Before I was a comics and movies reporter, I worked for several years at Comics Factory, which is not only one of the best comic book shops, not only in Pasadena, but in LA County. I should know, I’ve collected comics for over three decades. As the number of movies based on comic books has increased, so has the interest in the source material – the books themselves. So in addition to my duties as Register Monkey, I often found myself in the position of advising new readers not only on what was “good,” but on navigating the waters of comics collecting — which, believe it or not, has evolved into a relatively complex hobby. It is in this spirit that I offer the following “How To” series for new comics readers of all ages.
Part One: Reading vs. Collecting
For the most part, the comics experience boils down to two broad categories: reading and collecting. These distinctions are not mutually exclusive — instead, they represent two schools of thought when it comes to the “value” of comic books. Collectors are more concerned about whether or not a book will be worth more money in the future, where readers are more interested in the story, characters, and world of the comic. Personally, I consider myself a reader. I couldn’t accurately forecast the future value of a comic, nor could I even make an educated guess, if you had a gun to my head.
The emphasis on the collectability of comics — which has grown exponentially every year since Action Comics #1 (1st appearance of Superman) sold for over $100,000 — has to an extent hurt the hobby, at least in terms of the spirit of fun that most associate with it. And this is coming from the point of view of a guy who worked in a really nice shop where the focus was indeed on reading, more than collecting. For example, with one exception (who was himself a graphic artist for a living), I never, in four years, heard a parent suggest a comic to a child because it was a good story, or that it just looked cool. More often than not, they encouraged kids to pick up a book by telling them it would be worth a lot of money in the future.
That said, and without very much authority, I can offer the following blanket statement: Read ‘em because you like them, people, because unless you happen to have comics that were published prior to the 1960s, the odds of you solving your debt problems, sending your children to college, or retiring from the proceeds of selling even the best of collections is, by and large, a fairy tale. At the end of the day, very few are even worth the paper they’re printed on. So if you want to see returns, seriously, talk to an investment professional, not the clerk in a comic book store.
If there’s one positive influence about the ever thinning dividing lines between the worlds of popular entertainment, it’s that older comics readers (by that, I mean over 13) who are new to the hobby are more likely to seek out good stories featuring a character that they saw in a movie. Whether you’ve seen the latest comic book movie and are seriously pumped up for some four-color fun, or you’re the parent of a fledging comics lover, and you don’t know where to start, I’m here to help you maximize your enjoyment of the medium, and with any luck, minimize the collateral damage to your wallet.
I will be getting deeper into the ins and outs of comics collecting as this column progresses. In the meantime, a couple local comics dealers I can highly recommend are the aforementioned Comics Factory in Pasadena [phone: 626-585-0618]; Legacy Comics & Cards in Glendale [phone: 818-247-8803]; and Comics vs. Toys in Los Angeles/Eagle Rock [phone: 323-258-2300].