Welcome to Spider-Bob's Comic Collecting Corner where I dispense advice on the art and science of comic book collecting.
Here you will find information on comics' history, storage and preservation, grading and condition, buying and selling, conventions and how to be a good citizen and wise consumer of four-color funny books.
I hope you find this advice useful. Excelsior!
- What is Spider-Bob Reading?
- Large Publisher
- Small Independent Publishers
- Limited Series
- Trades and Back Issues
History of Comics
Arguably, claims can be made that comics have been around since the days when Cro-Magnon man painted cave walls with pictographs representing the hunt, harvest or equally life essential events. As time went on, humans' early depictions would find expression in great monuments to themselves and their gods. Leap forward thousands of years from the days of Egyptian hieroglyphics depicting god-like beings performing great and mystical wonders to the 20th Century when god-like beings performing great scientific and magical wonders would find a home in the modern myths known as comic books.
Golden-Age: Although comics had existed since the late 19th Century, an era referred to by some as the Platinum-Age, it was not until the introduction by National Periodicals (DC Comics) of Superman in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938, and the addition of other heroes in the days during the Second World War, that comics would become a cultural phenomena read by people of all ages.
It was during the war years, known as the golden-age of comics, that many of the characters we know today, or the predecessors to their more well-known modern equivalents, were created. A small sample of characters that have prevailed since the golden-age are: Aquaman, Batman, Captain America, Captain Marvel (SHAZAM), Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Human Torch, Plastic Man, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Golden-age comics are the rarest and most desired by the majority of collectors and therefore are typically the most expensive comics to collect. The reasons that these comics are rare (beyond the ravages of age upon pulp paper) is because many were recycled for the war effort during the 1940's and that many children and their parents saw no future value in keeping them. Often junior's musty old box of comics was left at the curbside for the garbage man to collect. Needless to say, if you have a golden-age comic, much less one in pristine condition, you have a rare prize.
Silver-Age: In the decade of the 1950's, super-hero comics saw a marketable downtrend. The few to survive the publishing chopping-block included Batman and Superman, whose stories took on more of an air of science-fiction and fantasy. The majority of comics during this decade, referred to by some as the Atomic-Age, aped what was popular in television and movies; cowboys, gangsters, monsters and atomic destruction. It was not until the Autumn of 1956 that superheroes began to make a comeback with the re-introduction of the Flash by National Periodicals (DC Comics) in the pages of Showcase #4.
The character's powers were essentially the same as his golden-age predecessor, but the stories had more of a science-fiction sensibility. After the success of the Flash, an heir to the mantle of the Green Lantern was introduced in the Autumn of 1959, and in the Spring of 1960 the concept of the super-hero team was resurrected with the Justice League of America in the pages of The Brave and The Bold.
Silver-age comics are less rare than golden-age comics and therefore typically less valuable, but valuable none the less. The Silver-Age, in addition to reintroducing characters that were popular during the prior decade, also saw the introduction of popular characters by then Atlas Comics, now known as Marvel. A small sample of these characters are: Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, the X-Men and the reintroduction of the original Captain America in the pages of the superhero team book titled the Avengers.
Modern-Age: The most controversial of ages, not only for when it began but also because many comics collectors debate the very name of its description. For my money, the Modern-Age, or as some call it the Bronze-Age, began in October of 1970 with the introduction of Conan the Barbarian to comics. Although Conan as a character had been published since late 1932 in the pages of pulp magazines and later in hardback collections, this was the first introduction of the sword-and-sorcery character to the comics medium. For all intents and purposes another comic could serve as a benchmark, but Conan was unique among comics of that time and set forth a trend that would lure back many mature readers which had been lost to the industry after the Second World War. This trend would also see increased popularity in mature themed magazine sized comics such as Creepy, Heavy Metal and Weird Tales.
The Modern-Age by definition has not seen a strictly demarcated cutoff period. Although comics did see a downturn in the mid-1990's, due to over production and speculation by collectors, the subsequent resuscitation of the industry has been so recent that it has not garnered an overarching label. Perhaps the introduction of digital comics early in the 21st Century demarcates a new era in comics, where print comics begin a decline in favor of comics delivered via the Internet? Although more convenient that paper, I can not see digital comics becoming a collectible item, and I hope that there will always be a market for "old-fashioned" funny books.
Comics publishing as a rule has been a diverse industry since the 1970's, with an explosion of independent publishers during the 1980's. Most titles by major publishers have enjoyed extended publishing runs in large quantities insuring that these comics are, and may be for a long time into the future, relatively affordable. Nothing occurred in the last three decades of the 20th Century to threaten the industry beyond its own shortsightedness and greed, but that can be said for quite a few industries of the later 20th Century.
Modern-age comics are the least rare, due to the sheer number and quantity of titles published, and therefore are the least valuable in the aggregate. Many of the books from this time period that increased in value and maintained their collectability did so because of the introduction of popular characters within the comic's publication run. A small sample of characters that lead to the rise in value of the comic in which they first appeared are: Bullseye, Elektra, Punisher, Sabretooth, Venom and Wolverine. Although many of these supporting characters have been popular within the pages of established titles very few characters introduced in the past 30 years have been able to consistently sustain their own ongoing title.
Remember that one of the joys of collecting is looking back on the comics that you have amassed and having pride in their condition. If you choose to part with your acquisitions you also want to get the most from your investment. That being said, I can never emphasize enough the necessity of bagging, boarding and storing your comics upright in some sort of covered box away from light and moisture.
Bags: Comics bags are designed to protect your investment from moisture, pollutants, oils, and acids. They come in several varieties of quality and expense from high-end Mylar, medium-quality polypropylene and low-end polyethylene. Unless you have a massive golden-age collection to protect, standard clear polypropylene comics bags are perfectly fine and, in the short term, a more affordable option than Mylar.
Mylar is the recommended archival medium of the U.S. Library of Congress because it does not have any volatile chemicals which will migrate to the surface of the paper causing damage, but Mylar averages about 25 cents a bag versus less than 10 cents a bag for polypropylene. Because of its stable nature Mylar, under optimal conditions, will last over a century, as opposed to polypropylene, which is recommended to be replaced every decade. Therefore, because poly would cost you 30 cents in thirty years, Mylar would be a less expensive option if you intend on owning your comics for more than three decades.
Comics bags come in a variety of sizes: golden-age (7-5/8 x 10-1/4 w/flap), silver-age (7-3/8 x 10-1/4 w/flap), regular (7-1/8 x 10-1/4 w/flap) and treasury (10-1/2 x 13-1/2 w/flap). My recommendation is to use standard size Mylites2 bags, which will fit not only your silver-age comics, but your current comics as well. These bags work very well with silver-age backing boards. You may choose to purchase your bags as you need them from your retailer of choice, but bulk options are available online by searching for "comics bags." You can usually request a sample pack from the supplier to determine what is best for your collection.
Boards: Comics backing boards are designed to keep your comics spine, cover and internal pages from becoming creased and bent. Acid-free backing boards are recommended to ensure the long-term quality of your comics. You should only need backing boards if you use polypropylene or thin Mylar bags, 4 mil Mylar is typically rigid enough that it will protect your comic from bending.
Most comics boards generally have two different surface textures; flat and glossy. I have rarely seen backing boards with a flat texture on both sides. There appears to be an unresolved debate about which side you should store your comics against, which has led me to believe that either side is fine. The manufacturer does not include instructions for use and advertises the product as "acid free," which would lead me to the conclusion that the entire board is acid free. If there is a side to the board that could damage your comics, then I could foresee a lawsuit in the future for the manufacturer of comics boards.
There is also the option of buffered backing boards, which are impregnated with calcium carbonate to mop-up the acids emitted by the newsprint in older comics. Although this sounds intriguing I have never used these types of boards and cannot recommend them either way.
Comics backing boards correspond in size to comics bags. Like bags I recommend using silver-age boards - although it may depend upon the true size of your bags and how snug the board fits. You may also choose to purchase your boards as you need them from your retailer of choice, but bulk options are available online by searching for "comics backing boards."
Boxes: Comics storage boxes are designed to not only protect your comics from the fading effects of light exposure, but also allow you to organize your collection. Boxes come in a variety of materials ranging from cardboard, acid-free cardboard and plastic. They range in sizes from short (150 comics) to long (250 comics) and magazine sizes.
Comics must be stored in an upright position to avoid spine rolling.
Instead of boxes I use HON brand legal-size vertical filing cabinets. Each cabinet drawer can store 500 golden-age size comics. The comics can be stored side-by-side and the length of the drawer can be adjusted to ensure the books stand upright. I purchased my cabinets about ten years ago at Office Depot for about $150 each, but you can purchase them at any office supply store or possibly second hand at a military or government surplus dealer.
I have received a lot of e-mails concerning the model number of filing cabinets that I use and what I recommend. I have determined that the model number is irrelevant as to the interior width and height of the cabinet, although there are apparently differences in interior depth. As to the overall exterior size of the cabinet, I recommend using whatever best fits your storage needs and available home space. There appears to be only two configurations for drawers; two and four. The later being about 5 feet tall.
When determining a cabinet that will work for your needs the best suggestion I can make is to go to your local office supply retailer and using two golden-age-sized backboards, hold them side by side in the drawer and if there is a reasonable amount of space between them then the cabinet should accommodate any standard comic book published since 1938. The other suggestion I would make is that the adjustable slide at the back of the cabinet have a reasonable amount of surface space as to not cause creasing or bending of your comics at the back of the drawer. I hope this covers most of the bases, but if it doesn't then don't hesitate to pepper me with further questions in the forum.
For your more expensive comics I recommend either a fire-proof filing cabinet for large collections, or a small fire safe for just a few of your more prized comics. It's a little more expensive, but worth it.
<-- Five cabinets measuring a total of 7' 8" wide. -->
Here are my 8100+ comics snuggly stored in legal filling cabinets.
Cataloging: Although collecting comics is fun - keeping track of which ones you own and which ones you would like to own can be a pain in the rear. There are several programs available which can help you keep track of your collection, but in my humble opinion none of them are worth the price. Although I now keep track of my comics using an on-line SQL database, I have found that Microsoft Access is an adequate program for tracking my collection and also teaches basic database management skills - something which is actually useful and may be able to make you some money in your career. Keeping all this in mind I have generously provided a LINK to the basic code of the database. Feel free to download, modify and expand to meet your particular needs.
Grading & Condition
As location, location, location is to real estate, condition, condition, condition is to collectibles. A prime example of how the condition of a comic affects its value would be Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, which sells for around $1.1 million in near-mint condition, but would sell for around $1,400 in poor condition. Granted that is a pretty penny either way, but if I were to sell a near-mint copy I could afford a yacht, where as a poor comic would buy a small motor boat - maybe.
Grading Scales: Comics grading scales from worst to best rating are; poor, fair, good, very-good, fine, very-fine, near-mint and mint. Most new comics fall into the near-mint category and therefore it is the bench mark by which all other comics are graded. Mint comics are rare, even for new comics, because of normal handling by printers, distributors, retailers and buyers.
Values are determined by the "market" and prices can be found in a number of sources. Some of these sources include free online services such as ComicsPriceGuide.com, books like the Overstreet Price Guide which contain almost every comic published. Overstreet Price Guide can be found at most retail book stores or comics retailers. Remember that each guide is based upon "market" value and may have different prices for the same comic. That being said, the ultimate arbitrator of what a comic is worth is how much you are willing to pay, and the monetary or trade value the owner is willing to accept.
Poor: The crap of the crop. Generally unsuitable for collecting or reading because of the extent of damage. Damages range from water soaked or mud encrusted, to ripped-to-shreds by an animal or mutant vegetable. Cover or pages may be missing, torn or cut. Poor comics sell for about 5-15% of near-mint value.
Fair: This comic has definitely seen better days and has limited market value. Damages may include soiling and damage to the cover and interior pages due to age or abuse. A common "fair" comic is an otherwise flawless comic that has a coupon or ad removed from the interior pages. Fair comics are intact and fine for reading or lending to friends and family. Fair comics sell for about 10-20% of near-mint value.
Good: A comic with a few miles on it and starting to show its age. Cover and pages may have a number of major wrinkles, flakes or chips, but should not have any major tears. Cover may be dull and pages may be yellowed and brittle. Good comics sell for about 20-30% of near mint-value.
Very-Good: A comic with a little read-wear, but still holds onto its looks. Common condition of older books. Cover may have lost its glossy luster and have minor wrinkles, flakes or chips, but has no sign of abuse or defacement. Very-good comics sell for about 30-40% of near-mint value.
Fine: A comic that has been loved and cared for by someone who may have been a novice collector. Very little wear, may have lost some of its cover gloss, have a few chips or wrinkles and have a slightly off center or rolled cover. Yellowing may have begun to creep into the interior pages. Fine comics sell for about 40-60% of near-mint value.
Very-Fine: A comic that has been better cared for than its "fair" cousin. Slight read-wear and few defects. Stress around staples may be visible, but not severe enough to cause wrinkles. Cover and pages are crisp and sharp, no flaking or creases. Interior pages may be slightly yellowed in older comics of this condition. Newer very-fine comics sell for about 60-85%, and older comics may sell for as high as 90% of near-mint value.
Near-Mint: I'm almost mint and most people wouldn't know the difference. This is the benchmark by which all other comics are graded and the most common condition for new comics. Cover and pages are bright, clean and have no defects. Slight stress lines may exist near staples and minor printing defects may exist. This is a perfect ten and holds 100% of its value.
Mint: These comics turn the volume up to eleven. Better than the best and therefore the most uncommon condition in new and old comics. There are no imperfections and the printing press quality is uniquely superb. This condition is so rare, that it is hardly ever seen, and therefore sells for as high as 120% of near-mint value.
Grading Tips: Comics, as with many collectibles, are graded on a scale from poor to mint quality. Granted, the grading of any item can be subjective, but comic books have been around long enough that collectors generally agree upon a definition of what makes a quality comic. In some cases with older comics, they are often allowed a little more leeway on the positive side when it comes to grading.
Things you should look at with first glance are the cover and spine. Is the cover soiled, ripped, rough, dull, water damaged or generally unattractive? Is the spine bent, creased, rolled, are the staples rusted or missing? First impressions can tell you quite a bit about the quality, and you can judge a book by its cover. If the cover appears to be fine, check the centerfold next. Often a comic's pages will come loose from the staples starting with the centerfold. If you find no problems here, then perform a page to page check insuring that the pages are all intact and that there have not been any coupons clipped or pages embellished with ink or markers by an aspiring artist.
The rarest and most insidious flaw to watch for is restoration. There are a variety of tricks that people use both legitimate and illegitimate to improve the condition of a comic, but in some cases the restoration causes the comic more damage than it would have had otherwise. An example I have seen was when someone used black permanent marker to fill in a dark area on a cover that had become faded. It would have not been easily noticed if the marker had not bled through the cover and onto several pages of the comic. They accomplished the feat of turning what would have been a fine comic into a fair or good comic .
Restored comics are acceptable, as long as the seller makes you aware of the restoration, otherwise it's fraud.
Professional Grading: In recent years there has been a trend to have professionals grade high-end older comics and newer comics that are speculated to rapidly rise in value. The best known and most reputable grader is Comics Guarantee, LLC which is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group of companies. Their grading scale ranges from worst (.5) to best(10). As part of the process, the comic is sealed in a hard plastic case showing the front and back, with the issue and grade notes printed at the top of the case. CGC-graded comics have been known to earn twice the value of non-graded comics.
In my opinion this process seems to defeat the main joy of comics, which is reading. If you purchase a certified graded comic and remove it from the plastic case, then it is no longer certified. This process seems to be better served for items like sports cards and coins, which still can be enjoyed because of their two dimensional nature. I would only recommend purchasing a "slabbed" comic, or having a comic professionally graded and slabbed if you intend it for investment purposes only.
Although comics are no longer commonly found at drugstores, groceries and newsstands, there are a multitude of retailers both "brick and mortar" and online.
To start out, I would like to define three terms which will occur in this portion of the column. Comics go without explaining, but for the sorely uninitiated they are small magazines which are commonly bound by two staples. Graphic novels are less strict by definition, but are typically new comics material printed within a hardbound or over-sized publication. Trade paperbacks are reprinted material usually softbound, but occasionally hardbound, and usually combine a popular story arc or rare time period of an established comic in a more affordable format.
New comics, graphic novels and trade paperbacks can be commonly found at your local comics shop, a multitude of online services or occasionally retail book stores. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks almost always can be found at retail book stores such as a Barnes and Noble, ordered from an online retailer, such as Amazon.com, or checked-out at your local library.
Back issue comics can be purchased at most comic shops, through Internet auctions services such as eBay.com, from individual sellers advertising in newspaper classifieds or craigslist, and vendors selling comics at conventions, which occur in any number of cities monthly. There are also a number of comics retailers that catalog back issues though online stores. Many of these online retailers also purchase comics for their inventory. You can find a want list for back issue comics being purchased by Lone Star Comics.
As with anything, you should be cautious of who you buy from, the seller's definition of near-mint may be dubious, and once you find a reputable source; as with a barber, banker or Chinese restaurant, once you find a good one, you should stick with them. That being said, I will give a break down of the different outlets I have used to purchase comics, what they have to offer, and what you can often expect.
Comics Shops: As their name implies this is a great place to find both new and back issue comics. The character of each shop is surely unique. Some are as neat as a hospital, well organized, have professional and courteous employees and carry a multitude of products other than comics. Some are as messy as a teenager's room, have employees that are surly or rude and may only carry comics, but as such have many hidden treasures.
My local comic shop fits the first description, and although it lacks character it serves my needs, but I do enjoy the quirky shops to an extent. The oddest comic shop I have ever been into doubled as a gun shop. I asked the owner/operator what inspired him to couple guns and comics, his response was that he liked them both and thought there were others out there that shared his passions. Be that as it may, he frightened me and I never returned. Another "odd-ball" shop that I frequented was stuffed to the gills with comics to the point that it was a fire hazard. I often wondered if the proprietor, who had been there for over 20 years, had any idea, or care, for what was in his shop. He had premium comics for sale pinned in bags and displayed on his wall, some of which were being faded by sunlight coming through his storefront. Normally this type of sin would cause me to claim heresy and have the proprietor burned at the stake, using his abused comics as kindling, but at the same time he had some of the best prices on new and used comics. Buy four comics get the fifth one free and 90% off overstock back issues. I picked up a copy of Captain America #104 (1968) in very-fine condition for $2.50. A bargain at four times the price.
Mail Order: Shut-ins... this is one was made for you. Home delivery is a convenient and often less expensive means of purchasing your comics, and the sun will never kiss your pasty skin.
Publisher-direct subscriptions can also be processed via online through most publishers' websites. I have never used this method and can not recommend it one way or the other, but their rates are generally cheaper than any other mail-order service.
Online Auctions: The first thing I can say about online auctions is BUYER BEWARE. Granted I have found some bargains on the Internet, but if you balance it against the times I received comics in a condition other than advertised, or when I had to track a guy down for a month to get my comics, it just isn't worth the grief. It's the wild-wild west on the web, and I don't like getting shot.
Person to Person: These are the rarest of exchanges, but can be the most rewarding.
Any given week you may find ads selling comics in the classified section of you local newspaper or craigslist. Often people selling comics through the newspaper do not know anything about comics, and fall into two camps. The first camp thinks their comics are worth a fortune, but the comics are for the most part crap. I refer back to my first lesson concerning grade: condition, condition, condition. I generally walk away from these exchanges, but give them my phone number in case they change their mind, which they very often do after taking a sample of their "treasure" to a local comic shop. The second camp just wants to unload their (or their speculator cousin's) comics and are willing to take 25 cents for each comic. You may have to pick through a pile of coal to find the diamonds, but it's usually worth it.
An even rarer exchange is when you find someone who has collected for a number of years and is desperate to sell. This leads into another story. I was working on a contract and got to talking to one of the computer techs about comics, when he revealed that he had an extensive collection he wanted to unload. Cautiously intrigued I went to his home to investigate what he was offering. He was kind enough to have a sample of comics ready when I arrived, and let me say, everyone of them was a gem. Then he lead me to the basement (In retrospect that sentence sounds scarier than it should.) This guy could have opened his own comic shop. I took a paper grocery bag full with me to further inspect the comics and would make him an offer at a later date. The comics I inspected were mostly silver-age Marvel comics in fine or better condition, plus one golden-age comic in near-mint condition. After I had calculated the cost of the comics I came up with a total of around $3000 (1998 dollars). Well - being the kind of guy who is always willing to stretch the boundaries of the buyer/seller relationship, I told him that I was going to start the bidding low and we would haggle from there, fully expecting him to counter in the spirit of economic exchange or scoff and stomp off. I opened the bid at $250, less than the guide value of the golden-age comic. To my surprise he jumped at the offer. Sold! Now, I'm not saying that this may ever happen to you, but the lesson is, if you ever find yourself in the position of controlling the price, go for it.
Convention Deals: Bargains, bargains, bargains, but be sure to shop around. There are always dealers at conventions that are getting out of the business or have overstock and want to get a return on their investment. Quarter boxes (or more commonly now fifty-cent boxes) abound, and if you see a comic you want priced at market value, move on, you're sure to find the same comic or one just as good at a below-market-value price.
Needless to say, buying comics is a lot easier than selling them. As I briefly mentioned in the buying section you can purchase comics from "brick and mortar" and online comic shops, online auctions, and individuals. Well guess what? You can sell them back through most of the places you bought them, but the return on your investment may not be what you expect.
Comic Shops: Most comic shops purchase comics for about 25 cents on the dollar. If you have a comic with the market value of $10, you can expect $2.50. This on the surface may seem unfair, but the comics dealer is in the business to make money, not run a geek charity. When they buy your comics they need to make a profit and as such must buy low and sell high, they are also taking a gamble on your comics because there isn't any guarantee they will be able to sell them at a later date for the market value at the time of purchase, or ever.
One advantage to selling to a comics shop is that many will give you store credit in trade - often double what they would pay in cash. It may not be the best deal to you, but it may be the quickest.
Another option that comics shops may offer is selling on consignment. This means that they give your comic a place in their shop where potential customers have an opportunity to purchase it, and the store takes a modest cut of the sale.
Online Auctions: A better return on your investment would be through an online auction service such as eBay.com. The only economic disadvantage to both buyer and seller is the expense of shipping and the fees that online services now charge. Oh for the days when online auctions were free. So long! You can also now receive instant payment through PayPal, but they like their owner eBay, will take a portion of your sale.
The first rule of online auctions is always be honest with your customer about shipping. Many people get kind of ticked-off if you charge them double your actual shipping cost, and they will know, because the rate is on the stamp. For the best deal, ship your comics media mail through the U.S. Postal Service. The post office charges by the pound for media mail and you can use your bathroom scale to get an approximate weight. In the past you could use the post office website to determine the cost and then contact your seller with the final bill, but much of this process has been integrated into eBay's auction system.
The second rule is pack your comics professionally. To ensure they get there in one piece, I place the bagged and boarded comics inside a larger plastic bag. Two Ziploc gallon size freezer bags pulled over both ends and wrapped with packing tape around the center on the X and Y axis will make a snug and reasonably waterproof seal. As a little cheat, I recommend using the post office's Priority Mail boxes by turning them inside out and taping them back together again. Technically you are not supposed to do this, but most postal workers could care less. BTW, if you find yourself in the federal penitentiary for mail fraud, I don't know you.
The third rule when selling online is be honest with your customer about the condition of the product, it may be counter intuitive, but talk the product down a little, after all you are asking for someone to purchase a product sight unseen. In the end, if you establish a bad reputation as a seller, you are very unlikely to sell to anyone every again. eBay now requires that all auctions have an image of the item posted, but this shouldn't be much of hassle for anyone with a digital camera or a smartphone.
Person to Person: This method may have the greatest return on your investment. In the past unless you had a buyer ready to go, you had to make the upfront investment of a newspaper classified advertisement. Today you can post your comics on craigslist for the low, low price of free. Although, if an interested party contacts you, you should to ask yourself: Would I want someone like me knowing where I live? In the end, you may get lucky, this model citizen may want to buy everything you're offering and then some... or just want to stuff you in a trash can. I recommend meeting in a public place such as a grocery store or library parking lot, better safe than have your picture on the side of a milk carton.
As I previously wrote, conventions are a bargain for comics; but also have so much more to offer. You will find original art, toys, movies, posters and apparel for sale. You will find movie screenings for films you would never otherwise see. There are conferences with professionals speaking about the comics business; booths with professionals reviewing artwork and scripts, drawing sketches, signing comics, or just shooting the breeze with fans. There is always plenty to see and do, and chances are there is a convention, even a small one, somewhere near you on any given month.
Publisher Booths: Publishers big and small always have booths at the big conventions to advertise their products, give the fans an opportunity to meet the creators of their favorite comics, and give budding creators an opportunity to have their work critiqued.
A few rules should be adhered to when meeting your favorite or not-so-favorite creators.
First: Be polite, even if the writer/artist "ruined" your favorite character, get a grip, its only a comic-book character, and eventually the publisher will get enough negative correspondence, or the sales will dip low enough, that they will get a new creative team on the book.
Second: Be polite, if your favorite creator is having a conversation with another creator, or fan, or a lamppost, then do not interrupt, or hang around making them feel like they have their own personal psycho stalker.
Third: Be polite and humble. If you are showing a creator your script and or art then take criticism as it is intended, which is to help you be a better writer or artist. A rising tide lifts all ships and professionals want to work with other people of professional caliber. Criticism may seem personal at the time, and it may be, but don't take it that way and storm off. You may have to work with this person someday.
Autographs: Creators are always scheduled to do autographs. The same rules of politeness apply as with the publisher booths.
There are also a few other rules you may want to observe.
First: If you want a creator to sign your comics, don't bring every issue of their work you own. I generally bring about 3-4 books for several creators to sign. Conventions are busy places with long, long lines and there is no guarantee you will even get one autograph, so hedge your bets.
Second: Before you hand over your comics, let them know how you would like them to autograph it. In recent years many creators have been signing the covers of the comics in silver paint pen, which I personally do not care for. My preference is to have them sign in regular ink, beside their name on the page that credits the creators.
As an aside, there is much debate about autographs and the condition of comics. Some claim that it lowers the grade and value, but others claim that it adds value. As far as I'm concerned it only adds value if I got the autograph myself, and that's the kind of value which you can't attach a price.
Third: If you want an autograph, offer a copy that is in nice condition. Granted, you may not be able to find a golden-age comic that you can afford in pristine condition, but don't offer a creator an otherwise affordable comic with its cover missing and poop streaks on it.
Forth: Perhaps the most important rule, if you want a creator to autograph a comic, make sure they had something to do with it beyond working for the publisher. Comic books published as far back as the early 1960's generally have credits listed for the creators of the comic, read them before you offer it to be autographed. If the comic does not list the creators, you may possibly find this information in the price-guide books I mentioned in the Grading and Condition section.
Artist Alley: Along with established creators, you can usually find lesser known artists looking to make a buck and get their talents recognized creating original artwork. As with all collectibles the price is always up for debate, and I encourage you to at least give haggling a respectful attempt and save yourself some money to buy more comics.
What is Spider-Bob Reading? (And why should you care?)
I have been reading and collecting comics for almost 30 years (No, I don't live in my parents' basement, I live under a bridge.), and have read a lot of treasure and a lot of trash. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on reading comics.
Large Publishers: Most of the comics I have read were created by the two large publishers; DC and Marvel Comics. The reason for this is that they not only produce more comics than all the other publishers combined (a slight exaggeration), but as a rule produce better quality comics, both in content and materials (perhaps another slight exaggeration). These two companies have both existed for over 75 years and would not have lasted this long if they didn't create quality comics.
Small & Independent Publishers: The definition of a small or independent publisher is usually understood as other than the big two, regardless of size. There are hundreds of comic-book publishers on all corners of the Earth, offering all types of styles and stories for all types of taste. Occasionally one of these titles catches my eye on the comics' display at my local shop, but often it's a gamble on a product which may be treasure, trash, or simply not around in a few months.
One independent title that I read religiously for years was Cerebus by Canadian creator-owned publisher Aardvark-Vanaheim. The black-and-white comic was written, draw and self-published by Dave Sim since 1977, and follows the adventures of the anthropomorphic aardvark named Cerebus. The title started as a Conan the Barbarian parody, but evolved into an intelligent thesis on philosophy, religion, politics and every other topic of social or moral significance. The series ended with issue 300, and I would warn against attempting to collect all the original comics, instead collect the trade paperbacks, affectionately known as phone books due to their size.
Limited Series: Due to the nature of limited series, it's difficult to recommend them, because by the time I do, they may be out of print and unavailable.
Trades and Back Issues: To ensure that I have plenty of reading material, in case it's a lean week for new comics, I keep plenty of trade paperbacks and back issues of inexpensive comics on hand.
The trades I recommend on a budget are the Marvel Essentials, which collect the early issues of their most popular titles in an inexpensive black and white format. If you have the money, I recommend the Marvel Omnibus collections, which are printed on high-quality glossy paper and well worth the money if you get them for half the price through an online seller like Discount Comic Book Service. The stories are kind of goofy compared to the sophisticated writing of today, but Stan Lee and his small staff were cranking out over a dozen books back then. If you're a fan of Marvel Comics, and want to learn more about the history of your favorite characters I recommend checking them out in either format.
For bulk inexpensive back issues the best way I've found to purchase them is through online auctions. I know this may contradict my advice concerning the quality of online auctions, but when I am buying 25+ comics for less than $10, it's worth a chance the merchandise isn't in tip-top shape.
Most of the old books I look for are failed series from the 1970s and 80s that most likely will never be collected in a a trade. Many of these books are not the best stories ever published and I'm sure they were canceled for a reason, but they do have an endearing kitsch, and they make for a reasonably enjoyable read on a lazy afternoon.
This is The End My Friend: Well,this is the end of the column, I hope that it has been beneficial. If you have any questions about a topic I covered, or didn't cover, feel free to contact me through my facebook forum.
Also don't forget to check out my extensive comics encyclopedia for a double dose of nerd knowledge.