In 1973 I was a skinny twenty-one-year-old kid who liked comics. I didn't love them, didn't live to collect them, but there were a few I never missed. I got into them through my good friend Steve who was a Spiderman fan. He tried various times to interest me in that character, but it never really took. I preferred CONAN THE BARBARIAN, artwork by Barry Smith, which meshed better with my interest in Science Fiction, Sword and Sorcery, and writing the same. I'd read Robert E. Howard's original version of the character, and all the imitators, some good (Michael Moorcock, L. Sprague DeCamp),some bad (John Norman, Lin Carter), and lots of the in-betweens.
Steve and I had gone on various excursions to the bay area, where they had comic book stores. We weren't so interested in Gary Arlington's shop in San Francisco. He had lots of OLD comics, E.C.s, Dells, Atlas etc. but he didn't have much in the way of recent back issues. And he was a bit surly. He was an old guy (in his 40s at the time, I expect), and understandably had little patience with kids who raved about the current state of comics, when he knew better. And Bob Sidebottom had a good shop in San Jose, which was a bit far for us to drive. Berkeley had just acquired Comics and Comix, run by Bud Plant and Jon Barrett (for whom I later would work) and it was the best of the stores. They carried everything.
In our daydreams we envisioned our own comic book store in Santa Rosa...
Finally we decided to make that dream a reality. Storefronts were still cheap. We could find one down on skid row for very little money. What we needed was stock. I had a small pile of comics I didn't really care about. Not my Conans, those were special, but I donated my Daredevil comics, westerns (so long, Jonah Hex), my Neal Adams Avengers and Batmans. Steve wasn't ready to part with his Spidermans, but he tossed in about twice as many books as I had. We started haunting second hand stores, paying a nickle to a quarter per book, and one Sunday out at the flea market we hit a bonanza. A guy selling several bags of comics that he just didn't want. We got them all for five bucks. So stock wise we were set!
We had talked about our plan with some friends, among them a classmate of Steve's named Wes. Wes was old for his age. He had a job in construction and casually remarked that if we wanted, he had $800 bucks set aside to go into business with. We embraced him and his money and now there were three of us.
But a bit crestfallen, we discovered that someone had beaten us to it. A small store called Bag End had opened in Santa Rosa, down on skid row. We checked it out and found out it was run by a hippie named Chuck who sat smirking sardonically with his companion dog, with whom he had a close relationship. That pooch went everywhere with him (even into the bathtub, I believe). Anyway, Chuck had a few new comics and several boxes of back issues (none bagged) for forty to fifty cents each. The store was casual, dirty, reeked of reefer, and heading for a fall. Chuck was a lousy businessman, and didn't pay attention to minor details like paying rent. Eventually, a couple of months after he opened, we went to Bag End and the door was locked. (Continued)