Mike Jamison’s adventures take him down memory lane to an unexpected place.
In columns such as this, it’s easy and redundant to remind the reader that things are so much easier, now that we have access to almost unlimited supplies of the objects we crave and obsess about, such as comics. Almost any back issue we’ve wanted to read is just a click away. Any new issue can be easily downloaded and delivered to your iPad while you lounge on the couch doom scrolling Twitter. So yes, life for a comic collector in the 21st century is easy! But where’s the fun in that? Part of the allure of comic collecting is the thrill of the hunt, that indescribable feeling of not only finding comics, but finding comics in unusual places. Which leads us to the Sears Wish Book.
Sears Wish Book, kind of like the phone book for kids
Those of a certain vintage, such as myself, harbor fond memories of the Sears Wish Book. Before Amazon, before eBay, before the internet, this was the way children across the country alerted their parents to their desired holiday gifts. I fondly remember eagerly checking my mailbox everyday starting in late September. Desperate to get a head start on my search for holiday treasures. Once delivered, my brother and I would sit at the kitchen table tearing through the pages. Our pens in hand we’d circle items with no regard for price or practicality, confident that Santa would surely deliver. It was during one such session that my eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat. Could my vision be lying to me? Right there, in the Sears Wish Book… was a listing for comic books!
There they were, fanned out tantalizingly, practically begging to be bought. An assortment of comic book titles, all unique and different. The bright colors of the covers leapt off of the pages, and my eyes scanned the small picture, trying to discern what comics awaited me in this treasure trove. Of course these comics would be mine! Of that, there was no doubt. I couldn’t circle the photo quick enough.
Is there a better feeling for a comic nerd than to encounter comics in unexpected places? As a child leafing through the Sears Wish Book, it was expected to find action figures, video games, Matchbox cars and the like. But comics?!? This was unbelievable! And with an actual variety of selection no less!
In researching this article I of course had to rely mostly on my childhood memories which can admittedly be a bit hazy. Luckily the internet, that scourge of advancement I complained about a few paragraphs ago, was there to help me. After typing “Sears Wish Book Comics” into the search bar, I was instantly transported over 30 years into the past. Through the magic of the internet, I was suddenly that eager and thrilled child again.
There on my computer screen were the wish book pages I so fondly remembered. I’m almost certain that I received the DC Silver Age Classics set, 10 reprinted Silver Age comics such as the first appearance of the Justice League and Green Lantern, with a custom slipcase to hold the comics and the free Batman poster that was included. All for just $15.99!
Not exactly Amazing Fantasy #15
The two I’m certain I received were the DC Comics Value Pack and the Marvel Collecting Kit. The DC set was my first lesson in false advertising. While the photo in the Wish Book touted such heavy hitters as Batman and Action Comics, more often than not, what was included was a grab bag of, shall we say, secondary titles, such as Arak: Son of Thunder and Arion: Lord of Atlantis. I think there might have even been a random Night Force issue included.
Mitigating the disappointment was the inclusion of a copy of Comic Book Collecting: A Valuation Guide by Robert Overstreet. Ostensibly a price guide for serious collectors, this was my gateway into back issues, and comic history itself. I poured over the pages, hurtling back through the publishing histories of DC, Marvel, and smaller comic companies. Checking off important milestones and vowing to one day, if not own these comics, than to at least read them.
The Marvel Collecting Kit was, I’m sure, much the same, in that the ad showed titles such as Amazing Spider-Man and the X-Men, but I can’t for the life of me remember which titles I actually received. Most likely a Rom or Nova issue.
Right in the feels
What I do remember, what has stayed with me, literally, these past thirty years plus—is the bright orange storage box adorned with illustrations of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America and various other Marvel heroes that was included with the purchase. While the comics that came with this box have long since left my ownership, the box has followed me from my childhood home, an apartment and now currently sits in my basement storage area. Tattered, torn and well loved. A physical reminder of a happy childhood memory.
I’m sure that some of the comics that were included in these sets are actually of some importance. Perhaps even milestones in the history of comics publishing. And it was actually a stroke of, most likely, unplanned genius, to expose comic fans to titles they’d probably never buy on their own. But it’s not the actual comics that I received that I remember. What I remember was the discovery that comics could be found anywhere, especially in places you least expected. And what I treasure are not the comics themselves, but the memories of lying on my stomach under the tree on Christmas morning, surrounded by wrapping paper and various other gifts, reading a random comic with a smile on my face. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.