Sunday, February 09, 2020

Burton Cummings, Comic Book Collector

Superstar rocker Burton Cummings is a big comic book collector, maybe the King of Canadian Comic Book Collectors. He has fond memories of everything from Jimmy Olsen to Little Lulu and Tubby, and doubled down on his pop culture collecting beginning in the 1980s, amassing a giant archive of vinyl records, cds, sports cards, etc. He writes often on the subject on his Facebook page. He also has written a weird fictional(?) story about an older collector living in California who gets ripped off by a femme fatale. I thought it would be interesting to share some of his reflections on collecting DC comics in the 1950s and 1960s when he was a kid in Winnipeg. Here he is writing on Facebook from November, 2019:


COMICS…for many of us of a certain age, comics were "that other world". Bear in mind, I'll be 72 on December 31st this year, so I clearly remember life before there was television. We were not an affluent household, so my Mother couldn't afford television immediately when it was first available. For a while, I would go to the Rosh Pina synagogue on Matheson avenue with my friend Arnold Silver or his younger brother Barry, and a bunch of us kids would sit cross legged on the floor, hypnotized by this new "magical" thing called television. The synagogue had one before most of the neighbourhood. Spellbound, we would sit on the floor and be whisked away by Roy Rogers, Range Rider, Lassie, Father Knows Best, Huckleberry Hound, maybe King of the Khyber Rifles, or a host of other early television shows. But before that, at least for me and many other kids, comics were the "release" into the world of fantasy.
There was always a choice between the Marvel family and the DC family. I ALWAYS preferred DC to MARVEL. Don't really know why, but I always did.
DC family included Superman, Batman, Superboy, Action, Adventure, World's Finest (which teamed up Superman with Batman and Robin), Lois Lane, and my personal favourite Jimmy Olsen.
For some reason, the Jimmy Olsen comics struck a chord with me. Maybe it was because he was Superman's pal, and a lot of us young boys could identify with how miraculous that would be if it were one of us.
And the Jimmy Olsen stories seemed more fantastic in many ways. Once in a while, DC would put out a special issue containing "errors" which were purposely placed throughout one of the stories. We were told to spot the errors and write in with our answers. I never "wrote in" but my friend Arnold Silver and I would sit on the steps inside his house on Lansdowne and try to spot all the purposely placed mistakes…(for example, the "S" on Superman's costume might be backward, or Jimmy Olsen's hair might be black instead of red, or the Daily Planet newspaper might have a different name, etc.) We always thought that was so special…
jimmy olsen 108

Pictured here are two comic covers…Action #240, featuring which is perhaps one of my all time favourite covers, with the sphinx having Kryptonite vision. This one was released in May of 1958, so I would have been 10 when it came out. The other one is Jimmy Olsen #108, released in January of 1968. I had just turned 20 at its release date, had been in the Guess Who for a year or so, but I still loved the comics. You'll notice that the price had risen from 10c to 12c, indicating a huge change in the world of "back then".
For me, when the price jumped up to 12c, things never seemed quite the same after that. We had all become so accustomed to 10c being the price, I don't think any of us really liked the change. It was an indication that our world was not immune to disruptive change.
These two covers illustrate the beauty that we all found in these thin paper books. The artwork was always superbly drawn and DC had quite a following on a world wide basis.
Much later in the 1980's, I began collecting comics obsessively, almost getting carried away at times, but I still held on to boxes full of the ones I had bought as a kid. Today, the comic collecting world has, in some ways, become tarnished and corrupted by the money. Recently some musician paid over 2 million dollars for an Action #1, which contains the first appearance ever of Superman. 2 million for a ten cent comic…astounding…but then again, think of it for a minute…people have been known to pay far more than that for a tiny postage stamp or a single coin. The old adage rings true…"something is genuinely worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it". How true. I would never succumb to the phrase that money is the root of all evil, but it certainly has changed things…sports is a good example.
The Huston Astros recently invested 500 million dollars to acquire three pitchers…500 million !!!
And it didn't even help them win the world series against the Washington Nationals…oh well…
Mickey Mantle made $100,000 a season from 1963 to 1968 and he was one hell of a player…when Rocket Richard first signed with the Montreal Canadiens, he was paid $5,000 for a season…today there are hockey players signing contracts for upwards of ten million and more…as Bob Dylan so eloquently put it
"for the times, they are a-changin'"...
Money certainly has changed through my lifetime. The Beatles sold out Shea Stadium and were paid a lump sum of $50,000…Taylor Swift did a stadium tour not long ago which grossed $266 Million…yikes…I'll bet she has her car and fridge paid off by now.
We live in a strange world now, compared to the world I was raised in, all those years ago on Lansdowne Ave. in the North end of Winnipeg. I'm seriously grateful still to be alive and fairly healthy, able to go out and do one man shows for seriously appreciative audiences.
But when I gaze at the two comic book covers pictured below, part of me yearns wholeheartedly for those days of yesteryear…
Hang on to your memories, folks. No one can ever take those away from you.
They're worth far more than all the money that's ever printed…
Luck and Health…

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