Long Beach Comic Expo 2015 on $0 per day

LBCC-2015

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

The Long Beach Comic Expo is the “small” version of the Long Beach Comic Con that typically occurs in the February-April timeframe, as opposed to the Long Beach Comic Con that occurs in September/October.  It used to be that the “Expo” was a one day show, but now that it’s the same two day duration the line is beginning to blur between the two.   They now seem mostly like a Spring and Fall version of the same con.

This year the Expo moved back into February to avoid an April already crowded with WonderCon, MegaCon, C2E2 and several other shows (just look at the convention calendar to see how many cons are scheduled!) and that made it my first con of 2015 and I had a very different experience than I’ve every had at a show.

What made it different?  A personal shift from treating the con as a place to empty my wallet in a binge of shopping into an focused experience with comics and comics creators.

In the past, I’ve always gone to a con with a shopping list and a number of things that I wanted to spend money on.  I wanted to buy X number of comics on my want list.  I wanted to buy various con exclusive items.  I wanted to buy commissions from artists.  I wanted to buy comics and sketchbooks ranging in price from $5 to $50 from creators up and down Artist’s Alley.  Even though I’ve had, over the years, many great conversations with people while buying their wares (and I love supporting comics creators as much as I’m able) I realize I’ve had a very consumer-centric experience at 50+ conventions over the past 25 years.  How much did that color my experiences?   What is the con experience like for the attendee that does not have an almost bottomless wallet?  Given the amount of money I’ve been dropping on early Silver Age comics over the past several month (as people who have been following ComicSpectrum on Facebook or who watch my “Countdown to Complete” web page may have noticed) I decided that it was time to slow down.  Could I have fun without spending money?

Right out of the gate, I had to pay $10 for parking, and there is of course the cost of gas to drive to and from the convention.  I’m lucky in that I get a press badge so don’t have to pay to get in the door, but that is an expense that most other people would have to bear.  So let’s say that spending no money is “nothing over and above the cost of getting in the door”.  The “no cost” experience is going to vary for everyone based on their particular interests and what a con offers to track to those interests.  This will generally break into 3 categories:

  1. Meeting/talking to creators on the show floor (and people at publisher booths, which often includes creators)
  2. Attending panels
  3. Interacting with your fellow fans
JKWoodward-LBCE2015

JK Woodward – Photo CREDIT Bob Bretall

Creators/Publishers on the Show Floor
I always look at the listing of the guests & Artists’s Alley before attending a con.  I check to see what creators are there that I’d like to meet, I can plan out what books I might bring to get autographs, and I will often decide who I want to hit up for a commission (but that one was out for this show since I didn’t want to spend money).  Long Beach had a decent selection of creators, many of whom I’ve met before (some multiple times).  There were some big names and other lesser known creators, some who I have been following for a long time and some that I have recently discovered.  It really serves to broaden your horizons if you reach out and try the work of creators before they become Marvel, DC, or Image’s “next big thing”.  Many creators who go on to later fame really tend to remember the fans who talked to them and supported them when they were still relatively unknown.

I hit up several of my “usual suspects” and touched base with how they were doing.  Richard Starkings (Elephantment), Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), Josh Finney & Kat Rocha (World War Kaiju), Josh Fialkov (The Bunker, The Life After), Ray-Anthony Height (Midnight Tiger), Mike Kunkel (Herobear), Travis Hanson (The Bean), Norm Rapmund (The Flash), David Baron (Bloodshot: Reborn), Ryan Winn (Divinity).  I spent the time from 9am-noon just talking to these people and there was so many more I hadn’t even gotten to yet!  While catching up with JK Woodward (Star Trek Doctor Who, City on the Edge of Forever) I ended up watching his table for a while so he could step out for a smoke-break.  It was fun interacting with the fans who came up and waxing eloquent ( I hope) about his lush painted art and letting them know he’d be back shortly.  He had a large portfolio of originals I went through pointing out particularly cool pieces with more than one person who happened by.

Ashcans

I talked to people at the Aspen, IDW, Lion’sForge, and Top Cow publisher booths.  Both marketing folks about what’s coming out and creators.  I had a wonderful conversation about artistic influences with Isaac Goodhart (Postal) at the Top Cow booth.  I picked up free ashcan comics for Legends of Baldur’s Gate, Star Trek/Planet of the Apes, and Zombies vs. Robots from IDW.  I got ashcans for Miami Vice: Remix and Knight Rider at Lion Forge (who had a separate booth buy are publishing these via IDW).

I had some quick “fly-by hellos” (just to let them know that I am a fan and thanking them for the enjoyment they have brought me over the years) with creators like Bob Layton, Jim Mahfood, Gerry Conway, Ethan Van Sciver, and Terry & Rachel Dodson.  Friends of mine at the show were excited to meet Chris Claremont and stood in a long line for an autograph & interaction with him.  There were ther creators in attendance I’d have liked to chat with that I just didn’t get around to seeing.

I’m lucky in that I have a very broad interest in comics and there always seem to be plenty of creators at a convention that I have a good time talking to.

All-in-all I spent about half my time at the con talking with creators one-on-one.
Total cost: $0

RichardStarkingsConversation-LBCE2015

Richard Starkings with Kevin Knight – Photo CREDIT Bob Bretall

Attending Panels
Panels are where the Long Beach Comic Expo is pretty mediocre for me personally, but may be a huge win for someone with different tastes.  They have a LOT of panels focusing on Hollywood media properties and celebrities (multiple tracks worth).  They have an entire track for Cosplay.  They have an entire track focused on how to make comics (for people who want to break into comics themselves).

Where they are inadequate, in my opinion, is on tracks dedicated to fans of READING comics that have no desire to work in the industry.  Other cons I have been to have much more robust panel tracks dedicated to topics for people who want to hear about current comics, past comics, groups of comics creators talking about the comics they’re currently making.  They also didn’t have full descriptions of the panels on the website or in the printed program, just panel titles.  If you went down to the panel area they did have descriptions on some poster boards, but it would have been nice to have these more accessible.

It’s not that they had none of this, it just showed a definite lack of emphasis.  There were several great “Spotlight On” panels where Kevin Knight from Eat.Geek.Play talked to creators and I learned a lot in these in-depth conversations.  The Long Beach staff kind of dropped the ball managing these. Typically there is someone on the con staff that goes and gets guests to escort them to the panels to ensure they know where to go and that they arrive on time.  Apparently they just assumed the guests would show up where & when they were supposed to.  I went to the “Spotlight on Terry & Rachel Dodson” that was supposed to start at 12:30.  By 12:50, nobody had showed up and I was tired of watching an empty stage so I left .  At this point I could have gone to a panel talking about DC’s Convergence event at 1pm, and maybe should have, but opted instead to go back up and have some more one-on-one time with creators.

When  I returned a little before 2pm to see the Spotlight on Richard Starkings, Knight was up on stage talking to the Dodsons, so they apparently showed up at some point after I left.  Starkings himself showed up about 15 minutes late, wondering why nobody had come to get him.  But, after that SNAFU, there was a solid 75 minutes of engaging conversation with Starkings who I have seen numerous times on panels before and I still learned new things about him:  Like the time he ran away from home when he was 3, or his earliest exposure to Marvel comics in the “single ink color” UK reprints with Hulk in green ink, Spider-Man in red ink, and the FF in blue ink.

TARDIS

How to spot a genuine TARDIS…look at the window panes

I might add that this panel was not in a room, but was in a reception area off the main hall and we would constantly be interrupted by the noise of people walking by having loud conversations or running squealing up to a replica TARDIS set up near where we were.  At one point Richard took matters into his own hands and shouted to an extremely loud group of girls that they should not take pictures with the TARDIS as it was obviously fake.  The real TARDIS has 6 panes on each window, whilst the one on display here had 9 panes per window….an obvious copy of the “real deal”.  Pure gold!

Stan Sakai Conversation1-LBCE2015

Stan Sakai with Kevin Knight – Photo CREDIT Bob Bretall

Next up was the “Spotlight on Stan Sakai”.  Stan, the consummate professional, showed up on time at 3:30pm, he even had wrangled up an easel with a large paper pad so he could do some drawings during his time on stage.

StanSakaiConversation2-LBCE2015

Stan Sakai – Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

Listening to Stan talk about the history of Usagi was fascinating as always (host Knight mispronounced Usagi for the entire interview…but Stan remained unrattled).  Stan recounted his research for the stories, talked about what’s coming next, and revealed that while he doesn’t seek out licensing opportunities, he’s happy to talk to people who come to him with proposals for making Usagi stuff.

There was also a Chris Claremont “X-Men Anniversary” panel that several of my friends (huge X-Fans all) attended and thoroughly enjoyed.

All in all, while there were some hiccups, but I really enjoyed the panels I did attend.  My main wish would be for even more variety of choice spread out across the day of content for comics readers on things that are not tied into media properties.

Interacting with fellow fans
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…my favorite part of cons is getting together with my “comics friends” who I may interact with via the internet on a normal basis but can actually see face-to-face at cons.

The con had a “moment of silence” on Saturday morning in honor of Leonard Nimoy.  An entire convention center of people with one hand held high in a Vulcan salute, remembering for a moment a man who had likely entertained the majority of them at some point over the years.  This was a touching experience to kick off the convention.

I walked around with some friends on the floor, attended panels with others, and capped the day off by going for dinner at a local restaurant with a group (not counting the cost of dinner against my “con spend”, I have to eat anyway…)

I got a little shopping out of my system without spending any money because a friend of mine who was not at the con texted me and asked if I could look around for an Avengers #28 for him.  He gave me his condition desires and the amount of money he was willing to pay and I was off.  I checked at something like 15 vendors and ultimately only 2 had copies, both of them asking way more than the price my friend was willing to pay, so it’s back to eBay for him.

I got introduced to “con pricing” while talking to one of the comic vendors (usually not something they discuss with someone holding a handful of purchases).  The idea here is that for certain comics that could probably easily be found cheaper online, there is a case to be made for selling them at a slightly marked up price because there is a benefit in not having to search for them from multiple vendors online and possibly pay separate shipping fees.  Plus a creator might be at the con and if a customer buys the comic now they can go over and get it signed.  We’re not talking about ridiculous price gouging here, but a few extra bucks per comic that is essentially that convenience fee that is likely not even going to be noticed by a casual fan that does not make a point of scouring prices online to know that a comic is easily available for less.  Add to that the fact that a new comic is $4, so a comic from 25 years ago being priced at $4 or 5 instead of $1 may not even be noticed.  The ethics of this are debatable, and really boil down to the fact that any comic is “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it PLUS the old adage “Let the buyer beware”.

I met and talked to people I’d never met before.  I had a long conversation with one guy about early Marvel comics (kicked off by him asking why Thor’s 1st appearance was in Journey into Mystery #83 instead of in Thor #1 at a booth on the con floor).

The value you will get out of interacting with other fans has a lot to do with what you put into it.  I’m not particularly shy about starting conversations with people I’ve never met before, so I make the most of this and it’s a fun way to share thoughts and ideas with other people who have something in common with you; the love of comics.  This is something I highly recommend for anyone who has not done it before.

Conclusion
$10 – Parking
$20 – Dinner with friends
$0 – comics, toys, and collectibles
Priceless – the interactions I had with friends and creators

Ultimately, I made it through the con.  I saw a lot of things I wanted to buy but that I certainly didn’t need to buy (which, come to think of it, defines all of the 95,000+ comics and multitude of additional items of ephemera in my collection).   Not buying things was much harder because I spent so much time on the show floor (given the small number of panels that were interesting to me).  I was definitely saved by the friends and the conversations I had.  If I was just alone wandering the floor without the personal interactions to provide constant distraction it would have been much tougher.

The fact that I had to consciously decide on a fairly regular basis “That looks cool, I’d like to buy that….but I’m not going to.”   I like buying stuff.  I’m a consumer at heart.  I’m addicted to material possessions.  I don’t think that makes me a bad person, though it makes me firmly a member of the American middle class.  Will I repeat this experiment?  I might try it again at WonderCon coming up in April.  They typically have a much richer schedule of panels that appeal to me as a comic reader so it would be interesting to see how much, if at all, easier it is to skip buying stuff.  I’ll check back with you in a month and let you know!

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Who Puts Comics in Their “Comic Con”?

WonderCon2014

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

I’ve heard it many times:  “Media is taking over my Comic Con”.  To a greater or lesser degree it’s true for most “comic” cons nowadays.

With the popularity of super-hero movies (primarily from Marvel), the advent of a lot of great TV shows based on comics properties (like Green Arrow, Flash, Gotham, and Walking Dead), and reality shows focusing on cosplay and other aspects of geek culture.  With all this, it’s no surprise that awareness of characters and concepts from the comics is more pervasive throughout our pop culture than at any point in the past 30+ years.

With that popularity comes the inevitable desire to capitalize on that interest by driving people who are into these pop culture topics to local cons.  I try to keep up with the larger conventions on the ComicSpectrum Convention Calendar, there are over 80 of these between now and a year from now!  There’s something going on somewhere in the world pretty much every week, and I’m not including the vast majority of the 1-day “hotel/civic center shows”.

So what caused me to write this Blog?  I got a press release about the Heart of Texas Comic Con and when I visited their page the 1st thing I noticed was there was nobody involved in actually making comics being hyped on the main landing page:

HoTCon

We had Wrestlers.  Actors from TV shows & movies.  Voice Actors from animation.  Nobody from comics!  But how consistent is was this trend?  I looked at a few other upcoming cons (in no way an exhaustive examination):

Amazing Arizona Con: Bravo!  On the main page the 1st 14 featured guests are comics writers & artists before we make it down to the Power Ranger actors.

Wizard World Indianapolis: The 1st 18 Special guests are actors and wrestling personalities before we get to the 6 special guests from the world of comics.  I give them credit for having an extensive list of comic creators in their own section farther down the page after all the media celebs, but at the same time, a bit sad that the comic guests take a back seat at what is ostensibly a “comic” con.

Long Beach Comic Expo: Comics personalities (including Stan Sakai, Ethan van Skiver, and the 1st Annual Dwayne McDuffie Awards for Diversity) are mixed in as about 50% of the content, and I was please to see they were not all listed at the bottom after all the media folks.

Planet Comicon: Falls into the “Media Guests all at the top” syndrome” but makes up for it with a really nice slate of comics creators listed right below the crowd of celebs.

Emerald City ComiCon: Nicely done!  The default “guests view is a mixture of comics writers, artists, novelist & cosplay in alphabetic order.  You need to click thru to the page for “Celebrity Guests” so the emphasis is skewed away from the celebs.

WonderCon: Special guests are almost completely skewed to comics creators.

C2E2: The ‘guests’ page defaults to Comics guests and the comic creators vastly outnumber the celebs.  This show is definitely skewed towards comics.

At this point I stopped looking and decided that Heart of Texas Con aside, the apocalypse was not on the horizon and comics creators are still attending shows all around with regularity.

This is not to say that you might not walk up to a convention and find all kinds of advertisements for TV shows, movies, and video games.  Marketing people know who goes to these events and it’s smart to advertise these things to a targeted audience interested in this sort of stuff.  You might also walk into a convention center and be assailed by booths hyping everything BUT comics.  Every con will vary.

What I can say is that if you check out the web-site of the convention you’re interested in attending and scope out the people you want to meet beforehand (which can skew to media celebs, comic creators, or a nice mix of both) you’ll be far better prepared to find who you want to meet and get the best possible experience out of your time spent at the convention.

Whatever your goal, most conventions seem to have a mixture of a great many things and you can focus on those elements that will make the time spent most enjoyable for you.

So, who puts comics in their comic con?  MOST conventions do.  You might just need to fight your way past a crowd of actors selling autographs to get to them.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Do You Like to Read Comics But Not Keep the Paper Around?

Scribd-cover

CREDIT: Scribd.

There are a lot of people who love reading comics but are challenged by keeping huge piles of the darned things around after the reading is done.  While I am not one of those people (as you might have guessed from the fact that I have over 95,000 different physical comics, I kind of like keeping the things around) I can appreciate the people who crave the simplicity of not being weighed down but still want the entertainment value of the comics.

The merits of current books vs. older comics and reading vs. collecting is a debate for another day.  Personally I think people should do whatever makes them happy.  That said, what I HOPE will make them happy is reading more great stories in comics and not just keeping the things unread in plastic slabs for investment purposes.

MarvelDigital

CREDIT: Marvel

We’ve had Comixology and several other digital providers for years.  I love Comixology, but personally cannot see the logic in paying full price to get a digital comic day & date of release just so I can talk about it on the internet, but some people love this capability, so more power to them.  If I’m going to pay full price for a Marvel $3.99 book I’ll buy the physical copy and redeem the digital code in the issue.  I can then read it on my iPad and do whatever I want with the physical issue (of course, I want to keep that physical copy in my huge collection, but someone else could just turn around and give the physical copy away to someone).  Another thing I like about my Marvel digital redemption is that it is automatically synched to my Comixology account.

FreeComics

CREDIT: Comixology

Comixology is great because they offer a lot of free comics you can read without paying a penny.  Of course, as with any good “try before you buy” marketing, they are giving you a lot of issue #1 comics in hopes that you’ll like them enough to come back and buy the subsequent issues.  They also have frequent sales of comics for 99 cents a piece (which is a great price point for me, if I’m going to buy digital) as well as having some awesome bundle deals every now and again (I have bought bundles of 100 indie comics for $10 in the past…10 cent comics, OH YEAH!!)

There has been the Marvel Unlimited subscription which is a great way to get “all you can read” comics if you want to focus only on Marvel (and a lot of people do).  I’m not judging you.  Really.  (Well maybe a bit…)   Personally I like to have some variety in my comics reading and like to sprinkle if stuff outside the super-hero genre.  Then there was ComicBin that offered a subscription based “all you can read” model.  They went too far in the Indie direction, featuring all smaller independent publishers.  Some really great variety, but sometimes you just want to read a Spider-Man or X-Men comic.

And then came Scribd.  Some people are calling this the “Netflix of comics”.

Scribd

My Facebook pal Susan Baroncini-Moe (who I met when we were doing our appearance on “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”) asked me a question earlier this week about Scribd. She noticed some of their advertising that they had just added 10,000 comics!!  I’d never heard of them before, so I did a little research.  Scribd offers lots of comics from top publishers Marvel, Archie, Dynamite, IDW, Top Cow, Top Shelf, Valiant, and Zenescope for a single monthly fee.  In addition to comics, you also have access to prose books from a wide variety of popular authors and audiobooks all for the same monthly fee.  They offer a 1 month free trial.  Hey, this looked pretty good.

The $8.99 per month price is good if you will use it and read comics every month. While most of the stuff they have is stuff I’ve read (heck, I read a LOT of comics) it’s a treasure-trove of stuff for people who have read less comics than me (which is most people, I’d suspect….)  If you read at least 9 comics a month that’s a buck a piece. Read 18 and it’s 50 cents each.  To me, that’s pretty economical,  definitely worth trying for the free month. If you find that you are finding a good amount you like to read each month then it’s worth continuing.  The Caveat: It’s mostly stuff from the back-lists of the companies involved. This shouldn’t matter if you just want comics to read, but not a solution for people who want to read the latest stories being chatted about in internet chat-rooms.

Susan asked me if I had anything I’d recommend.  Hmmm, I had to look a little further.  There was a lot of stuff on there I had really enjoyed!  Some  REALLY good stuff (of course everyone’s taste differs so YMMV):
IDW – Locke & Key + the Parker adaptations by Darwyn Cooke
Archie – Afterlife with Archie
Marvel – Thor (both the Samnee series & the run by Simonson) + the Captain America & Daredevil runs by Ed Brubaker + Runaways
Top Cow – Madame Mirage + Twilight Guardian
Valiant – Harbinger + Rai

Wow!  Just a cursory examination of their selection and there was a LOT of material that I had read and loved. Certainly plenty to keep most people amused for their trial month. A lot of what I recommended strays away from the standard “guys in tights wailing the crap out of one another” but should be a good cross-section of what comics can be besides just super-heroes. Even the super-hero books I recommended are not the standard stuff people may remember from years back.

So, if you like reading comics and give these guys a try for the free trial, drop me a note and let me know if you found stuff you liked reading. I’d really like to know how strong of a recommendation we can give Scribd based on actual user feedback.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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For Fans of Alex Ross Art…

Alex Ross Art

I love Alex Ross art.  Love it.  That said, I know that he is not everyone’s cup of tea.  If you’re not a fan, you can feel free to move on, this post is for fans.

The picture up above is a giclee print I bought at the Warner Brothers store back in 2001.  The image is a massive 34″ x 46″, and the matte and frame make it even bigger.  It’s been hanging over my primary work area at home for about 14 years now and I’m still not tired of it.  Ross shares a love for the classic interpretation of characters that is the vision that comes to my mind when I think of these characters.  We’re simpatico.

Many (most?) comics fans are familiar with his work and have an opinion of it.  Kingdom Come (written by Mark Waid) is probably my favorite comic story of all time.  That’s a dual nod to Waid’s story and what I feel is Ross’ masterful illustration.

But I’m not here to do a full run-down or analysis of Alex Ross.  I’m here to point fellow Ross fans to something I found on the internet this week.  The Norman Rockwell Museum is having an exhibit “Heroes & Villains – The Comic Book Art of Alex Ross” and as part of that exhibit they have some featured pieces of art on the web-site.  The best part is that each of these images also has a short audio clip with Ross talking about the piece. As he talked about the Norman Rockwell sketch “United Nations” it was fascinating to hear the influence this piece had on his Kingdom Come covers.  I’ve always liked to hear artists talking about their artistic influences and how they have influenced and informed the development of their own style.

It’s also fascinating to see some drawings he did when he was 4 and 10 years old.  This should be encouragement to any budding young artists you may know!

If you’re a fan of Ross, I encourage you to check out the web page for the Normal Rockwell exhibit on his work.  The exhibit at the museum happened 2 years ago (as of this posting) and I’m so glad they left the web-page up for us to continue to visit.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Flying Below the Radar: February 2015

flyingbelowtheradar-logo-feb

by ComicSpectrum EiC Bob Bretall.

This is a Blog I do once a month as I read through the advance solicits for comics shipping in two months.  Every month your local comic shop (LCS) places orders with Diamond Comics for what comics will be on their rack two months down the road.  That means in February they’re ordering the things that they’ll be selling in April, 2015.

This month we have a lot of great items that could have flown below your radar!  Since this is devoted to having you notice things you might otherwise miss, the larger Publishers are covered last!   This month Archie continues reinventing itself with titles that have piqued my interest from Dark Circle. BOOM! puts out some collected editions perfect for people who missed some of the best of 2014 the 1st time around. One of the best sci-fi comics on the stand enters a new phase from Oni Press, Joe Benitez is back with his creator-owned steampunk heroine, and Des Taylor debuts his new creator-owned super-spy. Dark Horse bring us the unlikely pairings of a teen icon and a monster from space as well as the father of the US vs. the forces of the supernatural before bringing it back to ‘normal’ with a straight action/history book from the pen of Brian Wood also set during the Revolutionary War. Disney comes back to comics, and it’s not with their subsidiary Marvel, how’s that for a vote of ‘no confidence’?  IDW puts out a new lower-cost version of the Artist’s Edition, called an ‘Artisan Edition’ in Softcover, starting with Wally Wood’s work, and many more new comics that could have easily flown below your radar!  I cover lots of cool stuff that you may miss if you’re not reading though all the solicits like I do…  I scour the solicits so you don’t have to!

Comic shop owners are typically aware of the books from the big publishers particularly superhero stuff and “hot” indie books (usually AFTER they become hot) - beyond that there are no guarantees.  Even if they know about a particular comic they may not order it to put out on their racks.  I keep track of advance solicits that get posted on-line on the ComicSpectrum website each month, if there is something you really want that’s not guaranteed to be on the rack (like Batman or Spider-Man), you should consider letting your comic shop know you’re interested so they’ll know to order it.

Most of the items shown here are things you may not see on the racks in every comic shop.  If it looks cool to you, make sure you ask your LCS to order it.  Heck, start a pull list at your shop and add the books you’re interested in so your shop will save them for you and you don’t have to worry about them selling out.

TheShield-1Hackvar-7541f4333418-bv275ahvar
CREDIT: Archie/Dark Circle                       CREDIT: Archie Comics

THE SHIELD #1 [Archie/Dark Circle]
Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig (Writers) • David Williams and Gary Martin (Artists)
Archie continues reinventing itself in the Dark Circle Line, definitely worth checking out!
“Daughter of the Revolution, Part 1” Since the dawn of the republic, whenever her country faces its blackest days, she returns: a spirit of the revolution sent to fight for what is right. But when she reappears for the first time in a generation with no memories—not even of her own identity—and encounters an evil force expecting her arrival, all the Shield can do is… run!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

BETTY & VERONICA #275 [Archie]
Michael Uslan (Script) • Dan Parent (Artist)
The girls have arrived in Mumbai, India! They’re ready to move into their temporary homes… and their new identities as Veronica takes on the role as “Betty,” and Betty takes on the role as “Veronica”! Will anyone catch onto their little game? Meanwhile, back in Riverdale, the boys are enjoying the acquaintances of the new transfer students Violette and Banni! But can these two new transfers ever really take the place of their beloved Veronica and Betty? Plus, we’re commemorating this milestone 275th issue with a double-sized issue featuring plenty of bonus content and multiple collector covers!
FC / 48 pgs / $4.99

BOOM_Thomas_Alsop_v1_TP-227x350 BOOMBOX_Lumberjanes_V1_TP-227x350
CREDIT: BOOM! Studios                   CREDIT: BOOM! Box

THOMAS ALSOP V1 TP [BOOM! Studios]
Chris Miskiewicz (Writer) • Palle Schmidt (Artist)
What would you do if you had the magical ability and responsibility to protect the island of Manhattan from supernatural forces of evil? Well, if you’re Thomas Alsop, you get a reality television show and make some money off of it, that’s what! Alsop is the current “Hand of the Island,” a title handed down from generation to generation. He guards Manhattan from evil, using his family’s prowess for magic. Thomas has money and fame, but also the burden of a being this generation’s occult warrior. Can he survive the battles both within and without? Collects issue #1-4.
FC / 112 pgs / $14.99

LUMBERJANES V1 TP [BOOM! Box]
Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis (Writers) • Brooke Allen (Artist)
At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams! Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here. Collects issues #1-4.
FC / 128 pgs / $14.99

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CREDIT: Oni Press                                           CREDIT: Valiant

LETTER 44 #15 [Oni Press]
Charles Soule (Writer) • Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (Artist)
Jump on board one of the most original series in comics that may have been flying below your radar!
World War Three. Nine months have passed since US President Stephen Blades revealed to the world the existence of an alien presence in the asteroid belt. The planet has erupted into chaos, with sweeping social, economic and military upheaval touching every corner of the globe. Nine months have passed since the crew of the Clarke was abducted by the alien visitors and brought aboard their moon-sized space station, the Chandelier. They have been living there ever since, not allowed to leave or communicate with Earth – but enough is enough. The time has come for answers.
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

BLOODSHOT REBORN #1 [Valiant]
Jeff Lemire (Writers) • Mico Suayan and Jeff Lemire (Artists)
Bloodshot’s nanites made him a nearly unstoppable killing machine. His enhanced strength, speed, endurance, and healing made him the perfect weapon, and he served his masters at Project Rising Spirit — a private contractor trafficking in violence — very well.
Now, Bloodshot is a shadow of his former self. He lives in self-imposed exile, reeling from the consequences of his past life and the recent events that nearly drove him mad. But when a rash of shootings by gunmen who appear to look just like Bloodshot begin, his guilt will send him on a mission to stop the killers, even if it means diving headlong into the violence that nearly destroyed him.
FC / 40 pgs / $3.99

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CREDIT: Benitez Productions                  CREDIT: Titan Comics

LADY MECHANIKA: THE TABLET OF DESTINIES #1 (of 6) [Benitez Productions]
M.M. Chen (Writer) • Joe Benitez (Artist)
After a young friend shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, Lady Mechanika finds herself on a globe-spanning trek in search of the Tablet of Destinies, an ancient Mesopotamian artifact reputed to hold the knowledge of the gods and the secrets of the universe. Join us for the beginning of an all-new adventure with our favorite steampunk heroine!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

SCARLETT COUTURE #1 [Titan Comics]
Des Taylor (Writer/Artist)
Beautiful. Intelligent. Deadly. Scarlett Couture is all of these things, and more. She’s a spy. Using her cover as Head of Security for her mother’s internationally renowned fashion house, she gathers intelligence for the CIA. In this explosive first issue, Scarlett follows her instincts right into the middle of the action and finds she needs to use all her wits to get herself out of hot water!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

infiniteloop1 wallywood
CREDIT: IDW                                                    CREDIT: IDW

THE INFINITE LOOP #1 [IDW]
Pierrick Colinet (Writer) • Elsa Charretier (Artist)
A dynamically graphic, science-fictiony, poetical, paradoxical wunderkind of a sexy, time-traveling, adventure-packed comic series begins here!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

WALLY WOOD’S STORIES ARTISAN EDITION #1 [IDW]
Al Feldstein, Harvey Kurtzman, And More (Writers) • Wally Wood (Artist)
Introducing a new format within the Artist’s Edition brand — the Artisan Edition! Softcover format, 8 x 12 inches, but still collecting complete stories that are all painstakingly scanned from the original art. If you have been holding off exploring the wonderful world of Artist’s Edition, this is the perfect place to begin!
BW / 152 pgs / $50

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CREDIT: IDW                                                 CREDIT: Dark Horse

UNCLE SCROOGE #1 [IDW]
Jonathan Gray & Rodolfo Cimino (Writers) • Romano Scarpa (Artist)
Disney’s richest epic hero returns in stories originally produced for an Italian audience! In “The Wrath of Gigabeagle,” the McDuck Money Bin meets a monster-sized Beagle Boy mech!
FC / 48 pgs / $3.99

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1 (of 4) [Dark Horse]
Alex de Campi (Writer) • Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski  (Artists)
America’s favorite teen meets the galaxy’s fiercest hunter! Archie and friends hit Costa Rica for Spring Break, where party games and beach games are soon replaced by the Most Dangerous Game! What mysterious attraction does the gang hold for the trophy-collecting Predator, and will the kids even realize they’re in danger before it claims them all?
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

FORGE-1-FC-FNL4x6-0391dREBELS-1-FC-FNL4x6-22499
CREDIT: Dark Horse                                         CREDIT: Dark Horse

THE ORDER OF THE FORGE #1 (of 3) [Dark Horse]
Victor Gischler (Writer) • Tazio Bettin (Artist)
Before he fathered a nation, young George Washington forged his legend in blood! Imbued with the mystical powers of America’s original inhabitants, George—along with his friends Ben Franklin and Paul Revere—must stop an evil governor who wishes to rule an empire!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

REBELS #1 [Dark Horse]
Brian Wood (Writer) • Andrea Mutti (Artist)
In a rush of great public resistance to an oppressive and excessive government, a homegrown militia movement is formed in rural America. This is not 2015, but 1775. With the war for independence playing out across the colonies, young Seth and Mercy Abbott find their new marriage tested at every turn, as the demands of the frontlines and the home front collide. Live Free or Die!
FC / 32 pgs / $3.99

Old-Wounds-coverNoMercy_01
CREDIT: Pop! Goes the Icon                    CREDIT: Image Comics

OLD WOUNDS #1 (of 4) [Pop! Goes the Icon]
Russell Lissau (Writer) • John Bivens (Artist)
Check out a preview of the first 1ssue here: http://comicbastards.com/first-look-old-wounds-1-from-pop-goes-the-icon/
Retired vigilante Michael Lane thought his secrets were long buried in the past, along with his cloak and mask. But when his ex-wife Lori is suddenly killed in a house explosion and his former associates become the targets of similar attacks, those secrets threaten to come back to haunt him.
BW / 32 pgs / $2.99

NO MERCY #1 [Image]
Alex de Campi (Writer) • Carla Speed McNeil (Artist)
It was just a trip, before college. Build schools in a Central American village; get to know some of the other freshmen. But after tragedy strikes, a handful of once-privileged US teens must find their way home in a cruel landscape that at best doesn’t like them, and at worst, actively wants to kill them.
FC / 32 pgs / $2.99

Pisces_01 RunLoveKill_01
CREDIT: Image Comics                                CREDIT: Image Comics

PISCES #1 [Image]
Kurtis J. Wiebe (Writer) • Johnnie Christmas (Artist)
Former fighter pilot Dillon Carpenter found everything he wanted when he returned from the Vietnam War. A loving partner, a dream career training with NASA to travel through space, and soon, he will learn, a prime candidacy for a secret mission, one that will forever change the world: First Contact. But as Dillon prepares, his war trauma returns and he’s haunted by dark visions of his future. There is but one constant; the voice whispering from the stars.
FC / 32 pgs / $3.50

RUNLOVEKILL #1 [Image]
Jonathan Tsuei & Eric Canete (Writer) • Eric Canete (Artist)
Sought after by elements from her violent past, fugitive and assassin Rain Oshiro has just 24 hours to escape a barricaded city while trying to evade a military force determined to either capture or kill her.
FC / 32 pgs / $2.99

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Buying My Grail – Amazing Fantasy #15

Bob_AF15

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

Grail Comic (noun): An elusive comic book that holds significant personal meaning and value for the seeker.  Usually one that has been sought for an extended period of time;  due to rarity, expense relative to the means of the seeker, or both.

Get comfortable, this is going to be a long one…

For those unfamiliar with my “comic book origin”, Spider-Man got me into comics.  While I’d read a number of comics previously (Harvey and Disney kids comics, and a couple of single issues of FF, Batman, and Justice League) but the one that got be coming back for more each and every month was Amazing Spider-Man #88, cover dated Sept. 1970, which would have meant I picked it up off the rack around July 1970.  I’ve been buying comics every month since.

I was set from #88 up to today.  I was buying them as they came out.  At some point I started buying back issues and one of the things I made a point of doing was filling in Amazing Spider-Man.  I got back to issue 20 or so fairly easily over the years, but they got pricier below that and it took a bit more of a concerted effort to collect back to #1.  I found several issues at conventions, but mostly it was eBay that really helped me get back to #1.  eBay gave me access to a world of sellers.  By about 2007 I had every issue of ASM except #1, and it was eBay that got me that #1 issue.  I put in a bid that was about half Overstreet Guide (at the time) on a copy of #1, CGC’d at 4.0.  The auction ended and I was the high bidder but had not met the reserve price on the auction.  Oh well, I’d live to seek a copy another day.  But the seller contacted me via PM.  He was desperate for cash and was willing to sell at my high bid price.  He re-listed it with a Buy It Now price of my max bid at a pre-agreed time of day and I swooped in and bought it.  The first thing I did when I got that copy was crack it out of the CGC slab & read it!  I’ve always had mixed feelings about CGC and have freed a bunch of comics from their plastic imprisonment.

Spider-Man shelf

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

Those early issues of Spider-Man have been on display in my comic room for many years.  I get daily enjoyment out of looking at them.  And in case anyone is curious (people have commented about this before), those windows they are near are sealed double-pane glass with reflective and UV blocker coating.  Heat does not transfer through them.  Those wood shutters are typically about the same ambient temperature as the rest of the room, even when the windows are getting direct sunlight.

So, I had every issue of Amazing Spider-Man.  But I was missing Spider-Man’s first appearance, Amazing Fantasy #15.  This was the true “Holy Grail” for any lover of Spider-Man and is also currently the single most sought after Silver Age comic, even more so than Fantastic Four #1 that started the Marvel Age of comics.  As such, it also carries a pretty hefty price tag and I had pretty much consigned myself to never getting my hands on a copy.

Until I went to New York back in October 2014 to be on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

I visited friends while I was back there and every one of them seemed to have a copy of AF #15.  Lenny had a copy.  Tony had one.  Rick (my co-host on the Pop-Cult Online and plus One lifeline on Millionaire) had one.  When they asked what I’d do with the money if I won, one of the things would have been “buy a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15″.

Then I started to notice articles on-line about Wall Street types investing by buying key Silver Age comics, because the perception was that they were out-performing the stock market.  Did these people actually care about comics?  I’d say mostly probably not, they cared about money, but their actions were causing the prices to increase month-over-month.  It became clear that the longer I waited the more it would end up costing me, if I was ever going to get a copy.  But this was a substantial expense and not something to just jump into, so I had to do my research if I was really going to get serious about buying this comic.

The first step was talking to several friends of mine who were big time into buying CGC’d comics and also interested in the concept of investing in comics.  I also talked to Dinesh Shamdasani (CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Valiant) when I was at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo.  I’d chatted with Dinesh a number of times in the past and knew he was also big time into getting his hands on key comics, in talking to him it seemed like it was for the love of comics with a side interest in the investment potential of these books.  He gave me a lot of great advice and stressed the fact that I’d need to do some legwork.  I also talked to several comic dealers at Comikaze about the market for key books and their insights on buying/selling CGC books and key silver age books in general.  All of these people told me about GPA Analysis for CGC’d comics and the CGC Collector Society message boards.

Why CGC?  For key books, particularly Marvel 1st issues/appearances from the early 1960s, pricing gets all crazy.  These are the books the investors are gobbling up and the books are rising in price month over month.  It’s absolutely crucial to know exactly what you’re getting and make sure you pay accordingly.

I’m cool with buying a comic for a couple of hundred bucks and rolling the dice on condition and whether or not it’s restored.  For super-key comics, the price/value differential for every half grade and the huge hit that restoration provides to the price/value means that knowing a precise grade and whether or not the book is restored makes a HUGE difference.  I can judge grade myself if I’m buying in person, but I’m no expert on identifying restoration.  If you are opening yourself up to online buying  there’s a huge incentive for sellers to knowingly or unknowingly inflate the grade of a book.  For non-key books this isn’t that big of a deal.  I judge what I think the grade is based on the pictures and typically put in a high bid that’s below guide value for a book a grade lower than it looks just to be on the safe side.  I’m not going to overpay by any significant amount.  Telling if a book is restored from a picture is typically going to be really difficult unless it’s really amateur/obvious restoration.

GPA Analysis for CGC is a paid service that offers sales information, trend analysis, and other info on what CGC’d comics are selling for at a lot of the top online auction and dealer sites.  This allows you to get a feeling for the minimum, maximum, and average price (by specific number grade) that the comic you’re interested has been selling for.  This cost me $10 per month, and I subscribed during the months I was seeking out and buying AF #15.  It was well worth the price, because even taking into account that prices are going up, it let me know when someone was asking for a ludicrous price based on the realized market and also when a book was actually a pretty good deal compared to the current market (like the one I ended up buying).

The CGC Collector Society message boards are pretty typical for internet forums.  There are a lot of really knowledgeable people there but also a lot of folks who seem to get off mostly on bragging about what they have and acting superior to people who are new to the hobby (in this case, the sub-genre of comic collectors who buy CGC’d comics).   The forums also seemed to be very heavily trafficked by dealers who are there to buy low and sell high.  It’s a useful resource, but also one that you need to be wary of as a newcomer.  I found that most of the useful information I got, after making a few posts, came from people who PM’d me.  I think they also realized that responding in the threads would open them up to trolling and it was much more productive to have private exchanges of information.   I suspect this would be different if I were to hang out and participate in the forums over time as people got to know me, but buying comics on a sustained basis that are unreadably encased in plastic shells is really not my cup of tea outside of certain fairly specialized cases (e.g. key silver age books).  I got all the information I needed from the folks on the forums and moved on.

Another useful resource was the CGC Census.  You can access this information for free, but you need to register for a free-level account with CGC.  The census basically tells you, for any given comic, how many CGC’d copies exist and in what grades.  That way you’ll know, if for instance you’re looking for CGC 6.0 or higher, how many actually exist and how big a pool of targets you’re searching in.  You can also get details on the number, grade, and degree of restoration on all restored copies of a particular book, if you’re willing to consider getting a restored copy.

The next step in my personal journey after talking to friends and a variety of people (including dealers) was reaching out to dealers and internet sites who specialize in Silver Age keys.  I touched base with several dealers who had been recommended to me via PMs on the CGC boards, but struck out there.  A couple of them didn’t have any copies in stock, the others were asking for more than I was willing to pay.  I think most people are aware that you are rarely going to get the best price if you let a dealer know you want something REALLY BAD.  That has a strong possibility of setting off $-signs in their eyes as they think they can get absolute top dollar from you because you really want what they have.  This is where I needed to be disciplined.  Armed with the CGC census data and GPA price analysis, I knew how many copies were out there and what they were selling for.  There are plenty of copies out there, if I didn’t get the one Dealer A was trying to sell, another one would be along from Dealer B tomorrow.  Or the following week.  The bottom line was that you should take your time, set the parameters for what you want to pay, and wait until the right deal comes along.  Be an informed buyer.  In the end, I only ended up looking for about 6 weeks before I found the right book at the right price and pulled the trigger on it.

Some notes on restoration:  There are collectors who think of restoration as a total show-stopper, they won’t even consider getting a restored book.  CGC identifies restored books with a purple label that some call the “purple label of doom” since it’s the kiss of death on realizing a high price when selling that comic, it pretty much immediately halves the value of a book that was sent in for slabbing.  The new CBCS slabbing service doesn’t identify restoration in anywhere near as flashy a way.  Their label notes the restoration along with other features, but you need to read the label to see this, you wouldn’t notice it from across the room like with the purple label.  In any event, conventional wisdom seems to be that a restored book will go for about 30% – 50% of the price of an unrestored book in the apparent grade (though uber-key issues like AF #15 seem to run closer to the 50% end of this range).  Additionally, “professional” restoration is obviously more well-regarded than “amateur” restoration, and a book that is trimmed (some material sliced off the top, side, and/or bottom to give the book a sharper edge) is considered a cardinal sin by some.  When I talked to Dinesh he made the point to me that comics are one of the few forms of art where professional restoration is considered a major detractor.  “Fine Art” is professionally restored all the time and it’s seen as a plus, preserving and enhancing a rare object.  Personally, as long as the price is right I’m perfectly fine with a restored book.  That is, I’m OK if I’m paying a fair price that factors in the reduction the current market dictates for a restored book.

Back to the hunt: Since I had no luck with sellers from the CGC boards it was time to move on to other internet sites and dealers.  If you’re interested in buying these kinds of vintage comics there are a few sites where you should set up accounts (which are free to set up) and then put the book(s) you’re looking for onto your Want List, this way you’ll be notified when one of them becomes available:
Heritage Auctions - A lot of material moves through this site.  Be careful about the fees, which are numerous.  Buyers pay a “buyer’s premium” of 19.5% on top of the winning bid, PLUS you pay some fairly high shipping & handling fees.  On top of that, since I live in California and Heritage has an auction house in Los Angeles, I get an extra 9% sales tax added.  I’ve found that in the past, I’ve had almost 50% added to the price of some items because of all the fees.  When you’re buying a really pricey item, these fees can be killers.
ComicLink – This site has a lot to choose from and has both auctions and a decent number of “Buy it Now” type listings where you can make a bid lower than the asking price that will sometimes be accepted.  They charge a 3% buyer’s premium (much more reasonable than Heritage’s 19.5%) and their shipping/handling fees, while not cheap, are reasonable ($20 the last time I had 6 comics shipped to me).
ComicConnect – No buyer’s premiums, what you bid is what you pay.  This site also has a combination of auctions and “Buy It Now” that you can  make offers on.
MyComicShop – This is one of my favorite sites on the internet for back issues.  They have monthly auctions that I’ve gotten some good deals on.  They seems to have far fewer of the “uber-key” silver age issues than the other auction sites listed here, but are good sites for a lot of other items many collectors are looking for.  I also have found them to be meticulous in their grading and have been very happy with books I’ve bought from them.
eBay – The largest auction site in the world.  Tons of stuff is bought and sold every day.  A marvelous place as long as you follow the simple rules of buying from established sellers with a lot of positive feedback and being meticulous about examining the auction description and photos.  What I found to be most helpful was creating a custom advanced search and then “following” it.  This way I was automatically notified via e-mail whenever a comic meeting my search criteria was listed for sale.  The obvious keywords to search were “Amazing Fantasy 15 CGC”.  I set a price range on the search with a lower end at $1000 to filter out a bunch of the “noise” like reprints and other ephemera, like prints of the cover of this iconic comic.  I also filtered out listings with the word “variant”.

Next I moved on to the dealers/sites that were recommended to me by friends and from the CGC boards.  In checking out the sites, some I decided not to pursue after an initial evaluation:
PedigreeComics – They had a restored 5.0 listed at a price that was around what an unrestored was going for on the GPA analysis, which was a “high priced site” red flag for me since they were not taking the restoration down-tick in price into account. 
Doug Sulipa’s Comic World – A terribly designed and formatted site that was very difficult to navigate around.  In addition, it’s in Canada which results in high shipping costs to the US as well as possible customs costs, potentially significant on pricey books shipped to the US.
Metropolis Collectibles – They had what I  considered to be grossly overpriced AF #15s  (a raw 3.0 for what a slabbed 4.0 was going for on GPA).  Additionally, in looking at the pictures of their raw books, I personally considered them to be over-grading a decent number of the books I was looking at.  While this is totally subjective and others might very well agree with their grading, it’s a personal decision and I’d rather work with a site where I generally agree with the grading.

For the sites that I liked upon 1st examination, I set up accounts (where applicable), added the book I was looking for to my Want list where that capability existed,  and sent e-mails to the site owners introducing myself and describing what I was looking for.  Four sites never bothered to respond to my e-mail, so they were removed from consideration:
QualityComix.com, PGCmint.com, EsquireComics.com, and BunkyBrothers.com
If they couldn’t be bothered to respond to my e-mail then I didn’t feel like I needed to spend money with them.  Five other sites
responded to my e-mails.  Three of them within a couple of hours (and this was on a Sunday afternoon), the other 2 by the following morning (Monday):
ArchAngels Collectibles – Rob Hughes
Detective27.com – Jeff Delaney
HighGradeComics.com  – Bob Storms
Southern California Comics – Jamie Newbold
SuperWorldComics.com – Ted VanLiew

I got some nice notes back from each of these guys, but unfortunately none of them had any copies of AF #15 for sale.  They mostly let me know that they’d keep an eye out, with the exception of Jamie Newbold, who had several copies, they were just not for sale.  It turns out that he had decided to buy up key silver age comics for investment purposes, building a nest egg for retirement.   While this wasn’t going to do me any good for the purposes of buying AF #15, it was great for another reason.  SoCal Comics is in San Diego and is located less than an hour drive from my home.  I drove down there the following Saturday with my wife and we talked to Jamie.  He’s a great guy, extremely knowledgeable, and willing to share his experience.

Jamie is probably the single most important factor in me now owning a copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, even though he didn’t sell it to me himself.  By speaking to my wife and I at length about the investment potential of these key Silver Age books, as well as the fact that he himself was buying these books as an investment, it really drove home for my wife that while I don’t primarily consider comics to be an investment, and I would not buy them solely as an investment, it sure is nice to know that any money spent on them is not money just pissed away on some ephemeral object of my affection.  There is a tangible value associated with these books, you won’t lose money on them, and they are an actual asset.

Since I’m not going to make a major purchase like this without my wife’s blessing, getting her on board with the lasting value associated with these books was truly essential.  This made it a win-win for us both.  I got a comic I’ve coveted for as long as I can remember, she got the knowledge that the money spent had not evaporated into the ether upon my purchase of the comic.  The concession I made was that I would (for assured long-term value and liquidity) buy a CGC’d copy and leave it alone in the slab.   No “slab cracking” on this book (and looking back in time, I’d probably have been better off leaving that ASM #1 and Showcase #22 in the slab too)… but que sera sera.

So I had put out all kinds of feelers.  I had done my research.  Now it was time for the waiting game of examining the copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 offered up for sale at the various venues, deciding which ones were good deals, and making offers or bids on them as appropriate.  Believe me, I didn’t come close to getting the first comic I took a try at.  I was outbid on a number of comics by people who obviously wanted those specific comics more than I did because they were willing to pay more money than I was.  No harm, no foul.  I knew more would come along, and they did, almost every day.  AF #15 is a very heavily traded book, as I mentioned before it is probably the hottest Silver Age book out there right now.  I put in offers on “Buy it Now” listings that had a ‘best offer’ option.  I didn’t low-ball anyone.  I put in offers strictly based on a fair price according to GPA and added notes to the sellers explaining my rationale.  I had a lot of these rejected, the sellers deciding they’d like to set a new high price with their sale.  This conflicted with my personal criteria which was to pay at least slightly under the existing high.  While always desirable for the seller, as a buyer I didn’t want to be setting any new records for price paid.

AF15

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

And then I saw it.  A really sharp looking copy that was restored, which meant it looked a lot better than the price I’d have to pay for an unrestored copy in the same condition.  PLUS, it was a certified Signature Series book signed by Stan Lee.  As a Signature Series book it got a yellow label from CGC, with a much smaller purple band along the top indicating the restoration.  This meant it would not be screaming RESTORED from across the room.  As desirable as an unrestored book?  No.  But given that I thought I could get it for about what I would otherwise have paid for a book in 2.5 condition that looked considerably more beat up and I really was looking for some eye candy to put on display, not just an book that was going to be squirreled away in a safe deposit box somewhere, I decided to make a run at this book.  It had a Buy It Now price and a ‘Best offer’ option.  A bit of negotiation back and forth via PMs and the seller and I came to an agreement on price.  They told me to put in a ‘Best Offer’ at the agreed upon price which I thought was very fair while still being what I considered to be a great deal.  The offer was placed as agreed, accepted, and I had just bought my Grail book.  (Please don’t ask me to tell you the specific amount paid, I’d rather not say, but the ballpark price can be figured out easily enough using the techniques I’ve described here…)

Now it was a waiting game.  With an item of this value, the seller  wanted the book in the hands of the USPS, since it is a federal crime to mess with the US Mail.  It was sent registered, insured, 2nd day air.  The book had to make its way to me in the mail and it was December, with heavy loads on the USPS.   2 days passed with no package being delivered.  I checked the tracking information online and it was extremely poor.  As it turns out, sending something registered and 2nd day are pretty much mutually exclusive, especially in December.  The package moved at a snail’s pace with its extremely slow progress only intermittently updated on the USPS tracking site.  I called customer service and opened a case to track the whereabouts of the package, having to ask repeatedly to escalate the issue since the 1st line people would pretty much read me the tracking info off the web-site which I was perfectly capable of seeing myself and was not much help.

In the end, it took 10 days for the package to make it’s way from Seattle, WA to Orange County, CA.  I could have gotten in my car, driven to Seattle, picked it up personally, and driven home again in about half that amount of time, not even “driving hard”.  It arrived on the first day it had rained in So Cal in about 9 months.  And it was pouring rain.  When I got the automated notification from the post office that it was “out for delivery” (status was updated by the USPS at 8:30am, the e-mail finally arrived in my inbox at about 11am).  Someone had to be home to sign for the package, so I blew out of work and drove home with a quick “I’m working from home this afternoon, call my cell if you need me!” to my boss.  Thank God I have the kind of job where this was possible.  I was home around noon and not finding a note on the door about a missed delivery, I breathed a sign of relief.

But the heavy rain was still freaking me out.

The door bell rang around 2pm and a sopping wet postal worker handed me a wet box and had me sign for receipt of the package.  Now it was time to unpack it and see how it had weathered it’s lengthy stay in the custody of the USPS.

20141212_135709

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

Fortunately the seller (eBay ID highgrademagic-pristinecomics) packed the book in a pretty bullet-proof fashion.  The CGC holder was inside 4 layers of wrappings, all waterproof, and the outer bubble-wrap was suspended in a large box surrounded by packing peanuts:

Out of the box

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

Bravo to PristineComics, outside of the USPS snafu which was outside of their control, they were a complete pleasure to deal with.  They get my recommendation as a top notch eBay seller.

Now that I had my Grail book in my hot little hands the last step was “How do I display it?”  I wasn’t about to lock it away in a box somewhere.  For this I turned to Gweedo’s Showcase, where I got a hand-made wood frame with Museum Quality 99% UV Glass.  Not the cheapest solution, but really high quality and a home worthy of a Grail book:

AF15-shelf

Photo Credit: Bob Bretall

That’s it.  The journey from inception to completion.  The question that remains is “What book will be next?”  I had been picking up Ant-Man books in parallel with my search for AF #15 and I realized I was only 40 total books away from completing my Marvel  Silver Age super-hero collection.  I set up a web page to track my Countdown to Complete and I’m getting closer every month.  Watch the countdown as I get closer and follow the ComicSpectrum Comics Tumblr where I post pictures of significant/interesting back issues as I buy them.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Posted in Collecting, Collecting History, Comics, Comics Collection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

STORAGE REVIEW: Comic Houses vs. DrawerBoxes

DrawerBoxes

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

I’ve had a block of 15 short DrawerBoxes in the closet of my comics room for years.  I love them, they provide excellent & easy access to the comics inside and are extremely sturdy.  For me, I like this kind of storage for comics that I want to get at on a more regular basis and are not needed (for me) for the long-term storage of the bulk of my collection.  That said, for key parts of my collection (like the 1st 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Justice League, or Fantastic Four), I really like to be able to get at them more easily so these kinds of boxes that slide open and closed are an ideal solution.  Recently I became aware of an alternate to the DrawerBox called a “Comic House” from BCW and this review will compare the two storage solutions.

DrawerBoxes+Bookcases

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

In the spirit of full disclosure, a marketing person from BCW saw my Blog about storing your comics (Bags, Boards, & Boxes) and offered to send me a block of BCW’s Comic Houses for review purposes.  I’d wanted to expand my upstairs comic storage for a while, so I was game.  “Send them on over!” I told him!  I’ll do my best to give an objective review of the product here, comparing them to their main competition that I’m aware of, the DrawerBox from Collection Drawer Co.  The first thing I had to do was move the bookcases OUT of the upstairs closet to make room for more comics boxes.  The picture above is mid-way through that process.  I’ve cleared the books off most of the bookshelves and started to take the drawers out of the existing Drawer Boxes so I can move that block out of the way & get the bookcases out of the closet (the accordion doors on the closet prevent me from just sliding the bookcases straight out).

I am only reviewing short boxes here.  California closets are apparently shallower than their mid-west counterparts.  A long box will not fit length-wise in my closet and still allow me to close the closet doors, so I’m left with the short box variety as my primary option at this time, since I don’t want to make the “fashion statement” of having a block of these things out in the open, I’d prefer to keep them in a closet.

ComicHouse

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

The BCW Comic House comes in 3 pieces: the outer shell (which is technically the “house”), an insert that makes the sliding of the inner box operate more smoothly and also serves to reinforce and make the shell sturdier, and the short box that serves as a drawer.  The Comic House shell and short box are sold separately or can be bought as a combined bundle.  The combined bundle is what I’m reviewing here.  Actually, this also comes with a lid for the short box, but since I’m not using those in this build, they’re not pictured here and I ended up not using them.

The BCW Comic Houses assemble very easily,  I was able to assemble a single unit in under 5 minutes (assembly got quicker the more I built, I was down to 3 minutes by the 15th box). This is a similar build time to what I recall from building my DrawerBoxes years ago.

BCW has a video on YouTube detailing the Comic House assembly process for interested consumers.  I watched this before assembling my 1st box and was able to easily assemble them after that.  You can see some good contrasts between the two products by watching this fan-made YouTube video detailing a short DrawerBox build.  You get a feel watching the build for the two different units about just what the differences are between them.

Box Block

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

So, how do they compare?  The first thing I noticed was that the short Comic House is slightly smaller than the short DrawerBox.  It’s not as tall and also not as long/deep.  A lot of the size difference has to do (as far as I can tell) from the DrawerBox having an inner drawer with double-thickness (4 layers of cardboard) at front and back while the Comic House has only 2 layers.  The inner support sleeve on the drawer box goes all the way around (top, bottom, and both sidewalls) while the Comic House inner sleeve covers the back and both sides.  The actual storage space withing the two different units is pretty much the same, the short DrawerBox holds 5 or 6 more comics than the Comic House short box, about the size of one standard trade paperback.  The height difference is 1/2″, the Comic House measuring 12 5/8″ and the DrawerBox 13 1/8″.  This was actually an advantage for me, as I am able to fit an additional 6th vertical row of Comic Houses in my closet, which will let me store more comics (see picture above).

CH vs. DB

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

One thing I immediately noticed about the normal short box inside the Comic House is that the ends don’t stay up very good.  Normal boxes try their best by providing a handle flap that folds in but that really doesn’t cut it for me.  You can see from the picture above that the DrawerBox (on the right) solves this with some nice inner box construction that provides a very clean handle area.  This is a solvable problem for the Comic House inner short box.

2Side Tape

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

TapedBox

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

A quick trip to the local art & crafts store (Michael’s, in my case, armed with a 40% off coupon) and I had some double-sided foam mounting tape.  A couple of short strips of this does an admirable job of holding the end flaps of the inner boxes in place.  This is definitely not something you need to do, if you load the box with comics they’ll hold the ends in place just fine, but it was a nice addition in my opinion and makes sure that the end flaps stay in place to give some extra handhold strength even if the box is not full.

Now to the next big difference: DrawerBoxes provide “BoxLox” (at an additional cost) that provide stability to the entire mass of boxes.  This makes them a unit of connected drawers instead of a bunch of single boxes stacked near one another.   As I was putting my new Comic Houses together and started filling them, I was noticing the problem that is solved by BoxLox.  As I’d go to pull a drawer out of the Comic House there would be a tendency  for the outer shell to shift around, sometimes pulling out and away from it’s neighbors.  For me this is a big problem, but again, something that’s solvable.

Box row

Photo CREDIT: Bob Bretall

You have two choices. (1)  Buy BoxLox from the Collection Drawer Co, drill holes in the sides of your Comic Houses, and secure them the same exact way you would with Drawer Boxes; (2) Simulate the operation of the BoxLox through other means.  I wanted to get the block of boxes built and had the double-sided foam tape that I used to secure the end-flaps in the short boxes, so I used that tape to secure the boxes to one another.  This is no doubt less structurally sound than using the BoxLox, but it seems to work pretty well.  It’s made my block of boxes a lot more solid and I can slide the drawers in and out more easily without the box I’m operating sliding around in relation to its neighbors.

I also noticed that the drawer in the ComicHouse doesn’t fit quite as snugly as the drawer in the DrawerBox.  The representative from BCW tells me that this is by design, as the shell has been constructed to house a box with the lid on it, for those that decide to use the lid (either as a top lid, or tucked under the short box for added support).  An interesting choice as I’d ideally want to pull a drawer out part-way and access the comics, not possible if the lid was in place, you would need to remove the box completely from the shell to remove the lid and then access the comics.  Leaving the lid on the box in the shell is kind of a weird use case for me.  I buy a sliding drawer box so I can open it and have immediate access to the comics.  With the lid in place I’d be using the shell as kind of a racking system.  An interesting notion, not something I had considered and not something I’d find very useful for my current usage. I’ll have to try out the “stick the lid under the box for added support” option, though,

As built, without the lid and because of the looser fit, the ComicHouse drawer is less stable when you pull it out to look through comics.  I can pull a drawer 3/4 of the way out of a DrawerBox and just leave it like that and it’s pretty stable, there’s something on the back edge of the drawer that keeps it in place within the DrawerBox shell.  If I pull a full ComicHouse drawer out 3/4 of the way it seems kind of unstable and in danger of falling out.  The entire block of DrawerBoxes seems a bit more stable as a unit than the ComicHouses, I’ll credit the DrawerBox BoxLox for this, as compared to my home-brewed foam tape solution used on the ComicHouses (though my block is way more stable than it was before I used the tape and they were just stacked next to one another).

SUMMARY:

Price: Tie (advantage to Comic House if you re-use your existing boxes)

Buying 2 equivalent “blocks” of 15 boxes would cost about the same (at prices from shopping carts on each web-site as of January 2015):
15 Short DrawerBoxes: $138.75 (3*5-packs at $46.25 = $9.25 each)
15 Short Comic Houses w/Boxes: $223.68 (15*9.45 = $9.45 each)
15 Short Comic Houses (shell only): $108.47 (15*3.59)
–> If reusing your existing boxes and just buying the shell, the Comic House become an even more attractive solution, to the point of winning the competition hands-down (if you can get them without shipping costs).

NOTE: Shipping is a HUGE part of the expense of these.  Collection Drawer Co. is in Colorado and BCW is in Indiana, so shipping to your location may be different from what it is to my place in California.  Also, getting these from a local shop will remove the shipping cost entirely, so please do your own price comparison for your locale.

For added stability:
BoxLox (used with DrawerBox): $1.25 * 10 = $12.50
Foam Core Tape (used with Comic House): $5 * 2 = $10

Based on web-site prices from each company plus shipping, DrawerBoxes are actually cheaper.  This surprised me!  That said, they are approximately the same if you’re buying a block of 15 and buy the Comic Houses on Amazon.
Price comparison may come out differently if you’re buying them at a local shop that stocks them (or if you use your existing boxes inside the Comic House shell Comic Houses will actually be a lot cheaper and may cause them to win this factor hands-down).
The real killer on the price of any of these is the shipping cost.

Sturdiness: DrawerBoxes win
DrawerBox: 10/10
ComicHouse: 8/10
I’d rate the DrawerBox with an edge on sturdiness because of the extra layers of cardboard on the front and back of the drawers as well as the extra cardboard on the inner support sleeve.  The DrawerBox also just feels sturdier as I am pulling the drawers in & out.
Note: If you are using Long Boxes, I’d personally be very concerned about handle strength pulling a regular long box in/out when it is full.  For long boxes, the reinforced handle on a DrawerBox would be a huge advantage, in my mind.

Functionality: DrawerBoxes win
DrawerBox: 9/10
ComicHouse: 7/10
Once again, I have to give the edge to the DrawerBox.  The drawers slide in and out more smoothly and also allow me to leave them in an open position without the feeling that they’re going to fall out of the shell.  The entire block is also more stable as a whole thanks to the BoxLox.

Looking at both these products, if I was buying both from scratch, I’d give my endorsement to the DrawerBox.   These are not a cheap storage solution, but they are high quality storage solution that makes your collection easily accessible.  I’d also suggest using the Store Locator link on the Collection Drawer Co. site to try to find a local retailer selling the boxes to save on the shipping.
To be clear, the Comic House is not a bad solution.  It works just fine but is a bit less sturdy/functional than the DrawerBox.  If you re-use your existing boxes & just buy the shells it can be a much cheaper solution which may easily swing your personal comparison in favor of the Comic House.  In fact, I need to add some additional long box storage in my garage and I’m strongly considering Comic House shells to house my existing long boxes.  This would be a significantly less costly solution than buying 60 long DrawerBoxes from scratch and the cost savings would easily offset the slightly lower sturdiness/functionality.  That said, I would build a raised platform to hold the entire block up off the ground.

NOTE: I was asked how regular boxes (Long or short) factor into this comparison.
In my opinion they are not a similar solution.  If you stack regular boxes more than 3 or 4 high without using some sort of racking system you risk the bottom boxes crushing under the weight.  You also have to do a lot of physical moving of boxes to get at anything that is not on top.  Personally, I have 350+ regular long boxes, so I know what I’m talking about here.  I had to build custom racking systems to hold the boxes so that I could ensure all the boxes were readily accessible.
That said, regular boxes (if you do not factor in the racking solution) are way cheaper.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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Posted in Collecting, Comic Storage, Comics Collection | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments