All the Mike that’s fit to print.

§ May 6th, 2020 § Filed under self-promotion § 5 Comments

Short post today (no, honestly, it’s going to be a short one) but I’ll give you plenty to read regardless, if you’re so inclined. I was interviewed for The Comics Journal regarding the state of my store and the comics industry in general during the current virus crisis. And when the interviewer says things were “edited for clarity,” I can only imagine what the poor guy had to do to turn my word salad into something readable by humans.

It was really exciting to be straight up interviewed for The Comics Journal (as well as being featured on the front page…remind me to screencap that before it goes away). I was a big fan of the original iteration of the print magazine (and still have my run starting in the 30s and running all the way to 300), and this website’s success owes a lot to the old Journalista news/link blog pointing people my way on a fairly regular basis early in Progressive Ruin’s existence. Glad to be at least a tiny part of this magazine’s storied history.

Anyway, between this and the New York Times interview, I’m all set to speak to even more outlets about this industry. …Someone get Cat Fancy on the phone!

A big hit out of ’77.

§ May 4th, 2020 § Filed under star wars § 8 Comments


Why yes indeedy, it is May the 4th, the EDIT: observed anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars to theaters back in the long-ago mostly plague-free times of 1977. “May the Fourth Be With You” as the fans say in that attempted-to-be-legally-claimed-by-Disney catchphrase we all know in love.

Anyway, The Star Wars has been a big part of my life since I saw that first film back in 1977 at the age of 8. While I’d already been reading comics here and there prior to that (along with reading anything else I could get my hands on), it was Star Wars that got me attempting to purposefully follow a specific title issue by issue, month by month. I mean, I cheated a little, I got the first six issues (adapting the movie) in those three-packs, and I may have even bought 7-9 in a three-pack as well. But I was checking the spinner-racks and whathaveyou on a regular basis, looking for anything new that was Star Warsian. And of course, in the process, I started checking out other comics as well.

So anyway, it’s pretty safe to say that you can draw a straight line from that initial viewing of Big George’s Sci-Fi Puppet Show and Toy Rocket Extravaganza to me owning a comic shop and spending afternoons bagging up old issues of X-O Manowar. Everything I am now can pretty much be pinned on that movie, and possibly also my inability to get a real job, BUT MOSTLY THE MOVIE.

If you have the Disney+, I hope you’re watching the last season of The Clone Wars, probably one of the best bits of ancillary storytelling to arise out of the Star Wars merchandise-verse. I remember long ago on this blog writing that I not terribly impressed with the very first installment of this end of the franchise, the Clone Wars “movie” (actually several episodes glued together), and I was right to not be impressed because it wasn’t very good. But the series that followed really embraced the movie-serial origins of Star Wars and was enormous fun. Right now the series is coming to its conclusion, and is in fact overlapping events from Revenge of the Sith. Very dark and interesting and almost improves the Prequel Trilogy with its existence.

And of course there’s The Mandalorian on Disney+, surrounded by lots of “Baby Yoda” hype but is a very stripped-down, “earthy” (if you’ll pardon the expression) vision of the Star Wars universe. We’ve got that Obi-Wan series coming eventually, despite some apparent production troubles, and a proposed new film trilogy by Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson, not to mention all the tie-i comics and novels and other storytelling sources. There is literally too much Star Wars media than I can consume, but don’t tell that 8-year-old me sitting in a theater in 1977 about to watch that film for the third time…he’d never believe that there would ever be such a thing as “Too Much Star Wars.”

ADDENDUM TO THE EDIT: Was informed that May 25th is in fact the actual release date for Star Wars in ’77, and “May the Fouth” became the observed date because, well, you know. Ah well, I apologize for my mistake. At least we’ll always have Greedo shooting first.

Look, just go read the entire Wikipedia article on Deathmate.

§ May 1st, 2020 § Filed under market crash, publishing, retailing, valiant § 4 Comments

So the other day I saw that comics artist Dan Panosian had posted a photo from the Deathmate promotional tour he and other artists did in the 1990s. (Here’s another pic showing more of the particpants.)

For those of you who weren’t there in the comics field during the ’90s, or were there and have since buried those memories. Deathmate was a high-profile intercomany crossover event between Image Comics and Valiant Comics. It…had some scheduling issues, shall we say, mostly on the Image side, with one chapter (Red, as they were IDed by color not issue number) coming out after the Epilogue. End result…sold well at first, then customers just kinda gave up on it partway through, leaving retailers with plenty of unsold copies.

I’ve noted Deathmate on this site here and there before, mostly in the context of how it was a symptom of/contributor to the comics market crash of the ’90s. I remember having boxes of these things in the back, and aside from a very brief flurry of interest in Deathmate Black due to it having an early appearance of the now mostly-forgotten Gen13, there were no aftermarket sales. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true, at one point at the previous place of employment we brokered a deal to sell 100,000 copies of our overstock to someone-or-‘nother for literally pennies apiece, and thus were we rid of these things. We got a nickel each, and we were glad for it.

Anyway, back to the tweet…I retweeted Mr. Panosian’s tweet with the comment about how “I’m here for Deathmate content,” which amused him. In the ensuing exchange we had (in which I assured him I wasn’t making fun, I’m genuinely interested in this period of comics) he asked “did it ever finish?”

Okay, you know publishers done screwed up when the folks who worked on the comics don’t even know if the series ever completed. I let him know “well, yes, technically” and that was that.

What amazes me most about Deathmate is how it should have been a slam dunk. Valiant was red hot, Image was red hot, a series pairing up all their characters written and drawn by strong creative teams (and they were!) should’ve sold like each copy was bagged with an original Incredible Hulk #181. And as I recall, the initial installments sold very well…and dropped off almost immediately after that. Even I tried only the first couple of issues and gave up (I think primarily because I was interested in the Valiant characters, but not so much the Image ones). The long delays on many of the books didn’t help, and despite it being emphasized that you could read the installments in any order, that apparently wasn’t true. All in all, it turned out to be a huge mess, and you should really read former Valiant honcho Bob Layton’s thoughts on the topic.

I am curious if any of you folks out there braved the entire series. My opinion of the project is based somewhat on those two issues, but mostly on the retail end of it, where I could probably have built a house using the leftover copies. I’m also curious if anyone is trying to revisit it today, as Valiant is a current thing again and, I don’t know, maybe someone out there has an interest in early Image publications? (If so, send them my way, I’ve got some Spittin’ Image to sell them, too.)

One last thing…as I was looking up those tweets, I found this one where I posted a pic of an original promotional poster for the Deathmate event. Being the wag that I am, I noted the optimism of the poster declaring the event as taking place “over the summer.” But then Twitter pal Corey outwagged me with “they didn’t specify only one summer” and fair play, sir. Fair play, indeed.

What? A guy who likes comics, nostalgic about something? You don’t say.

§ April 29th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, investing, retailing § 4 Comments


So I was digging through more decades-old comics promo stuff and came across the above flyer for Battle Axis, an indie comic released in 1993 from Intrepid Comics.

I’d posted this to the Twitters with the comment that this was “Comics in the ’90s, everyone,” and boy, was it ever.

First, the promise that the print run of the book would be capped at “100,000 copies per issue” which of course nowadays is a pie-in-the-sky number even most Marvel and DC titles can’t reach. Back then some comics easily blew pat that number…or they had been, given that this is around the time of the market crash. I wonder how many copies of this specific comic were ultimately ordered?

The second point is that the reason the print run was “limited,” was to protect your “investment,” to make sure the market wasn’t flooded with too many copies and that your own copy (or copies because let’s face it, you were buying more than one) would someday put all your kids through college and also pay for your comfortable retirement.

Now literally referring to your comic as “an investment” isn’t a tactic I saw too often from publishers. I’d see it heavily implied of course, with phrases like “limited edition” or whathaveyou, but far as I recall most drew the line at “buy this comic, it’ll be worth money someday.” And of course I don’t need to tell you that the end result was that this comic wasn’t an “investment,” it’s not worth anything now, and I’m not even sure there was a second issue. I can’t even remember my former place of employment even carrying it (though it probably did).

It reminds me just a little of the black and white boom, where publishers were cranking out piles of rip-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the sort of implicit understanding between those publishers and retailers/fans that “Turtles were hot, these might be too!”

And today publishers don’t even really need to do that sort of implicit encouragement anymore, as there are plenty of buyers out there who’ll do it do themselves. For a while there it seemed like every Image #1 that came down the pike wqs snapped up immediately by folks looking for that next Walking Dead #1, with sales on #2 immediately sinking to nothing. And then there are the apps/website encouraging people to invest and hoard certain weekly releases, sometimes for seemingly random reasons, and are just as often than not self-fulfilling prophecies. “This hot comic is hot because it’s hot!”

• • •

Speaking of hot comics, I was in a nostalgic mood, thinking about the Omega Men last night. Well, just kinda going on about it on Twitter, while procrastinating about writing this very post you’re reading now. Anyway, I starting thinking about that sci-fi superteam DC published in the early ’80s because I was going through some boxes at home and was pleasantly surprised I still had my copies of Green Lantern from when I was about 10 to 12 years old. I’d thought I’d long discarded them due to them being in poor condition or whatever, but nope, there they were, about issue 130 or so and on. Definitely reader copies, not valuable investments like Battle Axis, but I was glad to see them.

It’s in this run that the Omega Men first appeared, in issue #141 from 1981. And as I recall, the Omega Men were bit of a hot commodity, eventually getting their own title as part of DC’s more upscale line of books printed on better paper, available only through comic shops, and perhaps being slightly more mature in content.

I’d never really thought about why it was hot, ’til I was asked on Twitter “was it Lobo that made them hot?” And honestly, I don’t recall Lobo being a big deal until that first Simon Bisley-drawn series in 1990. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before his first appearance in 1983’s Omega Men #3 started to be in high demand, and today is pretty much the only issue of that series that sells anymore.

No, I’m pretty sure what made the Omega Men hot was the New Teen Titans. Their own title has just started a couple of years prior, and as “DC’s X-Men” is was the company’s most popular title. Sold great, fans loved it, back issues were in demand, it was a comics industry phenomenon. Marv Wolfman, the writer on New Teen Titans, was also the writer of Green Lantern at the time, so it never really dawned on me that, duh, the writer of the Big Hot Superhero Team Book introducing a New Superhero Team might have been a big deal. Kind of like those folks casting about looking for whatever was going to be the next Walking Dead, fans may have jumped on the Omega Men thinking it would be the next New Teen Titans.

Plus, it was tied to the Titans comics as well, made easy by Wolfman working on both, in that they hailed from Vega, the same solar system that Starfire of the Titans was from. So I guess technically, if you squint a bit, Omega Men was a NTT spin-off, maybe absorbing a tiny bit of that title’s hotness to capture fan attention.

As noted above, they did eventually get their own series, a Direct Market-only comic printed on that fancy white Baxter paper. However, early on it did engender some controversy for its depiction of violence, with the primary example being a particuarly gruesome on-panel death of the child of one of the main characters. As we all know, controversy in comics never helps sales in the slightest, he said sarcastically.

Sales did peter out eventually, it seems, as the title took a drastic turn from mostly superhero-y type stuff to weird sci-fi when Todd Klein and Shawn McManus took over the book…that kind of change usually doesn’t come to a series that’s, you know, doing as well as hoped/expected. And the series eventually ended with #38 in 1986.

So, you know, a five year run for the characters from their debut to the cancellation of their own series based in that initial burst of popularity. And they’re still around today, being used to great acclaim in that 2015 series by Tom King
and Barnaby Bagenda. But that Titans connection seems to be long gone, aside from that shared Vega origin with Starfire. Not htat it’d help anyway, since the Titans property itself isn’t what it once was.

Not sure entirely where I was going with this, beyond perhaps a reconsideration of what makes a comic property “hot,” especially an oddball collection of sci-fi heroes that I originally enjoyed reading as a 12-year-old until its conclusion before I finished high school.

It was, overall, a good run of books. No collection was ever produced, far as I can tell, and it seems unlikely, barring a movie or something, there will be one. But it’s worth seeking out, as the individual issues should be mostly cheap. Except that Lobo issue, of course. I understand that issue is hot, hot, hot.

New Comics…Tuesday?!?!

§ April 27th, 2020 § Filed under does mike ever shut up, retailing § 4 Comments

So for the first time since the end of March, my store (and presumably many other stores across this nation and possibly elsewhere) will be receiving new comic book releases this week.

As noted previously, DC Comics opted not to wait on Diamond Comics to rev up their weekly shipments (still mid/late May, they’re saying) and decided to go through a couple of other distributors instead to get their books out.

These distributors are apparently connected to (or in fact are) large comic book subscription service houses, so I imagine they’ve got the whole “mailing comics out to customers” thing down. We’ll see, as my first order (through “Lunar Distribution”) is coming Monday via FexEx. Now I’m used to my usual UPS shipments, where they generally show up within the same two-hour window. I don’t have a whole lot of experience receiving packages from FedEx, aside from “always missing them on the first attempt,” so I plan to be at the shop good ‘n’ early to get those new funnybooks.

I especially want to be there since, from all appearances, aside from the pizza place handing out take-out orders at the other end of the strip, our whole retail area looks like a ghost town. I don’t want FedEx thinking I’m not there, either, especially with the signage in the window reading “CLOSED DUE TO THE PLAGUE” or words to that effect. So I’ll be there, all the lights on, the front door kicked open a bit, not enough to look like I’m open, but enough to look like “hey there’s a human being or at least a comics retailer in here, please stop.” We’ll see how it goes.

As noted in that past post linked above, I’m not really getting as whole lot of books this first week. It’s, what, a half-dozen titles, and two of them are reprints of recent sold out “hot” books? I ain’t gettin’ rich off this, but once the following week comes in with a few more titles people will want, I’ll be able to get the new comics mail order shipments going in relative force again. And at the very least, get me warmed up for the more extensive mailings I’ll have to do if/when Diamond starts their own shipping.

Another new twist is that DC is allowing their new comics to be sold on Tuesday, breaking away from the long-held New Comics Wednesday that had been the norm since we got away from New Comics Thursday and New Comics Friday before that. I wonder how much longer it will be before new comics day is pushed back even futher until it’s Friday again? Or hey, remember the separate “air shipments” of new comics shops could get aside from their regular shipments? …Okay, I digress. But I do wonder if either DC or Diamond will budge on when their new releases should be avialable for sale. I really hope everyone doesn’t decide to make it Tuesday, unless I get all my stuff on Monday to have it ready.

The other thing I’m thinking about in regards to this new distributor is damage/shortage reports. I suspect these new distributors would want to impress and make sure none of the shipments have any problems, so I’m not really expecting any issues. But, you never know, stuff happens. I’ve had better luck contacting this new distributor via email than by phone, so I wonder if emailing damage/shortage reports would be best. Guess I’ll find out when the time comes.

Also curious if these new distribution methods are here just until Diamond gets going again, or if they’re in for the duration. We’re already getting solicitations past the three weeks these alternative options were supposed to fill. Are we on our way to having permanent competitors to Diamond? The barrier to this happening before was that there was no money in a large-scale comics distribution service without at least one or two of the Big Guns, like Marvel or DC, in your roster. (How long did Capital City last after Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image moved elsewhere?) Will everyone just keep their DC orders with the new guys? Will they switch ’em all back to Diamond once that’s a thing again? Will Diamond have to scale down their operations if these other distributors take away too much of their traffic?

I’m curious to see how this all shakes out. I’d be looking forward to the possibility of more distributors and what that could mean for the overall health of the market if I wasn’t also worried about how I was going to sell what they’ll be distributing. I mean, I’d love to get lots of new comics, but I’d also like to be able to open my doors and let people see what’s available. Mail order business is fine, but I still do (or did) plenty of business from folks who just browsed the racks and bought stuff on whims. Having to do it remotely is an extra barrier to getting that comic dollar.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed today’s “Mike’s Comic Retail Anxiety Therapy Session.” I’ll try to be back with some fun stuff next time.

Okay, that one RAW technically had a variant cover, too.

§ April 24th, 2020 § Filed under question time § 7 Comments

Just addressing some comments from the last couple of posts. Wednesday first:

Matthew asked

“Unrelated to anything, but I read recently-ish that the original Fathom #1 from the 1990s had variant interiors. Do you remember anything about this?”

I believe that’s correct…a little Googling around seems to confirm that, but I meant to check the Fathom #1s at the shop (I have two of the three main covers) but I forgot because brain no work good.

But yes, I’m pretty sure that was a thing. DC Comics also did that with Team Titans, their attempt at an edgier, hipper superhero team more like those X-Forces and the Youngbloods all the kids are into. First issue had multiple variations, each featuring a different solo story of one of the title’s characters. Anyway, variant interiors like that are dumb and don’t do it (unless you’re RAW magazine, which did “variant interiors” to much better effect).

jmurphy lays down the law with

“What’s this Episode IV New Hope nonsense? That wording didn’t exist until 1981. Anything from the late ’70s is just ‘Star Wars.’ Kids these days…”

Hey, I’ll have you know I was there in the theater as an excited 8-year-old in 1977 watching Star Wars during its original run, so don’t you try to out-Star Wars fan me! Besides, as we all know, every change made to Star Wars post-release ripples backwards through time, replacing all previously released versions with the newest revision. As such, we have always been at war with Episode IV, A New Hope.

JohnJ has this to say

“Didn’t Marvel also do a Treasury combining all 6 issues?”

Indeed they did! That’s what I was referencing in the title to Wednesday’s post!

Issue #3 of Marvel Special Edition collected the contents of the first two treasuries under a new cover. I remember when it came out, I had the first two treasuries pretty much memorized and, when I saw this third one, I immediately thought “oh boy, new Star Wars stories!” Until I got a better look at it and realized it was stuff I already had. I’m pretty sure I asked anyway whichever parent was in attendance if they could buy that for me, and my request was declined, which was just as well.

JohnJ also adds

“Speaking of Star Wars, doesn’t everybody think it’s way past time for Disney to put out dvds of the original versions of the first three movies??”

Well, the original versions (more or less, it’s hard to tell) did get released as “special features” on some DVD release or ‘nother many years ago, which I have somewhere in the “Remember Physical Media?” section of my home. As I recall, they weren’t remastered in any way, nor were they anamorphic. I’d imagine Disney could make a mint by releasing nice versions of those films…except of course they no longer exist due to that retroactive time-rippling effect I was speaking about earlier.

Now, you wanna talk what Disney should put out on DVD? Lucas ain’t around to stop no more, so I do believe it’s time for The Holday Special, The Deluxe Edition. C’MON DISNEY, you’re already doing stuff with Yoda’s people, once verboten territory per Big George, what’s one more thing?

Okay, now let’s go back to Monday for Snark Shark, who bites off more than he can chew with

“Seems like I’ve seen extra copies of [Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and Captain America Bicentennial treasuries] than most of the treasury editions. I wonder if those 2 were overprinted?”

I can’t say to the Cap book, but I got my copy of Fortress, it was in a freestanding cardboard display at our local grocery store. I can’t remember if the display itself was specific to the comic or just a generic cardboard dump, but it certainly must have come with that treasury. I have no idea how widespread that form of display for this specific comic was, and I don’t recall seeing any other treasuries displayed this way before or after. Was there a special deal in which you got that display with a certain number of copies, and maybe there was a bump up in print numbers to go along with this promotion? Don’t know enough to say.

It could also be just a regional thing specifically to you…maybe more copies just made it to your area for whatever reason. If only we could go back in time four decades or more and find out for sure, right?

Yes, I know there was a third treasury in the series collecting the first two, so technically owning just the first two wouldn’t be “complete,” don’t @ me.

§ April 22nd, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 8 Comments

So I’ve been hustling that “30 comics for $20” pack from my store pretty hot ‘n’ heavy since the Plague Times began, and I’ve been retweeting several testimonials from happy recipients of said bundles both on the personal Twitter and the store account.

However, get a load of this: J. Caleb bought a pack, along with a handful of specific back issue requests, and he went and did a review of every comic I sent him! Great Scott, man! …But I’m glad he enjoyed them AND did some classic ol’ style comicsweblogosphere blogging about them!

Anyway, speaking of blogging, Chris G had a blog response to my blog post from my previous blogging day:

“The shop I went to about 20 years ago occasionally put out stacks of treasury comics – Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and Cap’s Bicentennial Battles among them – priced at, I think, a dollar or two. Would something like this be warehouse finds or something? I was always curious how they made their way from 1970something to a store in Washington in the late 90s.”

I mean, sure, it’s possible. You never know when and where some excess inventory of these may get squirreled away and then unleashed upon an unsuspecting public decades later.

I don’t know of specific major warehouse finds of treasury editions, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if someone happened to find a bunch in storage, or if maybe had collections come in with multiples of the same old-ish comic. I mean, that certainly happens. All it takes is someone cleaning out a garage or storage locker of someone who decided to put their retirement money into nearly seventy copies of Time Bandits for them to end up in your local comics emporium, with a retailer desperate to unload them at any price.

Admittedly, a large overstock of treasury editions doesn’t seem like it would be nearly as common, but I know from experience this happens too. If I may repeat a story some of you have probably heard from me before, many years ago at the previous place of employment my former boss Ralph had, for some reason, cases of the first Star Wars treasury, as so:


Now, as you may recall, this only comprised the first half of the film, with another volume of the Marvel Special Edition containing the back half. Now, having a pile of one and none of the ohter makes said pile a tad harder to move, so we didn’t do much with those cases of treasuries. Keep in mind this was in The Dark Times for Star Wars, long after Return of the Jedi had completed its run in theaters, and long before the shining, glorious promise of what would almost be the greatest, most beautiful and amazing motion picture ever made, Episode 1, was even hinted at possibly existing. This may have even been before Dark Horse kicked off its Star Wars line with Dark Empire.

Basically, no one gave much of a shit about Star Wars. And we had stacks of these things. So Ralph decided he’d rather have the space in his backroom instead of these albatrosses, and that’s how we put them out for sale on the front counter, right by the register, for exactly 25 cents each. One slim quarter would get you a VF to NM copy of Marvel Special Edition #1 (1977) featuring the first half of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. And as an impulse buy, it went fairly quickly. I don’t recall anyone buying, like, stacks of them as investments or anything. Just people buying their regular comics, seeing the pile, saying “sure, throw one of those on, too” and that was that.

Of course, the cruel thing we could have done is tracked down some copies of the second half and then charged $100 each for them and cackled maniacally as people were forced to complete the set. But we didn’t, because we were nice guys, or at least successfully pretending to be nice, whichever.

My favorite story from this period was the person who called the shop looking for a copy of that very Star Wars treasury we were unloading for two bits. The conversation I had went a little bit like this:

CALLER: “I’m looking for a copy of the first Star Wars comic…the oversized one, had the first part of the movie in it? Have you heard of it?”

ME: “Yes, we have them in stock right now.”

CALLER: “Great! I need to replace someone else’s copy…my kid accidentally destroyed it. How much is this going to set me back?”

ME: “Twenty five cents.”

CALLER: “…”

ME: “…”

CALLER: “No, you see, this is the first Star Wars. Not the comic book sized one, but the bigger one. A treasury, I think it’s called.”

ME: “Yes, that’s exactly what we have. A whole lot of them. Only a quarter each.”

CALLER: “I don’t think you understand. This. Is. Star. Wars. Number. ONE. From 1977. The one that’s printed at a big size.”

ME: “I swear to you, we have that exact thing. We have TONS of them, we’re trying to get rid of them. That’s why they’re only 25 cents.”

…and it went on like that for a little while longer, the guy trying to convince me that what he’s looking for is rare and valuable and couldn’t possibly be only a quarter, and me trying to convince him that, no, I knew precisely what he was talking about and yes it totally could be a quarter. It ended with him hanging up, slightly pissed, and I’m pretty sure he never came in and bought one of our copies.

Not one of my retail successes, as I wasn’t able to get my message across, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t entirely to blame. And admittedly, I suppose it would be hard to believe that specific situation we found ourselves in unless you saw it with your own peepers.

Of course, in hindsight one wishes that we’d kept a case aside to sell at premium pricing once the Star Wars machine started to activate again, but back at that time, who knew? I’m sure it may turn out that some of comics I’m selling for a song in those 30-packs I’ve been offloading could turn out to be valuable collectors items due to the vagaries of shifting tastes and faddish demand goosed by media adaptations, or something like that. Worrying about that sort of thing, however, is a good way to have a storage area filled with comics you’d never sell, and that’s already too easy to do without helping it along waiting for a bigger payday that may never come.

Some days I wish I could just go back to posting funny panels in my synopsis of some out-there 1960s Jimmy Olsen comic.

§ April 20th, 2020 § Filed under pal plugging, retailing, sir-links-a-lot, sterling silver comics § 4 Comments

Hot off last week’s presses, some news came down regarding funnybook distribution in our near future. First, Diamond Comics announced that it was looking at a mid-to-late May date to start shipping product out to whatever stores still remain. Nothing nailed down just yet, and I still think it’s really going to depend on the large comic markets like California and New York will be doing in regards to allowing regular retail to resume.

And if that’s not enough, DC Comics has decided not to wait on Diamond, and is instead going to send out at least three weeks of their new comics through a couple of alternative distribution points. It’s not a heavy load of books coming over these three weeks, which is good and bad, I guess. Good in that I’m not being asked to put out a lot of money when not a lot of money is currently coming in, and bad in that there’s not really enough here to goose immediately mail order shipping from customers wanting their new books. But then, you never know..maybe after all three weeks have come and gone there will be enough to get some folks to call in, I think.

Anyway, the books being shipped had their orders cancelled through Diamond, so I had to place new orders for everything. I had to think hard about those orders, given that I’m not going to have the off-the-rack sales as my store will still be closed to the public at least through all three of those weeks. BUT will they sell off the rack once I’m able to open again and people try to catch up? I don’t know…best to order conservatively for now and reorder if I need to.

It’s…a weird time to be a comics retailer. Or any kind of niche retail business, for that matter. The one advantage I have is that comics are escapism, and boy do people want escapism right now.

I’ve been doing…okay, as far as business goes. I’ve had several phone and email orders, and I’m at the post office pretty much every day gettting stuff sent out. I’m not making the money I was, but with Diamond’s invoices paid off, and my rent paid for the next month, I don’t have the same expenses either. (And my planned purchases of that new DC product won’t be very dear either.)

In an odd sort of way, aside from the weird existential dread of awareness that a plague roams the land, working along in my closed shop has been, well, relaxing. Processing mail order, typing old comics into this online spreadsheet for folks to pick from and buy, listening to podcasts as I work…it’s all a bit therapeutic. Which isn’t to say I’m not looking forward to being able to swing my doors wide open again.

So it looks like an interesting month up ahead for my shop, and every shop. Going to try to not let it stress me out too much. And if it does…I’ll just play around with piles of old comics, and all will be well again.

In the meantime:

Don’t forget, I’m still taking orders and want lists and whathaveyou, as well as still doing these packs of 30 random comics for $20 postpaid domestic! Help me clean out my backroom!

Also, over the weekend, one of my regular customers brought me a comics-themed facemask made by her mother! The downside is that you can’t see my quarantine beard that I’ve been growing for the last few weeks. But that’s the price I pay for high fashion!

And so long as I’m being Sir Links-A-Lot again, let me point you at my shop’s website, its Facebook, its Twitter, and its Instagram. News regarding my store’s status during our current situation can be found there…and here on this site, for that matter.

Thanks for reading pals, and stay safe out there. KEEP WEARING THOSE MASKS, even if they’re not as cool as mine!

What do you mean your toothpick boxes don’t say that?

§ April 17th, 2020 § Filed under retailing § 2 Comments

Just to follow up on last Wednesday’s post…a whole lot of folks talking about back issues being priced on the fly as they’re brought up to the counter, which seems…like a lot of work, frankly. There was one shop I occasionally visited down in the Los Angeles area that did that, but the prices were usually very reasonable so I didn’t mind so much. But still…egads. Better to price it once and be done with it so there’s no confusion later.

Granted, that sometimes did result in what we called at the old place of employment “senility deals,” where something that had been sitting in the bins for a while had an old, cheap price that didn’t reflect the hot, expensive price the comic recently acquired. We’d honor the marked price, of course, and then immediately check that there weren’t more of that particuliar book in the bins.

That’s not as much of a problem as you’d think. If it was popular enough to see a sudden increase in price, chances were we were moving copies of it anyway, so we were always refreshing the stock with updated pricing. (This of course is a different issue from brand new comics being tagged as “hot investments” by apps and websites, resulting in unexpected sellouts day of release.)

Probably the most extreme example of the old job getting stuck by the “senility deal” was around the time of the 1989 Batman movie, when suddenly everything that even sort of looked like a bat from a distance if you squinted a bit was in huge demand. One day one of our regulars was digging through the 50-cent boxes when he yelps for joy and exclaims “hey, look what I found!” as he holds aloft a copy of the 1970s Joker #1.

This was a comic that, pre-Batman ’89, you could barely give away. I’d bought my own copy for a dime at a convention sometime the year or two before. But, post-The Batmovie-enning, prices on that comic shot…well, maybe not sky-high, but definitely more than that dime I spent, and very definitely more that the 50 cents we had it marked at. Anyway, it was your pal Then-Low-Man-on-the-Totem-Pole Mike who had to fish through the bargain boxes to pull out any more instances of that funnybook to return it for regrooving repricing.

Related: at one time my former boss was partnered up with someone else in another town, and he ran the old paperbacks section while the other fella ran the comics. And every year when the new price guide came out said fella would reprice everything in the shop, and would let folks know (either verbally or through signage) “prices marked on back issues may not be current.” Frankly that seems like overkill…too much work to avoid losing literal cents, in most cases?

I don’t know…seems to me making sure everything’s priced ahead of time would be the path with the least hassle. What if somone comes up to the counter with a foot-tall stack of back issues to buy? “Yeah, come back in a couple hours while I grade and price these.” Yuk, no thanks. I’ll take the risk of someone getting a copy of Marvel Triple-Action #2 at the two-year-old marked price of $3.50 instead of the current guide’s price of $3.75.

So let me address a couple of your comments from the last post…and speaking of which, I had to slightly edit a couple posts so that a specific store wasn’t called out. I know, everyone tried to be careful about it, I just, um, needed it to be a little more careful. Didn’t mean to step on anyone’s toes about it…hope y’all understand.

Anyway, yer comments:

Dave-El rocketed here from a distant planet to ask

“Of course having a treasury edition reprint of Action Comics#1 is not the same as actually having Action Comics#1. But I’m wondering (and this making me feel very old contemplating this) but those treasury edition reprints are very close to half a century old. Do those treasury edition reprints have any significant value themselves?”

Oh you get they do! Treasury editions are always in high demand around these parts, and because nobody who bought them were able to store them in a way that didn’t result in damage, nice copies can be particularly dear. Even those Famous First Editions reprints, once sold in bulk in discount stores when I was a kid (circa 1980 or so) can be quite pricey.

Like I said, in nice condition. I’ve sold plenty of coies in the Good to Very Good range for $3 to $6 each. But really sharp copies can command higher prices than that, and I don’t have ea price guide at home to tell you just how much, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that a mint copy of the Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag sells for approximately ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

And Damien puts the dog down to type

“I had the treasury edition of Superman 1 without the cover given to me by a neighbour and I genuinely thought he’d accidentally given me a valuable thing. I was 9, so I had an excuse.”

Hey, don’t feel bad. The “Famous First Editions” were exact reprints of the original comics, aside from the size, with that extra new cover wrapped around it identifying as “HEY THIS IS A REPRINT.” Apparently enough people were stripping off that outer cover and trying to sell what remained as the real deal that the Overstreet guide actually put a notation in their listings describing this scam. I don’t know if it’s so common now, or even how common it was then…but you know how all toothpick boxes have the warning “NOT FOR USE IN EYEBALL” because almost assuredly someone out there had stuck a toothpick in his or her but probably his eye*? So I’m pretty sure at least one person tried to sell a coverless copy of a Famous First Edition reprint to some hapless chump, and he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling comic book collectors.

* Yes, and tried to sue, hence the warning so the toothpick manufacturer can say “look, we warned people not to do that!”

You get to retell stories you’ve already told once you’re an old person like me.

§ April 15th, 2020 § Filed under how the sausage is made, retailing § 13 Comments

Okee doke, finally going back to this question posed by Twitter pal Tim (which I first mentioned in this post):

“Best example of people overvaluing comics which they were attempting to sell to you (another excuse for you to reference the Death / Return of Superman)”

When I first brought this up, I mentioned I had a specific story in mind that I’d discussed before, probably on this site, certainly on Twitter, and most definitely on Alan David Doane‘s “Comic Book Galaxy” site, where I wrote a monthly column entitled “Mike Sterling’s Behind the Counter” about a decade ago. Look, I had a logo and everything:


Now as it turns out, on the old version of Progressive Ruin, I had a sidebar link to an index page linking all the articles I wrote for the site. That particular piece of HTML still exists, but only the latter half of the articles are archived here. For reasons I no longer remember, the other half were still linking to their original spot over on CBG which no longer exists. And of course, the story I wanted to tell was in the very first column I wrote for that site.

The good news is that I did go and save copies of all those pages directly from CBG before it went down, so back-ups of those earlier columns do exist, and with, you know, the extra free time everyone seems to have nowadays maybe I can get all those earlier columns back up for you to enjoy. Or “enjoy,” as the case may be.

Anyway, that whole preamble is just to tell you that I’m totally just cutting-and-pasting the story Tim’s tweet brought to mind from that old column to this current post. So, here’s Younger Mike with Browner Hair and Working Eyes to tell you about the day someone had an old Superboy comic to sell:

A few years ago, I received a call from someone claiming to have a copy of Superboy #1 in absolutely perfect condition, and that he wanted to bring it in to sell. “Which one?” I ask, since there have been several Superboy #1s on the stands over the years.

“Oh, it’s the very first one…from the 1940s. And it’s in pristine condition!’

Well, I tell him to bring it in and we’ll take a gander at it.

The next day, a couple comes in carrying a briefcase. They identify themselves as the people with the Superboy #1, and gingerly place the briefcase on the counter. Popping the latches, they open the case and carefully lift the comic out.

It’s a Superboy Annual #1, from 1964. Still a nice item, not as rare or expensive as the original Superboy #1, but still not a shabby item to have around. That is, it would have been nice to have around, if not for the fact that this “perfect condition” comic had no cover, and had been so waterlogged at some point in the past that it was now pretty much a solid brick. We tried to explain to the couple, as nicely as we could, that the comic wasn’t the title they thought it was, and it didn’t matter anyway since it was in completely unsellable condition.

Well, they were pretty darn mad. They thought we were trying to pull something over on them, perhaps supposedly trying to get them to part with the book for a pittance…even though we were making it quite clear that we weren’t interested in buying. Angrily, they grabbed up their comic, shoved it back in their briefcase, and stomped out of the store in a huff. For all I know, they’re still wandering from town to town, getting increasingly upset that all these comic shops are turning their noses up at such a “great item.”

That’s gotta be at least 20 years ago now that this happened. I bet they’re still wandering the Earth lookin’ for buyers. Or maybe there was a bitter divorce, with the greatest acrimony saved for the battle over who was going to keep this priceless heirloom. Who’s to say.

If you know this story already, I apologize. For the 70% or so of you out there who don’t have my every online utterance memorized, I hope you enjoyed that story. Granted, it may not entirely fit Tim’s request, as no specific anticipated costs were noted by the hopeful sellers, but it’s pretty safe to say they weren’t expecting a Rip Taylor-esque $1.98 if they were lugging the damn thing around in a briefcase.

And that’s probably the apex of my “people hoping for more than what they were offered” stories. I mean, it happens all the time, of course…people walk in (or used to walk in, before The End Times) thinking their comic is worth millions, and are shocked when they get offered $10. Most people understand, once “condition” and “demand” are explained to them, but it’s so commonplace it’s hardly even stands out any more. Even with the Death of Superman issue, one of which I have in the case right now, the customer is usually all “I remember when these sold for $300!” before selling it to me for, like, $15 or $20.

More common is when comics show up in collections with price tags from other shops/sellers…and not current or local sellers, usually, but tags on things that had been in storage for a while, that sort of thing. I wrote about a couple examples here, where some shop apparently only saw the price of “$24.00” for every price guide entry.

Another example is that there’s someone at a local flea market who sells old comics in decaying, yellowing polyethelyne bags with felt-tip pen prices written on them (the bags, not the comics) that are laughably out of bounds. Could be these bags were reused from previous, actually expensive comics (not likely), or that the prices were deliberately inflated so that when he actually had them priced at $2 or whatever, buyers would think they’re getting a real bargain, or they’re just streaight up invented. I have no idea what the story is.

Oh, there’s another thing that happens once in a while that I just remembered. It’s the personal collection where someone’s already gone through all the issues and assigned prices to them by affixing sticky notes to each bag (or directly on the comic) with their estimated price scribbled thereon. Sometimes the prices are the mint ones, sometimes they’re the lowest marked price in the guide (and occasionally even that’s too high), and sometimes, again, they’re just made up out of thin air. I understand the impulse to do it, to make sure they’re at least somewhat informed before attempting to unload the stash, but the prices almost never have any bearing on whatever offer is eventually made.

As to a couple of your examples:

William Lynch serves up the following

“There’s a guy in our coin club who keeps trying to convince us that his 1990s Pizza Hut X-Men giveaways are worth a mint.”

That’s a weird sort of collectible, in that it seems like it should be something that’s rare, valuable and in demand. It features big name characters, it’s in a non-standard format and it comes from a non-traditional comics venue. Surely these are hard to come by and command high prices! Except nobody cares, really. No comment on the actual quality of the books, but…I don’t know if it’s because of the nonstandard format, or because they come from a period of X-Cessive X-Men stuff being available everywhere, but they’re almost impossible for me to move. For a while they were even getting dumped on me in collections, and I have a stash in the backroom still, waiting for the ones in the main room to sell and require replacing.

• • •

Michael Grabowski hands over this

“…In the mid-80s my uncle gave me a bunch of fair (or less) condition late 60s Marvel Annuals. One of them was X-Men Annual #1, published in 1970. I loved those comics and that gift, but they are long gone. He now insists that it was a mint condition X-Men #1 which he regrets having given to me.”

Ah yes, the imaginary expensive comic. I get that every once in a while. The folks who insist that they have a “first Superman comic” or something back at the house or in their grandma’s attic or whatever that they swear they’re going to find and bring in. Well, okay, it’s been a long time since this was a commonplace occurrence, but 15, 20 years ago I seemed to get it all the time, to the point where it was a kind of running joke. No idea what they actually had, unless it was one of these treasury edition reprints from the 1970s.

Sometimes folks would ask “what would you give me for [old comic I totally have at home, no foolin’]?” and we’d say “probably a lot of money…bring it in!” and of course we’d never see that person again.

• • •

And a couple of you brought up the dreaded “cat pee” comics, which is an entirely different problem. Usually we didn’t even get to the point of discussing money, we’d just say “plese remove these from our presence, they do offend the olfactory senses” or words to that effect.

On par with the awfulness of cat pee was the time at the previous place of employment we somehow ended up with a collection that had been kept in, of all places, an airplane hanger. The wonderful smell attached to said comice we were told was plane fuel. …For all I know, those are still being aired out. So kids, keep your comics away from cat pee and airplanes, and especially from cats flying planes.

• • •

Speaking of cats, Robcat slinks in with

“I am actually more interested in the flip side. You ever find anything really valuable in what people thought was probably all junk?”

Hoo boy…I think the closest I came was at my own shop, where someone brought in a shoebox full of old comics and on the top of the stack inside was Adventure Comics #247, the first appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which I’d never actually had as a comic for sale either at the old job or at my current one. Now the other comics in the box were pretty good too (mostly Batman comics from the same period) but a major key book like this sure stood out from the rest of the bunch.

A story I once heard (and now I can’t remember if it was my old boss Ralph or our late, lamented customer Bruce) involved the cleaning of a garage stuffed with old junk and newspapers, and finding, tucked into one of those newspapers, a mint copy of Captain America #1, the 1940s one with Cap slugging Hitler. (And if either Ralph or Bruce called it “mint,” it was definitely mint.) Needless to say, the garage cleaning slowed to a crawl as now suddenly everything was searched, every box, every drawer, every remaining newspaper, for similar funnybook treasures. …Of course, that Cap comic was the only one found.

For another story of surprise finds, please see this comment from Tenzil Kem.

• • •

If you read this far, you’re probably home by now, so let me leave you with this: speaking of things I’ve talked about before, in reference to our recent discussions about Pariah from Crisis on Infinite Earths, please enjoy this old post of mine.

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