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Nothing makes me recoil like the thought that my long boxes of comics are gathering dust and steadily declining in value. Sure, those copies of Gen13 aren’t going to buy me a cup of coffee, but there has to be some value in the issues, whether monetary or experientially. Now that time has passed, someone new to comics surely has to want to read a highly published long story arc featuring characters they never heard of before, right? Someone… right?

That’s the way I look at classic comic books. I often name drop Captain Midnight as an example of a popular and forgotten piece of pop culture. The good old Cap was a radio serial (you can google that) and got his own book that ran for many years. Then… he disappeared. Third hand references to him got me interested, and I finally scoured the web for info, went to a few shows, and grabbed a few issues.

At some point though, isn’t curiosity going to lead people to broaden their minds besides the Marvel movie characters? Isn’t there a kid who is going to see that he can grab 20 issues of a title for $5 in a bargain bin and read them? I’m not sure anymore. The more conventions I go to, the less transactions I see with the big dealers. You know them by sight, the 50+ year old man with his wife or son, a big yellow and red banner, and a wall of very expensive old books that seem to sit for the entirety of the show. Who buys this stuff anymore?

A rather famous dealer I know shocked me when I saw his car one day. It was a beater that looked like something Peter Parker would be wrestling the Macho Man to buy with prize money. I thought, “this guy has a collection and warehouse worth millions, where’s the money?” The answer was, and is, it’s not there. It’s just an anchor weighing him down.

Any collectible is only worth what someone will pay, and in the world of comics, there are less and less players who will pay the big bucks. I’m not talking about a Nick Cage collector, I mean someone who is looking for a Captain Marvel (Shazam) issue with a sticker price of $800 in fine condition. Those guys are gone. If they wanted it, they have it by now. The middle-aged people of today who are now coming into disposable income and nostalgia are buying their 1970s and 1980s toys, and not buying comic books.

But buying old comics shouldn’t be about money, it should be about VALUE. Nostalgia. Exploration. Adventure. Inspiration. But there’s something I can’t describe that isn’t connecting people today with the books of long ago… or even “not too long ago”.

I sat the other night walking my fingers through my books. Seeing amazing stories like Wildstorm Spotlight #1, or Fall of the Mutants, or the first years of Spawn. No one seems to care to seek these out.

So as I prepare to go into Wizard World this weekend, I walk alone in a crowd of cosplayers, pop culture and Japan fans, Disney Marvel Maniacs, and the zombie aficionados. I will be alone combing for Legion of Super Heroes back issues. I will be undetected seeking out Golden Age heroes. I will be silent amidst the moans of the Walking Dead.

And somehow, I will have a great time. I’m just not sure who’s having the same fun as I am.

Welcome back to my obscure and tiny readership. I’m back to the blog, so let’s dive in.

Back in November, I had the good fortune to secure a vendor spot at the Great Allentown Comic Con. It’s a regular convention in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a great show lost in the mob of epic large scale conventions that are encompassing the current convention landscape. I packed up my little Subaru with some long boxes of dollar comics, a few higher dollar books, and several plastic totes of comic book related action figures. I’ve done these smaller shows as a hobbyist, so this was the first “big” show I had attended as a vendor. 

After a two hour drive, I secured my badge and set up shop. I glanced around and saw some other comic jockeys that I had seen at other shows, looked at the posters for the few celebrities that were kind enough to add this show to their busy schedule, and even saw some familiar faces, like Mr. Eric Cooper, local creator of the Knight Seeker, an urban hero supported by a series of excellent novels. Eric is one of the hardest working men working on the big break, showing up at many shows in a custom costume of his creation, and wonderfully blurring the line between fantasy and reality as the cosplay embodiment of justice. 

Cosplay is one of the great fun variables to any convention. You get to see costumes made by hand after months of planning and building, and the low-effort (nothing wrong with it) single accessory plus tee shirt combos. But cosplay is often overshadowed by one simple shallow fact:

Guys love girls in costumes.

As the convention opened, one of my first customers was a rather tall, bigger built woman in her 30s dressed as Sif (I’m not going to hyperlink all of the characters, but take a moment to check out the comic depiction). As part of my sales technique. I try to engage my customers by getting them to just talk, find out what they like, and if I don’t have an item, I’ll note it for next time or refer them to someone I’ve seen at the show who has that treasure they’re looking to buy. When confronted with a six foot Sif, my first reaction was a common, “great costume”. After a quick glance up and down, I repeated myself. “GREAT costume!” This woman had multiple armor and fake leather layers, carefully groomed hair, and a KICK ASS SWORD. I had to ask her about her costume. She told me a little about the time to make it, how much she LOVED SIF, and I started to notice that she was with her boyfriend, also in an Asgardian costume, and he was beaming as much as she was while she talked. His face said one thing, “This is MY girlfriend, and yeah, she’s the shit.”

A little later on, a woman approached my table in a Phoenix X-Men tee shirt and asked me with a fever if I had any Jean Grey toys. I was sad to say no, but noticed her low effort costume included a wild mane of natural red hair. I was chuckling inside thinking about the red headed woman as a child, being possible made fun of by classmates, and now idolizing one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. If only her classmates knew that she was an ass-kicker…

I started to notice a strong mix of girls in the stereotypically male dominated crowd. I witnessed a Guardians of the Galaxy themed family, a Wolverine themed father who brought two pre-teens dressed as Domino and Psylocke, and a gang of girls in elaborate steampunk Victorian gowns, walking in a “Mean Girls” V formation and turning the heads of every teen boy scouring the boxes of back issues. 

“You got any Deadpool?” demanded two girls who wore flannel shirts and cardboard cutout masks. I hooked them up with some copies and thought about these girls in the back of history class reading about a taco-eating, sword-wielding maniac while the other girls were trying to read fashion magazines. If you want to get the boys, I pondered, read comics.

Then I realized I had to correct my inner monologue. 

These girls weren’t trying to get the boys by diving into the pool of comics. These girls just loved comics and didn’t care who knew.

I looked around the convention floor. Every girl and woman in costume was not showing off their bodies, or peacocking to dominate other girls, they were just being themselves and having fun.  Some of these costumes were really elaborate, showing off an artistic mastery of mixed media that could encompass an entire degree program at an art or fashion school. The mechanical attributes or gimmicks required some serious engineering and organization. And as each was put on the spot by folks like me, or local press covering the event, or other cosplayers, they were reporters and public speakers and salepeople pitching their costumes and sharing their accomplishment.

These women and girls, in the middle of what the Big Bang Theory might stereotype as a festival of introverts and social outcasts, were the most confident people I had ever met. Just being themselves and happy with who they were. 

As the show wore on, I kept seeing guys looking at these girls, and staring at their feet. “Just say it,” I kept wanting to whisper to them, “all you have to say is ‘great costume’ and they’ll talk to you.”  But alas, the boys just didn’t get it. It was easier to stand head down by a table than to talk to a girl dressed as Boba Fett who was already putting herself in a much more self-conscious situation by wearing spandex and not being shaped like Brooklyn Decker. 

If these women, the cosplayers, could just let the boys know that it’s okay to believe in yourself and put yourself out there, maybe there would be a lot less lonely people, people with little or no friends in school, adults who shut themselves in at home instead of going out and interacting. Maybe, these people would learn that the world is a bright place where heroes really do walk among us, and that sometimes being a hero is as simple as dressing like Sif. 

At the end of the show, they handed out the awards for best costume. While there was a technical winner, one of the finalists was a guy with stomach paunch in spandex, and a giant foam headdress he created. His costume? Powdered Toast Man from Ren and Stimpy. Everyone who met him during the day gave him a high five, or “I love your costume” accolade. I saw him take of the mask, and he was smiling from ear to ear. 

And I was smiling too, knowing that the lesson I had learned and observed from the women of cosplay was already in action.

Ah Spring, the time of year when I realize I haven’t blogged in a long time. It’s been a long start to the year between an inter-office job change, a business trip to India for a few weeks, and life in general. I was reminded of this after talking to TJ Luca this weekend at the Wayne Toy and Collectible Show.

Check out his blog and work here http://merchattacks.blogspot.com/

Talking to TJ (aka Tom) and seeing another young artist working on their dream reminds me of being an “old” man, a cubicle monkey, an office jockey, and all those other unflattering names for those of us who put the arts aside as a career choice. Then the art “hobby” becomes “something I used to do”.  You can let skills deteriorate, but if you’re creative, that still runs deep in the blood.

After the show on Sunday, I went to my comic boxes to plan for the next show, pulling out cheap books for the bulk bins, and targeting some high dollar ones as well for good eye candy and customers with deep pockets.  It was more and more difficult to sort through my books, and then I realized that I had been neglecting my collection.  Alphabetical order still ruled, but I had created separate subgroups and boxes that weren’t in the main collection.

Collecting comics is something I’m “good” at, but it’s not my career. It’s my hobby, but I was spending less time on it. Collecting was creeping into “something I used to do”.  We all have to prioritize, but I never intended to leave comics by the wayside of my life.

TO THE BLOG!

Part of my decisions last year to sell comics, catalog and research Golden Age books, and collect more expensive key books was tied to having a blog to share some of these experiences. It takes a little effort, but it’s not “hard”. The only deadlines are my own. The expectations are set by me.  So I’m writing today to kick-start myself, kick my own ass, and throw a bit of praise to someone who got me a little fired up again to get back to what I love.

So thanks, TJ.

Follow his twitter here:  https://twitter.com/#!/twitta76

Almost every successful comic character has been written by more than one person.

That’s it.  End of story. 

Watchmen was a fantastic story arc that was self-contained LIKE A STORY SHOULD BE.  A story has a start, middle, and end.  X-Men #1 had that.  Amazing Fantasy #15 had that.  Why should Watchmen be placed so reverently into an untouchable category?

Many fans have wanted more Watchmen.  Toy Deals came and went.  The movie, love it or hate it, was in limbo for years.  But revisionist history and a vocal Alan Moore proclaim that no one want this, that it’s somehow wrong.  The dog who barks loudest gets the dog catcher… or something like that. 

In discussions at my local comic shop last night, we agreed that the ending of Watchmen was best left unsettled, wondering if Rorschach’s journal would see the light of day. That’s not a spoiler; if you’ve never seen or read Watchmen, you can go ahead and overfocus on the journal, but you won’t understand until you watch the actual EVENTS of the movie i.e. what is put into the journal. So poop on you, cynics.

The Watchmen story (the 12 issues/collected book/movie) are a slice of the character’s lives over the course of unfolding events.  We see many flashbacks across the decades prior to the story, and I understand that the readers/viewers were given just enough back story as relevant to the current story. I get that.  But what is the harm in creating new stories? 

To say that “fans” DON’T want new stories is just wrong.  Hey guess what, I’ve been a fan since the 80s and I want more.  Fun fact: not everything is catered to everybody.  From my view, Alan Moore and the rest of the fans have been “wrong” for not giving me more stories until now.  We often forget in the internet era that many, many, many, pieces of media existing prior to the “me me me generation” and that these discussions are not new.  Or insightful, myself included.

With many media, the continuation will by default mean someone else is on board.  Sure the Harry Potter novels are all one author, but you had different directors and even a recasting due to the DEATH.  By Watchmen purist comic book logic, the movies should have ended.  Or most of the Marvel Universe should be dead and filed away after Kirby died and Ditko and Lee stopped working on the titles.  Think about that.

At the end of the day, here’s the deal: these stories are being published. You can read all about the previews on the DC Universe Blog (the hyperlink is to the blog, too many links to relink for you) and at the end of the day, you can choose to buy and read them or not.  If you don’t read it, your story is still your experience.

But don’t deny me the opportunity.  If you don’t like chocolate cake, I’m not going to tell the bakery they’re wrong for putting it on the counter.

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I dropped Grifter.

Holding issue #4 of Grifter in my hands, I started to have doubts. Flipping through each page beautifully (and I mean beautifully) illustrated by CAFU, my heart slowly broke, like seeing your boss avoid you all day right before getting fired. The story wasn’t dragging me in or holding my interest. The $2.99 per issue price just wasn’t going to work out for a “wait and see” strategy.  I was already $9 invested in the title, and we all know the comic companies love to issue trade paperbacks after a handful of newstand issues are in the can.


“I’m breaking up with Grifter.”

With my head hanging low, I pulled my coat closed in front of me and placed the issue carefully back on the shelf. Grifter, one of my favorite characters, was ruined by the New 52.

In DC’s relaunch/reboot of all its characters, Grifter was the one I was most worried about. This poor guy has been a member of the ill-fated Team 7 from Image Comics, the “origin” point for many of the Wildstorm Universe characters. Then his WildCats squad was tossed around the galaxy as well as the Image comics buyout by DC and rebooted so many times that the title began to use “2.0″ and “3.0″ in the actual cover title. Cole Cash (his real name for those who don’t follow embedded links) was getting flatter and flatter as a character, going from loner dual pistol wielding John-Woo-esque anti-hero to… a dude in a wheelchair.

DC’s reboot at least kept the black tee-shirt and the mask. But not much else.

In an attempt to make him “gritty”, Grifter was put on the run with some thin amnesia and a plotline of “is it alien abduction/invasion” that mixed together the worst parts of They Live and Mac and Me. I was embarrassed to be caught reading this crap. Dang it, I’m one of the last 3 people with all 3 Grifter action figures (well, the 2 and the PVC molded statue) and they didn’t care about ME.

DC dropped the ball.

(I’ll skip the hyperlinks in the next section, but google/wiki the titles for more info…)

I had already dropped BatWing, JLA, Stormwatch, I Vampire, and any Green Lantern or Legion of Superheoes titles from the New 52. All I had left was Batman, Detective, Batman & Robin… and the 3 titles of New 52 that I love, Batgirl, Animal Man, and Batwoman.

Batgirl

You’ve got to read these titles. Batgirl is the best take I’ve yet to read on the character. She’s the perfect mix of aspirational hero, coming of age young adult, and insecure abandoned child. New 52 claimed Barbara Gordon’s back was fixed by some gene-therapy/stem-cell/BS spinal fix, but that’s a detail worth tucking away. Being an 18-25 year old woman is hard enough, let alone the fear of her body giving out, the distance she is forced to keep from her father to hide her secret, and the uncontrolled distance between her and her estranged mother. Batman, the mentor, is also an incomplete father figure, and at the end of the day, Barbara can only trust herself, since no one can ever know “the real her”. Sound familiar to anyone who’s been through puberty? Batgirl is awesome. The art is great and yes, there’s tons of action. Her fight against the villain named Mirror was a brutal beating that she lost… at first.

Animal Man

Animal Man is hard to describe. I’m going to assign you some homework and tell you to find an issue from the new series online, check out the dark inky artwork, and tell me you’re not intrigued. Being a “less than cool” superhero is tough enough, but finding out that your daughter in the private sector is your superpower heir as well as part of a larger cosmic apocalypse involving the primal forces of nature can be… well… “daunting” is an understatement. I pray the SyFy network doesn’t make a bad TV series out of this, but it would fit well on a station where Warehouse 13 and Sharktopus go hand-in-hand.

Batwoman

Lesbians, ghosts, and death. You in? JH Williams takes your breath away with his art. Kate Kane is an artist’s dream, a woman who is part goth, part glamour, part soldier, part martial artist. Being able to portray so many types of body language in a single character leads to endless possibilities, and every issue has a couple new panels where I shake my head and say “why didn’t anyone draw THAT pose before?” The story is an intertwined cat-and-mouse where our heroine (who likes girls) deals with chasing a girlfriend, chasing a ghost, and chasing criminals while being chased herself by the government.  I wish Grifter was able to pull off this kind of complexity while retaining the personality of a strong-willed superhero.

Sitting back and looking at my New 52 issues, I’ve got to pose the obvious question: was it a success for me, the long-term fan? Like most things in life, the answer is a shade of gray when we wish for black and white answers.  I’ll always read Batman & Detective. I picked up some new titles that I love for characters I didn’t usually follow. I dropped some old friends. That’s life, though. We don’t always get what we want, but we still get something. Nothing’s perfect. But life goes on, and so does the New 52.

Looking forward to the next wave… cautiously.

Two weeks until the Philadelphia Comic-Con.

I’ve been stewing in my own juices and number hell trying to figure out how to get the most money while offloading the most comics. I’d LOVE to be able to clear out at least one full long box of 300 books to make some space in my comic cave closet, but I’d also like to make a decent profit at the show without undercutting myself.  I’m bringing six boxes, but it’s highly unlikely I’ll move half of those books unless I give them away…

I have a couple of boxes that are bargain books; lovely modern era books from the 1990s through literally this year that have very low collector value, but are in excellent condition and great ways for someone to backfill their runs. I don’t mind getting $1 for a $2.99-3.99 cover priced book. These are effectively magazines, if you really want to get zen about comic book purchasing decisions. These were meant to be disposable reading once upon a time.

At the last show, I saw a couple of guys with 25 cent book boxes. They had lots of traffic, and people went nuts buying armloads of comics. Many, I noticed, were kind of beat up but good stories and characters. My $1 books were lightly picked at by the discerning collector.

Hmm.

(I love a well placed ‘hmm’ in a story.)

Should I choose to stay the course and stick with $1 books? Or should I go dirt cheap and 25 cent them? Or should I go middle ground and get rich or die tryin’ i.e. go the 50 cent route?

300 comics @ $1.00 = $300
300 @ $0.50 = $150
300 @ $0.25 = $75

In addition, I’m bringing some graded books that should be a decent higher value, from $30-150 each. I’ll be lucky to sell 4 or 5 of them, as graded books really need to be matched with a perspective buyer. It is tough to push a CGC slab at someone as an impulse buy, like trying to sell a manual transmission sports car to a quadriplegic; it’s nice to look at and park it in front of your house, but you can’t open it up and really get the full thrill.  It will be tough to get the “exact” graded value, but I can at least put these at a flat discount on the graded guide price; a CGC grade is what it is, there’s nothing subjective about a book being in “fine to very fine”. It’s a 6, 7,  or 8. Period.

My third tier is my ungraded X-Men. I have about 100 or so bronze to copper age X-Men that are ungraded, bagged and boarded, and in the Fine to Near Mint range, 6.0-9.4. I’ll most likely never get the true value for these, so I’ve put together a spreadsheet checklist for my books with the approximate CPG prices for 6.5 and 9.4 copies. Here’s an example using the first appearance of Kitty Pride, X-Men 129:

X-Men 129 @ 6.5 = $20.00
X-Men 129 @ 9.4 = $100.00

Averaging the prices together gives me $60. (I’ve added a column on the sheet for the average of the range).

Hmm.

Looking at the book’s condition, it’s probably an 8.0-8.5. The books in the 1970s/early 1980s are highly sought after in near mint condition, and due to the collecting boom and abundance of issues, it’s tough to get $60 for it.

Let’s add another column, a 25% discount of the average of the ranges. X-Men 129 is now $45.

A scan of ungraded eBay copies shows completed sales in the $10-20 range, so maybe using the 6.5 price is a good idea, right?

Now let’s look at X-Men 175, a double sized anniversary issue.

6.5 = $2.40
9.4 = $12.00
Average = $7.20
25% discount = $5.40

Really not sure this issue should go into the bargain range and be $2, but $5.40, let’s call it $5, seems more “right”. Single copies have sold for $4-5 on eBay, but they’ve also been sold in combined lots of 2-5 comics for $10.

So I’m thinking a variable pricing plan may be in order, with earlier issues holding at the discount while later ones will keep a floor value of some sort. I’ll have to tinker further, but looking at the overall strategy across the three types of books I’m selling, the compromises may be the best way to get books moved. Maybe some of those X-Men go into the dollar bin, and maybe I make a 25 cent box or two. 

Get rich, or die tryin’ sounds much better than shooting yourself in the foot for the sake of a buck.

To Sell Or Not To Sell

I’m facing a couple of collecting crossroads questions this week.

The most recent issue, discovered today, is that my newly received limited edition Marvel Universe Archangel X-Force variant action figure is clearing $100 on eBay. I’m torn.

I love Angel/Archangel, real name Warren Worthington III. He’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures as a character. I have a couple of different versions of him from various toy lines, but this one is special.

The X-Force Archangel represents the zenith of anger and rage in a character who started off with every good intention of being a hero. You don’t need a sofa and a psych degree to figure out my personal interest. But dang it, $100 is a $100!

Modern collecting for, well, modern items, is a flash in the pan profit for many pieces. A figure or comic that is brand new will flare up to a nice profit in the short run, or microrun. Animal Man #1 from the DC New 52 comics has already undergone multiple printings, and the book has flared up to $25 in the microrun, but is already lowered to a $12-15 price, with a further bottom possible. Most “rare” collectibles appeal to a rabid but small base, so after the initial maniacs make their purchases, the flippers find an inventory with a sudden lack of buyers. Supply has exceeded demand, and we all know that the subjective pricing of collectibles can fall out quickly.

See: 1980s-1990s Baseball Cards if you need an example.

See: X-Men #1 (all five covers of the Jim Lee launch)

Sometimes though, a truly difficult to obtain rarity can still push a price to a decent investment level.

See: Jetfire Leader Class action figure from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This toy is now bouncing below $100 (60-80), but steady and stable given that this is now a few years old, from a 2009 movie and toy line.

But Archangel is sentimental to me. I got this from a limited edition promotion to subscribe to Marvel Digital Comics for a one year period, so it “cost” me $60. The subscription, prorated at $5 a month, is well worth it for every 2 new comics per month that I read online instead of purchasing, so I still consider my “cost” basis as zero dollars; this was something I received for free for a service I was willing to pay for, that is saving me money already.

But $100 is a $100.

I don’t like “flipping”. I’ve gotten into too much trouble buying and flipping toys during the microrun. When X-Men Origins: Wolverine was released, I bought a number of the figures and was able to sell at least half of them at $12-15 each, with a cost of about $7 each. The other half, I sold at or below cost for an average of $5.50 or so, including some lot sales.  I made money, but I was better off buying half the inventory and being content with that initial cash bump.

So I’m sitting here typing, staring at Archangel, and wondering if maybe I should take all my other Angels and Archangels, and sell them, and just keep this one as a reminder to hold onto something really special. Or maybe it’s my ego, flaunting my wealth. Warren Worthington III would agree with both justifications.

X-Force Archangel

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