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

§ October 19th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 14 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 § 12 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.

And don’t get me started on that whole “Gold Lantern” nonsense.

§ August 5th, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 8 Comments

So theoretically on sale today at a comic shop near you:

Thor #3 3rd printing, already listed on eBay for anywhere from $8 to $13, though some deals are still to be had

Thor #4 2nd printing, selling for between $10 and $20 on eBay, with a “virgin variant” listed for $50

Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #1, also on the eBays for between $10 and $20

I was getting calls for all of these starting, of course, a day or two before release, too late for me to adjust orders for demand. And look, I’ve said it before…it’s not how I collected comics, but if you’re into it for speculation, well, it’s your money, you know? However you want to enjoy the hobby, fine.

But I wonder if this isn’t sabotaging some of these series. Like, if you want to read the new Thor title but came to it late, unless you’re specifically asking the shop to hold those issues for you, you’re not gonna get your mitts on the reprints of whatever you’re missing if you just take your chances wandering into the shop. That’s bad for the store, because if potential readers can’t catch up on a title they’re interested in, they’re not going to continue reading it. And the folks buying those reprints just to flip them online aren’t going to continue buy the series, so it’s not like they’re going to make up for lost readership.

(I know the solution for consumers is to buy digital — fat lot of good that does me — or waiting for the trade, which isn’t as popular a solution for folks wanting to buy the periodicals as you might want, or hope, to think.)

The answer would seem to be “order lots more of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th printings” but that’s a good way to waste money on dead stock if the whims of the marketplace don’t dub said reprint a “collectible.” And honestly, it seems almost random. A look at eBay listings for Star Wars: Darth Vader #2 2nd printing, also out this week, are mostly at cover price or less (though at least one outlier is going for $7).

I mean, I suppose it’s not entirely random…that Bounty Hunters comics has a cool Boba Fett cover, pictured above, and Mandalorians are all the rage right now. And those Thor #4s are being pushed as “1st Black Winter,” so I guess it’s mildly important, or something? But it’s hard to tell what’s going to get pointed at with the magical investment finger, turning something from “should sell okay, for a reprint” to “comic-shaped cloud of dust left on the rack where those comics used to be.”

And yes, I know there are sites and apps that do this sort of thing, which is what’s encouraging this kind of comic shopping. But even if I kept tabs on those, it still wouldn’t help because any increased demand those may inspire doesn’t materialize until, as I noted above, a day or two before the comic is actually due out. It would still be a crapshoot of “should I order more of this? Or more of that?” and hope I pick the right ones.

In conclusion, that sounds like a lot of griping, but mostly I just wanted to describe some of the thoughts I have to have when ordering comics. It’s a lot of juggling of numbers and potential scenarios and basically a lot more effort than a reprint of a two-month-old comic would really warrant, but that’s why they pay me the big bucks, I suppose. And if you’re wondering…yes, I ordered just a few extra of those Thors, as I’d been noticing that demand for them. Now did I get enough to satisfy the investors and have enough left over for the readers? I don’t know…we’ll just have to see.

The joke could very well end up being on me.

§ August 3rd, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 7 Comments

So ordering this Batman: Three Jokers series reminds me to some extent of what I went through when I was ordering that first issue of Superman Unchained at the previous place of employment. In short, I was attempting to balance what I was spending on a larger order versus the money I could make selling the comic including the premium values obtained by selling the rare-ish variant covers (the 1 in 100s, the 1 in 300).

Ultimately…I don’t remember exact numbers, but yes, the large amount of this book I ordered did turn into a significant profit, especially with the added sales of those pricey variants. It did leave us with some excess of that first issue, which left me wondering if perhaps I ordered closer to the bone, worrying less about the variant covers, I could have still achieved a similar money spent vs. profit made radio. Probably less money made overall, to be sure, but leaving us with less waste (especially since Superman Unchained had a short run and now when was the last time anyone asked for back issues on it?)

I don’t like taking big risks like that. In the case of Superman Unchained #1, I worked out numbers ahead of time and felt like, maybe on this rare occasion, we could possibly stick our collective neck out a bit and go for the variant gusto. But by and large, in a marketplace that is still in some sense recovering from the excess of the 1990s boom and the following crash, “ordering too much shit” is not a strategy comic shops should really be practicing. The advantage is, well, not having too much shit left over. The disadvantage is when the investor apps and sites call out “HEY! Unicycle Tragedy #87 features the first appearance of Some Guy in a Red Shirt in panel 3 on page 10″ and suddenly customers who had never even heard of Unicycle Tragedy before this are calling and emailing the day before release to get 5 or 10 copies of that issue…well, needless to say, you don’t have the stock to fill the demand.

As such, my general ordering style is “don’t go crazy, and if it sells out and you need more, order more.” And if you need to get second or third or fourth prints, so be it (assuming they’re not snapped up by investors, too…see current reprints of Thor).

But once in a while, you gotta take a chance on something, and this time around it’s this Three Jokers thing. …For those of you who don’t remember, and who can blame you because it was like three Justice League relaunches ago and at least one line-wide reboot, there was some League/New Gods hoohar where Batman gets hit butt into Metron’s Mobius chair and asks its all-knowing computer “what is the Joker’s real name?” and the chair tells him “whoa, dude, there are like three Jokers” and yes I’m paraphrasing. Also, Batman didn’t ask how many Jokers there were, we wanted names, man, so the chair should have just spit out three names, right? Right. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Anyway, this was somehow only four years ago, but feels like an eternity, particularly since 2020 alone feels like its entering its second decade. But here it nearly is, the long-awaited series that’s following up on that Justice League plot point. And boy, how to order this.

Let’s keep in mind I’m a smallish shop, surrounded on all sides by shops in neighboring towns (and also surrounded by elephants, but that’s another story), so my initial estimate on sales for this book, in the now semi-popular Black Label Format That Batman’s Penis Built™ were higher than normal for that line from DC, but not excessively so.

Then DC had to go and gum up the works by offering variant covers. Yes, the usual 1/25 variant, and the 1/100 variant…plus the standard issue, order ’em at whatever quantity you’d like, variants , of which there are two “main” covers. Okay, that’s all well and good, but they’re also offering “premium” variants. I go into this on some detail on my store’s webpage, where you can see the covers for #1 plus my hardsell to get folks to buy ’em.

The deal with the premium variants is that unlike the ratio variants, you can just order want you want on each…so long as you order a minimum of a certain number of copies of each of the three premium variants. That may not seem like a big deal to the bigger stores and chains, but getting so many extra comics on top of the numbers I was already planning on ordering…well, that seemed a bit much. And if enough stores in the area do it, Three Jokers will be flowing freely through the streets.

But then I saw the covers, and I thought “ah geez, if I don’t have these on my rack, someone else will,” and besides, now that I’ve see the covers…I think these are probably going to sell great. Plus, it’s Joker…Joker comics always sell. I can see these selling off the shelves for quite a while. I’m particularly taken with that Red Hood variant pictured above, which will likely be my cover of choice once I get to pull a copy for myself.

And like Superman Unchained, I can subsidize the cost with the rare variants. So…I mean, this isn’t a sure thing. If the local market is flooded with these, I may not sell my stock on these right away, though if you followed the link to my site you saw how I’m already asking people to pay ahead of time for sets of these, and I’ve had a few takers, so there’s that. But I think these should do well. And if they don’t…well, assuming the first issue isn’t late, I’ll still have time to adjust orders on #2 if the debut installment is a dud.

I’ll tear off those sketch cover overlays to get a sale, I don’t even care.

§ July 13th, 2020 § Filed under marvel, retailing § 6 Comments

So over the last couple of days I’ve been grading and pricing a big ol’ pile of Thor comics spanning over the last couple of decades. Some of them reminded me of that period of Marvel (mostly improved now) where the covers were just generic images of the hero, indicating nothing of the story inside. It’s like Marvel was resigned to the idea that the only people buying their comics were the people who were going to buy their comics anyway. They might has well have had a generic of Thor on the front and just changed the issue number with each new release. (Amazing Spider-Man had a problem with that, too.)

Well, this new variant cover style, debuting this week from Marvel, has me wishing for the Good Ol’ Days of “Cover #14 in A Row of Spider-Man Swinging on His Web” —

Um…that’s not terribly inspiring. I saw some folks online (and one of my customers, who called me Sunday to ask about these) saying they thought this was just a fill-in graphic, holding the space in various catalogs and online databases. But nope, that appears to be the actual cover.

This was probably information that was revealed a while back, but I’ve been otherwise occupied and didn’t follow up on this whole “On Sale Wednesday” variant stuff after first seeing them as line items on an order form. I don’t tend to order a whole lot of Marvel’s “free to order” variants anyway, since most folks just want the regular cover, so I shouldn’t be stuck with too many of these. I did mention on the Twitters that maybe these’ll be like the “sketch” cover variants, with just an extra wraparound cover stapled over the regular cover. If that’s the case, and the “On Sale Wednesday” covers do end up not selling, I can just tear off the overcovers and vee-ola, Regular Cover Amazing Spider-Mans for sale!

And anyway, what exactly is the point of these? Marvel thumbing its nose at DC because DC changed their on-sale day for new products to Tuesday? A reminder to customers “hey we’re putting out new comics again, come get them every Wednesday unless the shipping company delayed the package or the distributor shorted the retailer copies.” Not sure how much of a burn it is in the former, and, well, kinda preaching to the converted in the latter. But here’s Yet Another Variant™ to order, because goodness knows there weren’t enough already.

I have no idea if Gilgamesh II is even still available.

§ June 8th, 2020 § Filed under dc comics, fakeapstylebook, real world stuff, retailing § 10 Comments

So…it still feels weird to be writing about comics right now. Things continue to be in a huge state of upheaval, folks are remaining angry (and rightfully so) and even as changes to the system are appearing to be slowly progressing, the pushback is still hurting folks and costing lives. If you wish to contribute to resources helping out Black people, this list is a good place to start (which also includes support for the gay and transgendered). There may be organizations local to you that could use help as well. I know wallets are pretty much emptied after months of state shutdowns, and you might not be able to donate. At the very least, promote resources like those linked above, and be vocal in your support of those in need of it.

• • •

So the comic news that’s kinda hard to ignore even with everything else going on is the fact that DC Comics is bailing entirely on Diamond Comics as a distributor of its product.

Okay, when DC decided to start distributing their items through a couple of other sources during Diamond’s shutdown, I figured things were going to change for the industry. Mostly I thought we’d see a lot more publishers, mostly indie types, deciding to either split from Diamond themselves, or at least wholesale their items directly to retailers in addition to offering them through the usual system. Mostly, I anticipated having to go through a half-dozen catalogues and cut separate checks to everyone every week, like The Good Ol’ Days. However, I didn’t anticipate DC leaving Diamond entirely. That came as bit of a shock.

Still not sure what the ultimate impact of this will be to the industry as a whole, or to me personally. I mean, aside from not knowing when the new DCs will arrive each week. Hard to meet DC’s new Tuesday on-sale time when I don’t get the books ’til a few hours before closing that day. The actual process of ordering from this other distributor is fairly easy, and I noticed they changed the user interface to make things more organized and convenient. Items don’t always get listed in alphabetical order, which I would prefer, but they weren’t at Diamond either so I’ll live. [EDIT: Oh wait, now that I look at the new distributor’s website with newly cleared vision, following the most recent eyeball procedure, I can see there are teeny tiny buttons that let me change the ordering of the lists. NEVER MIND]

Plus, I’ve yet to experience a single damage or shortage on DC product from this other distributor, so that’s a nice change. I am curious about backlist titles, as so far the only older items the new distributor has is whatever they had come in since they started shipping out DC books to retailers in April. I presume eventually more books (and older comics) will move over there, but far as I can tell I can still order that product from Diamond. Wonder how long that’ll last? Will DC buy it all back from Diamond to move to their other outlets, or is Diamond going to be stuck trying to sell those Gilgamesh II graphic novels ’til the end of time?

Also of concern is the financial impact on Diamond. With the loss of one of its two biggest vendors, that’s gotta cause the ol’ pursestrings to be tightened a little. I presume that means fewer employees manning phones and packing/shipping product, but there’s also less product to be packed/shipping, so maybe it’ll all balance out? I suspect we’ll see soon enough. I know Diamond told retailers directly that losing one vendor, even a large one like DC, is something they could ride out, and I can believe it. So long as Marvel doesn’t Heroes World-it again and also depart, I suspect we’ll still have Diamond to kick around a while longer.

On the personal side of things, my business has been doing…okay so far now that I’ve been able to reopen. Most days have been having normal business, though my Wednesdays have been pretty short of what they once were. Almost by necessity, since new comic shipments are only a fraction of what they once were, and Marvel’s only shipping a handful of titles every other week. As my former boss Ralph once told me, decades ago, “as Marvel goes, so goes the industry,” and it certainly feels like it’s Marvel that drives the folks in the door each week for their fix. Anything else can wait ’til it’s convenient to show up, but the new Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man must be bought right away.

The big question coming up is Batman #92, which prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns was The Big In-Demand Comic, what with that issue’s focus on the new villain Punchline. I’d actually ordered quite a bit on that, expecting a rush, plus having to meet the demands of advance requests for multiple copies, etc. Now I’m wondering it that same demand has maintained itself over our extended break? I’m curious to see. I’ve also noticed a decrease in Random Hot Books, where there’s one comic nobody expected, or ordered a lot of, that suddenly everyone wants so they can flip it on eBay or whatever. Last week was the first example of this in a while (the “B” cover for most recent installment of Blackwood, selling for around $30 online the day of release). Oh, this crazy business.

• • •

In other news, Fake AP Stylebook has come back for the nonce, in our time of greatest need. Yes, I’m writing for it again. Probably not getting another book deal out of this comeback, but that’s okay, we’re doing it out of love. And bitterness. And just pure, unadulterated sarcasm. Anyway, no one stopped us, so it’s back. We regret nothing.

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