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Yes, I promise I know it’s spelled “Serji-X Arrogantus.”

§ April 22nd, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 4 Comments

Just noticed I typoed the last name of Sergio Aragonés in Monday’s post, and didn’t notice it ’til now. I assure you, as a fan of the man’s work for, what, over 45 years, and having interacted with him in person many times starting over 30 years ago, I know how to spell his name! All I can say is that I must have been pretty tired Sunday night when I was writing that entry.

EDIT: And I typoed his FIRST name this time. “Spelling Sergio Aragonés correctly” is the second thing to go, apparently. Fixed now, hopefully.

And I’m not much less sleepy now, but the blog must go on! Let’s continue addressing some of your comments from the last few days:

Joseph P Gualtieri notes

“Questioning whether or not Turok #1 was a sales success is a good reminder that sales charts for comics only show how many copies retailers order, not how many copies fans actually bought. A success in one doesn’t mean success in the other. See also, dead or discounted stock ordered to get variant covers.”

The “ordering to get the variant” really came to a head with the recent autographed Spawn comics, where the publisher shouted from the rooftops their inflated order numbers. As I talked about relatively recently, a customer wanted that autographed King Spawn, and paid enough for it that I was able to sell the regular covers for about a buck a pop as a special promotion. I’m juuuuuust about out of ’em now, but I’d probably still be sitting on boxes of the things if I had them priced at full cover.

And Marvel’s no stranger to this, if I may quote the above linked post:

“…Marvel trumpeted their X-Men #1 orders, and their X-Force #1 orders, without mentioning how many ended up being warehoused, buried in storage lockers and occasionally being dragged out into daylight and into shops like mine to unload.”

I think, nowadays, this sort of order-padding to grab benefits like “more variants” is not as common as it used to be. Shaving orders a little closer to the bone feels like the preferred strategy, especially in this market (which alas encourages speculation on a randomly-picked “rare” comic each week — uh, buddy, they’re all rare). But there are always exceptions, and once in a while even I’m like “well, I’ll just order a couple more to get that ratio variant.” It’s going to happen, but I don’t chase the variants with my order numbers like I used to, unless I’m darned certain it’s going to be worth the money I’m spending.

• • •

Chris G wants to know

“Let’s say I have a lot of comics stacked in boxes at my parents’ house and they’re starting to talk about downsizing. And given that the books in question have been sitting there largely unread for 20 years, it seems the best thing to do would be to sell them. I don’t care about making a ton of money, and few are bagged and some are very well read. But I also don’t want to get nothing for them. So I guess my question is: What are the two or three least effortful things I can do to goose any offer I might get from a shop near my parents by a couple bucks?”

Some minor things that might help:

Make sure they’re clean…boxes not covered with dust and cat pee and just general crap.

Have the books in relatively decent order…not like everything has to alphabetical or anything, just have all copies of the same title together. And all facing the same direction in the box..don’t make me constantly flip things over.

Make sure they’re accessible…don’t bunch together a dozen or so comics into a magazine bag before sealing it up. And if they’re in crummy plastic bags sealed with tape that’s going gooey with age, and you have to literally peel comics apart to look at them — man, I’m dealing with a collection like that right now and it sucks. I have to cut comics out of their bags, it’s terrible.

Basically, make it easier on the person looking at your collection to actually look at your collection. It may not bump up the moolah you receive for your books by much, but it surely won’t hurt. And the other suggestions from your fellow commenters in the thread are pretty good, too.

• • •

Chris Gumprich enters the following inquiry

“How is it that your store (started in 2014) has such an amazing stash of promos from the 1980s and 1990s? I know I personally have bought a number of promo posters from you — including such 80s classics as normalman, Thriller, and Mr.X — and yet every time I look at your ebay listings you have more up.

“Did you find a lost cache of promos from a store that went out of business in 1987 and has laid undisturbed ever since?”

Oh, huh, I thought everyone know, but maybe it’s been a while since I’ve said and some of us, Chris, may not have committed my entire website to memory like everyone should have from now.

My former place of employment was a comic shop that had been active since 1980. After the complicated semi-change in ownership of the shop (detailed here), my old boss still had all the old promotional material he’d accumulated over the decades. When I opened up my shop, he sent over all the promotional material and had me sell it for him on his behalf. That’s kind of it, really. I’ve got boxes of this stuff, and I go through it when I can.

Interestingly, I also “inherited” a few boxes of old comic distributor invoices and order forms, going back to very nearly the beginnings of the old shop. I keep meaning to do a little data-mining on those, but I’ll occasionally look at one, think “we used to order that many of The Flash, and then just be depressed. Ah well.

Taxing your patience with more comment responses.

§ April 18th, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 6 Comments

Yes indeedy, you folks keep bringing up topics in the comments that I want to answer here. And also yes, someday, I will get back to variant cover-age — I’m not done yet! — but I want to get to these responses out while we’re all still young and hearty.

First off, from not too terribly long ago, the King of the Moon crowned me with

“I used to pop in on my LCS during weekday times I knew would be slow because it was the best time to get good conversation and recommendations from the person behind the counter who was also a ;’well known comics blogger'”

Aaiieee, keep your fingers away from that blogger’s gnashing teeth, they’re all pretty much like Gollum.

Anyway, I literally have no idea if that was a veiled reference to me personally (I mean, a guy working in a comic shop who has a blog? How many of those can there be). But yes, a vital part of working in a comic shop is chatting with the customers, helping them find books to read, that sort of thing. There is a balance to strike, though, in between being “Helpful Dude at he Shop” and “Oh God He’s Coming to Talk to Us About Swamp Thing Again.” I may have told the story about going into a watch store at a mall (remember malls?) and trying to find a gift, but the employees there would not stop trying to chat with me and I couldn’t focus on shopping. I ended up bailing on that store and buying a watch elsewhere.

That’s really what I’m trying to avoid. I mean, that’s different from a customer coming up and talking to me and asking me stuff and engaging in conversation willingly, which is more what you’re talking about.

I think those of you who read my bloggering here on the site and then meet me in person are a tiny bit surprised at how relatively taciturn I am compared to the endless typing I make you all endure. Not that I don’t say anything, just I’m not quite as…verbose, or even semi-eloquent In Real Life as I am online. Over the years I believe I have become a little better at yakking it up with the folks in the shop, if only because I’m the captain and sole crewmate of the good ship Sterling Silver Comics and if not me talking, then who?

However, I believe it was our pal Tegan O’Neil who once said I write like I speak. I’m pretty sure that was meant as a compliment, but perhaps that also means my perception of myself as a tongue-tied funnybook purveyor is a bit off.

• • •

JohnJ does declare

“Your mention of Swamp Thing makes me ask if you’re aware of Rifftrax and the Kickstarter for this August’s Rifftrax Live! showing of Return of Swamp Thing. They’ve got a cool t-shirt designed for fans with art of Swampy carrying Heather Locklear. You don’t mention that movie nearly as often as you plug The Spirit (Frank Miller’s unauthorized Daredevil movie, I’ve always thought) so I just thought I would mention it.”

Yeah, I do lean kinda heavily on the Frank Miller’s The Spirit thingie, only because that’s funnier. I mean, it’s funnier to me, which is the only valid metric by which such things are judged.

But yes, I am absolutely a proud Kickstarter backer of the Return of Swamp Thing Rifftrax edition:


I am a long time fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, from which Rifftrax was born, and I have enjoyed plenty of Rifftrax’s offerings as well. For those unfamiliar, Rifftrax offers downloadable “commentary tracks” of movie-mocking jokes you can listen to while watching the mocked movie in question…or you can get the movies with the humorous tracks already embedded in the soundtrack. Return of Swamp Thing will be one of the latter.

In fact, like it says in the pic there, it’ll be a live show, recorded from a theatrical performance where they “riff” the movie in front of an audience. I found during MST3K creator Joel Hodgson’s simliar project “Cinematic Titanic,” I enjoyed the live performances quite a bit more over the studio ones. I liked the studio ones fine, but I enjoyed hearing the audience laughter, the occasional flubbed line from one of the performers, etc. Same with the Rifftrax output…the live stuff just feels more organic. Yes, I know it’s all equally scripted, but I like hearing the audience laugh, what can I tell you.

I didn’t support the Swamp Thing Rifftrax at a level that would have put my name in the DVD/Blu-Ray’s credits, but I will be getting the t-shirt (don’t wear t-shirts much any more, but I’ll still love to have it!) and the enamel pin, and the Blu-Ray, plus all sorts of digital downloads and extra material (including other riffed shorts, and I think an audio riff track for Cats). Anyway, they really piled on the extras, so I’m looking forward to all this nonsense.

• • •

Daniel wonders

“If you hadn’t gone into comics retail as a career, do you think you’d still be a comics fan/reader today?”

I’m pretty sure I still would be. I’m interested enough, invested enough, in certain creators and comics that I would keep following them, even if maybe the books would be harder for me to track down. I’m always going to want to see what Sergio Aragonés and the Hernandez Brothers are up to, for example. And I’ll always follow Swamp Thing comics, and Hulk stuff, Green Lantern, and the Superman books (though to be honest the whole Warworld story in Action, now entering its 34th year, is beginning to wear a little).

I don’t know that I’d read as many comics as I…try to do, anyway. I’m going through bit of a thing lately where I still have a large backlog of books stemming from that period where my eye problems were keeping me from reading anything. While I’ve had good luck of late in preventing any rebleeds in my eyes from happening and obscuring my vision again, my vision is impacted enough to where I can’t read nearly as quickly as I used to.

Combined with the fact that I don’t even have as much time to read them anymore, that backlog isn’t getting any smaller. I try to read all the new comics I pick up now, but even as few as they may be, that doesn’t leave much time for digging back into the older pile. I may be just cutting my losses and returning stuff to the shop. I’ve no idea.

That’s getting a little off topic from your question, Daniel, but it’s just stuff I’ve been thinking about lately. I like reading comics, but one of the ironies of owning a comic shop is having less time to read comics, even if you don’t have eyes that explode on you on occasion.

But yes, I’d still read comics if I didn’t work in a shop. Would I still be a comics blogger? All my early online stuff, on local BBSes and early AOL message boards, stemmed from my working in a comic book store, so I feel like my comic book internetting is heavily tied to that. Maybe I’d been involved in the online comics community in some respect, but as just a mere commoner, not the high falutin’ comics retailer whose majestic presence is before you now.

• • •

Roel thus spake

“What are the logistics for transferring a pull list? Is there a payment for each customer name?”

Roel is referring to my previous place of employment sending its pull list customers to another shop near its location, due to shutting down. I’m not privy to the details, so I don’t know if there was a specific price attributed to the customer base for the pull lists, or if it was just kinda lumped in with everything else. To be honest, I’m not sure how I would price that out if I were selling my business to another company. There is a value, but what is it? Do you charge $(X) for this one customer, but $(5X) for that customer who gets a lot more set aside for him? Or just make a rough estimate based on the pulls in total.

When I opened up my own shop, a number of the pull lists there came with me. Mostly mail order pulls, plus a handful of pulls from customers who lived closer to my shop than the old one. They were basically just handed over to me out of good will. Maybe that happened in this newer case, just handing the info over and making sure the customers had a smooth transition, figuring it’s just part of the lump cost of the business’s sale. Again, I haven’t the foggiest.

Okay, that’s enough typing for now. Thanks for reading, pals.

I’m making a lot of assumptions, I realize.

§ April 15th, 2022 § Filed under market crash, retailing § 5 Comments

So way back when on that post I made about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1’s solicitation, Chris V flew in with

“I never realized that Turok was considered a sales failure. I was always under the impression that it sold really well.”

To be fair, I did state that first issue experienced “relative sales failure (relative to its massively excessive orders, I mean).” I’m sure it did sell an enormous number of copies. There had been a lot of anticipation for it at the time, after all. But as I said, compared to the huge numbers retailers actually ordered and still had stuck in their backrooms (until they were dumped in the shredder, natch)…well, it didn’t sell up to preorder expectations.

It was technically a success for Valiant, as they still got paid for all the copies they shipped. (Though it was perhaps the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of the end for that iteration of the company.) But it was a marketplace failure, in that many copies were left unsold, and it was a retailer failure, most of them ordering way too many to begin with.

The comic because one of the symbols of the excesses of 1990s comics retailing, maybe not directly causing that decade’s market crash but it certainly didn’t prevent it. As such, despite actually being a not half-bad comic, it gets lumped in with Deathmate and other ill-received books from the time, symptoms of a sick marketplace that needed to get worse before it got (slightly) better.

More of your questions/comments responded to next week! Stay tuned!

A Lonely Place of Shopping.

§ April 11th, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 8 Comments

Let’s hop into the ol’ Wayback Machine, because I’m covering some comments y’all left on this site back in the distant past of late February 2022!

Mostly I wanted to address this exchange in the comments to this post. It starts with Chris V. noting the relative dearth of customers in his local comic shop and its possible relation to high price points on new books:

“There’s no telling how long people will be willing to pay that amount of money either…and, in fact, a ton of people have already said ‘enough is enough,’ which is why the local comic book store tends to be empty when I visit. They obviously do have customers or they wouldn’t be in business, but the amount of customers seems to be decreasing by the year.”

…with Allan Hoffman responding thusly:

“Keep in mind that our impression of the customer base of a shop is based solely on what we see when we are there, which on average would probably 10-20 minutes on one day. Mike has often noted how his store can be dead at one moment followed by a crowd of people buying stuff.”

A few months back my girlfriend’s extended family was having a gathering at the restaurant next door. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Sundays can be pretty hit or miss for me (most Sundays are okay, some are great, and some like yesterday were…eh). This particular Sunday, I had a lot of business in the early part of the day, and in the later afternoon, things had slowed down quite a bit, allowing me to do some stocking-type stuff.

Apparently dinner next door had ended, and into my shop wanders one of the nieces. Seeing me alone in the store, she loudly exclaims “Don’t you ever have any customers?” “Yes, of course I do, you horrible child, it’s just slow at the moment,” was my reply, and she gave me the “yeah, right, old man” look as only a young teenager could give you.

And then another niece, this one a tad younger, walked in, looked around and asked “Where are all your customers?” “I’VE GOT CUSTOMERS, JUST NOT RIGHT NOW” I cried out, but to no avail as I was still pummeled with scornful disbelief.

She was followed by a nephew, brother to the first niece and the youngest of the three, who also noted “You don’t have any customers!” It was at this point I struck them all from the will.

So yes, as Allan says, it’s hard to judge a store’s business flow just from a short visit. I don’t know how many times I’ve had a full store for an hour or three, which then suddenly empties out, only to have the next person who comes in say to me “So, slow day, huh?” The ebb and flow of customer traffic can have an element of randomness to it, but I recall, at the previous place of employment, we had a cash register that could print out transaction totals per hour since the last time the machine was zeroed out. Basically it told us at what time of the day we were the busiest (barring unusual events like someone buying a $1000 comic at 2 in the afternoon or something). As I recall, it was usually around noon, which was an hour or two after we opened. Telling you what the second busiest time of day was, or the slowest time, would just be me guessing, as it’s been a while, but you get the idea.

The register I have at my store now doesn’t have that function (mostly just adding and multiplying, sometimes correctly), but my general sense is that late morning/early afternoon, followed by late afternoon/early evening, are my busy times, with slow times popping up in the early afternoon. Wednesdays are of course the busiest, being the New Comics Day of choice (despite DC trying to move some of that action to Tuesday). Later in the week is usually busier than early in the week. And of course this is all just generalization…nothing here is set in stone. I usually think of Mondays as slower days, but sometimes I have spectacular business that day. You never know.

New Comics Day is no exception to this. I’ve had great and busy New Comics Days with people waiting at the door when I open, all champing at the bit to get the new goodies. And I’ve had New Comics Days where…well, it’s not exactly a ghost town, but there were certainly longer lulls than usual between bursts of customers. Again, it Just Happens. It happened during the 1990s boom, and it happened during the later ’90s crash, and it happens now. So long as you’re taking in enough money to make the whole “selling comic books for a living” thing worthwhile, everything should be fine, even if maybe at some points during the day you can hear your own heartbeat because the store is so quiet.

Chris V says something else I’d like to comment upon:

“I’m concerned about the state of the comic industry as it currently exists, but more from a lack of collectors rather than from speculation.”

I don’t know about other shops, but I can tell you this about my experience. I know I bring up speculation a lot on this site and on the Twitterers, only because that sort of purchasing behavior can throw a monkey wrench into my planned orders. But that’s a minority of transactions. Most people coming into the shop for comics are readers, are collectors, and not just looking to flip this week’s first appearance to other speculators on eBay.

My business health has also been fine, with 2021 being my best year yet, financially. Sales are up, overall, I’m seeing new faces in the shop every day (even if, on a slow day, that one new face is all I see!), and I’m very happy. Given that there are many other comic shops in surrounding towns, I am grateful for the clientele I’m still acquiring.

Which reminds me, someone had asked (and I can’t find who did so at the moment) if my previous place of employment shutting down meant a lot of their customers coming my way. And the answer to that is “not really, maybe too soon to tell” which isn’t a surprise, as my shop is about a half-hour drive from the old one, and there are a few shops in the immediate vicinity of the defunct store, and the store’s pull list was transferred to one of those shops. Frankly, I’m too far out of the way to get much of that customer base, especially given today’s gas prices, not to mention any customers who were going to leave that old shop and start shopping with me already did years ago when I opened up. Not to say I saw no new customers from that unfortunate closing, but not nearly as many as you think.

Okay, even more questions in the queue (yes, even your Miracleman one, Thom!) so I’ll get to those shortly! Thanks for reading, pals.

Trying to cover all bases.

§ April 1st, 2022 § Filed under retailing, variant covers § 2 Comments

Okay, let me catch up on a few more questions from some posts earlier this…er, last month:

Mike Loughlin wants me to cover

“Is there any demand for older, limited variants? For example, do people come in looking for the 1:100 Superman Unchained cover anymore, or does the interest dry up once the book has been released? What about for less popular books (say, a 1:100 variant for an Outsiders series from about 5 years ago)? Do you sell those variants at a discount if they don’t move after a few weeks?”

Usually once the sales window on a new comic closes (generally about a month, when the next issue comes in), if any of the pricier “ratio” variants haven’t moved by then, that’s likely it. I’ll put them in a box on the counter marked “VARIANTS,” and occasionally they’ll sell out of there, but honestly I really should mark them down or something.

But yeah, with rare exceptions the demand drops on these variants almost immediately, regardless of how big or small, how hot or lukewarm, the comic may be. I can see some of them going for, and actually selling, for big money, but every time I try to sell a pricier variant online I get bupkis, so I stopped trying. Though maybe I should throw a few for cheap up on my Hipcomic page. I’ve been having better luck selling comics there than I ever did on eBay.

• • •

Joe Gualtieri speculates

“Wouldn’t some artists with established fanbases like Hughes or Campbell be worth it to get the variant every time out, or close to it?”

Well, sure, if you like those artists. And sometimes they can hold value…but not always. And usually it’s not the one you’ll think it’ll be (though with “investment” apps and a pretty wide echo chamber repeating to all who will listen “this will be hot” we get a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies).

• • •

Matthew Murray crowns me with

“Did you notice any increase in interest among your customers for the King Spawn series after selling those #1s for 99 cents each? Did m/any customers add the title to their pull lists? Did you order more of #2 than you would have otherwise?”

I did bump up orders on #2, and sold through, but as time went on the King Spawn orders normalized to about what I’d normally order on Spawn comics. And by “about” I mean I’m selling a little bit more on all the Spawn comics, though sales on those books had been creeping up a tad of late anyway.

Will get to the rest of questions later. But first, I must enter the Odinsleep. See you folks on Monday, and as always, thanks for reading.

It was either that or “Signie.”

§ March 16th, 2022 § Filed under blogging about blogging is a sin, retailing § 2 Comments

It’s because the atomic number of iodine is 53.

Anyway, about Monday’s post…the plan was to respond to some of your comments from a couple of weeks ago, long delayed because of early morning doctor appointments disrupting my late evening blogging habits. However, I got caught up with looking into that whole Saturday Night Live thing I decided to make investigating that the whole post. Of course, being weeks after the fact, the matter had already been long settled and I’d come to the wrong conclusion anyway, so there you go.

I did get in a brief anecdote about my previous place of employment helping out a local theater production, as well as ending the post with a fairly solid gag, so it wasn’t all in vain!

Speaking of the previous place etc., Eric had this question about the old sign I procured from there:

“Did the dragon have a name?”

Here’s a better pic of the dragon from the sign:

And no, to the best of my knowledge the dragon had no name. Which is weird because we sure liked putting names on things at the store. At one point former coworker Rob had brought in a skull sculpture (a skullpture?) that he’d just kept on a shelf behind the counter. The skull was dubbed “Sid,” and eventually, when we got a second somewhat smaller skull from parts unknown (or forgotten), it was called, of course, “Marty.” And there were other things around the shop we named…most notably, the old wooded baseball bat Ralph kept behind the counter that was referred to as “The Peacemaker.” (No relation.)

But alas, our painted dragon friend lacked a sobriquet. Well, the sign’s mine now, so I shall dub…her, let’s say she’s a her, “Jennifer,” for no good reason I could adequately explain.

And adrian hunter sez about the sign

“I love how signage like this always ends with ‘science fiction.’ Science Fiction…what? Double-Feature? Books? videos? games? all the above? I don’t know about the rest of the world, although from this sign it seems endemic but in CT it happens a lot. It’s just amusing to me.”

Ralph (if you recall from my recap of his retail history) had been in a shop up in Santa Barbara that specialized in science fiction books and comic books. Ralph was the one in charge of the sci-fi books, as that had been, and still is, a particular interest of his (along with comics, of course). So, when he opened up his own shop it was probably no surprise that he wanted to emphasize the “science fiction” part of the business, especially with all the Star Warsing and Star Trekking going on.

And to your question of “science fiction what,” the answer is “yes.” Books, videos (eventually) games, even comics sometimes. And “double feature” of sorts…Ralph had plenty of Ace doubles.

But seriously, “science fiction” is a good, overall eye-catching term to grab people where things like “comic books” and “baseball cards” might not. Come to think of it, I should probably replace that “SPECULATIVE EVOLUTIONARY DIESELPUNK” painted in the window with “SCIENCE FICTION” instead. Might get more positive attention.

Fun flies when you’re having time.

§ March 4th, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 4 Comments

yet another artifact from the Previous Place of Employment (if you missed it, I posted one on Wednesday): the Ralph’s Comic Corner clock!

Gifted to the shop by a customer (and alas, which customer I can’t remember), the image for the clock’s face was blown up from a business card and colorized. (The drawing, like nearly all drawings done for the store’s business cards, fliers, signs and such, was by cartoonist/animator Tom Foxmarnick).

As a nod to the ol’ role playing game part of the business, please note that the clock’s numbers are made up of teeny-tiny dice:

When Ralph brought it to me, he wasn’t sure if the clock still worked, as he replaced the battery in the back and no tempus fugited. However, I am happy to report that I had a fresh new battery at home, and once placed in the clock, the hands once again started ticking off the remaining seconds of our fleeting lives. Hooray!

• • •

In other news, comments have been left on the posts from earlier in the week, and I’m not ignoring them! I will respond to those that need responses sometime next week. Thanks for reading, and commenting!

Sign of the times.

§ March 2nd, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 8 Comments

As was mentioned before, my former boss Ralph had moved from the back room of a thrift store in downtown Ventura, CA, to a small storefront midtown, in the early 1980s. To help grab some attention for the shop, in 1984 Ralph’s friend Tom Foxmarnick (a cartoonist and animator, graduate of the Joe Kubert School) painted this sign for him:

If you look closely, you can see this sign is now sitting in my store, brought to me by Ralph after the closure of Seth’s Games and Anime (the shop Ralph’s eventually became). It’s wood, pretty good size…the exact measurements I meant to get prior to making this post but like a dummy, I forgot. I’ll try to edit them in later. But it’s up against the side of one of my comic tables there, so that should give you an idea.

Anyway, the sign would rest in the front of Ralph’s 1984-1990 location, sitting on a large brick step that was just to the side of the shop’s door. When we (yes, we, I started working there in ’88) moved to larger digs across the street, the sign was put in the front window. And in ’97, when we moved again to the larger space next door, the sign also came with us and, at least for a while, put in one of the windows there.

Eventually, when Seth took over the majority of the store, the sign went to the back room, where it stayed, well, pretty much until earlier this week when Ralph hauled it through my front door.

A little worn, clearly had seen some use — I’m talking about the sign, not Ralph, to be clear — but it’s a nice memento of a shop that meant a lot to a whole bunch of people, myself included. A big chunk of my past, now on display in my store, reminded me of where I came from and what I hope to continue.

End of an era.

§ February 14th, 2022 § Filed under retailing § 10 Comments

From the “About Us” page on the old Ralph’s Comic Corner website:

“In the late 1970s, Ralph Holt joined forces with a friend of his and began selling comic books and baseball cards at the Santa Barbara swap meet and conventions all over California. Eventually they opened up the Andromeda Bookshop, a store specializing in science fiction books and comic books, in Santa Barbara, CA. After a couple of years, Ralph decided to head out on his own. He made his way about 40 miles down the coast to Ventura, CA, and, in May of 1980, opened up the very first incarnation of Ralph’s Comic Corner. Originally located in the back of a thrift store (where it literally was just a corner), he carried only new and used comics. Ralph moved to a larger location, with his very own storefront, down the road in 1984. In 1990 Ralph moved the shop across the street to an even larger store. In 1997, the store doubled in size again, having moved next door to its current location of 2379 E. Main Street, becoming the Cultural Hub of Ventura County. Along the way, the store added trading cards (both sport and non-sport), role-playing games, science fiction paperbacks, card games, trade paperbacks, T-shirts, posters, board games, Japanese animation and manga, Pogs, and everything else you might expect to find at a Giant Pop Art Emporium.”

Not mentioned in that history I wrote for that site way back when:

1. My hiring in 1988 to replace departing employee Ray.

2. Seth, who’d been working at a comic shop north of us, coming down and buying out the gaming half of the store in the mid-ish 2000s, thus launching his own store “Seth’s Games and Anime.” Which means, yes, there were two stores operating side by side in the same location. Even, for a while, with different hours, which took some doing, let me tell you.

3. A number of years later, Seth would take over pretty much the entire shop save for Ralph’s own back issues. And eventually Ralph would stop being an active participant in the shop, meaning the entire store became Seth’s Games and Anime. (Ralph would continue to have an office there, and sell comics independently of the shop…does this all sound complicated? It is. At one point between Points 2 and 3 I was getting two paychecks, one from Ralph, one from Seth, which meant I have to keep track of what hours I worked for whom.)

So anyway, as of Point 3 “Ralph’s Comic Corner” pretty much stopped being its own storefront, and while there was a continuity of existence between Ralph’s store and Seth’s, the Comic Corner as we knew it was over.

Which takes me to the current sad news: Seth’s Games and Anime will be closing its doors for good at the end of this month.

As anyone who’s been following my social media probably knows, I’ve had some feelings about this. Now I’m at my own shop, a few towns over, and have been for years. This closing doesn’t directly impact me. But nonetheless, it’s left me somewhat discombobulated since I’d heard the news.

Part of it is that continuity of existence I mentioned before. Yes, it’s no longer Ralph’s Comic Corner, nor has it been in a while, but it’s still where I worked for many years, learning the trade and creating relationships, several of which I still maintain at my current shop. I moved the contents of this store twice, I built shelves and arranged stock, created displays and tried hard to make it a friendly, accessible place. Working for Ralph’s and later Seth’s represents well over a quarter century of my life.

As pal Andrew put it on Twitter:

“It was the apprenticeship and booster rocket that helped get you where you are now.”

Ralph’s Comic Corner, and the shop it became later, loom large in my history and development. And I guess I always sort of took for granted that they’d always be there. But as I was there the other night, picking up some stock for my own store at Seth’s urging, I knew this would be the last time I’d be seeing the inside of this building. It definitely wasn’t the comic shop I remember, but I could look around and see where it had been, beneath the new arrangement of fixtures and varieties of stock that existed there now. When I come back and the building’s been rented out to, I don’t know, the Screen Doors for Submarines store, even that connection to my past will be gone.

So, it’s been a pretty sad day for a lot of us, whether we were old-timey Ralph’s customers or folks who just started popping into Seth’s recently. I of course wish everyone there the best.

Ralph will still be around…I’m still doing business with him, and I’m sure he’ll turn up filling in for me at the shop once in a while.

Speaking of Ralph, pal (and also former Ralph’s employee) Cully sent me a scan of a panel that appeared in Gilbert Hernandez’s Luba #6 (2002)…warning, dirty words, don’t look kids:


In case you didn’t know, Ralph’s Comic Corner was the first comic shop anywhere that carried Love and Rockets, the original black and white covered one they self-published. Ralph often said “I told them to send it to Fantagraphics, that was the kind of thing they’d publish!” (Also, Jaime noted that Ralph’s was the first comic shop he and his brothers had ever been to.)

Ralph did make an appearance in an early Love and Rockets…#4 (1983), to be exact, in a story by Mario:


Mario would sneak Ralph into the mag again in issue #50.

Here’s one of Ralph’s appearances in Groo the Wanderer #28 (1987) by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones…Sergio was just over the hill from us in Ojai, and would pop in on a regular basis:

And here’s Ralph in Tom Foxmarnick’s story for Taboo #2 (1989)…Tom’s an old friend of Ralph, and in fact drew Ralph’s business cards and various flyers and even that logo at the beginning of this post (a very pixelated GIF from the website…I’m sure I’ve got a good black and white scan of the original art somewhere):


By the way, the photo references Tom took of Ralph for this story are pretty great, but I haven’t seen them in 30 years. Hopefully Ralph can turn them up again.

Ralph’s shown up in other places here and there as well…both Ralph and I have a “thank you” in Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics, as well as the recent Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures omnibus collecting Evan Dorkin’s work on the title. And at one point whoever was putting together the “Death of Gwen Stacy” paperback for Marvel inexplicably didn’t have a good scan of Amazing Spider-Man #122’s cover, and called us for one in exchange for a credit in the book. Sure enough, when said book was released there was a “thanks to Ralph’s Comic Corner” inside…at least for the first printing. For all I know Marvel’s still using our scan for things.

It’s fun stuff like this that I’ll try to hang onto, the memories and occasionally weird experiences I had in my 2 1/2 decades of working for Ralph’s and Seth’s. The stores may no longer be with us, but everything I learned there is still with me now, and informs how I approach this business. As the cliché goes, so long as someone remembers, they’ll never really be gone.

Do they even still buy physical textbooks in college, or is it all digital?

§ January 3rd, 2022 § Filed under collecting, death of superman, retailing, variant covers § 4 Comments

So I recently found out that the Roku Channel, which is a free streaming service available on, of all things, the Roku streaming device, features a series called Slugfest. It’s a number of short episodes devoted to the back-and-forth between DC and Marvel Comics over the last eight decades or so. (Yes, I know it wasn’t technically “Marvel Comics” early on, nor was DC technically “DC,” but you know what I mean.) Each episode is only a few minutes long, with a mix of vintage video/images and actor reenactments. (Most interesting is Brandon Routh playing a young Jack Kirby…I mean, he’s got the eyebrows, but he’s gotta be at least a foot taller than Kirby ever was; and Ray Wise as older Jack Kirby is about as perfect a casting as you can imagine.)

I bring it up because Episode 8 of the series, “World Without a Superman,” brings us back to our old friend, Superman #75:

Yes, longtime readers of this site have heard me go on and on about this particular event, from my experiencing the madness from behind the counter at the comic shop I worked at back then, to the aftermarket life the book enjoyed (for varying values of “enjoyed”) in the decades since. Well, if you’re new around here, this here link will catch you up on all those ramblings.

And of course I have touched upon the Death of Superman madness in this very series of Variant Cover-age posts, mostly just talking about the “platinum editions.” But it occurs to me, I haven’t really talked much about the more common black-bagged version in this context. Not that I haven’t spoken about it at length in the past, but I feel like it should at least be brought up, especially in reference to that Slugfest episode.

To give you a little context, the Superman family of books (Action, Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel) were selling relatively well, at least for us, at the time. They effectively functioned as a weekly Superman comic, with each issue of each series coming out on separate weeks, storylines and subplots flowing from one to the other. It was very effective serialized storytelling. Also, keep in mind we were still riding the wave of the comics book of the late 1980s/early 1990s, so lots of comics were selling very well.

When it came time to order Superman #75, the actual Death of Superman issue, we ordered high. We’d already bumped up numbers on the preceding issues featuring the story leading up to the Big One, but on #75 itself, we ordered something like ten times what we’d normally order on the Superman comic. We were, we thought, taking something of a chance on this event book. It would do well, surely, but well enough to sell us out of 10x normal Superman orders? We’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, when I’m saying “we ordered” and “we thought,” I mean “Ralph ordered,” as my former boss was placing all the numbers, and I was but a lowly employee.

Anyway, as you all know, it came out, lines around the block, stores could’ve sold lots more than they ordered, et cetera et cetera so on and so forth. And the variant sealed in the black bag with all the goodies, the one we ordered the heaviest numbers, was the one in primary demand. Not to say the “standard” edition:

…didn’t also sell, because it sure did. And when the reprints hit, we sold lots of those, too. Needless to say, there were tons of copies of this sold. About 3 million copies altogether, according to the Slugfest episode.

And yes, here we come to the reason for this post. There’s a scene, a reenactment with actors portraying Superman writer Louise Simonson and a friend of hers, just hanging out at home. It had been noted that the Superman creative team were under a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding the eventual resolution of the Death of Superman storyline (spoiler: he comes back). The scene, going entirely from my memory, was something like this:

FRIEND: “My son is buying lots of copies of this comic. When he gets more money, he’s going to buy more. These are going to put him through college someday.”

LOUISE SIMONSON: [coughs]

And the narrator (Kevin Smith, naturally) makes sure to tell us “the comic only goes for about five bucks now.”

Mmmmm…I beg to differ.

A while back I wrote about the fact that most people who bought the Death of Superman books were not comic collectors, were mostly folks from outside the hobby who picked up an issue out of curiosity or “investment,” who had literally no idea how to properly store or care for a comic book. The vast majority of comic collections I see from around this period, even from folks who bought the bags and boards and Mylar™ and such, are not in Near Mint, or even Fine or better, condition.

In the nearly 30 years since Superman #75 came out, I’d imagine most copies held by non-collectors were not stored well, or even just straight-up discarded once their passing interest in the comic faded. Plus, I suspect attempts to sell the book later to recoup on their investment resulted in some disappointing offers. “Wait, it’s not worth thousands?” It’s probably even worse for the folks who bought copies from opportunistic scalpers, selling them for a hundred dollars a pop the weekend after release (as I heard about locally, and probably wasn’t uncommon elsewhere).

End result: probably not as many minty-mint copies of any version of Superman #75 out there as you may think. It’s not uncommon, but it’s less likely now that you’ll walk into a store with a ready stack of them for sale.

I only ever see one or two at a time of the black-bagged version, and almost never see copies of the standard #75, or even its many reprints. And while I’ll buy the mint copies (or at least cleanly-opened copies with the extras perserved) from collections, I have seen plenty of copies that are just trashed and that I’ve passed on purchasing. As such, it is my belief that a nice copy can still fetch a premium price…and actually does, as I’ve sold more than a few in my shop. And by “premium” I definitely mean more than five bucks.

A quick look at the eBays shows copies of the black-bagged edition selling for, on average, between $10 and $30. Yes, to be fair, I did see a sealed copy sell for $5, but that seemed like an outlier. A couple of the standard editions did sell for about $6 to $8, so that’s a little closer to the show’s assertion. A check of currently-offered copies at Hipcomic don’t show much variation, though they do seem to have a lot more of the reprints than eBay did. (I’m not bringing up “professionally graded” sales, as that’s its own super-distorted marketplace.)

I also did a quick search of a couple of the larger online stores and didn’t even spot any (except for one store that had it for over $150, which is probably why they still have it). Hardly a scientifically thorough search, and for all I know they just had it and sold it before I looked.

The end result is…no, Superman #75, in either its black-bagged or standard edition, isn’t going to pay for anyone’s college. Even the platinum edition might only net you enough to pay for a couple of textbooks. But, I think the “five bucks” descriptor was bit of an underestimation. There’s still a market for these, just that the market value has normalized to meet actual demand, long after that initial rush and immediate scarcity drove some panic buying.

Now that white covered Adventures of Superman #500…if I got five bucks a pop on those, I’d be ecstatic.

Let me know if you’d seen any of those Superman #75s out for sale in your area. Are they going for premium pricing? Are stores stuck with a bunch and trying to unload them? (I’d rather you didn’t mention store names, in case they take offense to being held up as an example of “charging too much” or something.) I’d be interested to hear what’s going on with these across the marketplace now.

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