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.
I 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.
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.***