Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Treasure trove in the shed

I mowed the lawn at my house today. And today I decided to remove something from my shed and share it with you, and attempt to preserve it, and in preserving it, hasten its destruction.

Inside the shed are various items. Old tools. Old electrical projects that probably belonged to my uncle who tinkered with that sort of thing. An old DeSoto - missing, among other things, the engine. My garden tools and cement mixing stuff. And a few old papers serving as drop cloths for everything else.

One of those old papers was the New York Sunday News (20 cents, Country Edition) comics section from August 8, 1971.

The Sunday News was the Sunday version of the New York Daily News. Part of our Sunday ritual was for most of the members of the family who lived in Nanticoke - my mom, my brother and sister, me, my aunt and her six children, my uncle and his wife and (eventually) their two children - to gather at the house of my grandmother and grandfather after 9:00 Mass for a breakfast of sausage and bread and coffee. How we were able to fit so many people into what seems now like such a small kitchen is beyond me. My uncle, the organist at our church, would detour on his way from church and stop a McDonald's Newsstand to pick up copies of the Sunday News and the Wilkes-Barre Sunday Independent, and we would divvy up the various sections among the gathered family and read and eat and drink coffee and talk and talk. Eventually the kids would move into the next room to watch TV or play Lava Land (the floor is LAVA! Jump from chair to chair to couch, touching only the pillow boulders floating in the lava, or die!) while the adults discussed work or politics or the news or whatever it was that adults discussed.

Gradually things drifted apart. My grandfather died of a heart attack at the top of the steps to the second floor one morning while my grandmother was at church. The kids grew up. The weekly gatherings dwindled away and eventually stopped.

One of those Sunday funny papers found its way into the shed.

It's from August 8, 1971. I was about three and a half, probably not quite old enough to be reading the Sunday funnies, I'm not sure. Maybe I did look this one over. Maybe my grandfather put it in the shed, or maybe my uncle. I don't know, and I don't know what the purpose was - other than the effects of being printed on acidic newsprint, the paper is in good shape, free of grease or paint stains.

It has been in that shed for nearly thirty-nine years. I have debated for nearly four years whether I should leave it in place, or remove it and do what I have done today. By removing it from that environment and exposing it to levels of ultraviolet radiation it hasn't seen in nearly four decades, I'm afraid I have hastened its decomposition. Already it seems that there are more tears in the edges than there were a few hours ago.

I tried to do a simple photographic capture, placing the newspaper on a flat surface and taking photos of each page, with mixed results. As a test I tried to do a scan of one comic, Dick Tracy. The comics were so enormous back in those days that it took two separate scans to capture the whole thing.

Here is the list of the comics that appeared in this paper.

Page 1: Dick Tracy. Also, a promise of a Peter Max Gemini Zodiac Poster (in color), which appears to be missing.
Page 2: Little Orphan Annie
Page 3: Terry and the Pirates
Page 4: Brenda Starr - Reporter
Page 5: Louie (a pantomime strip), Junior Jumble, and a Wrigley's Spearmint Gum ad that doubles as "Fun Facts - Fun Things to Know and Tell"
Page 6: Broom-Hilda and Gasoline Alley
Page 7: Dark Shadows and Rex Morgan, M.D.
Page 8: Friday Foster and Coloring College, a color-by-numbers feature
Page 9: Li'l Abner
Page 10: Smokey Stover and "Super" Duper
Page 11: Laugh-In's Mod Mod World and Winnie Winkle
Page 12: Blondie
Page 13: Mary Perkins On Stage
Page 14: Moon Mullins and Teen-Wise!
Page 15: True Classroom Flubs & Fluffs and Beetle Bailey
Page 16: Dondi

Yep. Sixteen pages of comics. Twenty-four comics in all, counting Coloring College and Junior Jumble, not counting the "Fun Facts" - which was in fact the only ad, and occupied only about one-fourth of one page. Eight of these strips each covered most or all of the fifteen inch tall by eleven inch wide page. (Dick Tracy shared the cover with the masthead and the Zodiac poster announcement.) Fourteen others had half a page each, and two shared part of the page with an ad. Of those twenty-four, at least eight are still running.

I don't know how many more times I will be able to handle this paper before it crumbles into fibers. When that time comes, I may return it to the shed, where perhaps it will heal, drinking in the balance of temperature and humidity to which it has become accustomed.

And now I present to you Dick Tracy from Sunday, August 8, 1971. In this episode, a character has met a gruesome end at the hands of a grotesque, deformed villain. Some things never change.

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