Rainy Days and Comic Books

With no U.S.. TV programs being broadcast in Europe during the 1960s, or no TV for that matter, what can a Military Brat do on a cold rainy afternoon, that doesn’t cost anything?

Trade comics of course!

Like most Military Brats growing up in a military family, I received a small weekly allowance.

The PX drew us kids, like a moth to a flame, and in a matter of minutes we were broke—like a lot of soldiers were a couple of days after payday, except we didn’t have a hang over and we didn’t have to wait a whole month for “pay day”—just another week.

While we spent some of our allowance on bubble gum and the the movies, comic books were a very worthwhile investment.

While buying a few fifteen cent comics would take a big chunk out of a 50 cents allowance, once you had an inventory of about 20 comics or so, you could trade your comics with other kids every few weeks,and over the course of several months escape into the world of the Fantastic Four, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man and other comic book adventures.

Trading Comic Books
On rainy days when we couldn’t go out to play, we would pull out our comic book stack and go trading. The housing area we lived in was mostly apartment buildings, with each building having three stairwells, with six families per stairwell, meaning 18 families lived in the building and sometimes one or two more if someone lived in the temporary quarters in the “attic” apartments.

With the basement hallway connecting all the stairwells together, you could visit all the kids in the building without getting wet or cold.

Usually we would try and trade away all the comics we had in our “read” stack and come back home with comics we hadn’t read and spend the rest of the day transported to other worlds.

It didn’t seem to matter that we read a lot of the comics out of order, and when we couldn’t get Marvel comics we would settle for whatever we could get—Archie, Richie Rich, it didn’t matter.

Meeting Other Military Brats
Besides giving us something to do on a rainy day, another benefit of comic book trading was that we had the opportunity to meet other kids in the building we did not know.

We tended to know everyone in our own stairwell since we all came and went through the same front door of the stairwell, but we didn’t know the other families as well who lived in the other two stairwells. An apartment building could have as many as 18 to 20 families.

I remember vividly meeting one boy on a comic book swap afternoon, and much to my surprise, he had what seemed to be a three foot stack of comics in his closet.

He was an only child and he had massive amounts of Legos and other toys, as well.

Apparently his allowance was a bit more than ours and he was not that inclined to take his “inventory” out into the building, which was fine with me.

Needless to say, I had a great time going through his mountain of comics—it took several trips and we played together with his Legos and other toys on a regular basis after that.

Since there was basement corridor running the length of the building, it was possible to go from stairwell to stairwell and stay inside where it was both dry and warm. And even if there were only a few kids with comic books to trade it only took two or three trades to have an afternoon of comic book reading, which didn’t cost anything, but your time.

The comics I had a child are long since gone, but every once in a while when I see the latest Spiderman or Superman comic at the grocery store or book store, I think back to the good times of going to the PX in Germany and life in the Cold War.

It just didn’t seem that bad when we had comics to keep us company on rainy afternoons.

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20 Comments
  1. Was trading comic books door to door a brat thing, or did they do that in the states too? By the time we got back to the States, no-one traded, but of course mom threw out the comics before we left! My husband (raised civilian) said they didn’t do that, so I was wondering.  We did that every Saturday-up and down the stairwells. Even traded with couples that didn’t have kids..It was THE thing…

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    • Hi Dawn, we lived off base once when my dad was in Viet Nam, and none of the kids in the neighborhood traded comics. It may be that the stairwells and the ability to stay in the building on rainy, cold days along with no TV that encouraged the trading. Now you have me wondering if the German kids traded comics too!

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      • Vann, I’m “Mama” and lived in BFV for four years 1962 – 1965.  I stumbled on this site looking for housing information for a book I’m writing about the MILITARY FAMILY LIFE.  No title yet, but I’ve got to finish it up. We had three sons and you may have known one.  Washington Street was our haunt. –Joan McReynolds

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  2. Vann, the whole time I was reading that I could not figure out how the words were going by and my fingers weren’t on the keyboard.  Your posting was exactly what I would have been typing. I do the same…I see a comic book today and I wonder whatever happened to my stack I had to leave behind when we moved back to the States from Germany.

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  3. i arrived at Anderson AFB Guam about 1966, my father was a crew chief on b-52’s. The kids wanted to know if i had any comic books as it took several months for the current issues to reach them.

    I was very popular as i had about 20 comics we had bought in California for the long flight to Guam. Marvel comics were the best to trade, looking back I had the first X-men, Avengers and some other comics such as Herbie, Bob Hope, Tales to Astonish, etc.

    The books were all ragged from reading so the collector value was not there. The TV station AFRPS only broadcast 4 hours a day, once in the morning and once in the evening in B/W only.

    I was about 8 yrs old and loved living there although the open air movies and no a/c was something that we lived with. Old Japanese tanks, planes and suvivors were things that added excitement.

    I returned 1995 and the base is unchanged. Military housing is a great place for a kid to grow up,

    I was in 3rd grade when my frend brought a few grenandes in to show me which created a stir. The stuff left over from the war was all over the base.

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  4. Knocking on the door “wanna trade’ was all that needed to be said.  When I lived in France we didn’t have those connecting basements-living in Germany sure made it much more convienient to trade. lol

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  5. I lived in Germany from 70-73.  I lived in a duplex for most of the time and we didn’t need stairwells to trade.  All we needed was a case of boredom and a friend who had some comics that you did not have.  If you waited long enough, you would even get back some of the comic books you had originally traded away.  It didn’ matter,  you just enjoyed it again.  I miss those days!

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  6. I think that Brats affection for comic books, and reading overall was the lack of TV entertainment.  I lived in Izmir Turkey  from 66-68 and there was no TV broadcasts in the country at that time at all! So we bought up the 12 1/2 cent comics,  Henry Huggins books and others. We’d trade comics and get books from the American library.

    I was in Pirmasens Germany from 69-71. Although there was a school bus, my buddies and I would walk past the PX on our way home. We’d scour the toy area for the rare model kit that would show up, and the bookstore for comics and Model Car Science Magazine.   Germany was better than Turkey since we had ONE American TV station.  We also had German TV and it was interesting watching US shows in German… Guttentag, Herr Giligan!

     

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    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment on my article. And for the reminder about models. I built a few in my time, but mostly I would study all the different models in the PX. Models didn’t fare well in the moves and our allowance did not allow us to buy more than a few. 

      At least you had one TV station!   Though looking back, I didn’t miss out on anything.

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    • hey Tom, I lived in Izmir from 67-69. my dad was a pilot for NATO. US ARMY. loved the times there.   mike

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  7. Thanks for bringing back the memories.  I got hooked but good on comics when I was a kid.  Living in Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s, trading comics was a major part activity for me.   I still collect today, thanks to the generosity of a fellow named Randall McGee.  Randall was a few years older than me, but he loaned me all sorts of books I hadn’t seen before (New Gods 1, and a whole bunch of DC 80-page giants!) and got me to think of myself as a “collector” instead of just a reader.  That was in Augsburg in 1972-1973.  Randall, if you see this, thank you! 

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  8. I too remember trading comics. We lived in Permasens in ’69 to ’70 and going up and down the stairwells was a great way to make new friends too. Besides the superheroes I recall the TV shows from the late ’60’s all had a comis with colour pictures on the cover. I bought some of these on Ebay just for fun. Another thing I recall is going around taking garbage down to the dumpster for some change. We lived at Ft. Hood before Germany and no one traded comics there. I guess it was too hot and the houses were further apart.

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  9. Those were the days.  I live on the Landstuhl base from 68-71. My sister and I traded comics, great memories.  They never made it back to the states. Moving every 2 to 4 years we only had one footlocker for toys.  Did you skate in the basement?  It was nice and smooth for the those metal skates.  We could buy 3 popcicles for 9 cents at the PX and eat them all walking home.   Living in the temporary quarters was interesting (attic, 4th floor), we would sit on the wood banisters and slide all the way down to the first floor.  going up was not as fun especially with groceries.  Enjoyed reading your post.

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  10. I remember trading comics in our neighborhood in the mid-50s when we lived in town and also after we moved on base in Mt. Home, ID before we were sent to England.  We lived off base in England, so didn’t have an opportunity to continue the practice.  My favorite 10 cent comics were Donald duck, Scrooge and the Archie.  I remember buying Mad Magazine (25 cents cheap) at the Post Exchange in Bushy Park when it would come out every month.  It was passed around at home and the whole family read it from cover to cover. Thinking back, I should have gotten reimbursed.  My whole toy box was also one wooden footlocker, whick I kept for years.

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  11. Lord how I remember trading comic books and reading them over and over.  Was I the only one that stood at the racks and read some of them without buying.  10 cents was a lot.  I especially remember Panama Canal Zone at Howard AFB and Albrook.  My first experience with trading was at Stewart AFB in New York.  I don’t recall any of my civilian friends ever talking about trrading the books so maybe it was primarily a Brat thing.  Thanks for bringing out the memories

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  12. Vann ~ I’ve written HALF the book so have a lot to share.

    Joan McReynolds

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  13. Don’t know how I came across this site but I could almost cry knowing others treasured those memories as much as I did. We lived in Muenchweiler during the early 60s. Gosh I’m old!!!! Man we had energy to run those stairwells up and down 20 or more times a day. Most of the time we didn’t even go into the apartments, just spread all the comics on the landings and traded. And the basement passageways, I totally forgot about those. Great place to practice cheering. It was a good life.

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  14. Thank you for the memory, Good times. BRAT on!

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