Monday, June 16, 2008

Childish Things: Pt. 3--Childhood For Sale

Before I could sell my comics I first had to take stock of what, exactly, I had. Brace yourselves, you non-comics fans out there, for a full-on, and quite meaningless, dork-out.

I’d always divided my collection into two basic camps. The “valuable” camp and the rest of it, which was basically complete runs of books from the early 1980s. The valuable camp included my most beloved treasures. These included Conan The Barbarian #1, Avengers #9, Amazing Spider-Man #25, 28 and 36, Daredevil #158, and various X-Men books, Batman: The Dark Knight, and a few other books that I had loved when I was young. I also had three copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252, which was the first issue with the now-infamous black costume. Oh yeah, I also had several issues of Green Lantern/Green Arrow, drawn by the great Neal Adams.

The problem, though, was what to do with it. Comics are not what you’d call an extremely liquid commodity. The market for them basically collapsed about ten years ago, and their value is completely dependent upon their condition. The problem, as most comic collectors know, is that to get absolute top dollar your comics have to be in mint, or almost mint condition. This is a problem because comics have always traditionally been made out of the worst-quality, fragile newsprint there is. Try keeping a 40 year old comic in mint condition. Even if you simply leave it alone it will degrade. If you put it in the wrong plastic bag it will acidify and yellow. If it gets damp it will wrinkle, if it gets too much sun it will fade. You get the picture. The “Last Supper,” for all the work they had to put into it, is a monument to permanence when compared to even the most average comic book from the 1960s.

So, by that lofty standard, few of my books were in mint condition. The next problem? The further down the “mint” scale the comics move they become less valuable, by several multiples. It’s like a reverse Richter scale, or something, the farther down you go the less impact it makes. If you have a book that is worth $100 mint, if it’s in “good” condition, meaning it’s attractive, un-creased and only a little yellowed, it’s worth $40. Also, good luck finding that $40; if you list it for that much someone will surely offer you $20 for it, and you might have to take it.

Fortunately there is a solution. Unfortunately the solution makes almost no financial sense, unless you have a potential treasure trove on your hands. There is a service called the Certified Guaranty Company, which will rate your book for you. To do this you ship your precious comics to them via insured mail, and wait weeks on end for them to appraise it. Then they ship it back to you, which can take a few more weeks. It’s also pricey. Their “economy” class rating costs $29 per comic.

The problem is that you need that CGC icon and “official rating” to get the real big bucks for your books on Ebay. Again, if a book is worth $100 in excellent condition, with the CGC stamp of approval, and a good rating, it’s worth maybe half that without, maybe.

In other words, to get anywhere near the value of what you think your books are worth all of a sudden starts to look like a highly subjective, expensive, complicated and time-consuming process.

If I’d only made a few different collecting moves, way back when, I would’ve had a more valuable collection, and all the hassle might’ve been worth it.

But it didn’t work out that way. I remember my mistake exactly.

In 1985 my brother and I went to the Roosevelt Hotel in New York for a comic book collection, the first and last I ever attended. I had saved $109, including $15 in change, and I was ready to spend.

I made some strong purchases that day. I bought the second Green Lantern/Green Arrow, in excellent condition, and a couple of other books in that landmark series. I also bought Amazing Spider-Man #25, which thrilled me.

I also made some more questionable decisions.

Specifically, I saw an issue of Incredible Hulk #2 for sale, for just $40. I had the money, but, geez, that’s seemed like a lot to spend on one book, and I could get so many others for that same money, and I’d kind of be putting all my eggs in one basket, and … long story short instead I bought Howard The Duck #1. Okay, not only Howard The Duck #1, but, yes, that and some other forgettable books and that’s how I blew my $40.

The Hulk book, of course, is now worth, in good condition, not even great, several thousands of dollars. Howard The Duck, you could roll it up and wipe your ass with it, no one really cares. I blame the movie for ruining Howard’s rep, although not Tim Robbins. He was AWESOME in Howard The Duck. Seriously, though, Howard The Duck was a smart, crazy, cutting edge book in its day. But the lesson here is that it always makes sense to buy quality, not quantity, you’ll do better. Putting your eggs in one basket can sometimes make sense, in retrospect, just not duck eggs, I guess.

Other memorable moments from that day: my brother and I met Isaac Asimov. My brother recognized him, an older man dressed in a cowboy suit, with long white sideburns, very kindly and cordial. In truth he was simply walking around waiting to get recognized, none of the young kids knew him. Totally cool memory, in hindsight. I hadn’t read any of his work then, and I never became a fan, but I still think that kind of rocks.

I also had the artist Evan Dorkin, then an unknown, do a pencil sketch of my favorite hero, Thor, for me that day. Later Dorkin rose to comic-book fame with his series Milk & Cheese. I still have that drawing around here, all these years later, although I can’t quite seem to locate it. He even wrote: “Evan Dorkin, Thanx!” on the bottom. Tell you the truth we really hit it off with him, and he was a fun, personable guy. I, again, was too damn cheap to spring for the $5 it would’ve cost to have Evan ink the drawing, and the pencil images began to smudge over time.

So that was my “valuable” collection. It was good but not good enough to justify sending to CGC, and besides, I needed the money and space sooner rather than later. Ebay seemed like an enormous pain in the ass; to photograph, list and ship each middling book would be the most boring, and nerdiest, Herculean task of all time.

So I listed them on Craigslist. I figured if I made $500 or so—my very rough estimate for what it could be worth—I’d be satisfied.

I wrote a detailed listing, describing some 20 books. I didn’t list what I wanted for each one, because I simply didn’t know what they’d be worth. I figured I would meet up with some worthy fellow-dorks and we’d hash it out. I know these people, I am these people. Even though I’d been out of the loop for years I knew I wouldn’t get screwed if I met the right buyer.

The first guy that responded tried to low ball me. I’ll call him John, because that was his name: “Your number & my number are far apart. The market is pretty grim lately. Unless it is a good deal then I'm going to pass on the deal. I'll give you an example that I pick up recently. It was a full long box of bronze & silver comics and the girl only charged me $50. It was a very good deal. so can you provide me a much better number?”

I’m sorry, $50 bucks, that sucks. Why even bother at that point, right? You mean, I’ve been schlepping these memory coffins around for years just to get a nice lunch? Also, to make matters worse, the guy didn’t know how to capitalize all his sentences. So I passed.

Others were more or less in that vein.

Eventually, though, Rob shot me an e-mail. We spoke on the phone next, because I am a big one for not inviting pure and total strangers into my home with my then-pregnant wife. He seemed like a cool, older, comic-obsessed guy. Like most true comic book fans I got the feeling that he was utterly harmless.

I invited Rob over one night, and showed him the goods. I had about 30 of what I considered prime books that I’d been keeping in a milk crate of all things, and his eyes widened a little when he saw them. My stuff was a little better than he’d expected.

Our conversation was convivial, and fun.

“Oh, This Beachhead Earth!” he cooed, holding up my okay-condition issue of Avengers #93, which featured a kind of poo-brown cover. (“This Beachhead Earth!” was the tagline on the cover, by the way.) We chatted and laughed for about an hour, while Randi sat pregnantly by the computer, observing this alternate, and extraordinarily un-cool vision of maleness.

Rob, I must say, was a kind, honest guy. Instead of trying to force a sale he went home and really thought about what would be a fair deal. His wife, he let me know, wasn’t exactly thrilled that he was buying still more comics, but this was his passion, and obsession and so some things she let slide. He was cool, a school teacher in his mid-40s, with a kid. It was fun kibitzing and joking with him.

The next day he came back with an offer.

“You know, you’re stuff was a little better than I thought it would be,” he said. “I wasn’t originally prepared to spend this much. And you probably wouldn’t get this much from other guys, because comics are worth so little these days.”

I liked this, hearing I had the Maui-wowie of the comic world. Primo quality, I only deal in the best stuff. Is this how Wesley Snipes felt in New Jack City?

“Yeah, pretty good, right?” I said, beaming. This made me feel good, I wanted my books to go to someone who understood; someone who would sell them, true, but could talk to me about it all, and wasn’t only trying to rip me off.

“Yeah, well, it is. So what do you say, $350?”


We shook on it, and that was that.

A week later he came by and took the rest of the common stuff, for another $50. So altogether I made $400, not a fortune, but a hell of a lot more than that first jerk offered. I also cleared out some good space in the hallway, and, as importantly in my mind. I know I could’ve gotten more, but sometimes the convenience and time saved really are worth it.

Plus, if I ever really want to buy this stuff back in the future I can, because, as noted, comics really aren’t worth much. But I probably won’t. I mean, who has the time? I'm a dad.

No comments: