The Legend of Pop Hollinger, First Comic Book Dealer

It’s strange that most comic book collectors and dealers have never heard of Pop Hollinger. This 47-year-old retired teacher from Concordia, Kansas was the first dealer who bought and sold old novels, pulp magazines, magazines and comic books. Hollinger ran his shop from 1939 in Concordia, during the deep economic Depression, to 1971. Whether thousands of comic book dealers today have or never heard of Pop Hollinger, they follow in his footsteps: selling, buying and trading them.

Mr. Hollinger started his business selling periodicals in a basement underneath a grocery store. He sold most anything he owned, including classic paperback novels published by Pocket Books for 25 cents each. Soon, he grew his business, selling used pulps, paperbacks, magazines, and comic books. He specialized in comics which were quickly becoming popular. After a few years, he ran a vibrant business, even expanding his business which included as many as 15 to 20 outlets around Concordia. Hollinger even popularized a mail order service for interested buyers across the country. Selling through mail ordering made Pop realize that there was a demand for back issues. For this purpose, he would store issues for future business. For 20 or 30 cents a week a person could receive five or ten comics, respectively. This was an unbeatable bargain when you could buy one at the local newspaper stand for 10 cents.

1939 was a special year for comic books, which featured, for the first time, superheroes. No doubt he would have owned the most famous, such as: Action Comics #1 (first appearance of Superman), Detective Comics #27 (first appearance of Batman), Superman #1, Batman #1, Wonder Woman #1, All-Star, All-Flash, Timely Comics (future Marvel Comics) and Fawcett Comics. These “Golden Age” comics became “super” sellers. But there were also many other others on the market.

Hollinger used radically unorthodox methods for preserving each of his books, because he knew kids could easily tear them up, and many mothers threw them out in the trash. Pop soon found out comics did not wear well under constant buying, selling, and trading. So, he bound the books with brown or green tape around the spine and on the inside to preserve them from being torn apart. He also knew that comics were made of pulp which attracted insects, so he treated them with special chemicals that repelled them. He even took out the original staples, replacing them with new ones. Finally, he pressed them flat using a press of his own design that exerted several hundred pounds of pressure. Today’s collector or dealer would never use this method of preservation because it would ruin the book’s value. Instead, dealers and collectors carefully put the books in Mylar bags and insert a cardboard backing, so they won’t bend or tear. Even so, Hollinger deserves credit for creating his own method of preserving them.

By 1942, there were roughly 50 comic book publishers. Each publisher produced at least 30 different ones, which totaled to several thousand different issues circulating per month! So, Pop felt the need to publish a comic book catalog. Comics came in all kinds of genres: science fiction, detective, fantasy, spy, humor, romance and many others. He owned so many of the same issues. So, it’s no wonder he thought that selling comics could be profitable. According to the eBay website, his business ads stated: “Old or used comic books are worth money. We pay from 1c to $1.00 each for certain old comics… Be among the first in your community to collect old comics.” In this same ad, Pop claimed to “carry a large assortment of every comic book published.”

Unfortunately, in 1952 Hollinger’s supply took a turn for the worst. A flood had come through his area of the state, flooded his stores, and ruined thousands most of his inventory. Sadly, most of them had to be thrown out. To make matters worse, in 1954 many comics that were published before were recalled by the U.S. government due to unsuitable content for children. But Hollinger persevered with his business.

Between 1961 until he closed his business, ten years later, Hollinger began selling brand new superhero comic books created mainly by Marvel Comics. In November of 1961, Marvel published the first issue of the “Fantastic Four”- a group of new superheroes who became very popular. Fantastic Four #1 started the “Marvel Age” of comics. Other “Marvel Age” superheroes were soon introduced: Spiderman, Ironman, Thor, the Hulk, Antman, and Captain America (brought back from World War 2). All comic (not just Marvel) published from 1956 to 1969, became known as the “Silver Age” of comics. Today, many of the early issues published by Marvel are worth almost as much as those printed in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Pop Hollinger was a rare businessman who had foreseen the value of comic books. Who knew how he thought that comic books were of value to be read and collected, not read and thrown away? Nobody would have thought to start such a dealership, especially in the late 1930’s during the Great Depression. As a matter of fact, it would have been “comical” to have started a comic book dealership. Pop beat the odds by starting a business almost no one would have ever considered. If you ever come across an old comic with either brown or green tape along the spine, you probably would have a classic pulp gem owned by the legendary dealer himself.