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The thrill of the hunt

Last Saturday, 2 June, I traveled to the wilds of north-east Phoenix to the Atomic Comics store there, where I participated in a trivia contest emceed by Jake Bell (pictures here, although I’m not in them – or maybe I’m like certain X-Men, who don’t show up on electronic recording devices …).  It was not unlike VH1′s World Series of Trivia, in that there were three-person teams in an NCAA-style bracket tournament.  My team didn’t win, partially because one of my teammates couldn’t remember Chad Vader’s name and that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs, but also because I couldn’t remember that Patrick Swayze sang “She’s Like the Wind.”  Arrggghh, my memory of hideously banal late-1980s pop fails me again (my wife likes to denigrate the late 1980s, when I was in high school, as the nadir of pop music; she’s three-and-a-half years older than I am, so she was going to school in the early- to mid-1980s, when I guess music was “cooler”; and, to tell the truth, my school voted for a Richard Marx song for prom theme, so who am I to contradict her?)!  But that, good friends, is not the point.

The point is that in conjunction with the event, the store had a BIG SALE.  All back issues were 40% off.  Plus, as a participant in the event, I got a $21 gift certificate (I have no idea why it was $21, nor did I ask).  So I just had to spend money, right?  Just like a woman who says, “Shoes were 50% off, and even though I own 27 pairs of shoes, I just had to get six more!”  With that in mind, I thought of which back issues I should buy.  I have been thinking for a while about buying the entire Dazzler series, so I checked out what they had.  (Yes, I know the Essential version is coming out, but I likes my funny books in the color.)(And yes, mock me if you want.  I don’t care.  I love Dazzler.  So there.)  Surprisingly, they didn’t have a lot, but I got what they did have.  Then I looked into the boxes for The ‘Nam, thanks primarily to Bill reminding me that Michael Golden drew the damned thing and that it’s a pretty good book.  I picked up 23 of the first 24 issues.  The next day I went to my own store, got their issues of Dazzler, and bought the missing issue of The ‘Nam.  I have not read either series, so don’t spoil anything for me.  How will I live if I know what happens?!?!?!?

It had been a while since I went diving into the back issues with such abandon, but it reminded me about why collecting comics is so cool.  Comics are a unique collectible (and no, I don’t buy things just to see them go up in value, because that’s stupid, but they’re still a “collectible”) in that with books, or movies, or toys, or baseball cards, or anything else, the object you get is a finite object.  You can collect just that and not worry about anything else.  Comics, of course, are a serialized medium, so just collecting issue #1 of Dazzler doesn’t work.  Sure, it works if you’re simply in it for the money (I’m sure that issue is worth at least twice its cover price!) but not if you’re in it for the joy of collecting.  You have to keep buying, because the series continues – for a while, at least.  This makes collecting comics very interesting, and leads back to the title of the post.  There is something thrilling about hunting down back issues.  I don’t want to go all “kids today” on you, but these days, finding old comics just isn’t as exciting.  First, we have trade paperbacks.  Why should I try to find John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four when Marvel is collecting them all?  It’s a very good run, so it’s something that I would hunt down, but why should I?  Marvel and DC will always have holes in their trade paperbacks, but now even freakin’ Dazzler is getting some of her series collected.  DC is finally getting around the collecting Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, albeit without color.  There’s a good chance you can find a lot of different titles in trade, so there’s no reason to search for them.  Unless you like the color, or the letters column (which is a big draw), or the feel of the paper.

There’s also the Internet.  I have never bought anything from eBay, and I don’t think I ever will.  I’m not sure why – call it a quirk.  The Internet, however, has made it much easier to find back issues, and more often than not, it’s cheaper, too.  I remain a Luddite, however, in that regard, and to me, there’s something wonderful about digging through the long boxes.  There’s a thrill of discovery when you find stuff you like, a palpable feel of disappointment when the store is missing that one freakin’ issue of Young Heroes in Love that you want, and that new thrill of accomplishment when you finally find it.  I used to drive around to the various stores in the suburban Philadelphia area, combing their stock and building my collection.  I would drive to Willow Grove, head over to Montgomeryville, then into Doylestown.  If I was feeling adventurous I’d drive down to Feasterville or even Roosevelt Boulevard in north-east Philly.  And occasionally my friend Ken and I would head into the city itself to visit Fat Jack’s Comic Crypt.  This was in 1988, ’89, and ’90, when I first started collecting and was buying back issues by the bushel.  I remember buying Amazing Spider-Man #298, 299, and 300 for about three dollars a pop – this was just before McFarlane back issues went nuts, so I’m happy I got them.  I remember finding the first issue of Trident in Feasterville and buying it because of the magic names on the cover: Gaiman and Morrison (Campbell is in there, too, but at that point he wasn’t a draw for me).  I bought old issues of X-Men back further and further into the past, until they became scarce and expensive.  I’m still lacking Uncanny X-Men #121-122, the first Alpha Flight issues, and every once in a while I’ll look for them.  Someday they will be mine!  I’m ashamed to say I spent $20 for New Mutants #87.  Gadzooks, that thing probably costs a dollar today.  What the hell was I thinking? 

But that’s the point.  You run the risk of overspending for something that goes down in value.  On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to buy something that no one knows about, only to have them “discover” it later.  Again, it has nothing to do with what you can sell them for – I have never sold a comic in my life.  It has to do with finding something neat that grants you access into an exclusive club – the comic-buying community – and other, even more exclusive clubs within the community of people who have actually read what you have.  In my scouring of the back issues, I found early issues of Grendel, Tim Sale’s Amazon, and the Englehart/Rogers/Austin Detective issues.  It’s very nice that these days we have access to far more in far better formats than even ten or fifteen years ago, but you lose a bit of that underground feel to comics collecting.  I’ll take the trade-off, even if I get a bit nostalgic for the old days occasionally.

When I went off to college I found the Comic Swap in downtown State College.  There was another store in Calder Alley (Denny O’Neil had a signing there when Legends of the Dark Knight #1 came out, and I, being the iconoclast, got him to sign an old issue of the Moench/Sienkiewicz Moon Knight, which he edited), where all the nicer stores were, but the Comic Swap was the place I usually went to – they had better back issues.  I found almost the entire run of Morrison’s Doom Patrol there, which was nice.  It was typical of a lot of comic book stores from the olden days – they had a lot of used books of the science fiction/fantasy variety, and they also had magazines.  I guess it’s still around, but I wonder if they’ve moved completely to comics.

In 1993 I moved to Portland and found a couple of new stores.  For the first few months I went to Rocky Road on Burnside, but it was a pain to park downtown and the store wasn’t very big.  Pretty soon I found Excalibur, which is probably my favorite comic book store ever.  They had a vast collection of back issues, and even though by this time I had exhausted my initial burst of collecting fever and was now simply buying new issues, every once in a while the urge took me and I went a bit nuts.  I got Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Challengers of the Unknown there and at Things From Another World, which had a few stores in the area.  This was another loop I would take when I wanted to dig through the back issues – from Hawthorne Boulevard, where Excalibur is, down to Milwaukie to the TFAW there (it was right across the street from Dark Horse headquarters, which was kind of cool) and then back up to Sandy Boulevard to the TFAW there.  During these years I gobbled up the early issues of Garth Ennis on Hellblazer, which I hadn’t gotten when they were first published (I started buying them new during his last storyline).  I also bought Hellblazer #25, 26, and 27, the first two of which were a Morrison/Lloyd collaboration, with #27 being the unbelievably beautiful Gaiman/McKean “Hold Me” story.  In another frenzy of purchasing, I got issues of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing that weren’t contained in the first two trade paperbacks (#35-65).  Of course, now they’re all collected, but I didn’t know that they were going to be, did I?  At some point I found the Miracleman trades, which are long out of print.  Who knew that would be such a fortuitous purchase?

I doubt if the back issue collections of comic book stores will ever be phased out completely.  There are always hard-core loons like me and Greg Hatcher (and, I’m sure, plenty of our readers) digging through them.  I enjoy back issues way too much to completely give my soul over to trade paperbacks.  I have read in recent years about people selling their collections on eBay and buying the trades, which is not a bad idea.  I will probably never do that, for a few reasons.  For one, as I mentioned above, my fear of eBay.  Two, although inconvenient, there’s something magical about having a stack of comics next to you, all bagged and (possibly) boarded, and peeling the tape away and liberating the issue from its mylar prison.  Individual comics in bags beg to be read, and I love it.  Yes, it’s a pain, but it’s all part of the collecting experience.  As I read through my collection these days (to find Comics You Should Own, but I also read other books in between), I get a sense of satisfaction and triumph that I own these comics and that, for some of them, I managed to find them in some dark box on a lonely shelf.  I’ll never discover a continent, but I think what makes this such a fun hobby is that the possibilities of new discoveries are always there.  It’s a great feeling.

Now I just have to find Dazzler #1.  Man, I hope it’s not too expensive.

15 Comments

I, too, love the thrill of the hunt and I keep a huge spreadsheet in excel of all my missing issues. When convention time roles around, I know I have the best chances of finding what I want. If I ever get my hands on the Excalibur Weird War III graphic novel, I will die a happy man. Don’t let anyone talk smack about your Dazzler run, I did just that hunt a few years ago and enjoyed just about every issue (although #2 is by far the most fun). Be sure you get the Dazzler Graphic Novel “Dazzler: The Movie” or the last couple of arcs will make very little sense. See also, the Beauty & the Beast limited series with Beast and Dazzler teaming up. Good luck and happy hunting.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 9, 2007 at 2:56 pm

I do so know the “thrill of the hunt”, after all I’ve just finished the Nexus set (first and dark horse comics) and almost finished the Groo set (Marvel and dark horse comics).

Now, I’m setting my sights on Daredevil HCs.

Whoa! What’s Trident? How have I never heard of it? Egads!

Comic Swap still existed, last I checked, but I’ve never physically set foot in it, myself. One day…

But yes, I too love back issues dearly. There was a small comic show nearby recently and I finally completed the full run of Sleepwalker by nabbing #2. And I finished off DeFalco’s Thor run… now for his Thunderstrike! Mwahaha! And I’m inching ever closer to my goal of owning all the Giffen-era Justice Leagues.

I also learned there is nothing better than finding the first appearance of the Green Team in a quarter bin. Unless it’s OMAC #8. Hoo-ahh.

Maybe the glorious back issue bin is dying out, maybe the comic shop is an endangered species… whatever. The search continues.

Also, it’s nice to be effectual once in a while. But if you hate The ‘Nam, I totally do not claim responsibility. Uh… yeah.

Great article. The “thrill of the hunt” indeed. I find myself relying on internet stores (reliable ones like Midtown Comics or mycomicshop.com) for most back issues these days: currenly on an Elseworlds Green Arrow kick. You can find titles cheap, even if it is a popular character (so I’m sure you’ll find Dazzler #1 rather cheap, just don’t use Mile High Comics). It’s a matter of comparison shopping really.

Ebay, yeah, I got a few titles rather cheap, but I don’t like the Ebay experience so I’ve quit.

As far as back issues, I really enjoy reading complex stories and great characterization. You can still find this now, but it was so common place back then. I like seeing the evolution of comic art as well, I can appreciate how far artists have come in the last three decades.

Also the collection of the original issues would be a better read. Also I noticed in the DC One Million trade that the Green Lantern 1,000,000 had been edited from the original issue, WTF is the go with that ?

They chopped out scenes that had no relation to the “One Million” story. They did that with a lot of trades–the ‘Saga of the Swamp Thing’ TPB, at least the version I have, omits the Monitor cameo because it’s only relevant to Crisis, not to ‘Swamp Thing’.

I’m not happy about it either, but it happens.

A quick search indicates that a offcial CCG 9.4 certified copy of Dazzler #1 should only run you about $5.00 US. A near mint, uncertified copy, a paltry $2.50 US.

Good luck.

Andrew Collins

June 9, 2007 at 8:51 pm

Ever since I was about 12, I’ve been a bloodhound for comics I wanted. Any town we were driving through, I would ask my parents to stop if I saw a comic store, so I could look for that missing issue of X-Men or Hulk I needed. Thankfully it was never a tough sell, because my Dad also liked comics, though it drove my poor Mom nuts. I’ll never forget my first comic convention where I scored the missing issues of Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Animal Man I needed to complete those collections (this was back in the pre-Internet days of 1990).

I’m not quite that bad anymore, buying a lot of my stuff in trades these days. But every so often a comic comes along that just eludes me like crazy, putting me back on the hunt. My current obsession is Ms. Tree #48 from Renegade Press. The only issue of the entire Collins/Beatty run I’m missing…

Generally, all I can say about this essay is “YES.”

More specifically though, after having collected comics lightly and with lapses due to lack of interest or money since I was 8, (I’m 22 now) my discovery of online comic shops and eBay about 2 years ago has led me to become a serious comic collector. When I first started buying comics, there were several comic shops nearby, all with back issue sections. Now there are only 2 comic shops in my city, neither of which possess a back issue section, replaced by action figures.

I generally now buy runs on eBay and fill in the gaps through buying from a comic shop site. Using this method, I have collected complete runs of the 80′s Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man, Robinson’s Starman, Uncanny X-Men back to 140, and more else than I want to remind myself of. Oh, and winterteeth, I bought a copy of Weird War III to add to my now-complete Excalibur collection just one week ago.
I’ve now started buying up Kirby stuff from the 70′s – I have an almost complete run of his 2001 series. Give eBay a try again, I have got some ridiculously good deals at times.

I’ve swayed at times between buying issues and buying collections but seem now to have swayed decisively to issues. There does still seem to be something special about the whole thing. I agree the internet has changed the way comic collecting works, but not necessarily in a bad way, as I can now purchase directly from the states, since back issue availability is often poorer over here in the UK.

The Kirbydotter

June 10, 2007 at 7:45 am

Great article!
I miss the thrill of the hunt…

I live in Montreal where there used to be at least a dozen comic book shops in the 80s when the direct market boomed. Places like Komico, Captain Quebec (on Décarie boulevard), Nova Bookshop… They each used to have a huge inventory of back issue. You didn’t need a pull list in those days, if you missed an issue from the racks, you were pretty sure to get it in the bins. Sometimes I would hear good things about a series that I hadn’t tried yet and I could still get the first few issues for just a bit more than the cover price. I got full runs of Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz’s MOON KNIGHT, John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR, Frank Miller’s DAREDEVIL this way (althought in the case of this last one, it was a “hot” series after only a few issues and I had to pay a substantial premium to get back issues).

Nowadays, they are maybe 3 or 4 comics shops in Montreal?
Comics have jumped from less than a dollar each to about $3 a pop (often more!), so dealers don’t carry an extensive inventory anymore. If you don’t have a pull list and you miss an issue or want to try something you missed the first time around, your best chance is to hit Ebay or another internet venue. Comic book shops mostly buy the minimum numbers needed to fill their client’s pull boxes. It has become almost impossible to try out a new series unless you pre-order it (remember the times when you could pick up a comic book on the rack and go through a few pages to see if it was good?). This must be why today’s new titles have such a hard time getting new readers.

Also, there was a time when there was a Comic Book Show (convention) every few months in Montreal. These shows filled many rooms in the hotel where it was held with sellers and dealers from MOntreal, Ontario, USA… There was a wide variety of dealers, some carried old stuff, some new stuff, some cheap stuff… If you had the patience to go through all of them you were pretty sure to find what you were looking for. It was exciting to go to these, seeing so much great stuff that I had never seen before! There was so much choices and variety that I didn’t know where to start. No matter how much money I carried on me when I went to a show, I always left with just barely enough money for the bus back home. I always carried an empty back pack (that carried only my price guide and my want list) when I went in, and it would be be bursting at the seams in comics when I came out! And most of the times I would be carrying an extra plastic bag or two that couldn’T fit in my pack!

The last couple of times I went to one of these shows (1 or 2 years ago?), there were probably less than a dozen dealers. Most carried the same stuff: the new “hot” titles. 2 or 3 dealers might carry overpriced golden and silver age stuff. And a few comic shops trying to get rid of their crappy dollar bins stuff. It was a depressing experience and a wasted afternoon. I don’t think I spent more than $10 (I had at least a couple of $100s in my wallet) and went back home with my backpack pretty much as light as when I came in.

A lot of people don’t like Ebay and the internet for hunting down comics. Of course, the experience is not the same. It is certainly not as “sensual” as when you can see with your own eyes the vibrant colors, smell that great old comic book ink and aged paper, sift through those bins with your own finger tips… But for collectors that aren’t living in New York, or San Diego or other big cities with big comic book conventions, Ebay is now the best way to get back issues, if not the only way. Plus, they are often great deals on great stuff, more obscure stuff than any single dealer can carry, etc.

Still, I wish I could experience the thrill of the hunt again…

I do indeed love the hunt… but you know who LIVES for it? My wife Julie. She doesn’t even read comics, really, but she loves digging for them. It apparently triggers the same reflex that gets her scouring thrift shops for vintage clothing. She’ll say to me, “Which ones are you looking for?” and off she’ll go to the cheap bins while I’m chatting up a creator or wandering around with students.

I don’t actually mind the Essential format, so there’s lots of stuff I get that way and never think about looking for it again. (I had kind of an awed moment when I realized that the next volumes of Defenders, Avengers, and Daredevil will pretty much be the last replacements needed for every Marvel book I owned in the 70′s. The thought that I would someday own a library of those stories in book form would have boggled my high-school self.)

But there’s plenty left over to dig for… though I’m really shocked at some of the things getting collected now. One of the reasons I decided to grab all the Marvel Premiere and First Issue Specials at that last show I went to was the certainty that there were no reprint volumes coming, but now I’m not so sure. I thought the same thing about Rampaging Hulk and THAT one’s on deck at Marvel. I was amazed Godzilla and Nova each got an Essential, and now DC’s Secret Society of Super-Villains and Hercules Unbound are getting Showcased? Certainly I’m delighted and I’m first in line for those books… but still, my initial reaction was basically Huh-wha?

Ebay has cheapened the hunt. Don’[t get me wrong, I have bought PLENTY of things on ebay (I have a roll of Spider-Man vs The Incredible Hulk toiled paper roll which I bought for a paltry $5.00 on ebay) but I cannot get in to buying back issues. It is too easy. there is no challenge. Just type in a keyword and you have hundreds of choices. Where is the thrill of the hunt?

My real pleasure? quarter bins at the comic shows. I spend hours pouring through the quarter bins trying to plug holes in my collection and experimenting with new titles. I bought a 75 issue run of Cerebus from the quarter bins (and bought the majority of the other issues there as well!). I bought almost 300 issues of The Avengers over the years from quarter bins. Green Arrow, Batman, Alpha Flight, Justice League. You name it, I have bought it for a quarter.

Then there are the real gems. The ones you cannot believe you stumbled on. Conan #3 (yes, vol.1) for 25 cents. Green Arrow #101. 25 cents. The entire Barry Ween. 25 cents an issue. Those are the days you just can’t believe your luck!

So, ebay is good for things that you must have and are willing to pay for. But things you are willing to hunt for? Make mine quarter bins!

garbonzo

There is still a challenge with eBay, if you’re looking for something rare enough. For the last two years, I’ve been looking for readers copies of Golden Age Flash comics. Typically there are only a few listed on eBay below $100 each week, and many of those still go for higher than I’m willing to pay, given the condition.

And cons seem to be useless for this particular hunt. Everyone brings their high-grade books. Readers? Why bother taking up the space?

Psst. Greg.

If you need a little razzle-dazzle, just come to ol’ Novaya and I can hook you up. I got what you want. Meet me out back at my car. I’ve got ‘em all.

Seriously, though, I could never find Dazzler back-issues in my hometown until this one store opened. Here in Chicago, I can get anything I want. Once I literally cleared out my LCS’ Dazzler back-issue collection, and next week it was magically replenished. ;)

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