“I remember when comics were only 8 cents!” “What are you, some kind of weirdo, get outta here.”

§ August 24th, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 20 Comments

Some responses to my last post, the one about one’s childhood comics collections being thrown out seemingly transitioning to being kept around:

will richards bids the following

“Perhaps eBay has put paid to the ‘chucking out’ ritual?”

That probably doesn’t hurt, the idea that anything can be monetized probably encourages people to hold onto things with the idea “I can probably sell this” even if they never get around to it. It can be a lot of effort to list a bunch of individual issues on eBay, especially if you don’t really know much grading or even the comics themselves (which frankly doesn’t seem to stop a lot of people, judging by several auctions I’ve seen over the years).

And not just eBay, of course…I’m sure folks unload their piles of funnybooks on Craigslist or through similar means. I can imagine, though, so many similar piles of ’90s comics being trading around that they’re either going for next to nothing or just straight up free, he said without researching this in the slightest. I do know that I’ve acquired plenty a collection either for a song or completely gratis from people who didn’t want to bother with eBaying or Craigslisting.

• • •

John Lancaster puts his dime down on

“Back in my olde shop days, the one I tired of was the older gentleman wandering in and then declaring ‘I remember when these where all a nickel!’ and ‘I had the very first Superman but my mom made me give it to the paper drive for the War.’ Generally I got this at least once or twice a year.”

I used to get similar comments at my previous place of employment, but not so much at my own store. We’ve very clearly aged out of that era, though most of the folks I encounter who remember 10-cent comics now are remembering them from the ’50s and early ’60s, not so much the ’40s.

Oddly enough, I didn’t get a lot of “Mom threw away my Superman #1″ (almost never Action #1, probably because they didn’t know/remember that Supes first appeared there). What I did hear a lot was “I have a Superman #1, would you buy it?” We always said “sure, bring it in,” and of course we’d never see that person again. I mean, it wasn’t impossible, but not very probable. Best case scenario is that they did have an old Superman comic, just not #1. Or probably that treasury-sized reprint from the 1970s. Or just something else entirely…had many a promised “Golden Age collection” turn out to be ’80s Spider-Man, so there you go.

And the whole “nickel” thing…yeah, probably just remembering incorrectly, but I also considered the possibility that they were buying them for a nickel apiece second-hand. I’ve seen enough old comics with a “5¢” written on the cover in grease pencil to think that’s maybe what they’re remembering. Or of course they bought a copy of that comic pictured above!

I do get the occasional “I remember when they were a quarter” or “fifty cents,” but not as often as the “10 cents/a nickel” I used to get. But if I’m in this business long enough, I’m eventually going to hear “I remember when comics were only $2.99” and all I’m asking is that you bury me not on the lone prairie after that happens.

• • •

Sir A1! gets saucy with

“When it comes to dumping comic book stock, it looks like the local Friends of the Library used book place has been on the receiving end of that for quite some time (at least in those pre-pandemic days). The funny thing is that although a chunk of the stock is 80/90s, there’s been an uptick in material from the recent past of five to ten years which always struck me as odd. Don’t know if they were from shuttered stores or just stores that just flat out dumped their overstock of ‘March On Ultimatum.'”

A long time ago, back in your pal Mike’s pre-comics retail days, I recall going into a thrift store in town and finding in their magazine bins multiple copies of various comics. The only specific issue I remember for sure was Fantastic Four #229 from 1981, and there were at least a couple dozen of that comic there. I’m sure I probably wondered how this store got these, but didn’t pursue the matter. They all looked new enough to my then-untrained-but-still-working-properly eyes. I wonder now if these were somebody’s investment copies that were dumped for unknown reasons (I mean, aside from “these are a lousy investment”) or extra store stock that said store didn’t feel like storing. Now, the only store in the general area at the time was my future place of employment, and I’m about 99% positive Ralph wouldn’t have dumped out any comics like this, no matter how many he had, so…who knows?

That’s a lot of typing to say I don’t know the deal at Sir A1!’s local library, beyond folks ridding themselves of collections and “investment,” particularly in the wake of that trend of downsizing possessions due to that Netflix show or book or whatever it was.

Anyway, seeing lots of ’80s/’90s books certainly doesn’t surprise me. The recent ones…surprise me a little bit, but I can see a shop unloading dead weight if they’re in a pinch for space (especially now-dead stuff like non-Miles Morales Ultimates-line comics). I’ve not quite reached that point yet, but there is a Goodwill donation center located about a block away from my shop, so there’s always the possibility.

• • •

Thom H hangs around the store all day and tells me

“My father tells the story of buying a comic book every week with his dime allowance. When comics jumped in price to $.12, he could only buy one every other week.”

To steal a story from my aforementioned former boss Ralph, he had, as a kid, walked into the local store with his shiny new dime to buy a comic book, only to discover the prices had all raised to 12¢. It turned out there was an empty lot next to that store, so Ralph rooted around over there until he scrounged up enough cans and bottles to turn in and make up the difference.

Hard to see something similar happening today…”what, this issue of Amazing Spider-Man is inexplicably $4.99 instead of the usual $3.99…better monetize my YouTube unboxing videos.”

“Finally, when I worked in a comic shop, there was a guy who came in occasionally to try to get employees involved in a ‘who would win in a fight: Superman or the Hulk?’ conversation. I was told to be nice to him but not let him get in the way of my work. He would talk to you all day if you let him — sweet guy.”

I’m sure I’ve had my fair share of conversations like that, but nothing’s really coming to mind at the moment. Probably just because it was just One of Those Things you dealt with being in the job you were.

It does seem like most comic book related conversations, especially of late, revolve around the actual publishing business. Like, “again with the reboot/relaunches,” “how many covers,” “they’re still publishing Spawn,” stuff like that. Not a whole lot about the actual content of the comics, beyond “that was cool” or “so what happens next?” I do have the occasional query into how DC’s continuity works (“Not well”) and occasionally I’ll have someone try to drag me into a “which is better, Marvel or DC” debate (my expert maneuver out of that one: “oh, I like them both pretty well”). It’s all fine, and I enjoy talking to customers about comics, but I can do without the “I just spent $100 on this one comic at [another store] from people who never spend more than a couple bucks at a time with me. C’MON, YOU’RE KILLING ME

“Anyway, I didn’t even realize that stories like these were falling by the wayside until it was pointed out here. Comics culture really has changed in the past few decades.”

It’s a bit sad, a little End-of-An-Era-ish, especially for those of us who’ve been in comics retail for too long. But that just means there are room for more, newer stories! Like “I had the first appearance of Harley Quinn, but my Roomba ate it.”

20 Responses to ““I remember when comics were only 8 cents!” “What are you, some kind of weirdo, get outta here.””

  • DavidG says:

    I wonder how much this is going to be impacted by the slow decline of the Boomers. I read an article a couple of years back about the glut of Elvis stuff, caused by a combination of his fans dying off and the younger generation having no great interest in him. He has been dead for almost as long as he was alive after all.

    https://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2017/may/07/elvis-presley-memorabilia-plummeting-in-price

    Will comics go the same way? Younger people get the superhero buzz from movies, why buy comics at all?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Comics were twelve cents when I discovered them, so of course I accepted that as natural. Looking at the fact now, I realize that it is actually a rather peculiar price. I mean, throughout the history of comics, the price has always been some multiple of five (recently, with a penny shaved off), except for this one brief period.

    Of course, as we know, when ten cents ceased being a viable price, there was much discussion within the business of how far to raise the price, and Dell did briefly go directly from ten to fifteen cents. Famously, its sales then plummeted, which convinced the other publishers to take a more cautious approach.

  • Chris G says:

    When I started regularly buying comics with my own money, they were 75 cents. I always had a hard time with paying more than a dollar for an issue, and at this point I don’t understand how anyone can afford to buy monthly comics.

  • At tale not from when I was a kid, but from my first marriage, maybe 40 years ago, late 70s, early 80s: there was a general store in Grand Ronde, Oregon (on the route to the coast from Portland) that would sell twenty coverless comics, mostly marvel but some DC, all shrink-wrapped together, for a dollar. Obviously, this was before the direct market, and these were his returns – covers sent back for credit, innards theoretically destroyed. The best bit about this arrangement was that they weren’t random – whoever packed these put sequential issues, full story arcs, together – and put the comics on either end of the bundle facing out, so you saw at least two of the “themes” in the packet. Man, I remember some great cheap reading coming out of those packets.

  • King of the Moon says:

    The jump from $0.60 to $0.75 was my first sticker shock.
    My lawn mowing earnings were going to have to budget to buying 25% fewer books

  • Jack says:

    My first bit of sticker shock on comics was when they went from twenty five cents to thirty cents around, hmm? 1976? And that dollar and ten cents I’d talk one of my parents into to be able to buy four comics turned into over a dollar twenty! That was such a shock to my nine year old self. The weekly visit to the grocery store was RUINED.

    Of course, I had a back up plan. My grandmother worked at a drug store, and they sold comics on the classic “HEY KIDS, COMICS” spinner, and, well. When books didn’t sell, they somehow found their way into my hands. Not saying how, they just did.

    And that’s how I got a full run of Uncanny X-Men from 97 to around 120 or so, because no one bought it at her drug store.

    (My parents, of course, took sympathy on me and fronted me the extra change I needed to keep my four comics a week habit.)

  • JohnJ says:

    I was just a little kid when they jumped from ten to twelve cents. It was part of why Dad “persuaded” me to give up comics. So as I gradually slipped back into the habit in 1969, imagine my surprise when, within months, they went up to fifteen cents. But at least I still had access to many different kinds of stores, from drugs to groceries, to find them all and after finding a wire-wrapped stack of the new arrivals and getting used to the schedule, it was easy to drop in on the right day to find everything.
    When I opened my comic shop in 1987, basic cover price was all of 75c so $3.99 up to $9.99 for 80-page Giants still strike me as very strange. As do all the variant covers and other gimmicks that are just as silly as foil covers were 25 years ago.
    Hey, anybody else surprised to see so little “comic book” content during DC Fandome??? And did they ever mention Superman or did I just miss it??

  • Andrew-TLA says:

    Seventy-five cents when I started, with the bulk of my acquisitions happening in the $1.50-$1.95 era.

    That said, the question of “Which is better, Marvel or DC?” has one simple, obvious answer: Carl Barks trumps all.

  • Thom H. says:

    I started collecting comics right as prices shifted from $0.50 to $0.60. I didn’t realize that until just now when I looked it up. I’m older than I thought.

    At the same time, special issues increased from $0.75 (Uncanny X-Men #150) to one whole dollar (Alpha Flight #12). That messed with my (completely erratic) comics budget a couple of times.

    As an aside, remember when Uncanny X-Men would just have random double-sized issues, like #186? Or New Mutants #21? That always blew my mind when I got to the spinner rack.

    @JohnJ: I get the impression that fans are in one of their “Superman isn’t cool” phases. Or DC is. Or both? Which is too bad — I’m thoroughly tired of Batman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn, but those books/movies apparently sell better.

  • Robcat says:

    Wow. Lots to comment in. In order of appearance:

    1- Would love to see a collection of all your “I’m saying it without any research at all”. I’m sure there’s some winners in there!

    2- Back when the direct market was first starting, there were 2 comics shops close to me in Portland, OR. The closer one kept back issues piled up in boxes. No bags or boards, just piled in. Prices were written inside the front cover. You had to ask to see the box of back issues you wanted. That is, if you could get the owners’ (husband and wife‘s) attention. They were very busy playing games. All by themselves. I got a pull box at the other store, which still in business, unlike the closer one which maybe lasted a year…

    3- I thought I’d be old for buying comics off the rack for 40 cents! Some of you guys have me way beat! I swore I’d quit comics when they reached $2… then $3. I think I switched to GNs, collections, and digital when they hit $4. And I also remember “sold out? Guess I’ll bike to the other 5 stores and check out those spinner racks…” Also, when prices were under a dollar, I was more prone to trying new things. Grendel, Elementals, Evangeline… you could find great stuff when you could risk less money.

    4- How I deal with continuity: I ignore it. I don’t care if a character is older/younger/married/back from the dead if the story is good and a crossover has to promise me something special if I’m gonna read it.

    5- DC! And boy am I curious about their future…

    6 (from the comments)- I miss Superman, too!

    Hang in there, everybody….

  • John Lancaster says:

    I came in at the 25¢ mark “buying” my own with chore money. I did have some 15¢ and 20¢ around that were ones my parents or others picked up for me. By the time 35¢ rolled around I already had my index cards with which drug store / newsstand had what comic and on what week. I had also figured out the truck routes so that I could show up and pick a comic from the middle of the bundle. Of course, I could only do that during the summer. When school was in, I did the best I could in the evening or on the weekend. Still didn’t really miss many issues once I had the system figured out. I sure figured out all of the shortcuts around town on my bike though.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “especially if you don’t really know much grading or even the comics themselves (which frankly doesn’t seem to stop a lot of people, judging by several auctions I’ve seen over the years).”

    DON’T. GET. ME. STARTED.

    “I’m eventually going to hear “I remember when comics were only $2.99””

    I remember when they were only $1! or .75 cents! And I remember when Marvel’s prices went up, for their MORE popular comics, while DC did the opposite, raising the prices on their lower-selling comics. So I was paying $1 each for X-Men, Punisher, Suicide Squad, and .75 cents for justice League.

    “The only specific issue I remember for sure was Fantastic Four #229 from 1981, and there were at least a couple dozen of that comic there”

    I remember an odd thrift store with a RACK full of ROM #1! of all wacky things!

    “how DC’s continuity works (“Not well”)”

    HA HA!!

    ” Like “I had the first appearance of Harley Quinn, but my Roomba ate it.””

    I had the first app. of Michonne in Walking Dead, so I sold it on ebay!

  • Snark Shark says:

    Man, Bulletman was a REALLY weird idea for a superhero!

    Turan: “Dell did briefly go directly from ten to fifteen cents. Famously, its sales then plummeted, which convinced the other publishers to take a more cautious approach.”

    I like learning stuff like this!

    Walter Hudsick: “but from my first marriage, maybe 40 years ago, late 70s, early 80s: there was a general store in Grand Ronde, Oregon (on the route to the coast from Portland) that would sell twenty coverless comics, mostly marvel but some DC, all shrink-wrapped together”

    I HAD A COUPLE OF THOSE (packs) TOO! Or a stack of individual issues from there, at least. I miss finding wacky, cheap deals like that.

    Jack: “And that’s how I got a full run of Uncanny X-Men from 97 to around 120 or so”

    HOLY @#@#%#$ She was nice, and she saved a few (future) classic comics from being destroyed! Pretty cool.

  • Chris V says:

    Can you imagine in the far future (if civilization still exists) having people walking in to comic book stores and saying, “I remember when a comic only cost $5!”.
    Somehow, I can’t imagine those days.

    I guess comics as a print medium will be long gone before that point though.

  • Chris V says:

    On a related note, I remember telling myself that if comics ever hit $3 an issue, I was definitely going to give up buying comics.
    Unfortunately, that bit of advice was quickly ignored when this did come to pass.

    I remember when comics used to only cost 40cents! That’s what they cost when I first started buying them.

  • Chris V says:

    I also remember when GI Joe #1 hit the racks with a $1.50 price tag.
    I had to convince my grandma to buy that for me, because it was going to mess up my allowance for that week.

  • John Lancaster says:

    I know someone who turned down, and got mad at his LCS for even offering to him, Dark Knight Returns #1 when it came out. There was NO WAY he was going to pay $2.95 for a comic. About six months later he greatly regretted that decision and then had to pay much more for it, and #2. I think he still got #3, #4 for cover price. Coda: He didn’t learn his lesson and got caught in similar situations for years afterword.

  • Isaac P says:

    I’ve been redistributing a large portion of my collection locally via Craigslist but it’s a pretty tough market. I was able to sell near complete runs of Preacher and the O’Neil/Cowan Question run for close to $1 per book, but other larger sets have had to be very aggressively priced to get any bites. I sold a near complete run of the original 2099 books for about 20 cents a book and wound up having to price down a substantial run of PAD’s Hulk comics to a similar range before I got any interest. My main goal is to get these into the hands of other readers and collectors rather than send them to get torn up at a thrift shop, but I was hoping to at least make a little more on some of these sets.

  • Tom W says:

    Late replying, but I’m haunted by the Elvis article linked to by DavidG above. Ever since I read it a few years ago I look at my shelves and feel an intimation of mortality, knowing my first edition trade of Watchmen signed by Moore and Gibbons will most likely be sold just as all the other blokes who treasured theirs have also departed and there’s a glut in the market. All these things shall pass.

    On a less morbid note, I’d reckon there are still men my age (late 40s) in Britain who’d go into comic shops and say ‘I used to have a comics collection, but my mum threw it away’ because the comics collection would have been 2000AD. And, like most comics right up to the Bronze/Dark Age, 2000AD was badly printed on crap paper. Wonder if that has an effect on what’s kept and what’s lost? Are parents more likely to hold onto a neat longbox full of chromium covers than yellowing, faded newsprint?

  • Steven Rowe says:

    The answer to the 5 cent comic is possibly dime novels, which were the size and shape of comics, and some of which were indeed 5 cents. The elderly guys who remembered 5 cent comics were old enough to remember, if not too well, five cent dime novels.

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