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Christmas Shopping

Not much going on recently, lots of price shopping and scouting for books.

I’m planning on the Philly Comicon again in January, more details to come. My strategy is to push a bunch of CGC books as well as dollar books, and putting together some bundles of comics to try to get those sold. Stuff like the old Darkhorse Body Bags limited series, the Catwoman miniseries from the 80s, etc.

I’ll be working on another long update soon. Classes just finished up and I’m almost d0ne with the holiday shopping, so I’ll be able to put something really nice together then.

Stay warm.

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Stanley Leiber is Stan Lee’s real name.

Stan Lee co-created many of Marvel’s characters with the assistance of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Spider-Man is hyphenated.

As a collector, reader, and fan, the above facts are ingrained in my five senses. In order to talk shop, do a proper online search, and to win bar trivia at Buffalo Wild Wings and Houlihan’s, these are things I need to know.

Things I SHOULD know.

While sometimes I hiccup on Stan Lee’s real name (Leiber versus, say, Leibowitz or Leiberman) I generally get it right. But I’m not blindsided by the data.

On Sunday, I was selling mostly toys at the Wayne Toy & Collectible show once again. It was my first show this year where I did not have an able-bodied assistant/friend travel with me to work the table, so I spent many hours eavesdropping on the conversations of the buyers and sellers around me, especially the merchants seated across from me. The two men running the table were very gregarious and brought a beautiful pea green Schwinn from 1970 which drew a lot of traffic. They also had a few pieces of memorabilia from football, mostly centered around the Dolphins.

(For those who don’t know, the 1972 Dolphins NFL team went undefeated during the regular season AND won the Super Bowl. The closest any other team has come to replicating this was the 2007 New England Patriots who went 16-0 in the regular season and lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.)

At their table, these gentlemen had a huge poster of the 1972 Dolphins team, framed, that was signed by every single member of the team. It’s a massive rarity and highly collectible for any football fan. Behind the poster they also had signed footballs from the ’72 team as well as other Dolphins items. On the side of the table, also framed, was a Dan Marino jersey in navy blue and gold.

Now depending on your age, you may remember Dan Marino as a great NFL quarterback. You may also remember him as “that dude in Ace Ventura”, or “the guy from the Isotoner glove commercials”. More recently. you’re aware of him as the guy in the Nutri-System ads or that calmly angry sportscaster who keeps mentioning on a regular basis that his NFL records are/were being broken and/or threatened by Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and John Elway. You can google these guys yourself if you’re not familiar with them.

If you are familiar with any of these Hall of Fame caliber gentlemen, there’s a good chance you’re a sports or NFL fan, or maybe even a sports collector.  We all know that superfans have a passion about all things involving their hobby, knowing loved and hated icons with intense depth and clarity.

With superfandom comes great responsibility.

A dealer at the show, one I have seen and talked to numerous times who sells a large amount of sports related items, came up and asked who was the player for the signed “Marino” jersey.  The table merchants, ever the cantankerous ones, smugly replied that it was “Dan Marino’s” to the dealer who was wearing an NFL team jersey (which will remain anonymous to protect the innocent…)

“What team is that for?”

“Pittsburgh.”

“Steelers?”  (The Steelers have worn BLACK and gold since the Spanish Inquisition; this jersey was navy blue…)

“College.”

Dan Marino, an NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback who is arguably in the top 10 if not top 5 quarterbacks of all time, went to the University of Pittsburgh for college where he went to the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, and twice came in fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. Kind of a big deal.

Many people have varying degrees of fandom for their passions. I know that Speedball’s real name is Robbie Baldwin, but I don’t hold an obscure fact on a very low popularity character over the heads of my fellow fans as a sign of my alpha-nerd status. I have many friends who love comics and characters, but don’t know if Green Lantern is from Marvel or DC.

File:AmazingSpider-ManAnnual22.png

But if you’re going to be selling sports merchandise at a show on a regular basis while proudly wearing a football jersey, please, for the love of God, learn that Dan Marino went to Pittsburgh. Come on, man.

As a seller, you need only one thing, one thing, to make every sale a success, and that’s being trustworthy. If you can establish trust via conversation, or transferred credibility, or a freaking quiz show, you will have a successful transaction.

I wouldn’t buy a comic from a guy who didn’t know how to spell “Spider-Man”, and I wouldn’t buy sports memorabilia from a guy who didn’t know Dan Marino went to Pittsburgh.

The two nice guys who were actually selling the Dan Marino jersey didn’t make a sale on the uniform, but they sold plenty of other items, including the pea green Schwinn… which was sold to a friend of the seller.

Someone he trusted.

 
(Disclaimer: many of the pop culture references are meant as just examples of things that the majority of the public may know, but I do not assume like a jerk that comic books are fully integrated into our society; I get it, I’m a nerd. I am totally not judging Joe Average.  But my argument is still valid; an “expert” should be an “expert” on the more common facts within his trade.)

Black Friday Blues

I hate Black Friday. I despise the doorbusting zombies lining up at 4 AM. I despise the traffic. I despise that I have a legitimate reason to go to Target today, but I WILL NOT because it’ll be filled with white eyed maniacal moms and zombie dads trying to grab some vital toy to keep up with the Joneses, a “new” HDTV to replace their “old” one (or to supplement the 5 they already have throughout their house) or the bargain profiteers who are looking to buy and flip.

I’ve lined up many times at the front doors of a comic book convention, waiting for the “go” signal to run to the dollar bins to scoop up deals. I get that. There’s no ad campaign with horribly placed AC/DC music (I’m looking at you Wal-Mart) or news reporters outside begging people to come describe the “atrocities” and bargains.

When I wait in line for a comic con, I’m going to a small business or private seller and supporting them. I’m not plowing through Target or Best Buy trying to grab a mass-produced object that most likely you’ll find on Amazon for the best price once those 5 doorbuster deals are swept up by the people who camped out at 3 AM starting on Tuesday.

I just don’t get the mad consumerism. I’m going off my blog focus a bit, but if Occupy Wall Street wanted to protest big corporations and greed mentality, lock arms in front of Toys R Us on Thursday morning.

What I enjoy, really enjoy, about comics is being able to find something that is a bargain “just for me”, or maybe finding a Holy Grail book and not caring if it’s priced 100-110% over market value so I can complete a collection/run. I enjoy talking to the vendors, discussing our favorite books, and then trading topics, ideas, leads, or even physical books at the end of the day. It feels really good to be a part of those transactions, and a month later when I see that person again, they are excited to see me.

Compare that to retail in 2011.

Compare that to Black Friday.

After work, I’m swinging over to my favorite comic book store. They do indeed have a “Black Friday Sale”, just like they have a July 4th sale, Presidents’ Day sale, and many other holiday sales. But the difference is that if I walk out empty-handed, I don’t feel defeated. On many sale days, I end up buying a non-sale item.

Kick Black Friday in the kidneys this year. Do something else. Buy something meaningful rather than material for someone this year.  And for the love of God, use your damn turn signals, obey stop signs, and remember that many of us on the road today were working, not shopping.

This Sunday, I will once again be dragging my boxes two hours up the turnpike to the Wayne, NJ Toy and Collectible Show. I love the show, I do. It’s worth the effort both in sales numbers, getting rid of “stuff”, and the personal encounters with buyers and sellers. There is, however, one thing that I dread…

Bartering.

Bartering, trading, negotiating, haggling, or any other word for it, is not pleasant. In most cases, you have a battle of wills where two people try to take advantage of each other in hopes that one of them “wins” by screwing the other person. I hate it. I know how much a new car costs, and there’s a profit margin, so why am I haggling on price?  It’s garbage.

The collectibles market is a bit trickier. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and speculative pricing is in the wallet. A certain item may be a “slam dunk” investment meaning it has a history of increasing prices at auction or a base intrinsic value that it never declines below, but I’ve seen enough Antiques Roadshow to know when something is “valuable” vs “garbage”. For an extreme example, here’s some treasure from AR, some great Charles Schultz Comic Strip Art. It’s going to hold a base value whether Peanuts and Snoopy are popular or not. Charles Schultz isn’t too far off from Andy Warhol in how he was able to mass market and cross market his art in that perfect storm of post WWII America, where print media surged and TV boomed.

This is when I usually hear people bring up two of my favorite collecting words. Beanie Babies.

Beanie Babies were the non-sports alternative to the baseball card market surge and purge. Beanies were also mass-produced* and had a very large rise and fall, upon which Ty Warner was able to capitalize. While baseball cards were a longstanding product/collectible that was abused by mob mentality collecting and set-buying completists, Beanies were hoovered up by many people who did not know anything about collectibles for investing, and fell for a fad.  

(*While the marketing idea was that Beanies would be limited in runs with many variations, Beanies were also Happy Meal Toys. Despite what Wikipedia says about the marketing, I’m going to call a horse a horse… mass produced…)

Beanies arguably had an impact on pop culture, similar to Peanuts, but they are less than 20 years old. They were as impactful as pogs, Rubik’s Cubes, and pet rocks. None of these have a long-term collectible value. Yes, there are limited edition Beanies like the Garcia the Bear, but that’s because it appeals to a broader and deeper fan base for collectibles, Grateful Dead fans. The Dead had a huge influence on music, pop culture, and social trends. Notice the difference in the collectible fan base? That’s the crux of my argument on collectible long-term value as well as negotiating a deal.

If you are a Dead fan, you’ll possibly pay more for that bear. The seller may or may not know the upside price you’ll pay, and they may or may not care more about Beanies than the Dead, but the gap between the two parties’ interests is where the deal price lies. That’s the area you need to work in when haggling a price. I don’t want to get into the details of Game Theory and a zero-sum game for negotiating a collectibles price, but in the end, the buyer and seller both have their acceptable price range, and the key is finding out where they overlap to work out the deal.

At the Wayne Toy Show a few months ago, I ran into an ambitious aggressive buyer who was interested in some 1960s-1980s X-Men comics I was blowing out. The key phrase here is “blowing out”. I had extreme difficulty in getting fair market values from the Overstreet Price Guide when selling them on eBay, so I was willing to go low to make some money out of the deal. The X-Men, while highly influential, were also fairly popular in the late 70s to early 80s, so key issues were heavily collected with increasing circulation. Lots of collectors kept issues in great shape and stashed them away. Sound familiar? But unlike Beanie Babies, the X-Men have always had a longer term fanatical base and have impacted comics, media, and pop culture. 

In other words, I’ve got a Garcia the Bear Beanie Baby situation.

This buyer, let’s call him Jimmy, would reject every labeled price on my comics and make an extreme lowball offer. I would give him a fair lower price at our midpoint. He would then go to the midpoint of his first price and my new, lower “midpoint” price.

I don’t believe in back and forth. If you don’t like the counter offer, walk the hell away. If I offered a higher price than the midpoint, he was still ready to go with his intended second offer because he had a very small deviation range for his intended purchase price.

We moved about 4-5 times on the price, and he asked about another comic book before closing so I gave him a dollar amount for both that included his deep discount on the first comic. He moved the price down again, basically negating our entire first barter and wasting both of our time.  I gave him another counter and he accepted.

He paid.

Then he blew it.

He asked me how much for a 3rd comic and how much lower I would go on the price tag.

This had me fed up. I looked him in the eye, and told him it was priced as is and that was firm.

He walked away.

If he had taken that comic at the face value, he would have still received about $80 of comics at around $55-60 if my memory serves me correctly. But at this point in the deal, at the third comic, I had already known what his range was and decided that the cumulative transaction had now pushed the low-end of my range, and the high-end of his. I was frustrated, and he had taken my flexibility as him somehow having the upper-hand, which was obviously not true when I told him the last item was a firm price.

I had determined that he was not, in fact, a Grateful Dead fan, if you can still keep up with the analogy.

Some people believe that negotiations in price and “getting a good deal” simply means being an immovable object until the other person caves in. This is a hugely flawed theory, and one that has left many of those Beanie Baby collectors holding the beanbag with hundreds of unsold toys listed at ridiculous prices on eBay and at shows. When you stand firm and the other party stands firm, if you are holding to your range of expectations, you should both agree to walk away. Yet people will often interpret this as some failure of the other party to be “reasonable”. If I don’t want to pay $50,000 for a car, I’m not walking into a Cadillac Dealership and asking them to bring the price down to $25,000 on a new model.

Trading and dealing in collectibles is extremely subjective. Sometimes, a great deal will make people deviate from their normal range and purchase something outside their want list. Sometimes, a price is too high for an item to be reasonably acquired, and you have to take your chances that it will show up again within your range.

Sometimes, you have to change your range and realize:
-As a seller: cash in hand is better than unsold inventory.
-As a buyer: you’re going to have to pay more.

I’m not going to lie, I look up Beanie Babies a lot on eBay. I have never collected nor do I ever intend to collect any Beanies, but in the interest of modern era collectibles reasearch, I watch prices, like the insane ask prices for the Princess Diana Beanie on eBay. I feel bad for people who overpaid for this at one point, and then I see closed auctions with final “sold” prices from 99 cents to $12.

But if someone wants to pay that much, I won’t stop it. But I also know that I would never ask that much to begin with, because I have a reasonable sense of an item’s value.

That “reasonable sense of value” is where any successful price negotiation must start, and where any successful transaction can also end with a win-win.

But if someone wants to trade me a copy of Action Comics #1 for a Garcia the Bear, I’ll be on eBay buying one faster than you can say “Pogs”.

I’ll get right to it, Batman: Arkham City is my favorite video game in the whole world.

When I was in high school, I wanted to be Batman. I never had this compulsion when I was in elementary or junior high school, but during my freshman year I began to plot how I would somehow become a multimillionaire (without losing the lives of my parents) while studying martial arts and nonlethal combat. I excelled in math and science and applied to colleges for mechanical engineering so that I could fabricate my own devices. I snuck out at night on weekends when my parents were out of town and went on foot patrol to the local park, where I would sit at the top of the slide in my jean jacket, hoping for evil doers to stroll by, armed with a shortened broomstick handle. As a late-blooming 14-year-old, I was about as formidable and foolish as Kick-Ass, and it was a miracle that I was never beaten to a pulp.

(On a side note, remind me to join the class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of 30-somethings looking to sue Mark Millar for stealing Kick-Ass from their pubescent experiences.)

As an adult, when I drive into a new city, I look up and imagine plotting a course via ziplines and grappling hooks above the pavement and swashbuckling from flagpole to window ledge to back alley street fight.  Mature thoughts and a fear of sleeping in a body bag mute my aspirations, while my real fights are more likely to involve a mortgage contract or a vending machine. But sometimes, those bat-dreams won’t stay quiet.

Last year I picked up Batman: Arkham Asylum and was floored by the game. Finally, I could sit on my Xbox and beat the stuffing out of Bane, Harley Quinn, and other Batman villains. I could use my utility belt to solve puzzles and do some breaking and entering. I could even use my grappling hook gun to soar to the tops of buildings… on the grounds of the Arkham Asylum Mental Institute. In the background, I could see Gotham, taunting me and whispering “you can’t go here, this game isn’t  Grand Theft Auto: Batman”.

Well, now it is.

Holy Pixels, Batman!

Arkham City is a sprawling fat greasy slice of Gotham City, and you can, indeed, swing and glide and climb and dash and jump across the buildings and alleys. It’s pure freedom. Beautifully rendered and wonderfully animated, Gotham City comes to life, even if you’re only in the slums for the duration of the game. (Sequel?)

Last night I played with feverish delight trying to find Riddler trophy puzzles and going on a hectic run across the city to intercept payphone calls from the serial killer Zsasz. In one of the many side missions, you play an on-foot version of Crazy Taxi but with lives on the line. Every time I pass a payphone in the game, I tense up anticipating a piercing ring, wondering if I needed to pause the game for a bathroom break in case Zsasz is on the line and I have to start sprinting and swinging.

At 1:55 AM, I had the creeping dread of work, so I reluctantly turned off the Xbox.

I can’t imagine a student, after playing this game, telling their guidance counselor that they would want to be anything but a superhero. Who wouldn’t want to be in top physical condition, a genius entrepreneur and detective, AND beat up bad guys? What’s the downside if you fail? You tried and you got better. Heck, I’d take a gig as Robin if I wasn’t good enough to be The Bat.

But in this game, you CAN be Robin… or Nightwing… or Catwoman… thanks to the downloadable characters. With my limited edition bundle, I now own the Dark Knight Returns costume skin, so I can even play as Old Man Wayne and beat up the young whipper snappers.

The game is one of the best I’ve ever played, and crossed the line to truly interactive entertainment. At times, it felt like I was directing a motion picture. Fans of the Batman: The Animated Series will love that Mark Hamill returns as the voice of the Joker. Next to Kevin Conroy, Mr. Hamill has become one of the most iconic voices in Batman mythology. The first moment that I heard his warbling cackle (put those words together, it makes sense) I got goosebumps.

Someone once said that if words fail you, use someone else’s. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the GamesBeat section of VentureBeat for the great review below, because it says just about everything I can’t right now. 

http://venturebeat.com/2011/10/21/review-catwoman-steals-the-show-in-batman-arkham-city/

(I politely disagree though on their points regarding dialog…)

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you later after I catch Zsasz…

Damn Allen Turner.

If you’ve been reading along, you know of my ongoing battle against my comic collection, which I should start calling the Hive since it’s kept in a semi-walk-in closet and is my own personal vault of terror. I’m sure that Umbrella Corp. could store some really nasty stuff in my comic boxes before I would ever uncover it. Too much exposure in the Hive does cause early onset zombification.

Last month I took a break from the Wanye Toy, Comics and Collectibles show to do some trips, and unfortunately I had to leave some boxes still on the first floor of my house. Hauling a long box of 300 books up one floor and into the Hive is not something you want to do after a day in the office. I would relocate these books downstairs, but my girlfriend makes very good points about clutter. I had read a recent article in the Comic Buyer’s Guide (I couldn’t find it in their online archives) about the horrible crawl and sprawl of comics that infested one man’s house, and I needed to act. The whole goal of the shows I’m going to is to sell off my junk. I have had luck so far dealing a couple of high-end items and a plethora of low-end/high volume stuff, but it’s still moving a beach full of sand with a spoon.

At the same time, I’ve been planning on using the profits as well as some thrifty savings plans to pay off my mortgage ahead of schedule. It’s aggressive and feels overwhelming, but I visit The Simple Dollar finance blog every day, and it kind of sticks in your head; this is possible.  Comics should help me out.

But I hope Allen Turner burns in hell for what he did.

Allen has shown up and seen my comic cave-oops-the Hive (gotta get used to the new name) about 3 times in the past 3 years. He likes to sit with my golden age books and glare at the covers. I don’t usually mind, but he’s always asking to make one more visit and it gets kind of annoying. Allen has to travel a distance to get to my house, so you have to plan out the entire visit, but he’ll still give you short notice and say “I’ll be there next week”.

Plus, Allen’s not a cheap date.

I calculated that Allen has probably cost me about $800 to be my guest. I don’t know how it adds up so fast, or where it comes from, but you can’t meet Allen without blowing some cash.

Call him Mr. Popularity. The last time Allen was going to come over, I got jerked around at the last second and he routed his trip to another house across the country. Allen is the type of person who makes any excuse possible to fly.

So last week, I find out that Mr. Turner may be coming out, he’s putting out feelers. I looked at my wallet and decided that I needed to get some closure with Allen and tell him this type of shit has to stop. I don’t care if he’s a Big Shot, I’m going to put an end to it, which is still going to cost me some money, money that I don’t want to spend right now.

I waited last night to hear back from Allen. And waited. And waited. Then suddenly I found out that he was coming to see the Hive, and he told me that he wasn’t going to cost as much as last time. Allen’s not in the shape he used to be in.

Today I sit with my confirmation of Allen’s trip and his promise that yes, this is the last time. Now I can finally put all of Allen’s trips together into one single adventure and close a chapter in my life. But dammit Allen, you’ve cost me a lot of money over the years. I’m glad I can stop being your groupie.

Allen isn’t an ordinary person. He’s a multimillionaire who also goes by the name of Skyman. Finally, I have a copy of issue #2 of Skyman, and I finally have the complete four issue series. I won it on a moderately low bid on eBay and used money from some sold video games to fund the purchase. It’s pretty beat up, but well worth it. I’ve attached a scan of what the original cover art looked like as it appeared in 1942. Mine won’t be anywhere near as sharp and crisp, but it’s mine, and I can put all four issues into the Hive.

Allen Turner. You just put my mortgage plans back about $80. Dammit.