I took a solo trip to Iowa (where I’m from) and Minnesota (where I went to college) this month, my first extended travel since the pandemic.
And no visit to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is complete without seeing DreamHaven Books & Comics, the Minneapolis store that has helped to shape my tastes in many things, and is still in business with founder and owner Greg Ketter behind the counter most days (I also visited The Source, pictured above, a great comics and games store in a St. Paul suburb. More on that below). DreamHaven got broken into and vandalized during the riots last summer, but an army of volunteers helped to put things back together, and the place looks as good as ever.
When I say “good,” I mean overstuffed to the point of delightful excess. A visitor could spend a day in one aisle, and there is a good chance that something you’d really like is for sale in a nondescript box on the floor
At its height in the 1990s, DreamHaven had three locations. In the decades since, Ketter his cohorts have responded to changes in the market and real estate costs by moving several times and reducing the size of the business to the current South Minneapolis storefront. There are almost no new periodical comics. The new stuff here is all science fiction and fantasy books, new comics in book form, and a deep selection back issue comics and of odds and ends.
Ketter told me business is good. The pandemic led to people wanting to buy more stuff for entertainment at home, including books. Also, there has been a boom in the market prices for old comics and collectibles, which helps a store like DreamHaven whose main asset is its deep inventory.
Here are some of my finds from my visit:
Whenever I’m in a store with a lot of back issue comics, I try to pick up some old issues drawn by Alex Toth or José Luis García-López, two greats whose work can often be had for a few dollars each.
I had the good fortune to be at DreamHaven right after they had put out a bunch of issues from DC Comics’ Tarzan series of the 1970s, featuring artwork from Joe Kubert and García-López, among others.
García-López is probably best known for drawing Superman, including early issues of D.C. Comics Presents, and for his work crafting the versions of DC characters used in licensing in the 1980s. If you had Superman bed sheets, the art was probably done by García-López or based on his work.
His magnus opus may be Twilight, a 1990 re-imagining of DC’s science-fiction heroes like Tommy Tomorrow, which was written by Howard Chaykin. Read it for the pretty pictures.
Another career highlight for García-López is Atari Force, a 1980s series that was much better than it had any right to be. Gerry Conway wrote and García-López drew most of Vol. 2 of the series.
But back to Tarzan. In small panel on the second page of #252, García-López gives us one of his distinctive faces:
Here’s the next panel, which takes up a page and then some:
The dialogue is, well, what it is. But just look at the pretty pictures.
The backup story is a reprint from one of the Kubert issues earlier in this run:
My other find at DreamHaven was Weird Western Tales #26, which I believe is the only Jonah Hex story drawn by Doug Wildey. I could have bought this one online at any time, but I’ve preferred to look for it in back issue bins and at comic shows.
I adore Wildey’s work. Weird Western Tales #26 is not his best, but it’s still pretty good.
DreamHaven is about a mile from the intersection where George Floyd was murdered last summer, and the store has a counter display selling Words Over Windows, a book of photographs by David Dyer-Bennet of the art that came from the aftermath of that tragedy. Businesses put up plywood over their windows and residents, artists and business owners painted messages and images on the wood.
You can buy the book and see more photos on the author’s website, which is here.
I’ll end with The Source Comics & Games in Roseville, which is just north of St. Paul. This is a giant comic book store combined with a giant games store, and may be the best I’ve ever seen at this combination.
The storefront isn’t much to look at, but once you get inside this place is a wonderland. Among its many virtues is a well-stocked children’s section:
What made my day about visiting The Source was finding an inexpensive copy of Four Color #920 from Dell Comics, featuring a Zorro story by Alex Toth:
Toth’s Zorro stories have been reprinted many times, including in some nicely produced hardcover editions, but there’s nothing like seeing and smelling that old newsprint. Soak in these few panels:
There’s no way to top Alex Toth, so I’ll just stop right here.