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The Comic Book Kid
by Adam Osterweil
illustrations by Craig Smith

FROM THE BOOK


CHAPTER ONE
I Tell You About Paul, Me, and My Deep, Dark Secret

It all started on a Friday a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful fall day, and I was trapped in English class next to my best friend, Paul. He’s twelve, like me. On that particular day, Mr. O was teaching a lesson about how to develop characters for stories.

“Today I’m going to show you how to make your characters speak, blah blah blah,” Mr. O lectured, scribbling a list of words on the blackboard.

There’s a rumor that Mr. O used to be a rebel fighter in South America. He drives a beat-up car with bullet holes in the side. The other day he handed out sour candy and asked us to describe the flavor. Little did we know that the candy was imported from overseas, where people don’t have very many taste buds —my lips turned inside out. We still have to get Mr. O back big time.

“Sleepover tonight?” Paul whispered to me.

Paul slacks more than anyone else in junior high. He wears size 40 jeans even though he weighs only ninety pounds. Mr. O says that slacking is useful because it cleans the floor.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Bring your new comics.”

“Brian,” Mr. O snapped, “which of the verbs on the board best illustrates what you just said to Paul?”

“Replied,” I replied.

“Excellent!”

Paul did come over that night, and we hung out in my room until the wee hours. Paul brought a pile of comics with him. Between the two of us, we have about five thousand comics. They’re not funny animal comics, either. They’re all cool superhero comics, like Superman, Batman, Iron Man, and Aquaman. I keep each one in its own specialized plastic bag because even the slightest wrinkle can lower the value of a comic by a lot. I started collecting about five years ago, after IT happened. IT is my deep, dark secret.

“Bri, check this out, the newest Superman has a chromium cover,” Paul said, flashing the shiny comic back and forth.

“Let’s check it out in the price guide,” I suggested.

Paul yanked the guide from me and quickly flipped through the pages.

“Phat,” he said. “I bought it for two bucks, and it’s already worth two-fifty. Cool investment.”

He flipped through the guide some more until he got to the section about the golden-age comics, the old ones from the thirties and forties. They cost only ten cents originally, but now they’re worth loads of money. Almost everyone from back then threw their comics out or stuffed them in damp attics. Most people didn’t think to protect them —that’s why they’re so rare and valuable. Collectors will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for certain golden-age comics in perfect condition. I used to get sick just thinking about that, mostly because of IT.

“Check out these old comics,” Paul said.

I grabbed the price guide away from Paul and shoved it under my bed. I had to —otherwise I was going to throw up.

“What gives?” Paul asked.

“Who cares about those? Let’s steal a snack from the kitchen.”

“Why do you always spaz when I look at the old comics? Give me back the guide.” Paul reached behind me to get it. I tackled him, and we wrestled. When Paul finally got the book away from me, he drew a yellow smiley face on its cover and the words “What up, homie?” That was his way of trying to find out about my deep, dark secret. Well, it didn’t work. I just shrugged.

After that, we forgot about the old comics and did sleepover stuff until the middle of the night. Paul and I competed to see who could invent the better superhero. I won with the diabolical Deathman. He’s red with a black D on his chest in the shape of a coffin. A mad scientist named Mr. O built him, and he can create black holes with the wave of a hand.

It was all good until we went to bed.

You see, I had the nightmare again soon after I fell asleep. I woke up sweating. I must have screamed because Paul sat up in his sleeping bag, his braces glinting in the moonlight.

“Was that you?” he grunted.

“Fine, do you want to hear about IT?” I asked.

“What?”

“The story of why I hate the old comics.”

“Uh, sure.” Paul flopped on his back and made an angry noise. I could tell he really wanted to go back to sleep, but I finally had to tell somebody about my horrible past.

“I did a terrible thing when I was seven,” I said. “You have to promise not to tell anyone.”

Paul nodded.

“One day Mom and Dad left me with a baby-sitter who didn’t really care what I did. I wandered into my dad’s closet, where a black trunk caught my eye. I creaked it open, uncovering a gleaming treasure of old toys and games. I had never heard of any of them, including one called Howdy Doody —a bathroom toy, I guess. A shiny case peeked out from underneath the colorful pile. With one pull I yanked it free, revealing the coolest thing inside: Superman #1 in mint condition!”

“No way!” Paul said in disbelief.

“I’m not kidding. It was my grandmother’s. She bought it when it first came out in 1939, and then she passed it on to my dad.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Let me finish. I was just a kid, so I didn’t know that the comic was worth more than our house. The cover was shiny, colored in bright yellow, red, and blue. Superman flew up into the air above the streets of Metropolis next to the words ‘64 pages of action,’ ‘All in full color,’ and ‘10 cents.’ I was really excited. I got a big glass of fruit punch from downstairs, placed it next to the plastic case, and settled in to read.”

“Don’t tell me,” Paul moaned.

“I slid the comic out of the case and opened it. Then the baby-sitter called up to me.”

“I’m gonna be sick.”

“I panicked, and the comic became a big glop of paper and punch. I rolled it into a ball and tossed it in the garbage, hoping to hide everything from the baby-sitter.”

“Brian, go back to bed,” Paul said. “You had a bad dream. I’ve known you forever and you never told me that.”

“It’s a deep, dark secret, like how Mr. O got his bullet holes.”

“It had to be a bad dream,” Paul said. “You have them all the time.”

I ran down to the den, where Dad kept the remains of the comic under a glass dome. The only legible part on the ball of pink mush was the cover price of ten cents.

“My dad hates me,” I said, plopping the ball into Paul’s lap.

Paul stared at the comic ball with wide eyes, turning it around slowly. He flipped the price guide to the golden-age section. Sure enough, there was a picture of Superman #1.

“Listen to this,” Paul said. “Superman #1, published by D.C. Comics in 1939, is valued at one hundred and thirty thousand dollars in mint condition! Only three copies of this quality are known to exist ...”

I yanked the guide away from Paul, but this time he didn’t fight back.

“That comic cost only ten cents in 1939,” Paul said. “Do you realize what a messed-up investment that was?”

I didn’t sleep much that night. Paul was now the only person to know that story besides Mom, Dad, and the baby-sitter. He kept telling me how lucky I was not to be in jail, until he finally fell asleep. I stared at the shadows on the ceiling for half the night, trying to imagine what it would be like if I hadn’t discovered that little box in the closet.

 

From The Comic Book Kid
Copyright © 2000 by Adam Osterweil
illustrations copyright © 2000 by Craig Smith
All rights reserved

 
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