50 years of the Overstreet Comics Price Guide

I’ve been reading this much of this week.

The Overstreet Price Guide is and essential for dealers and fans for 50 years now, and when I’ve been a ful-time dealer it was something I always had in my box of stuff I’d carry around with me in the shop or at conventions. It wasn’t always right, sometimes it’d be horribly overpriced but as a reference book it was essential though it never dealt with UK prices (I’ve often wondered why Overstreet never did a UK guide) which meant going on memory or relying on the often sketchy UK Price Guide Duncan McApline produces.

But 50 years for what was a glorified fanzine (it grew out of the fandom that sprung up of EC Comics, and in fact it’s often missed how EC drove what we know today as fandom) is extraordinary, as are the top reams of talent that have produced covers for it over the decades who’ve helped the Overstreet guide what it is. This celebration is a fascinating read of the backstory of the guide, plus the comics that have made it as after all, people really buy this to see what their copy of X-Force #1 is worth.

There’s some nice articles reprinted here too. Especially of interest is the interview with Bob Kane from 1989 which in hindsight misses out some large bits of history but is still fascinating, plus the article on ‘patriotic’ (some might say jingoistic) covers is nice, but most of the book just celebrates Bob Overstreet and what he’s done for comics for 50 years and although the guide is normally a book for the hardcore fan or dealer only, this is a more accessible book and a lovely bit of history. Go check it out if only for the galleries of beautiful covers…

The abuse of Stan Lee

Whatever you may think of Stan Lee’s role in the history of comics, and his part in ensuring the myth he was the main creator of the likes of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four there’s no doubting that his last years before his death were the subject of some debate in regard the role certain members of his family had over him, and more importantly, his money and his part in creating characters worth billions to Disney/Marvel. So much so there is a massive legal argument over who has control of what by a load of people who are, to put it mildly, dodgy as fuck.

In his last years Lee was shipped round conventions around the world for signings, which is fine as many a person did that in what seems a long time ago in these days of Covid-19.but people made a good living from that. Most people limit their time spent at conventions mainly for work, but Lee was working every con you heard about. Tales would come of a clearly confused Lee being told to spell his own name by his helpers, or spending hours having his picture taken with fans to the point he’d fall asleep or look seriously pained in the picture.

Lee was a cash-cow and with authograph’s being charged at ridculous rates a day of Lee signing when he should be at home resting meant his supposed team of advisors could walk away with tens of thousands in cash.

Now the magazine AARP have a lengthy article about Lee’s final days and it is seriously shocking to read how badly Lee was abused and it really is a tale which is shocking.

Have a read.

There’s legal cases going on everywhere but the fact is watching Lee struggle is a tragedy, and is abuse. There’s questions his daughter and the motely crew around her need to answer, but also conventions have a duty of care to not just their attendees, but to their guests. Cons were booking Lee knowing fine well he was poorly, and especially in his last year, he was being exploited. They’re not responsible for his abuse but they share a level of culpability in what is a tragic, but avoidable, mess.

What I thought of some recent comics. October 2020, part two

Si Spurrier’s reboot/relaunch of Hellblazer has been the highlight of mainstream comics since last year, with John Constantine returned to his roots while actually being political again. The jibe at Nigel Farage is a wee joy. It is sadly being cancelled with #12 just as it’s got into a stride but this is the new DC.

If the Hulk can get a horror makeover then so can She-Hulk, a character who throughout her 40 year history is either treated well, or like utter shite. This latest revamp from Al Ewing and Jon Davis-Hunt starts off fine, but stomps up and down on ground previously stomped on by Ewing’s Immortal Hulk. Still, an engaging enough start.

You Look Like Death: Tales From the Umbrella Academy

If you didn’t live through the early 90’s and especially Grant Morrison’s Vertigo work, then you don’t need a time machine as Gerard Way gives us more from The Umbrella Academy, his spin on the Doom Patrol/X-Men. If you’ve read Chris Claremont’s X Men or Morrison’s Doom Patrol work then you really, honestly don’t need this.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #50

Over the course of the last few years Ryan North has managed to make this a title which manages to do more than it should, and this last issue is a few months old but this is a touching, smart send-off for the character and reader. Imagine a friendlier version of Animal Man #26 but instead of retreading old ground this makes clear how superheroes are transient and before you know it a new creative team will sweep in to stomp all over your favourite character, but that version you love will exist. It really is a lovely little final issue.

And that’s it for now…

What I thought of some recent comics. October 2020, Part one

Haven’t done one of these in months so I thought I’d do this now as there’s a few things worthy of being pointed out, and some which might act as a warning…

First up.

Thor

If you’d said that Thor would be the hottest superhero comic made in 2020 I’d have laughed at you, but Donny Cates and artist Nic Klein have taken a character which is beyond tired and worn out and introduced something quite wonderful. Building on what Cates has done in shaping Marvel’s cosmic universe, Thor takes the character in a direction not seen before as he becomes the herald of Galactus who is out to beat The Black Winter, an ultimate cosmic threat that is so powerful it can kill Galactus himself.

Cates returns Thor into a powerhouse, while threading enough angst and guilt into him to actually make Thor the character interesting again. He also sets up another storyline which promises the return of Marvel’s ultimate cosmic villian in a quite surprising way which has now, sadly, been spoiled to death. This though comes recommended as superior superheroics.

Batman: The Three Jokers

Geoff Johns isn’t just happy raking through Watchmen for inspiration. Here he takes on The Killing Joke, the book Alan Moore has famously disowned as he doesn’t like what he did in it, but Johns isn’t exactly fussy in his attempts to rake through Alan Moore’s bins and here he crudely reproduces parts of the structure of The Killing Joke as he tells this utterly bollocks idea that in fact there’s always been three Jokers and the world’s greatest detective has been unable to spot this.

The entire thing reduces Batman to an idiot, while the Joker is cemented as a villian ripped out of a 2000s torture porn film interested in nothing more than murder and chaos. Any attempt at black humour is at best stilted, at worst embaressing as this entire thing feels like nothing more than a cheap cash grab using Alan Moore’s work to make DC and it’s parent company AT & T a wad of money. Best avoid this.

Fantastic Four: Antithesis

This is just old school superheroics drawn by Neal Adams, one of the first big post Jack Kirby comic superstars back in the 1960s. Written by Mark Waid in full Bronze Age Marvel mode this is just a big lump of solid fun that utterly ignores continuity to tell a story which features The Silver Surfer, Galactus (again) and a cosmic villian that can defeat him (again) in a story which is just light relief. Adams is past his best by some decades but he can still turn out a story, plus his storytelling is tight; something many an artist today in superhero comics could take note of.

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Mike and Laura Allred are a creative team which have been working now for several decades and although their work has a strong fan following, they’ve never really broken out of the niche they’re in. I however adore their work and this is just another notch of wonderful, daft cartoony fun, plus that Madness variant cover for #1 is a total joy.

Detective Comics #1027

This is another of DC’s giant anniversary issues, and in this case it comes just over two years since Detective’s 1000thi issue and like that comes in a variety of variant covers. In the one above this is drawn by Frank Quitely and is my favourite of the lot.

As is the case with these issues it is a patchy affair with Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder’s stories being the most interesting, while the tedious lead in for the Generations event being a waste of pages but overall this is a decent enough anniversary issue.

And that’s it for this blog. More next time.

How one comic collection changed the history of comics

Back in the 1970s the comic book market was slowly melding into place on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was nothing like how it is today. Dealers were still relatively few, and actual bricks and mortar shops were also thin on the ground or part of science fiction and fantasy bookshops. Problem with this is many of the owners of these shops cared little for comics but stocked them to help get people in and make a bit of extra money however one collection turned comic book retailing from a minor hobby for most and a living wage for a few into an industry. It cemented the importance of grade for collectors and made clear how rare some comics are over others.

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The Edgar Church collection was bought by Chuck Rozanski in 1977 and while there’s various versions of the story (spun mainly by fans envious of Chuck’s find) the facts are consistent as laid out by Chuck himself in a lengthy piece on his website. Purchased for around $1,800 (which works out at roughly $7,900 today), Chuck knew he had a bargain not to mention a once in a lifetime deal, Today the collection would be worth $50 million and the last few copies in the wild were auctioned off recently.

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Over the years the story has become myth & there’s many a collection that’s boasted to be Edgar Church pedigree, but in reality they were never of the same quality or number. And although big collections have hit the market in the decades since which did match the Church collection few changed the industry in the was this did.

See, without this Rozanski wouldn’t have grown as he did. Mile High wouldn’t be such an important company as it grew. The benefits of this showed a premium collectors market existed and the profits from this meant that in a few years MIle High would be pushing for what’s now called the Direct Market.  Had that collection been thrown out we’d be in a very different place in the industry.

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On this side of the Atlantic a few copies of the collection made it’s way over here. You’d see as well some American dealers show off copies at conventions back in the 90s, but the UK suffers from having less Golden Age around so prices tend to be higher than in the US so for most of us these comics will only be things we look at in awe.

How did we cope with non-distributed comics in the UK

During the ongoing Covid19 crisis comic books have suffered as much as any industry, but here in the UK there’s some worry about comics not being distributed in the UK while still being shipped across the US. This means we could end up with non-distributed comics in the UK for the first time in over 20 years which means an entire generation may have to deal with what us older fans used to deal with all the bloody time.

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What I mean by a ‘non-distributed’ (ND) is that there was no mainstream newsagent distribution, which is the definition til the late 90s when newsagent distribution of Marvel, DC and any other American publisher ended leaving comic shops in the direct market as the only way to get your comics.  Since then ND comics are now just the occasional thing, so fans in the UK haven’t had to struggle but now we’re back to a situation where comics aren’t shipping to the UK or are in such low numbers they might as well not.

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How did we cope back then, especially trying to read stories where you’d miss a part would be annoying beyond belief, especially if it was an ending. Marvel’s UK reprints helped in this regard but often you’d have to wait years to get that issue you’d been waiting to read. If you lived in a city with a comic shop you might be able to have picked up the issue you needed, or if you managed to visit a mart or a convention you’d find a dealer selling what you need. The fact is even with this safety net you’d miss issues. In fact there’s still storylines I’ve never read all of. Steve Englehart’s Celestial Madonna run in The Avengers being one that leaps instantly to mind.

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So you learned to cope. Of course companies wouljd throw problems at you like in 1981 Marvel skipped two whole months of distributing comics to the UK, so everything dated February and March of that year are ND, which is why otherwise ordinary comics are worth sometimes vastly more than the issues around them. I remember spending years filling in the issues missing, even crap like Rom: Spaceknight.

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Of course with it being 2020 and digital comics being a thing, it is exceptionally hard to miss reading an issue but for collectors it is about having the tactile joy of holding a comic in their hands, though with DC imploding that might be something harder to do in future for readers of DC. So good luck in the months, possibly years ahead. These are strange, scary and uncertain times but as comics fans we will prevail just as we did in the past.

Now off to Amazon to order that Celestial Madonna trade I’ve been meaning to read for years…

What I thought of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

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Comics biographies can be hit or miss as the person doing it sometimes ends up just being a cheerleader for the person they’re discussing, but in the case of Tom Scioli’s long-awaited biography of Jack Kirby it ends up being needed because if there’s one thing Kirby needs is some cheerleading to offset the decades of Kirby being ignored by the mainstream media.

Scioli does a lot here detailing Kirby’s life, and even if you’re soaked in Kirby history like myself, there’s going to be stuff you’ll read here that you don’t know. For me, it was the World War 2 section where even though I was aware of a lot of it, it really was breaking new ground. Not to mention putting it in context with Kirby’s later life gives it a resonance I’d not previously considered. As an aside I’d also recommend Kirby at War,  an excellent documentary from France which should be on streaming services.

At times the book does screen out other viewpoints of Kirby’s history to give such a one-sided view that critically, it weakens the book. For example, it’s downplayed just how awful Kirby was at business as opposed to say, his former partner Joe Simon, and drawing Kirby as a wide-eyed innocent places him as an instantly sympathetic character, however what Scioli is focusing on is telling Kirby’s story in as much of a way as Kirby would have done his autobiography while setting the world straight. And that really means his relationship with Stan Lee.

Lee is often praised as the man who created, or co-created the Marvel Universe yet comics historians have for decades fought this position, which Scioli does too by laying out a few simple facts including the main one which is what did Lee create prior and after his relationship with Jack Kirby (and Steve Ditko who is a major player here) and the blunt answer is fuck all apart from She-Hulk. Lee’s sole major creation without any aid from Kirby or Ditko was a cash-in on an existing creation.  The facts are that Lee was facing unemployment when Kirby walked through his door, and within five years Marvel had totally turned itself around with Kirby at the very least penciling and writing 8-10 titles a month plus covers, plus annuals. His body of work, and the sheer volume of it throughout the 60’s at Marvel is like no other creative period of anyone else in superhero comics. Ideas would be introduced, used and moved on from in a few pages, whereas today a creative team would milk that idea to the bitter end.

Did Lee play a major part in all this? Yes, he did. Lee’s drive and salesmanship pushed Marvel from a dying company into what it is today. If Lee had never sold comics hard in the 60’s to 80’s then you’re not going to have a cinematic universe and Disney wouldn’t have a billion-dollar money making machine sitting in its lap. But had there been no Kirby, then Lee would have tried selling weird horror tales and giant monster comics. He’d be a footnote in the history of comics so take Kirby out the equation there’s nothing to play with. We know Lee wouldn’t know anything about some of the characters Kirby would create, and we also know Lee would take Kirby’s dialogue and plot ideas and rewrite them often into something lesser than they first started out as.

You can however now make your own mind up properly without the endless pumping Marvel/Disney version of history playing in your head, and now you can get Kirby’s side of the story.  Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, flaws aside, is widly entertaining for what is a history lesson and a much needed counterweight to the myth of Stan Lee. Now perhaps more people can treat Kirby with the respect he deserves.

Breaking slabbed comics

The new Cartoonist Kayfabe video features a Golden Age comic being cracked from its CGC cases so the guys can read it and show it off to us as that is the point of a comic book.

There will be people outraged as after all there’s a fee to get the comic rated and slabbed, yet as discussed in the video there’s a controversy as you can resubmit a comic and it’ll come back a different rating. I know of dealers who’ve submitted comics which are mint, unread comics barely touched to get a rating back of 8.0. Then they resubmit it and get a 9.8.

Now, this is all because there’s no consistency because it depends who studies your comic on the day. Also the actual really difference between a 9.2 and a 9.8 is sweet fuck all but because of the market being as it is, that potentially will be worth hundreds. If a book is what used to be called mint, you’d expect that to be highly rated but as said, sometimes this comes back in a lower rating than it should be.

Then there’s the fact comics should be read. Had that Marvel Mystery Comics been slabbed forever we’d never get to see how amazing it is inside the book. It’d just be locked away forever just sitting in a box or maybe on a wall or some kind of display.  Comics are an art form designed to be read, so it isn’t like a painting or a baseball card. Locking them away denies what they are.

And finally there’s the fact the entire slabbed comics idea is a Ponzi scheme. People are convinced this is the best way to grade comics, and of course, for only a smallish fee they’ll grade the comic for you, which then you’ll sell to fans for potentially several thousand percent more than the ‘raw’ unslabbed version of the comic. Add into the mix speculators who can drive up the price of a book on a whim, suddenly you can have dealers who’ve overordered driving up prices, which is what happened in the 90’s and is happening today.

As a part-time dealer I won’t touch slabbed books. They’re a pain in the arse to store and to transport, plus my philosophy is people should read the comics they buy, so more slabs being cracked and more comics being read is what we need in this medium. We don’t need to be swallowed alive by pyramid schemes and speculators.

How we used to buy comics

I’ve spoken in the past about how I used to buy comics back in the distant past of the 70s, but the thing is about that era few people walking around with a camera all the time as we all mostly do today. Today if you see something, you just pull out your phone, and if you want something then you can go online and you’re pretty much certain to get what you want.

In those days you’d be lucky to get the issue you want, but you might get something you weren’t looking for. It’s hard to describe the ragtag nature of buying comics back then this one picture helps show the chaos of the time.

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I believe this picture is from the US in the late 70s, possibly California. The Hulk magazines in the background place it no later than 1980, but there are gems in that picture such as Jack Kirby’s 2001 adaptation and the Superman versus Spider-Man crossover from 1976.  But that’s how it used to be. No bags, no boards, no comic boxes just comics stuffed in whatever boxes they can fit in.

I love this picture and although California was thousands of miles away from where I grew up, this is very similar to me as a child going to markets or second-hand bookshops raking through boxes of old comics pulling out stuff I wanted (Herb Trimpe Hulk’s, any issue of The Flash, Avengers or JLA) as well as stuff I just liked the look of. Prices were never stupid, or designed to scam you like say, slabbed comics are today.  You bought them, you read them and you loved them. Then that mutated into collecting them…

These days are long gone of course, but to have a time machine, a pocket rammed with cash and to go back to buy as much in this picture as possible.

DC Comics break from Diamond Distribution

The big comics news of the week is that DC Comics are breaking all ties with Diamond Comics Distributors in three weeks’ time. My first reaction was optimism as after all Diamond’s monopoly has not been a great thing overall for the industry, but the danger lies with Diamond going down (there’s been rumours of their demise for some time) with no replacement distributor on the horizon.

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Obviously Covid has pushed whatever plans DC had up to now so we have a point where all DC product will now come from two new distributors to comics which suits their new owners at AT & T.  Truth is there’s little money in periodical comics for the big multinational owners of Marvel or DC, barring the creation of new IP who they can exploit to the hilt.

But my early optimism is now vanishing as they could easily switch to a trades only policy, at least for the majority of the line while keeping a few higher profile books going monthly. The logical outcome of that is less risktaking, less new talent, worse books, more big events and a complete stagnation of the superhero genre which, whether we like it or not, still keeps most comic shops going.

At the minute things are still developing. It is worth reading this post by Chuck Rozanski as to where he stands. Also Bleeding Cool is saying UCS (one of the new companies distributing DC) will be distributing old Marvel titles which seems to be old Midtown Comics stock. There’s also a question as to how UK shops will be DC’s titles in future as it’ll cost too much unless you’re putting in a massive order, which may mean a prohibitively high secondary market and the return of the non-distributed title, but it certainly means those lower selling titles people were buying won’t come over here in numbers if at all?

If I was smart and had the capital behind me, I’d be arranging shops into units so they could place more cost-effective orders, or I’d even be talking about opening a central distribution depot if you can get the discount and agreement off DC as they may decide that 10-15% of sales they’ll lose from the UK are worth keeping and open up themselves. I dunno, we shall see but this is not a good time for this to be happening with this much uncertainty just as some reopening of the industry after Covid-19 was happening.