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That author is Alan Moore, in case you didn’t know or couldn’t guess.

§ April 9th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, fantagraphics, Uncategorized § 6 Comments

So when I crack open the shipping boxes from my distributor(s), it’s not often that I’m caught off guard by what I find inside. …Okay, wait, scratch that, I am frequently surprised by stuff like getting a single plastic Legion of Super-Heroes ring by itself in a full-sized box, or even this week, when I received 53 extra, unordered copies of a variant for the new Magic: The Gathering comic.

What I mean by “surprised” in this case is a good surprise, as I’d completely forgotten that I ordered copies of this for the shop:


This is a treasury-sized reprint of the classic story from issue #2 of the 1986 Anything Goes anthology. It was a surprise because I 100% forgot I’d ordered it and that it was coming.

The story itself is 13 pages, presented here in full color and looking possibly even more beautiful than it did in its original appearance. The rest of this 24-page publication is mostly text (with some illustrations), addressing the creation of the comic, what Anything Goes was for (raising legal costs for Fantagraphics), talking a bit about the fact The Author’s name isn’t on the cover, that sort of thing.

Now, to be fair, I haven’t read this yet. I mean, the original comic I read plenty of times since its initial publication, as I was one of those guys buying Anything Goes as it came out, and I was in the bag for anything The Author was writing (thanks to his Swamp Thing work, natch). But there are a couple of nice alternate covers for In Pictopia by the story’s primary artist, Don Simpson, in here, which apparently were art commissions or for a planned reprinting that didn’t happen.

I did catch somewhere in here where it said the story was “much anthologized,” which I wondered about. The only place I could come up with off the top of my head is the 1990 Fantagraphics collections Best Comics of the Decade (which I also own), and the Grand Comics Database entry I linked above mentions a 2016 collection. I don’t know of others, but honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me.

A quick Googling around seems to reveal at least some of the backmatter in this book had appeared on Simpsons’ own blog, but that’s fine. It’s nice to have a print copy in hand that I can still read long after the internet is destroyed for the good of humanity.

What’s funny is that I almost missed ordering this…it’s stuck in my head as being titled just “Pictopia,” and that extra preposition was enough to throw me off just a tad. Plus, not seeing The Author’s name in the credits also misled me to a degree…look, when I’m doing my orders, I have tons of different solicitations in the catalog all vying for my attention so sometimes even the most obvious things can take a moment to make it through my occasionally-working eyeballs and into my brain.

And then on top of that, once the hamsters started to turn the wheels in my head a little more quickly and I realized what “In Pictopia” was, not seeing The Author’s name made me think “wait, are they doing new Pictopia stories without him?” Yes, I actually thought that for half a second. Well, okay, maybe a full second. It just didn’t dawn on me that maybe Mr. The Author wanted his name off more than ancillary Watchmen products. (And actual Watchmen and other DC releases, too, but given the existence of Doomsday Clock it’s fair to say the “Keeping The Author Happy” boat has long sailed, at least for the comic books.)

Despite all that, this In Pictopia tabloid is a great looking package, presenting the comic in a good ‘n’ big size, with what looks like pretty dense discussion of it accompanying the story. The comic itself is an allegory for the comics medium and the crushing of the old in favor of the new…so on the nose that it barely counts as an allegory and is more an explicit description of what The Author thought was happening at the time. I suppose the follow-up I briefly imagined would involve a thinly-disguised Raina Telgemeier rushing in to save the day.

It still holds up a good, and melancholy, tale. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It remains a concise, pointed masterpiece.

Should also note the contributions of Mike Kazaleh, Pete Poplaski and Eric Vincent, so that the guy who doesn’t want his name involved isn’t ironically the person I refer to the most here.

Please don’t write in about the Starlog thing.

§ April 5th, 2021 § Filed under collecting § 2 Comments

So the other day, on some streaming app or ‘nothing, I watched, for the first time in a very long time, two episodes of the late ’70s/early ’80s sitcom Mork and Mindy, starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. I think, actually, this may have been the first time I’d watched full episodes of the show since it originally aired. Oh, I’ve seen bits and pieces and clips and such since then, but watching one from beginning to end? It’d been a while.

But here’s the thing about Mork and Mindy. There is was a particular magazine that I bought (or cajoled my parents into buying for me) early in the show’s airing that has stuck in my mind for decades after it was discarded in whatever cleaning incident took its life. You know the phrase “living rent-free in my head?” Well, it was this magazine, doing so for so many years. (I told my girlfriend about the “being stuck in my head” thing, and she responded “poor magazine,” which, well, yeah.)

Not sure why the memory of this specific mag was trapped in my RAM and not shunted away to the tape-drive back-up. The cover remained lodged there, and I could only recall one specific article.

Oh, the mag in questions: Cracked Collectors’ Edition #29 (May 1979):


Inspired in part by the recent viewing of the television show, coupled with the fact the mag had been nagging at my mind for so long, I dipping into eBay’s waters and fished out out.

The cover is, of course, by John Severin. A master caricaturist, it seemed he could draw any real person from any angle, still have it look like them, make them “act” on the page, and it never once made you think “look at that photo reference.” Cracked may have been the mag you picked up if there wasn’t a new Mad out yet, but by God Cracked had John Severin and Mad didn’t, so big points in its favor there.

Which isn’t to say Cracked didn’t have other fine cartoonists in their stable, because of course they did. And plenty of hem worked on this very magazine. It’s just…well, where Cracked maybe fell down a bit, especially in this example, is forgetting the “parody/satire” part of the satirical genre of which the mag was supposedly a part.

Admittedly, it’s tricky, particularly with something like Mork and Mindy, a deliberately wild and silly show. Trying to come at it with a parodic or satirical take would require using some form of humorous perspective sufficiently transformative to be seen as a commentary on the source material, versus just as extension of it.

That is this issue of Cracked in a nutshell. It’s not satirical. It feels like an official fan magazine at time, an unauthorized tie-in to the TV show. So much so that I actually checked the copyright section to see if it had been actually commissioned by the folks behind the show. A lot of the humor is simply “here are some Mork-style jokes we’ve written,” such as having a “reader’s” letters page with answered in the Mork-voice:


…surrounded with many of Severin’s illos of Mork and the cast to make sure you know who the mag’s about.

And then there’s this article defining words from Mork’s home planet:

Plus some gag pages about life on the planet Ork, and a look at Mork’s boyhood:


…which is strictly non-canon, of course, given the revelation in season 4 that Mork’s people are born old (in eggs) and age backwards. NON-CANON, DANG IT.

And really, none of this functions as any form of commentary on the show. It’s all either explanatory (like the glossary of terms) or Expanded Universe/fan-fiction-y (like Mork’s childhood). There’s a feature on “What If Other Actors Played Mork” with stills from movies and TV shows giving in-context Mork-style jokes. (Or “jokes” – one of which is a cowbay, just shot, being given the dialogue “that hurts, get me out of here, Orson! “which…what?) I suppose that’s…parodic, maybe?

Again, there’s nice art in this…Cracked never skimped on the funny drawings, at least back when I was reading. And that specific article I remembered all these years that I mentioned up front? “…All Seriousness Aside,” a text biography of Robin Williams (with a nice big photo of him accompanying it). Of everything inside the mag, the one that stayed with me was not comics. Go figure. I think part of it is that the title puzzled me, as a sometimes chowderheaded 10-year-old that I was. “‘All Seriousness Aside?’ Shouldn’t that mean that they put all the seriousness away and that this biography should be funny?” …As I said, chowderheaded.

I presume Cracked being recognized as part of the same school of satire as Mad Magazine is what kept any ceases-and-desists away in cases like this, where the “take-off” is barely distinguishable from licensed product. And frankly, Cracked rode that Mork and Mindy train hard. Just like they did Happy Days and the Fonz. And Star Wars. And Diff’rent Strokes. Boy, did they love Diff’rent Strokes. There was lots of Mork content in the regular mag, and there was even a second special like this one featuring all-Mork, all the time.

I don’t know if any of the other Mork articles in other issues were more along the lines of real satire. I know I had this issue as a kid, and I feel like maybe this might have made more of an attempt at poking humorous fun at the concept rather than write for it, y’know?

Mostly I think I was just surprised at how…low effort the humor was. I’d expected it to be more like Mad, but it was basically, I don’t know, Starlog.

At least it’s all nicely drawn. And overall…it’s not so bad if you take it for what it is: an exploitative fad-riding cash-grab, presenting a topic under the guise of satire but not really saying anything about it.

And before you say anything…I just noticed they used the same drawing of Mork in two of the pics posted above. Sigh.

In which I spend an overwrought paragraph explaining to readers of a comics blog how “comic collecting” works.

§ April 2nd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, teen titans § 8 Comments

So I was processing a few books I acquired from a collection on Thursday, and one of them was New Teen Titans #36 from 1987:


It has an October cover date, but according to this page it was out late June, so I’d just graduated high school, was about to start college, and was still a year away from entering the world of comics retail in which I am still fully ensnared.

I’d bought a copy of this issue of the rack at the time, most likely from my future place of employment. I’d come somewhat late to the New Teen Titans, the first issue of which I’d bought being around #27 or so of the initial series, where they’re fighting Brother Blood. I continued to read it after that, going into the bins for back issues (again, from my then-future place of employment) and picking up the new ones as they were released. Even rode out the whole “hardcover/softcovertransition was the series was weaned away from newsstand sales and put firmly into the Direct Market of comical-book shops.

What I’m telling you is that I read New Teen Titans for a while. Big fan, thought it was great. Still think it’s great, even if, like mentioned in our discussion of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the art was usually beautiful (primarily by George Perez, but some of the other artists weren’t too shabby either), and the writing was…certainly of its time, but still readable. It was a Fun Book, essential reading if you were a DC fan (just as Uncanny X-Men was required if you were a Marvel fan). (Or hell, if you were just a comics fan, you probably read both.)

But when issue #36 came out…I mean, I bought it, I took it home, I read it. The more I thought about that cover, however, the more I came to believe it was, I don’t know, insulting my intelligence somehow. Like I saw the “IT FINALLY HAPPENS! STARFIRE KILLS” blurb for the somewhat tasteless pandering it was. I just plain didn’t like this cover, that blurb, and it put me off so much that I dropped the comic. (For a while, more on that in a second.)

I’m sure there was more to it than just a dumb cover blurb. While, as I said, many of the artists who came after Perez on the title were perfectly fine and enjoyable, they were usually in service to stories and scripts that just didn’t grab me. I don’t know if it was me, just having read enough Teen Titans for the time being, or if maybe without the magic partnership with Perez, Marv Wolfman’s storytelling was not quite as inspired, making the book no longer as compelling and vital as it once had been.

Ultimately, it was likely a combination of factors that caused me to drop New Teen Titans. It’s that blurb, though, that sticks with me, the marketing straw that broke this collector’s…long box? Sorry, the metaphor got away from me, but regardless, it’s just one example of how attrition occurs on longish-running titles, for on what the surface may be a nitpicky reason that serves as a blanket excuse covering the myriad of other issues involved in the decision.

And what did I say above about coming back? Why, yes, I eventually did…I skipped that whole brouhaha between 37 and 49 and popped back in when Perez returned for the revised origin of Donna Troy beginning in #50:

…and looking at this pic reminds me of how the gold ink on this cover never looked shiny and clean, even new off the shelf. Just…”give me your most dingy gold ink, my good man” said DC at the printer, and they were happy to oblige. But cover coloring aside, the story was…fine, a new convoluted revision to the ever-revising Donna Troy origin. As soon as it was over, I was off the book ’til 1990 and the release of issue #71:


…because I’m a sucker for extree-sized anniversary issues, and also because I do like the Titans and wanted to give it another shot.

And I picked a good time to start up again because hoo boy it felt like Marv Wolfman found his second wind on the title. It was a leaner, more exciting ride, aided and abetted by some of Tom Grummett’s best artwork, and it just kinda steamrolled along for a while. Surprises in each issue, no character felt safe, cliffhangers galore…the book had a manic energy to it that was just carried you along. For a while there New Titans was one of my favorite series.

Eventually everything peaked and the book settled back down to a more normal pace…still good and perfectly enjoyable, and I hung on ’til #100 (another extra-sized anniversary issue) and that, as it turned out, was my Teen Titans saturation point. When the long-awaited graphic novel Games was finally released in…was it really 2011? That late? Anyway, when it came out, as intrigued as I was at reading another Wolfman/Perez comic, and I had the book in my hands, looking at the front and back covers and thinking about it hard, I ended up not delving back into that world.

I did give my Titans run a reread about a decade or so ago, enjoying what would turn out to be a final run through the book before I opened my own shop in 2014 and gave up all my copies to fill back issue stock. It was a Good Comic, fun and exciting and dopey and beautiful and melodramatic and compelling in all the right quantities and I’m glad I read it. Even if I’m occasionally reminded of why I didn’t like it sometimes, as per that cover at the top of the post.

Occasionally I think about getting one of the many reprints of at least the early Wolfman/Perez issues, to have them on nice paper for future perusal (especially since on my last reread I noticed the paper and printing in the original comics having not really aged well). Honestly, though, I don’t know if I’d make the time to go back to read them, particularly at the moment when I’m still catching up on a backlog of comics. But it’s good to know it’s being preserved, and not just forgotten in the dusty back issue bins of comic book stores.

Now the Teen Titans cartoons? Those are great, too, but that perhaps is for another post.

I know that issue of Legion of Super-Heroes didn’t have a digital code, just roll with it.

§ March 3rd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing, self-promotion, Swamp Thing-a-Thon § 3 Comments

JohnJ has this to say

“There must also be some basic pricing difference between copies still bagged and those removed from bags, just as there would have been with Superman #75 or Spider-Man #1. Is an X-Force #1 even possible to be considered ‘mint’ if it’s out of the bag and card-less? No matter how pristine the book itself might be, would the ‘slabbers’ turn up their noses at it?”

When I price comics, I do indeed take into account opened/missing bags, removed inserts (like trading cards) and stuff like that. There are also those comics with the Mark’s Jewelers ads where even in the price guide their presence, or lack thereof, is factored into pricing. I mean, I guess technically having those inserts removed would be similar to an old comic having “ad page removed, story not affected” dragging down the price, so I can see the logic there. Either the comic is complete as published, or it isn’t. Whether that “completeness” impacts the price, and by how much, is the matter than can be debated.

For something like X-Force #1, where sealed copies are still relatively plentiful, unbagged copies can go for next to nothing. Same for Adventures of Superman which is hard enough to sell complete and presumably mint at anywhere close to its barely-above-cover-price guide listing (or even at a dollar a pop, like I’ve been trying to), much less naked, exposed, trading card-less. In both cases I usually just toss ’em in the bargain bin when I come across them, though sometimes I’ll put a bagless X-Force #1 in the regular bins in case anyone just wants a reader copy for cheap and don’t want to hunt through the random cheapo boxes.

There is a grey area, of course, with the “opened bag” — the Death of Superman issue still sells with an opened bag and most, if not all, of its contents. Not for the full premium, of course, but not bargain basement prices, and there’s still demand for it. Compare to X-Force #1, where the main driving force for collectors right now is whether or not the Deadpool card is included, and whether that card is in “mint,” so sealed copies are preferred.)

Now as I recall (haven’t checked of late, because I think this was dumb), the price guide’s stance was that so long as the bag was opened neatly and all contents were intact, it should essentially be priced the same as a sealed copy. Which of course is bananas, as in actual real life customers will pay more for a sealed copy, and less, or nothing at all, for an unsealed one.

And then there’s 1990’s Spider-Man #1, where you could get the green cover, the black ‘n’ silver cover, or either of those covers sealed in a special polybag. The polybag editions were just polybagged…no inserts included. The polybag was the gimmick, and a gimmick so dumb that my former boss swore he’d never stock that particular version as a back issue in his shop. So anyway, having the bag in this case damaged or removed made those variants sort of pointless, and why would you want to open them anyway? To read this comic? Have you read it? C’mon.

I mean, in the old days, unbagged copies of the bagged Spider-Man would have been pointless, except now, as the need for collectible comics intensifies in the face of declining supply, they are now selling for higher prices. Specifically as “unpriced variants,” since these bagged editions had their retail prices printed on the bags themselves, and left off the actual covers. A speedy search of the eBays turned up a “no price” black variant at $16.99.

I figured “McFarlane’s Spider-Man is a hot comic, so I guess demand is up for any copies of this” but in fairness I looked up Adventures of Superman #500, which earlier I asserted debagged copies of the white-bag variant are essentially worthless. Well, I still think they are, but that’s not stopping folks from selling slabbed, graded copies for $100 plus. And “raw” copies, too, for the usual $1 to $3. Amazing.

Online pricing doesn’t necessarily reflect real world pricing on collectibles, of course. I’ve sold stuff online for premium prices that would get me laughed out of town if I tried them in the store. And I’ve tried to move things online for any price that ended up selling more quickly, and more dearly, in the ol’ brick and mortar. So [throws price guide up in the air] who knows, man.

On a related note, I wrote (egads, nearly nine years ago) about Marvel Comics and their digital code stickers, and how their removal would or would not affect pricing. Oddly, it hasn’t really come up too often, aside from one collection of books I took in a couple of years ago. My rule of thumb, as stated above, remains “is this book as it was originally published?” If it’s missing the sticker covering the code, then no, it’s incomplete. A very nit-picking incomplete, but nonetheless, by technical definition, it is as such. Now it doesn’t affect pricing that much for these mostly recent books, but what if in a few decades, whatever today’s equivalent of Incredible Hulk #181 (almost certainly that first evergreen-hot appearance of the Gold Lantern) is missing a sticker? Will its going market price of 2000 Space-Credits drop down to a measly 1200 Space-Credits? How’s someone supposed to send their clone-child to Ceti Alpha V Academy on that little amount of money? Or will it be taken in stride, like the Guide’s instance that arrival dates on covers for comics of a certain age shouldn’t affect the grade? I guess time will tell. Time travelers, come back and let me know.

• • •

In other news, after a long hiatus, mostly enforced by ongoing eyeball issues, I am attempting to return to doing my coverage of Swamp Thing issue-by-issue as Patreon-exclusive content. Probably at a less-frequent pace than I was attempting, but I plan on filling the gaps with brief audio content (the very brief first installment of which has already been posted, not really saying much more than what’s already said here). So, if you want to hear my warbly voice barely make it through a sentence without stumbling, now’s your chance! (This may be practice for a full-fledged actual podcast at some point in the near-ish future.)

When I first started the Swamp-Thing-a-Thon, my intention was to post it exclusively for Patreonites, then release it here on ProgRuin several months later. Well, I never did that last part, so I’ll try to get another one posted this weekend. In the meantime, here’s the very first installment I posted about House of Secrets #92.

Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll catch you on Friday.

“Sobered up” = nice way of saying “crashed like the Hindenburg.”

§ March 1st, 2021 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing § 7 Comments

So last week, when I was a’typin’ about the weirdo Marvel trading card boom allegedly going on right now, Matthew noted (in reference to X-Force (1991) #1’s involvement:

“You’ve mentioned the ‘Shazam! effect’ before in relation to the 1970s Shazam comic and I think there’s an element of that happening here too. I mean, X-Force #1 came out 30 years ago, that’s the same gap between Fantastic Four #1 and X-Force #1. Plus people who were young when it first came out our (potentially) old enough to have money and nostalgia for that thing they used to have?”

I did sort of refer to the Shazam Effect obliquely in that post in the following passage:

“…While millions of X-Force #1 were printed, that doesn’t necessarily follow that millions are out there in readily available circulation. And the ones that do turn up aren’t necessarily going to be in that minty-mint collectable condition.”

…and if someone out there doesn’t remember what that is…in short, the ’70s Shazam! #1 was ordered in huge quantities, with large amounts going unsold. It remained a cheap back issue for decades, often finding its way into quarter boxes and the like…until one day the market realized that actual nice copies were getting harder to come by. Partially due to age, but almost certainly a lot to do with available stock being dumped into said bargain boxes and basically being mishandled and poorly stored and such. And thusly, high grade Shazam! #1s go for a premium.

Now that’s my theory, built upon decades of observation and just how I know early on at the previous place of employment, we’ve just pour the buckets of Shazam! comics into the blow-out boxes and hoped someone would take them away.

This does apply to X-Force #1 (and other early ’90s blockbuster hit comics) a bit, I think. But first, I believe there were a lot more copies of X-Force #1 and its contemporaries printed than of Shazam! #1.

…And that while X-Force #1, in contrast to, say, the ’90s X-Men #1 and Spider-Man #1, did suffer in general reputation and consideration after the market sobered up a bit later in a decade, I don’t think quite the same percentage of them ended up in the bargain bin dregs to be misused and abused. Not saying no copies ended up there, but I believe it wasn’t enough to create a paucity of near mint copies in general circulation. If anything, like I said in my original post, actually being purchased by consumers who didn’t store their comics properly seems to be, just from my general experience, the more likely culprit in this matter.

There’s also the inverse relationship of product versus outlets to consider. Shazam #1 was released as the direct market was beginning, with more and more comic-specific retail stores opening up and presenting more opportunities for Shazam #1 to be sold. Even if, you know, it was just in quarter boxes. X-Force #1 was published just prior to the direct market’s near fatal contraction, with piles of unsold copies of that comic disappearing along with the stores that ordered too many of them. Assuming former store owners didn’t dump their stock on other surviving shops (or, uh, had them shredded), and also assuming proper and not contemptuous storage, there may be masses of mint-ish X-Force #1s still lurking, hidden, waiting to make their move.

Not saying every copy of those unsold Shazam!s got circulated, and that millions of X-Forces aren’t in circulation. But I do think there are potentially enough of those X-Force #1s out there in what would be considered “collectible” shape that all it really takes is one big warehouse/storage unit find for the supposed scarcity of that comic to dissipate. (If I recall correctly, something similar happened to Wally Wood’s Heroes Inc.) As garages and storage areas open up and get cleaned out by their owners, or progressively more often, surviving family members or third-party purchasers, they’re only going to become more common.

And going back to my original assertion, if there is an apparently scarcity to X-Force #1 at all, it comes from newer stores who weren’t around when it came out, and thus didn’t acquire an enormous backlog of unsold copies to dole out over the decades. Newer stores would have to acquire them in collections…and they do pop up there, time and again.

I hope none of this sounds like I’m trying to argue with commenter Matthew…just taking his response as a launching pad for considering the differences in situations here. Which isn’t to say his idea that “nostalgia + relatively shortness in supply” isn’t a fact. Sure it is. And that increased demand for a once moribund back issue is going to cause the prices to rise. But that Deadpool promo card going for hundreds of dollars…that’s almost certainly the result of folks trying to “force” a collectible, to find something relatively common in a market where genuinely scare items are becoming harder to come by, and declaring something “rare” and “hot.” Just by the natural order of things, I think any really high prices on these things is outside the normal causes of supply and demand.

Anyway, there you are. Over-rambly and self-contradictory, in the Mighty Mike Style, but there you go. If I were to sum up…while some price increases can be expected in even over-printed items like X-Force #1 due to a relative dearth of supply at current outlets, it’s still likely not rare enough to cause such extremely high pricing based on ordinary market forces. But none of that matters if it’s decided this is the new normal and that’s what these items go for now, regardless of abundance.

This is all conjecture and opinion based on what I’ve seen over my nearly 33 years in the industry. I could be (gasp) wrong, but this is my general sense of things. You know where to argue with me!

Thanks to Matthew for his response.

What’s this horses**t?

§ February 22nd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing § 13 Comments

Okay, so apparently this is a thing that’s been happening. X-Force #1 from 1991…you know, the comic that sold, what, five million copies…which could be had for under ten bucks, usually closer to about a buck…is suddenly selling for premium prices.


…but specifically the variation that was packaged with a Deadpool trading card (approximately one-fifth of the run, as there were five different cards):


The price that I’ve seen bandied about is “$100” which apparently it did sell for on eBay, but a quick look reveals prices to be more in the $20-$40 range, which is still a lot.

And this is goaded on by the fact that this very Deadpool card, just by itself, is apparently selling for even more premium prices, with this optimistic seller offering up a graded ‘n’ slabbed one for $2600. (“Or best offer,” to be fair.)

It wasn’t that long ago…well, okay, it was 2013 when I talked about how folks didn’t seem to care much about early Deadpool appearances that weren’t New Mutants #98. And then just a couple of years back I noted my surprise at how the Deadpool-carded X-Force #1 was now (well, then) priced in the guide at $18 (which isn’t too far off from where most eBay sales are at the moment). BONUS: you can see that lovely pic of me in the second link wielding a full set of those X-Force #1s, with each card in the set represented.

There are a preponderance of these Deadpool cards listed online as “rookie cards,” which…I don’t know, is kind of weird. I mean, I guess, technically, that card is his second appearance, I think, if you want to refer to tie-in merchandise as “appearances” of characters (which leads to madness like calling an issue of Marvel Age the “first appearance” of Spider-Man’s black suit). But calling it a “rookie” card feels…well, feels like forcing the invention of collectability in a market where genuinely collectible items are becoming harder to come by.

I’ve written before (on Twitter, I think) about how this seems to be driving the current speculator market for current issues, where any first appearance, any deviation from the norm is branded “hot” and because of the very nature of current close-to-the-bone comics ordering by retailers, an already scare item becomes that much more scarce. Who needs to chase after an Amazing Fantasy #15 when you can artificially inflate demand for the first appearance of Gold Lantern, a character everyone’s already forgotten about?

Also tying into things I’ve written about before…while millions of X-Force #1 were printed, that doesn’t necessarily follow that millions are out there in readily available circulation. And the ones that do turn up aren’t necessarily going to be in that minty-mint collectable condition. I assure you, no matter how many bags or boards or Mylars or what was it, “Comic Stor” 3-ring binder sleeves were sold, I am betting, just on personal observation of having been in comics retail for nearly 33 years, that most of the copies that ended up in the hands of consumers at that time have been damaged or destroyed over the decades.

And the large amounts of unsold copies that stores still had after that initial sales window closed back in 1991? Probably vanished along with many of the stores that shut down as soon as that comics boom went bust…probably because they were stuck with too many copies of, oh, say, X-Force #1 and comics like that. So it’s possible a lot of that stock is just sitting in storage units or former retailers’ garages, with no where to go, and no access to potential buyers. Which isn’t to say a comic like X-Force #1 is “rare” by any means…just that you have have a longer search ahead of you finding copies, as not many stores open now were open then to have wholesaled them.

(NOTE: I know I’ve discussed this before, in relation to Valiant’s Turok #1. Longtime readers, I beg your patience as Old Man Mike repeats his stories.)

So anyway, does this have anything to do with X-Force #1 avec une carte à collectionner Deadpool suddenly creeping up in price? It probably doesn’t hurt, but it also appears to be tied to the current secondary market for Marvel trading cards also booming beyond belief.

For literally decades any inquiry about Marvel trading cards was always, always, without exception, even more italicized words, from people trying to sell their sets. Never looking to buy. Just trying to turn over their old card sets, and then realizing they’d get next to nothing for them because, well, nobody was buying and stores would be crazy to put any kind of premium price on these.

Well, guess what, from what I can tell looking on the eBays, about a month or so ago it was decided Marvel trading cards were hot and collectible again.

Look, I just did a quick survey, maybe this had been coming for a while, and prices had been creeping up. But in January a complete set of just the base 1990 card set, no holograms, could be had for $60, and now it goes for hundreds. A set with holograms apparently sold for over $600. And I’m sure there’s more I’m missing.

In short, when no one was looking, Marvel’s trading cards suddenly shot up in price. Even that $60 for a base set was five times the going market price on these for years. And most tellingly, within the last few days I’ve started to get actual inquiries from people looking to buy them. Granted, they’d likely want them for the traditional low prices than the new hot market prices, but that this online trend is trickling down into the real world is somewhat telling.

I suppose again it’s the idea of relative scarcity, especially after these sets were ignored and untraded in shops during the trading card lull in the comics market. Like all those hot 1990s comics, sets were probably disused into noncollectability or just lost, and retail stores that may have had inventory on these at the time are long gone. Again, more product that still isn’t reate, but now not as easy to find as it once was.

So it that what’s happening here? Marvel cards are suddenly getting hot, and now “promo” cards like that Deadpool one are being driven up in price as well along with them? If I had to guess, I’d say X-Force #1s are likely easier to track down than full sets of Marvel Universe cards…so are those Deadpool “rookies” being boosted as collectables to capitalize on the newly-resurging card market? Those Deadpool cards seem to be selling, on average, for more than the comic with said card. Should I open up the X-Force #1 I have in the store and just sell the card by itself?

Some of the eBay listings I’ve looked at don’t even mention that the card was originally a comic book insert. Do some buyers even realize that it was an insert? Do some sellers even know? It has been 30 years…a non-zero percentage of the people involved in these transactions were almost certainly not even born yet.

It all seems so amazing to me that these comics and cards after years of being mostly moribund are suddenly The Hot Tickets. But then, there was a time at the old shop when we were selling New Mutants #98 with Deadpool’s first appearance at $10 a pop and thinking this had to be some sort of crime selling them for so much. So as the market changes, I guess I gotta roll with it.

I’ve leaving that Deadpool card intact inside that X-Force #1 I had at the shop, however. Popping it open just to sell the card is a bridge too far.

Basically I just say I’m behind on my reading but here’s a couple of things I do like reading.

§ February 8th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, eyeball, legion of super-heroes, star wars § 10 Comments

One thing I haven’t heard at the shop in a while is “wow, what a great job, you get to read comics all day!” Which is good, because that did get a little tiring to hear, and to explain (when I bothered to do so) that the one thing I really don’t have time for at the shop is reading comics. Particularly now, that I’ve opened my own shop, where the only hand on deck is me and spending the time to read a comic means less time pricing old comics or whathaveyou.

Does that mean I’ve never read comics in the shop? No, of course not…it’s just not something I’m normally inclined to do. The one time I can remember doing so at the new store was an issue of Doomsday Clock, I think. And, at the old store, back when DC and Marvel used to send out preview packs of full issues coming the following week, I’d make time to read Preacher whenever it showed up. However, beyond occasionally flipping through an issue to check for damage while grading or maybe briefly browse through one to find something for Instagram, and yes sometimes just to admire a page or two of art…I tend to leave the actual reading at home.

The big problem, of course, has been my eyeballs. At first, I just thought my vision was getting blurrier due to my encroaching decrepitude, causing my reading to slow down considerably (even with the assistance of progressively stronger dollar store reading glasses. And then once the actual problem was determined (“Oh hey the interiors of your eyeballs are bleeding.” “Wait, what”) and problems began to accelerate, clouding my vision or blacking it out entirely…well, “reading” became an activity that was off the table.

End result: huge backlog of reading. For nearly three years my reading habits have been impaired by my ongoing eyeball issues. For the first year, it was just “no reading,” as my eyes switched off being cloudy or dark or too blurry and so on. Then once my eyes stabilized a bit (with only occasional bouts of hampered vision)…I found I had fallen out of the habit of reading comics. Sure, I read one or two here and there (at least once using a giant glass lens as a magnifying glass) but mostly I just watched television.

Television, as it turned out, was a lot easier to enjoy with my sometimes not-clear vision, particularly with my TV’s large screen and the somewhat close proximity in which I sat. The bright colors tended to cut through whatever was in the way, and while things were still sorta blurry, at least I could make sense of what was happening. Ended up rewatching all of Babylon 5 during this period…it was all bright and colorful and those early CGI effects were crisp and clear and easy for me to see. (I do remember early on watching A Quiet Place on Amazon Prime, with one eye blacked out entirely, and the other essentially with rivulets of blood obscuring its vision…it was like looking through prison window bars.)

It wasn’t until relatively recently that I started making an effort at trying to keep up on the comics I like to read, to try to cut down some of the backlog. And I’ve made some headway…I’m still caught up on Immortal Hulk and the Superman books, for example. But it’s still slowish going, even with somewhat stable eyesight and real glasses. My vision isn’t what it was (my left eye being the strongest one, and my right eye, where all the problems began, being partially impaired and not able to easily read anything below a certain size), coupled with the fact that the backlog is…a little imposing, is still kind of putting me off a bit.

Plus, I’ve gotten into the habit of just watching TV instead, which is easier.

I’m working on it, though. I’m probably making it sound like I just have giant piles of comics teetering over me at home that I gingerly remove a single copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Blood from the top to peruse. I don’t actually pull aside a whole lot of comics for myself, but week after week after week of not reading them means to the “to-do” pile adds up faster than you’d expect.

THUS, THE CULLING BEGAN. I started going through the stuff I did pull for myself and deciding just what I can pass up for now. The big loser here, unfortunately, was Marvel’s many Star Wars titles. Not to say I didn’t enjoy them…I did, they were a lot of fun, but it’s just too much and with Marvel’s crazy publishing schedules, it just stacks up too quickly.

I am keeping one title around, however, even though I’m desperately behind on this title as well, is Doctor Aphra (which you may have been tipped off to by the inset pic here). I think of the new Star Wars series Marvel’s been cranking out, this is the one I’ve enjoyed the most. I believe I wrote on Twitter about the appeal of the character as filling the “morally ambiguous” role that Han Solo can no longer occupy after his turn in the original movie trilogy. It’s an exploration of this universe via a fresh yet cynical perspective, told with humor and the right amount of pathos. While there is some sort of redemption arc to her story, it’s a meandering one which means we get to see her be a space asshole, which is quite entertaining.

As I said, I’m way behind, so some of my above comments may no longer apply. The last issue I read was #26, which could mean I’m two years behind or six months behind, given Marvel’s aforementioned publishing schedules. But I’ve got ’em all stacked up here and ready to read, and all her previous appearances (in her own title and elsewhere) set aside for future reference. And all other Star Wars funnybooks…back to the shop with ’em. Hate to see you go, but what else can I do, really.

I plan on cutting other titles out of the backlog as well, though I haven’t quite decided what’s next. There are things I’ll always read, stuff I’ve followed for decades: any Hulk series, for example, or the main Superman books, or any Groo or Love and Rockets and related. But there’s the other stuff, the series maybe I just started, or comics I’ve been putting off reading for so long it’s pretty clear I’m not that interested in them. Or books I dipped back into reading, like Batman or Flash, decided “yeah, read enough of those” and stopped. Again, no critique implied of the books…they’re perfectly fine, I just don’t have time for everything anymore.

That said, I did pick up this book last week:


…continuing the complete reprinting of the Legion of Super-Heroes that began in the Legion Archives hardcovers and living on in these differently formatted, cheaper to produce hardcovers which picked up where the Archives left off.

This volume brings us up to Legion of Super-Heroes #271, plus the Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes mini-series. That means we’re in the very early ’80s, and just about to the point where I started picking LSH off the stands. I was bit of a late starter, sort of, to the Legion, but I was instantly a fan and kept reading the book ’til about the New 52 era, which was just one reboot too many for the comic that had pretty much become known for its incessant reboots and the hope the New, Improved Legion would get traction this time.

Anyway, I like these books, and I suspect I’ll likely continue picking them up even as they start to overlap with the Legion comics I do have. You know, just to get the Great Darkness Saga on paper that isn’t terrible. I may stop once they hit that initial “direct sales only” series, which already exists on nice paper!

Did want to note that Paul Levitz, one time DC president/publisher and writer of the Legion, provides the introduction. He says that the contents within may feel a little…disjointed, due to various creative team pressures and deadline issues and stuff, but honestly when has a Legion story not felt somewhat like some of the pipes are rattling a bit? But Levitz does make some space to say some nice stuff about longtime DC editor/writer E. Nelson Bridwell, a fella that, from some things I’ve heard, may not have been afforded much respect from other folks in the field. Well, Mr. Bridwell’s writing, whether for a comic story or his explanatory editorial pages, were eagerly enjoyed by a young me, so he’s got my respect for certain.

Also wanted to note the artists in this volume…Joe Staton (always great), Jimmy Janes and Jim Sherman (both wonderful draftsmen…Sherman’s got a great splash with Light Lass that’s a knockout), and, of course, Steve Ditko. I’ve read that Ditko story before (hence the link to the previous post) and it’s pretty well out there.

You know, for someone who’s been having a hard time reading, I sure wrote a lot for other people to read. There’s some form of base irony there somewhere. But thank you for putting up with my typing, and we’ll chat again shortly.

The “Mike Sterling Age” has kind of a ring to it.

§ November 20th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 14 Comments

Fellow oldie John Lancaster creaks

“I’ve always kind of liked the brief go-between of the Atomic Age (1948-1955). I know it isn’t widely used or recognized but a lot of the comics of that era just don’t ‘feel’ like Golden Age books, and they’re not quite Silver Age yet either.”

I almost brought up the “Atomic Age” label in that post, but in a very rare instance of me actually editing something out of my writing, I decided not to bring it up. But I suppose I should have, given its informal use for…geez, I can’t even remember the first time I saw it. It must have been in the ’80s sometime, and if I still had access to my former boss Ralph’s archives of old Overstreet guides I’d start a few decades back and spot-check my way forward, seeing if it turned up in the ads or the glossaries.

There have been attempts at trying to name these “grey” areas in comics history before…I seem to recall “pre-Golden Age” being used here and there, for example. I know Overstreet has “Victorian” and “Platinum” ages for anything older than, say, the 1920s I guess, but I don’t know if there’s enough trade in that material to make its usage commonplace, at least in our particular neck of the hobby. (I’ve had a grand total of one person in probably the entire 3+ decades I’ve been at this nonsense bring in a copy of a “Platinum” age comic, and she wasn’t willing to sell it for anywhere close to what the Guide suggested.)

(And an aside: consider that one instance of a Platinum Age comic to the literally HUNDREDS of times I wished Overstreet had any kind of comprehensive Undergrounds section.)

Anyway, back to “Atomic Age” – look, I know this is me taking that particular appellation at face value, but I always associated the term with the atomic-bomb covers that were prevalent during that period. I’d have a hard time calling a random issue of, say, Betty and Veronica an “Atomic Age” comic, as such, though I honestly wouldn’t put it past Archie Comics to have actually had a mushroom cloud on one of their comics during this period.

But I think at this point, splitting the hairs more finely than “Golden” and “Silver” for the comics of that time will likely not get more “officially” codified beyond the terms already in place. As cool as it sounds, and it does sound cool, I think “Atomic Age” will remain mostly informal. Unless Overstreet decides otherwise, of course.

John continues:

“It does feel like we’ve got to insert some kind of identifier for a chunk after ‘copper.’ We’re coming up on 30 years in the ‘Modern Age’ – almost the entirety of the Gold and Silver age combined. I certainly don’t know what that should be called, but whatever it is I’m sure I’ll hate it and refuse to use it until 20 years after it becomes popular.”

Well, Copper Age (a term John doesn’t much care for, and doesn’t exactly levitate my Lusitania either) I can at least see the reasoning behind, with the effective ending of what began in the Silver Age with the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths in ’85, and taking us to the paradigm shift (if in ownership, not so much in content) of Image Comics. I’ve said…well, somewhere, maybe here or on Twitter, that “Image Age” may be a good name for the new emphasis on creator-owned books and competing superhero universes and of course the full-on flop sweat the industry gave off as they desperately tried to pull out of the ’90s crash. In fact, “Crash Age” may be a good name for that period…a period in many ways we sort of find ourselves in today.

And I’ve suggested “Rebirth Age” for the most recent period of comics and its focus on relaunching/rebooting everything at the drop of a hat or the change of a creative team in pursuit of a temporary bump upward in sales numbers. And we can even tie it to a Flash thing by having it begin with this Flash series, relaunched as a new ongoing before being quickly canned and reverting back to the previous numbering, sticking retailers with piles of stock ordered under the assumption it’d be around for a while feeding back issue sales. You may notice retailers not exactly ordering any new series with much confidence since then.

…Okay, kinda ran out my clock with all this typing. Will pick up again shortly.

Yes, I misspelled “Palisades.”

§ November 16th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, dc comics § 10 Comments

My blogging time is going to be somewhat curtailed over the next couple of days, so don’t expect to the typical Progressive Ruin Wall O’Text™ at least ’til Friday, thanks to some too-early morning appointments over the next couple of days.

So let me answer Wayne’s question very briefly here, where he asks if anyone’s seen the Palisades Park coupons you used to see in Silver Age DCs ever clipped out.

I actually wondered about this myself about a year and a half ago on the Twitters, on the slightly broader topic of finding clipped coupons in comics:


And as you see there, the answer is “nope,” presuming that most of the comics I’ve come across were not from the general area of said park, thus presenting a reduced incidence of clipped coupons. Or kids didn’t want to cut up their comics, which is also possible given the number of surprisingly not-cut-up comics I’ve encountered in collections over the decades. Not saying there were none, but not nearly as many as you’d think, especially with the puzzles and dioramas and whatnot you’d see in Dell Comics, which practically begged kids to ask their parents for permission to use the scissors.

Okay, the primary exception to this is Incredible Hulk #181, which, like, 90% of the time is missing the Marvel Value Stamp. DARN YOU SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL FANS! …Actually, my theory as to why we see H181 missing the stamp so often where other comics with stamps usually still retain them is because H181 still has significant value and remains sought after even without the stamp. Most other Marvel books with the stamp cut out get tossed in the dollar box or just tossed out…okay, maybe not “tossed out” but boy they don’t go for much, usually.

Anyway, off track, and I want this short. Any of you notice Palisades Park coupons missing from your books? Just curious if anyone’s noticed this.

Well, technically, I’m Silver Age.

§ November 13th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, question time, retailing § 9 Comments

So Matthew asked last week sometime

“Speaking of the ‘copper age,’ What years and terms do you use to define different eras of comics?”

Which, you know, fair enough, since I’m very vocally not a huge fan of that very term “copper age,” which still to my ear smacks very much of a marketing term generated to make back issues of Nomad sound rare and collectible.

I’ve gone into detail on this before, actually also in response to a query from the very selfsame Matthew, in this post from last year. Actually, I’m glad for the chance to revisit that post becuase just the briefest of glances revealed some pretty awful typos (which I’ve since fixed), and more to be found, I’m sure. I’m guessing this was written during one of my “cloudy vision” periods, of which there have been too many. But I presume most of you got the gist of my typical too-long foray into the nomenclature of comic ages then, despite my obfuscated spelling and word use.

But to defy tradition and provide a more succinct answer to this most recent query, let me say to you, Matthew, that I use “Golden” and “Silver” frequently, and “Bronze” less so. However, as we get farther away from the period supposedly defined by “Bronze,” i.e. circa 1970 through 1984, I find my incidences of usage increasing, perhaps identifying a psychological barrier against acceptance. “Why, there can’t be an ancient sounding ‘age’ for that period…that’s my time frame!”

A naming of ages is, almost by definition, a matter of historical definition, and one tends not to think of a time lived through as being “historical,” no matter how long ago, in truth, that time may be. However, I suppose, 35 to 50 years on, I must bite that bullet and accept that the range of years is thusly dubbed.

As has been pointed out by some, including me in that very post from last year I linked above, some distance is needed to fully appreciate the characteristics of the industry’s behavior before one can really begin to divvy up specific eras into “ages.” I go into a little detail at the end of that post about what I think the current “age” might be called [attention Allen M, who brought this up last week], but we’re still way, way too close. So long as it isn’t “the Final Age,” a joke I’ve made at some point in the past here or on Twitter, though truth be told I’m only about half-joking.

Okay, I clearly didn’t defy any ProgRuin traditions with that answer, so let me move on to another response to last week’s post.

• • •

Tenzil Kem, Esq., bites off more than I can chew with

“I get the argument about the ‘rarity’ of newsstand comics vs. direct market, although I’m not sure if newsstand copies from the 70’s/80’s are truly that much rarer (since, as you know, print runs were hundreds of thousands of copies and available widely back then). I think the argument is stronger for comics from this century, such as DC New 52 newsstand issues with the higher cover prices, but I still don’t know that it should translate into higher valuations.”

Oh, sure, I’m not sure I was clear on that, but yeah, with comics from when newsstand distribution was still a major thing, there really shouldn’t be much of a difference, if any, in secondary market pricing. It should be restricted to more modern releases, though, as I noted in that post, I’m not a fan of that sort of pricing behavior anyway. I understand the impulse, but it still feels like making a collector’s item out of nothing for no really solid reason. (Like, as you say, the price differences on those DCs, but even then that’s bit of a stretch).

Now look, when it comes to collector’s markets, it’s the money that talks, not me, and history will side with whatever makes some people’s wallets fatter while I walk the streets with my sandwich board filled with tiny scrawled handwriting. I’m sure eventually I’ll fall into line if the back issue market leans in that direction, but rest assured I’ll be making passive-aggressive complaints about it on whatever Nazi-free microblogging platform eventually replaces Twitter.

“For that matter, I don’t like the inflated back issue pricing on comics with Mark’s Jewelers ads, and I have several of those that my grandparents bought me from the Fort McClellan PX near Anniston, AL.”

Yeah, that’s been a thing for years, but I think tradition has won over any objections we might have had. To be fair, if a comic came with some kind of insert, and that insert is removed, then that comic is not “as new” and should be graded accordingly. While I think advertisements should be treated differently from inserts more directly related to the comic book, or comics in general (like, say, trading card inserts that Marvel would occasionally include in their books throughout the ’90s), the problem of “where is the line drawn” does begin to creep in.

The imperfect analogy that immediately comes to mind is the usual comic grading policy of “age is not an issue.” A comic from the 1940s is held to the same grading standards as a comic that came out last Wednesday (or Tuesday, if it’s a DC). Otherwise you have to create sliding scales for what is considered “mint” or whatever for multiple time periods, and frankly, that sounds like an enormous pain the All-Star Squadron. With that as precedent, one can perhaps see where trying to distinguish between the kinds of inserts would eventually turn problematic, and it’s simply easier to apply the same pricing/grading rules to any comic with any insert.

As a side note, you’d think having the stiff-paper trading card inserts or jeweler ads would create a wider prevalence of these comics being in higher conditions with less spine creasing. Let me tell you, friends, that this is not the case.

“I’ll go full grumpy old man and complain about Canadian price variants and British price variants because I feel those are just “rare” here in the USA.”

An issue I recently experienced when I acquired a large number of 1960s Marvels and DCs from a lady who’d spent her youth in England. The DCs were all stamped with ink impressions featuring the price in, I don’t know, ha’pennies or whatever was goin’ on there, but were otherwise as distributed in the U.S. with the American prices printed thereon.

The Marvels, however, were printed with British pricing replacing the U.S. pricing on their covers (for the most part…there were one or two that also had to be stamped). I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these in regards to back issue pricing…especially as some of them were quite the in-demand books (such as the first appearance of Black Panther).

Did a little research, consulted with former boss Ralph, and eventually decided to just price ’em up as normal. I mean, these weren’t new, different foreign editions produced specifically for their markets. It’s the exact same contents, exact same covers and ads, the only difference is that the U.S. price was swapped out with another price at some point during the printing process. This minor cosmetic change might increase demand as “a variant,” might decrease demand as “a repint” (which I don’t think it is), so I just split the difference.

“With all of these examples, I think sellers are just trying to justify why someone should pay more for their specific copy, but the market seems to be looking for rarity wherever it can find it.”

As I’d noted…or rather, as a customer brought to my attention and I shared here, as older comics become less available folks are looking for reasons to make newer, more common comics into collector’s items. Even with brand new comics, as almost any “first appearance” that turns up in a recent release inspires the purchase of multiple copies, even when more often than not any increased value that accrues is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than any indication of organic widespread demand. Investors create the scarcity that increase the demand from those who need the issue and couldn’t get it because investors bought them all. Artificial rarity…those who forget the ’80s are doomed to repeat them.

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