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Funny Business

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

I was sitting on the porch shooting imaginary bad guys with my Hop-a-long Cassidy six-gun when Grandpa drove up in his 1955 Buick. I was eight years old at the time but I remember it as clear as if it was yesterday. It's amazing how the good times stay clear and the bad, well, they sort of fog up. This was a good time. Gramps was a Master Sergeant in the Army and had a friend in the PX, which was a store where the military personnel could buy anything from a can opener to a comic book. Grandpa's friend had the job of throwing away any books or magazines that didn't sell before the next issue came in. All he had to do was tear off the top two inches of the cover and he could return these slips for full credit on the magazines. The rest of the book was to be tossed away! Well, Grandpa made arrangements for his friend to save all the comic books for his grandson, which he did, and that day as I ran from the porch, Grandpa stacked six months of comics on the sidewalk. There were at least five stacks and they were all taller then me. Previous to this I had read two comics in my entire life. I was in heaven.

Daredevil, Sad Sack, Superman, Green lantern, and Donald Duck were some of my favorites. It was a glorious six months of reading for pleasure, fantasy and imagination. I saved my favorites and traded the rest to my pal Bobby across the street for baseball cards. He gave me 10 cards for each comic. I was a happy kid.

Soon they were all traded away and Grandpa retired from the Army. I rarely saw another comic until 1986 when I was hunting for old records at the swap meet. I saw a box filled with about 200 comics, and the Donald Duck on top had caught my eye. I started to walk on by but something said, "Ask how much" so I did and the woman who owned the books said ten bucks. Ten bucks was not so much I thought, about 10 cents apiece. I bought the box, finished my rounds, and headed home. From prior experience with records and baseball cards I stopped and picked up a price guide. That was how I got into the funny book business.

Surely in your treasure travels you have come across a similar box of paper treasure. You might have one of your own tucked away in mom's attic even. In this article I will show you how to deal with collecting, cataloging, caring for, and buying and selling, comic books.

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Comic collectables come in many forms, hats books and memorabilia.

Collecting, where do you start? Many people won't start until they are given a box or find a box in their attic. They read the books and then they are either hooked or the books are passed on to someone else. Most comics have continuing story lines and the reader that has found an old box of Daredevil books wants the next issue to see what happens. All comics start with issue number one and continue until the publisher decides to kill the story either because it is not selling well or as it is today, for a promotional stunt. The books can run for years with a new issue each month. Action Comics, which features Superman, has over 700 issues printed. The idea is to find a book you like and collect the entire run of issues. Perhaps you like a certain character in a story. You may want to collect the books that just that character is in. Many times characters appear in other titles as guests. Some parents start by picking up number 1 issues for their kids when they are born and continued on from there. The greatest part of collecting is just having fun.

Cataloging. Comics are no different than any other collectable in that there should be an order to the collection. With comics it is really quite simple. Put the comics into stacks by title and then in numerical order. The smaller the number is the older the book will be. There are some very nice computer programs available to catalogue your collection. If this is not available to you then just write down a list of what you have and another list of what you're looking for. Then take your want list to comic book stores, conventions, flea markets and the like to find the books you need to fill your collection.

Care. In the world of fragile paper products condition is very crucial to value so it is extremely important to take good care of your comics. When you handle a comic book be sure your hands are clean and free of oils. Very old and valuable books can be worth thousands of dollars and it would be best to handle those with gloves. One holds the book along the spine and carefully opens the pages. Laying the book flat breaks the spine of the book and detracts from its value. When you have finished looking at the book it should be put into a protective bag with an acid free backing board to keep it stiff. Most comic book stores carry the proper products you will need to protect and care for your books. Once bagged and boarded the books are put away into an acid free comic book box with a lid until you need them. Ideally they should be in a dark cool place with a relative humidity of 50 percent or less.

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The interior of a busy comic book store.

Buying & selling. Whether you are buying or selling your books you need to know what you are doing. Don't go out and buy a stack of comics at a flea market for $2.00 each just because they look old. You need to understand value and condition. Condition is most important because that $2.00 comic in poor condition will only be worth a dime and I'm not sure that you could get that much. Conditions range from mint down to poor. A mint (M) comic is perfect in every way no matter what the age of the book is. The cover has full gloss and sharp corners. The pages must be creamy white and fresh. A near mint (NM) book on close inspection will have one or two minor flaws. Many comics are found in fine (FN) condition. This is a better than average book with minor wear. It may have some discoloration to the pages and there may be a small light crease in the cover. An obviously used comic will most likely be found in very good (VG) condition. The gloss on the cover is nearly gone and there is some fading and discoloration. There might be some minor markings on the cover. Often there are small chips or tears and the spine will have creases. A book in this condition has been used and read but will still have enough eye appeal to be collectable. A book found that is damaged, soiled, with pages or the cover torn is in poor (P) condition and generally is about the worst condition you can find. As in the coin or other collectable circles there are many different grades in between the ones listed but most commonly the book you find will fall into one of these categories.

When it comes time to sell your comic books whether a large or small collection, make a detailed list of the books and include the condition. Then decide whether you want to sell retail to other collectors or wholesale to a comic book dealer. If you sell to a dealer you will get the best price by selling all the books at once but don't expect to get more then 50 percent of the real value of the books and often less. If you decide to sell retail you can sell at trade shows, swap meets, flea markets or through a mail order service. Retail sales will bring more money but you will have to do a lot more work.

It might surprise you to know that some comics have sold for over a quarter of a million dollars each! Even a comic like Donald Duck can bring prices of $4000.00.

Sometimes it is not the age of the book, but the scarcity or demand for the book that drives the price up. For example a few years back DC Comics hatched a plot to kill off Superman. It got a lot of media attention and comic dealers were caught off guard. With a large demand for the book and dealers not ordering enough the price skyrocketed to $100.00 an issue and this was a brand new book. Two years later it has leveled out to $25.00.

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Closing day of the Fun Zone, employees and customers alike wore black to mourn its passing. It was actually a beautiful day for everyone.

As for that box of comics I found at the swap meet, it contained nearly 200 issues of X-Men comics from the 60's and early 70's worth over $1500.00 retail value. I sold the comics at below retail prices and had so much fun doing it that I bought more from ads in the paper and started my own business called Fun Zone. Eventually we sold new comics, art, and sponsored drawing contests.

Comics can be good for investment and fun leisure reading, but for me it was a funny business that paid off.


Editors note: Although this article was written a number of years ago, most of it rings true today. Sometimes the resale values drop even lower then stated above, although certain characters may go through the roof in price.

SOURCE DOCUMENTATION:

1. Robert M. Overstreet, The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, House of Collectables, 1991.

2. The Author owned and operated a comic book store called Fun Zone from 1986 to 1994 in Glendora, CA.