The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.
Video games, movie ads, glossy full-page appeals to whatever dollars the kids have left over after buying the latest and greatest MP3s on iTunes, or whatever kids are spending their money on these days. Mine seem to spend it all on energy drinks. But it’s not like kids are reading comics anyway, right?
When I was 6 years old, I started reading comics, and I was the prime audience for the ads you’ll find all over Mail-Order Mysteries (Insight Editions). Author Kirk Demaris, who appears to have had a childhood much like mine, dives deep into the truth behind the hype of these frequently ludicrous and always dubious little ads, the ones that stick with me after all these years.
How could they not? I was one of the suckers who bought the stupid piece of metal you put in your mouth to supposedly throw your voice. It did nothing. I sent away for the foot locker full of 2-D army guys that weren’t even as entertaining as the ad that promoted them. Sea Monkeys? Of course I bought them. They were freeze-dried brine shrimp about the size of a molecule, and if they lived long enough in your tap water, you might kinda-sorta think you saw one swimming in there, just before they died. These are memories that last a lifetime.
And now in this highly entertaining new collection you can not only relive those nearly-criminal ads (or see them for the first time, if you’re too young to remember them), but find out the truth about the crap your hard-earned nickels and dimes eventually got you (sometimes you mailed in your money and that was the end of it — believe you me).
Demaris has a lot of fun with the subject at hand, showing off pictures of the real stuff you’d get and going into some detail about the swindlers who masterminded this decades-long scam that touched the lives of millions and probably netted the companies hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which they laughed all the way to the bank with. It’s a brilliantly-conceived trip down a narrow back alley of comics history that was long overdue for exploration, and unless you have no sense of humour or history, you’re sure to enjoy the book. Much more than I enjoyed those flat-ass army guys, that’s for sure.
— Alan David Doane
The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.
Friday the 13th always brings thoughts of bad luck, even to the least superstitious of us. This week we barely avoid the dreaded day, as the 13th falls on Thursday. Good luck for us. Here’s a look at some of the characters with the worst luck in the history of comics…
Uncle Ben Parker — Bucky came back. Jason Todd came back. Gwen Stacy’s clone’s had more revival tours than Kiss. But Uncle Ben?
Despite the occasional tease — such as when writer Peter David and the late artist Mike Wieringo brought him back, kinda sorta in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, poor ol’ Ben Parker just seems to stay dead, dead, dead.
And staying in the Spider-Man mythos for a moment…
Harry Osborn — You’d think it would be great, being the carefree son of a multi-millionaire industrialist. The chicks, the cars, the pills…oh, the pills…!
Even better, though, when Harry’s old man — who constantly berated him for failing to live up to his expectations — died as an accidental result of his own misdeeds, Harry inherited his wealth and even his secret identity as The Green Goblin.
But, Harry failed to live up to his father’s dreams even as a supervillain, continuing to never quite reach Norman’s expectations, and finally dying, poisoned by his father’s own Goblin formula.
Even more unluckily, Harry was reborn in Marvel’s “Brand New Day” storyline, which hopefully will be retconned out of memory eventually. Like his dad, Harry is a character who never should have been brought back, as his revival creates far more questions than answers, and stinks of creative bankruptcy.
Joe Chill — Ever heard of this poor fellow? He was directly responsible for the creation of Batman.
Now, Joe Chill lived to a ripe old age and never really suffered the fate due him for the double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But how unnerving would it be if Batman showed up and confronted you with the truth?
So of course, Joe Chill did what any sensible hood responsible for the creation of every gangster’s biggest nightmare would do…he told his fellow criminals.
And, with forgiveness and understanding, those fellow criminals thanked ol’ Joe the best way they knew how.
He’s really chillin’ now.
And, finally, the all-time champion #1 unluckiest character in all of comicdom…
Shermy — Originally one of the stars of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Shermy was in fact the first with a speaking role.
Alas, over the years Shermy faded into the background along with (non-Peppermint) Patty, Violet, and other ultimately minor characters as Snoopy, Lucy and Charlie Brown came to dominate the strip. Ivan Brunetti paid tribute to Shermy in “Whither Shermy,” one of my all-time favourite comic strips (available in full-color in Schizo #4).
I always look for Shermy to pop up at baseball games and in line for movie tickets as I read along through the decades in The Complete Peanuts, the great, ongoing reprint project from Fantagraphics Books. Alas, with the series now into the 1980s, we’re well past the point where Shermy will ever play a significant role again (his very last appearance came in 1969). It’s a sad way to end up for the guy who started the whole thing off. And people think Charlie Brown is unlucky.
— Alan David Doane
Related: Shells: A Modest Proposal
When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.
But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.
(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)
So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.
So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!
Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures.
Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.
And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age.
— Alan David Doane
I’ll get my bias out of the way right up front: Artist David Mazzucchelli’s work on the Frank Miller-written Batman: Year One (the comic) is about the best art ever created for a superhero comic book. I love the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane, to name a few great superhero artists, but Mazzucchelli on Year One (and also in the also-Miller-written Daredevil: Born Again) brought a unique blend of dynamism and humanity that is sorely lacking from even the best superhero comics. Mazzucchelli’s brief time as a superhero artist was one of the high points of superhero comics history, and while I love his later, more personal work, I do wish superhero comics these days possessed a hundredth of the visual depth and artistry he brought to the table. So forgive me for wishing Batman: Year One (the DVD) looked a little more like Mazzucchelli’s art. But, I’m nitpicking, and I have to admit it. Batman: Year One is faithful to the mood of the comic, even if it doesn’t always match it frame-for-frame. That said, many scenes in the movie are clearly right out of the book, and the characters look on-model, especially the vile Commissioner Loeb, Lt. James Gordon, and the prostitute Selina Kyle.
The fact is, Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful comics-to-film adaptations ever. Unlike the direct-to-DVD All-Star Superman (which I liked but didn’t love), it really feels like the whole story is there. James Gordon (voiced by the amazing Bryan Cranston) is really the star of the show, idealistic but human, moral but flawed. The movie doesn’t shy away from Gordon’s moral lapse with colleague Sarah Essen, but wrings the same drama and pain from their affair that the comic portrayed.
The arc of a determined Bruce Wayne feeling his way from willful amateur to truly becoming Batman feels genuine and earned, in keeping with the original comic. The ending feels pregnant with a world of possibility, but is satisfying at the same time.
I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of the special features are out of my reach, but the regular DVD in the combo-pack includes a Catwoman short, and multiple previews, including one for Justice League: Doom, which adapts Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” storyline from the Morrison-era JLA run and looks like it will be a fun addition to the DC direct-to-DVD line.
The quality of DC’s direct-to-DVD movies has varied pretty widely, but Batman: Year One is the best one yet produced. The voicework, animation, and committment to keeping the greatest Batman story intact on the screen all make it a must-see for anyone who loves this story, or these characters. The movie will be available on 10/11 for download and 10/18 to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD. Whatever your format of choice, see it. It’s great.
— Alan David Doane
A copy of the DVD was provided by the studio for the purpose of review.
So you want to make comics. A lot of people do, but only a few are ever lucky enough to see their stories get into print. There are few storytelling mediums as visceral and exciting as comics, and nothing as satisfying as seeing your own stories come together and entertain an audience, so if you are thinking about creating comics, here are some points to remember along the way.
How do you get started creating comics? The best thing to do is simply make comics. All you really need is a piece of paper and drawing supplies, or a computer, or some combination of all of those or any other art supplies you can muster to create your story in words and pictures. I have nearly zero talent for drawing and almost as little desire to write stories, but even I have created comics in this manner. Your supplies matter, but nowhere near as much as your desire to create comics.
There are numerous books that will tell you a lot about how to make comics, but usually those books are skewed to creating the sort of comics that the creator of the book is known for. If you’re looking to be the very best comics creator you can be, the best way to achieve that is just to assemble your tools and start creating stories. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being, whether they are autobiographical or fictional.
It’s a truism in comics creation that everyone has to create 1,000 bad pages before they start creating good ones. The more comics you create, the better a feel you’ll have for what types of stories and storytelling modes work best for you. When you feel you’re ready for some input and criticism, show the comics you’ve created to trusted friends, and let them know you want their honest assessment of what you’ve created. Listen to both the positive and negative feedback, and understand that every comment you receive on your work will help you better understand your own creative process and how to improve it.
Compare your work to professionally published comics in similar genres; if you feel your work has honestly reached a level where it might be ready for public consumption (and this evolution could take months or years), then you may be ready to assemble a portfolio of your best pages (editors and publishers want to see examples of your storytelling, not pin-ups and poster shots) and bring them with you to comics conventions in your area. If there are no conventions in your area, check the websites of publishers you are interested in working with, learn their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be warned that some publishers are not interested in receiving unsolicited submissions, while some are eager to find new talent.
It is crucial that you educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics. Since the very beginnings of the industry, creators have suffered low pay, loss of creative rights, few or no benefits, and other unfair practices. Be sure you always watch out for your own best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests, and the interests of your family, are protected in the longterm. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn’t mean “don’t work for corporate comic book publishers,” it just means “know what you’re doing before you do.” An informed comics creator is far better prepared for a long career in the industry with fewer heartbreaks along the way.
— Alan David Doane
If you want to publish comics, you’re not alone. Something in the raw appeal of comics storytelling makes a large portion of the audience want to try it themselves.
If I had to guess, I’d say this phenomenon is far more common to comics than it is to other storytelling media. Sure, a small percentage of moviegoers want to direct their own movies, but most people are happy just watching an entertaining film. Something about comics, it seems to me, spurs the impulse in a far higher percentage. So much so, in fact, that those of us that really don’t want to make their own comics, and yet have a prominent voice in the comics community, are often wrongly seen as wannabe comics creators. I wish I had stories to tell, in comics or any other form, but I really don’t have a lot of fiction inside me waiting to be set loose. And I certainly don’t want to start my own publishing company. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that!
So, if you’re one of those crazy people that wants to publish comics, here’s some advice based on decades of observing companies try and fail to establish themselves in the marketplace.
First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first few years of its existence. If you want to publish comics, you must have a enough capital on hand to withstand the indifference your initial offerings are likely to be met with. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of cash from rich Uncle Fred or Aunt Betty, chances are you are going to need to find investors. And those investors are going to want to see a solid business plan. Familiarize yourself with business plans by doing research online or at your local library. Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the many technical details of starting a business, you may not be ready to publish comics.
If you do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first few years, and that you’ll be able to stick to your business plan and keep your investors happy, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be especially aware that new superhero universes and American-created manga-style comics are extremely unlikely to succeed. You might want to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of such companies as Speakeasy and CrossGen Comics, to see where their founders went wrong.
Start small, with just one title. Make sure its creator(s) are able to meet the schedule you plan to release the book on, and make sure that the creator(s) focus on putting together a professional product at every step of the process. Make this as easy as possible by communicating your needs and intents clearly and in writing, and by paying them fairly and on time (every time) for their work. Conduct yourself as an ethical publisher who understands your business depends on the efforts of those you hire to fulfill your desire to publish comic books. Be aware that every issue you publish should contain a satisfying story unto itself, even if it is part of a longer, continuing story. Pay a lot of attention to proofreading, a virtually lost art these days, and be aware of professional lettering techniques. Bad, amateur lettering can spoil the reading experience of even the best-written and best-drawn comics. Warning: If you don’t know when to use the letter “I” with serifs and when without (“sans”), you don’t know enough about lettering comic books.
And how do you pick the creators that will write, draw, and letter (and possibly colour) your comics? Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. Be aware, when looking for talent, that writers and artists professional enough to make your dreams come true will be willing to work with you and for you, provided you are professional enough to help them feed their families and help them pay their rent, again, in an ethical manner and with written contracts fair to all parties. Warning: If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and an accountant, you can’t afford to publish comics.
If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next few years.
History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Starting a line with a number of titles only dilutes your brand in the marketplace. If Dave Sim had released seven or eight other titles the same month he debuted Cerebus the Aardvark, it’s pretty likely you would never even have heard of that title, never mind the seven or eight others.
Be generous with review copies. Send real copies (not PDFs or other web-based previews) to every competent comics critic you can find, from reputable online critics and bloggers like Tom Spurgeon, Johanna Draper Carlson and many others, to online and print magazines like The Comics Journal and Entertainment Weekly. It’s absolutely vital that you get the tastemakers talking about your book, and it would be wise to pay careful attention to their criticism and suggestions, as well. Since they don’t know you, they can offer an unbiased assessment of what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. Trust your own judgment, but listen to the experts, too. Warning: If you can’t take an honest, critical assessment of your comic books, you are not ready to publish or create comics.
Finally, and most importantly, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible — either yourself working many extra hours a day, or a paid employee, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book. You must familiarize yourself with publicity and marketing techniques, and be aware that message board posts and banner ads on comic book sites are only a small part of the equation when it comes to publicizing your comics. A professional publicist will have insights and inroads into getting the word out about your book that you never imagined. It will cost you money, but if you want to be a publisher, you must get used to spending money, and lots of it. It will likely be years before you start making a profit, but if the books are high quality and you start small and grow at a considered pace, and comport yourself as a professional business person with an ethical and moral grounding, there’s a chance you could one day be considered a professional publisher.
— Alan David Doane
There is no artist in the history of comics that I hold in higher esteem than Bernard Krigstein. No other artist understood the inherent potential of the artform better and no other artist ever demonstrated such a grasp of what was needed in order to reach and exceed both his own limits and those of his chosen medium.
As influential as Jack Kirby was on American corporate superhero comics (and others), Krigstein’s influence was more profound. Subtle, yes, but generations of artists have seen comics through Krigstein’s eyes and come away from that revelation understanding that Kirby, as great and fabulous a creator as he was, was the beginning of understanding. Bernard Krigstein and his battle with his art and with his publishers (particularly EC), represent the maturing and growth of the artform. Out of Krigstein’s influence you can trace the artistic struggles of other notable masters of comic book artwork, like Gil Kane, and Dan Clowes, to mention two very different cartoonists both heavily indebted to Krigstein’s innovations.
You can hear Krigstein’s voice whispering in Frank Miller’s ear, both in the times of his greatest successes (Batman: Year One), and even — perhaps especially — when he falls on his face (The Dark Knight Strikes Again). Anyone who thinks Krigstein holds no dominion over modern comics has not a clue what they are talking about. His influence is everywhere, for those of us who seek out comics made with passion and seeking to express truth.
A study of Krigstein’s genius must include careful immersion in his EC work. For it is here where he met his greatest victories, and his greatest struggle. It’s my belief that the intersection of these elements created a moment of artistic growth as yet unequaled in comics.
In an era when graphic novels (both real and so-called) are issued on a weekly basis by writers and artists with not even one-tenth of one percent of Krigstein’s profound understanding of comics’ potential, this is among the greatest crimes the industry of comics has to answer for — not that it ever will. We should be eternally grateful that Krigstein, despite these obstacles, still gave us “Master Race,” “The Catacombs,” “Key Chain,” and other awe-inspiring works. In almost every one of his best works, you see him playing with the form, experimenting with page design, panel arrangement, and perhaps most famously, subdividing EC’s restrictive pre-set panel layouts in order to expand his own storytelling territory within the defined parameters. He was, in a very real sense, a fractal genius of comic art. Where he was not allowed to grow out, he grew inward, like a Koch Snowflake — demanding, as a true artist must, that he be allowed to grow in whatever way humanly possible.
A few years ago, Fantagraphics Books released B. Krigstein: Volume One by Greg Sadowski. This oversized hardcover artbook/biography is one of the finest of its kind ever released, and although Krigstein’s story is largely one of restriction and boundaries, it should be noted that B. Krigstein Vol. 1 is not a depressing book. Its author was meticulous in his creation of a lasting, vital document of the subject, a man who took life and art very seriously and suffered greatly for both. The book is, in fact, a celebration of the life and work of Bernard Krigstein, and even if you think you know who that is, I guarantee you that by the time you get to the end of the book, you’re going to know the man and his work one hell of a lot better.
Sadowski’s book highlighted one of the greatest shames of the comics industry. That is, the crushing effect of the work for hire system on a true artist. On page 187 we see Krigstein lament that “I wanted to edit a book. I wanted to devote one book to a single story.” This was creative mutiny at the tightly-controlled EC Comics, and even though the company turned out many, many masterpieces in their short stories, the fact that the most well-remembered of them is Krigstein’s own “Master Race” (reprinted in its entirety in B. Krigstein Vol. 1 and beautifully recoloured by Marie Severin, as are the other stories included in the book), a story he chopped up and recreated to make it brilliant, says all that needs be said about how tragic it is that Krigstein was never given the simple freedom to do an issue-long story. Think about the artists that have since been given such opportunities, hundreds of mediocre talents, hundreds of times, while Krigstein never once got to, and one very quickly can sink into a dark depression tinged with righteous indignation, if not rage.
I think even of perhaps the most obvious and well-documented case of longform corporate malfeasance toward a mistreated creator, that of Jack Kirby, and I realize that his case is considerably attenuated by the fact that, for all the injustice done him by Marvel (and least a little by DC), at least he was able to create what he wanted largely without interference, at least until a title was cancelled. In B. Krigstein Vol. 1, we got a portrait of an artist who led a brilliant creative existence and created great works of art, but who was never allowed any real freedom in his chosen field to see just how far his skill and imagination could take him.
I’ve said in the past that Krigstein is “perhaps the greatest artist ever to work in comics,” and I believe that his contributions to comic art are the equal of what Alan Moore brought to the artform in his writing. As the years wear on and my appreciation for what Krigstein left us to consider grows ever stronger, more and more I am certain that comparison is apt.
In the same way that Moore’s words and ideas in the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s revolutionized the standard by which comics would be perceived by both reader and creator, Krigstein overthrew the stagnant visual paradigm American comics had been mired in since its inception early in the century. The vast, unmapped canvas Krigstein’s body of work not only suggests but demands still lay primarily before us, unexplored, waiting.
— Alan David Doane
“How much are my comics worth?"
I’ve been writing about the artform and industry of comics for over a decade now, and this is one of the most frequent questions to come my way.
On average, if you’re lucky, you’ll get about 12 cents from a dealer for any random comic book. That’s half of what they’ll charge when they throw it in their quarter bin. And while most hardcore comics collectors have an idea what their collection is worth, both individually and overall, if you’ve only got a casual interest in collecting comics, or perhaps have found a pile of old comics in your grandmother’s attic, you will need some guidance in discovering if the books that have come into your possession really have any value — and even if they do, is that value greater than the time and energy it will take you to liquidate your comics into cash?
Make no mistake, there are comics that are worth a lot of money; but the bad news is, the chances are very high that you don’t have them. Because the comics that are worth the most money are some combination of old, in excellent condition, highly desirable, and extremely rare. As a general rule, the older the comic, the more it might be worth. Especially if it was printed before the end of World War II, when paper drives destroyed untold numbers of comics as a part of the war effort. So if you have a comic printed before 1945, it’s already a minor miracle that it is intact and in one piece.
After age, condition is a huge factor. The better care that has been taken of a comic book, the better the chances you will be able to find a buyer for it. Folds, tears, stains, cut coupons or missing staples are all defects that bring down the value of your comic book. They must be desirable, as well, in order for it to be valuable. Believe it or not there are good condition comics from decades past that still sell for just five or ten dollars, because their subject matter, or writers and artists, or some other factor, is not highly sought by collectors. But if you have an old comic book, in great condition, that features the debut of a noteworthy character (Batman or Spider-Man, for example), chances are it’s going to have a number of collectors actively hoping to find a copy.
I always advocate comics primarily as reading material — there’s no greater value to be had from a comic than a great reading experience. But there’s no question that valuable comics are out there, and there are many collectors who put the monetary value of their books far ahead of any other consideration. So, if you must put a price on your comics, go to your library and check out The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It is far, far from perfect, but it will give you a rough idea what your books may be worth. Don’t forget that condition counts for a lot, and remember to grade your comics accurately. It’s hard to face facts when you think your comics may be extremely valuable, but you must handle them carefully and be honest with yourself and your potential buyers about whatever flaws they may possess.
Finally, remember that if you try to sell your comics to a comic book dealer, chances are, at best, they will give you 50 percent of the values listed in the Overstreet guide. The reason for this is simply overhead: The dealer has bills to pay, and in order to make a profit, he must pay you less than Guide price in order to be able to sell that same comic at or around Guide price, and be able to stay in business.
If you want to get the maximum return on valuable comics you may own, you’ll have to sell them some other way, such as through an online or real-world auction service. This is much more time-consuming, though, so think about what’s most important to you: Selling them fast (to a dealer, for less money), or getting the most money (selling them to individual collectors). Many comic book-related websites feature “marketplace” sections in their message boards, so take a look around and see what options you have for selling your comics.
Whatever you choose to do with your comics, I hope you’ll take the time to read them, and find the great worlds of wonder and imagination that the very best ones hold within their pages. Ultimately, that thrilling experience of a story well-told is the most valuable thing about any comic book.
— Alan David Doane
My family lived in Florida in the 1970s, and in 1980, when I was about 14, we moved back to upstate New York from whence we came and where we belonged. Now, I had discovered all sorts of wonderful things between, say, 1978 and 1980: The Bud Plant Catalog, Cerebus, Star*Reach, The Comics Journal, hell, the very existence of comic book stores probably hit in there somewhere, in that formative 12-to-14 year old time in my life.
And while there were no “good comic shops” (as I like to call them) where we lived (St. Augustine, Florida — this may have changed since 1980, I’ve never been back and would not know), there was one used coin shop that both bought and sold comics and had maybe 5 or 10 longboxes full of back issues. This was the first store ever where I experienced bringing in my unwanted extras and stuff I no longer cared for and walking out flush with cash.
In my memory, that store paid full guide for back issues, but knowing what I know now, that seems sort of impossible. Maybe they paid some crazy figure like 80 percent of guide and kept a low profit margin; after all, comics were just a sidelight in this shop. But at any rate, I probably sold many hundreds if not thousands of my accumulated comics to that store in a two-year or so time period — all my Bill Mantlo/Sal Buscema Incredible Hulks certainly ended up there: Incredible Hulk by Mantlo and Buscema was one of those comics that seemed awesome at 10 and incredibly lame by 12, you know?
But between that shop and the great number of 7/11s and Jiffy Marts that were in our area (one within walking distance of our home in St. Augustine Shores, a middle-class housing development built on swampland on the outskirts of town — that one was a Jiffy Mart that became a 7/11), I never wanted for comics. They were always available, either new in the convenience stores or used at that coin shop. In fact, not a weekend went by, probably from the age of 8 or 9 right up until we moved when I was 14 that I would not take a buck or three and walk down to the Jiffy Mart (it was Jiffy Mart most of the time we lived there, in my memory) and get some comics, a Slush Puppy (later a Slurpie once it became 7/11), and walk home with my bounty, set for the weekend of reading. And in the early part of those years, when comics were 20 cents? Two bucks bought a lot of comics. Toward the end I think they were closer to 35 or 40 cents, so, then, not so much. But I digress…
So, living in Florida: Plenty of comics to be had. Flash ahead to 1980, back in upstate New York (where my comics addiction had begun, at the age of 6, recovering from having my tonsils out): After she had the good sense to leave her husband, my mom moved us (me, my brother and her) to the very small town (literally one red light in those days; it might be three, now) of Greenwich, in Washington County. And like in St. Augustine, we lived not “in town,” but rather on the outskirts. And rural Washington County is pretty damn rural. Not Deliverance rural, where we were, but closer to that than to any sort of Gilmore Girls small-town idyll.
Greenwich had no comic shops. Unicorn Comics in Saratoga Springs, probably the second most significant comics shop of my teenage years after FantaCo in Albany (40 miles south and reserved for special trips, maybe once a month), would not open for months, so as we settled in Greenwich, I was parched for comics with nothing but desert all around.
Downtown in Greenwich one day with mom and my younger brother, we went into Hughes Newsroom. Ah-ha! There on the bottom tier of a two-tiered magazine rack were the comics. Well, you knew they had to be here somewhere, right? 1980 was still in the beginning years of the direct market, and comics were living out their dying breaths in the mainstream magazine distribution chain, so they generally could be found in most towns, but you had to look.
I grabbed as many as I could afford (read: talk my mom into buying for me) and went up to the counter. The old man, Hughes himself, took the stack of maybe half-a-dozen comics. He put them on the counter. He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.
Again: He put the palm of one hand on the bottom half of the cover of the top book on the stack, and then, one by one, he bent the covers back to see the prices and ring them up on the cash register.
In my head, a voice screamed: OH MY GOD. HE IS KILLING MY COMICS. STOP KILLING MY COMICS!
In the store, a young teenage boy smiled meekly as the old man, Hughes himself, handed me a bag with my now-ruined comics and no doubt told me to “have a nice day.” A day he had just destroyed by KILLING MY COMICS.
It was no different than bringing a hamster to the cash register of a pet shop, having the clerk break its neck, take your money and hand you the dead hamster in a paper bag. In fact, this is exactly what it felt like.
And I’d like to tell you that I either spoke up next time, or never shopped there again, but as I say, other than once or twice a month trips to FantaCo in Albany, I had no comics and I was hooked on comics. You may be able to relate, but from the age of 6 until, well, now, my whole life in any retail environment is basically where are the comics? Are there comics here? No? Anywhere nearby? Have you any comics? Come on, there must be some comics here someplace! And in those days, that was a successful strategy more often than not. Every garage sale, thrift shop, drug store and supermarket had the comics; you just had to look. And look I did.
But no, it was many weeks — maybe months — before I screwed up the courage to take my stack to the counter at Hughes Newsroom and meekly say to to the old man, Hughes himself, “Could you please not bend them?”
You could have heard a pin drop, as they say.
In my memory, he was smoking a cigar. That may be my brain playing tricks on me, but intimidating and big is how I remember this old man, and I swear to God I think he was smoking a cigar. A short, stubby one. Which he would have had to take out to ask me, “What?”
And there it was, in my first moment of comics consumer activism (that’s right, blame old man Hughes), I repeated my plea that he please not break my hamster’s neck. I mean, please don’t bend my comics.
Boy howdy, did he ever look at me like I was out of my mind. I guaran-damn-tee you that every comic book he ever sold, from probably the 1940s when that store probably opened up until the chubby teenager spoke up in spring or summer of 1980, every comic book that old man ever sold had its spine broken by his checkout method. Palm on lower half of cover of top comic: Check. Comics bent back one by one to verify prices: Check. Comics ruined: Check.
And thinking about it, back then, every damned comic cost the same! Always! Unless you were buying some outsized Warren magazine or Heavy Metal, they were all the same price! All he had to do was count them. But no!
It was some tense moments, there, in Hughes Newsroom there in early 1980. But after I explained, no doubt with many stutters and stammers and a good deal of flop sweat, that he was destroying any resale value the comics might have had (and by then, as noted, I had a good deal of experience reselling my old comics), he came around. Never again did old man Hughes destroy my comics when I checked out there, which I did at least twice a week. See, his distributor dropped off the new comics twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, I think it was, so I was in there twice a week. And from then on, there were no more broken spines on my comics from Hughes Newsroom.
At least, not for me. I wonder now if he extended the same courtesy to anyone else who bought comics there. If anyone else even did.
— Alan David Doane