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Archive for April, 2011

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/startribune/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=143992836

There it is, one simple obituary for a 62-year-old man who died last year. It didn’t even mention his occupation, a bus driver. No wife, no children. But Gary Dahlberg has left behind an incredible legacy that would only be appreciated after his death.

Gary collected comics.

A lot of comics.

Gary began collecting at an early age, and quickly began to admire and value the art. As an aspiring cartoonist, Gary never fulfilled his dream to be paid for art, so reality and bills guided him to a career as a bus driver. But he never gave up his passion for comic books. Year after year, serendipitous collecting during the Silver Age of the 1960s helped Gary amass a huge treasure trove of Marvel and DC heroes. These books were lovingly handled, stored as works of art, and only sold off in extreme circumstances.

He sold one comic for $1,000 to buy a computer… to catalog his comics.

He sold another comic for $50,000 to pay off his mortgage.

These were his children, as he had none of his own.

Gary retired, and sadly died as a result of a house fire that burned down every room in his house.

EXCEPT THE ROOM WHERE HIS COMICS WERE STORED.

His remaining family, after a process of investigation and appraisal, have now consigned these to Heritage Auctions for sale. These comics, as original owner copies, have been revered for their exceptional quality and quantity of series runs, so they are now officially a new pedigreed collection, the Twin Cities Pedigree.

What Gary has done is something we all aspire to in life. Gary has provided financial support for his relatives; he has made their lives easier with a potential windfall of over a million dollars. With the uptick in comic auction prices now breaking into the Silver Age, where books are now crossing the million dollar mark,  it’s quite possible that this collection will reap far more than the estimated values for his family.

In the broader view, Gary has some of the most well-preserved and highest quality copies of these comics. For some issues, he has THE highest quality copy in existence. These are heroes, pop culture icons, media money makers, and part of our American heritage. This bus driver has been an archivist of the 20th century. We owe Gary our gratitude. Every day, people die with many millions more in assets, but we never see them in the news. Something about Gary’s story resonates with people, makes us believe in the everyman, and makes our dreams a little brighter knowing that maybe, just maybe, we can be a hero in our own way.

If nothing else, we should learn that having passion in our own life is something to work at every single day.

Thank you, Gary.

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Quick Look at Me!

Oooh my CGC registry banner! Goodnight!

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For Easter, I decided to give my niece and nephew each a bundle of comics from my collection. There were some Wizard “0” editions of Slingers and Thunderbolts, some of the Leave It To Chance run, as well as oldies like Shogun Warriors and some Teen Titans. In the process, I discovered that I will probably have more success going through my comics and pulling out the “good” ones and leaving the garbage, efficiently picking the wheat from the chaff instead of vice versa.

I have a lot of bad comics.

Top dollar on eBay is a tough road when it comes to selling collectibles, especially comics, and I’d like to blow out a large volume at once. I think I can do this, but I need a Con. I need a cheap comic convention.

It’s actually tougher than I thought to find one on short notice where I can get a decent affordable table.

For a quick and local con, the Ramada in Bordentown, NJ, offers a low key event (I’ve added a link of a past con with good photos).  Unfortunately, I may have to go old school and actually call people since websites like THIS want you to be a paid member to get the info. Not cool, not cost efficient. I need a table for 4-6 longboxes and space to lay out some of my toys, hopefully the old GI Joes, and if I can bring 2-4 high end comics like some of my Skyman duplicates, it’s a lotto ticket for a nice payoff (and covering costs).

After about an hour of searches (which on the internet means about 10-15 minutes plus distractions), I think I’ve found a contact. Crossing the fingers now. Also hoping I don’t have a conflict. I know it’s a bit of a dull bookkeeping entry here, but I’m hoping at least one of you reads this and finds a good NJ convention schedule for this year…

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Over at the Collectors Society website, I’ve started updating my X-Men 1-201 run in their graded “competitive” sets. With the help of copying and pasting,  here’s the scoop: 71 issues, 33% complete, for 6038 points and a rank of 54 in the run. I’m pretty happy with that for a start. I have most of the X-men 1-200 in my hands, but the CGC has another 30 in process and I have another 6 shipping to me. The process is pretty simple but tedious bookkeeping as I have to enter the bar code numbers for each copy. If a graded issue is owned by someone else previously and in their set, the Collectors Society sends them a notification and the previous owner “oks” the transfer of ownership. I wonder if some people are jerks and deny the transfer even though the new owner has the physical copy. Hmm.

It is a nice resource to scan through other competitive sets and view the comments and scans from other owners. It does make me feel like a part of some kind of elite club, even though it’s a club full of people who would rather be on Asteroid M or have a bumper sticker that says “I brake for Box“.

After doing the cataloging work last night, I also thinned the herd of some of my CGC duplicates and lower score issues, including my CGC 0.5 restored copy of Black Terror #5.  I obtained it during a convention a few years ago and was hoodwinked, not realizing it was missing an entire page. Lessons learned, but unlike a drunken trip to Atlantic City, at least I am able to recoup some of my money; it already sold on eBay this morning.

I’ve got the sad feeling again, like I’m saying goodbye to old friends, but I know that the long road to selling off the bulk of my collection doesn’t mean that I’m no longer a fan or able to enjoy the books that are now online or in collected trade paperbacks. It’s just less stuff in the house.

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I just got back home to Jersey from the Pittsburgh Comicon.

I’m all comiconned out.

After a bloodbath at the bank, I took my targeted list around for all three days, used those magic words, “any discount for cash?” and succeeded in knocking off a boatload of comics on X-Men 1-200 run project. I’m down to 12 issues aka “The Dirty Dozen” as the last batch. Oddly, some comics are just not around in decent shape despite being big books. I did the doorbuster opening day, rechecked the “I’m only here one day” booths, and did the Sunday run when discounts were big.

My want list is now down to X-Men 1 (I could have blown my whole trip budget on a copy, but that would have been oh so unsatisfying), X-Men 2 (see notes on X-Men 1), issue #4, 19-21 (holding out of a copy that wasn’t used as a litter box), 56, 77-78, 101 (DAMN YOU PHOENIX! Most overpriced book at the Con), 107 & 108.

During the end of my Saturday splurge, I felt… closure. Not full closure, but the odd feeling that my collecting days are coming to an end. I do appreciate and read many books ABOUT comics, but as far as collecting as a hobby is concerned, once I capture those last 12, I’m out. I’m done.

As a realist and an investor, I will be looking of course to occasionally upgrade a copy to a nice one, but I had this creeping sensation of sadness walking around on Saturday evening. All those comics, many slowly deteriorating, especially those from the 80s & 90s that were printed on yellowing newsprint. I saw many dealers who were old men, guys in their late 50s to early 60s who seemed trapped now in a house or store or condo with boxes of stories they will never sell. I often heard the passing phrase in conversation, “I just bought this collection on the cheap from someone” and I don’t want to be that guy. There were boxes with comics that were only a couple of months old, still on the rack at my local shop with a $2.99-3.99 cover price, being blown out at $1 each or less. It’s just too much.

I love my X-Men, and the Dirty Dozen will complete a small specific and manageable investment that I also love for art and storytelling, but so help me God, I’m not going to leave a public storage unit of pulp to the highest bidder when I die.

Don’t get me wrong, the Con was a blast, but I’ll be going as a passive observer to be entertained next year.

And maybe I’ll donate blood.

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Once again, Google Docs, you let me down.

I made an xlsx of my comic shopping list for the Pittsburgh Comicon, all X-Men, and put in some nice columns with average prices for different grades. Loaded it to my Gmail for easy access, and then I decided to open as a Google Doc.

And waited. And waited. Even when it opened, it was still telling me “hold on a moment, you can’t go into those cells yet pardner!” Then I noticed the glaring loss of top of the screen real estate from the browser, tabs, and Google’s terrible doc interface. Seriously, this is borderline unusable. So I went back to opening the good old Microsoft Excel and working in there.

There’s something to be said about using an establish product, even if it’s from “evil” Microsoft (like Google or Apple are really that altruistic? Check out Google’s attempts to co-opt all your intellectual property, or the insane mark up over cost for most Apple products. Pick your villain.)

Anywho.

I have 38 comics targeted. Realistically, I’m not getting a copy of X-Men #1 or #2, but hey, I can dream.

38 also happens to be a game maker, as in 38 Studios, the game studio headed creatively/financially by Todd McFarlane, Curt Schilling, and R.A. Salvatore. You can read their press bios here.

Route 38 is also a nice little NJ highway. I can’t believe people make wiki pages for roads.

38 Special also sings one of my favorite songs:

38 is also how much money in billions was involved in a budget deal that kept the government running. I’m not making a political comment, I’m just stating this number is indeed the hotness right now.

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T-minus about a week until the Pittsburgh Comicon. It’ll be a long drive from New Jersey out there, but I’m psyched. Pittsburgh is one of the very cool Comicons where you get a lot of indie representation plus big stars without the glitter and packaging to bog it down, attract riff-raff, plus it keeps costs reasonable.

There are a lot of “guides” to surviving a Comicon, many written as good advice for first timers or outsiders who want to see how the other side lives when they’re outside in daylight (we’re people dammit, not C.H.U.D.s), but I think there’s something to be said about the evolution of myself over the years at conventions. I’ve been to a few horror conventions from the Chiller Theatre to Fangoria (Chiller gets a hotlink, Fangoria doesn’t need the help) and also SouthbySouthwest (again, SXSW doesn’t need the website hits, so not hotlink. Hmm I’m using the “fourth wall” a lot today in these parenthetical notes. I’ll try to rein that in.) Each convention is a learning experience, and there’s always something to improve upon. Here’s my lessons learned and prep list specifically for Pittsburgh.

Clothing

Only Hobbits and R2 units don’t understand what “comfortable shoes” are. Walking around all day can be painful in flip-flops or even Chuck Taylors. Don’t be stupid.

Shirts are a fun way to show your fandom, but be prepared to discuss your clothing with some miscreant fans who want to engage in open debate about who would win in a fight, Gambit or Nightwing. Doctor Who fans should prepare an opening statement and closing argument on their favorite Doctor.  In my experiences, Superman and Batman logo shirts are so “dull” that most people will ignore you as a poser or noob. Consider them a form of urban camouflage for the Con.

Currency

After I empty out my giant jar of change at the bank, I’ll have a nice chunk of money towards buying some more X-Men back issues. CASH IS KING. I stumbled in a negotiation for an old issue of Exciting Comics when I could only pay by credit card. To further add insult to injury, a page was missing from the comic giving me a whopping 0.5 CGC rating. But I digress. CASH is a negotiating tool. Many sellers are paying transaction fees for small-scale business even if they have a card reader or some kind of app. You save them money when you pay cash, and some of the dealers who are more shady know that they have a shot at hiding their income with cash sales. That’s not your responsibility, it’s just something to be aware of when it comes to buying from a dude at a table.

Do NOT count on the ATM at the Con. Besides obscene fees and possible shortages, almost every convention I’ve been to features an ATM using the modem from War Games, so every transaction takes 10-20 minutes. You can spend that time doing more useful things, like waiting 10-20 minutes for a bathroom stall, or waiting 10-20 minutes for a $10 hot dog, or waiting 10-20 minutes to meet the WWF’s Virgil, who currently ends all his sentences with “That’ll be $10”.

BRING CHANGE. SINGLES, FIVES AND TENS ARE GREATLY APPRECIATED BY THE VENDORS, AND NOTHING KILLS A NEGOTIATION LIKE PULLING OUT A TWENTY AFTER YOU WHITTLED THEM DOWN TO $8 AND ASKING FOR CHANGE. It’s bad form, bad karma, and you better come to terms with the fact that you’ve been blackballed from price negotiations by that dude for the rest of the con. Good luck on Sunday, bro.

Cigarettes are worth the price of a pack, as is a lighter. You meet and chat with people easily in the smoking areas. I’m not available for dating myself, but this is a huge “in” towards picking up the few girls at the Con if you are single, AND you sometimes catch a break if you’re “the dude” who lent a smoke to some artist on his break. I met Ken Hauser of The Living Corpse when I was grabbing a smoke outside my hotel last year, and we had a great talk about tattoos. Obviously, having a lighter is also part of this. Even if you don’t smoke, always be able to say “yes” when someone asks for a light.

Mule

If you’re going to bring a backpack, have a solid liner or backing in it so books and items aren’t damaged by warping/bending or SWEAT. I ruined a vinyl LP at one fest due to the warping on my back and long heat of the day. Even better, bring a caddy cart or pull along. It may feel dorky, but you’re at a COMIC BOOK CONVENTION. You also have a makeshift seat with that American Tourister you’re keeping in tow. As I also found out last year, a travel bag with a handle is probably going to be more waterproof than a backpack. Luckily, I had my comics double and triple bagged (which implies to bring a plastic bag of some sort to line your bag of choice; it will also double your cargo capacity in an emergency if you pull it out).

COMICS

Comics are both a currency to trade with some vendors (most are not looking to acquire your crappy books during the con) but also you have valuable autograph material. Check the guest list and bring your items. If you are not getting a comic graded and certified, but want to just get a cool keepsake, bring a reader copy or maybe a trade paperback. TPBs are great for getting an interior sketch. Remember that posters, toys, bas reliefs, frescos, and large wooden horses will be your burden to tote around all day unless you have quick access to your car or hotel.

The CGC will be taking grading submissions at Pittsburgh again this year. I have already triaged a group of old X-Men to bring, and am printing out the forms online at home before I go. Get to the table early so you don’t have to wait in line, or lug your books around all day. If you can’t print out a form, make it easy and type up a page listing the comic, company, issue number, issue date, and approximate value.

Loose ends

A paper pad or note pad and a pen will help you when it comes to jotting down a list of items, handing out/receiving email and web addresses, and getting autographs and sketches.

Lastly, a convention is FUN. Strike up conversations with people who are promoting their books. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS. If you want to go in costume, go ahead, but be warned you may end up on a blog like this. I’ll see you in Pittsburgh next week, and I just might be wearing a Jackowick limited edition Iron-On T-shirt.

Or my Doctor Who scarf.

Or my Black Lantern Shirt.

Or my Watchmen/Autobot log shirt.

Or my “MAGNETO WAS RIGHT” shirt.  Wait and see.

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