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I just accidentally typed “Future Steve” — now there’s an event I want to read.

§ January 8th, 2021 § Filed under retailing, star wars, sterling silver comics § 5 Comments

So…some week, huh? Hope everyone out there is finding ways to keep sane and their anxiety levels down (when they were already up with this whole COVID thing). Hang in there, pals.

I plan on beginning my coverage of your predictions for the 2020 comics industry next week (did any of you guess “DC will split off with its own distributor after Diamond shuts down for two months?” I guess we’ll find out!) so let me take this time to remind you to get your 2021 predictions in before too much more of 2021 gets past us.

I’m just going to cover a couple of other things here before calling it a day. First, response to DC’s Future State event has been…mixed, so far. Granted, it’s only been on the shelves for a couple of days, but customers really are either “gotta get them all!” or “ugh, are you kidding me, no way.” As I noted on Wednesday, I suspect hearts and minds may change if, when the regular titles resume, references are made back to the Future State stories maybe the naysayers will become yaysayers, but who’s to say. Maybe that can be someone’s 2021 comics prediction.

But sales have been…okay on them, so far. Next Batman, even at the $7.99 price point, is selling the best, and Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing are close behind. Superman of Metropolis and the Flash are taking up the rear here. Not doing badly, but not setting the world on fire either. Hey, I’ll take “selling reasonably well” any day, c’mon.

The big hit of the week is Star Wars: High Republic, which I wanted to be about Teen Yoda selling bags of fresh Dagobah Green out of the back of his Ford Pinto in his school’s parking lot, but apparently is about Jedi shenanigans in the past of the Star Wars universe or something. Anyway, probably half the people who bought it will never know what it’s about because their copies are going straight to eBay, but I had some folks genuinely excited to read it. It’s certainly the best-selling Star Wars comic in a while, but I imagine sales are going to plummet once the series moves into the less-eBayable Not Issue #1s. Or until some loon with a YouTube show declares a later random issue hot for no damned reason, who can tell with those people, he said grumpy old man-ily.

Oh, and remember the whole Bad Idea Comics thing? The one where only select stores across the country are going to get them initially, and somehow I got in on the deal? Well, they’re about to take orders for their first regular release, Eniac #1, which I announced on my store site yesterday. After an extensive delay, due to waiting for the industry to kind of pull itself together again after the COVID shutdown, it’s finally starting up, so we’ll see how it goes! I’m not sure how I’m going to order yet, but I already have (and am getting more) preorders from customers, and I’m curious how many mail orders for these I’m going to receive, given the limited availability. Should be an interesting experiment, at the very least.

One final thing, to help you start your weekend right: my old pal Brook told me about a movie that, somehow, I’d never heard about before, despite looking entirely like My Thing that I would have adored as a child upon its late ’70s release. Brooke directed me to the trailer upon the YouTubes, , which I watched with him in the shop yesterday afternoon, and lo, did I have the widest smile on my face.

Are you quire ready for…STUNT ROCK:

If it’s one thing the people of this great nation can come together to agree upon, it’s that more rock band stage performances need fire-wielding wizards.

Though come to think of it, “not enough” and “all over the place” describes this blog, too.

§ November 25th, 2020 § Filed under question time, retailing § 4 Comments

So a new issue of Spawn is out this week, and if you’re aware of the comic at all, you know they’ve been doing the multiple-cover thing for quite a while now. I mean, which is fine…well, not “fine” in that the reliance on multiple covers hopefully to boost retailer orders upward is likely indicative of a weakened marketplace, but rather “fine” in that “it’s not like they’re the only ones doing it.” And anyway, each issue of Spawn has its three, four, five or so variants every month.

A while back, for the release of Spawn #250, I wrote a bit about its sales, how it was essentially a pullbox-only title with few rack sales at my previous place of employment, and that at the new shop was beginning to show some signs of increased demand.

And in the six years since…well, it’s complicated, especially of late. On average, sales on the book for me are higher than they had been. It’s no best-seller, but it’s a solid middling title and there ain’t no shame in that. It has a consistent readership that picks it up each and every month and that’s great.

But on top of the consistent monthly sales, for which I can plan and order, there’s the complicated bit. I’ve written before about the current wave of comics speculation, spurred on by phone apps and websites and YouTube videos, which invariably results in a notable increase of demand the day of, or perhaps the day before, the release of a speculated-upon book. Too late to place raise orders, so not enough of the item is available…but if there were time to place reorders, then there’d be plenty of the item available, and thus no speculation.

Spawn, with its various covers, has been the target of investment-minded folks of late, but almost always for just one of the covers. And there’s no way to predict which one will the the one ahead of time. Well, maybe a little ahead of time, as a couple of my regular pull list folks for Spawn specified they wanted cover “C” of the new issue, and that feels like a good sign that’s the one I’m going to be hearing about on the phone for the next few weeks.

So that’s the trick…order what I need, order a few extra for rack sales, and get ready to hear about the one variant that you sell out of right away for a while, least ’til the next issue arrives. The only consistent thing about the excess demand for the series is that there is consistent demand of this sort for every issue. Maybe not every cover of every issue, but I can always depend on thinking “rats, shoulda ordered more of that one” in my late Wednesday afternoons.

• • •

A little more comment catch-up:

Allen M notes that he’d like to hear me on a certain podcast, and, well, that stirred up old podcasting feelings of my own that I’d have for a while. In fact, it’s baked into this site, with a subdomain that I created 17 years ago and with which I never did anything.

I do think about it a lot, though, especially since it’s easier than ever to put one together now. Main issue is…me. For all the typing I do here, I’m not a particularly good extemporaneous speaker…either I don’t say enough, or I’m just kind all over the place. As I noted before, the phrase “edited for clarity” in this interview with me is carrying quite the load.

On the other hand…I do have to speak off the cuff to customers all the time, expounding on whatever query they’ve made the mistake of asking me, so I have some practicee talking about comics. (“Some practice” = “oh, only about 32 years worth.”) Maybe a podcast isn’t an entirely lost cause for me after all…I have a format semi-figured out, and even have theme music that I’d, ahem, “borrow” from some friends of mine (well, okay, I’d probably ask their permission eventually). We’ll see if that’s something I think I can consistently do, with the time I have available and the minimal skill set I’d bring to it.

Plus side, you get to hear my malodorous — er, mellifluous voice. Minus side, you’d get to hear me say “uh” a lot while I read you my sponsors’ ads for underwear and mail-order mattresses.

I have been on podcasts twice before…I mean, aside from sending in annoying questions to my pals over at War Rocket Ajax. A very long time ago Kid Chris…remember Kid Chris? You know, this guy:

…and his pal Dafna (yes, this Dafna) had a podcast called “Bispectacult,” one episode of which featured an interview with yours truly. It was part one of two, but alas part two never escaped the labs and I can only assume my presence killed the show. I’d link, but no trace of the site and/or the podcast itself seem to remain online, not even on the ol’ Wayback Machine thingie (far as I can tell).

One podcast I managed not to kill was Look at His Butt, a William Shatner-centric podcast that featured my droning monotone going on about my Trek fandom. That was (egads) eleven years ago, but as you can tell by the link, the podcast is still available for your listening pleasure! (And Look at His Butt is still going strong…episode 283 just came out a few days ago! And I still listen to every installment!)

So…more podcasts in my future? We’ll see, if either I do my own or I somehow sneak onto someone else’s podcast in disguise so they don’t realize it’s me.

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.

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.

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!

Look, I’ve never been to a Piggly Wiggly.

§ October 12th, 2020 § Filed under batman, question time, retailing § 13 Comments

Okay, let me follow up briefly (ha, you know how that usually goes) to some of the responses to my last post. Regarding the idea of getting comics into supermarket checkstands, it was pointed out that’s a lot easier said than done, given that 1) Archie digests were basically grandfathered in (hence that brief deal Marvel had with them to get their digests distributed into your local Piggly Wiggly), and 2) there’s a stupid amount of competition for that immensely valuable space. Marvel and/or DC aren’t exactly going to be able to march right in there. (Y’know, without cutting a deal with Archie again.)

Also noted is that putting comics into anything other than a bookstore environment is likely not going to work out. Department stores are, in general, allotting less space for books and magazines these days, and even if they did, there’s no real care or curation going on there. No guarantee you’ll see your comics on a regular basis (as Brad points out, a new run of Disney comics are pretty tough to find), or even at all (I never did see any of these DC Giants at Walmart).

I suppose it doesn’t really matter so much…as long as they’re there, they’re visible, and kids show an interest, and the sale is made, the job is done. These sources can act as feeders to places like actual bookstores and even a comic shop where there would be ample supply of related material and (hopefully) a knowledgeable employee to help them along. Which is ultimately the goal of this sort of distribution.

Thom H. asked, in response to my assertion that comic shops may not be ready for a switch from a periodical model to a trade based model:

“Is this because there are so many readers of the periodicals still around, and they wouldn’t make the switch? Or comic shops wouldn’t be able to handle the change in format? Or some other reason? I’m genuinely curious because I can’t decide how I feel about the idea.”

I’m probably being a tad bit shortsighted, admittedly. I’ve heard of stores that have made that change, at least partway, focusing more on the book end of the comics market versus that weekly Wednesday (and now a little Tuesday, thanks DC) bump.

But as it stands now, it’s the arrival of the new comic books that drives most customers into stores. Now if suddenly the only way to get stories of your favorite characters is to buy a $14.99-$19.99 trade paperback of new material once every four to six months, then I suppose several people would make the switch. But the frequency of visits would decline, I’d imagine…instead of coming in monthly for Green Lantern comics, now it’s every few months for the new paperback), and yes, prices may go up but without as many people buying as many comics on a frequent basis…well, basically, there’d be a lot of economic adjustment on both the retailer and the customer’s parts to continue this hobby.

Short answer: I don’t know what would happen, but it would involve change and after 32 years in this business, change gives me the stomach-tumblies. But I’d figure a way to make it work, because what else am I going to do at this point? Get a real job?

• • •

Okay, let’s try to tackle a couple more questions before I hit the sack, and let me tell you, that sack has it coming:

Dean puts me on double secret probation with

“Since you e opened your own shop., what’s the oddest/most random request for a back issue you actually had in stock?”

That’s a good question…I don’t think I’ve been hit with any particularly wild requests, though. I think having someone ask “do you have Reagan’s Raiders

and lo, I had it.

Not to say I’ve not had people amazed that 1) I’ve heard of the comic they’re asking after, and 2) I actually had a copy, but I don’t think it’s been anything especially strange. Had one fella just falling over himself in surprise that I had any copies at all of Too Much Coffee Man, for example, but that’s not really a weird or funny answer, I think. I guess Reagan’s Raiders is the one that comes to mind. Sorry, I’ll try to remember if there was anything else!

• • •

Tim conjures up this question

“Do you, like me, think the Joker is played out as a viable character?”

I think he’s overutilized, especially right now (what with an extended storyline in Batman wrapping up, a prestige series currently in progress, and a couple other oversized Black Label books running or just wrapped up). Plus we had a high profile movie featuring the character not too long ago, back when there were still movies, and other mass media appearances of the Joker tend to cast long shadows. So yes, there’s more than enough Joker to go around of late.

But does that make him less viable? The Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis, the literal embodiment of the world’s chaos that Batman seeks to bring to order. That, I believe, makes the Joker eternally viable…as long as there’s a Batman, there will be a Joker, to be really on the nose about it. But how can we miss the Joker if he won’t go away, and having Joker always appearing in something on the new comics rack makes his appearances less special, have less of an impact, and that does lessen the viability of the character. Batman: Three Jokers should stand out more than it does as A Special Event, but instead it’s Yet Another Joker Comic.

Maybe it’s nostalgia feeding this feeling of mine. I remember reading one Joker story as a kid where he seemingly dies at the end of the story (a boat he’s on blows up, and Batman’s all “is that the last we’ll see of the Joker?”). I knew full well the Joker wasn’t dead, but I was looking forward to his next appearance where I presumed there’d be an explanation of how he got out of that one. However, when he eventually popped up again, no dice. We just swung back into the next Joker adventure.

Now I bring that up partially to register a complaint from Young Mike about comics continuity, but mostly to point out I had to wait for a follow-up Joker story. It had to have been a few months, at least. It kept me wondering, and anticipating his return. But today, you kids have it easy, what with a Joker in every other comic.

Well, Joker is immensely popular, and he sells comics, so I see why DC wants to use him as often as they do. But maaaaybe spacing out the appearances a bit might make those Joker stories a little more special. I mean, c’mon, when was the last time we had a good Tweedledum and
Tweedledee story? Let’s give them their time in the sun with a multi-parter already.

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

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

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

will richards bids the following

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

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

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

• • •

John Lancaster puts his dime down on

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

Sir A1! gets saucy with

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

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

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

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

• • •

Thom H hangs around the store all day and tells me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Being given the business.

§ August 17th, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 9 Comments

So here’s a thing I’ve occasionally thought about, and was reminded of in a more direct fashion on Sunday. There was a store, a comics and collectible shop, that opened up in a nearby town a couple of years back, and, unfortunately, shut down not long after.

I’m honestly not sure how long the shop was actually open, and apparently it had been in operation for several months before I even knew it existed. Usually my customers are quick to mention other shops…I mean, not in a gossipy way or anything, more like “hey I picked this up over at [wherever]” or like that. Sometimes they’ll ask me if I’m on good terms with the other shops in the surrounding environs, and thankfully I’m able to say “yes!” I’ve known many of these folks for, in some cases, decades, and while they are technically competitors, they are still my friends, or at least I’m on a friendly basis with them if they’re not lucky enough to have known me for 30+ years.

Anyway, so not hearing right away about a new shop cropping up in the area was a bit surprising. Especially (and here’s the kicker) it wasn’t too far from my house. A new comic shop, spitting distance from where I hang my metaphorical hat, and I didn’t know about it until months later. Okay, granted, I’m not exactly Mr. Quick on the Uptake or anything, and I wasn’t actively searching for other shops at the time…I’ve got my own shop, that’s enough to occupy my brain without overly worrying about what other shops are doing.

One thing I noticed, once I knew that shop existed, was that my business didn’t seem to have any drop in sales during the period. If anything, my sales were continuing their general upward climb. Thus, having a new shop in a nearby town didn’t cut into my business in a noticeable way, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Just could very well be we had clienteles that didn’t overlap, with that store was pulling customers from their local area who weren’t making the trip out to my funnybook emporium. …Which is also another explanation why I wasn’t hearing about them.

But, you know, whatever…plenty of shops in the tricounty area, we all seem to be hanging in there, so what’s one more storefront? More power to them. I did try to Google them up and learn more about their shop and steal any good ideas at least remain a little competitive if the situation called for it.

But I couldn’t find them online. Searched the store name, searched the address…couldn’t find a website, or a Facebook page, or a Twitter account. Not even an Ello account or a Mastadon instance or even a Myspace. The one thing I found, the one thing, was someone’s personal Instagram account, not associated with the shop far as I can tell, that had a couple of photos from the store’s opening day. And that is…really something, particularly in the Years of Our Lord Circa 2016 or So, when everyone’s searching for everything on their phones.

I don’t know…maybe they fixed that later, but I never checked again, and anyway one I day I happened to drive by their storefront and they were gone, which I also hadn’t heard about either. I don’t know if no (or too little of an) online presence was a factor…I mean, it could have been any reason the store was shuttered, but it still struck me as unusual to not have really anything up and running once the store was a going concern. At minimum, a basic webpage with a specific domain name relating to your store, showing your address, your hours, and your email address.

I realize I had an advantage with my own online visibility. By the time I opened my shop, I’d been blogging on this site for about 11 years. I have a reasonably-sized readership, and some amount of goodwill I haven’t yet squandered by, well, you know. When I opened my shop, it got some measure of attention. Tom Spurgeon put it on the Comic Reporter site, Scott McCloud tweeted about it, and plenty of other folks hither and yon got the word out.

And I had online venues ready to go. A store website, a store Instagram, a store Twitter, and a store Facebook, and of course the eBay store. I don’t even exploit those resources as much or as often as I should, but they still provide a solid online presence for me. And, like, Instagram has helped sell so many things, I can’t even believe it. There are folks who’ll call me the moment I throw something of interest up there.

And on top of all that, there is of course the very page you’re reading now, and my personal Twitter account. Both feed business to me…I do a lot of wheeling and dealing in my Twitter DMs, for example.

This is a lot of typing to tell you “having your business at least minimally online is good, actually,” a conclusion which can’t be a surprise to anyone reading this. And I’m honestly not trying to pick on this other former shop, which would be, well, quite rude of me. I was just reminded about that store’s brief lifespan, with not even a ghostly internet memory left behind, save perhaps for the ones buried long back in someone’s picture feed.

Just so we’re clear, I’ve got no problem with a Gold Lantern.

§ August 7th, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 1 Comment

A couple questions left by YOU, the readers, to my last post:

Steven R. rites in with

“So how long does the average ‘hot’ 2 or 3rd printing hold that value? Or I guess I should just ask which later printings have?”

I gotta be honest, I’ve not done a lot of research on that…nor in fact a lot of checking back to see what faddishily hot items have retained any portion of their values. I mean, I occasionally see things in collections with decade-old price stickers with enormous prices from other shops to remind me of, say, when people were knocking down doors to get the first issue of the Topps Comics X-Files. But I haven’t yet had that particular phenomenon occur in relation to the “2nd print variant” type of thing.

The first time I noticed that people were paying extremely inflated prices for recent reprints was, I think, the reissues of the early Ms. Marvels from 2014 (the first Kamala Khan run). That was during my last year at my previous place of employment (2014 in fact), when I had a rack set up for just Marvel’s many 2nd, 3rd, 18th printing, and when I noticed a specific Ms. Marvel reprint (which issue, I don’t recall) was apparently selling for a lot of money, my check of said rack revealed of course that was the one we didn’t have.

Checking on eBay now, I see pretty much all the Ms. Marvel reprints are being listed with high prices. Now, I suppose technically, from a collector’s point of view, the reprints are “scarcer” than the original printing, meaning lower supply, but I wonder if that actual demand is enough to drive up the prices quite that much. Or it may be a feedback loop, with people saying these are “hot,” people buying them because they’re “hot,” and then they become “hot” as a result. I feel like I’ve written about that sort of self-fulfilling collectible prophecy before, and I suspect it’s an aspect of the marketplace that will always be there.

Of course, I don’t have my price guide in front of me, so I don’t know if any of these Ms. Marvel reprint prices are reflected in there. The more extreme online auction house pricing often isn’t represented in Overstreet, but once I get into the store Friday morning I’ll look and update this post.

I do know I was surprised by a very high guide price being noted for a reprint of Incredible Hulk (one of the later printings of #377, I believe) and prices have been creeping upwards on the non-1st printings of The Killing Joke. So, at least for reprintings that have been on the secondary market for a while and have established a certain pattern of value, the price guide has changed to record those.

• • •

c sends the following alert message

“As a Legion fan, I don’t get the excitement over Gold Lantern. Yes, a Lantern in the Legion is cool, but what’s the huge deal? Is there something special GL related I’m missing?”

A Twitter pal asked me something similar, so I’ll paraphrase my answer here. Given the general casting about for any first appearance of anything, I would guess it has absolutely nothing to do with who or what the character is. The folks looking to “invest” in that issue of Legion, and the online sources driving that demand, don’t actually care about Gold Lantern, or Lanterns of any color, for that matter. It’s just that the comic in question fits the formula of “first appearance of [character/event] in [title] will be worth money!” and therefore must be acquired. That’s really it.

• • •

Robcat steals in on little cat feet with

“…When ordering stuff like that, do you use a Dart Board or a Ouija Board? And how many sides on the die helps when ordering? Is 6 enough?”

It…can be challenging. As I’ve noted before, I tend towards more conservative orders, as I imagine most stores do in the current marketplace. I try to order what I think my customer base can use, and not much more. Trying to guess which of these reprints or whatever will be “hot” is kind of a mug’s game as said hotness almost appears to be random. I mean, sure, you can look at something and think “okay, this might sell more because of that cover,” or other standard considerations when placing orders, but that gives you incentive for slight bumps, not “instant sellout, should’ve ordered thousands” numbers since again, who knows if that’s going to happen.

An example would be the first issue of Wolverine: Infinity Watch, where I saw the cover and thought “that’s gonna sell itself.” I didn’t order crazy numbers, but I ordered a bit more than I normally would have on a Wolverine comic (surprise, oversaturation has killed Wolverine’s sales, go figure) and it turned out I got it pretty much right. Sold a lot right away, had a few left over that eventually sold through over the rest of the month.

In contrast, there was literally nothing about that issue of Legion of Super-Heroes with the Gold Lantern that stood out to me when I was placing orders. By this point, Legion had found its sales level, and there was no reason to think it was going to change. Yes, there were characters making first appearances in this issue (not just Gold Lantern) but characters make first appearances in comics all the time, and not all of them get the Fickle Finger of Finvestment pointed at them. Ordering twice my normal order could just as easily left me stuck with unsellable copies. I think my one concession was that I kept my order numbers where they were for this issue, instead of dropping them down a wee bit as sales at that point would have warranted. So I didn’t raise orders, exactly, just lowered later than planned.

In conclusion, this is why your pal Mike’s hair is occasionally grey, when it’s not mysteriously dark brown again.

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