When I was a kid, I was obsessed by EC comics. Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, Shock SuspenStories, Crime SuspenStories, Weird Science, Weird Fantasy, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales. My parents wouldn’t let them in the house. In 1955, the Comic Book Code gutted EC’s line and I turned my attentions elsewhere. But into adulthood I regularly dreamed of discovering stores in whose musty cellars sat cartons of ECs for sale, cheap.
In the late 1970s, I learned of a weekly paper, The Buyers’ Guide to Comic Fandom, that was rich in ads by people with old comics to sell. The world reported upon by TBG fascinated me. When I had last read a comic, they had cost a dime. I thought that a fair price still, but, unaccountably, they went for $10, or $50, or $100. Even stranger was what drove prices up – origin stories, eye wounds, bosoms – or down – crimped corners, rusty staples, pencil marks. Was this, I asked myself, how art should be properly evaluated?
The evaluation of art was a topic in which I had a direct interest. At the time, I had published one well-reviewed novel but had proved unable to sell a second. This failure puzzled me. As far as I could tell, I had not lost my ability to craft a wicked paragraph. I had banked more years of experiences with which to stock them. My ideas seemed to have deepened with accumulated wisdoms not crumbled from brain damage. Yet my envelopes kept coming back in the mail.
I responded to the ads. I bought any EC offered for less than $5. I offered $5 for any other I desired. Many sellers accepted my offers; many ignored me; (some of these, who had read a different edition of Samuelson than I, ran future ads in which they raised their prices). I acquired over 100 ECs. I put them in a closet. I stopped having that dream.
Whatever I learned about art through this process did not enable me to sell a second novel. But I did publish an article on ECs. Then I published another comic-related article. Then I published a third and fourth and... My articles led me to explore questions raised by outsider art and transgressive art and lost art and abandoned art and great art. I considered sex and art and violence and art (I was for both); and, in two books, I followed expressions of art that brought their purveyors into courts of civil and criminal law.
One thing I have learned about life is that you never know what will get you where. Hell, you never know what’s around the corner or who is stepping out of the door.
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.