables) jammed with 1930s and 40s Disney toy stuff artifacts including unopened rolls of Disney wall paper and trim from the 30s, all kinds of planters, and well, cool old Disney “stuff”. At the same time she was deeply conversing well with Al and Roy. After picking out three grand worth of Disney artifacts saying, “We just moved to Pennsylvania and I want to do the kitchen in Disneyana,” she told us to go to a room upstairs on the 3rd floor, tell her husband we had three thousand dollars in trade credit, then abruptly left deeply conversing with Al and Roy. Steve and I were dumb-founded.

That was the first hour of the first day of our second NYC comicon.

The next day, after waiting for maybe this lady and her husband coming thru to buy all this neat Disney stuff, after having other people eyeballing and lusting after most of it, I told Steve I was going to go upstairs and knock on that hotel room door.
Steve said to me on my way towards the elevator, “Make sure you get the money. We need it!” Famous last words, as I was to discover….

Got upstairs, knocked on the room door, which swung open, and as I gazed inside, I am sure my chin audibly hit the floor as I was all at once gazing at many Frank Frazetta original paintings of Conan, Creepy, Eerie, Tarzan paperback covers hanging on all the walls in what proved to be his last public showing before the museum opened up. Awestruck is too tame a term for how I still get goose-bumps sometimes thinking back on that day in New York City 39 years ago.

On a table in the middle of the room were huge piles of every Johnny Comet Sunday and daily newspaper strip. Two tier Sundays were $100 each, dailies were $35 each, three for a hundred dollars. I proceeded to horse trade with The Master himself. Frank told me point blank, “Ellie told me to take care of you, said she wants to do our new kitchen in Disneyana.”

Thoughts of making sure I “got the cash” went out my head in a flash, and with three grand in trade bait credit, proceeded to agonize over picking out 90 Johnny Comet original art dailies out of many hundreds, my rationale for leaving Sundays alone at the time predicated by I got three dailies over having just two tiers in a Sunday. More Fritz art bang for the buck so to speak.

Steve mollified rather quickly once he saw what I brought back downstairs to the dealers room. Russ Cochran took the remainder of Frazetta’s Johnny Comets on consignment, immediately increasing the price to $100 per daily, thereby tripling the “investment” Steve and I had just made to nine thousand dollars. This is fun, I thought to myself

The same year as we made our first Seulingcon, we also made the 1700 mile car trek from outside Omaha out to the first San Diego Comic-Con in 1970, and now over 40 years later, am one of a very small club of only four persons who have sold comic books out of a booth at every single SD Comic-Con since. Too bad the big Hollywood movie studios have taken over the Comic-Con, forgetting who and wot brought’m to the party to begin with, but I digress……..

In late August 1972, just a week or two following the first El Cortez San Diego Comic-Con, I partnered up with Bud Plant and the late John Barrett to open The Berkeley Comic Art Shoppe at 2512 Telegraph Ave. This was just a couple months following my fortuitous chance one on one with Will Eisner in Oklahoma City’s June comicon.

Berni Wrightson’s Swamp Thing #1 debuted the week we opened. Jack Kirby was still doing his 4th World, Barry Smith was still drawing Conan, and the Print Mint warehouse containing Zap Comics and all the other underground comix was just a mile away over at 830 Folger off of Ashby.

We began gobbling up all the Code comics incoming at Gilboy Agency over in Oakland. A typical magazine book distributor, they were more than happy simply not to have to mess with comics books some weeks. Some weeks they shredded all the comics before we got there. Those “funny books” were then on the lowest rung of the totem pole, less than zero respect, is what we were dealing with

Bud was attending San Jose State, supplying much needed capital and portions of his growing stock of underground comix and specialty “fan” product he was splitting with Phil Seuling as aspects of the Direct Market were being further developed following the lead of Zap Comics publisher Berkeley-based Print Mint inventing what we have come to call the Direct Market. Seuling acknowledges his roots in what proved to be his last interview published in Will Eisner’s Quarterly #3 (1984).

John and I worked our butts off seven days a week getting the store off the ground, open 9 AM to midnight seven days a week in those early days. We were all of 21 years old.

Six months later we found us hosting the first San Fran Bay Area comicon in the ASUC Building on the University of Calif-Berkeley campus Easter weekend. UC students were a buck a head, kids under 12 free, general public was $3. Robert Graysmith, then editorial cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle got us the cover and a three page write up in the “pink section” main cultural announcement portion of the combined Chronicle Examiner Sunday newspaper.

Berkeleycon 73 was the first comicon is history to be focused on creator-owned, royalty paying “underground-distributed” comix

During the last hour of the last day on Sunday, the fabled Tom Reilly “San Francisco” vintage comic book collection of over 4000 mostly unread uncirculated mint Golden Agers 1939-1945 surfaced. We were lucky to score 7/9s of the holdings over the course of a couple months.

A month or so after that first Berkeleycon, in May 1973 we opened our first San Fran store at 721 Columbus Ave; by the end of that summer we also had opened two more stores in San Jose and Sacramento, thereby becoming the first comic book chain store operation in history.

Robert Beerbohm circa 1989 in his 2nd Haight Ashbury location

Robert Beerbohm circa 1989 in his 2nd Haight Ashbury location

A lot of water under the proverbial bridge later, I opened a Rick Griffin art gallery in The Cannery down in world-famous San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf June 1 1991. It opened to area-wide acclaim, 10,000+ people coming thru for our grand opening party featuring SF-rock bands Big Brother And The Holding Company, New Riders of the Purple Sage, members of Quicksilver Messenger Service, It’s A Beautiful Day, the Irish band Phoenix, and others. Rick and I were both making a come-back of sorts at the time.

Two and a half months later to the day August 15 1991 Rick was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. The gallery was forced to close down the next year. I miss my friend I first met when he wandered into our first Telegraph Ave store back in 1973 when he was up from southern Calif to Print Mint picking up the art from them having just published their expanded version of Rick’s Tales From the Tube.

To get all that out of my brain, a couple years later I began work on the expansion origins of the Direct Sales Market for comic books I helped found when Bud Plant and John Barrett started what I named as Comics & Comix once we expanded our little empire to encompass most of the greater Bay Area.

In the intervening years that modest undertaking has expanded into a comprehensive look-see business history of the origins of the American strip, which also was the first American comic book, pushing that nebulous boundary so far back to Sept 1842 with the publication of Wilson & Company’s The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Topffer from Geneva Switzerland.

This New York City edition was a reprint of the 1841 London-based Tilt & Bogie edition George Cruikshank funded, which in turned was a pirate edition of the 1833 Aubert pirate version of Topffer’s 1828 Geneva printed first original.

As far as I am concerned, after much extensive research which saw me attend seven Angouleme comics festivals 2000-2006 in a row, each time bringing over cool early comics artifacts to the comics museum the French Government funds there, as well as several Italian comics shows in Lucca and Rome starting in 1998, conducting extensive research with most all the major comics historians of our day, I have deduced and make the claim that the origin of the modern printed comic “book” began in 1828 in Geneva Switzerland by Topffer.

Since 1997 I have also co-written with Richard Olson, PhD, and first partner with Leonard Brown before Malcolm Willits starting in 1957, the history articles as well as compiled the price indexes for what we now call the Victorian Age 1828-1880s and the Platinum Age 1880s-1930s for the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide.

We also have long supplied the “Origin of the Modern Comic Book” article covering 1928-1970s which begins with the first original material news stand for sale tabloid-size comics magazine The Funnies which debuted Christmas 1928 published by George Delecorte and George Janosik of Eastern Color. The depression hit next year, they re-designed this brain child into Famous Funnies come 1934 which survived, beginning to pull a profit by its 7th issue. For some reason, Max Gaines got all the credit in the earlier decades of this nascent business which did not take off until the advent of Jerry & Joe’s brain-child Superman four years later.

What started out as a 15 page section in October 1996 has grown to 72 pages crammed with much here-to-fore unknown comics history.

Am presently recovering from bi-lateral metal implant hip joint replacement surgery conducted in LA Oct 20 2009. Am learning how to walk again. Evidently my hip joint cartilage wore off at a faster rate from having been crushed directly due to having been a passenger in a van accident coming out of Houston Comicon June 1973. I guess this is the most famous comic book accident of its day as twas written up in the Dark Horse anecdotal encyclopedia Between The Panels as the entry “On The Road…”

After a hiatus of 3-4 years dealing with essentially broken hip joints, now replaced and repaired, I have begun work again on my tome about the evolution of the comic strip book as a business.

If people keep purchasing out of my eBay store (http://stores.shop.ebay.com/BLB-COMICS) I can continue this 160 years covered history book to completion and eventual publication, bringing to bear my 43 year non-stop direct involvement in the comics market.

Thanks for reading this far, this book is a labor of love setting many records straight I have unearthed. Perception is Reality.

06/23/10 Update from Bob:

Began serious collecting interacting with other comics fans inside the Trade Corner with Blackhawk #225, Oct, 1966, as well as sending off a buck to GB Love for his RBCC [Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector fanzine/adzine] intro package with my first issue being #45, placing my first of many adverts therein with #47, again dated Oct, 1966.

Set up at my first Comicon age 15 June 17-18, 1967 at Houstoncon in Texas for which Marc Schooley and Roy Bonario were the co-chairmen. Rode Greyhound for 28 hours to get there, made a few bucks, came home with more vintage stuff than I left with. Did Dallascon summer of 68.

Then in 1969 made it to Houston again, then Detroit Triple Fan Fair and St Louis World SF Convention. I began publishing my fanzine FANZATION in 1969, #3 sporting a letter from Steve Ditko on creativity which Fredric Wertham quoted from in his last book, The World of Fanzines (1974).

By 1970 as a senior in high school saw me drive with friends to, and set up at, Multicon in Oaklahoma City, the first of many Seuling NYC Comicon July 4th week ends, Bruce Hamilton’s first Phoenixcon, the only Disneyland Hotel Comicon, another DTFF as well as the first San Diego Comic-Con at the US Grant Hotel.

By 1971 more shows: another July 4th Seulingcon, the 2nd SDCC, the first Creation Con in NYC Thanksgiving weekend plus others sprouting around the country.

More than a dozen comicons in 1972 including yet another Seuling July 4th show, the first Chicago Comicon, the first of many fondly remembered El Cortez comics festivals, the 2nd Multicon in Ok City, plus in late August a week or so after SDCC Cortez co-opened the first Comics & Comix store at 2512 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, a few blocks from the UC campus.

We hosted the first Bay Area comicon in 1973 with Berkeleycon 73 in the Pauly Ballroom, ASUC building, UC-Berkeley campus whereat the fabled Tom Reilly collection surfaced. It was the first comicon devoted to creator-owned, royalty paying comic books then known as UG [underground] comix.

I personally sold well over two thirds of the Tom Reilly high grades. Sold the Detective #27 out of that collection for $2200 thus becoming the first comic book to break the two grand barrier eliciting worldwide AP/UPI coverage which garnered us three more Tec 27s in under a month along with a flood of other Golden Age. I personally think the recent Heritage million dollar Tec 27 is the Reilly copy.

The phenomenal “over guide” sales of Tom Reilly’s books enabled us to open three more stores in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento. The firm lasted more than 30 years.

Late 1976 saw me open solo operations beginning at 1707 Haight, San Francisco, then May 1977 a second store, taking over my former partners 2512 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, location. Oct 4, 1978: the grand opening of the first comic book store in Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 39, the Wharf being the 3rd largest tourist attraction in the world following Disneyworld and Disneyland. Soon thereafter yet another store in Santa Rosa, as well as a 3rd San Fran location out on Irving St at 17th in the Sunset section.

Hosted Frank Miller’s very first autograph party ever, Dec 21, 1981, for the death of Electra in Daredevil #181.

Have contributed vital data to Overstreet Price Guides’s since #11, Lowrey’s BLB Guide, both Kennedy and Fogel’s UG Comix Guides, Art of Rock by Paul Grushkin, Cherokee Mist: The Lost Writings of Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stone magazine’s special “Best 100 Album Covers of All Time,” Nov 14, 1991 issue; Nemo from FBI. Comic Book Marketplace saw numerous articles from me as did Comics Buyer’s Guide back when it was the center of the collecting universe ; The Jack Kirby Collector #25 special Simon & Kirby issue on Mainline Comics when S&K tried self-publishing in 1954.

Gerber’s Photo Journal Guide to Comic Books’ credits are weighted according to how many books he used out of your collections. I was blessed to be listed in the first inch of the first column.

More recently has seen me supplying rare artifacts & lore into books on Krazy Kat that Chris Ware designed following Bill Blackbeard’s edits published by Fantagraphics,; books on Milt Gross, Walt Kelly, Segar, Outcault, others.

Since 1997 I have fronted the comics lore proper origins history which began in Oversreet Comic Book Price Guide #27 and they keep inviting me back every year, so I must be doing something right somewhere.

About a decade ago we expanded the platinum-Era section to include an earlier Victorian Age when I showed the comics world the existence of the earliest known American comic book, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, published as Brother Jonathan Extra #9, Sept 14, 1842.

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WonderCon 2011: the second day, part 4: Eric Shanower Really Rocks! « graphicnoveladventure
May 30, 2011 at 1:22 am

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Robert Beerbohm January 8, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Hi Charlie,

and thank you for all your hard work all these decades in the trenches of ferreting out the data & lore, the previously-unknown people who have surfaced from the semi-coordinated efforts so many of us have built upon each others research, each year the bar being extended as to what was known in the comics world macro-verse.
I long ago gave up on seeking huge fortune at the San Diego Comicon, once the big studios began their push at the vintage mercantilers wot brought em to the party in the first place. then again, I fondly remember my fortunate one on one time with director Frank Capra re earlier comics of his youth he enjoyed a lot. Learned a lot that year he was a guest in 1974.

Heck, I am grateful you printed off a smaller version of The Superman #1 1933 projected-humor publishing company cover that Joe Shuster signed on as I was more in tune with running my multiple store chain operation with a warehouse of a million comic books which consumed much of my time buying selling trading to make sure I made payroll on 23 worker bees.

Here is an URL to where i have a few left of my original 1971 print tun better explained as well

http://cgi.ebay.com/THE-SUPERMAN-1-1933-SIEGEL-AND-SHUSTER-COVER-PRINT_W0QQitemZ230418287699QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item35a6000c53

The 70s and 80s I pretty much was wrapped up mercantiling, not having much time for comics business history research.

In the mid 90s onwards I plunged into it as a way of working my way thru the crash & burn which followed the untimely death of Rick Griffin, upon whose horse I had hitched, opening that gallery for him in San Fran’s Cannery Feb 1991 thru Aug 15 1991 when he was hit by that delivery van driver who was lost. That driver came in to the gallery a couple months later, introduced himself as the “guy who hit and killed this fantastic artist.” The man was humbled by what his carelessness by not signaling his turn, accomplished.

The Jerry Garcia involvement, the whirl-storm of shock and disbelief.

So I began research which got me back to America’s first comic book, Obadiah Oldbuck, 1842, and I am satisfied there is no such incarnation earlier for this country, at least. I leave it to our Euro-friends to take its origins back way further.

Now that I am hopefully healing more, at least the insane pain is gone now, I am focusing my attention on everything which got dropped 3-5 years ago, trying to make up for more lost time, surviving 43 years feels like saying thanks, am trying hard to make people’s trust in me be well served

Been looking forward to every Comicon since the first one, the day I stop coming will be the day they know to do the obit -:)

There aren’t too many of us left from those “days that used to be” Neil Young did a song about back in 1989. That album was Rick’s favorite up thru the time of his death. He said Ragged Glory changed his life.

Was the only CD he played when he drove that big old Green pickup truck around from Petaluma to points such as the gallery in The Cannery, Bill Graham Presents where we were having over 100 pieces matted and framed special deal worked out with BG hisself, who also used to buy comic books from me when he cruised the Haight, I sold his posters buying them in large quantities from his Winterland Operation,

Or George Meade’s Wet Paint Studio is where I helped him paint the huge twelve foot wide sign of the Crowned Winged Eyeball which graced the double set of doors at the entrance to Comics and Poster Nirvana. Only word to describe over 100 Griffin original paintings, line drawings, etc coupled with work incoming from all the Zap artists and major poster artists all wanting in on this coordinated action. Rick and I were building a shrine place where all these creators – his Zap world and his Poster world – could congregate with safety in numbers, with Rick as the youngster who grew up to being a Guardian Angel, in a way.

So, got off into comics business history research, got a ton of stuff to collate, re-absorb, and continue building a coherent time line. Mayhaps will simply post it onto internet, foregoing a printed paper version.

Hard to say, had to concentrate on the research, expunge my brain. And then tag along with repairing hip joint metal implant replacements now, I feel grateful. Hope I prove to be worth it.

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Charlie Roberts January 7, 2010 at 1:50 am

Bob is one of a small handful of dealers who was in on the ground floor and helped make Comic-con International the incredible event it has become. Collectors are “hunter-gatherer” types, still searching for that hard to find collectible : a rare comic, piece of art, radio or cereal premium, Disney or early comic character item.
Bob’s Frazetta story of the trade for the “Johnny Comet” originals is a classic, and I hope Any of you reading this will share some of your stories.
We all love “stuff”, but the Best part of Any comic convention is seeing old friends like Bob, again year after year.
Not mentioned very often is the hard work involved in being a “dealer”. Most attendees don’t realize the time and expense it takes to set up at a show. When my wife and I first did the San Diego “Comic-Con” in 1983, a three table booth was around $ 300. It went up every year, and I understand that same three table booth costs around $ 2500 this year.
Consider dealers like Bob Beerbohm, Bud Plant, Joe and Nadia Mannarino, and Steve Schanes having multiple booths……and Bob is driving a truck from Nebraska, Bud’s driving from Northern California, and the Mannarino’s are flying in from New Jersey (we’re talking major expen$es here, folks!!!!!).
Thank you Bob and family for all your hard work uncovering incredibly rare collectibles for 40 + years. See you at Comic-Con this summer my friend !

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