Recent Snags #4: Modest PGX Haul

I’m going to take a quick break from discussing graded comics (CGC vs CBCS vs PGX) to take a moment to talk about…graded comics.

Compared to some, my book collection might be considered modest (around 5k+ books or so, last I bothered to keep track). Of these, only the tiniest fraction are slabbed books (predominately CGC with a few PGX). I have just enough to fill a single CGC box at the moment, with hopes of filling another. But every book so far has been purchased as an already slabbed item, I have never sent a book in to be graded…until now.

Early on I bought into the hype about CGC and how it was the only “reputable” place to send books off to be graded. While CGC is a fine company in my not-so-humble opinion, I came to realize that there is a fair bit of fanboy propaganda out there. Owning more than a few books graded by both CGC and the maligned competition, at the end of the day and for most purposes, there is no significant difference in the quality of grading and encapsulation. Any measurable differences lay in the details, dependent only upon the extra services desired.

For this reason, I had selected to send my books to PGX rather than the other alternatives. With general quality (again, grading and encapsulation) being the same as the others, PGX also offered other services I needed in a more streamlined fashion, and with a lesser impact to my wallet. All this said, here are the books I sent:

Harley Quinn 1
Harley Quinn 1 – Adam Hughes

Harley Quinn #1 (2014): From the previous posts one might assume that I am a fan of Adam Hughes, and that would be absolutely correct. I purchased this book (a 1:25 variant) for two reasons, 1) the superb art by Mr. Hughes, of course, and 2) pure investment. HQ is a hot character for collection / investment purposes at the moment. I really don’t get it, myself…but whatever. What I did get is that this relaunch of a HQ main title was going to increase in value, quickly. An Adam Hughes cover was going to increase even more. What I did not expect is for it to sell for as much as $400 or more (for a 9.8 graded copy), at least not so early on in the series. But, here we are…and the copies are selling.

As a rule, I never grade a book higher than 9.6. As a conservative grader, I tend to “grade down” if there is any question. For this book, I picked it up “off the rack” for $15, and sat on it to send off for grading when the time was right. As a new book in “new” condition, I saw it as a 9.6 (Near Mint +), but secretly hoped it would return as one of the coveted 9.8’s floating out there. No such luck, I’m afraid. Even so, I saw a 9.6, and PGX saw the same thing, so I am pleased. The only downside to me is that a 9.6 seems to be going for about $260 as opposed to $400, last I looked. But no worries…it’s a fantastic book with exceptional work by Mr. Hughes, and I am very satisfied to have it slabbed and in my collection.

Saga #1 (2012): Here’s another book that was extremely hot. I recall reading the first few issues ofSaga 1 the series in the TPB, and it really wasn’t my thing. But the asking price for a copy of it was and is my thing. As I saw the values for this book continually rising, I finally knuckled under and bought a copy for just over $40. This was a year and a half ago, and now the going value is around $120, so not a bad investment, I would think (I hope my daughter one day appreciates all this nerdy “investing” I have done).

The real cool part is that I managed to get this book signed by Fiona Staples herself, along with issues three through eighteen (#2 was a CGC slabbed copy I had purchased, and I was reluctant to crack the case for a signature). She was at the LCS for signings, and I have to say that she was a very pleasant person indeed.

One of my concerns with autographed copies these days is that in the era of the CGC Signature Series, most signed books are suspect unless directly witnessed by an “authorized” representative of some sort. For CGC, this works out to benefit their little monopoly (which is shrinking by the day, thankfully – three cheers for marketplace competition!). In short, CGC essentially said that it did not recognize any signature unless they personally witnessed it. If they had not, any book graded by them would at best have a notation that names were signed on or in the book. Worse yet, it was possible for them to consider a signature as a defect, thus reducing the grade. Now, there are legitimate reasons for taking a protective stance like this, but what it did in terms of impact towards “non-verified” (by CGC, natch) books out there was a less than desirable shift in the minds of many collectors. I personally have a copy of New Teen Titans #1, signed by George Perez and Marv Wolfman, graded by CGC with the above mentioned notation. It does not mention the names that were signed, only that names were written in the book. I bought this book with four others, all signed by the same persons, the signatures having been collected by a single owner, all at the same time. After comparing pictures of the signatures with known authentic signatures of the contributors, I saw them as valid, and purchased the whole lot. Now I had entered the problem exacerbated (although I should again say that it is with some merit) by CGC, that the signatures would not be considered authentic, since they had not personally witnessed the signings. Not wanting to have books slabbed with a ratty little notation, what was I to do?

Enter PGX and CBCS. Both have a service dubbed “signature authentication”. This is different from a signature verification system wherein the books signature is personally witnessed. Instead, the signature(s) on the books goes through a process to determine if the signature is authentic, so a witness is not needed. This sort of minor science has been around for a long time, particularly with the policing agencies concerning themselves with fraud. Where a “verified” book is preferable, an “authenticated” book is the next best thing. This helps resolve any stigma associated with a signed book by providing an authoritative voice to say “it’s legit”.

Since this was my first submission to have books graded, I took advantage of the service, curious to see what came back. I knew that the signature was legitimate, since I got the book signed myself. I was pleased to see that the authenticator(s) agreed.

What pleased me even more about this book was that it came back with a grade of 9.4. I had thought this book to be Near Mint myself, but had some question, and as I mentioned, I grade down when in doubt.

New Teen Titans #2 (1980): This is one of the books I purchased in the lot mentioned above. Signed by George Perez (one of my favorite “old school” artists) and Marv Wolfman. Like I said, I was cNTT 2onfident that the signatures were valid, but here I am glad to see that those doing the authentication concur. Marvelous post-silver age book to have, the first appearance of Deathstroke. I remember when this came out. I was a Marvel guy at the time, having little to do with DC. This series changed that. I followed George to DC when he made the switch between companies, and jumped right on board with him on this series. It was a big deal for DC at the time.

The downside of this for me was that it was graded a 9.0. I saw it as a 9.2, but given a certain amount of subjectivity that is inherent with grading, I was prepared to accept grades one up or down. Whereas I had expected Saga #1 to come back a 9.2 instead of the 9.4 it received, it follows that I accept the 9.0 for this one. Either way, for both I am pleased that they are graded well within what I had expected. And now I have two books graded and encapsulated with legit signatures. Woot!

Dejah of Mars #2 (2014): Part of my purpose with my first submission was to test out a few different services. With this one I wanted to give the pressing service a spin. Collectors know that restoration on a comic book has its ups and downs. While various forms of restoration can help preserve a book and generally make it more appealing to look at, it also tends to devalue the book itself. As a loose and general rule, I have adopted the simple view that a restored book is worth about half its apparent value. For instance, if a book were originally Fine (6.0) without restoration and with a value of $50, a restored book with an apparent condition of Very Fine (8.0) and a value of $90 at that grade would in fact be worth around $45, less than if it had been left unrestored. This is, of course, a simple example to make the point that restoration can actually devalue a book, and is generally looked down upon by the collecting community.

That aside, however, there are some forms of restoration that are considered legitimate, for which there is no penalty in terms of grading or appraisal. This is generally known as “pressing”, a minor form of restoration that does not add or detract anything from the book itself. Basically, this is a method of DoM 2 SFWcleaning and pressing (hence the term) a book to remove light dirt and surface materials, as well as help correct some accumulated deficiencies in the books physical properties (bends, folds, rolls, wrinkles, etc.).

This book is what has come to be called a “risque” variant. Basically, it has a nude variant for cover art (which in this case is identical to the original print, sans clothing) and is geared more towards adult collectors. I have several of these in my collection, as they tend to be worth more money (harder to find, supply and demand rules the market). Not always, but often enough to take the gamble. The real attraction to me though is the cover art by Jay Anacleto. I only recently found out about this guy, but man am I glad I did. Some of his work is just incredible. One might think that there are two other reasons to be attracted to this cover, but believe me when I say that it is the face. The realism and passion with which he paints Dejah’s face is absolutely master class, if you ask me. For this reason I just had to get it slabbed.

The bummer about the copy I had was that on the back cover the book was wrinkled towards the spine, and significantly so. Other than this, the copy was in great shape with only a few stress lines here and there near the staples. I graded the book myself as an 8.0, given the substantial issue at hand. Were it not for that, it would have probably been a 9.2, possibly a 9.4.

So I sent it in to be pressed as part of the service. I had hoped for an 8.5, or possibly a 9.0. I was ecstatic when it came back a 9.2. Not believing the grade I was seeing, I took a look at the back cover and was seriously impressed with the work that had been done. Giving the book covers a complete scanning, I agreed with the grade completely. These guys took an 8.0 book and increased it three grades, all with permissible “restoration”. Although this book is the least valuable of the whole lot I sent in (at VF (8.0) it is valued at around $48,  mid-fifties at 9.2, an admittedly minor increase), it is also the one I am most pleased with, simply to know what was done with it.

Conan the Barbarian #1 (1970): Like many, I am a returning collector, having sold my collectiConan 1on when I was young and gotten back into the game years (decades) later. But as such, I knew that this was a book that I just had to have in my collection. I can be a frugal collector at times though (and indulgent at others), so I elected to pick up a lesser grade copy for what I thought was a bargain…just shy of a hundred bucks for what appeared to be a Fine copy. The book had a significant spine roll and quite a bit of cover dirt accumulated, but that aside I could not see it being less than a 6.0. So I sent it in to be pressed, which I had expected to be helpful in removing some of the cover grime. This submission was probably my biggest disappointment (although a credit to PGX, to be fair), given my surprise at how it returned to me.

One of the things that the CGC cult like to point at as a feature that PGX supposedly lacks is the ability to detect restoration. The insinuation is that PGX is unreliable, and not to be taken seriously by serious collectors. As I’ve stated, I believe this is a lot of hot air generated by fanboys. Now I do, for some reason, still have the impression that CGC might have a more sophisticated detection suite, and perhaps a greater ability to detect more nuanced forms of restoration, but I do not know this to be the case as a matter of fact. The point is that I, as a consumer and an at least semi-serious collector am not interested in names (CGC, PGX, CBCS, or whatever), I am interested in quality at a reasonable cost (understanding that sometimes you get what you pay for). If I had a book that I had suspected of having been restored, to be honest, I would have sent it to CGC, if for no other reason than it is believed to have a more sophisticated means of restoration detection. I would not have selected PGX, not because it is necessarily inferior, but to make every effort to determine the condition definitively.

All that said, I was disappointed to find that this book came back as having minor restoration (slight color touch). Personally, I had not detected any. But then again, I am not a professional in the matter, and am only able to see more obvious attempts. But I also see this as a credit to PGX, who the cultists widely consider incapable in this regard. While my heart sank a bit initially, I am comforted to now know what I had not known before.

But another issue I had with how this book returned is that the pressing did not seem to do much to improve the condition of the book, not nearly as much as the Dejah of Mars book in any event. I have looked over it again several times, and if any improvements had been made, they are very minor at best. The spine is still “rolled” significantly, to the point where the staples appear to be about a quarter of an inch in on the front cover rather than squarely at the side of the book. I had hoped this would have been corrected. And the cover has a slightly dingy look to it even still, although it appears a little cleaner than what it was when sent. Where Dejah was a spectacular win, this book returned to me with less impressive but noticeable results.

The bummer is that it returned graded as a 5.5. To be honest, I still am not sure how it is less than a 6.0. Here’s the dollars and cents of how this one panned out for me: Paid $98 for a 6.0 book “guiding” at around $90 (I knowingly overpaid, expecting short term appreciation). It returned to me as a 5.5 ($70) restored, yielding an actual value of around $35. See how that works (according to my calculations, anyway)? Basically, compared to the actual value of the book, I now realize I overpaid somewhere in the neighborhood of 280%…ouch. Add to that the investment for pressing and grading (along with shipping and insurance), and this little book has been quite costly…but now I know what I actually have too, and so will any future purchaser (if there is one…I don’t really sell my books).

As for the grade, like I said, I was and am prepared to accept a grade plus or minus one from what I graded it. I am confident enough in my grading to know that if I am not right on, then I am in the very immediate neighborhood (unless restoration is involved). And again, some grading is subjective.

All in all, the experience I’ve had with this submission is quite satisfactory. Everything came back with grades reasonably comparable to what I had expected (having submitted books with grades ranging from Fine to Near Mint), so I am convinced that the company I selected is professional enough for any reasonable standards. I am particularly happy with the detection of restoration. The encapsulation is comparable to each of the other companies in every respect (although I wish PGX would adopt a more attractive and informative grading label, but that is more a cosmetic preference than anything else). The pressing service was serviceable yet less than impressive for the one book, but no less than spectacular for the other. The signature authentication correctly identified a valid signature I had obtained myself, and another couple which I had compared to originals before submitting.

The last thing I would mention has to do with simple dollars and cents. Being that I needed particular services that CGC does not provide (signature authentication and pressing), this left me with two options: CBCS or PGX. CBCS basically recommends, or “out-sources” these services to other companies with whom they appear to have established relationships. This certainly increases the turnaround time, since they have to go through these external processes before ever arriving at CBCS for evaluation. And, these services appear to be more costly as well, if done under the CBCS recommended scheme of things (not to imply they are “scheming”). In the end I found the same services to be less costly and having minimal impact on turnaround (around 5 weeks total, including shipping to and fro) with PGX. If the customer reviews are to be believed, it appears that CBCS has joined company with CGC in it’s inability to deliver on posted turnaround times, often by four, five, six or more months later than expected.

In truth, my initial plan was to send to CBCS. My rationale was that I had graded books by both of the others, that I liked what I was seeing in terms of appearance and reviews, and that it was cheaper than CGC (which has pummeled consumers with excessive costs for years – but that was the market then…hopefully they catch up). What killed this choice very early on was the outrageous shipping costs. I was initially quoted $30 for return shipping on a single book. When I asked for shipping quotes on 5 and 10 book submissions, I was given a very spartan response of $60, approximately (which I have to interpret as being low-balled). The communication appeared curt (although perhaps not intended that way), and failed to distinguish between whether this single figure applied to the five or ten book submission scenario. I had to assume that if they were going to charge me $30 for a single book, the $60 figure must apply to the five book proposition. PGX, on the other hand, charged me $38 for return shipping and insurance to the tune of about $1000, for the same five books submitted. I had considered CBCS as a kind of “middle-ground” in terms of pricing, until we started talking shipping, by which I was completely repulsed. Although, in fairness, I live in Canada, and CBCS ships from Florida. PGX, on the other hand, ships from Oregon. Even so…that’s a lot of dough for a few books. As a matter of fact, that thirty dollar or so difference is another two or three modern books I could have graded, rather than throw it away on extravagant shipping.

So there it is, my first submission experience in its near-entirety. I am sure I will be submitting to each of the companies in the future, based on different needs and situations. And although it could appear to some that I might prefer one over the other(s), I have no such partiality except where it concerns value for end product. In this matter, I am very much pleased thus far with the services rendered by PGX, and would recommend them for serious but more budget-conscious collectors.


CGC vs CBCS vs PGX: My Two Cents – Part I

This one might end up even more wordy than usual, but then again, there is much to be said on the topic.

For those who might not be in the know, Certified Guarantee Company (CGC), Comic Book CCGCertification Service (CBCS), and Professional Grading Experts (PGX) are all comic book grading and encapsulation services that take your comic book and, acting as a (supposedly) neutral third party, appraise your books condition and apply the the appropriate grade based on an accepted industry standards. From there the books is encapsulated in mylar (or some similar substance), then placed in a clear secure container for protection and display. This is intended, for the most part, to ensure that the book remains in its current graded state perpetually, not only protecting the book, but acting as a guarantee of condition when sold, purchased or traded by collectors.

CGC was the first big name in the new industry, and for some they remain the standard.PGX In fact, if you are searching for books on eBay and want to view only slabbed (encapsulated) items, just entering “CGC” will not only return CGC graded books, but PGX and CBCS books as well. The reverse is not necessarily true. Many sellers make a point of including the word “CGC” in the text of their search descriptors when the book is actually a CBCS or PGX graded item. This isbecause, again, CGC is considered the standard by so many, and they want their books to be displayed in search results even though they are not CGC graded. Now whether CGC still deserves such a high reputation is
a matter of controversy.CBCS

PGX came on the scene not too long after CGC, providing much needed competition. Unfortunately, some early problems with alleged grading inconsistency and employee scandal left it with a poor reputation in the minds of some collectors which has been hard for it to shake off. For the most part, however, PGX does provide almost the exact same services that CGC does, but usually at a significantly lesser cost to the consumer.

There have been other entries into the field which have come and gone, but CBCS is the newest and only other serious presence. Started by one of the founders of CGC, its purpose is to provide the same quality of service as CGC, with a fee structure less costly than its main competitor.

That said, PGX is still the most cost effective alternative. But many who are still suspicious of PGX have migrated over to CBCS, preferring the lower cost point to CGCs sometimes ridiculous fee schedule while still enjoying the comfort of having their book graded by “professionals” enjoying a solid reputation for appraisal.

Do a search on any of these companies, and you will inevitably come across many reviews for each, both positive and negative. This is the beauty of the internet, that there are so many resources out there to provide the potential customer with an ability to make an informed purchase. What you will see, as I have in my many, many searches on the topic, is the following: CBCS has far less negative reviews than the others, mostly due to being the new kid on the block. They do not yet have the years of service to have been thoroughly critiqued, as have CGC and PGX. The next most positive reviews overall are enjoyed by CGC, the reasons for which I will be addressing here. PGX has, I believe, mostly positive reviews, if you are able to cut through the CGC fan hate.

This to me is a very large factor in much of the CGC v. CBCS v. PGX debate, rabid fanboyism. And let’s just clean this up a bit from the start…it really boils down to a CGC v. PGX argument, since CBCS thus far manages to ride on the coattails of CGC in terms of reputation. It is assumed that CBCS, essentially having “split off” from CGC, possesses every positive attribute of the “parent” company. And also like CGC, it is developing its own fan base, for better and worse.

It is my opinion that fanboyism will all too easily create a myopic view of reality for some (many), and often result in the loss of an objective perspective. I think that this phenomenon has greatly benefited CGC (and now CBCS), and has plagued PGX unfairly, in many respects.

Now I would make clear, I have no personal beef with CGC (or CBCS). I think they are both fine services, and I appreciate what they do. Most of my complaints with them are the costs associated with the services provided. Other than that, however, they are just fine. Neither am I a PGX fanboy. What I am is (I hope) an objective consumer, who sees no point in paying twice as much for a name if the quality is the same or similar regardless. And I see many, many people out there who do just that…bash the “little guy” to make themselves feel good about having thrown their money away. There seems to be a pervasive denial about what is really going on, and in the end, I believe the false narrative harms the consumer base as a whole.

Now all that said, I do believe that there are differences between the three…pros and cons for the whole lot of them. This is the direction of this post, or rather, this small series of posts, to establish from the start that I personally believe PGX to overall be on equal footing in terms of quality as CGC and CBCS. This is not a popular view with some collectors who think themselves more sophisticated and discerning, but I believe that it is a more realistic view based on my own dispassionate experience, and depending on the needs and expectations of the consumer.

In short, all three companies are respectable options in my opinion, depending on what particular services you require. Each have their virtues, and none are beyond critique. This is the starting point from which I launch the next post, my own comparison of services, strengths and weaknesses.

Recent Snags #3: Justice League of America #12

Many Silver Age books have continued their rise in value, but one title has left me a bit miffed in that it seems relatively stagnant compared to others. Debuting in 1960, the Justice League of America was the first Silver Age team book, and the direct inspiration for other team books such as the Fantastic Four (1961), the Avengers (1963), and the X-Men (1963). Yet somehow it lags in appreciation compared to its juniors.JLoA 12

But I have a theory that this could soon change. It is the hope of some, including myself, that if the DC movie franchise gets its act together in catching up to the Marvel Movie craze, the upcoming Batman v. Superman movie will lay proper groundwork to the upcoming Justice League movie, and the early series will get its just due. That’s the hope, anyway.

That said, although I was never a JLA fan as a kid (I made mine Marvel back then, but have no such bias now), I have begun collecting early books from the first series (and some of the later volumes). Having recently purchased #15, #49, #50 and #57, as well as many other early issues post-70’s to pre-200’s, this is now my earliest issue owned. Graded at a modest but respectable FN-, I managed to snag it for a mere $47. Not bad for a book “guiding” at around $75 at that grade…especially if the series gets the bump some of us are hoping for.

Unfortunately, the mid-grades will have to be my MO for collecting Silver Age books. With so many to get (in this case as fast as I can) and so many other interests to tend to on a limited budget (although the wife might challenge exactly how much limitation I impose on my indulgences), I consider myself fortunate to afford any SA buy at VF grade or above.

It might not be much to some, but I am quite pleased with the book.

Recent Snags #2: Wonder Woman #161 W/ Adam Hughes Autograph

Keeping on theme with my current Adam Hughes fetish, I thought I would also post another book recently acquired. Actually it is a set of four books, none of them of particular note or value, except the are all signed by Mr. Hughes himself.Wonder Woman 161 Adam Hughes

Now the book I have chosen for display is Wonder Woman #161, and it is to help illustrate a little pet peeve of mine, which I will attend to shortly. For the moment, however, I would list the other books included in this particular haul, these being Wonder Woman #187, #195 and #144. #195 also has a signature by writer Greg Rucka, and #144 includes signatures by Canadian artist Yanick Paquette as well as fellow artist Bob Mcleod. Lots of sigs on four books. Cost for the lot? Little more than a mere $27 USD.

Now the actual value of the books themselves is a little under $20, based on the advertised grades. So basically, I am paying the current values (including shipping costs), and $10 for Hughes signatures x4, plus 3 other signatures…an absolute steal, if you ask me.

Here’s the rub, however. None of them are slabbed with a signature series or signature verification label. Nor do any of them come with a certificate of authenticity. So, it could very well be that each and every signature was forged by Joe Shmoe, and as skilled as Joe may be, the fraudulent signatures would in that case actually decrease the value of each book, rather than make them collectible items. The trick here is to rely upon the good reputation of the seller rather than extending blind faith. For this type of case, I only buy from (eBay) vendors with the highest reviews coming from a very large customer base, and even then there is no guarantee.

At some point, these will all need to be sent to one of the grading companies (CBCS or PGX) that provide a signature verification service. Each provides, as I recall offhand, a signature authentication service (as does CGC), which means a representative has directly witnessed your book being signed by the creator and both graded and encased the book directly afterward. The signature verification service, on the other hand, means the book was sent to an expert to have the signature analyzed and contrasted with a database of signatures to determine authenticity. It is the next best thing to going through the (very costly) process previously outlined, and usually with a much smaller hit to the pocketbook. That is, unless the books are found to be inauthentic. Then you’ve bought a book which you likely paid too much for, along with the verification and shipping fees added to your total cost…which leads us back to the point of choosing your vendors wisely.

Because there is some concern about taking these types of gambles, there are many who stay away from signed books. As for myself, I have not had a problem yet, although I have quite a few signed books that have yet to be sent off for verification. It is important, however, to follow the process. I have a copy of New Teen Titans #1 that I bought from a single owner, along with issues 2-4 and Annual 1, all of them signed by George Perez and Marv Wolfman. I felt confident in the purchase for a number of reasons…high and plentiful reviews, as well as a conversation with the owner in which I was persuaded he was a genuine fan and “a good guy” (risky, I know…). The issue #1 was graded by CGC, however, whereas the others were “raw”. CGC still does not provide a signature verification service, as far as I am aware, so this book was submitted and given a regular grade with a notation that two names were written on the inside. Not even what the names (allegedly) were, but only that they were there. At some point I am going to have to cr
ack the case and send it to a company that does provide the service still lacking at CGC, along with a few others.

Returning to the image selected for this post, it was included to demonstrate my one criticism of Moons Dave StevensMs Marvel Chothe otherwise impeccable Adam Hughes. Given his deserved reputation as the premiere cheesecake artist for the current age, I sometimes find myself annoyed at how he just can’t seem to do justice to hips and bums. The former often seem almost mannishly straight, the latter routinely absent of any badonkadonk whatsoever (progressives prone to shrieking about misogyny, sexism or objectification need not respond). Select the image at the top and look at it…absolutely horrid. Not even the hint of a butt cheek to be found. I would think he might consult a fellow cheesecake luminary…Frank Cho (side image for reference), or the late, great Dave Stevens (far right), or one of many others, if it is the case that he has difficulty with “seeing” it in his mind before laying pen to paper, so to speak. Or perhaps that is what he views as an attractive female form (part of the point of cheesecake, or “good girl” art)…man hips and narrow, flattish bums. If it were not for this relatively small but obvious deficiency, I would be at a complete loss to find any other worthwhile criticism. He does absolutely fine with legs and feet, and excels from the waist up, particularly with bosoms. The faces are usually where god-like perfection reveals itself, however. With all said and done, he’s still tops as far as I am concerned, and I am quite happy that the industry and the fan-base seem to give him the regard he very much deserves. I am, selfishly, even happier to have several books signed by one of my favorite idols.

Recent Snags #1: A-Force #1 Adam Hughes Variant

As mentioned in the previous post, I am a rabid fan of the work done by Adam Hughes. I am currently in the process of collecting back issues with his cover art, largely in part because I have recently been schooled concerning the increasing values that at least some of his work commands.A-Force 1 Adam Hughes

I always liked his covers, but seeing the recent rapid cost increases his Harley Quinn #1 variant was getting, I started taking a closer look into other pricey items featuring Hughes covers. I will admit that I am coming very late to the game in this, but I was astonished to see what his Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes #23 cover (the image for which is currently serving as my desktop wallpaper) was selling for…$300 or more for a 1:10 variant. After a bit of research, it turns out that there are a handful of other Hughes covers that command big bucks for relatively small ratio covers. Most are still purchasable for smaller amounts, but there are some that just hit it out of the park.

I remember passing on the A-Force #1 variant, simply to save costs. At a 1:50 ratio, I figured I would have to pony up $25-$35 dollars for the book at my LCS, or even more if it were in demand by other file holders there. So, I bagged the first issue with the regular cover, followed by the second and third issues, after which I called it quits. The book itself was of little interest to me, yet another grrrl power motif that has been done over and over in recent history (Fearless Defenders, etc.). But the cover….oh that cover. It took some real willpower to pass on it. Then I saw the eBay asking price (local shops were immediately out of stock).

Needless to say, the book hit the top of my Hughes list (along with the Supergirl I mentioned, Teen Titans #75 and Wonder Woman #600, both of which are very hard to find and I am certain to pay through the nose for). The book is currently guiding for about $60 at NM, so I snagged a (what I hope is) NM copy off of eBay for about $63 dollars total, just a smidgen above estimated market value. The upside, beyond the perfection of the Hughes rendered Medusa, is if it returns at a 9.6…then I have a gain of about 20%. Better yet, I have hopes it will increase in value even more, being just a few months old.

As I said, I’ve been schooled. I had always intended to collect any and all Hughes covers, but put it off in favor of gathering silver age books, and filling holes in the first Avengers and Justice League of America series’. Now it seems I need to divert more immediate attention to Mr. Hughes, and deservedly so. I see many impending slab orders.


As mentioned in the welcome post, one of the topics I want to rant about is comic books. Actually, it is my intent to make this the primary topic, although the tendency to veer off into other directions will certainly distract from that at one point or another. After all, comics are part of pop-culture, which is in turn at various points intertwined with politics and worldview, regrettably now more than ever. Approaching a half century of life lived, it occurs to me that many could question why a middle-aged fella might have any interest whatsoever in such a juvenile hobby. Well, comics ain’t what they used to be, and the intended audience has shifted significantly, for better and worse.

Like many young boys, I grew up reading comics for a time. The things they provided for me were many…the development of a healthy imagination, a desirable source for sharpening reading skills and an increased vocabulary, and one of the first sources of right and wrong…of a moral compass. While still in my early teens, my first drawings were of superheroes, which elicited strong encouragement from my parents to continue developing art skills. I am pretty sure they saw a talent and a future there, but unfortunately, never the discipline or serious interest required. Even so, probably the biggest attraction to me was the artwork, particularly as I grew to understand the skills and talent required.

My fancy as a young comic reader were the team books…the Avengers in particular (I was a Marvel guy). I figured, why buy a book for a single character like Spider-Man or Batman, when I can spend the same allowance and get a book with a lot more heroes in it? Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch…and the Vision. The Vision was my guy at the time. But then something happened that really changed how I saw comic art.

X-Men 132I still recall that experience as a 12 year old boy, walking into the comic shop, and on a lark, picking up and fanning through a copy of X-Men #132. The cover image drew me initially, depicting several heroes as of yet unknown to me, falling at the feet of the imposing Hellfire Club. But it was the final panel inside that left me in awe, and made me an immediate X-Men and Wolverine fan. I still liked the Avengers (and was big on George Perez), but there was now no competition in my young mind. Chris Claremont, and more importantly to me, John Byrne were on a whole different level. As I look back, this was one of the pivotal moments when comic books took a huge leap towards “growing up”.

Now as I mentioned, I was (and am) a fan of George Perez. I am proud to have several books bearing his autograph, although I have never had the pleasure of actually meeting him. I was also familiar with some of the artists now considered legendary, superstars such as Adams, Steranko and Starlin, as well as skilled and steady classic masters like Buscema (J.) and Romita (senior). As an aside, I didn’t much care for Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at the time, but a great and much deserved appreciation developed later on in life.

John Byrne, however, became a god to me. His work was (and is) such a unique style that brought a form of stylized realism unlike Adams or others, having a fluidity to it found nowhere else. He made me see the artwork as never before, and to see the story through the artwork. To this day, he is and will forever be in the top tier of artist greats as far as I am concerned (as will George).

As a bit of personal irony, collecting fairly recent back issues of the series (in a time when I thought $15-$20 was an outrageous price to ask for X-Men #94) introduced me to Alpha Flight. Shortly thereafter I learned that Byrne was himself a Canadian (imported from Britain proper) hailing from the great Province of Alberta. I came to understand him to be a Calgarian, and all of a sudden, despite knowing almost nothing about our neigbour to the north (as seems to be common amongst most Americans), Canada was suddenly very cool to this young Detroit kid. I remember dreaming that I would one day move to Canada, for no other reason than it was home to Wolverine and John Byrne.

Even though my appreciation for comic book art continued, there came a point where my family moved to northern Michigan, at which point I decided to sell my comic collection. I remember getting around $150 to $200 dollars for the whole lot, and for a kid in the early eighties, this was big bucks (all too quickly spent). Fast forward a bit shy of three decades, a lot in life had happened, with not a comic book in sight. But a marriage including a young teenage step-son ended up bringing me back into the fold, initially as a way of bonding with the lad, given his interest in comics, and then for other reasons. To name the irony mentioned above, by virtue of the relationship which would end up in marriage, my path had taken me to Alberta, Canada, where I reside to this day. So where my favorite artist was an Albertan transplanted to America, I have become an Albertan transplanted from America, without any design whatsoever. I suppose it does bear mentioning that I am not, however, a Calgarian, but rather, an Edmontonian (Go Oilers! Ahem…).

Even for a kid, I was sharp enough to know that the books I collected had monetary value. I recall all of my books being bagged and stored in a box, and I was familiar with Overstreets Price Guide. Now, as an adult, I remembered that comics could appreciate, and had started to pick up a dozen or so titles, three copies of each issue (one for the kid, and two to “collect”). This was at the time of the New 52 relaunch, or just prior. I thought it a good jumping on point for the step-son and I to do something together. But I made it a point to do it right (in my mind). I reacquainted myself with selecting and storing comics, and bought the new Overstreets (later on finding more current-market compatible resources online). What struck me immediately is how much the books I once owned had increased in value. As best as I could recall my old collection, I was certain that the books I had once sold for a mere couple hundred bucks (at best) were now valued at several thousand, at the very least.

I’ve had to do a lot of catching up and re-educating myself, but in addition to so many other things, one of the reasons I collect now is for something to pass down to my own kid. To this day I regret having sold the books I once owned for what became peanuts, an experience seemingly shared with many of today’s adult collectors. Over the course of time, I have invested well over three thousand dollars into just re-collecting (and completing) my old X-Men run alone (94-143…no GS1 yet, alas). Then there is the Avengers run I used to own. And now, so many other books from then into now that I could never hope to catch up with everything I would have collected from then to now.

But…the times, they are a-changing.

The reasons I collect comics now are primarily for a couple of the old reasons I did back then. Although there are many out there who say that modern books as a whole are not sound investments, I believe they are, if done smartly. Very few books will see the value gains that older ones do, mostly because today they are made with stronger materials designed for greater longevity and because far more people actually take care of their books now…and it’s all about supply and demand. Where once they were intended to be disposable, they are now made to be collectible. A second reason I collect though, is simply nostalgia…because it allows me to connect with something of my childhood, providing a sense of continuity from then to now.

Many might cite the maturing of story lines, or something to that effect. The idea is that comics used to be rather simplistic back in the day (those like the above mentioned X-Men series were part of breaking that mold), whereas they are now more complex, and seemingly better suited for an allegedly more intelligent and sophisticated audience. As for me, I say “rubbish”. The stories might be more intricate in design than their predecessors, but the value of the stories are, in my opinion, greatly diluted (or polluted) with the now-common moral ambiguity that seems to be the cultural fancy of the shallow, immoral and indulgent hipsters in charge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to come off as a prude, but it is clear that the values projected into comic books these days are geared for sympathetic adults with similar ideological predispositions, or for indoctrinating children into a worldview that is very dissimilar from that I recall as a child, and even as a young man. For instance, today American patriotism is apparently something to be mocked (or redefined, for those social engineers out there) as “simplistic”. You see, the new cool kids know that globalism is the ticket…us dumb old codgers need to either get with the times or give it up (shut up), since our time is past. There is a new moral order for the enlightened these days, the cult of political correctness which is no less than a sophisticated (or simply, enforced) form of modern day fascism. Yes, this might sound extreme to those poorly acquainted with the history and tactics of hard leftism (currently enjoying a subversively quiet resurgence), but there you have it.

Keeping to the topic a bit more closely, the point is that the content or stories contained within any given book are now of almost no concern to me as a collector. Even thought there may be good tales woven in some of them here and there, as a whole it seems to me that the flourishes so often conceal such a putrid core that I now don’t even bother with them at all. Somewhere along the line, the industry has for the most part abandoned not only the conservative and “moderate” consumer, but the children as well. Most of those kids from yesteryear grew up and entered responsible life, which provides a certain type of perspective and worldview. Even though they may still be fans of the medium and the hobby, they seem to have very little influence. This is because a different sort of kids, susceptible to propaganda and radicalization, grew up to take over the industry, with no regard for the so-called diversity they claim to embrace. Comic books today are intended for the group-thinkers that share in activist minded ideology, although they are all too happy to accept the financial support of the larger consumer base that continues on in their hobby, often offended and with clenched teeth.

I’m not going to go too much further off on this tangent (perhaps…scratch that…almost certainly in another post), except to provide a single simple example. When considering titles to pick up for my young daughter (aged 5 or 6 at that time), I referred to the “kids” section at the comic books shop. I found there a title called “Young Avengers”, or something to that effect, and almost picked it up. I remember looking it up online back then, only to find a certain subset of collectors praising it for being “inclusive” and “diverse”, and all that kind of stuff. Of course, to any intelligent, aware and responsible adult these days, these are buzz-words that serve best as warning labels (my, how the devious love to use language dishonestly). Turns out that one of the teenage characters in the book is homosexual. Now tolerance is one thing, but outright indoctrination of children is quite another. And it should not be surprising that the owner of this shop (and in fairness, it seems to be the same for most comic stores) sees no issue with promoting homosexuality to children. It is, after all, their determination that homosexuality is not only normal, natural, healthy and beyond critique (it is “settled” as such), but that it is worthy of promotion, particularly in educating your children. Critics are, on the other hand, routinely attacked as bigots, “homophobes” and haters, with zero consideration of where they are coming from. The more troubling point is that they, in their absolute arrogance, see no problem in undermining a parents rightful role in educating their child on complex matters through a medium with natural appeal to children. Doesn’t matter what your position is on homosexuality… for, against, in the middle, or whatever…your kid is going to get the party line on what they should think.

The point is this…the content of comic books today is garbage, even with complex story lines. The dogmatists in charge are not interested in any real virtue, except as it might aid the propagation of their own vain ideology. The children and the larger adult base (which they might consider one and the same) are of no concern, as long as the dollars keep rolling in enough to keep the lights on, and the social agenda machine churning. There are some occasional exceptions, and the messaging is often more subtle, but in the end, it’s just not worth it to me to slog through the sewers in search of an occasional scrap. Gone are the days when you can see yourself reflected in comic books, whether conservative or (classic) liberal, whether traditionalist or (old) progressive. Now you get the same helping of smiley-faced extremism in each and every bite, for your own good. And when the lights are dimmed for the last time, they will blame it on something other than the shrinking base which they long ago abandoned, likely the more virtuous culture they have mocked for so long. This is their way, their history.

So again, the story in a book is now all but irrelevant to me, unless it creates an impetus for market value increase. In fact, on the whole I consider it (the story) the probable rotten core of an otherwise attractive and delectable fruit. Giving way to the nostalgia factor previously mentioned, the third most important reason I collect is the potential for value appreciation. For example, I had bought two copies of the New 52 Batman (along with 1 for the kid). My cost was about $9.45 CAD for all three copies. Bagged, boarded and safely stored, and as a conservative grader by rule, these books are now valued at $80-$90 or more at their current Near Mint+ grades. Were I to send them off for professional grading and encapsulation, I would not be surprised to see them return as 9.8’s (Near Mint / Mint), and able to fetch $180-$200 easily…each. Less than a $10 investment, with an added investment of around $100 for the grading, and all of a sudden $110 is worth about $600, give or take, and this is only a few years into the series. When my daughter inherits these, I am sure she will appreciate the investment.

But, this is of course an exception, and not the rule. Most books I buy I expect to retain cover value if taken care of, and little else except perhaps a relatively small bump in the long run, if anything. The trick is to be plugged in to the market, knowing what has the potential to be hot or not. As another example, a recent copy of Harley Quinn #1, Adam Hughes variant, cost me $15 to buy when new. I know that Hughes is a super popular cover artist (and rightly so), and that Harley Quinn is a super hot character right now (meh). Seemed a no-brainer to me. I dropped the $15 for the book, paid around $30 to ship it off to be graded (with other books as well), and expect it to return at a minimum of 9.6 (NM+), if not 9.8 (NM/M). Currently a 9.8 copy of the book is on eBay for $400 (plus hefty shipping fees, no less)., and several copies are being sold at that amount. Even at a 9.6, $240 is a more than reasonable expectation…for a book with $45 dollars investment.

Now I’m not a “flipper”, meaning I do not buy books for quick investment increases to sell them off for a rapid rate of return. My interest is in what books like those mentioned above might be worth when my daughter is near my age. Even more so for the silver age books added to my collection. And the virgin variants (books without writing on the cover, only the artwork), and the autographed books (like my…er, I mean her copy of X-Men #94 signed by Stan Lee). Amazed at how much I had lost by selling my collection when a boy, I am curious to see what her inherited collection looks like when she is old enough to appreciate the values, and beyond…particularly with so many informed investments having been made on her behalf.

Or, then again, the market could collapse, and any interest in comic collecting could completely shrivel up, in which case, ’twas all for naught, at least where investment is concerned. In this event, I am hooped, except for having had a very enjoyable but occasionally expensive hobby.

This returns me again to the final point about why I, as a supposedly mature adult, collect comics…for the art. And I have to say, this is the single area where the medium has grown by, in my opinion, leaps and bounds. I will always have a reverence for Byrne and Perez, for Adams and Steranko, for all of the other artists whom I consider giants in the earlier industry. But the art found on the covers and in the interiors today is at an all time high…particularly for the covers though. I mentioned Adam Hughes who, although having an irritating limitation with (or peculiar interpretation of) hips and posteriors, has to be the finest “cheesecake” (a genre of which I am especially fond) artist to ever grace comics, bar none. Small grievances aside, this man is absolutely unreal (see below). He and the likes of Alex Ross, Lucio Parillo, Jay Anacleto, and many, many others (who deserve mentioning, but are unfortunately here slighted), have brought about a generation of top tier talent in the same categories as kings such as Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. The ability to marvel so regularly at such exquisite beauty and God-given talent, and in a sense, to “own” that image, comes so cheaply at the cost of a three or four (sometimes five) dollar comic book.

Supergirl - Adam Hughes

I was in the LCS (local comic shop) the other day, engaging in conversation about various comics related issues (as nerds are wont to do), and on this particular occasion we had all confessed to being “cover junkies”. There is a reason that so many artists survive (and thrive) producing covers alone…they are very effective at helping sell product. While I will rarely read a comic book (to avoid likely irritation, and due to an acquired preference for non-fiction), I almost always browse through the pages of a newly purchased comic, if for no other reason than to ensure material integrity. The real win for me though, is when the interior work is on a similar level as an exceptional cover…then I have an entire book full of artwork to devour before being carefully graded, bagged, boarded, cataloged and placed into long-term storage.

So there it is. I find older books valuable in terms of responsible moral character (very out of fashion, it seems), and for all things nostalgia related…historical relics and reminders of truly better eras. Newer books, however, are more complex and therefore arguably more intriguing in terms of the tales they weave (but do younger and regular readers of even moderate sensibilities a huge disservice by virtually abandoning them in any reasonably responsible sense), and have brought the highest quality artwork to the forefront. In terms of investment, I get the new books gauging trends and potential values, the older ones for the same in addition to the satisfaction of having collected a piece of history. But for all of them, it is the illustration that draws me in…so many wonderful artists in so many styles and varieties. Aside of pure appreciation for what it takes to illustrate so wonderfully, it also allows me, in some small way, to live vicariously through them, to think on what could have been, and to dream again, even if only for a few moments.

***Opinions and thoughts are welcome, but keep it dignified and respectable please.***

And here…we…go…

To those who might stumble upon this surly site, welcome. Fair warning though, the purpose here, among other things, is to provide a spot for venting about things like politics, religion and comic books. You know, all the important things in life that the more polite members of society are encouraged to keep to themselves.