Monday, January 31, 2011

Please Enjoy the Music While We Adjust Our Personal Lives

Dear Loyal Readers,

Sometimes life requires a little more of our time than we would like. That goes for yours truly as well. Illness in my family, moving (a personal move, not the business), and a few other personal obligations will keep me from the regular blog for a couple of weeks (at least). In the meantime, enjoy the music of your life, and the "fillers" here at Confessions until things get back to "normal" (whatever that might be).
   Happy trails,

   The Comic Book Pusher

This wonderful bit of animation comes via my good friend Jonathan Douglas, who, like a Mighty Hero of Legend, entered my life and added great wonders and adventures beyond the experience of mere mortals. I'll tell you more about Jon and his amazing talents in future blogs. In the meantime, enjoy the music, and the animation. -- The Comic Book Pusher

Monday, January 24, 2011

How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Six: "This Place Rocks!" -- The "Cheers" of Comic Book Stores

By The Comic Book Pusher

I launched the retail operations of The Comics Club in August 1994 with lots of fanfare and fun, but the months and weeks leading up to the grand opening were quite a challenge. I had other career options to consider, but none of them were as sexy as the idea of running a full-time retail business.
   One of those options was continuing my journalism career as a writer for Entertainment Retailer, a new publication being launched for retailers by the good people at Wizard Entertainment. You may have heard of another magazine they publish: Wizard: The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture.
   I had been in contact with Joe Yanarella, who at the time was the managing editor at Wizard, about a series of articles I had proposed for Entertainment Retailer. As fate would have it, just after Joe contacted me with the go-ahead to write the articles, I signed a three-year lease on the space for The Comics Club's new retail store. I contacted Joe, explaining that I would not be able to do the articles after all. He was very understanding, and wished me well on the launch of the new store.
   I had another option beyond The Comics Club and freelance writing, which was to launch my own publication. After a lot of research, a lot of revising of the plan for a new magazine or newsletter, or book publisher, I focused on the paths of being a freelancer or launching the retail operations of The Comics Club.
   Now, you may be thinking, "What gives, Mr. Pusher? Don't you think a career in journalism is considerably 'sexier' than owning a comic book store?"
   Truth often can be a relative thing. The truth to me is that they both are sexy, each in its own way. I would have loved to write for the magazine and launch the retail operations of The Comics Club simultaneously, but getting the retail venture off the ground was consuming so much of my time that I knew I would not be able to give my all to either project if I attempted both. It would be unfair to myself, to Joe and Entertainment Retailer, and to The Comics Club as well. I decided it was the optimal way to give the store its best fighting chance in an already crowded market of similar stores. (There were three other comic book stores within three miles of the plaza where I rented the retail space, and that does not include the half-a-dozen or so sports card stores, of which several also sold comic books.) I decided to forgo the other option and focus solely on The Comics Club.
   Months in advance I began promoting the new store at local collectible shows. I was at one such show in Hollywood, Fla., handing out fliers for the upcoming grand opening of The Comics Club's first retail storefront. I came up to a table operated by a local comic shop owner. He was sitting behind the table reading a comic book, seemingly completely oblivious to me. I had never met him, although I had been in one of his stores before, (I believe he had three back then). I handed him a flier. He continued to pretend that the space I was occupying didn't actually include me.
   "Hi," I said cheerfully. "I'm opening up a new comic book store. Here's a flier about our grand opening sale. It's going to be a lot of fun." I placed it on the table in front of him.
  Without looking at the flier, and without looking up at me from his comic book, he said, "Only a fool would open up a comic book store right now." Then he proceeded to reach over and crumple up the flier and toss it to the floor, where it rolled under the table and landed squarely at the tip of my right boot.
   What I was thinking right about then and what I actually said were two very different things. When I was younger, I was much better at concealing my true feelings than I am today.
   "Well, it was nice meeting you. Happy trails," I said, with considerably less cheer than before, and walked away.
   That man was one of many future competitor comic book pushers I would meet over the years. Most of them, unlike that guy, have been very friendly people. Some of them even became my personal friends, and still are to this day.
   Even if some of the competition would be less than friendly, it was my plan to become a strong competitor, but keep business as friendly as possible with the other comic shop owners. I believe that to be the best course of action for competing small businesses if they all want to stay healthy. That probably holds truer than ever in today's difficult economy.
    My original business plan for The Comics Club called for the opening of at least two more stores in its first three to five years. But beyond the plan was something deeper and more important to me. I wanted The Comics Club to be like the neighborhood bars I remembered from time I spent in my hometown of Wyandotte, Mich. When you walked in the door, several voices from around the room would greet you by name. You felt at home among the familiar, smiling faces. I wanted The Comics Club to be like that; like the Cheers of comic book stores. A home away from home where everybody knows your name. 
   Here is a little confession about The Comics Club's interior look -- it was inspired by another comic book store. It's not a copy of that store, but that store was a major influence on how I originally planned the layout and design of The Comics Club. That store was The Comic & Gaming Exchange in Sunrise, Fla.
   I was a regular customer of The Comic Exchange, as we called it for short, from 1986 until I began buying comic books directly from Capital City Distributors in 1992.  The owners of The Comic Exchange at the time were a couple named Jan and Bill. The store was neatly divided into two main sections, with comics on one side and games on the other. They had every department within those sections well organized and well stocked. The store was always clean and well-lite. Whenever I walked in the door, Jan or Bill or one of their employees would greet me by name. Even when they didn't know a customer's name, Jan and Bill would give them a friendly greeting as they came in the door. They made us feel welcome and at home. That is how I wanted my customers to feel when they walked into my store.
   In fact, I wanted to go a little bit further. I wanted to give an even greater impact. I wanted a new customer's first impression, even customers familiar with stores like this, to be a little "Wow!" moment for them. To achieve that, I made a few essential decisions about the store prior to opening that would emulate the best qualities of the The Comic Exchange and other quality retail stores I had seen in the past.
   I decided to start with a 2,000-square-foot space rather than the industry average at the time of about 700 to 1,200 square feet. Even now, new customers are often surprised to walk in and find the interior of the store to be so big. It's not what they expect. I've had more than one customer mention that walking into the store was like walking into the "TARDIS" from the Dr. Who science fiction television series.
  I also made the isles wide enough to allow several people ample room to easily find merchandise in any given department. Two large X-Men and Dungeons & Dragons video game machines stood blinking and flashing in the front of the store, tempting customers to come inside and play. Six tables, each with six folding chairs became arenas of battle for collectible card game tournaments and, later on, a meeting place for members of our gaming club, "The Comics Club Gamers Alliance". The front of the store was decorated with bright, positive images of Superman and other colorful heroes, leaving the darker, more mature images often associated with some gaming products and action figures for the back of the store. That gave the customer a bit of a "down the rabbit hole" experience as they journeyed deeper inside. I had covered all the angles within my means to give to and get from them that "Wow" moment I was hoping for.
   My efforts were rewarded when, a few days after opening the store, a little towheaded boy no more than seven years old walked a few steps into the store, then stopped, tilted his head up, slowly taking in his surrounds. He then looked straight at me with wide eyes and a huge grin and said, "This place rocks!"
  I knew I was home.

Next time in "Confessions": 
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Seven: Life is What Happens To You While You Are Making Plans For Your Life

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude! The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog For A Burst of Cranial Flurry . . .

By The Comic Book Pusher

The next time you find yourself in your local comic book store, stop and look around at your settings. Does it look like you are at the Straw Market in the Bahamas, or perhaps a flea market? Is it anything like standing in the driveway of a home having a garage sale? If the establishment is owned by hard working, self respecting people who are doing their best to operate a quality retail store, then your answer should be an easy "No, of course not, Mr. Pusher! It's a specialty retail store!"
   I am always fascinated by the mentality of some individuals who have the gall to think that just because they are shopping in a "Mom & Pop" store it is okay to press the owner to negotiate prices on the merchandise being offered for sale. I had just such an unpleasant experience (yet again) with a customer the other day.
   This customer was new to my store. I introduced myself, proudly gave him the grand tour of our sales floor and, in response to his inquires, a brief history or our business. I enthusiastically explained to him about our pre-order service, our discount club, when we have our big sales and even about our Frequent Reader and Frequent Player stamp card programs. I answered the numerous questions he had about the details of those services. I helped him track down comics he was looking for from our selection of more than 80,000 back issues. I checked our distributor's website for several other specific issues he was looking for that we did not have in stock. In all, I spent well over an hour with this customer, doing my utmost to demonstrate that we give our customers as much attention and service as possible. We also talked about what he did for a living and what his collecting interests were. For all intents and purposes he seemed to be an intelligent, reasonable man.
   He selected two graphic novels and three comic books for himself and his very well behaved preadolescent daughter who was shopping with him. I even special ordered another comic for him that we did not have in stock. Then, bringing his items to the checkout counter he said, "So, what can you do for me here?"
   "I'm sorry?" I said, not wanting to believe what I was hearing, or for that matter even hear what I was hearing. Unfortunately, I knew full well what was coming.
   "I want to establish a relationship with your store," he said, "and I want to know what kind of discount you can give me on this stuff. I'm spending quite a lot of money," he said, gesturing at the items on the counter, "and I want to know what kind of a break you can give me. So, what can you do for me here?" he repeated; now sounding a little impatient.
   What I wanted to do for him was reintroduce him to the fresh air of the parking lot. Instead, I politely pointed out that his purchase would qualify him for two stamps on our Frequent Reader Card for each of the graphic novels, and one for each of the comic books, putting him very close to getting a new comic book for free. I also pointed out that he could get even better deals through the various programs I had told him about (in some detail) earlier, and that we also have the occasional sale, but that there were no other discounts to offer him at this time.
   He became indignant.
   "So you won't give me a discount on this stuff?" he snarled.
   I again tried to explain how he could get a discount through one of our programs, telling him as politely as I could that those programs are designed to give all our customers equal opportunities for rewards and discounts, but that I could not negotiate prices on our merchandise. But before I could finish explaining, he cut me off in mid-sentence.
   "You can, you just won't," he snapped in an angry tone with an equally angry expression on his face.
   Now, what the evil side of my soul wanted to say at that point was, "Well, you can let your child starve to death, but I imagine you won't." But I didn't, of course. I smiled and again tried to explain our policies, programs, and services, and that negotiating prices was against our store policy. I wasn't able to finish.
   "You don't have to explain," he interrupted as he put the merchandise back on the shelves. He paid for the comic books his daughter had selected and left the store in a huff.
   Personally, I find that kind of behavior from a customer to be insulting. Perhaps you think differently. If you do, then I have a few questions for you: Does your employer negotiate your pay on a daily basis? At the end of your long hard day's work does the person who writes your paycheck come to you and say, "Okay, I know you are asking fifteen dollars an hour for your labors, but what can you do for me? How much less money can you take for what you did for me today?" I imagine if that happened you would feel indignant, perhaps even insulted.
   Pressing the storeowner for a discount even after he has politely explained his store's policies to you is pretty much the same thing.
   Do you think your local comic book store should be treated differently or with less respect than, say, your local Walmart, Kmart, Toys-R-Us, Target, gas station, fast food restaurant or other establishment? Would you ever think to go into any one of those businesses and insist that you be given a discount out of hand?
   Do you believe your local comic book storeowner is making a fortune selling comics and can afford to negotiate the price of every item you buy, or that it is a sound business practice to do so?
   My fellow lovers of the graphic novel, comic book stores are businesses just like any other business in your community, even if they are just "Mom & Pop" shops. The people who own them want, and indeed need, your business. But, just like you, they have bills to pay. They labor for their money, just like you do. Good shop owners will work hard to help you in your quest to find what you are looking for, try their best to give you as much information as possible about the item before you buy it, make special orders for you, and even take the time to talk with you about your favorite comic, game, toy, movie, your personal life or the weather if you like. They want you to have a pleasant experience in their store, and they hope you will come back and shop with them again. But expecting them to negotiate prices with every customer that comes in is unreasonable and, quite frankly, insulting to them.
   "But," insists Mr. Iwanadeal, "I'm not saying you have to negotiate discounts with every customer, just me."
   Well, Mr. Iwanadeal, if you can't see how very selfish that attitude is, perhaps you can understand that good businesses have policies that treat all customers equally. At The Comics Club, whether you are buying a single comic book or making a $1,000 purchase, you will be treated with the same respect and the same store policies as every other customer. We pride ourselves on that.
   To make it a little easier to understand for the Mr. Iwanadeals out there who insist on treating comic book stores as if they were nothing more than ongoing garage sales, let us gaze into our crystal ball and peek into a shop that does not have policies of equal treatment of all customers; a store that will negotiate prices at the counter with any customer who walks through the door. Ah yes, the haze is lifting. I can see the sad situation unfolding before us . . .
   "Hey, Mr. Owner! Can you do better on this graphic novel for me?" says Mr. Iwanadeal.
   "Well, I guess I can knock off ten percent for you," says the inept comic shop owner.
   "Is that all? Last week you knocked off fifteen percent from XYZ Adventures," complains Mr. Iwanadeal.
   In the meantime, Joe Whiner is in line behind Mr. Iwanadeal, and is now visibly upset.
   "Hey, Mr. Owner, what's the deal? I bought XYZ Adventures here last week and you didn't give me a discount. I've been coming here for years. Why does this guy get a discount and not me?", he says with great indignation.
   Just about then, laughter can be heard from the man standing in line behind Mr. Whiner.
   "What's so funny?", demands Mr. Iwanadeal to Mr. Laughter, who then reveals to the others that he got twenty percent off his copy of XYZ Adventures last week.
   The now distressed Mr. Owner watches in dismay as Mr. Iwanadeal and Mr. Whiner demand that he give them discounts or they will take their business elsewhere. Left with little choice, our maladroit storeowner acquiesces to their demands and gives them the discount. Then, even though they got their discounts, Mr. Iwanadeal and Mr. Whiner are still unhappy about what just transpired as they walk out the door.
   "Wow, what's their problem?" says Mr. Laughter, laying down the latest volume of Big Deal Funnies on the counter as two other customers behind him wait their turns to make their purchases.
   "That will be seventeen forty-seven," says Mr. Owner.
   "What?" says Mr. Laughter. "Can't you do better than that? Come on, man, give me a discount," presses Mr. Laughter as the other customers watch on, waiting to see if they, too, will be able to negotiate a discount with the blundering storeowner.
   To my fellow comic book pushers, some cautionary advice: The practice of negotiating prices for every item in the store with every customer that walks in is no way to do business. It is counterproductive in your efforts toward healthy profits, and a practice that does not serve you or your customer base well. It's not fair to other customers who don't try to turn every trip to the checkout counter into an episode of "Let's Make A Deal".Clearly mark the price your merchandise and stick to that price. Don't give into the pressure of a customer who wants you to make a deal because they think you are too afraid to lose the sale if you don't. If you give in to them you will have to give them a discount each and every time they come in to your store to buy something. As I illustrated earlier, other observant customers will also expect to get that same deal, or try to negotiate an even cheaper price. And when one customer learns that you gave others a discount but not him, he will be upset with you. It's bad business. Period.
  To the many fine customers out there who want to "establish a relationship" with their local comic book store, let me suggest that you can do so by showing the owners simple respect. Believe me, if you do, it can pay off is spades. Storeowners usually have ways to reward customers for their patronage. Just don't expect them to give up their hard earned profit in the process. In the long run, that will not serve them or you well. Give your store a break and don't insist on a discount outside the store's normal policies and programs. If you want them to be there for you and your collecting needs for years to come, give them your business, and your respect.
   Smart entertainment retailers operate their specialty hobby stores not like garage sales and flea markets, but as serious businesses. Wise customers should, and will, respect that.

"Confessions" will return on January 24th with:

How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Six: "This Place Rocks!" -- The "Cheers" of Comic Book Stores

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude! The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Monday, January 10, 2011

How on Krypton did I get here? Part Five: Where No Sane Man Had Gone Before (Or If One Did, Was Sane No More!)

By The Comic Pusher

Selling my first comic book as a legitimate comic book pusher in 1989 through my newly created mail-order company, The Comics Club, wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. At that time, most people still did not have computers, and many of those that did still did not have internet access. Even the ones with internet access could only communicate at the slowest speeds. In those dark ancient days, and for a while after, advertising and sales of back-issue comic books on a national or global level was still being done via print media advertising and mail order.
   Putting together the catalog of back issues from my collection, which by then had grown to more than 3,000 comics and become my new company's inventory, was great fun. Publication layout and design was something I already had some experience with, and I put that knowledge to use. Writing the classified advertisement on the other hand, with its limited space for words, was somewhat more of a challenge, but I finally came up with something I thought would catch the reader's eye.
   "TODAY'S HOTTEST COMICS AT BELOW GUIDE PRICES!", read the opening line to the tiny advert in The Comic Buyer's Guide.
   Within just a few days of the ad breaking the requests for the catalog started trickling into my mail box. Yes, trickling. The response was modest to say the least. Do you remember as a kid when, in the days leading up to your birthday you would get all excited about turning a year older, then the day came and went and nothing really happened? You didn't feel any different. It was just kind of a let down. Yeah, that feeling.
   However, I was not deterred. I sent out the catalogs and within a week or so got my first check in the mail. An actual check made out to me (alias The Comics Club). A feeling of entrepreneurial triumph coursed through my veins. I thrilled to the thought that I had just made my first sale as a legitimate comic book pusher. Soon more checks would be pouring into my mailbox and I would be reaping the capitalistic rewards of mainstream comic book pushing.
  Then it sank in. To complete the sale I was going to have to part with one of my precious comics. Sending off that first comic from my collection-become-inventory was emotionally tougher than I had imagined. The truth is, I had not given any real thought to the idea that I would have to give up a comic that actually meant something to me personally. Then there was the further realization that, as more sales rolled in, I was going to have to part with quite a lot of my precious comics. Maybe most of them, if not eventually all of them.
   "My precious comics, gollum! Do you really want to sell them, gollum?" The collector within me struggled with my newly found entrepreneurial spirit. I wobbled in my resolve to become a legitimate comic book pusher. It felt like I was selling a child, and in a way I was. But I knew that those "children" of mine had a greater purpose in my life. There were fans out their who needed the services of a pusher like me to be their hero and deliver the comic book "fix" they needed. I could be that hero.
   We all have our own ways of dealing with our inner child. If I was going to push comics for a living, I had to get past that personal attachment and become the Merchant Prince of Comic Books that my capitalistic drive was turning me into. I had to reach deep inside to stifle that starry-eyed Superman wannabe in my head crying "But they're my comics!",  and wrestle my fears from the vice-like grip of his little hands so that my stone-cold entrepreneurial spirit could rise up and take charge. I came to the realization that letting this comic go was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I resolved to take the money and acquire more comics to add to The Comics Club's inventory. I would slowly grow the business a little more with each additional sale. I was going to become that comic book pushing hero.
   I packaged up the comic and dropped it in the mail. With that it became official. I was now a legitimate comic book pusher, and loving every minute, excited to be the owner of my own, albeit tiny, business.
   Of course, there was not a lot of money to be made pushing comics through the mail. My corporate world career of magazine journalist was on track to make me very wealthy in the coming years. My very realistic plan at the time was to retire at the ripe old age of 54 with about $2 million in mostly liquid assets. But there was a problem. While I loved being a journalist, I absolutely hated the corporate world.
   Then one day in 1992, while sitting at my desk and contemplating the early demise of at least several utterly contemptible and thoroughly despicable coworkers, I realized that I did not belong in the insane office life I was living. I had risen through the ranks from staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, was making great money, but I was no longer happy. My higher-level position in the magazine meant that I was now more of a people manager than a writer. My enthusiasm for journalism waned considerably amid that nine-to-five yuppie grind.
   Indeed, my disposition at the time required a wholly different kind of insanity. I realized that I needed to be my own boss. Not just part-time; all the time. So, just like that, I walked away from wealth and security to the strange, uncertain, but intriguing world of the entrepreneur. I would become an Entertainment Retailer and turn The Comics Club into a full-time profession.
   I had been pushing comics via mail-order for a few years now. It was fun, but up to then had really been just a hobby. It made money, but not much. To turn The Comics Club into a business that would pay the bills, I would have to take the next steps toward establishing a storefront from which to push comic books. That would take some time and research, and a deeper journey down the rabbit hole of comic book pushing.
    Just as my education at the University of Florida prepared me for my career in journalism, I would need some way to educate myself about the retail world where pushing comic books required selling them to the public face-to-face. Freeing myself from the cubical confines of the corporate world, I found the perfect setting to get that education -- comic book and collectibles shows.
   It was 1993 and nearly every weekend for the next eighteen months I would be a regular dealer at the local comic book and collectibles shows. It was my own version of a college education for the purpose of learning just what the customer wanted. I would rub elbows with personalities from across the entire comic book pushing industry. It was within those hallowed shopping mall halls that I would learn the lingo of the collecting world, how selling on the lower rungs of the comic book industry ladder really worked and, more important, what the customers liked and disliked about the retail stores they frequented.
   A typical conversion with a fan who approached my table or booth at a show would go something like this:
   "Hi!" I would greet them with enthusiasm. I loved greeting customers then, and I still do today. "Are you looking for anything special today?" Then, as I helped them find what they were hunting down, I would slip a few questions into the conversation, asking them where they go to buy their comic books and what they liked about the store. The most typical response was: "I'll tell you what I don't like about them."
   That was music to my ears. I got dozens upon dozens of testimonials from fans candidly offering up what they most liked and most hated about the retail comic book and sports card stores they frequented. It was a goldmine of information. The shows not only delivered the information I needed, they also supplied me with many new contacts; people who had already been involved in pushing comics for many years.
   There were many types of purveyors peddling their goods, drawn like me to the Circus of the Insane that is the world of the collectibles shows. Sports card pushers, non-sports card pushers, action figure pushers, and others, all hawking their "collectibles" to fans who came seeking some rare and elusive addition to their own precious collections. There were weekend warriors who did not have actual businesses, pushing all types of collectibles, including comic books, to make a few extra bucks. There were people who had established themselves as legitimate businesses, but who had not yet made the leap into retail, although some of them, like me, were on the verge of doing just that. Then there were the local retailers at the shows advertising their brick-and-mortar stores, while trying to make enough money to offset the financial loss their stores experienced from the very shows they themselves were attending. It was this later group, the ones with actual stores, the "professional" comic book pushers more politely known as "Entertainment Retailers", that I was most interested in getting to know.
   One of those retailers approached me about selling comic books and other merchandise to his store wholesale. By then I had established an account with Capital City Distribution and was buying comics and other merchandise wholesale to sell at the shows. I agreed to supply him and at that point I added distribution to my mix of show and mail-order sales. Soon I would add several more comic book and sports card stores to my list of clients, selling them comics and other merchandise outright, as well as putting comic books in some stores on a consignment basis. The inside look at their retail operations was invaluable. That, combined with more than a year of doing collectibles shows and taking copious notes from conversations with customers, gave me the education I needed to make the move to adding retail to my little comic book empire.

Next time in "Confessions": 
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Six: "This Place Rocks!" -- The "Cheers" of Comic Book Stores

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude! The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Monday, January 3, 2011

How on Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Four: A Merchant Prince is Born

By The Comics Book Pusher

The idea that certain comic books had gained some considerable monetary value to them over the years reignited my interest and brought me back into the wonderful world of comics. This time not just for the entertainment value, although I was very much enjoying reading them again, but for a new purpose that excited the capitalist in me -- profit. 
   "How do you know how much a comic book is worth?" I asked the young man behind the folding card table that served as the comic book store's checkout counter. He suggested The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, by Robert M. Overstreet.
   "Great! Do you have it?" I ventured further.
   "Nope. Out of stock," he replied from behind his comic book.
   "Can you order it for me?" I inquired.
   "No, but bookstores have them," he offered.
   I thanked him, headed over to the bookstore at the mall where I purchased a copy of the new 1987 edition of the Overstreet. When I got home, I read it nearly cover-to-cover. If you have never picked up a copy of this book, do yourself a favor and buy one. It is a treasure trove of information for the comic book collector and dealer, and a great education for those new to comic books.
   Anxiously hoping to find a valuable issue, I sifted through all the comics from the ones that survived my childhood and compared their conditions to the book's grading guide and then finding their retail value in the price guide section of the book. Most of them were in pretty rough shape, having been read, re-read, and re-re-read many times over and stored in moist garages and hot attics over the years. Even the best of them were pretty beat up.
   As it turned out, the most valuable one of the bunch was the Amazing Spider-Man issue I had spotted pinned to the comic book store's wall with the "$15" handwritten price tag. While I was a little disappointed that they were not worth the thousands of dollars I had hoped for, it did not matter. My interest in comic books had been renewed.
   A lot had changed with comics over the years. I found more comic book stores to visit and discovered how dramatically better the artwork had become. Detailed anatomy had replaced the barely defined outlines of the human body that I had been used to seeing in comics. I bought my regular Superman and a few other titles to read, but I bought dozens of others solely because I found the artwork to be so beautiful.
   I still loved the old comics of the 1960s, though, and decided to try to find some from that time era to add to my growing collection. (From 1986 to 1989, I would accumulate more than 3,000 comic books, mostly published in the 1970s and 1980s.)
   I came across an ad in the Comics Buyers Guide magazine about someone selling Silver Age and Golden Age era comic books at some amazing prices. Really amazing prices. Prices too good to be true. As the saying goes, "A fool and his money are soon parted", and there I was, the oblivious fool. 
   I sent off my check and anxiously awaited the arrival of my comics. Weeks passed. No comics. I called the man who was selling them and he assured me that they would be on their way soon. In fact, he said he had even more at even better prices and would send me a list so that I could order more. The list came. I sent off another check. More weeks past. No comics arrived.
   Sometime later I got a telephone call from the U.S. Postal Service informing me that the man who took and cashed my check, and many other people's checks, had been arrested for mail fraud.
   I would not be getting those comics.
   Losing the money was annoying, but not getting the comic books really made me angry. I had been duped. I was so upset, in fact, that I bellyached about the incident for days. I railed to anyone who would listen about the unfairness of it all and wondered if there were any mail order comic book businesses that could be trusted.
   Was there no truth? Was there no justice? This was decidedly not the American Way. Who could people trust when buying comics through the mail?
   It was the Spring of 1989 and I was about to sell my first comic book, but not through the mail.
   At my local shop, there was a fellow comic fan that I often talked to while browsing the shelves for the week's new comics. We would talk about this or that comic book, which ones were good, which ones were crap, and which ones had gone up in value since last month.
   A brief historical note: In the late 1980s and early 1990s a magazine called Comic Values Monthly was being published. It seemed a month did not go by that, according to CVM, comic book prices were not rising. In fact, if the values in CVM were accurate, comic book prices were not just rising, they were skyrocketing. A number of events were influencing the market to the point where the comic book industry was having it's own version of  Dutch Tulip Mania, a tale I'll leave for another time. Suffice it to say, many people were willing to pay ten times the cover price or more for many recently published comic books.
   One week the man lamented to me that he missed picking up a comic that had come out a few months before at $1.50 and had already reached $15.00 according to CVM. He thought that by next month the price would go even higher. I told him I had an extra copy (by that time I was buying multiple copies of some comics), and would sell him one at the $15.00 price.
   The following Thursday, (in those days new comic book day was Thursday), we would rendezvous in the parking lot of the comic book store. He brought the money in small, unmarked bills. I brought the comic in a plain brown paper bag. We made the exchange through the window of my car. He took the bag and quickly disappeared into the labyrinth of cars. I took the money, counted it, then sped away, feeling a little guilty for treading on the comic shop owner's turf, but also a little wealthier. It was the comical underbelly of comic book collecting. Not pretty, but everyone knew the score. Buying or selling, you had to take advantage of opportunities when and where you found them. 
   Now, kids, I do not condone any of you selling each other comic books from the parking lot of my store or, for that matter, from the parking lots of any other comic book stores. In my defense, before I offered to sell him a one, the man did ask the store owner if he could get a copy of the comic book, but the owner said he could not. This was, after all, the 1980s -- technologically ancient times, pre-internet, when hunting down a missed back-issue comic book could be a long, and mostly hopeless quest.
   That experience brought about an epiphany of sorts within me. Who could people trust to buy comics from, sight unseen, through the mail? Why, me, of course! That evening I stayed up almost all night sketching a logo for a new mail order comic book business that I would dub "The Comics Club".
   Soon I would be pushing comics not just to get others to read and enjoy them like I did, but for monetary gain as well. What could be better!
   Comic book pushing for fun and profit began like a cakewalk for me. I put together a little mail-order catalog of selected comic book back issues from my personal collection of about 3,000 or so and began advertising in the Comics Buyers Guide's classified ads section. It was exciting! I could not wait for my first sale!
   A word of cautionary advice: Be careful what you wish for. There are times in your life when you discover that some things have more meaning to you than you realized, and some small thing, some simple matter like, say, selling a comic book, becomes a turning point in your life.

Next in "Confessions": 
How on Krypton did I get here? Part Five: Where No Sane Man Had Gone Before (Or If One Did, Was Sane No More!)

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
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Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude! The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!