Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood: August/September 2009

Mike DeNero's Neighborhood was created by superstar cartoonist Jim Hunt ( To view a synopsis of the comic strip and/or sketches of the four characters with whom you will become familiar, please click here.

Broadening My Collecting Horizon

Broadening My Collecting Horizon

by Mike DeNero

In this month's installment of Confessions of A Vintage Cardboard Junkie (see column below), K. Aaron Cohen explores the topic of obsession, as it pertains to our beloved card collecting hobby. While I will from time to time touch on the subject myself in our e-Newsletter, today, I would like to add some brief personal thoughts on my own newly discovered and incubated collecting interest: vintage Superman comic books (after all, man can't live solely on vintage sportscards).

The most interesting thing about my new obsession is how it began. Until fairly recently, the Man of Steel never was more than a fleeting thought in my mind. I believe my obsession began two weeks ago on the first day of our family vacation to the Jersey Shore (beautiful Sea Bright, New Jersey, to be exact -- my old teen-aged stomping grounds). On our way to Sea Bright, with my wife at the wheel (she's a better driver than I am -- I'm a little like Woody Allen's character, Alvy Singer, in the classic film Annie Hall) and our two young kiddies tightly strapped in what must be hideously uncomfortable car seats in the back, I was thinking about how when I lift my one son in the air, he always yells "Superman!"

That thought spurred me to go to Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash (yes, the Jay and Silent Bob's) shortly after we arrived at the Sea Bright beach house for the simple reason that I wanted to buy my son a Superman action figure of some sort. When I arrived at Jay and Silent Bob's, I found a few Superman figures to purchase and some old Superman comics from the 1970s and 1980s (bagged and boarded) -- not quite "vintage" comics, but certainly a passable way to learn about the comic book hobby.

Needless to say, that little visit to Jay and Silent Bob's was the impetus that created my new obsession with Superman! Within two weeks, I have learned a lot about the hobby, especially after exchanging several emails with one of our consignors, who is a Spiderman comics collector. That consignor also sent me a scanned image of one of his favorite "Spidey" covers (see below), just to push my new comics obsession along a little further, I think. Needless to say, after our email exchanges, and seeing the absolute coolness of the Spidey cover he emailed to me, I have resigned myself to building a Superman comic book collection of Volumes 1-250 (1939 through 1972).

But why Superman? Why not Batman? Spidey? To me, the reasoning is simple. Not only was he first introduced to us in June 1938 as "Superman! Champion of the oppressed. The physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!," but he's just cooler than the other Super Heroes. I mean, seriously, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he's faster than a speeding bullet, not to mention more powerful than a locomotive. Plus, his face is always visible, whether he's in the form of the mild mannered Clark Kent or the Man of Steel. Thus, he looks like one of us!

The odd thing (only one?) about my new obsession is that I resigned myself to building this collection before I opened any of the 1970s comic books I bought at Jay and Silent Bob's! Thus, the addict in me (that odd little man who sabotages my rational thoughts and, occasionally, my physical well-being) somehow believes that it is a good (and rationale?) idea to spend what could amount to $50,000 (depending upon the grade of the comics, of course) on 250 comic books over the course of several years. Obsession? Certainly. Addiction? Quite obviously.

That's all for now -- think I'll grab Superman (Volume 201) and see what the Man of Steel was up to at the time of that volume's release in 1967. I imagine that he was doing what he's been doing since 1938 -- defending "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

Bob Lemke's Cool Custom Cards: Aug./Sept. 2009

New Feature: Bob Lemke’s Cool Custom Cards

We are proud (and thrilled!) to announce the addition of a new monthly feature to our e-Newsletter and blog ( called Bob Lemke’s Cool Custom Cards. A collector of bubblegum cards in the 1950s-1960s, Bob Lemke's hobby today is creating cards of current and former "players" in those "golden age" styles. He currently edits the vintage sections of the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards and maintains a hobby blog at

The 1952 Topps Bob Hope and Bing Crosby

In this initial installment of Bob Lemke’s Cool Custom Cards, we decided to display Bob’s "fictitious" custom design featuring two of the most popular entertainers who ever lived: a 1952 Topps card of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Why would Bob Hope and Bing Crosby appear on a Topps baseball card from the 1950s? Read the card's back to find out!

Keith's Key Kard Korner: Aug./Sept. 2009

1955 Topps #164 Roberto Clemente

Roberto Clemente was more than a terrific Pittsburgh Pirates baseball player. His legacy climbed to legendary proportions when he perished in an aviation accident on December 31, 1972, while en route to deliver emergency supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. His untimely death seemed to elevate this humanitarian’s legendary stature, although his unparalleled career need not have culminated with such a figurative tragic exclamation point to cement his legend.

The Pirates outfielder sporting #21 won twelve Gold Glove Awards, led his Pirates to two World Series titles, and carved out a .317 lifetime batting average. Clemente was the first Latino to win a World Series as a starter (1960), and first Latino to win an MVP award (1966). It is also remarkable that he finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits. This symmetrical statistic lends an eerie aura to his untimely death - as if destiny refused to intercede until Roberto met this hit benchmark so often associated with a Hall Of Fame threshold. Great play, humanitarianism, cultural pioneering, and circumstance of his passing all helped cement his popularity beyond his native Puerto Rico and into reverence as a true Latin American sporting pioneer.

Clemente’s 1955 Topps card (#154) is industry-recognized as his rookie card. The card’s very design and color appear nearly perfectly apropos for the celebrated icon.

With its rich forest-green background, the card is memorable as the hue fades from a saturated tone to a faded one as it moves from left to right, much like an abstract artist’s spewing paint sprayer nozzle being slowly extinguished as it moves eastward across the canvas. The crescendo of color gradually withering away seems to represent the "Field Of Dreams" that is baseball – brilliant chromatic grass through the spring and summer fading with the onset of autumn. In a more haunting fashion, the fading of vibrant color across the card symbolizes Clemente’s career: an endeavor that germinated into bounty and success fades into the blurry unknown like Roberto’s ill-fated flight somewhere over the Caribbean Sea.

Here, more than fifty years later, while the Pirates paint their seventeenth consecutive losing season in Pittsburgh, fans and collectors can still hold a most tangible representation of a man who knows how to win. Roberto Clemente reminds us that those who win off the field are those longest remembered ... and celebrated.

Confessions of a Vintage Cardboard Junkie: Aug./Sept. 2009


I am told that collecting is most likely a manifestation of obsessive compulsive behavior. My older brother collects nothing – doesn’t have what I call the "collector gene." He’s quite well off, financially, and already has pretty much everything he wants, so until I discovered restaurant gift certificates, it was nearly impossible to buy gifts for him. Me? A nice vintage baseball card will never go unappreciated.

So it’s already well established how I slake my obsessive thirst – that constant stream of padded mailers arriving to my doorstep several times per month. My brother…? Well, he gives free rein to his compulsiveness by being a slave to neatness and orderliness. I couldn’t be more different – I’m a slob, except when it comes to my cards, where my inner neat freak emerges. All of my cards are well kept and organized in toploaders and binders, as one would expect.

Then there’s the "completion thing." In card collecting, I would say that the supreme beings of compulsiveness are the set builders, of which I am one. Many of my complete sets started with that one type card acquisition. Funny how that works!

I’d say there are set builders, then there are master set builders, those who truly occupy the summit of the cardboard-obsessed Mt. Olympus. Oh yeah, there’s the standard copout of those who choose to deem a set complete in spite of the absence of cards where popularity and rarity have conspired to make the cards virtually unattainable, at least for most collectors, with the T206 "Monster (minus the big 4)" being the most prevalent example of the compulsive cardboard accumulator’s willingness to compromise the purity of his normally uncompromising obsessiveness.

Another question such an individual asks oneself – Is the ’33 Goudey set complete sans Lajoie (see card scan above)? The card fits into the numerical sequence of the 240 card set (card number 106), but it was issued in 1934. Or the same question can be posed with regards to the 30 card Canadian Maple Crispette set, which presents a similar quandary. It seems that only one Casey Stengel, card number 15, is known to exist. It positively boggles the mind when one is forced to confront and contemplate the incredibly weighty philosophical conundrums of set building.

The anomalies cited above make total completion of the Maple Crispette set close to impossible for most. The much more frequent bane of the set builder is the existence of error and variation cards. Is my ’54 Bowman set incomplete because I lack some of the cards with stupid little player statistical mistakes on the back? How could Bowman be so careless? Need I mention Sherry Magee (see T206 spelling eror card above right)?

Even more pernicious are the variations within certain sets. Did the card designers of yore purposely set out to drive later generations of collectors to the brink of insanity? Surely not, but it sometimes seems like it. What would it take to put together a complete run of E94 George Close Candy cards with all of the different background colors? Who decided that ’52 Topps cards would be offered with red and black backs? And maybe the mack daddy of all variations, the ’52 Topps Mantle card (see card scan at left) with two variations in the stitching of the baseball on the back. Imagine, only another $10K to truly finish off your master set. Oh the humanity!

I have often thought that these sorts of errors and variations were put on this Earth to torture the obsessive compulsive mind of the set builder. Those sadistic card manufacturers of yore must be yucking it up from that big card factory in hell.