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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.

Yes, I’m complaining about that again.

§ November 2nd, 2020 § Filed under collecting § 23 Comments

So I had one of my longtime customers ask me the other day what my thoughts were on the collector focus and increased pricing on newstand editions of certain comics versus those that were sold through comic shops. By and large, the only difference between the two are the UPC codes, where the one that went through traditional outlets like newsstands, convenience stores and the like would have ’em, and comics sold in the direct market either didn’t have UPC codes or had the UPC marked “Direct Sales” to differentiate from the other.

Now, my personal feeling is that pricing on the two variations of a comic, newsstand or comic shop, should be the same so long as the only difference between the two is the UPC code. If there are other variants, like different cover images (like Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21) or other changes in details about the comic (like the “9 cent” Fantastic Four having the regular cover price for newsstands), then maybe, sure, there may be some variations in pricing.

I did briefly posit that this newsstand/direct disparity in back issue pricing felt like it was a trend of forcing something into collectibility, but the customer noted something about that I hadn’t considered. That said forcing of collectibility was coming about because actual older collectible comics are in much shorter supply than they used to be. Golden Age, and even a lot of Silver (particularly Marvel) don’t just drop out of the sky every day like they used to. Maybe, he theorized, collectors are trying to make some silk purses out of their boxes full of sow’s ears by claiming some of the comics they do have access to now have some extra value accrued to them.

Now technically, I suppose newsstand editions are “variants,” particularly in latter days when newsstand distribution of comics dropped and new comics were primarily available through comic book stores. As my customer suggested, in earlier years, newsstand distribution was, of course, much higher, but as soon as UPC codes started being affixed to periodicals in the late-ish 1970s, we were at the beginning of the end for that form of distribution as comic shops took over.

As a result, newsstand editions were in less supply (and also more likely to end up in the hands of non-collectors, who were apt to destroy or damage the comic beyond collectibility, effectively removing it from the secondary market ecosystem). Even in cases like Alf, which apparently sold extremely well on newsstands versus its fairly moribund movement in comic stores, seems in short supply for these reasons. I mean, I’m just making some assumptions here, based on my observation of local market conditions…for all I know the state of Vermont is flush in Alf comics, the streets of Burlington just swimming with copies of the Alf Holiday Special.

I’ve seen this sort of forced collectibility before…in fact, I see it a lot now, as I get phone calls and walk-ins requesting copies of whatever the Hot Book of the Week is, usually featuring the first appearance of whomever, which is already listed for get-rich-quick prices on eBay. Remember when folks were all frantic about the first appearance of the Gold Lantern in Legion of Super-Heroes? …Yeah, I know, “who?” Anything that even feels like a first appearance of somebody is an investment potential…but not every first appearance, so don’t bother trying to order lots of copies ahead of time, because you won’t know for sure you’ll need them ’til the day of release which is when everyone will start asking.

And it all depends on “supply,” too. I could order extra numbers of all the later appearances of Gold Lantern…but so could everyone else, and now that it’s readily available, no one’s interested. Or that recent “X of Swords” event for Marvel…early issues were in high demand, because orders on it were generally low. That same demand hasn’t turned up for newer installments, ordered in numbers based on all the folks clamoring to for first installments, a lot of whom didn’t come back for the rest. Even restocks of those “hot” first installments have barely moved, now that anyone can get them.

I’m getting a little off track here, ranting about things I’ve already ranted about, as per usual. Back to the increased pricing on newsstand books…look, I can see why, particularly in cases where newsstand sales were less than the same book’s direct market circulation. It’s just after years where the conventional wisdom was that the two versions were priced the same, and now they’re not. As an old person, I hate change, but I suppose I need to get used to this new paradigm sooner rather than later.

Hey, I eventually got used to using “Bronze Age” (once described in Overstreet’s glossary as “widely unaccepted”). I use it fairly freely now…but I’m still drawing the line at Copper Age. I mean, c’mon, honestly.

You’d think at some point in the ’60s they’d have published Jughead’s Freak-Out, but no.

§ October 30th, 2020 § Filed under archie, collecting § 5 Comments

As noted by the folks in the comments to my wishing for reprints of Jughead’s Folly and Jughead’s Fantasy…lo, they were indeed reprinted. Folly was reprinted, apparently in its entirety (as there were more stories than the “Jughead becomes a rock star” lead) in the Best of Archie Comics #3 digest/book from 2013, and again in the Archie 75th Anniversary digest from 2017. Likewise, the three issues ofJughead’s Fantasy have been reprinted multiple times from the 1960s into the 2010s (and I’ll let you look at the individual entries for that info).

So my hasty supposition that Jughead’s Folly not being reprinted, and my inference that Fantasy also had not, was completely incorrect. Look, not everyone has the time to put in the whole 10 seconds of research it would have taken me to find this info out in the first place.

I suppose I could probably seek these reissued forms of the original stories…comic book sized preferred, as my aged and long-distressed eyes are no longer up to the challenge of digest-sized comics. I realize there’s no real difference in reading the story in a more recent comic versus reading it in its original release, but I just plain like the look of Archie covers from that period. I’m gonna be one of those guys who’s got to have the originals for their look ‘n’ feel.

A second choice would be “facsimile editions,” like what Marvel and DC have been doing of late. Just more or less exact reprints of the original comics, except on better paper and a higher price. I’ve picked up a handful of those over the last couple of years…they’re fun to have, and that way I can get a copy of the comic without taking something out of the shop I might actually be able to sell for money.

Third choice would be a some kind of handsome hardcover or softcover, which would hopefully include full-color and full-sized reproductions of the covers (and not just little thumbnails on the back cover).

I suppose a fourth choice would be digital editions, but frankly I’d rather have a physical edition. Even if, er, a digital version would be slightly easier for me to read now.

I don’t know…maybe I’ll get luckly and someone will bring all these Jughead comics into the shop for me to buy. I figure if my store is open long enough, every comic I want will eventually pass through! That’s my fantasy…or, more likely, my folly.

I’ll never tire of making fun of the “Qualified Near Mint” grade.

§ October 19th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 16 Comments

So here’s a weird thing a customer brought in for me to deal with. It’s a copy of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea #1 from 1964:

…which was at one point apparently processed by the Library of Congress:

The customer said that the seller he bought it from had mentioned that apparently that the Library of Congress had ended up with an extra copy of this comic in the system and unloaded it, which seemed a little odd to me but apparently the ol’ LoC does stuff like that.

When I posted about this on the Twitters, pal Nat responded that it may not have ever been in the Library’s archives, but just a copy submitted for copyright reasons and stamped during the process.

I mean, Nat’s probably right, he knows from publishing, after all, and my own knowledge of how the government actually operates is pretty lousy, leaving me suitable just for selling comics or being a Supreme Court nominee, so I defer to his wisdom. Regardless, this seems fairly unusual, as I’ve not seen something like this in the too many years I’ve been on the job. Or, who knows, maybe they’re common as dirt around, oh, say, Washington, D.C. “Ah, geez, another one,” says the manager of Lincoln Memorial Comics and Games, as he tosses his third LoC-stamped copy of H.A.R.D. Corps #1 in to the recycle bin.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with it…the customer is okay with me selling it on consignment, though I’m not sure what to charge. It’s not a bad copy, aside from that crumpled corner. so probably somewhere between Very Good and “Qualified Near Mint,” I reckon.

In other back issue news, I was going through some of the many boxes of comics that have been piled upon me by folks over the last few years of my store’s operation, pulling out things I can use right now. And one of those things was a 1991 issue of Silver Surfer, autographed in that very same year by the book’s artist, Ron Lim:

Well, that’s kind of a neat surprise! Alas, the comic itself is not in the greatest of shape, so any premium I was thinking of putting on the book (which wasn’t going to be an outrageous mark-up at any rate) was rendered mostly moot. But still…kind of a neat thing to be surprised by!

Okay, so I have been to a Piggly Wiggly.

§ October 14th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, pal plugging § 5 Comments

So let me issue a correction, as my dad took great glee in calling me at the shop Monday afternoon to cheerfully let me know I was filthy, filthy liar for claiming, as I did in the subject line to that day’s post, that I had never been in a Piggly Wiggly grocery store.

As it turns out, I had been in a Piggly Wiggly, in an Alabama location in early 1976 as we made our way cross-country in a U-Haul truck, making our move from Centreville, VA to Port Hueneme, CA. It was there, my dad informed me, that I obtained a ball (or “egg”) of Silly Putty. And I do remember that Silly Putty quite well, , stretching it, shaping it, bouncing it around, and using it to pull pictures off of comic books…specifically, this issue of Weird Wonder Tales #15:

…and mainly from the story “The Man Who Owned The World!” by Denny O’Neil and Tom Sutton, with which I was particularly fascinated.

In addition to all that fun I was having, my dad also informed me that I got Silly Putty all over my clothes, all over his and Mom’s clothes, in the cabin of the U-Haul truck, around the various hotel rooms, on Alabama’s state bird the northern flicker (AKA the yellowhammer), possibly on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s defensive tackle Bob Baumhower, and who knows what and/or who else. So a big thanks to Piggly Wiggly for providing us all that entertainment 44 years ago!

• • •

Going to recommend a podcast episode here, from Twitter pals Sean42AZ and garaujo1: it’s the latest episode of “The Never Ending Reading Pile,” in which they discuss Alpha Flight, with a special focus on issue #29, the One Right About When The Creative Teams of Alpha Flight and Incredible Hulk Swap Books. It’s long, yes, but engrossing, and the two fellas dive deep into the series as a whole and discuss just what was going on behind the scenes to enable this creative team switcheroo. I don’t listen to many comic podcasts, but this one is certainly worth your time.

• • •

Will look at more of your questions next time. Thanks for reading, pals.

Like anyone’s going to want to cut up their comics.

§ September 30th, 2020 § Filed under batman, collecting, this week's comics § 7 Comments

So in Monday’s post, I linked back to an ancient entry on my site regarding the insertion of flexidiscs into comic books. I warned this particular entry was rife with dead links, but I should probably have noted there was some dead information there as well.

2004 Me stated “we can pretty much forget about seeing comics with flexidisc inserts ever again” given that record players were on the way out. Well, 2020 Me knows that actual vinyl records have made a resurgence…and never really went away in the first place, though it feels like they’re more of a “thing” now. Could be I’m just more aware of it, after inheriting a large-ish collection of LPs from my grandparents and purchasing a brand new record player. And buying new records. And haunting local thrift stores for any album donations. And maybe taking in some Nipsey Russell records at the shop for store credit.

At any rate, Records Ain’t Dead, and neither are flexidiscs being distributed in funnybooks, and I had claimed. Reader Matthew was first in the comments to note

“Post York #1 (published by Uncivilized Books) in 2012 and Hip Hop Family Tree #12 in 2016”

and I do remember taking preordeers on that Hip Hop Family Tree specifically for the inserted flexidisc.

And then BKMunn pointed in the direction of this now sold-out comic from a musician that included a flexidisc.

I guess there’s still some life in the ol’ flexi just yet. Now if we can get paper/cardboard discs on comic book back covers that we’d have to cut out, like we older folks used to do as kids with cereal boxes, that’d be great. There’s a gimmick I coiuld get behind. GET ON IT, um, I don’t know, VAULT COMICS I guess.

• • •

Okay, I didn’t read a lot of new comics this week (been watching I, Claudius on DVD and streaming the final season of The Good Place now that it’s finally made its way to Netflix) but boy howdy did I read Batman: Three Jokers #2. I won’t go all into it like I did with the first issue, but suffice to say that the art by Jason Fabok (both interiors and all those covers) is still spot on. The story…welllll, this is one of those comics that feels like a ten pound load in a fifty pound sack. A lot of this probably could’ve been taken care of in a single 48-page special or, you know, a two-parter at most.

The majority of this issue is concerned with the ramifications of events from the last issue, so there’s lots of interpersonal drama and a set-up for either a big reveal next issue (placing this firmly in out-of-continuity territory) or a big reset button (making it in continuity or whatever passes for it now). I mean, whatever, it’s fine…not as important as it wants to be, and it’s kind of sweet that it’s trying so hard to tie itself to the look ‘n[‘ feel of The Killing Joke. I know some online hay was made out of a shot of a couple of manilla folders, one marked “missing criminals,” and the other marked “missing clowns,” and c’mon, there’s kind of a weird ridiculous beauty to that.

• • •

Still taking comic artform/business/whathaveyou questions to answer here in the coming weeks, so just drop one into the comments at that post if you can!

Okay, let’s try this again.

§ September 28th, 2020 § Filed under collecting § 12 Comments

Some of my ProgRuin-readin’ pals out there have contributed good suggestions to the most recent Question Time post, and I look forward to getting to them in the near future. If you have a question or blogging suggestion for me, feel free to drop it in the comments to that post! Not today’s post, that’d be confusing.

Anyway, let me get back to that question D (am I spelling that right?) asked in the comments to last Monday’s post, which caused me to stumble hard when I tried to answer the first time:

“What did you think of A-V’s other comics output? At the height of my Cerebus fandom I believe I was buying everything they put out. I still consider Journey one of my favorite series of all time & wish Bill Loebs had been able to finish Wardrums. But I bought the entire run of Neil the Horse, normalman & continued to buy Flaming Carrot even after its move to Dark Horse. Deni continued with Ms.Tree, another series I loved. Hell, I even bought that weird Ditko thing she published. A real shame that Renegade Press failed, it had a cool niche.”

Okay, I had paragraph after paragraph in my initial draft that was just rambling text that went nowhere and, frankly, is probably not a surprise to anyone who’s read my writing more than once. So, I’m going to try to keep it simple. Yes, D — may I call you D? — I certainly did read other output from the home of Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Aardvark-Vanaheim, and Renegade Press, run by Dave’s ex-wife (and former A-V publisher) Deni Loubert. But in several cases, I didn’t read them “in real time.”

For example, I was buying normalman from issue #1 (and still my favorite of Jim Valentino’s many creations — sorry, Arson). But there was that weird-ass crossover with Journey in issue #13, so I picked that up off the shelf at the time.

Now normalman (always the lower-case “n”) had the delightful premise of a perfectly normal person being rocketed from a believed-to-be-doomed planet who ends up on a world populated entirely by superheroes. It’s a very funny comic, with each issue parodying a specific title or genre. William Messner-Loebs’ Journey, by contrast, was a mostly naturalistic story of a 19th century frontiersman named Wolverine MacAlistaire.

So crossing over the two was completely bonkers and fun, and said crossover had the intended effect of pretty much any comic book crossover: getting me to start picking up a title I hadn’t already been reading. I eventually bought up the Journey back issues, read the series to the end, and picked up the, what, one or two issues of the Wardrums mini that was released before the comic disappeared probably forever except for a short that pal Nat published in an anthology comic in 2008. But it’s a great series and I’m glad normalman brought me to it.

I started Flaming Carrot mid-stream, I think after it had already transitioned, or was in the midst of transitioning, from being published by A-V to Renegade (like all the non-Cerebus titles did, as Dave focused on the “self-” part of “self-publishing”). But it wasn’t that far in (I think my first issue was #8) that I couldn’t find the earlier installments. Well, it took me a while to get the magazine from Kilian Barracks magazine that preceded the series, and I also now have most of the Visions magazine in which the Carrot originally appeared.

And there was Ms. Tree, another A-V to Renegade comic, the title for which, as I have stated several times before, I didn’t get the pun ’til I started working at a comic book store and had to say the name out loud. Anyway, I started reading Ms. Tree with #50, which was rather late in the series seeing as how that was the last issue. Not sure why exactly I picked that one up…I may have been intrigued by the forthcoming Ms. Tree Quarterly coming from DC Comics, or because of the flexidisc (warning: dead links ahoy), but I ended up buying all the back issues for that series, too. Somehow without saying “Ms. Tree” out loud I guess.

I did buy all of Puma Blues as it was coming out, mostly through a side-imprint of Aardvark-Vanaheim (“Aardvark One International”) (and eventually collected by Dover Press). I bought a complete run for cheap of Neil the Horse off eBay long after the fact. I picked up Robot Comics upon release as it was by Flaming Carrot’s creator Bob Burden.

I also picked up just the first issue of Open Season:

…because it reminded me a little of Bloom County, I guess, but without the talking animals? Or maybe there were talking animals, I apologize if I’m remembering incorrectly. Pretty sure I still have that comic in what remains of the Vast Mikester Comic Archives.

One Renegade Press series that didn’t interest me at the time it originally came out, but now sort of intrigues me, is Wordsmith, about a pulp writer. I seem to have a bunch of issues of this series in my multiple boxes of unsorted comics I’m still going through in the store‘s back room, and am half-tempted to pull them aside for myself. Because, you know, I’m not far enough behind on my reading already.

And whoops, almost forgot Renegade’s Trypto the Acid Dog. Definitely have one of those.

And thus, D, if that’s your real name, is a general overview of the non-Cerebus Aardvark-Vanaheim and/or Renegade Press. Didn’t list everything I’ve bought from them, but it was fun to remind myself of that particular time in comics, being a teenager interested in these weird comic book-type things and having many peculiar and wonderful choices before me.

For that matter, no one’s asked me if Thor or the Hulk was stronger for a while, either.

§ August 21st, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 8 Comments

I want to thank you folks for replying to my queries regarding Comics in the Time of COVID. Again, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this information, if anything, beyond having an archive of what’s happening right now in our hobby/industry that I can hopefully look back upon once we are theoretically past all of this.

I will say that it’s somewhat bemusing to me that I have readers of this site who don’t actively read comics. I mean, I knew this already, but this reminded me again. Hey, I welcome all readers, except jerks. The guy writing this blog is a jerk, and one’s plenty ’round these parts.

Anyway, if you have any more notes about COVID-related comics stuff, please feel free to drop them into the comments for Wednesday’s post. I promise if I publish a book with these, I’ll sell you copies for a most generous 5% discount.

Meanwhile, at the shop…I had a customer make a passing comment whilst perusing the stacks that made me realize something. And of course, no thought goes untweeted, so what I posted on the Twitterers was

the realization that I’ve been in this business long enough to go from hearing “my mom threw all mine out!” to “will you please take this case of TEAM YOUNGBLOOD #1”

I used to hear from people walking into the shop…well, into the previous place of employment, the repeated stories of “I had lots of comics but my [mother/father/guardian/cult leader] threw them out” and variations thereof. It’s an even that usually happened after the individual in question had moved out of the house, gone to college, entered the military, what have you. Or, of course, it occasionally happened when they were children, with parents tiring of the clutter and clearing out the strata of junk out of their kids’s rooms.

But I haven’t heard anyone tell me that in a while. Quite a while. Like I sorta refer to, it’s more likely I’ll be approached by someone trying to unload an accumulation of comics from their childhood or teen years that were never thrown away, but rather stored in a closet or garage for years on end. Time comes around to clean house for whatever reason, and suddenly they have these boxes of comics they have to do something with.

Keeping in mind that I’ve been in comics retail…well, as of September, 32 years, I’ve obviously seen a generational shift in how different groups of folks dealt with comics from their respective youths. A random, let’s say, 40 year old walking into my (well, Ralph’s) store back in 1988 and telling me about his mom throwing out his comics…assuming he was buying comics at around 10 years old, just to keep it simple, that would be around 1958. That wasn’t exactly a peak time for society thinking comics were worth saving, so chances would be pretty good they’d be discarded once said child no longer showed interest in maintaining his collection.

Now, jumping to the far-flung future of 2020, with our flying cars and absolutely no virulent disease spreading unchecked through our populace, a 40 year old who bought comics as a 10 year old would have been picking them up around 1990. 1990 was a boom time for comics and awareness of the industry, and especially awareness of the collectibility of comics. This made parents a little less likely, I think, to dump Junior’s collection once he went off to his cooking academy. And as a result the comics saved during this time ended up either 1) being common as dirt, or 2) generally not kept in very good condition, despite being bagged and boarded, sometimes in those “high end” sleeves marketed at the time.

Now this isn’t a binary thing…people in the ’50s and ’60s saved comics (otherwise we wouldn’t still have copies around now!) and people in the ’90s tossed comics out. But I think the point I’m trying to get across, and as seems supported by anecdotal evidence, is that the likelihood of someone’s childhood comic collection having been thrown out has decreased over time. I mean, no duh, why’d I bother typing 600+ words about it, but it was, as I said in the tweet, a realization that literally just occurred to me. A thing I used to hear all the time, that I took as a cliché of comics retail, had just dropped out of my awareness so completely. Or I’m just old and forget things more easily, there’s that explanation too.

There’s an additional phenomenon of seeing more defunct comic store stock being schlepped around now than I used to see back in the late ’80s/early ’90s (case in point). Plenty of folks jumped on the comics bandwagon post-Batman ’89, and jumped right off again (or were pushed) when the market collapsed, leaving boxes upon boxes of inventory in garages or storage units that only within the last decade or so seem to be making the rounds. That stuff I talked about on Monday from a recent shutdown was an outlier. More likely I’d have someone come in who buys abandoned storage units trying to unload the pallets of former back issue bins for some shuttered shop he’s found himself possessing, and it’s clear from a quick peek that said store dated from the 1990s.

Now look, I just need one of these guys to find a storage unit that used to belong to someone who owned a newsstand in 1944. I know they’re out there, dang it.

What? A guy who likes comics, nostalgic about something? You don’t say.

§ April 29th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, investing, retailing § 4 Comments

So I was digging through more decades-old comics promo stuff and came across the above flyer for Battle Axis, an indie comic released in 1993 from Intrepid Comics.

I’d posted this to the Twitters with the comment that this was “Comics in the ’90s, everyone,” and boy, was it ever.

First, the promise that the print run of the book would be capped at “100,000 copies per issue” which of course nowadays is a pie-in-the-sky number even most Marvel and DC titles can’t reach. Back then some comics easily blew pat that number…or they had been, given that this is around the time of the market crash. I wonder how many copies of this specific comic were ultimately ordered?

The second point is that the reason the print run was “limited,” was to protect your “investment,” to make sure the market wasn’t flooded with too many copies and that your own copy (or copies because let’s face it, you were buying more than one) would someday put all your kids through college and also pay for your comfortable retirement.

Now literally referring to your comic as “an investment” isn’t a tactic I saw too often from publishers. I’d see it heavily implied of course, with phrases like “limited edition” or whathaveyou, but far as I recall most drew the line at “buy this comic, it’ll be worth money someday.” And of course I don’t need to tell you that the end result was that this comic wasn’t an “investment,” it’s not worth anything now, and I’m not even sure there was a second issue. I can’t even remember my former place of employment even carrying it (though it probably did).

It reminds me just a little of the black and white boom, where publishers were cranking out piles of rip-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the sort of implicit understanding between those publishers and retailers/fans that “Turtles were hot, these might be too!”

And today publishers don’t even really need to do that sort of implicit encouragement anymore, as there are plenty of buyers out there who’ll do it do themselves. For a while there it seemed like every Image #1 that came down the pike wqs snapped up immediately by folks looking for that next Walking Dead #1, with sales on #2 immediately sinking to nothing. And then there are the apps/website encouraging people to invest and hoard certain weekly releases, sometimes for seemingly random reasons, and are just as often than not self-fulfilling prophecies. “This hot comic is hot because it’s hot!”

• • •

Speaking of hot comics, I was in a nostalgic mood, thinking about the Omega Men last night. Well, just kinda going on about it on Twitter, while procrastinating about writing this very post you’re reading now. Anyway, I starting thinking about that sci-fi superteam DC published in the early ’80s because I was going through some boxes at home and was pleasantly surprised I still had my copies of Green Lantern from when I was about 10 to 12 years old. I’d thought I’d long discarded them due to them being in poor condition or whatever, but nope, there they were, about issue 130 or so and on. Definitely reader copies, not valuable investments like Battle Axis, but I was glad to see them.

It’s in this run that the Omega Men first appeared, in issue #141 from 1981. And as I recall, the Omega Men were bit of a hot commodity, eventually getting their own title as part of DC’s more upscale line of books printed on better paper, available only through comic shops, and perhaps being slightly more mature in content.

I’d never really thought about why it was hot, ’til I was asked on Twitter “was it Lobo that made them hot?” And honestly, I don’t recall Lobo being a big deal until that first Simon Bisley-drawn series in 1990. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before his first appearance in 1983’s Omega Men #3 started to be in high demand, and today is pretty much the only issue of that series that sells anymore.

No, I’m pretty sure what made the Omega Men hot was the New Teen Titans. Their own title has just started a couple of years prior, and as “DC’s X-Men” is was the company’s most popular title. Sold great, fans loved it, back issues were in demand, it was a comics industry phenomenon. Marv Wolfman, the writer on New Teen Titans, was also the writer of Green Lantern at the time, so it never really dawned on me that, duh, the writer of the Big Hot Superhero Team Book introducing a New Superhero Team might have been a big deal. Kind of like those folks casting about looking for whatever was going to be the next Walking Dead, fans may have jumped on the Omega Men thinking it would be the next New Teen Titans.

Plus, it was tied to the Titans comics as well, made easy by Wolfman working on both, in that they hailed from Vega, the same solar system that Starfire of the Titans was from. So I guess technically, if you squint a bit, Omega Men was a NTT spin-off, maybe absorbing a tiny bit of that title’s hotness to capture fan attention.

As noted above, they did eventually get their own series, a Direct Market-only comic printed on that fancy white Baxter paper. However, early on it did engender some controversy for its depiction of violence, with the primary example being a particuarly gruesome on-panel death of the child of one of the main characters. As we all know, controversy in comics never helps sales in the slightest, he said sarcastically.

Sales did peter out eventually, it seems, as the title took a drastic turn from mostly superhero-y type stuff to weird sci-fi when Todd Klein and Shawn McManus took over the book…that kind of change usually doesn’t come to a series that’s, you know, doing as well as hoped/expected. And the series eventually ended with #38 in 1986.

So, you know, a five year run for the characters from their debut to the cancellation of their own series based in that initial burst of popularity. And they’re still around today, being used to great acclaim in that 2015 series by Tom King
and Barnaby Bagenda. But that Titans connection seems to be long gone, aside from that shared Vega origin with Starfire. Not htat it’d help anyway, since the Titans property itself isn’t what it once was.

Not sure entirely where I was going with this, beyond perhaps a reconsideration of what makes a comic property “hot,” especially an oddball collection of sci-fi heroes that I originally enjoyed reading as a 12-year-old until its conclusion before I finished high school.

It was, overall, a good run of books. No collection was ever produced, far as I can tell, and it seems unlikely, barring a movie or something, there will be one. But it’s worth seeking out, as the individual issues should be mostly cheap. Except that Lobo issue, of course. I understand that issue is hot, hot, hot.

Least appropriate use of he phrase “all the rage” thus far.

§ March 30th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing, self-promotion, sterling silver comics § 5 Comments

So over the last few days I’d been getting requests for two specific issues of Spectacular Spider-Man. No, not that series. Or the other series. Or that other one. I’m talkin’ the original one, the one that began with “Peter Parker, The…” before the title. …No, not that one.

Anyway, my curiosity was piqued as to why these issues, and though I (almost certainly correctly) suspected one of those websites or apps that “inform” folks intent on speculation and investing was responsible, I was wondering just what specific thing was driving this demand.

As you all know, things have been a tad topsy turvy this past week or two, so I had other things on my mind besides researching peculiar demand for a couple of issues of a Spider-Man comic that generally, and no offense to any fans or involved creators, back issue bin filler of no particular note.

But I had some time on Sunday, my first break in a while (more on that later in this very post) and finally sat down an did an eBay search on these requested issues. And I found many a listing with multiple variations on this title:

They’re in demand. Because there’s a character named “Corona” introduced in these books.

Oh come ON.

Needless to say, there’s no connection between Corona the comic book character and the coronavirus, aside from the names, much like there’s no connection between Corona the beer and said virus (but if you saw any of those articles claiming that Corona the beer had suffering sales as of late due to the pandemic, here comes Snopes to clear that particular misconception).

This doesn’t smell like “investment” so much as a recommendation by others to buy ’em cheap out of back issue bins of unsuspecting dealers and then bilk someone on eBay for a lotta dollars by making them think they’re getting a rare collectible.” Well, okay, that’s investment of a sort, but there’s no way something like this is any kind of long-term investment. It’s “buy and flip quick” while the coronavirus is all the rage.

Look, I’ve said before, however people want to enjoy the comics hobby, that’s fine, knock yourself out. But when I found out what was driving this need for these comics…well, my mostly-working eyes couldn’t help but roll awfully hard. Sheesh, “it’s an ill wind…” and all that.

Speaking of ill winds and what they don’t blow, my shop and I have been lucky enough to avoid such zephyrs and actually take in normal income since the California shutdown a couple of weeks back, despite being closed to walk-ins. My doors may be shut, but I’m working hard behind them all by my own self, taking phone orders and internet orders and eBay sales and getting ’em all packed up and shipped out. Now I don’t know how long that’ll last, given I did have a boost from a last new comics shipment from Diamond on Wednesday (resulting in sales that were pretty much on par with regular non-shutdown New Comics Day sales). But folks have been eager to throw business my way, and even prepay for material I won’t receive ’til Diamond revs up the ol’ supply line again.

Now I have been very busy, as it seems like I just take a phone or email order, start packing stuff, get another order called in, add that to the pile, then get more orders, and so on. Like I said above, I haven’t really had a chance to sit and relax for a moment at the shop until I had a brief respite on Sunday. And even then, I began posting some random books in a Twitter feed and on the store Instagram and will likely do more of that as time allows.

And speaking of the Instagrams, I offered (and am still offering) a special deal…$20 (which includes shipping) gets you 30 random comics. Good way to get you some comics for reading, giving to the kids, cutting up for art projects, and the like. And it clears out some stock from my backroom, too! It’s a win/win! Just PayPal $20 to my store’s email address (mike at sterlingsilvercomics dot com) and I’ll send you a package, too! Domestic customers only, though if you live in another country let me know and maybe I can get something worked out for you.

Bet you weren’t expecting a commercial. Sorry, gotta find ways to keep that cash flow active, especially if things get a bit leaner as this situation continues.

Anyway, stay safe out there, follow Nancy’s advice, and let’s all get through this so we can get back to focusing on fun stuff…all them funnybooks. Tell you what…next post I make here will be virus-free. …Er, you know what I mean.

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