You get to retell stories you’ve already told once you’re an old person like me.

§ April 15th, 2020 § Filed under how the sausage is made, retailing § 13 Comments

Okee doke, finally going back to this question posed by Twitter pal Tim (which I first mentioned in this post):

“Best example of people overvaluing comics which they were attempting to sell to you (another excuse for you to reference the Death / Return of Superman)”

When I first brought this up, I mentioned I had a specific story in mind that I’d discussed before, probably on this site, certainly on Twitter, and most definitely on Alan David Doane‘s “Comic Book Galaxy” site, where I wrote a monthly column entitled “Mike Sterling’s Behind the Counter” about a decade ago. Look, I had a logo and everything:

Now as it turns out, on the old version of Progressive Ruin, I had a sidebar link to an index page linking all the articles I wrote for the site. That particular piece of HTML still exists, but only the latter half of the articles are archived here. For reasons I no longer remember, the other half were still linking to their original spot over on CBG which no longer exists. And of course, the story I wanted to tell was in the very first column I wrote for that site.

The good news is that I did go and save copies of all those pages directly from CBG before it went down, so back-ups of those earlier columns do exist, and with, you know, the extra free time everyone seems to have nowadays maybe I can get all those earlier columns back up for you to enjoy. Or “enjoy,” as the case may be.

Anyway, that whole preamble is just to tell you that I’m totally just cutting-and-pasting the story Tim’s tweet brought to mind from that old column to this current post. So, here’s Younger Mike with Browner Hair and Working Eyes to tell you about the day someone had an old Superboy comic to sell:

A few years ago, I received a call from someone claiming to have a copy of Superboy #1 in absolutely perfect condition, and that he wanted to bring it in to sell. “Which one?” I ask, since there have been several Superboy #1s on the stands over the years.

“Oh, it’s the very first one…from the 1940s. And it’s in pristine condition!’

Well, I tell him to bring it in and we’ll take a gander at it.

The next day, a couple comes in carrying a briefcase. They identify themselves as the people with the Superboy #1, and gingerly place the briefcase on the counter. Popping the latches, they open the case and carefully lift the comic out.

It’s a Superboy Annual #1, from 1964. Still a nice item, not as rare or expensive as the original Superboy #1, but still not a shabby item to have around. That is, it would have been nice to have around, if not for the fact that this “perfect condition” comic had no cover, and had been so waterlogged at some point in the past that it was now pretty much a solid brick. We tried to explain to the couple, as nicely as we could, that the comic wasn’t the title they thought it was, and it didn’t matter anyway since it was in completely unsellable condition.

Well, they were pretty darn mad. They thought we were trying to pull something over on them, perhaps supposedly trying to get them to part with the book for a pittance…even though we were making it quite clear that we weren’t interested in buying. Angrily, they grabbed up their comic, shoved it back in their briefcase, and stomped out of the store in a huff. For all I know, they’re still wandering from town to town, getting increasingly upset that all these comic shops are turning their noses up at such a “great item.”

That’s gotta be at least 20 years ago now that this happened. I bet they’re still wandering the Earth lookin’ for buyers. Or maybe there was a bitter divorce, with the greatest acrimony saved for the battle over who was going to keep this priceless heirloom. Who’s to say.

If you know this story already, I apologize. For the 70% or so of you out there who don’t have my every online utterance memorized, I hope you enjoyed that story. Granted, it may not entirely fit Tim’s request, as no specific anticipated costs were noted by the hopeful sellers, but it’s pretty safe to say they weren’t expecting a Rip Taylor-esque $1.98 if they were lugging the damn thing around in a briefcase.

And that’s probably the apex of my “people hoping for more than what they were offered” stories. I mean, it happens all the time, of course…people walk in (or used to walk in, before The End Times) thinking their comic is worth millions, and are shocked when they get offered $10. Most people understand, once “condition” and “demand” are explained to them, but it’s so commonplace it’s hardly even stands out any more. Even with the Death of Superman issue, one of which I have in the case right now, the customer is usually all “I remember when these sold for $300!” before selling it to me for, like, $15 or $20.

More common is when comics show up in collections with price tags from other shops/sellers…and not current or local sellers, usually, but tags on things that had been in storage for a while, that sort of thing. I wrote about a couple examples here, where some shop apparently only saw the price of “$24.00” for every price guide entry.

Another example is that there’s someone at a local flea market who sells old comics in decaying, yellowing polyethelyne bags with felt-tip pen prices written on them (the bags, not the comics) that are laughably out of bounds. Could be these bags were reused from previous, actually expensive comics (not likely), or that the prices were deliberately inflated so that when he actually had them priced at $2 or whatever, buyers would think they’re getting a real bargain, or they’re just streaight up invented. I have no idea what the story is.

Oh, there’s another thing that happens once in a while that I just remembered. It’s the personal collection where someone’s already gone through all the issues and assigned prices to them by affixing sticky notes to each bag (or directly on the comic) with their estimated price scribbled thereon. Sometimes the prices are the mint ones, sometimes they’re the lowest marked price in the guide (and occasionally even that’s too high), and sometimes, again, they’re just made up out of thin air. I understand the impulse to do it, to make sure they’re at least somewhat informed before attempting to unload the stash, but the prices almost never have any bearing on whatever offer is eventually made.

As to a couple of your examples:

William Lynch serves up the following

“There’s a guy in our coin club who keeps trying to convince us that his 1990s Pizza Hut X-Men giveaways are worth a mint.”

That’s a weird sort of collectible, in that it seems like it should be something that’s rare, valuable and in demand. It features big name characters, it’s in a non-standard format and it comes from a non-traditional comics venue. Surely these are hard to come by and command high prices! Except nobody cares, really. No comment on the actual quality of the books, but…I don’t know if it’s because of the nonstandard format, or because they come from a period of X-Cessive X-Men stuff being available everywhere, but they’re almost impossible for me to move. For a while they were even getting dumped on me in collections, and I have a stash in the backroom still, waiting for the ones in the main room to sell and require replacing.

• • •

Michael Grabowski hands over this

“…In the mid-80s my uncle gave me a bunch of fair (or less) condition late 60s Marvel Annuals. One of them was X-Men Annual #1, published in 1970. I loved those comics and that gift, but they are long gone. He now insists that it was a mint condition X-Men #1 which he regrets having given to me.”

Ah yes, the imaginary expensive comic. I get that every once in a while. The folks who insist that they have a “first Superman comic” or something back at the house or in their grandma’s attic or whatever that they swear they’re going to find and bring in. Well, okay, it’s been a long time since this was a commonplace occurrence, but 15, 20 years ago I seemed to get it all the time, to the point where it was a kind of running joke. No idea what they actually had, unless it was one of these treasury edition reprints from the 1970s.

Sometimes folks would ask “what would you give me for [old comic I totally have at home, no foolin’]?” and we’d say “probably a lot of money…bring it in!” and of course we’d never see that person again.

• • •

And a couple of you brought up the dreaded “cat pee” comics, which is an entirely different problem. Usually we didn’t even get to the point of discussing money, we’d just say “plese remove these from our presence, they do offend the olfactory senses” or words to that effect.

On par with the awfulness of cat pee was the time at the previous place of employment we somehow ended up with a collection that had been kept in, of all places, an airplane hanger. The wonderful smell attached to said comice we were told was plane fuel. …For all I know, those are still being aired out. So kids, keep your comics away from cat pee and airplanes, and especially from cats flying planes.

• • •

Speaking of cats, Robcat slinks in with

“I am actually more interested in the flip side. You ever find anything really valuable in what people thought was probably all junk?”

Hoo boy…I think the closest I came was at my own shop, where someone brought in a shoebox full of old comics and on the top of the stack inside was Adventure Comics #247, the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which I’d never actually had as a comic for sale either at the old job or at my current one. Now the other comics in the box were pretty good too (mostly Batman comics from the same period) but a major key book like this sure stood out from the rest of the bunch.

A story I once heard (and now I can’t remember if it was my old boss Ralph or our late, lamented customer Bruce) involved the cleaning of a garage stuffed with old junk and newspapers, and finding, tucked into one of those newspapers, a mint copy of Captain America #1, the 1940s one with Cap slugging Hitler. (And if either Ralph or Bruce called it “mint,” it was definitely mint.) Needless to say, the garage cleaning slowed to a crawl as now suddenly everything was searched, every box, every drawer, every remaining newspaper, for similar funnybook treasures. …Of course, that Cap comic was the only one found.

For another story of surprise finds, please see this comment from Tenzil Kem.

• • •

If you read this far, you’re probably home by now, so let me leave you with this: speaking of things I’ve talked about before, in reference to our recent discussions about Pariah from Crisis on Infinite Earths, please enjoy this old post of mine.

13 Responses to “You get to retell stories you’ve already told once you’re an old person like me.”

  • Dave-El says:

    Of course having a treasury edition reprint of Action Comics#1 is not the same as actually having Action Comics#1. But I’m wondering (and this making me feel very old contemplating this) but those treasury edition reprints are very close to half a century old. Do those treasury edition reprints have any significant value themselves?

  • Thom H. says:

    Holy crap — finding the mint Captain America #1 must have been super exciting.

    And it looks like I got my wires crossed — no cat pee in your story. Although, waterlogged into a brick isn’t that far off.

    Off topic, but all this price talk made me think of it: My least favorite shopping experience is when the store doesn’t price the books until you’ve picked them out. Anybody else have that happen to them?

    There’s a chain in the Midwest (that shall remain nameless) that has a *huge* collection of back issues, none of which are priced until you take them to the counter. Then the owner/manager looks them up in the guide and prices them on the spot. So awkward when they’re (inevitably) more expensive than expected.

    I get that it’s easier to not price a huge collection of individual issues that will keep shifting value over time, but come on. Give a guy *some* idea of what he’s getting into before he gets to the counter.

  • ScienceGiant says:

    “…Any given issue of BLUE DEVIL generally isn’t worth $24 even if you stuffed a twenty dollar bill into the comic bag with it.”

    My older brother told me to save the bicentennial quarters they minted in 1976 because they were going to be worth something in the future. And he was right: they’re worth twenty-five cents.

  • Steven R says:

    My favorite story was the guy who brought some magazines into a comic con. All the dealers passed,
    except for the owner of Nostalgia Newsstand in Greenville NC. He took a look and found the first few issues of Marvel Comics – Marvel Mystery Comics in VF+. He offered to broker them for a commission. It’s been a few decades ago, and he never showed me #1, as that one was locked away. But it was nice to see the next few issues.

  • John Lancaster says:

    To Thom H. – That chain wouldn’t start with a word that rhymes with ____ and end with something you ____, would it? If so, ____ hasn’t gotten a cent out of me for over 30 years…and you’re statement is part of that reason. I have a hatred of unpriced back issues that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

    Edited by Mike

  • Chris V says:

    Thom H-There used to be an used book store that sold comics near where I live.
    I had bought comics from them before, and the guy who worked there didn’t care about the comics. He basically gave them away. He sold me a copy of Uncanny X-Men #108 for $5, and it was worth far more.

    I went in one day, and the owner was working. I picked out a stack of some Thor issues from the 1970s. Nothing worth a great deal. Normally, the guy working there would have sold them to me for $1 a comic.

    I didn’t realize that the store owner didn’t actually approve of rock-bottom priced comics.
    He got out the guide and started ringing up the total. Way more than a buck a book!
    I had $20 on me. I didn’t intend to spend more than that on comics.
    I told the owner. He seemed annoyed with me, telling me that it was a good deal.
    I said I was sure that it was, but I didn’t realize the Thor issues were worth that much. I said I’d buy a couple of them.
    My stack of Thor comics turned in to about four issues.

    I was thinking that this wouldn’t happen if the guy actually priced his comics.
    I was glad he didn’t when I got a copy of Defenders #2 for $2 from the other guy a few weeks later.
    I miss that store, even if they failed to properly price their comics.

  • Damien says:

    I had the treasury edition of Superman 1 without the cover given to me by a neighbour and I genuinely thought he’d accidentally given me a valuable thing. I was 9, so I had an excuse.

  • King of the Moon says:

    Toonces, the flying cat
    the cat who could fly a plane
    he flies around
    all over the town
    Toonces, the flying cat

  • Thom H. says:

    @John L: I’ve never had a problem with them, actually. At least not in the stores near me. I didn’t realize they had locations that didn’t price their back issues. Ugh — just not a great sales strategy, as Chris V illustrates above.

  • Donald G says:

    During this lockdown, I’ve definitely been guilty of being that guy pulling out last year’s “Overprice Guide” and their companion Guide to Grading Comics, along with selections of back issues in various grades that I’ve recently purchased from a more local store AND a nationally known online Texas chain for comparison purposes and setting to work amateurly grading my collection of back issues while I rebag my collection, and, yes, scribbling prices on stickers – and figuring out prices for the newer in-between plus and minus grades.

    However, I *know* that if I were to try to sell them at a comic shop, I would never get anywhere near those prices. That’s not how the game works.

    These prices I’ve assigned to my books are the prices I could try to sell them for if I owned and operated a comic shop, not if I were trying to sell them TO a comic shop. I wouldn’t be able to sell them for these prices at a yard sale. I could probably get away with those prices or more at a flea market, where I suspect buyers are less informed.

    But, I’m doing this mostly as an intellectual exercise while locked up at home.

    What I have noticed is that the Albuquerque store and the nationally known Texas chain I used for real-world comparison purposes appear to grade to stricter criteria than the pictures and descriptions in the Overstreet Guide to Grading would indicate.

  • John Lancaster says:

    Thom H – Well, it has been 30+ years, stuff has probably changed but back at the old ____ location (and just typing that made me smell perm solution) I don’t think I ever saw a price on anything and the clerks there were always all bent out of shape about figuring it out for you. There are other parts of the equation for my disdain, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Edited by Mike

  • BobH says:

    In the “pricing comics at the counter” category, my story is circa 1990, a low rent shopping mall I happened to be in and saw a store with a few comics in the window. Of course I went it, they had maybe two boxes of stuff, all in old bags and unpriced. I was just starting to buy 1970s back issues, and there was some neat stuff I needed. I found a few 1970s DC BLACK MAGIC reprint series of Kirby&Simon Prize comics, and figured I’d ask about those first. Guy pulls out an Overstreet and quotes a ridiculous price. I ask if he’s sure, and he says that’s what the book says. Some back and forth and he finally shows me, and turns out he’s looking at the 1950s series (and quoting the near mint price, which these are not). I try to point out to him that he needs to go down a few inches on the page, pointing out the 1973 date in the books and the DC logo on the covers, and he would have none of it. I left without buying anything, and I’m pretty sure he thought I was trying to rip him off.

  • Hey Mike!

    The system was unavailable halfway through my search for the latest columns archive page that would have included most or all of your old CBG columns, but this page has a lot of them, and if you have time to poke around you will probably find more.

    Thanks for the shout out to the best era of Comic Book Galaxy!