The lentincular covers are back on the shelves this week, thanks to DC’s first installment in the “We’re Finally Getting Around to That Whole Watchmen Thing” storyline running through Batman and Flash for the next few issues. Ah, the long-missed “zzzzzip-zzzzzip” sounds of those covers sliding against each other as customers pull their copies off the rack. Actually, I’m surprised it took DC this long to get back to doing these fancy movin’ picture covers, since they certainly grab attention (even if they’re hard to stack on the rack in any sizable quantity if you don’t have anything at the front of the shelf to keep them from toppling over and falling off, since they don’t exactly lay flat). I mean, I can understand why they don’t, given the extra lead time it takes to get these printed after taking in orders, so saving them for special occasions like this, where it’s worth the extra hassle, makes sense.
However, I will note that I’m getting lots of requests for the non-lenticular variants on this issue, as compared to the newsstand editions of the lenticular covers the last time we did this which mostly just kinda sat there and stared back at me from the rack with their sad little eyes.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with the actual content, which is the first storyline to actually revolve around the connection between the DC Universe and the Watchmen since that DC Universe Rebirth special from last year. Yes, there have been references here and there to “something bigger” going on behind the various reality-changing shenanigans going on, most notably in the recent “Superman Reborn” series of comics, as well as the occasional mention in Flash and either Titans or Teen Titans or maybe both…I’m specifically thinking of whatever one had the old Flash villain Abra Kadabra. The whole “Dr. Oz” thing that’s been in the Superman books had been assumed by some folks to be Ozymandias from Watchmen, though that seems a little too on-the-nose and obvious (which doesn’t rule it out, I do realize). He is involved somehow in the whole Watchmen event, but I feel like there’ll be a different reveal than “Gasp! It’s Ozymandias!” Maybe it’s Bubastis. Or an in-his-fightin’-trim Seymour.
Anyway, we don’t get a whole lot regarding any actual Watchmen characters yet, aside from what we can assume is an off-screen Dr. Manhattan doing away with the villain. There’s also a bit of business where the Comedian’s button reacts to the Psycho Pirate’s mask…a reference to (and likely a plot point based on) the conclusion of the now-30-year-old Crisis on Infinite Earths, which left Psycho Pirate as the one character who remembered the pre-Crisis multiverse…well, aside from everyone else who remembered it. (That situation was more-or-less twisted back into its original intent later in Animal Man.) And on top of all that, the comic is laid out in the 9-panel-grid in which Watchmen was largely presented.
I’m not 100% convinced we’re going to see any Watchmen characters in this particular story, honestly, beyond maybe a fleeting glimpse…I mean, we’ll find out within the next three weeks, of course. There’s more to come, too…the Batman issue I just placed orders for is already following up on the events in this storyline, so my guess is whatever big reveal we’re getting now is going to be “huh, there’s a multiverse and this button is from another universe and someone from said universe is futzing around with us.” Okay, I think the characters knew most of that already, but my point is that the full-on “Naked Blue Man Versus the DC Universe” is waiting for a Big Event Crossover Thingie down the line, and not happening in this Batman/Flash crossover that’s running now. Like I said, we’ll find out how right or wrong I am soon enough.
“Since you and GregA were discussing it on the Twitters and all … Did you find any more info about the proposed cancellation of Captain America back in the ’80s? That was at least a minor deal back then, and I seem to remember it was going to end around 300, with Cap being aged and having his ‘final’ victory over the Red Skull”
Yup…Twitter pal Greg posted a scan of a news item from an old Amazing Heroes (#69 from 1985, to be exact). I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing said scan to present it here, since I’m too lazy to scan it myself:
My memory at the time is that is was kind of a minor deal, as you say. Mostly surprise that Marvel would even think about ending one of their…well, maybe not a flagship title, as such, but certainly a long-running title with one of their most famous, if not top-selling, characters. You know, back in the day when every ongoing series didn’t get relaunched every 18 months.
And yes, I did spend some time going through subsequent issues of Amazing Heroes trying to find any kind of follow-up on this announcement, as well as going through the Amazing Heroes Preview Specials that would preview the next few months’ worth of content for individual titles. Alas, I couldn’t track down what I was looking for, which was confirmation of my vague-ish memory of someone at Marvel basically saying “hey, we realized that we couldn’t cancel Captain America, of all titles — that would be be crazy!” I said in the Twitter thread that followed that my belief was that said cancellation might have been forestalled by licensing deals that might have been dependent on Marvel continuing to publish and support the character, but that’s just a mostly uninformed assumption on my part.
Anyway, I am relatively certain that it was said somewhere, in some news story or interview, that the cancellation of that particular title was reconsidered because of the nature of the character and its importance to Marvel. And, if I recall correctly, I think it was also said by someone that the title wasn’t actually in danger of cancellation, and that its inclusion on the list above was a mistake. Now, I owned and have read a lot of comic ‘zines over the decades, so I don’t know where exactly I saw all this…or even if I did, since I should probably accept that possibility. If anyone has more specific information, feel free to let me konw.
“Have you ever been witness to a major collapse of shelves or avalanche of comics?
I have seen some pretty precarious shelves in the backs of comics shops before and it was always a concern of mine going into the back room of your old place of employment (though admittedly that was purely anxiety driven).”
Well, true enough, the shelving in the back of my old place of employment was very end-of-Raiders of the Lost Ark-ish, with shelving stretching up to the ceiling, filled with countless comic boxes. It was all quite sturdy and secure, however, and in the three different locations that store had while I worked there, I don’t believe there ever was a major collapse or shelf failure.
Now, that one time someone busted in through the ceiling to steal some…uh, Witchblade and Spawn comics, I thought maybe some of our bookshelves out front were knocked over, but from the look of things it was just a huge mess made by broken ceiling tiles and insulation.
The only time I can remember any sort of in-store shelving collapse was a hook busting loose that connected a shelf to its supporting unit and a bunch of books falling off. No life-threatening epic disaster stories to tell, thankfully. But here’s something to tide you over:
Okay, it’s the third post regarding this particular publishing plan of DC’s from waaaay back in the ancient times of the 1980s. If you’re just joining us, you can read just exactly what the hardcover/softcover thing is in these twoposts. If you’ve been here for the whole exciting saga, you’ll be glad to know that, as promised, I did ask my old boss Ralph about sales on the New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes comics during that period.
As it turns out, sales in Ralph’s shop were pretty much as you’d expect. The new printing-on-fancy-Baxter-paper direct sales only series sold great, and their newsstand counterparts still sold quite well as long as they continued presenting new stories. Once the newsstand versions started to reprint the stories from the new direct-sales series, sales on the newsstand series plummeted. They did still sell a handful of copies, so either someone was still following the series in the cheaper format, or just completing the run, or it was simply random, non-consistent purchases from walk-ins not necessarily following the comics but just wanted something to read.
Ralph didn’t recall if there were any holdouts who didn’t want to spring for the extra cost of the newer series, but instead waited for those stories to be reprinted in the less-expensive partner series. However, some readers left comments saying they did just that, based on wanting to get the maximum comics bang for their bucks with the limited amount of financial resources at hand. So, you know, I would guess that this particular buying strategy was a tad more common than I assumed.
I also asked Ralph if there was any grumbling from his regulars about now having to buy two series of, say, New Teen Titans a month, instead of the normal one. He didn’t really recall any, as it seemed to him at the time customers were excited about the new higher-quality Baxter-format comics, even at the higher price. Plus, DC picked a couple of series with strong enough fanbases that the prospect of more material available each month was generally welcome. …Man, that was a long time ago.
Personally, I dutifully bought both versions of New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes, up until the newsstand books went into reprints (except for the initial Titans one, since that reprinted the first appearance, which I didn’t have at the time, and a story from a DC digest which I did already have, but didn’t mind having in the full-sized format). I suspect, for readers who had the scratch and were within hopping, skipping and/or jumping distance of a devoted funnybook store, that was usually, but not always, the case.
Reader Michaellikened this to Marvel’s 1990s experiment with direct sales/newsstand editions of some of their books, like X-Men and Wolverine. However, the wait time between releases was only a couple of weeks or so, and the pricier, fancier version came out first, with the less expensive version on the less fancy paper coming afterwards. As I recall, the plan was to see which format would sell better in the direct market, and, as Michael notes, of course the fancier one sold better because people didn’t want to wait even that short of a time to keep up with these particular titles. My main memory of these was, when restocking the back issue bins, having to keep track which issue numbers of which titles had the two different formats, and making sure both were represented in the old comics boxes.
…This all seems so quaint, compared to the modern practice of “here’s a new number #1 for a character/franchise that’s already had multiple new #1s in recent memory, some of which are still going.” I often thought at the time that future price guides and collectors would have a hard time puzzling out the different permutations Titans, Legion and Outsiders went through trying to satisfy two different retail markets. Little did I know what was coming.
BobH has a few things on his mind, in reaction to my oddball analogy in a recent post:
“I wonder if, in retrospect, the direct/newsstand plan DC did was considered a success or a failure? The reprints lasted about 30 issues, which isn’t too bad, but they only added one other book to the plan, OUTSIDERS, and that one only lasted 8 issues into the reprints.”
Without going back and check exact dates on various titles (well, okay, I double-checked Omega Men) DC was experimenting quite a bit with “direct sales only” (i.e. only available in comic shops and your slightly more comprehensive newsstands*) titles in the early-to-mid 1980s. This was slightly before I entered into my lifetime of comics retailing, so I don’t have specifics on sales numbers and customer reactions and what have you to this turn of events, beyond anecdotes like BobH’s own. The “hardcover/softcover” plan, which, as previously described, was DC publishing stories in the direct market first, then reprinting them in their newsstand titles a year later, was a way for DC to establish a greater foothold in comic shops, using their biggest title (New Teen Titans) and the comic with a then still-strong fandom (Legion of Super-Heroes) while hopefully not abandoning their newsstand-only fans.
Now, was it a success? In the short term, if my memory of the sales charts in the Amazing Heroes magazine was correct, the direct-only NTT and LSH did sell quite well, and each series did last a long time (over 100 issues each, back in those “we don’t have to reboot a title every dozen issues” days), and the newsstand reprintings lasted about 3 years for the Titans, a little less for the Legion. I guess that’s not too bad on the newsstand reprints, though I suspect print runs were pretty low on those later issues. I wonder how many fans of either property bought both versions, just to keep their runs going? Even so, there must have been, at least for a time, enough people just buying the newsstand versions to keep them going even that long.
Also, was reminded of one of Marvel’s attempts (or only attempt? I’m drawing a blank) to duplicate the hardcover/softcover plan, the short-lived Dreadstar and Co.. That was a weird choice (an oddball creator-owned sci-fi book, though Marvel distributed other creator-owned books to newsstands, like Groo and Elfquest) though I don’t know that Marvel had enough big name direct-sales-only titles that would really fit this particular type of publishing/reprinting program.
“I always get the feeling that it ended up disrupting the momentum of TITANS and (especially) LSH, taking them from DC’s flagships to more fringe books. But I’m not sure how much of that was the publishing plan and how much was the quick change in artists (Perez only lasting two issues as full artist, three more as penciller and then gone, Giffen only two as penciller, three more co-plotting and then gone).”
At the very least, this seemed to be the beginning, or the middle-ing, of the abandonment of newsstands, by splintering the fandoms these titles in this way (in addition to the many direct-sales-only titles both Marvel and DC were producing). The newsstand reprints, though holding on for a while, were probably doomed to eventual cancellation as sales shifted toward comic shops and the folks who could only buy comics at newsstands were left behind. Widespread casual sales and awareness of these particular characters gave way to the “preaching to the converted” sales in the specialty comic shop, where people who were already comic fans were going anyway. …That’s a huge simplification (yes, of course there were some new people going to shops and discovering titles) but I think I’m reasonably on target.
Creative team changes probably didn’t help a whole lot in the direct market end of the equation, but New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes still had some solid artwork even after the departure of the artists most associated with each title. I’m sure some people were disappointed and stopped reading, but these comics still remained quality titles for quite some time. Again, I wasn’t there at the time except as a reader/buyer of funnybooks, but my sense is that sales probably were still doing fine after losing part of the creative teams that started ’em all off.
My own memories of the time are a little hazy, what with being 48 years old now an’ all, but I suspect I can ask former boss Ralph how sales were going on these comics at the time. Lemme get back to you.
* A local newsstand I used to go to seemed to have a lot more comics than your usual supermarket and convenience store racks…I don’t know what distributor they used, but they’d often get comics earlier than your traditional outlets, and even carried ‘zines like The Comic Reader and various indie publishers, like Fantagraphics and PC Comics.
So this is going back well over a quarter of a century, pretty near 30 years now, when your pal Mike was still but a comics retail neophyte, learning the ropes about slingin’ the funnybooks. We had a customer, Willie, who would come in his old van to the shop once or twice a month, popping in to ask if the latest issue of “the Rabbit” (AKA Usagi Yojimbo) had come in.
Another thing he would ask about is if we had any back issues of The Bug in stock.
Took us a bit to figure out who and what he was talking about. Turns out he was thinking of the character Forager, alternatively known as the Bug, who was a supporting character in Jack Kirby’s New Gods. “Willie,” we would say to him, “do you mean issues of New Gods in which the Bug appeared? Is that what you mean?” And Willie would reply, nope, while that was the character he was definitely thinking of, he specifically remembered the Bug starring in his own solo comic book series, separate from New Gods.
Now, we eventually convinced Willie that he was almost certainly misremembering the comic (in fact, I’d bet money he was thinking of this issue), but he would still bring it up once in a while, as a running joke. My then-coworker Rob and I even toyed with the idea of writing and drawing a short Bug comic to give to him as a gag, but alas, we never did do that.
I haven’t seen Willie in a very long time. I think I last saw him sometime in the early ’90s, and I have only the vaguest memory that he had either moved out of the area or he no longer had the disposable income for even his limited comic book habit…or perhaps both. Whatever the reason, Willie and his van became a nearly forgotten memory of my early comics retailing days.
Nearly forgotten, because just the other day this happened:
…and that memory of Willie and his insistence that a Bug solo comic existed all came back to me. And let me tell you, I had the weirdest combination of bemusement and frustration come over me when I heard about this. I’d actually missed the announcement of this comic, but my longtime customer Brook told me about it and my immediate reaction was an outraged “WHAT!?” Not outraged at the comic itself, mind you, but outrage at my inability to inform Willie that he would finally be getting what he wanted all those years ago.
All I wanted to do was send a message back in time to Willie, telling him to eat right, exercise, cut the cigarettes, and just hang in there ’til 2017 because HERE IT COMES:
Ah, Willie. I hope you’re still out there, and somehow, someway, you know this is happening.
…Well, okay, perhaps that quote from Star Wars Episode IV: Remember When There Was Just the One Movie is overstating things a bit, but it was kind of odd to have my former boss Ralph from the previous place of employment come to my shop and fill in for me for most of this Thursday. Yes, I was my old boss’s boss for part of a day, and yes, that seemed strange. But it was quite nice of him to step in, as I was attending funeral services for my girlfriend’s mother at that time. He reported that there were more than a few shocked faces after walking into my store that day and seeing him behind the counter…some folks hadn’t seen Ralph in years got to catch up with him again! (And he’s still selling comics, but just doesn’t own a store, so it’s not like I handed the keys over to a competing shop or anything.) (Or did I? Dun-dun-DUNNNN.)
Anyway, I’ve had a long Thursday, and a long week in general, I’m pretty wiped out, so I’m putting a cap on this week here at Progressive Ruin Industries. I’ll let the batteries refresh over the weekend and I’ll be back in fightin’ trim on Monday.
Though, just so there’s some actual Star Warsian content to justify the title of this post, there’s a couple of things that came up on Twitter last night that I’d been thinking about for a while, and wanted to pose to you folks.
1. It seems like (to me anyway) it’s only a matter of time before Marvel starts mixing the Star Wars license with the regular Marvel Universe. I mean, beyond special variant covers…I’m talking actual comic book stories like Super-Villain Team-up with Darth Vader and Magneto or a Vision/R2D2 crossover or something. How likely do you think that’ll happen?
2. I believe that within my lifetime, I will see an official Star Wars/Star Trek crossover of some sort…probably in the comics, maybe in a novel, almost certainly not in live action. Now, with Disney having dumped four billion smackers into the franchise, there’s almost certainly no need for Star Wars to “team up” with anything, as the films don’t need any sort of gimmicky sales boost, beyond the gimmicky sales boost of being a Star Wars movie. But I think all it takes is one or two or a half-dozen box office crashing turkeys to drive either property to such desperate measures. Star Trek certainly hasn’t been shy about crossing over with other company’s properties, so it feels like that side of the deal wouldn’t say “no.” Think this will happen? In my lifetime? In any of our lifetimes? In the far-flung fuuuuuture?
So one of the truisms I often repeat is that the great irony of owning a comic book store is having less time to read comics. I mean, I’m doing my best, and it’s not like I get all that many to begin with, but trying to find the free time to sit down and read them is quite the challenge. Usually, the evening after the new shipment arrives, I’ll try to get through as many as I can from the batch I’ve taken home, but if I don’t get through them all…well, generally, the ones I don’t finish will just roll over to the next week and add to the next pile of new comics, and you can see how this can turn into a problem.
Again, I don’t get all that many, but even falling behind on a couple series can build up the need-to-read stack faster than I’d care to see, especially with DC’s current biweekly schedule on a number of their titles. I am trying to put a little more effort into catching up, and I’m slowly doing so…and it’s not like there’s anything I’m particularly anxious to cut from my reading lists. I do like everything I’m reading at the moment, so there’s nothing that really stands out as being in need of a culling. And having this iPad and a Comixology account ain’t helping.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the picture of The Joker: The Clown Prince of Crime trade paperback in the corner of this post, there. That, my friends, is a scan of a trade paperback I actually acquired in late 2013, when I was still at my previous place of employment, and I never made the time to actually sit down and read. Yes, even when I was but a mere manager of a comic shop, and not the All-Mighty Lord and Master of My Own Funnybook Store, I was having difficulty keeping up on everything I wanted to read. Usually, the periodicals would come first, then I’d make my way into the collections like these…which of course meant the trade paperbacks and graphic novels would sometimes sit around a bit before I’d finally get around to them.
And in this case…okay, it only took me three years. What reminded me of this book was the fact that I was going through The Formerly-Vast Mikester Comics Archive at home, found I had this comic in one of my boxes, remembered “oh yeah, I bought a trade that reprints all these,” and brought the comic to work to put out for sale. Simultaneously I also remembered “hey, I never got around to reading that trade paperback. I should do so.”
As it turned out, I’ve been a little under the weather lately…feeling better today, but in case you were wondering why I didn’t update this site with a Monday post this week, that’s why. But as such I’ve been resting at home in the evenings, and doing a little comic book readin’, and this Joker TPB was amongst the materials I’ve been perusing. Now, it’s a fun series, and one I’d been intermittently acquiring in singles (which I’ll tell you more about in a moment), but never finished, so this book fit my collecting bill, or, you know, something like that. It’s a breezy read, with entertainingly funny stories by Denny O’Neil, Marty Pasko, and Elliot S! Maggin with art by Irv Novick and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It even makes an attempt at some slight continuity, with a consistent supporting cast, or at least recurring characters (such as the henchman named “Southpaw”). Every story pretty much ends with the Joker’s defeat, naturally, since he is a villain, despite being the star of this show.
One weird aspect of reading this series comes from both the change in preferred storytelling techniques from then ’til now, and the change in the actual portrayal of the Joker. Back in the ’70s, when this series first appeared, thought balloons revealing a character’s internal monologue were still a thing (and would continue to be a thing until mostly falling out of favor in recent years). As such, in this comic we were occasionally privy to the Joker’s “private” thoughts…not that anything deep or meaningful was revealed, no hidden motives or secret pasts referenced, but we were still given a peek into just what was going on in that head of his. This had bit of a “normalizing” effect on him, from my perspective, especially when contrasted with his appearances in more modern comics as an unknowable, terrifying monster with no thought balloons. Or at least fewer…don’t have every recent Joker appearance right in front of me, but my memory is that, given the de-emphasis on thought balloons in comic book storytelling, we weren’t given the same insight, as it were, into Joker’s thoughts as we did back in this series and other comics at the time.
Of course, adding to this contrast is that the older version of the Joker is more…well, “friendly” is almost certainly the wrong word, but was definitely more a cartoony, funny character who shocked you by also being a murderous clown, versus the modern Joker who from the get-go absolutely looks like he’s going to kill you and everyone you know. Not saying one version is better than the other, but it’s interesting to note the change.
Another neat bit I took from the trade paperback: the very idea of a “crooked entomologist,” as per this panel:
Selling black market beetles? Smuggling drugs via luna moths? Waiting for his moment to make his strike against the world? “RISE, MY POTATO BUG ARMY, RISE!” I love the idea of an entomologist just pretending to be a fine, upstanding insect scientist by day, while committing the most heinous of crimes at night. BUG CRIMES.
Anyway, I’m glad I’ve finally got to read this book, after it had been sitting on shelf at home, unloved, all this time.
Now, the first time I read an issue of this series, it was from buying a copy of #1 at one of the monthly comic book conventions in Los Angeles, sometime in the late 1980s. This was prior to the release of the first Tim Burton Batman movie, so sales and prices on Bat-stuff hadn’t yet gone completely crazy, which is why I was able to find a copy of The Joker #1 in someone’s dime box. No, not a dollar box, or even a quarter box, but a dime box. For a measly 10 cents, I got my hands on that first issue. As I recall, it was the only comic I bought from that particular dealer…making him give me change back from my dollar for this one lowly issue. No idea what other treasures I passed up there…probably stacks of Incredible Hulk #181 and Uncanny X-Men #137, but I had that Joker #1 and that was all I needed.
And then the Tim Burton Batman movie came out and everyone lost their minds and I ended up eventually selling it for, like, $30, so there you go.
Not long after the Burton film and the attendant Bat-price increases, when I was still just a fresh-faced young kid working at the comic book store, one of our regulars fished a copy of The Joker #1 out of our 50-cent boxes. Needless to say, this wasn’t a 50-cent comic any more at that point, but we played fair and sold it to him at that price, with both of us knowing what a deal he got. Naturally, after he left, we zipped through the bargain boxes to make sure no other “great deals” were to be found. And nope, just a bunch of DC’s 100-Page Giants from the 1970s…those were mostly all reprints, and nobody was ever going to pay big money for any of those, ever.
So my pal Bully, the little bull stuffed with lovin’, is a bit down in the dumps at the moment, and he can use a little support. I posted that above image, made long ago and posted on this site before, to my Twitter account (with a link to Bully’s account), and have been asking people to retweet it. Hopefully, when Bully peeks in on his own Twitter feed, he’ll see all the support he’s been getting there. If you’ve got a Twitter account and can retweet that tweet, please do. You can “like” it, too, but definitely retweet so it gets around. Thanks!
• • •
In other news…this is a hell of thing:
Life goes on, and this weekend life brought me a whole lotta boxes of old Star Wars and (to a much lesser extent) Star Trek goodies…boxes shown here:
Mostly unopened action figures, with some other related items, like that Vanity Fair with the — Star Wars cover, I think? — peeking out the translucent plastic , there. And there are some TV Guides, with multiple covers for one issue featuring lenticular images of the Star Wars cast…can’t remember ever seeing those particular Guides before. Anyway, I’ll have plenty to look at and almost certainly post here once I figure out a strategy of how I’m going to deal with all these items. I mean, aside from keeping all the droid toys for myself. Oh, man, if there’s an intact Droid Factory playset in here, I’m closing for the day and just building droids ’til the wee hours.
Of course, the real trick here is determining prices, since it’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with Star Wars/Trek figures, with not much of an idea of the secondary market on some of these things. I have vague memories of there being some collector demand for certain figures with particular part/run numbers and so on, but I can see that driving me crazy in short order. But that’s just a matter of research…and frankly, both I and the person I’m selling these for are more interested in moving the majority of them out for bargain prices rather than trying to sell that one special Ugnaught w/Variant Purple Speckled Overalls for an extra dollar or two on eBay. But the plan is that some will go on eBay, most will go in the store for relatively inexpensive prices, what with the Christmas holiday coming up…though I’m not sure how many kids are going to want to find a Phantom Menace Ric Olié action figure under the tree, regardless if it’s the “closed-hand variant” or not.
And then there’s the problem of me wanting any of these for myself. For the most part I’ve been pretty good about not buying toys for myself (aside for those toys of a Swamp Thing-ish persuasion, of course) but the little droid figures are just so appealing to me. If I’d had my wits about me as a young Mikester, I could have restricted myself to just buying the droid figures from the Star Wars line all this time and amassed a tiny robot army. Alas, I can only collect so much, what with the comic books, buttons, and glow-in-the-dark novelty socks I’m already gathering. Despite all that, I bet I’ll probably keep something out of these boxes. I’m weak, I can’t help myself.
One thing I probably won’t be keeping is that sealed package of promotional Star Trek: Voyager popcorn, pictured above. From what I understand, while unpopped kernels can last indefinitely if stored in an airtight container and kept cool and dry, kernels in a microwave package can go bad relatively quickly. Don’t eat these at home, kids! I’m wondering if I can get away with selling this on the eBay as long as I put a bit warning in the listing: DO NOT POP OR CONSUME – BAG IT UP, PUT IT WITH YOUR OTHER STAR TREK STUFF. …Actually, between typing that last sentence and typing this one, I did check the eBays and found a couple packs of these for sale there, between $10 and $27. Guess I’ll be throwing my hat into the highly competitive Promotional Popcorn Packaging arena.
So the general consensus to Monday’s post, in which I talk about not wanting to spend my time grading and pricing other people’s comics for free, is “good on you.” And a lot of “you shouldn’t feel bad,” and honestly, I don’t. My comment near the end of that post about seeming “terribly selfish” was my half-attempt at trying to balance just how negative I was sounding. It was all “I won’t do this” and “I won’t do that” and, despite being entirely justified, I felt like I was coming across like a real sorehead. Thus, I assure you, I am perfectly happy saying “no” when I feel like someone’s trying to take advantage of me (even if they don’t realize they are, which most of the time is the case).
“It sounds like it’s happening to you more frequently lately. Is that true? And is there a reason for it? Has something suggested to your community that this is a service local comic shop owners provide?”
I’m not sure, frankly. In fact, my first phone call at the shop that Monday was someone else asking if I’d price their comics for them. Now, part of it may simply be the local populace becoming increasingly aware that there’s now a comic book store lurking in their midst, and that’s enough for people to dig out their backpacks and milk crates filled with full runs of Youngblood: Strikefile out of the storage units and haul ’em into my shop. Also pointed out is that you can expect a flurry of this sort of behavior whenever there’s a widespread puff piece in the news about “first Batman sells for a billion dollars.” I don’t think there’s been a widely disseminated story along these lines lately (well, there’s this, but I doubt that’s putting dollar signs in the eyes of people in Southern California), but they’re easy enough to find online, so those stories never really go away.
Also, it seems to me that any collectibles store probably gets a lot of this sort of request. I can only speak for comic shops, since that’s where I’ve been imprisoned employed for all this time, but I’ve been hearing “can you tell me what this is worth?” for decades now. Usually, it’s someone calling on the phone (as one may infer from the title to Monday’s post) with a book or two or a dozen that they rattle off to me and expect me to price and grade on the spot, which I can’t do because I have no idea what condition the item is in, and it never does any good to ask because the person on the phone never knows. Sometimes I can’t even get the title out of ’em. The running gag is that if I’m told it’s a mint X-Men from the 1960s, it’ll ultimately turn out to be a Cyber Force from the ’90s that might actually still be on fire.
In person, it works about the same. Someone has a comic at home, they want me to nail down a price on it, and I really can’t, not without seeing it. Now, I’m not a complete jerk about it…on the off chance that they know the actual title and issue number, and I’m not otherwise occupied, I can pop open the price guide and give them the range of values the book might fall under, emphasizing that “condition is everything.” And like I said last time, if they want to poke through the store copy of the price guide, so long as I’m not using it, no problem. I just can’t price books without seeing them, because if I do so and then they bring in the comics to sell, and they’re not in the condition promised, then any prices based on that condition are out the window and nobody’s happy.
Anyway, that’s Day Two of “Mike’s Comic Buying Philosophy” and my thanks to my two remaining readers for sticking with this.
A weird thing that’s been happening of late is the preponderance of folks stopping into my store with stacks and stacks of books wanting me to, you know, just spend a few minutes grading and pricing them out of the goodness of my heart and not out of any expectation that the comics would eventually end up in my possession. As you may have gathered from that too-long sentence, this is not a thing that I want to do. I’ve spent decades learning to grade and price comics, and that the actual grading/pricing process of a pile of comics takes time, and if I’m spending time doing this without receiving any benefit from it (like, say, being able to sell the comics myself to make profit for the store), then it’s taking away from my ability to make a living with my shop.
My old boss Ralph used to offer an appraisal service, where he’d go through a collection and do a full write-up of grades and current estimated pricing on each comic, but he’d charge an hourly fee to do so. In my case, there was one person with a small stack of books that he asked me to grade, as he was attempting to grade and price them himself and he wanted to see if he was doing it at least reasonably properly. This person did offer to pay me for my time, and seeing as how it wasn’t too many books, and I wasn’t necessarily busy at that very moment, I went ahead and did so. Doing a full-on written-up appraisal of a large collection is probably not something I can do right now, since the shop is still a one man show and paid or not, that sort of appraisal would take away more time from other store duties than I’d be comfortable with. But, getting paid for a quick run-through of a small selection of books? Sure, I can manage that.
Otherwise, expecting me to go through each book in a large-ish assortment and give you a report on the price and condition of each one, for free? That’s asking a bit much. Thankfully, the other folks asking me for this realized my reluctance to do so, and pulled back their requests, mostly just wondering if they had anything particularly valuable in their piles of books that they should be aware of. That’s clearly a bit less time consuming, particularly in the case of the duffel bag full of well-worn ’90s comics. Maybe not so much with the large bag filled with ’60s comics, also mostly worn and water-damaged but with a couple of nice copies of Detective that I made sure to point out to the gentleman. I was trying to help them, but not in the much more extensive and time-consuming way they initially desired.
I don’t think I’m being too much of a hardnose about it. If someone drops in with a couple of comics they’re wondering about, I’ll give ’em a hand figuring out what they’ve got. But I honestly can’t spend the time processing other people’s collections when I’ve got boxes full of comics I actually am able to sell that I need to grade and price.
When I’m actually buying a collection, I have to do grade/price estimates, obviously, but that’s specific information I usually keep to myself, using it to decide my total offer at the end of the transaction. I mean, if the seller asks “how much am I getting for this comic?” or “what’s the most expensive one in the bunch,” of course I’ll let them know, but if they decide not to take my offer, all that exact grading/pricing info stays with me. I didn’t do that work so that someone can take that information and use it to sell the comics themselves. (They probably couldn’t read my chickenscratch notes that I scribble during the process anyway.)
This all probably sounds terribly selfish, but I have to protect myself. I can’t do extensive amounts of free labor for other people to profit from. That’s not fair to me. Like I said, I don’t mind looking at the occasional book or two for someone, or even just letting them peruse the store copy of the price guide, but those three or four long boxes you dragged in just for me to price for you? Obviously those comics are all in Gem Very Good to Fair Plus condition, at a penny apiece. That estimate is no charge to you.