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Exit Sandman—a mid-life comics collector recollects selling off his comics collection

Vancouver Comicon at Heritage Hall
Late in the afternoon at the Nov 14 2010 Vancouver Comicon at Heritage Hall. Robyn Hanson photo

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to either buy a house with lots of storage space or sell off some of his comics…

Vancouver Comicon, Heritage Hall, Nov. 14 2010

When you’ve spent a great deal of time and money collecting comics, there comes a time when you have to confront your arrested development head on.

Whether because of storage space, money, or an impatient spouse (even Nicolas Cage, at the behest of then-wife Lisa Marie Presley, sold off his collection—including, rumour has it, a rare Superman # 1!), the collector in mid-life will have to decide whether to continue, maintain or just chuck the whole thing.

This weekend, I joined the latter camp.

Must-haves: an up-to-date Overstreet Price Guide

A couple months back, before a move, I’d tried to get rid of most of my comics. But all the dealers’ tables at the local comics convention, where poor saps like me gather every six weeks or so to buy barter and sell, had all been spoken for, and so I found myself lugging my eight longboxes (collector vernacular for the long white boxes used to store Dazzler #1) to my new place. I was hoping to avoid this same scenario for my next move, at the end of this month. With that in mind, I had already signed up for a table at the Nov 14 convention.

But the first step was figuring out what to keep and what to sell, and for how much. Pricing comics is an inexact science. Yes, there are guides, like the Overstreet Price Guide (now in its 40th year). But those are more suited to serious dealers who are in it for the long haul. I just wanted to divest myself of a hundred pounds of battling superheroes.

Getting the comics out of storage and into my suite, where I could give them a thorough going-over, was itself a pain. It was also a tad humiliating. It required the cooperation of the de facto house-manager (and self-proclaimed “goddess”). I had to go through her upstairs suite to get the longboxes, which were crammed into a storage space under a staircase.

Humiliation, thy name is longbox

She watched as I performed the task. So did a new tenant, Rebecca, who had moved into the basement apartment on the other side of mine. I had to carry the boxes from the landlady’s and through Rebecca’s suite to get to my back door. Surely they realized they were not witnessing man’s ultimate evolution.

Rebecca was on the phone with a friend the whole time. At one point I could’ve sworn I heard her say, “Oh, there’s this other tenant, he’s getting rid of his comic-book collection. Boxes and boxes. It’s quite strange. Yes, a grown man, can you believe it?”

When, finally, I had transported all my ill-gotten gains into my suite, I plopped down on the sofa. Stacked one on top of the other, the seven long-boxes (and one short-box) towered above me. For the sortation, I had budgeted an hour on this Saturday afternoon before the convention.

But I had been kidding myself – this was an all-afternoon task, and one that would, before it was over, confront me with some uncomfortable truths, and questions. These included: when did Cerebus the Aardvark go off the rails? How badly dated are these old Howard the Duck stories? And, what was I thinking when I bought Flaming Carrot vs. Megaton Man: The Mini-Series?

The future belongs to Boba Fett

A Vancouver Comicon is held every six weeks or so in Heritage Hall, on a Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4-ish. If you’ve never been (and I don’t blame you; one time when the Red Bull girls showed up you could hear the jaws of a hundred fanboys dropping) it’s something like this: dealers, some private, others who own comic shops, rent tables and hawk their wares.

As an added attraction, various comics artists and writers fill other seats, drawing in sketchbooks and signing their books. By 1 p.m., especially in the cooler months, with everyone sweating into their jackets and rushing from table to table desperate for bargain-priced Spider-Man collectors’ items, it has its own distinct hothouse odor.

The Vancouver comicons are smaller, more frequent versions of conventions held in other cities annually. The mother of all of these is of course the San Diego convention, Comic Con International, which even non-comics fans may have heard of. In recent years, Hollywood has gotten wise. Realizing that the multiplex is now in the hands of people who like to dress up as Boba Fett, the studios now regularly send stars to the international festival of geekdom to pimp their latest wares.

Local and national comics pros among the guests at Vancouver Heritage Hall comicons

I fear I am sounding a tad judgemental. Don’t get me wrong, I embrace my inner nerd, and I’m not above getting excited by some of the guests.

At the September con earlier this year, the special guest was Greg Rucka. Rucka is a bestselling novelist who moonlights as a comic-book scribe Or maybe it’s vice versa. (In recent years, more and more “serious” writers have been helping gentrify the words-and-pictures neighbourhood. Besides Rucka, other bestselling book authors writing comics include Jodi Picoult and horror writer Joe Hill.)

The guests Nov 14 were all local. Artist Nina Matsumoto has won an industry award for her manga version of The Simpsons. Artist/writer Miriam Libicki is on the eighth issue of her series Jobnik!, which details her stint in the Israeli army. Robin Bougie is the artist/writer/cinephile behind Cinema Sewer. It’s one of the best underground publications to ever come out of Vancouver, IMHO.

The creative types were situated just inside the door to the hall, and along the back wall. Dealers’ wares take up the rest of the wall space, as well as the middle of the main room, their tables buckling under the weight of comics, graphic novels, action figures, toys, and DVDs.

Vancouver Comicon at Heritage Hall Nov 14 2010 photo
Some rare comic books and, rarer still, a female.

Lo! And a newbie mid-life collector will sell amongst them!

And so it came to be that, at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, my hungover self lugged eight 30-40 pound boxes of comics from the corner of Main and 15th to the front door of Heritage Hall. Almost everyone was already set up, and it wasn’t long before some of my fellow dealers smelled the scent of fresh chum coming from my table. I had Sharpied either “$1”, “$2” or “$4” depending on what I thought I might conceivably get for my comics.

I also had a box of what I thought might be collector’s items. Someone quickly snapped up a copy of The Incredible Hulk #181. The comic features the first appearance of The Wolverine. After consulting a couple of the other dealers, I let it go for two hundred dollars. In better condition, it was valued at $1400. Much of the rest of the day, and ensuing years, would and will be spent wondering if I’d ripped myself off.

I had a table along the Main Street-facing wall. To my right was a guy who looked to be in his late twenties. Like me, he was selling off parts of his collection. Unlike me, his comics and sundries were all neatly labeled and priced, as was most of the product at the other tables. And I don’t think he was determined to leave Heritage Hall without any of his stock, as I was.

Comic book nerd photo
Comic nerd at the Nov 14 2010 Vancouver Comicon at Heritage Hall. Robyn Hanson photo

Girlfriends are great because they can help you sell your comics

On the other side of my table, Francesca and Mark didn’t even have comics to sell. They were selling T-shirts designed by Francesca. I had recruited my girlfriend Robyn as honey-trap to help move the comics. Fortunately (for her), she knew Francesca and Mark, so she wasn’t totally surrounded by comic-book types.

I’d worked one of these things before, maybe 10 years ago. Then as now, the first hour proved to be brisk. Then the buying frenzy cools. In mid-afternoon, dealers slash their prices. A brief uptick in activity follows. There is no happy ending, however. Comicons end with grown men, alone or in packs, reboxing their Batman collectibles and going home.

Unfortunately for sales at our table, most of my motivation in buying the titles that I had was admiration for a certain writer and/or artist. But just because I regarded Grant Morrison’s stint on Animal Man as a high-water mark of ’90s comics writing didn’t mean someone was going to give me a nickel more than what I had paid for it ($1.25), or even less. Especially now that so many titles get reprinted in graphic novel form.

Everything must go, even Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men

Just over an hour into the convention I too was slashing prices. Everything from my complete run of The Astonishing X-Men (with scripts by Buffy writer Joss Whedon) to my near-complete (well, I had to keep my favourite, issue # 18, “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”) run of The Sandman was priced to move.

The money trickled, rather than flowed in, but at a steady rate. Of course, I could no more not buy anything than Dr. Octopus could stop himself from kidnapping a girlfriend of Spider-Man. I managed to keep my purchases under $50, though. Even after renting the table ($60), buying coffee and lunch, Motrin and water, and cutting my cousin in for half of the 200 Wolverine bucks, I was ahead by over $300. I still had nearly four long-boxes worth of goods that I did not want to leave with.

Salvation of a sort came in the form of Dennis. A white-haired, slightly grizzled, Popeye-looking character in jean overalls, Dennis had cherry-picked a few items from my table earlier. He had a table with his friend Bob. They were private dealers who sometimes bought up stock for a steal. After I’d told him what I wanted to do, he’d said he’d come by near closing time to make an offer.

Still trying to move those longboxes!

Thirty or 40 minutes went by. I sold another bundle of comics, about 40 issues of a crime noir series called Stray Bullets to a fan who was happy to find them. Dennis returned, and he offered $80, lock stock and barrel.

“I was going to offer you fifty – I’ll probably just end up throwing half of them out – but that seemed a little low,” he said. It was still only $20 a box – $80 for merchandise that had cost in the thousands. “Sold,” I said.

And that was the end of my mid-life comics-collection-selling adventure. Five hours after arriving at Heritage Hall, I’d sold off three-quarters of my comic book collection. Years of browsing, buying, reading, coming to conventions like these, all gone in an afternoon.

I felt great.

I’m left with a few lingering doubts. How badly had I let myself get ripped off with that Wolverine comic? Why is Wolverine popular in the first place? Had I sold off my legacy?

Yeah, probably. 


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