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“Knowing which flaps to fold in, in which order” is pretty much advice for everything in life.

§ November 12th, 2018 § Filed under retailing § 5 Comments

So I was putting together some of those fancypants comic book short boxes for display…you know, the ones with the graphics printed on them as opposed to just the plain white boxes you normally see…when I got to thinking.

I’ve noticed over the years, the many, many years I’ve been at this, that when someone first comes across a comic box for the first time in its flattened form, it can be a little puzzling to figure out just how to assemble it. I mean, okay, it’s not like the Hodge conjecture or anything, but it can be easy to start folding the wrong bits first during a first attempt at putting one of these boxes together.

Anyway, the thing I was thinking about, beyond “I wonder how many hundreds, if not thousands, of these boxes I’ver personally assembled over the years,” was “how did people out there first learn how to make one of these?” And thus, I attempted to discover the answer using that most solid of statistical tools, the Twitter poll:


As you can see (or maybe not see, as I’m still trying to fix the images-not-loading-in-RSS-feeds thing…will be working again soon, I hope!), the majority of respondents openly lied informed me that they puzzled out these cardboard contraptions on their own. Only a third as many had to have somebody show ’em, and a just a bit less than that don’t know how to do it at all (more on that later).

Like I said, putting these boxes together isn’t enormously difficult, so it doesn’t really surprise me that the first option was the one that received the most votes. But I’m still surprised that the “someone showed me” result was so relatively small. Just from my experience selling comics and related accessories for decades, the next question after someone asks to buy their first comic box is usually “how do you make this thing work?” And that’s not a criticism or a comment on their skills or anything…I perfectly understand that a person may decide from the get-go “rather than waste time trying to figure out how it works myself, I’ll save the effort and just have this nice young gentleman with the flowing mane of beautiful blond hair show me how to do it properly right off.”

And really, it’s no problem. It’s just a matter of knowing which flaps to fold in, and in which order. Someone responded to my poll, noting they learned from the box itself, which had printed instructions, something I forgot to consider since I hadn’t seen one of those in years. I don’t know…for some reason, I was picturing this as arcane nerd knowledge, passed down in oral tradition from learned experts to the gathered supplicants, who would then teach the skill to the generations that follow.

That last option, about still not knowing, isn’t a huge deal. Some people may not store their comics in boxes, or don’t have enough comics to even fill a box, or may not be comic collectors at all, and just answered my poll because they follow me on the Twitterers and decided to show me a kindness. I mean, the poll’s range was largely biased toward comic fans, as most of the people on Twitter that follow me and aren’t Russian spy-bots are also people who are into comics.

Which of course doesn’t mean there aren’t collectors who don’t know what to do with these boxes. I noted to someone on Twitter that I’d seen my fair share of boxes where whoever tried to assemble it started off with the wrong fold or flap or whatever and just decided to give up and duct-tape the thing into a box-like shape. And someone working for another comic shop on Twitter verified that they’ve also seen the dreaded “held together by tape and probably a lot of cursing,” so it’s likely a widespread phenomenon.

Anyway, just one of those thoughts that goes through my head when I’m at the shop putting together my one millionth comic box. …Okay, maybe “one millionth” is exaggerating a little, but not by much.

I do eventually start talking about comics.

§ October 29th, 2018 § Filed under blogging about blogging is a sin, retailing § 1 Comment

So…feeling a little more…secure while visiting my site? Well, I certainly hope so, after the trouble I had Saturday trying to get my SSl certificate in order here. Anyway, if you are on my site, and not just reading through a feed reader of some sort, if you look up to the address bar in the browser of your choice you’ll see Progressive Ruin Dot Something or Other now has a little padlock symbol on display. No more “this website isn’t secure” warnings when you visit or try to leave a comment! Your personal information is no longer captured by me and sold to Rufus T. Firefly in the distant land of Freedonia!

A few days ago I installed one of those SSL thingies on my store site with no hitch whatsoever, so I decided, during a brief lunch break on Saturday, to do the same for ol’ ProgRuin. And of course, instead of being a quick install, my images broke, then my page wouldn’t load right, then I somehow managed to lock myself out of my site with no way back in, blah blah, other dumb stuff. “You know just enough about computers to be dangerous” a programmer friend once told me years ago…and while I’ve learned my way around the computatrons a little more since then, I certainly proved her right that Saturday afternoon.

Anyway, if you tried to access my site that day, you may have had a problem or two getting in, but it’s all fixed now, and I’m sure no other problems will crop up ever again. ‘Course, part of the issue I was having is that my site is nearly 15 years old, and there’s a whole lotta patchwork in the backend of things…don’t look at my FTP directory, it’s hideous. Plus, my htaccess file, that bit of programming where I try to block out hotlinkers and junk traffic, is a mile long and cobbled together from my own typed-in additions and whatever things my WordPress plug-ins put in there. (Part of the problem with the images is that while I allowed my progressiveruin.com domain access to my image files, I forgot to allow access to the “https://” version of the site. Oops.)

Anyway, it’s done, and my site is more or less secure. If you’ve bookmarked the “http://” version of the site, it should automatically forward to the secure version. I have a couple of straggling HTML pages separate from the main blog that need some adjusting (not this one, which is now secure as well as perfect), but otherwise you should see that little padlock wherever you go the site, reminding you that your credit cards are all safe with me, so just send in those numbers whenever you’d like.

So the other thing I did on Saturday, aside from thinking “well, maybe I can move my blog over to pogressiveruin.com,” was the Halloween ComicFest, one of the various special comic days during the year trying to expand the success of Free Comic Book Day to other parts of the year. And I did manage to have a pretty good turnout…had a line of folks waiting outside the front door when I opened, which is always a good sign, followed by periodic waves of business throughout the day.

In general, I don’t order huge numbers of the Halloween books, since the turnouts for this event aren’t really a patch on FCBD. But I do, and did, get quite a few people in, Saturday (the official day of the event) and Sunday, so I try to have enough on hand. In some cases, like for this year’s Ms. Marvel book, I ordered a lot extra just to have ’em around as giveaways in the future.

As it turned out, I burned through the majority of the books I had this weekend, with only relative handfuls left over. Even that Ms. Marvel issue was nearly wiped out. You may have noticed above that I gave away these comics on Saturday as well as Sunday, and that’s because the timing of the Halloween ComicFest is always so…peculiar. I mean, “Halloween” is in the name, so it always takes some explaining to establish that, no, the event isn’t necessarily on Halloween, but on the Saturday just prior to it. Yes, it says the actual date on the promo materials, but it also clearly says “1ST SATURDAY IN MAY” on the Free Comic Book Day info, and I’ll still get folks coming in on May 1st looking for the freebies.

What I end up trying to do is, while not overloading on the giveaway comics, try to order enough to actually carry me through to the Halloween day itself. This time around I could be a tad short…but then, Monday and Tuesday usually aren’t blockbuster days, so the supply I have now will likely be little changed by the time Wednesday rolls around and business picks up again.

In the end, it was a lot of fun, and I gave away plenty of comics, and made some good sales, too. Like Free Comic Book Days have been for me since the beginning, the event paid for itself. Even had a few folks show up in costume…at least one Squirrel Girl made it in that day!

So, that was my Saturday. Lots of customer traffic and folks happy with their free goodies, and computer travails. I know which I prefer on any given business day.

Featuring Norbert the Narcotics Bobby.

§ October 26th, 2018 § Filed under retailing, undergrounds § 4 Comments


So pictured above are four issues of The Fabulous Furry Freak Bros. that I purchased from a gentleman at my store on Thursday. They’re not in very good shape…they’re intact, but they are very worn. I’ll generally buy most underground comix regardless of condition — well, within reason — just because undergrounds can be hard to come by, and I always have customers for them.

These particular Freak Bros. were of interest, though, as they were published in the United Kingdom…if you look closely, you can see the UK price on the covers, and maybe the Knockabout Books logo and/or text there. Sometimes the price was printed as part of the cover, and sometimes it was a small round sticker affixed directly over the original cover price, as was sometimes done in the U.S. Whether in this instance it’s covering a U.S. price or another UK price, I do not know. The copyright info on the inside covers also reflect their UK origins.

Wish now I’d taken more (and better!) pics of these items beyond just a representative image to throw on the Instagrams. But I still have ’em at the shop, should you like to drop in and inspect these items in person, hint hint. C’mon, it’s not that far of a drive, if you’re, y’know, on the same continent.

So there you go…my “weird thing that walked in the door” for the week. …Did I tell you about the weird thing from last week, this Li’l Abner comic with the amazing cover? Well, check out the pic of that, too, and that’s all I have of it now, beyond my fond memories, because that cover sells itself, and brother, it sold.

That was more than one question, but I had joke answers so I’ll let it slide.

§ October 24th, 2018 § Filed under indies, question time, retailing § 5 Comments

Let’s tackle another one of your questions! BRIAN, YOU’RE UP:

“1. What is your name?”

Michael Ricardo Anatoly Sterling.

“2. What is your quest?”

“3. What is your favorite color?”

Squant.

“4. Probably something that you’ve discussed before, but I’ve missed it, but I’m curious how you go about sorting back issues in the age of constant reboots and New Number Ones (including volumes that slightly change the name on occasion and then change it back). Being a fellow child of age of long runs, where a title might have hundreds of issues to be put in the bin together, I’m curious how it’s done differently when major titles aren’t aiming at Major Anniversary Issues.”

I did go into some detail about this just under a year ago, when pal Cathy posed that question to me. The short answer is basically labeling new title dividers with names and dates to identify series (for example, “Venom [2018 series]”). That admittedly does make the back issue bins appear a bit cluttered, particularly since a lot of these series (especially at Marvel) tend to run short and get relaunched anyway, making for smaller sections, but that seems to be the best way to avoid confusion.

There are a handful of titles where I just haven’t separated out the newer series from the older series, partially from no huge demand (or simple lack of backstock) for a specific title, or not wanting to put yet another title divider on the table, or just sheer laziness. But on the whole, more information is better for customer awareness than less information, so I do try to properly I.D. everything.

Not everything gets its own title divider, of course. I do have, like, an “X-MEN MISC.” section for the piles of mutant mini-series or short-run titles…though sometimes something graduates to its own section. And sometimes if there’s a small run of something related to a longer running title, I might just put the smaller run in the back of the box of the main run…like putting Groo Chronicles in the back of the Groo the Wanderer section.

It can be a real…well, I don’t want to say “mess,” but it certainly is some work keeping on top of it.

• • •

ThomH dares to inquire

“I like it when you discuss old independent comics that I’ve never heard of (a la Jupiter most recently).

“Anything else you’ve read and enjoyed but maybe not talked up on the blog in a while (or at all)?

“I’d love to be pointed in the direction of something interesting, wacky, weird, or just plain awesome.

“Thanks!”

Oh, don’t thank me yet!

I suppose one old indie title I really liked that I’ve never really mentioned here is Ralph Snart Adventures by Marc Hansen.

It has a slightly convoluted publishing history involving multiple series…and going back to the previous question, at the previous place of employment I had them all filed in the same section with notations on the price tags as to which series was which. And, if you pulled up the title divider, I had written on body of the divider which issues comprised which volume of the series, as the price guides at the time had it all messed up. …Probably should’ve made sections for each series, but what can I tell you.

But the series itself…it’s kinda sorta an anthology title with our titular hero as the recurring character in a variety of wild, usually contradictory, adventures from issue to issue. The thread pulling everything together is that Snart has, well, been driven nuts by the pressures of life and is stuck in an asylum, while his brain generates strange and fantastic scenarios in which he may engage. The set-up is a little…well, the idea of “this guy is crazy and his crazy brain invents crazy stuff!” is perhaps not the most sensitive portrayal of mental health issues, but me describing it is probably worse than actually reading it in context. So blame me, not Mr. Hansen.

Anyway, the story functions on two levels…the internal fantasy life of Mr. Snart, and the “real world” shenanigans, mostly revolving around nefarious forces trying to harness the unusual imagination power of Snart’s brain…I seem to recall at least one cliffhanger where his brain has actually been removed from his body! Don’t worry, it gets put back (SPOILER).

If you can get around the set-up, the comics themselves are pretty funny, and Hansen has this great, lumpy cartooning style. It’s been a while since I’ve read ’em, and of course writing about it here makes me want to read them again. Like, you know, I have time. Ah, well, I still have them…didn’t give those up to my store when I opened it up!

If you do seek out Ralph Snart comics, keep in mind that there are some non-Hansen issues…The Lost Issues is all non-Hansen, so avoid. Also, the black and white Volume Two that ran 9 issues is reprinted in color in the first nine issues of the 26-issue long Volume Three. You can find previews of various issues here, along with some extensive descriptions that would probably give you a better idea about this series than my meandering typing here.

• • •

Okay, more questions answered next time, probably! Add more to the pile if you’d like!

I think “The Violence and the Vulgarity” was my prom theme.

§ October 22nd, 2018 § Filed under batman, publishing, question time, retailing § 3 Comments

I’ll get back to the topic of extended breaks in ongoing series (1 and 2) shortly, but I wanted to get a couple more questions ahead if at all possible:

William opens the gate to the following:

“Let’s talk about that evergreen topic, The Bat Penis.

“Maybe I’m cynical, but it seems like the image was provided just to garner controversy (and sales) for that issue. The image does not play into the plot, and is basically superfluous. It’s only there to either satisfy the kinks of the creators or stir up word of mouth and demand, which if it was the latter, it did magnificently.

“My question is this. I know you touched on this briefly in your post on the subject, but, as a retailer, do you feel that DC left you out to dry in this case. I am old enough to remember the Friendly Frank’s raid when it was current events, and while a lot of things changed since then, a lot of things stayed the same. I know the book was advertised as mature readers from the get go, but it seems DC didn’t let retailers in on just how ‘mature’ the book really was. And there is a difference between ‘expletive-laden’ mature readers and ‘Let’s look at the Batwang’ mature readers, and parent would be far more upset if the latter landed in their kids hands.

“I’m just wondering if you wish DC was more upfront about what the mature content was beforehand or if it didn’t really make a difference. I’m not a censorship guy, but an informed retailer can better avoid any potential legal entanglements that might cause. I’m curious on your opinion on the matter.”

So I’ve been watching that new Titans series on the DC Universe streaming channel, and…well, if you’ve been following my Twitterings, you’ve probably seen a few of my comments on the show. Overall, I do like it, but it does inspire a bit of eyerolling when they lay on the violence and the vulgarity. Especially in that one scene from the premiere episoide, the one that made it into the pilot, with Robin, um, expressing his opinion about his former crime-fighting partner. What I tweeted was

“Yes, in context Robin’s ‘F Batman’ line is totally gratuitous and tacked on as the buzz-creating ‘everyone will talk about this’ free advertising moment it was meant to be.”

Okay, maybe when they were writing this scene, they were simply intent on making this as “adult” and “gritty” as possible, and that meant the occasional f-bomb…but they still put that scene into the trailer, knowing full well that would engender some controversy and get mouths yappin’ and fingers typin’ about this new TV show.

That I think was an intentional usage of unexpected “mature” content to garner attention. I honestly don’t think Full-Frontal Bruce in Batman: Damned was the same situation. I don’t know the specific reasons why they decided to include that image (if the creators were interviewed about that topic, I haven’t seen it) but my guess is that they took this new “mature readers” “almost anything goes” imprint at DC to heart and, well, went for it. I could see ’em saying “mature imprint, huh? Let’s see if THIS gets past the editor” and then a while later: “oh dang it did.”

I don’t think I was blindsided by the image…I knew it was a mature readers title, and granted, the image itself it relatively minor…silhouetted, almost easy to miss, not like other popular comic book penises like Watchmen‘s Doctor Manhattan. His Lower Manhattan just popped up (heh) in DC’s Big Event Series Doomsday Clock, and seems more like a thing (ahem) than Batman’s deal. I think exposed wedding tackles fit well within the subject matter covered by the “mature readers” label. Now if there were explicit close-up images of Tab A being inserted into Slot B, that’d be a different story…one likely published by Avatar or Boundless.

I don’t think I felt legal problems were potentially a threat here…I mean, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund still exists for a reason, but the naughty Batman comic probably received more jokes about it on late night talk shows than actual complaints from concerned citizens. Raina Telgemeier’s publisher probably receives more letters from uptight parents about her graphic novels per week than the whole of DC does all year. Superheroes are “mainstreamed” now, and I think enough people have been exposed to tie-in media where Batman says “shit” or where Deadpool gets, um, rogered roundly, or where Robin says “fuck Batman” that the idea of an adult-oriented comic book isn’t quite the foreign idea it once was. I’m not saying problems wouldn’t, or don’t, happen, just that Batman: Damned probably wasn’t going to open those particular floodgates.

Not that I shouldn’t be careful, of course. Keep the Bondage Fairies off he kids rack an’ all that.

MIKE VS. TWITTER.

§ July 23rd, 2018 § Filed under big red cheese, blogging about blogging is a sin, retailing § 9 Comments

So the other day, a small gag occurred to me that I felt I should post on Twitter, and that gag was this:


Those of you who know me, or have at least read me for a while, know that’s a very Mike joke for me to make. Anyway, I thought it was cute, a silly gag, not a great one, that maybe my Twitter pals would get a chuckle out of, given most of them are comics-savvy and would understand the joke.

Well, for some reason, this tweet has received more “retweets” and “faves” than anything I’ve ever posted on the Twitterers before, outside of my contributions to Fake AP Stylebook. I don’t know if it counts as “going viral,” but by my supremely low standards it’s at least a very minor virus, perhaps only a slight infection. Regardless, it’s received far more attention than I would have thought..perhaps because of the timing with the release of the Shazam! movie trailer (more on that later in the post).

As per usual, whenever something I’ve written makes it outside the usual circle of “People Who’ve Learned to Tolerate Mike and His ‘Writing,'” I get to hear from people who don’t seem to..quite get the humor, which, okay, in all fairness maybe they’re trying to be funny back at me and I’m too lame to grok their superior hilarious commentary. Like, there seem to be more than a few folks who appear to believe that I’m…actually going to do this to some poor bastard stuck behind a window selling tickets? C’mon, son, I’ve worked retail for a living for decades, I’m not going to do that to my counter-jockeying brothers and sisters.

Then there’s the one fella who seemed to get, like, pissed off that I didn’t seem to realize that the Big Red Cheese isn’t actually called “Captain Marvel” anymore, but “Shazam,” thus invalidating my gag. Look, pal, read this post from about three years ago (near the middle somewhere) where I complain about the name change at length. TL;DR version: if they had to change the name, they should’a called him “Captain Shazam.”

There were some actual funny responses, which I always appreciate. Pals Ian and Myles were tuned into the same strange frequency with their replies:

(excerpt of the accompanying image…see his tweet for the full thing)


And this response made me MAL (“MAL” of course being the popular internet acronym all the kids use for “Make Audible Laughter”):


But Angel pretty much sums it all up with:


Oh, Angel, my friend, my blog here is pretty much my 15-year-long effort at trying to annoy as many people as possible. That tweet’s only the very tippiest-tip of that iceberg.

To those of you sick of seeing that tweet pop up in your feeds…I’m very, very sorry. And I’m sorry that it’s here again on my personal blogging website that you’ve surfed to on the World Wide Web.

• • •

Speaking on being annoyed on Twitter, someone drive-by hit one of my tweets on the whole “Wedding of Batman” thing (which I wrote about on my site here and here), where I said I felt for the stores that ordered huge numbers on #50 expecting the event but getting no event, while simultaneously being relieved that I appeared to order the exact number. Said drive-by-er’ reply was, in effect, “looks like you should have ordered more, dummy” with an excerpt of some article from somewhere talking about how that issue of Batman sold anyway, regardless of how things turned out. Of course, he went back into my Twitter timeline, past my own follow-up tweet where I stated “yes, of course it sold, it’s #50 of Batman, dur hey” so he could snark at me.

Well, let me tell you something, my retailing expert friend…I ordered a good number of these Batman #50s. Didn’t go overboard, didn’t have any kind of in-store event planned or anything…just lots of copies to put on the shelves. I had plenty pulled aside for the pull list customers, I had lots of walk-ins, I had plenty of phone calls from folks desperately seeking copies…and after that initial week or two of sales were over, I had exactly one copy left. That one copy, as I type this, is still on the shelf, even after having a particularly healthy and busy week at the shop…probably one of the biggest non-Free Comic Book Day weeks I’ve had this year. Lots of people coming in and out the door, calling the shop, etc., but none of whom needed that last copy of Batman #50 on my rack.

Basically, I ordered Batman #50 almost perfectly. I had almost the exact number of copies I needed to meet immediate demand. Now, that’s not to say someone won’t rush in demanding any and all copies of #50 when I get into the shop on Monday, but for the initial sales window for a new comic (which is primarily its first week of release), I exactly, save for that one remainder, met my local demand. So, no, person on Twitter I muted almost immediately because you seriously cheesed my crackers, I didn’t need to order more, because I ordered just right, thank you very much.

Sorry to go on about this, but the one thing that really makes me angry regarding store stuff is when other people, especially people who don’t know what they’re talking about, try to condescendingly tell me how to do my job. Also, when people seal their comic bags with tape. SO. ANGRY.

• • •

Oh, right, I was going to say something about the Shazam! trailer. Don’t have much to say, really…looks like it’ll be fun, despite my issues with Cap not being called “Cap” anymore. Also, it’s very much the “modern” take on the character, where Cap…er, Shazam is simply Billy in a grown-up body, as opposed to the “classic” version where Billy Batson and Captain Marvel were more or less treated as different people, and even referred to each other as such. Well, I suppose the classic version might have been a little too strange for modern audiences…the Big-starring-Tom-Hanks formula would more likely meet modern expectations for this particular premise. But I’ve gotta say…seeing Billy shout “SHAZAM!” and then transform…that was pretty great to witness in live action.

I’ve got a few old Captain Marvel entries from, egads, 2005 that I’ll need to clean up and link back to in a current post, so someone remind me to do that before the movie comes out.

“Coverless Plus” isn’t a real grade, but IT SHOULD BE.

§ July 18th, 2018 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 3 Comments

So the other day one of my regulars dropped by with a comic book he’d purchased via mail order, and he wanted my opinion on its grade. It was sold (and indeed, the backing board was marked) as a “9.0,” which works out to be Very Fine to Near Mint in Overstreet Price Guide terms. (It should be noted that this was not a Professionally-Graded-Sealed-in-a-Plastic-Slab comic, but a “raw” (as collectors’ cant would have it) funnybook in a mere bag and board in common use amongst we mere mortals.) Anyway, I gave the book a quick once-over and had to break the news that, given the few spine creases, a couple of which were color-breaking, plus some minor rounding/softness at the corners of the spine, this couldn’t be in VF/NM. At best, maybe a low Fine, or perhaps a VG/F if I hadn’t had my Diet Coke that day. (And since I haven’t had a Diet Coke for a few months, that comic’s darn lucky I didn’t grade it Coverless Plus.)

It sounds like he’ll be able to return it, which is good, but this particular interaction did make me feel a little better about my own grading abilities. It’s…not something that comes terribly easily to me, probably the part of the job that feels most like “work” (aside from the whole “taxes” thing, and having to deal with Ian). Mostly, at the previous place of employment, I didn’t do much with the “grading and pricing back issues” thing. That was left to my old boss Ralph, mostly for the sake of consistency in grading standards and price levels, while I mostly focused on…well, everything else regarding said backstock. I’d check for missing issues, pull stuff out of the back, bag ’em and tag ’em, put ’em in alphabetical order in the To Be Priced boxes, and after Ralph priced them all up, I’d put them all away in their appropriate spots. If someone wanted to know a grade on a certain issue, more often than not all I’d have to do if flip the comic over, look at the sticker on the back where Ralph placed the grade, and then happily reply “Sir, this copy of Saga of Crystar Crystal Warrior #6. guest-starring Nightcrawler of the X-Men, is in VF- condition!” and that would be that. I certainly wasn’t unaware of comic conditions, and could do some general grading, but it just wasn’t my main thing at that shop…someone else did that, while I attended to other duties.

Now that I’m sailing alone on the seas of comics in my own ship…er, store, I can’t depend on Ralph to do that for me anymore. Which isn’t to say I don’t bend his ear once in a while whenever he drops by to ask him some grading questions whenever I find something that stumps me And sometimes he tells me “huh, I’m stumped too,” which makes feel a little better that someone with a lot more direct experience in comic grading can get a bit thrown on occasion. There are so many different things that you weirdos do to your comics that the variety of wear and damage and, um, engine fuel smells, and…er, beginnings of essays that Overstreet’s grading guide never dreamed of, that even old hands need to do a little guesswork and interpretation to put your dime down on a specific condition. It can take a lot of effort, and a not-insignificant amount of concentration, but as time goes by, I think I’m getting better at it. Plus, I find when I do a whole bunch in a row, I get into that “grading groove” and start knocking ’em out at a more reasonable pace.

Don’t get me wrong…grading can be a challenge at times, but it’s still “Mike gets to look at old comics all day and call that his ‘job'” so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. And as I said, my skills are improving…I’m a long way from calling that comic with the holes punched with a pen through the center and the tape and the missing back cover a Very Fine Plus. I know now that’s clearly no better than a VF.

Good thing there wasn’t a Swamp Thing one, else I’d be traveling across the country looking for it.

§ July 16th, 2018 § Filed under dc comics, publishing, retailing § 8 Comments

(NOTE: I’ve been told that these aren’t actually “digest-sized,” which for some reason I got into my head these actually were, similar to the ’80s DC digests. This is why I wanted a copy to look at for myself! Also, I’ve heard from various sources that they’re racked “with the Pokemon and Magic cards near the registers,” and, um, my local Walmarts don’t appear to have those either, unless I’m really missing that particular series of shelves.)

(NOTE TO MY NOTE: So, uh, just ignore every time I call these things “digests,” okay? Thanks!)

So I’ve been trying to track down copies of those Walmart-exclusive DC digests, mostly to have just at least one sample copy I can look at and discuss here on the site, before passing it on to a niece or nephew. Like, I wanted to know the actual dimensions of the thing, its readability at that size (likely extra problematic for me, Mr. Gots Eye Troubles), the paper quality, the story selection, etc. And as it turns out…no dice at two of the Walmarts in my immediate area. Not that I found the DC Digest display bereft of copies, sitting on a shelf somewhere…I couldn’t find any sign that there were any on display at all.

Now, given the, um, state of said local Walmarts, “not finding something” could be said to be the default result of any product search, and it could very well be that they were there, somewhere, diplayed in plain view in a disused lavatory with a sign that read “BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD” Douglas Adams-style, but I checked all the usual spots and didn’t find a thing. So, let us hope that this was a case of the comics finding their target audience (i.e. not me, Elderly Comics Guy) and the empty displays were removed to make room for economy-sized tins of mixed nuts, and not, as was suggested by some Twitter pals, disappeared into the hands of speculators, a possibility I honestly hadn’t considered but…well, yeah, that could’ve happened.

I mean, it’s just as well…these digests are not for me, but to get kids to try out comics. Despite my near-despotic command over comic sales in my area (via my foreboding Camarillo headquarters at Sterling Silver Comics) I realized not every young’un will come through my doors to discover the sublime delights of Swamp Thing and…well, pretty much just that, but kids like comics and if you get them into their hands, they more often than not will devour them. I mean, read them, but get ’em young enough they may very well eat them…it’s just paper, they should be okay. So yes, I’m very much for the idea of getting comics into the hands of new readers via publishing initiatives such as this one. I have zero idea if it’s actually happening around here, since I don’t know if our local Marts of Wals even had ’em, but they’re out there somewhere, presumably getting into young people’s hands and not just being mailed off to Comic Slabbers, Inc. to get graded and traded.

I heard about some comics collectin’ and retailin’ folks getting bent out of shape over these things even existing, for some reason. I mean, yes, there are new stories mixed in with the reprints, but, c’mon, it’s not like DC is going to sit on that Brian Michael Bendis Batman story…that’ll be a trade or a mini-series or something down the line. Or it could just be “there’s something out there I can’t have!” — how dare there be a Collectible Issue #1 of Something we can’t order through our shops. (‘Course, if it were, then we’d hear “$4.99 for a new 12 page story and a bunch of reprints? BAH!”) I mean, whatever…the good these could do versus…basically no valid argument against, I think. Get kids used to the idea of reading comics…that’s a net gain for the industry as a whole! And it’s not like Walmart’s going to “steal” your customers, since most of those kids weren’t going to your shop anyway, but now, maybe, if they decide they want more comics, maybe they’ll seek you out. You never know. And besides, just given my personal experience seeking them out, it’s not like you’re going to find well-curated permanent comic racks in these shops directly competing with you.

Going back to that DC Comics release, i can see a lot of the actual contents of the initial digest wave right there, and it looks like a pretty solid mix of recent-ish stories. Now, the old ’80s DC Comics digest fan in me was kinda sorta hoping for some Silver Age-y or even Bronze Age-ish reprints, but I realize those may come across as a little old fashioned. But man, at the very least I hope they drop some Neal Adams Batman stories into some of these digests, just to blow some kids’ minds. Here’s that Shirtless Batman fighting Ra’s al Ghul you’ve been waiting all six years of your life to read, Little Billy!

Anyway, these digests are fine in theory (assuming others have better luck than me finding them). If it gets some kids to realize that, oh, hey, these just aren’t movie characters, they came from somewhere…good. I hope whoever got their hands on these reads the hell out of them, leaving it with tattered covers and bent pages and happily awaiting even more.

Let me just end this on saying that this pic of an empty digest display pocket (courtesy Twitter pal Joe) leaves me in deep appreciation of some designer’s dark sense of humor, considering the source of the image:

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“For all my super-speed I wasn’t (choke) fast enough!” …Me neither, Superman — me neither.

Even that first copy of Adventure Comics #247 I ever bought felt like I’d seen it plenty of times before.

§ June 18th, 2018 § Filed under retailing, what is it good for § 13 Comments


One strange aspect of being involved in comics retail for so long (officially 30 years this September)


is that despite all the old comics and collections that have passed through my hands, both at my previous place of employment and at my own shop


and how familiar to me many, many individual issues and covers of other genres of comics have become, DC Comics war titles always seem fresh and new to me.


I’ve held multiple copies of Amazing Fantasy #15, but I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve ever beheld many of these recent war comic acquisitions in person (such as this copy of DC Special Series #13 from 1978).


DC’s war comics don’t turn up in collections very often or in much quantity, at least compared to their superpowered cousins


whether it’s due to copies not surviving, readers not giving up their copies, or simply scarcity from comparatively lower sales (particularly in latter-day examples).


Even the rarest superhero comics have a feeling of “been there, seen it” that the war comics do not, possibly due to the extra coverage they get, the extensive reprinting, the familiarity of the characters and situations.


Occasionally I’ll even find one in a collection I want to keep…the irony, in regards to this discussion, that the comic in question prominently features superhero covers is not lost on me.


But as much as I get that “new to me” feeling from individual DC war issues I rarely encounter, don’t get me started on the Charlton war books.

No, I don’t have a scanner at the register to keep track of sales for me, because I’m an old-timey general store owner from the Wild West.

§ June 15th, 2018 § Filed under market crash, retailing § 3 Comments

So as I was talking to my former boss Ralph about Miracleman orders, as I mentioned last time, I also had a question or two about the actual process of ordering the monthly comics back in the long-ago days of the early 1980s. You may recall that I’d been going through boxes and boxes of Ralph’s old comic company promotional materials from the early days of his shop (something I need to get back to soon, in fact). In the process of doing so, I found several retailer packs filled with order forms and publisher promos and such…no single Previews catalog like we have now, but rather pretty much every publisher supplied their own individual fliers with product information. You’d go through all these, figure out your orders, write the numbers down in the order form supplied by the distributor, and send that in.

I asked Ralph if that was as huge a pain in the ass as it seemed, and he said that, actually, no, it wasn’t. For one thing, there was a lot less monthly product to be ordered. There weren’t hundreds and hundreds of pages to plow through…I don’t have one of those old retailer packs right in front of me at the moment, but if I had to make a rough estimate, at the absolute high end all those different fliers and info sheets probably didn’t total up to more than about 100 pages. In addition, orders were probably a lot more consistent from month to month…no reboots/relaunches/crossover events/variant covers/whathaveyou making you have to ponder and re-ponder your numbers. You’d have to pay attention to things like “who’s drawing this issue?” and “is Wolverine guest-starring?” more than “how many more readers are going to bail on the book with its fifth consecutive first issue in as many years?”

Now, with the Previews catalog slowly becoming multiple booklets (as I somewhat sarcastically commented upon at the beginning of this End of Civilization post), it’s like we’re slowly returning to that time. I only half-jokingly suggested that Dynamite and IDW and so on would get their own separate product info publications…that’s how things used to be done, and maybe could again. At least, until it all goes entirely digital, and I’m squinting at an endless series of downloaded order form PDFs on my computer screen.

Anyway, one thing Ralph mentioned about ordering comics way back when was, a thing that made the actual process easier, was that with the smaller product line it was easier to keep track of things in his head, versus maintaining extensive cycle sheets, on which you could keep track of each title’s orders and weekly sales. That was fine up until the late ’80s/early ’90s comics boom, when numbers on a lot of titles suddenly exploded, and instead of 20 or 30 copies of something, you were suddenly ordering 300 copies. Even at that point, it was theoretically possible to just mentally track the numbers, but once the comics market crash hit…hoo boy.

Now keep in mind that we didn’t know that the crash was “The Crash” as it was initially happening. After a couple of years of huge, nonstop sales — “it’s like our Christmas rush never ended!” I remember saying to someone at the time — a sudden downturn wasn’t seen as an immediate problem. It was like, “oh, That’s Just Retail, it comes and goes, the customers will be back” and orders stayed up…and up, and up, and eventually the lightbulb clicks on over your head and you realize “oh, wait, this is bad.” Particularly with a two or three month lead time between making your orders and receiving them, at a time before distributors had the “Final Order Cutoffs” for retailers to adjust orders on some products a little closer to the actual release dates.

If you look back in my “market crash” category, you’ll see me talking about this sort of thing. What I haven’t mentioned is what my former coworker Rob and I used to do was make notes for Ralph in the Previews or Capital City catalogs (which by this time did exist as a retailing tool, versus all the separate booklets) and make notes next to specific title that we felt had desperately egregious differences between what was ordered and what was left over. In other words, basically saying “for God’s sake, order fewer copies of Spider-Man Unlimited” or whatever. It was this sort of thing that eventually brought us to adopting the full-on cycle sheet method of keeping track of orders versus weekly sales, rather than just depending on memory and the now completely gone consistency of numbers from month to month. Gone were the days of bumping up numbers because “if it doesn’t sell on the rack, surely it’ll sell through as back issues,” which may have been sorta true during the boom, but “cutting numbers to the bone” was the strategy of the day after the crash took full hold.

Today, at my own shop, I use a combination of methods…I don’t necessarily use full cycle sheets, but I do keep track of certain items of note, do regular checks of what is and isn’t moving on the new shelf, and otherwise just keep a close eye on sales. It’s a bit easier when I’m the one man on the job, there every day, seeing how stuff is selling. Everything that leaves the store passes through my hands (well, I mean, let’s hope) so I am directly witnessing how product is moving. It’s still tricky…sales on the previous Venom or Hulk series wouldn’t have given me any clue as to how the new relaunches would sell, for example…but for the most part, everything’s more or less consistent and I’m not having too much trouble staying on top of everything. Now, if there should be another big comics boom, I’d definitely switch everything over to detailed sales tracking, which would be a lot more work, but, you know, a good problem to have…while it lasted.

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