Maggie’s World 097 Then and Now
I recently turned up a clipping from The Cleveland Press that consisted of an article by husband Don Thompson (who’d been working for the paper for 15 years by then).
At that point, we’d been publishing comics fanzines for 14 years and had been collecting comics (separately at first, then together) for a quarter of a century or so. We’d been contributing a column to Alan Light’s The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom for three years. And here was Don, trying to explain the phenomenon of comics collecting to a general audience—and trying to guide potential collectors through the mysteries of the field.
Here were his points to the newspaper readers:
- Comics collecting isn’t just for kids.
- There are even books of nostalgic comic-book essays.
- Comics collecting can be expensive.
- There’s a guide to average prices sellers are asking for out-of-print comic books.
- Some vintage comics can cost thousands of dollars; others don’t.
- Comic books are easily damaged.
- Condition of a comic book is important when it’s being sold.
So has anything changed?
Well, the books, for one thing.
Don listed All in Color for a Dime and The Comic-Book Book. Other comic-book-focused volumes available by 1975 were few.
The classic he didn’t mention was the wonderful The Great Comic Book Heroes (1965) by Jules Feiffer. An anthology edited by a skilled storyteller who had worked for years in the artform, it was a groundbreaking stunner. (A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics compiled by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams—another treasure of an anthology, one with a more general focus—didn’t come out until 1982.)
But these days? Heck, we can even relive many key issues of classic comic books, thanks to a vast array of reprint projects. (Comic-strip reprints, too, are plentiful.)
And comics collecting can be expensive? Well …
A look at that 1975 edition of Bob Overstreet’s The Comic Book Price Guide (the fifth in the series) shows a list of the “Top 100 Titles”—valuing entire series. Vying for top spot were DC’s Action Comics and Detective Comics. In the 1975 edition, a top-condition Action Comics #1 was listed at $3,600, and a top-condition Detective Comics #1 was at $360. But, of course, it’s the introduction of Batman in Detective Comics #27 that was (and is) the pricey one, and the 1975 guide did put that at $2,200. Who could afford those transactions, “upwards of thousands of dollars for a single issue”?
It is still true, obviously, but what if you had been able to come up with that $3,600 price on Action Comics #1 in 1975? You’d have been doing pretty well. A ComicConnect private sale of an 8.5-rated copy is reported to have brought $3,250,000 earlier this year.
But there were cheaper back issues in 1975. Heck, Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 (which introduced a character called Spider-Man) had come out in 1962, and the title was quickly canceled. So what could that have been worth? The 1975 price guide put it at $80. Now? Heritage just sold a 9.6 copy for $3,600,000.
Oh, and a footnote: The current edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (the 51st) even reports that current collector prices on that 1975 edition are $155 for the paperback and $260 for the hardcover. Yes, even price guides can be collectible.
Don did try to tell his readers that condition was important. But he certainly didn’t foresee grading services that provide a third-party evaluation for those who want it.
Come to think of it . . .
There was one other major change in the years following that comics-collecting story. It came almost exactly two years after Don’s newspaper article.
In the November 4, 1977, issue of The Buyer’s Guide, Phil Seuling announced the incorporation of his Sea Gate Distributors. “The Father of the Direct Market” had figured out a way to get comic books into comics shops by working out an agreement with publishers in which the shops placed advance orders for comics. It made those comics shops convenient one-stop shopping destinations for the variety that had until then necessitated searches in an assortment of newsstands. [If you’ve never had to do that, you may not even realize the challenges those searches presented. E.C.’s Extra! #1 (March-April 1955), for example, never did go on sale in Meadville, Pennsylvania. I know, because I searched for it without success.]
And not so by the way:
Don mentioned “keeping some of the comics I read as a kid to read to my kids.” And he did.
(By the way, when he read the adventures of The Fantastic Four to our daughter, he gave Sue Storm most of Reed Richards’ lines, making The Invisible Girl [whose power was, face it, mostly hiding] the brains of the team. Sharing can take a variety of forms.)
At any rate, another advantage we have now is that kids can read comic-book stories in the library. In 2012, I edited A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love by Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith.
That recommended reading list made clear that comic books, graphic novels, drawn books—use whatever term you please—can still be collected and shared. And, yes, they can still convey to kids what it was that their parents enjoyed when they were kids. In that 2012 guide were such recent series as Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie, Andy Runton’s Owly (kids can read it to their parents), and Dav Pilkey’s Super Diaper Baby. But it also included such classics as Jeff Smith’s Bone and Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. And it’s where I first came across Chi’s Sweet Home by Konami Kanata.
Speaking of Chi’s Sweet Home, have you looked at the variety of manga on the shelves at Barnes & Noble? Have you seen young and old grabbing copies? They do.
Collecting comic books is still a hobby for all ages, because of something Don and I emphasized for decades: The continued publication of a variety of comics demonstrates that reading can be for pleasure. Some reading is necessary for information or because it’s required. Comic-book reading is for fun.
And we do have fun with comics.