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For comparison, I once bought a copy of that Joker comic for a dime.

§ March 8th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 4 Comments

So let’s cover a couple of questions from last week…first up is Robcat (“Bobbykitten” when he was little) who asks

“Don’t they [Bad Idea Comics] also have a policy like ‘you must order future issues at the same numbers as your first issue?’ How’s that working for you? Maybe I’m asking too early. I would guess you’d know better in a couple months.”

Yes indeed, that is the policy of Bad Idea, which admittedly did have me a tad concerned, and did in fact guide my initial orders on Eniac #1. I would have been happier with a policy that required, say, a percentage of orders of the first issue rather than a flat matching order (like “order #2 at 90% of #1, #3 at 75%” and so on) to more closely hew to actual sales performance of comic books. Okay, in actual practice those percentages would be a lot lower, generally, but I’m trying to cut Bad Idea some slack here.

I’m sure the plan was to keep retailers from overordering on the first issue for speculation purposes, forcing them to think about actual future sales on any given title. Now as it turned out (and as you probably already heard) initial orders of Eniac #1 were only about half-filled with first printings, and the balance was filled with second prints (or what Bad Idea is calling “Not First Printings” since all future reprints of the issue will be identical). As such, retailers are only bound to match orders on future issues to the amount of first printings they received, so technically we can cut orders down on later issues if we feel sales are going to drop.

And of course they likely will. People buying Eniac #1 right now only because they’ve heard it’s rare and hot aren’t coming back to invest in, say, #3. Then again, maybe they will, who the hell can tell anymore. The comic market is in such disarray with random books getting random speculator attention for random reasons there’s almost no point in trying to predict sales patterns any more. What used to be dependable guidelines get thrown out the window the second someone with a YouTube channel…well, you’ve heard me gripe before, you know where I’m going with this.

Anyway, ideally everyone who reads (note: reads) Eniac #1 will be back for the rest of them, and as I said in my last post about this, most of my pulls for this title have been for the full run, not just the first issue. So I’m not expecting 100% buyer retention…that almost never happens in comics from the first issue to the second…but I think there’s enough there to continue maintaining similar order levels. But it is nice, at least in this case, to be able to drop the numbers if sales require it.

For future Bad Idea books, who knows? We’ll see what happens.

• • •

Eric wants guidance on the following

“All of this talk of online auctions and slabbing and whatnot brings to mind a question I’ve pondered for awhile now. How releavant or even useful is Overstreet at this point? Do you still use it in the store? Do you have to back it up with a glance at eBay? I remember finding the thing a bit silly years ago when the wisdom seemed to be that it was already a fools game trying to sell a book for full guide price even in a brick and mortar.”

Well, selling for full guide depends on the book, really. I’ve talked in the past about how, with all the reboots and relaunches, back issue movement on any series that isn’t the current iteration of the title tends to come to a dead halt. Been a while since I’ve sold a whole lotta back issues of even, say, the Amazing Spider-Man series just prior to the current Amazing Spider-Man series.

Which is of course the main reason why retailers like me are trying to order fairly close to the bone on everything*, as the sales window for unsold issues will likely slam shut as soon as Marvel and DC roll back the title to another #1. I’m exaggerating only slightly…sales on back issues of those previous series can move, but not nearly at the pace they did when they were “new” back issues.

I mean, I guess that’s always been true for the back issue market in general, but these short run titles that vanish as soon as they arrive don’t gain any kind of traction in collectors’ minds. As opposed to, for example, the Wally West Flash series, which still sells on a fairly regular basis despite DC’s continuing attempts at destroying the character. But for recent-ish back issues…yeah, I can still sell them sometimes for regular backlist prices, but it doesn’t take much for me to decide to toss any excess copies into the bargain bins.

Once we get away from the volatile nature of recent comics, and into things from, say, before 2000, we sell a little more stability in pricing, and price guides like Overstreet become more relevant. But even then, the randomness of sudden demand for sometimes, not always, spurious or half-baked reasons can jump prices up to wild levels. For example, this comic, handed to me by pal Nat with the counsel that “this may be going for a bit of money now,” turned to be, upon doing some research, going for easily three times guide in online sales. And that’s not even counting the slabbed/graded copies. But it’s apparently an early (first?) mention of “The Mandalorians,” something that has a little more cultural cachet than it used to.

So yes, research, particularly on the eBays, does need to be done on certain titles. Sometimes you can just look at a book and think “I bet this is probably going for more than what the guide says.” But a lot of times there’s no clue…I mean, did you know an issue of dollar-bin favorite Earth 2 is suddenly going for, like, $20 to $40 or so? Why? “First appearance of Val-Zod” — you know Val-Zod, of course. “Movie?” hopefully adds one seller to the title of his listing.

But the guide has always been that…just a guide. I regularly price things under or over guide depending on how I think local market conditions will handle it. And thus it has always been, going back to when guides were even first introduced. It’s just there’s more information coming from more sources at increasing rates and it can be difficult to keep up with it all. But it’s not like I didn’t personally experience someone pulling a copy of the ’70s Joker #1 out of our 50-cent bins in ’89, after the Batman movie had come out and anything Bat-related was suddenly red hot and shooting up in price…even that dumb Joker series which nobody had wanted to buy almost since the day it came out.

The Overstreet is a useful tool, but not the be-all, end-all of how one should price their back issues. Gotta use some common sense, some awareness of what’s happening in the market both local and worldwide, know what to price up, or down, or toss in the dollar bins. And mistakes will get made and things will get past me, but that’s just how things go sometimes.

For more discussion of the back issue market, may I direct you to the me of 2013, when I was still at the previous place of employment.
 
 

* Also previously noted: it’s the current trend of conservative ordering that’s feeding the speculator market, where it doesn’t take much for available supply on any given title to dry up and become a “rare” collectible.

It’s an Eniac, Eniac on the floor / And it’s selling like it’s never sold before.

§ March 5th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing, self-promotion § 7 Comments


So anyway, here we are, in this post Bad Idea Comics release-of-Eniac-#1 world. You’re probably been hearing about it on the comic news sites or on your TickingTocks or whatever, or you may even have read about the company and my participation in it on my very site about a year ago. But in short: comic publisher produces new comics, available only at a select number of stores around the world.

But Eniac #1 is out now, like I said…when they announced they were going to use Diamond Comics to distribute their books, I was sweating it a bit, given the number of boners they’ve pulled of late regarding books just straight up not showing up and not having the stock to replace them. With initial orders on Eniac being only partially filled with first printing due to orders being much higher than anticipated, and the balance with the black-logoed “Not First Printings,” if my order of first printings didn’t show up I suspect there’s no way I’d be able to get replacements. Especially with my shipment arriving a day later than normal this week, which would mean being the last in line calling in my shortages.

All that worry was for naught (at least for Eniac, no so much for that order of Oingo Boingo comics I was highly anticipating which didn’t manage to make it into my shipment) and a Bad Idea time was had by all at the shop. Bad Idea provided a special button, pictured here:

…to be given to the first person to actually purchase an issue of Eniac in the shop. And that person was Jessica, pictured here on the store’s Instagram.

And there was this personalized video provided by the publisher, where Eniac writer Matt Kindt his own self extols the viewer to go to Sterling Silver Comics for your copy:

I had a lot of mail order customers for this comic, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise given the relative scarcity of retailers carrying it. Walked over to the post office Thursday morning with a cart full of packages, in fact, and it’s a good thing I restocked my cardboard comic mailers for this very purpose. So all in all…with lots of folks excited about the book, with plenty of new faces coming into the store looking for it, and plenty of copies sent across the country, I’d say Eniac #1 was a success for me.

Of course, the question remains if this demand will continue for future issues of the series, or for other titles from the publisher. I did have at least a couple of mail order people who requested #1 tell me they weren’t interested in #2, which is a shame and I hope they change their mind if they read it (and that’s a big “IF” which I’ll talk about in a moment). However, far more customers asked for all issues of Eniac, if not “all Bad Idea,” so that’s a good sign at least for continuing sales.

…So you know how over the last week or so I’ve been talking about speculation in comics, and how new collectibles are almost being forced into having value given that actual rare and valuable comics are in even shorter supply than normal.

Well, guess what happens when something that may actually be (at least regionally) scarce enters the market? Folks lose their minds. When I poked in on eBay early today I was copies of the white-logoed first print listed at hundreds of dollars. Just checking now the black-logoed second prints are at $30 or more. The freebie promo comics ballyhooing the Bad Idea line, the very ones I’m still giving away for free at my front counter, are getting listed at $10 a pop on average.I even saw one of the buttons listed with a Buy-It-Now of $470 (with “free shipping,” gee how generous). And yes, I checked, there have been sales on these at around there prices. Well, maybe not the button. Yet.

The official sales agreement retailers entered into with Bad Idea specifies that they can’t sell the comic for more than cover prices for the next thirty days, so presumably most of these eBay sellers are individual buyers trying to make a fast buck on the New Hot Thing (I know I had more than a couple come buy their copy today.) What’s interesting is that another stipulation is that retailers could only sell one copy per person, which has me wondering about the seller I just saw with the 2nd print listed at $29.95 and 28 sold already:


Either this seller is a comics retailer, or friends with a comics retailer and selling them on his behalf, or a fella who walked into his local shop 28+ times with a large variety of disguises and questionable accents.

I know Bad Idea frowns on this behavior…this announcement on Twitter (which I also received via email) telling everyone they bounced a seller from the program permanently for violating these rules was a clear warning to other stores. But of course that’s not going to stop individuals from doing whatever they want with their copies.

…Following that tweet from Bad Idea is some spirited discussion as to whether or not that enforced cover price is a good idea, or if retailers should be allowed to take advantage of the current secondary market, and some grumbling about the “one-per-customer” rule. I didn’t have any complaints regarding the latter…a few customers tried to buy more than one, but were completly understanding when I told them they couldn’t. Thank goodness, I didn’t feel like getting screamed at in the middle of my store.

To be honest, I had my questions about the pricing thing, as I thought the “Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price” wasn’t an enforceable fixed price, but one that could be freely adjusted as the situation warrants. Hence, you know, back issues pricing. But I took a look at the FTC website” and found this bit of business:

“If a manufacturer, on its own, adopts a policy regarding a desired level of prices, the law allows the manufacturer to deal only with retailers who agree to that policy. A manufacturer also may stop dealing with a retailer that does not follow its resale price policy. That is, a manufacturer can implement a dealer policy on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.”

…which I feel like probably covers Bad Idea’s situation, allowing them to set a price. However, please note I am no Legalese Expert, so maybe someone can help clarify.

I realize after all this I haven’t said anything about the comic itself, which is mostly because my comic readin’ time at home has been curtailed a bit, combined with my slower reading nowadays because of my eyeball troubles. But it’s a striking book with that deep red cover and thick cover…it grabs your attention, certainly. It’s on the read list for tonight…I’m looking forward to it. Here’s hoping future releases generate equal excitement. The industry sure could use some…even if the shadow of speculation is in tow.

• • •

Over on the Patreon, I’ve added another short audio bit, this time discussing the delivery of new comic shipments. It’s fun doing these, and it’s even fun to go through with the editing program and cut out the “uhs,” the swallows, and that notification noise my phone made while recording.

I’m glad to be able to start providing some new content over there again (only $1 a month to get it all!). I’ll also be restarting Swamp Thing-a-Thon again soon, and I should have another sample entry, my coverage of issue #1 from the 1970s, up here on this site this weekend.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon.

I know that issue of Legion of Super-Heroes didn’t have a digital code, just roll with it.

§ March 3rd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing, self-promotion, Swamp Thing-a-Thon § 3 Comments

JohnJ has this to say

“There must also be some basic pricing difference between copies still bagged and those removed from bags, just as there would have been with Superman #75 or Spider-Man #1. Is an X-Force #1 even possible to be considered ‘mint’ if it’s out of the bag and card-less? No matter how pristine the book itself might be, would the ‘slabbers’ turn up their noses at it?”

When I price comics, I do indeed take into account opened/missing bags, removed inserts (like trading cards) and stuff like that. There are also those comics with the Mark’s Jewelers ads where even in the price guide their presence, or lack thereof, is factored into pricing. I mean, I guess technically having those inserts removed would be similar to an old comic having “ad page removed, story not affected” dragging down the price, so I can see the logic there. Either the comic is complete as published, or it isn’t. Whether that “completeness” impacts the price, and by how much, is the matter than can be debated.

For something like X-Force #1, where sealed copies are still relatively plentiful, unbagged copies can go for next to nothing. Same for Adventures of Superman which is hard enough to sell complete and presumably mint at anywhere close to its barely-above-cover-price guide listing (or even at a dollar a pop, like I’ve been trying to), much less naked, exposed, trading card-less. In both cases I usually just toss ’em in the bargain bin when I come across them, though sometimes I’ll put a bagless X-Force #1 in the regular bins in case anyone just wants a reader copy for cheap and don’t want to hunt through the random cheapo boxes.

There is a grey area, of course, with the “opened bag” — the Death of Superman issue still sells with an opened bag and most, if not all, of its contents. Not for the full premium, of course, but not bargain basement prices, and there’s still demand for it. Compare to X-Force #1, where the main driving force for collectors right now is whether or not the Deadpool card is included, and whether that card is in “mint,” so sealed copies are preferred.)

Now as I recall (haven’t checked of late, because I think this was dumb), the price guide’s stance was that so long as the bag was opened neatly and all contents were intact, it should essentially be priced the same as a sealed copy. Which of course is bananas, as in actual real life customers will pay more for a sealed copy, and less, or nothing at all, for an unsealed one.

And then there’s 1990’s Spider-Man #1, where you could get the green cover, the black ‘n’ silver cover, or either of those covers sealed in a special polybag. The polybag editions were just polybagged…no inserts included. The polybag was the gimmick, and a gimmick so dumb that my former boss swore he’d never stock that particular version as a back issue in his shop. So anyway, having the bag in this case damaged or removed made those variants sort of pointless, and why would you want to open them anyway? To read this comic? Have you read it? C’mon.

I mean, in the old days, unbagged copies of the bagged Spider-Man would have been pointless, except now, as the need for collectible comics intensifies in the face of declining supply, they are now selling for higher prices. Specifically as “unpriced variants,” since these bagged editions had their retail prices printed on the bags themselves, and left off the actual covers. A speedy search of the eBays turned up a “no price” black variant at $16.99.

I figured “McFarlane’s Spider-Man is a hot comic, so I guess demand is up for any copies of this” but in fairness I looked up Adventures of Superman #500, which earlier I asserted debagged copies of the white-bag variant are essentially worthless. Well, I still think they are, but that’s not stopping folks from selling slabbed, graded copies for $100 plus. And “raw” copies, too, for the usual $1 to $3. Amazing.

Online pricing doesn’t necessarily reflect real world pricing on collectibles, of course. I’ve sold stuff online for premium prices that would get me laughed out of town if I tried them in the store. And I’ve tried to move things online for any price that ended up selling more quickly, and more dearly, in the ol’ brick and mortar. So [throws price guide up in the air] who knows, man.

On a related note, I wrote (egads, nearly nine years ago) about Marvel Comics and their digital code stickers, and how their removal would or would not affect pricing. Oddly, it hasn’t really come up too often, aside from one collection of books I took in a couple of years ago. My rule of thumb, as stated above, remains “is this book as it was originally published?” If it’s missing the sticker covering the code, then no, it’s incomplete. A very nit-picking incomplete, but nonetheless, by technical definition, it is as such. Now it doesn’t affect pricing that much for these mostly recent books, but what if in a few decades, whatever today’s equivalent of Incredible Hulk #181 (almost certainly that first evergreen-hot appearance of the Gold Lantern) is missing a sticker? Will its going market price of 2000 Space-Credits drop down to a measly 1200 Space-Credits? How’s someone supposed to send their clone-child to Ceti Alpha V Academy on that little amount of money? Or will it be taken in stride, like the Guide’s instance that arrival dates on covers for comics of a certain age shouldn’t affect the grade? I guess time will tell. Time travelers, come back and let me know.

• • •

In other news, after a long hiatus, mostly enforced by ongoing eyeball issues, I am attempting to return to doing my coverage of Swamp Thing issue-by-issue as Patreon-exclusive content. Probably at a less-frequent pace than I was attempting, but I plan on filling the gaps with brief audio content (the very brief first installment of which has already been posted, not really saying much more than what’s already said here). So, if you want to hear my warbly voice barely make it through a sentence without stumbling, now’s your chance! (This may be practice for a full-fledged actual podcast at some point in the near-ish future.)

When I first started the Swamp-Thing-a-Thon, my intention was to post it exclusively for Patreonites, then release it here on ProgRuin several months later. Well, I never did that last part, so I’ll try to get another one posted this weekend. In the meantime, here’s the very first installment I posted about House of Secrets #92.

Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll catch you on Friday.

“Sobered up” = nice way of saying “crashed like the Hindenburg.”

§ March 1st, 2021 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing § 7 Comments

So last week, when I was a’typin’ about the weirdo Marvel trading card boom allegedly going on right now, Matthew noted (in reference to X-Force (1991) #1’s involvement:

“You’ve mentioned the ‘Shazam! effect’ before in relation to the 1970s Shazam comic and I think there’s an element of that happening here too. I mean, X-Force #1 came out 30 years ago, that’s the same gap between Fantastic Four #1 and X-Force #1. Plus people who were young when it first came out our (potentially) old enough to have money and nostalgia for that thing they used to have?”

I did sort of refer to the Shazam Effect obliquely in that post in the following passage:

“…While millions of X-Force #1 were printed, that doesn’t necessarily follow that millions are out there in readily available circulation. And the ones that do turn up aren’t necessarily going to be in that minty-mint collectable condition.”

…and if someone out there doesn’t remember what that is…in short, the ’70s Shazam! #1 was ordered in huge quantities, with large amounts going unsold. It remained a cheap back issue for decades, often finding its way into quarter boxes and the like…until one day the market realized that actual nice copies were getting harder to come by. Partially due to age, but almost certainly a lot to do with available stock being dumped into said bargain boxes and basically being mishandled and poorly stored and such. And thusly, high grade Shazam! #1s go for a premium.

Now that’s my theory, built upon decades of observation and just how I know early on at the previous place of employment, we’ve just pour the buckets of Shazam! comics into the blow-out boxes and hoped someone would take them away.

This does apply to X-Force #1 (and other early ’90s blockbuster hit comics) a bit, I think. But first, I believe there were a lot more copies of X-Force #1 and its contemporaries printed than of Shazam! #1.

…And that while X-Force #1, in contrast to, say, the ’90s X-Men #1 and Spider-Man #1, did suffer in general reputation and consideration after the market sobered up a bit later in a decade, I don’t think quite the same percentage of them ended up in the bargain bin dregs to be misused and abused. Not saying no copies ended up there, but I believe it wasn’t enough to create a paucity of near mint copies in general circulation. If anything, like I said in my original post, actually being purchased by consumers who didn’t store their comics properly seems to be, just from my general experience, the more likely culprit in this matter.

There’s also the inverse relationship of product versus outlets to consider. Shazam #1 was released as the direct market was beginning, with more and more comic-specific retail stores opening up and presenting more opportunities for Shazam #1 to be sold. Even if, you know, it was just in quarter boxes. X-Force #1 was published just prior to the direct market’s near fatal contraction, with piles of unsold copies of that comic disappearing along with the stores that ordered too many of them. Assuming former store owners didn’t dump their stock on other surviving shops (or, uh, had them shredded), and also assuming proper and not contemptuous storage, there may be masses of mint-ish X-Force #1s still lurking, hidden, waiting to make their move.

Not saying every copy of those unsold Shazam!s got circulated, and that millions of X-Forces aren’t in circulation. But I do think there are potentially enough of those X-Force #1s out there in what would be considered “collectible” shape that all it really takes is one big warehouse/storage unit find for the supposed scarcity of that comic to dissipate. (If I recall correctly, something similar happened to Wally Wood’s Heroes Inc.) As garages and storage areas open up and get cleaned out by their owners, or progressively more often, surviving family members or third-party purchasers, they’re only going to become more common.

And going back to my original assertion, if there is an apparently scarcity to X-Force #1 at all, it comes from newer stores who weren’t around when it came out, and thus didn’t acquire an enormous backlog of unsold copies to dole out over the decades. Newer stores would have to acquire them in collections…and they do pop up there, time and again.

I hope none of this sounds like I’m trying to argue with commenter Matthew…just taking his response as a launching pad for considering the differences in situations here. Which isn’t to say his idea that “nostalgia + relatively shortness in supply” isn’t a fact. Sure it is. And that increased demand for a once moribund back issue is going to cause the prices to rise. But that Deadpool promo card going for hundreds of dollars…that’s almost certainly the result of folks trying to “force” a collectible, to find something relatively common in a market where genuinely scare items are becoming harder to come by, and declaring something “rare” and “hot.” Just by the natural order of things, I think any really high prices on these things is outside the normal causes of supply and demand.

Anyway, there you are. Over-rambly and self-contradictory, in the Mighty Mike Style, but there you go. If I were to sum up…while some price increases can be expected in even over-printed items like X-Force #1 due to a relative dearth of supply at current outlets, it’s still likely not rare enough to cause such extremely high pricing based on ordinary market forces. But none of that matters if it’s decided this is the new normal and that’s what these items go for now, regardless of abundance.

This is all conjecture and opinion based on what I’ve seen over my nearly 33 years in the industry. I could be (gasp) wrong, but this is my general sense of things. You know where to argue with me!

Thanks to Matthew for his response.

What’s this horses**t?

§ February 22nd, 2021 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing § 13 Comments

Okay, so apparently this is a thing that’s been happening. X-Force #1 from 1991…you know, the comic that sold, what, five million copies…which could be had for under ten bucks, usually closer to about a buck…is suddenly selling for premium prices.


…but specifically the variation that was packaged with a Deadpool trading card (approximately one-fifth of the run, as there were five different cards):


The price that I’ve seen bandied about is “$100” which apparently it did sell for on eBay, but a quick look reveals prices to be more in the $20-$40 range, which is still a lot.

And this is goaded on by the fact that this very Deadpool card, just by itself, is apparently selling for even more premium prices, with this optimistic seller offering up a graded ‘n’ slabbed one for $2600. (“Or best offer,” to be fair.)

It wasn’t that long ago…well, okay, it was 2013 when I talked about how folks didn’t seem to care much about early Deadpool appearances that weren’t New Mutants #98. And then just a couple of years back I noted my surprise at how the Deadpool-carded X-Force #1 was now (well, then) priced in the guide at $18 (which isn’t too far off from where most eBay sales are at the moment). BONUS: you can see that lovely pic of me in the second link wielding a full set of those X-Force #1s, with each card in the set represented.

There are a preponderance of these Deadpool cards listed online as “rookie cards,” which…I don’t know, is kind of weird. I mean, I guess, technically, that card is his second appearance, I think, if you want to refer to tie-in merchandise as “appearances” of characters (which leads to madness like calling an issue of Marvel Age the “first appearance” of Spider-Man’s black suit). But calling it a “rookie” card feels…well, feels like forcing the invention of collectability in a market where genuinely collectible items are becoming harder to come by.

I’ve written before (on Twitter, I think) about how this seems to be driving the current speculator market for current issues, where any first appearance, any deviation from the norm is branded “hot” and because of the very nature of current close-to-the-bone comics ordering by retailers, an already scare item becomes that much more scarce. Who needs to chase after an Amazing Fantasy #15 when you can artificially inflate demand for the first appearance of Gold Lantern, a character everyone’s already forgotten about?

Also tying into things I’ve written about before…while millions of X-Force #1 were printed, that doesn’t necessarily follow that millions are out there in readily available circulation. And the ones that do turn up aren’t necessarily going to be in that minty-mint collectable condition. I assure you, no matter how many bags or boards or Mylars or what was it, “Comic Stor” 3-ring binder sleeves were sold, I am betting, just on personal observation of having been in comics retail for nearly 33 years, that most of the copies that ended up in the hands of consumers at that time have been damaged or destroyed over the decades.

And the large amounts of unsold copies that stores still had after that initial sales window closed back in 1991? Probably vanished along with many of the stores that shut down as soon as that comics boom went bust…probably because they were stuck with too many copies of, oh, say, X-Force #1 and comics like that. So it’s possible a lot of that stock is just sitting in storage units or former retailers’ garages, with no where to go, and no access to potential buyers. Which isn’t to say a comic like X-Force #1 is “rare” by any means…just that you have have a longer search ahead of you finding copies, as not many stores open now were open then to have wholesaled them.

(NOTE: I know I’ve discussed this before, in relation to Valiant’s Turok #1. Longtime readers, I beg your patience as Old Man Mike repeats his stories.)

So anyway, does this have anything to do with X-Force #1 avec une carte à collectionner Deadpool suddenly creeping up in price? It probably doesn’t hurt, but it also appears to be tied to the current secondary market for Marvel trading cards also booming beyond belief.

For literally decades any inquiry about Marvel trading cards was always, always, without exception, even more italicized words, from people trying to sell their sets. Never looking to buy. Just trying to turn over their old card sets, and then realizing they’d get next to nothing for them because, well, nobody was buying and stores would be crazy to put any kind of premium price on these.

Well, guess what, from what I can tell looking on the eBays, about a month or so ago it was decided Marvel trading cards were hot and collectible again.

Look, I just did a quick survey, maybe this had been coming for a while, and prices had been creeping up. But in January a complete set of just the base 1990 card set, no holograms, could be had for $60, and now it goes for hundreds. A set with holograms apparently sold for over $600. And I’m sure there’s more I’m missing.

In short, when no one was looking, Marvel’s trading cards suddenly shot up in price. Even that $60 for a base set was five times the going market price on these for years. And most tellingly, within the last few days I’ve started to get actual inquiries from people looking to buy them. Granted, they’d likely want them for the traditional low prices than the new hot market prices, but that this online trend is trickling down into the real world is somewhat telling.

I suppose again it’s the idea of relative scarcity, especially after these sets were ignored and untraded in shops during the trading card lull in the comics market. Like all those hot 1990s comics, sets were probably disused into noncollectability or just lost, and retail stores that may have had inventory on these at the time are long gone. Again, more product that still isn’t reate, but now not as easy to find as it once was.

So it that what’s happening here? Marvel cards are suddenly getting hot, and now “promo” cards like that Deadpool one are being driven up in price as well along with them? If I had to guess, I’d say X-Force #1s are likely easier to track down than full sets of Marvel Universe cards…so are those Deadpool “rookies” being boosted as collectables to capitalize on the newly-resurging card market? Those Deadpool cards seem to be selling, on average, for more than the comic with said card. Should I open up the X-Force #1 I have in the store and just sell the card by itself?

Some of the eBay listings I’ve looked at don’t even mention that the card was originally a comic book insert. Do some buyers even realize that it was an insert? Do some sellers even know? It has been 30 years…a non-zero percentage of the people involved in these transactions were almost certainly not even born yet.

It all seems so amazing to me that these comics and cards after years of being mostly moribund are suddenly The Hot Tickets. But then, there was a time at the old shop when we were selling New Mutants #98 with Deadpool’s first appearance at $10 a pop and thinking this had to be some sort of crime selling them for so much. So as the market changes, I guess I gotta roll with it.

I’ve leaving that Deadpool card intact inside that X-Force #1 I had at the shop, however. Popping it open just to sell the card is a bridge too far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you quire ready for…STUNT ROCK:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

A little more comment catch-up:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The “Mike Sterling Age” has kind of a ring to it.

§ November 20th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 14 Comments

Fellow oldie John Lancaster creaks

“I’ve always kind of liked the brief go-between of the Atomic Age (1948-1955). I know it isn’t widely used or recognized but a lot of the comics of that era just don’t ‘feel’ like Golden Age books, and they’re not quite Silver Age yet either.”

I almost brought up the “Atomic Age” label in that post, but in a very rare instance of me actually editing something out of my writing, I decided not to bring it up. But I suppose I should have, given its informal use for…geez, I can’t even remember the first time I saw it. It must have been in the ’80s sometime, and if I still had access to my former boss Ralph’s archives of old Overstreet guides I’d start a few decades back and spot-check my way forward, seeing if it turned up in the ads or the glossaries.

There have been attempts at trying to name these “grey” areas in comics history before…I seem to recall “pre-Golden Age” being used here and there, for example. I know Overstreet has “Victorian” and “Platinum” ages for anything older than, say, the 1920s I guess, but I don’t know if there’s enough trade in that material to make its usage commonplace, at least in our particular neck of the hobby. (I’ve had a grand total of one person in probably the entire 3+ decades I’ve been at this nonsense bring in a copy of a “Platinum” age comic, and she wasn’t willing to sell it for anywhere close to what the Guide suggested.)

(And an aside: consider that one instance of a Platinum Age comic to the literally HUNDREDS of times I wished Overstreet had any kind of comprehensive Undergrounds section.)

Anyway, back to “Atomic Age” – look, I know this is me taking that particular appellation at face value, but I always associated the term with the atomic-bomb covers that were prevalent during that period. I’d have a hard time calling a random issue of, say, Betty and Veronica an “Atomic Age” comic, as such, though I honestly wouldn’t put it past Archie Comics to have actually had a mushroom cloud on one of their comics during this period.

But I think at this point, splitting the hairs more finely than “Golden” and “Silver” for the comics of that time will likely not get more “officially” codified beyond the terms already in place. As cool as it sounds, and it does sound cool, I think “Atomic Age” will remain mostly informal. Unless Overstreet decides otherwise, of course.

John continues:

“It does feel like we’ve got to insert some kind of identifier for a chunk after ‘copper.’ We’re coming up on 30 years in the ‘Modern Age’ – almost the entirety of the Gold and Silver age combined. I certainly don’t know what that should be called, but whatever it is I’m sure I’ll hate it and refuse to use it until 20 years after it becomes popular.”

Well, Copper Age (a term John doesn’t much care for, and doesn’t exactly levitate my Lusitania either) I can at least see the reasoning behind, with the effective ending of what began in the Silver Age with the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths in ’85, and taking us to the paradigm shift (if in ownership, not so much in content) of Image Comics. I’ve said…well, somewhere, maybe here or on Twitter, that “Image Age” may be a good name for the new emphasis on creator-owned books and competing superhero universes and of course the full-on flop sweat the industry gave off as they desperately tried to pull out of the ’90s crash. In fact, “Crash Age” may be a good name for that period…a period in many ways we sort of find ourselves in today.

And I’ve suggested “Rebirth Age” for the most recent period of comics and its focus on relaunching/rebooting everything at the drop of a hat or the change of a creative team in pursuit of a temporary bump upward in sales numbers. And we can even tie it to a Flash thing by having it begin with this Flash series, relaunched as a new ongoing before being quickly canned and reverting back to the previous numbering, sticking retailers with piles of stock ordered under the assumption it’d be around for a while feeding back issue sales. You may notice retailers not exactly ordering any new series with much confidence since then.

…Okay, kinda ran out my clock with all this typing. Will pick up again shortly.

Well, technically, I’m Silver Age.

§ November 13th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, question time, retailing § 9 Comments

So Matthew asked last week sometime

“Speaking of the ‘copper age,’ What years and terms do you use to define different eras of comics?”

Which, you know, fair enough, since I’m very vocally not a huge fan of that very term “copper age,” which still to my ear smacks very much of a marketing term generated to make back issues of Nomad sound rare and collectible.

I’ve gone into detail on this before, actually also in response to a query from the very selfsame Matthew, in this post from last year. Actually, I’m glad for the chance to revisit that post becuase just the briefest of glances revealed some pretty awful typos (which I’ve since fixed), and more to be found, I’m sure. I’m guessing this was written during one of my “cloudy vision” periods, of which there have been too many. But I presume most of you got the gist of my typical too-long foray into the nomenclature of comic ages then, despite my obfuscated spelling and word use.

But to defy tradition and provide a more succinct answer to this most recent query, let me say to you, Matthew, that I use “Golden” and “Silver” frequently, and “Bronze” less so. However, as we get farther away from the period supposedly defined by “Bronze,” i.e. circa 1970 through 1984, I find my incidences of usage increasing, perhaps identifying a psychological barrier against acceptance. “Why, there can’t be an ancient sounding ‘age’ for that period…that’s my time frame!”

A naming of ages is, almost by definition, a matter of historical definition, and one tends not to think of a time lived through as being “historical,” no matter how long ago, in truth, that time may be. However, I suppose, 35 to 50 years on, I must bite that bullet and accept that the range of years is thusly dubbed.

As has been pointed out by some, including me in that very post from last year I linked above, some distance is needed to fully appreciate the characteristics of the industry’s behavior before one can really begin to divvy up specific eras into “ages.” I go into a little detail at the end of that post about what I think the current “age” might be called [attention Allen M, who brought this up last week], but we’re still way, way too close. So long as it isn’t “the Final Age,” a joke I’ve made at some point in the past here or on Twitter, though truth be told I’m only about half-joking.

Okay, I clearly didn’t defy any ProgRuin traditions with that answer, so let me move on to another response to last week’s post.

• • •

Tenzil Kem, Esq., bites off more than I can chew with

“I get the argument about the ‘rarity’ of newsstand comics vs. direct market, although I’m not sure if newsstand copies from the 70’s/80’s are truly that much rarer (since, as you know, print runs were hundreds of thousands of copies and available widely back then). I think the argument is stronger for comics from this century, such as DC New 52 newsstand issues with the higher cover prices, but I still don’t know that it should translate into higher valuations.”

Oh, sure, I’m not sure I was clear on that, but yeah, with comics from when newsstand distribution was still a major thing, there really shouldn’t be much of a difference, if any, in secondary market pricing. It should be restricted to more modern releases, though, as I noted in that post, I’m not a fan of that sort of pricing behavior anyway. I understand the impulse, but it still feels like making a collector’s item out of nothing for no really solid reason. (Like, as you say, the price differences on those DCs, but even then that’s bit of a stretch).

Now look, when it comes to collector’s markets, it’s the money that talks, not me, and history will side with whatever makes some people’s wallets fatter while I walk the streets with my sandwich board filled with tiny scrawled handwriting. I’m sure eventually I’ll fall into line if the back issue market leans in that direction, but rest assured I’ll be making passive-aggressive complaints about it on whatever Nazi-free microblogging platform eventually replaces Twitter.

“For that matter, I don’t like the inflated back issue pricing on comics with Mark’s Jewelers ads, and I have several of those that my grandparents bought me from the Fort McClellan PX near Anniston, AL.”

Yeah, that’s been a thing for years, but I think tradition has won over any objections we might have had. To be fair, if a comic came with some kind of insert, and that insert is removed, then that comic is not “as new” and should be graded accordingly. While I think advertisements should be treated differently from inserts more directly related to the comic book, or comics in general (like, say, trading card inserts that Marvel would occasionally include in their books throughout the ’90s), the problem of “where is the line drawn” does begin to creep in.

The imperfect analogy that immediately comes to mind is the usual comic grading policy of “age is not an issue.” A comic from the 1940s is held to the same grading standards as a comic that came out last Wednesday (or Tuesday, if it’s a DC). Otherwise you have to create sliding scales for what is considered “mint” or whatever for multiple time periods, and frankly, that sounds like an enormous pain the All-Star Squadron. With that as precedent, one can perhaps see where trying to distinguish between the kinds of inserts would eventually turn problematic, and it’s simply easier to apply the same pricing/grading rules to any comic with any insert.

As a side note, you’d think having the stiff-paper trading card inserts or jeweler ads would create a wider prevalence of these comics being in higher conditions with less spine creasing. Let me tell you, friends, that this is not the case.

“I’ll go full grumpy old man and complain about Canadian price variants and British price variants because I feel those are just “rare” here in the USA.”

An issue I recently experienced when I acquired a large number of 1960s Marvels and DCs from a lady who’d spent her youth in England. The DCs were all stamped with ink impressions featuring the price in, I don’t know, ha’pennies or whatever was goin’ on there, but were otherwise as distributed in the U.S. with the American prices printed thereon.

The Marvels, however, were printed with British pricing replacing the U.S. pricing on their covers (for the most part…there were one or two that also had to be stamped). I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these in regards to back issue pricing…especially as some of them were quite the in-demand books (such as the first appearance of Black Panther).

Did a little research, consulted with former boss Ralph, and eventually decided to just price ’em up as normal. I mean, these weren’t new, different foreign editions produced specifically for their markets. It’s the exact same contents, exact same covers and ads, the only difference is that the U.S. price was swapped out with another price at some point during the printing process. This minor cosmetic change might increase demand as “a variant,” might decrease demand as “a repint” (which I don’t think it is), so I just split the difference.

“With all of these examples, I think sellers are just trying to justify why someone should pay more for their specific copy, but the market seems to be looking for rarity wherever it can find it.”

As I’d noted…or rather, as a customer brought to my attention and I shared here, as older comics become less available folks are looking for reasons to make newer, more common comics into collector’s items. Even with brand new comics, as almost any “first appearance” that turns up in a recent release inspires the purchase of multiple copies, even when more often than not any increased value that accrues is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than any indication of organic widespread demand. Investors create the scarcity that increase the demand from those who need the issue and couldn’t get it because investors bought them all. Artificial rarity…those who forget the ’80s are doomed to repeat them.

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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