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SELLING YOUR FUNNYBOOKS

My name is Mike Sterling, and I sell comic books for a living.

Alan David Doane was good enough to offer a spot on his site where, hopefully on the first Monday of each month (this month excepted), I could drop in and pontificate on various comics retailing-related topics. For this initial installment, I thought I'd talk about buying comic collections...but first, a story:

A few years ago, I received a call from someone claiming to have a copy of Superboy #1 in absolutely perfect condition, and that he wanted to bring it in to sell. "Which one?" I ask, since there have been several Superboy #1s on the stands over the years.

"Oh, it's the very first one...from the 1940s. And it's in pristine condition!"

Well, I tell him to bring it in and we'll take a gander at it.

The next day, a couple comes in carrying a briefcase. They identify themselves as the people with the Superboy #1, and gingerly place the briefcase on the counter. Popping the latches, they open the case and carefully lift the comic out.

It's a Superboy Annual #1, from 1964. Still a nice item, not as rare or expensive as the original Superboy #1, but still not a shabby item to have around. That is, it would have been nice to have around, if not for the fact that this "perfect condition" comic had no cover, and had been so waterlogged at some point in the past that it was now pretty much a solid brick. We tried to explain to the couple, as nicely as we could, that the comic wasn't the title they thought it was, and it didn't matter anyway since it was in completely unsellable condition.

Well, they were pretty darn mad. They thought we were trying to pull something over on them, perhaps supposedly trying to get them to part with the book for a pittance...even though we were making it quite clear that we weren't interested in buying. Angrily, they grabbed up their comic, shoved it back in their briefcase, and stomped out of the store in a huff. For all I know, they're still wandering from town to town, getting increasingly upset that all these comic shops are turning their noses up at such a "great item."

This is a fairly extreme (and, sadly, 100% true) example of the sort of thing your average comic shop has to deal with, if it's in the business of dealing in back issues. It's not always this bad, but there are certain problems, conflicts, and misunderstandings that we're run into often enough that I'd like to address some of them here. It might improve your chances of selling your comics, and it certainly would make life easier on us folks on the other side of the counter!

(And, before I get started, let me address some of you out there who are just itching to be offended by anything I may say here...those of you who know how to grade comics, who know what they're talking about in regards to the comics they're trying to sell, who are sympathetic with the plight of those of us behind the counter...I ain't talkin' about you!)

CALL FIRST

Before you go through the hassle of dragging your collection to the store, you may want to call first and make sure your local comics shop is actually in the business of buying used funnybooks. Several stores don't deal in older comics at all, and you don't want to waste your time and theirs by hauling your books in, only to be disappointed.

If you have a large, well-organized collection you're trying to sell, and you have an inventory of said collection, you might want to ask if you can send a list to the store, so that a list of items actually needed can be given back to you. That way, you can just pull out the books in question, rather than bringing everything in.

If you tell me on the phone that your comics are in "pristine mint" condition, don't be surprised if I take that with a grain of salt. Too often I've been promised mint comics that ended up being not being so (see above Superboy example) that I don't even pay attention when people say this to me anymore. I'll believe it when I see it, as the saying goes.

Your comics are also not "in the original bags," which is something else I hear a lot. Oddly, I never hear this about comics that originally shipped sealed in polybags. Also, telling me that the comics are bagged and boarded doesn't necessarily mean they're in mint condtion. Unfortunately, just because it's in a comic bag doesn't mean it didn't have a hard-knock life prior to entering its little plastic protector.

(Just so you don't think less of me...it's not as if I'm giving a sarcastic "yeah, right" into the phone when you tell me about the excellent condition of your comics. I'm being nice, honest! If it turns out you're right, and the comics are in beautiful shape, I promise to be contrite.)

Please don't read off every single comic you own and ask me to give you prices on them sight unseen. Also please understand that it's very difficult for me to give you a "ballpark" price on comics without any specific details. Asking me an average price for a comic book from 1955 is tough for me to answer...is it a Bugs Bunny comic or an issue of Superman? There's a slight price difference there.

Also, please, and I cannot stress this enough...and not just in situations that involve selling comics...do not let your four-year-old child be your secretary. If you want to call us and set up an appointment to sell comics, having your barely-eloquent offspring as your intermediary never, ever, ever works. Just get on the phone yourself, Mr. Busy-Pants. (I wish I could say that I'm making this up. People really do this to us.)

GET YOUR STUFF TOGETHER

If you have a lot of comics, please put them into some kind of halfway-reasonable order. I don't expect them to be in completely alphabetical/numerical/chronological order. Putting all the Batmans together, all the Hulks together...that's good enough. Piling them up willy-nilly in milkcrates, facing every which way, with the comics at the bottom folded up and crunched by the comics loaded on top...that's a good way to keep us from spending much time on your collection.

Please remove all the comics that smell like cat pee. Or dog pee. Or ferret pee. Or any kind of pee. I don't believe "pee" is allowed in any of the generally-accepted comic book condition grades. I don't care if it's Action Comics #1, autographed by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt...no cat pee comics!

You don't necessarily need to get rid of the coverless comics...yes, 99% of the time, a comic without a cover is unsellable, but every once in a while we'll turn up a collection with some coverless Golden Age or key Silver Age books, and even in that condition we can find buyers for them. You can safely toss those coverless Darkhawks, however.

If you're completely unfamiliar with the comic collecting hobby, buying a price guide and pricing out your entire collection may cause unrealistic expectations when it's time for us to tell you what your comics are really worth. Okay, I know you want to avoid being underpaid for anything that happens to command high prices, but people who price their collections like this almost never account for condition, which, as I've noted before, is slightly important.

AT THE STORE

If you had called to make an appointment to bring in your collection at a specific time, please keep that appointment. A half hour late: no biggie, stuff happens. Two days late: perhaps you can call again and let us know that you might be slightly delayed.

If you didn't call, you may come in at a time when we don't have time to look at your collection right away, or when the store's buyer is not in, or we're otherwise busy (like if it's new comics day). You might want to think about leaving your collection at the store to let us look at it when we do have the time (such as overnight, or the next day, or whenever).

Don't hover. I don't mean sticking around while we go through your collection, and paying attention to what we're doing. I'm cool with that. I mean, fooling around with the piles we're making with your comics as we're sorting them, pestering us about the price on every single book (not much of a problem with small collections, but it becomes a serious time-waster when we're going through thousands of comics), and basically making it difficult for us to look at your books. We'll try to answer your questions if you have any, but at the same time, we are trying to work, here.

Don't show us books you're not going to sell. I don't mean rejecting our offer...that's fair enough. I mean waiting until we go through all the books you brought in, adding up their prices, and making an offer, at which point you say "well, I don't want to sell these" as you pull out a dozen or so from the comics we're trying to buy.

Don't be surprised if we don't want everything. I know the price guide says that Flagrant Offense Man #1 is a "hot" item, but if we have two dozen of them in the back room, we're probably not going to want to buy a twenty-fifth copy.

GETTIN' PAID

The prices in price guides are averages of retail prices from stores reporting from across the nation, or perhaps the world. These are not the prices stores are going to pay for your comics. At best, stores pay a percentage of guide value for each comic (say, 30 to 50 percent), or, at the other end of the scale, they pay you a bulk rate. (More on the bulk-rate thing later.)

Just because you overpaid for a particular book in the past doesn't mean that we're obligated to match that price now. If you paid $200 for a sealed copy of Superman #75 (the black-bagged "Death of Superman" issue) back when it was red-hot and people were panic-buying, don't be surprised if the most you can get for it from a dealer now is about five or ten bucks.

On a related note, I don't think we've ever seen any comic book "collectible" that was originally sold on some cable shopping network that we ever wanted to buy for the shop. Generally the comics purchased from those cable shows are common items, and almost certainly overpriced. And related to that: just because a comic book is autographed, it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be that much more expensive. For example, a store about 50 miles north of us had regular signings with the creative team of Marvel's Beavis & Butthead about ten or so years ago, and as a result, there are probably more signed copies of B&B #1 than unsigned in our area. We are constantly turning down "great deals" on those books.

If you're selling the books for store credit, you likely may get more for your books than if you were looking for a cash payment, since this works out to be a lot less of a financial burden on the shop. Unless you need the money for other purposes, this may be a better deal for you, particularly if you're still buying new comics on a regular basis at the store doing the buying. If you could get fifty bucks in cash now for the comics you're selling, and you're going to end up spending about fifty bucks at the store over the next month or so...you might as well take the store credit and have, perhaps, about sixty bucks in credit. Of course, the store may only offer credit for purchased comics...your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.

OTHER TIPS

We're not your free storage unit. If you've dropped off a collection for us to look at overnight, please don't let the collection sit at the store for weeks after we call you to let you know we're done looking at your books. In our case, we're probably far nicer about it than we have any right to be, since (and I haven't looked into the legality of this, so don't depend on my opinion here) I imagine after a while the collection could possibly be considered "abandoned" and we could just keep the whole kit 'n' kaboodle. In all the years our store's been open, I think we've only done that once, and that was after several months of trying to contact the collection's owner.

Nearly all of the tips above apply mostly to stores that would go through a collection a book at a time, and judge each one on an individual basis as to its purchasability. Some stores, particularly if they're starting out and trying to build up a solid back issue selection, or just plain don't want to deal with the one-book-at-a-time process, will buy darn near anything, but may not pay much for it. A number of years ago, a local competitor (closed, now) was buying whatever you had for $50 per long box. Hell, I almost took them up on that offer ("here's 300 copies of Brigade! Enjoy!"). On the plus side, you're unloading all your books, and you don't have to worry about having leftovers to deal with. On the other hand...you'll only get a few cents per book, which may be a deal if you're trying to sell, say, a run of Semper Fi, but you'd also get that same amount for any books that would command premium prices.

If you do have leftover books, and you're tired of lugging them from comic shop to comic shop, you do have some other options:

1. Sell them on the Internet via your favorite online auction site. With some exceptions, it's a buyer's market for comics (particularly the more common ones) on auction sites, so don't expect to get anywhere close to full value on your books. However, you might be able to unload books that are otherwise unsellable, especially if you sell them in lots. I do recommend nice, big pictures of the items in question, particularly if you aren't skilled in the condition-grading department.

2. Donate them...give them to a hospital or a church (take the dirty ones out first, you naughty person), and you can probably get a tax write-off of some kind out of them.

3. Open your own store. Well, okay, perhaps that's a little on the extreme side, but how many comic shops started with the owners just trying to find something to do with their enormous collections?


That should give you a general overview on how to make it easier on both you and me when it comes to selling your funnybooks. Obviously I haven't covered every situation...for example, I haven' t dealt with "professionally-graded" comics enough to be able to tell you much about them, beyond the fact that I've been avoiding dealing with them... but hopefully you'll find enough of the above information useful! Every store is different, and most of the situations above, while appropriate to the shop I manage, may not necessarily apply to your local establishment. (Except the thing about telling the guy on the phone your comics are all in mint shape. Really, don't do that.) If you have any questions, or comments, or additions to the above hints and suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me at cbg (at) progressiveruin.com.

-- Mike Sterling

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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