While many other Book Fairs are closing or seeing less traffic, buyers, sellers, collectors and just the plain curious swarmed the 3 rooms of booths and displays at the 2003 Mission Hills Paperback Collectors Show. It was a great comeback after last year’s 9/11 residual effect on people’s travel and buying habits. One way I judge a book fair’s success is the mood of the dealers toward the end of the day, rather than just a count of paid admissions. This year most everyone was smiling, laughing and actually counting money rather than grumbling about whether they will come back the next year.
Mission Hills is actually part of the City of Los Angeles, at the very north end of the San Fernando Valley. The show is held at the Mission Inn Conference Center, about ¼ mile from my bookstore. It is an outgrowth of a group of collectors and friends with similar reading and collecting interests meeting at the home of Tom Lesser starting in 1978 or 1979. As the group grew too large for Tom’s home, he made arrangements to rent a room at the Conference Center. Tom is an attorney by profession, but has a passion for hard-boiled detective fiction. Tom’s ability to sign-up well-known mystery and science fiction writers for signings, as well as popular cover artists, is largely responsible for the success of the show.
Although Tom is what might be called the Executive Producer and general host of the show, the details and behind the scenes preparations and dealer reservations are handled by his friends, Rose Idlet and Tony Scibella of Black Ace Books, who operate an on-line business from the Los Feliz area of LA.
The camaraderie among the dealers and repeat customers is very evident and adds to the ambiance as passionate discussions on authors and genres and gleeful reports of “found treasures” since the last show are overheard as you wander the isles. This was somewhat disconcerting the first time I attended this show about 7 years ago, having only attended the International shows with museum quality offerings and hush-hush discussions between clientele and dealers. I’ve also had booths at the Glendale/Burbank Book Fairs for a number of years, which are a little more casual and actually had a few books I could afford. But the PB show was a matter of culture shock for me the first time. I went primarily to visit with my friends and IOBA members, Jerry and Shushona (Rose) Blaz of the Bookie Joint in Reseda and Marty and Alice Massoglia of Canoga Park (I’m trying to recruit them). All of them have been very helpful to me over the years in learning about collected books. I’ve gotten over my initial reaction (and prejudice) to these “weird” folks at this show. They are just counter-culture “originals” or just plain “characters” and have an abundance of knowledge. Part of the problem is that these vintage covers of almost naked women, tall and skinny on the mysteries and voluptuous on the sci-fi covers, just never appealed to some of us women.
Several dealers from out-of-state told me this was the “most fun show” in their travels. I was pleased to meet Lori Ubell from Portland, Oregon, a regular participant in the Bookfinder Insider list, and recognized many names from doing searches on various sites.
This year 56 dealers had booths. Over 70 % are from Southern California, but increasing numbers are coming from out-of-state. Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Pennsylvania and New York were represented. Dealers come in a few days ahead of time and scout the local stores. I have benefited greatly by being just down the block. The one year I set up a table at the show, Tom was gracious enough to refund my fee so that I made a little profit. For Tom this is a labor of love, rather than just a business venture. Since then I have developed an eye for the covers that seem to sell and have about 800 vintage books on-line, but since I don’t read many of these books, I can’t engage in the kinds of conversations that die-hard collectors like to have about their favorites. I do much more business with the dealers who come by in the days before or after the show seeking other kinds of inventory.
This year was especially nice because I benefited from a favor I had done for someone 5 years ago. I had totally forgotten about the situation. A collector from Seattle had flown in to attend the show. He had not rented a car because he had the mistaken notion that we actually have public transportation in this part of LA and could go around to the local bookshops. Cars and LA are synonymous for a reason. You need them to get anywhere in a reasonable time. Not being a rich book dealer yet, he hadn’t budgeted for a one-day car rental.
It was a beautiful day out, I had someone to run the store and I had been saving up my overstock to take out to Marty Massoglia’s shop to trade for books I need, so I asked him if he would like to tag along. Ten minutes with Marty is like a day-long seminar in terms of information he can give you. It is only about 10 miles away. We may have stopped at another shop, but went by the Bookie Joint on the way back. I can always use a good hug from Jerry Blaz and watch the ever present Scrabble game between his wife and Bruce Coleman, who has helped in both our stores over the years. The collector was able to find some titles he had been looking for. I dropped him back at the Mission Inn, and never expected to see him again.
He came back to the show this year as a dealer, Mark Doiron of PBO Books. He stopped by the store when I wasn’t there, found a stash of signed John D. MacDonald books, bought some, sent another dealer over to look at a Dashiel Hammett book and reminded my clerk that he was the fellow I took on the tour five years ago. I was pleased to meet him again at the show on Sunday and we made an appointment to meet at the shop afterwards to go through more of my MacDonald books. It was a very profitable encounter for both of us. Mark also made a coup by spotting a Robert Maguire signed limited edition poster of a Spillane cover and got Mickey to sign it. I’m sure it will stay in his personal collection a long time.
I approach any Book Fair or show as an educational adventure. One of the joys of being a book dealer is that you are always learning. To some it might seem incredible that the names Robert Maguire and Robert McGinnis meant nothing to me, so this experience I called Cover Art 101. (I do recognize Frazzeta covers)
Lynn Maguire was presenting her father’s art for the first time. These were matted poster size copies of his most popular covers. There were Signed Limited editions done in the giclee process. Each one takes 12-24 hours of work to perfect the image. Of course I recognized some of the covers and even have some in the store. He does mostly gallery art now, rather than commercial illustration. The posters are really beautiful and I’m sure they will sell well at shows or on the Internet. They haven’t tried that yet, though.
The only book I purchased was about one of the most prolific cover artists ever: The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis, complied by Art Scott, who was at the show, and Dr. Wallace Maynard, who was a neighbor and friend of McGinnis for years and began a checklist of the artist’s work in 1980. Scott began collecting McGinnis cover art in the 70s. He is a scholar and mystery critic. Together, they have produced a beautiful book that even a non-collector like myself can enjoy. Full-page color reproductions of the art without the titles or promo blurs makes a big difference. Working sketches and variations make it more than just a checklist. There are chapters on recycled art: same illustration used on different titles and international editions.
A very thoughtful forward by Richard Prather gives insight into how the writer, artist and publisher work together (or not, in some instances).
If you sell paperbacks, you have seen many McGinnis covers, but they go from the hard-boiled to romance (Bertrice Small, Johanna Lindsey, etc.) to classics like Wuthering Heights and Where the Red Fern Grows. Even And the Ladies of the Club. There are some copycats out there, so I was surprised at one John D. MacDonald cover that I was sure would be a McGinnis, but it wasn’t listed.
The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis is not a price guide, but is helpful in identifying books by author, publisher, code number and reprint information, as well as good reading. It is in its second printing and there are volume discounts for dealers. Published by Pond Press in Boston, 2001 in both hard and soft cover. Designed by Paul Langmuir.
The Paperback Show is usually in March, so if this is your area of interest, plan a trip to Los Angeles around that time next year.
By: Mary Watanabe firstname.lastname@example.org