Wandering the Warehouse of Wonders

Recently my buddy Tom invited me to what he termed a “warehouse comic book sale” out in Brooklyn.

Me: “You mean a bunch of vendors setting up in a warehouse somewhere, like a convention without celebrities or cosplayers?”

Tom: “Not quite, it’s just one guy.”  And then he sent me this link.

We took the subway to Sunset Park in Brooklyn and walked a few blocks, eventually coming across this unassuming door:

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Helpful signs guided us past a truck parts supplier, up stairways and down hallways:

We turned the final corner and were directed by the kind Hobgoblin up there into the main area of the warehouse. The proprietor, Mr. Joseph Koch (one of the owners of Forbidden Planet over in Manhattan), refers to his stash as the “Warehouse of Wonders.” And after my exploration of this incredible place I can confirm to you, SpaceStationWagoner, this description is 100% accurate. We first passed through a “foyer” space covered in movie posters, full of cardboard standups of movie characters and 30 feet of tables holding longboxes of dollar comics. Then we entered the inner area (we were up on the second floor by this time) and beheld the monument to a century of comics, magazines, books, toys, and other pop culture ephemera from the U.S.A. and all over the world.

(that’s Tom, making like Gandalf in the ancient archives of Minas Tirrith)

When you first enter the main section of the warehouse there are shelves of toys, after which comes Mr. Koch’s office (where apparently the REALLY expensive Golden and Silver Age stuff is kept). To your right is a section of multiple “corridors” of more toys, trade paperbacks, magazines, LOADS of books, posters, and vinyl records. And after that comes….THE MAIN STACKS.

 I loved the dingy windows.

What I must stress to you, my dear SpaceStationWagoner, is that most of this place HAS NO ORGANIZATION WHATSOEVER. There is an area of packaged sets of comic books (including “mystery packs” that if I would love to try if I had more money to gamble with) that is in dodgy alphabetical order. There is also a pretty well organized section marked “Ebay” where they pick out stuff to sell online (where the majority of their sales take place). The rest is just…fragments of alphabetical order, beginning randomly and abruptly ending a few feet later. You’ll be looking through “A’s” and suddenly hit a rich vein of X-Men, or be scouring a box of books from the 70s and then hit a lode of comics from the Dubya administration. Its structure was so labyrinthine that I literally cannot even describe how big this place was or even the shape of the room it occupied. This is like the stash of comics the Doctor (Who) must store somewhere in his dimensionally infinite TARDIS.

 Many dark corners, much dust.

Now as someone with a decision making process utterly confounded by too many options, this was kind of daunting. I can barely shop at a normal grocery store without being overwhelmed (I go to Aldi, I like its Soviet-style “one type of everything” selection) so imagine my distress as I stumbled through this dim cavern filled with every type of treasure there ever was, sweatily clutching the shameful list of comics I need to fill holes in my collection that I keep in my wallet at all times. It was like that Twilight Zone episode where Burgess Meredith is a dweeb who likes to read but everyone keeps hassling him, and one day he’s the only survivor after a nuclear war and there’s nothing left to do but sit undisturbed with the whole town library, but oh shit his glasses broke.

note the sweet Return of the Jedi comforter set behind Tom

Eventually I realized that it was probably just best to wander around and pick through things randomly. Moving from section to section and taking random core samples, as it were. The guys working there are also a great help, they acknowledge that there is no rhyme or reason to where anything is but usually can point you in the right direction. I wandered far and wide, seeking traces that would lead me to a rich strike of 70s Jack Kirby Captain America or Savage Sword of Conan. At one point I followed along as the proprietor gave a tour to a journalist who had read the recent Times article and wanted to see for himself.

Some interesting finds:

  • A foot-long model of the original Battlestar Galactica that SORELY tempted me.
  • I saw another copy of the poster of the Eerie cover on the inside of the front door (the first pic up there), then FOUND THAT COPY OF EERIE. Now regretting not buying that.
  • tons of UK or Commonwealth versions of comics, and just stuff from all over the globe in general.
  • a lot, and I mean A LOT of longboxes filled with hundreds of copies of the same comic or trade paperback…makes you think that Mr. Koch buys a lot of stock from closing comic shops or booksellers. For instance in the TPB section I found boxes containing hundreds of copies of the original Star Wars trilogy adaptations that Dark Horse Comics reprinted in the 90s. Just boxes and boxes and boxes of them. I also found an entire longbox of the first issue of Pacific Comics’ Alien Worlds series (one of which came home with me).
  • A box of ties!!! Not TIE Fighters, ties.

WoW5 Ties

We stayed at the warehouse for a few hours and both found a lot of verrrry specific stuff we were looking for with our “eenie-meanie-miney-moe the boxes” method. Most of the trade paperbacks are $6 and as I mentioned there was a substantial dollar bin section, but a lot of books you pick out of the back stacks are priced by the guys working there when you check out. I had laid hands on a few issues of Jack Kirby’s Captain America from the 70s (AFTER he left DC and came back to Marvel) that would have put me on track to owning the majority of that run, but decided against it when the 4 or 5 I had foundwere gonna cost $25. When it comes to comics I’m a cheapskate, and have already found a lot of 70s Kirby Cap in dollar (or even quarter!) bins out in the wild hinterlands of NYC I inhabit.

I DID score some really amazing finds. I haven’t read them yet, standard operating procedure around here is to buy comics and read them like six months later at 3am when I can’t sleep.

BEHOLD THE SWAG

  • From the back stacks: Issue 1 of the Pacific Comics “Alien Worlds” sci-fi anthology series. I recently got into Pacific Comics (a short lived outfit from the early 80s) after discovering the “Twisted Tales” horror series. Alien Worlds #1 features a story drawn by my FAVORITE space comics artist…Al Williamson!!!! Having leafed through the book it looks very EC Comics, though Al is the only EC veteran present. As I mentioned earlier I got this from an entire longbox filled with this one issue! As you can tell from Dat Ass on the cover PC published more adult offerings than their rivals.
  • From the dollar bins: Issues 1-5 of Justice League Quarterly, beefy annual type issues (but quarterly, not annual!) featuring the Keith Giffen Justice League(s) of the late 80s-early 90s. I had never seen these until recently and only knew of them from editorial asides in the main Justice League/Justice League International/Justice League Europe books (there were a lot of Justice League franchises for a while there). I’m looking forward to more adventures with some of my favorite D-list superheroes like Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and Booster Gold!
  • Also from the dollar bins: Issues 29 and 31 of Animal Man, completing my collection of Peter Milligan’s run on the title.  Milligan wrote several very entertaining issues immediately after Grant Morrison’s much lauded beginning, with conceptually weird villains like the Notional Man and The Green Cigarette.
  • The best swag in this haul was something so nice I bought it twice, one for me and one for a friend of mine who told me about these characters a long time ago. In the boxes of bagged sets were several sets of a series adapting Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, sword and sorcery fantasy characters from the old pulp fiction days. The Epic Comics (an “artsy” imprint of Marvel) adaptations were written by Howard Chaykin and the pictures were drawn by MIKE MIGNOLA, creator of a little known character named HELLBOY!!! And the inker? Who else but Awesome Al Williamson! I really cannot wait to read these some dark, icy night this winter.

The cost for all these treasures? Twenty bucks, which is about what I wanted to spend!

There are many, many more treasures in Mr. Koch’s comics warehouse, and these are just the ones I was lucky enough to find in the short time I was there. I WILL be back someday, but I feel like to really scour through the whole hoard would take multiple lifetimes. I must stress the complete lack of any organizational scheme and the sheer SIZE of the place. You’ll think you have seen every part of the catacomb and then BAM! You’ve rounded a corner into a nook piled high with Star Trek toys and foreign graphic novels, and when you turn about to go back the way you came you will never see that nook again. And it’s all there, just 20 miles from my house. Out on an island, on a back street in a warehouse only open occasionally to the public (and only within the last few years or so!). Imagine those stacks of hundreds of thousands of funnybooks, sitting there in the dark, through hurricanes and winter storms, through the booms and busts of the society that originally created them to be consumed as cheap, bullshit entertainment. Art that was meant to be thrown away and is now so prized in our throwaway world. All those adventures, waiting to be stumbled upon and enjoyed anew.

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