As I said the talk with Lorinda got me thinking about my life with Marvel comics. Including the Marvel Movies but Marvel comics started it all. Suffice it to say my life would be quite different if it wasn’t for that discovery in my early life. I’ve always liked to read, and the comics went one better in that they not only had words but gave you a picture of what the words meant. Now I know that reading a book you must use your imagination to create the scene and characters, but you have hints from the writer. And if the writer is good at their job you don’t have to work the imagination very hard. Yet comics for me let my imagination take me deeper into the story set out it the comics. Those spaces between panels, called “gutters”, separate the panels but if you think about it—and I did—the “gutters” could contain action that the imagination had to fill in. At least for me anyway. But comicbooks were a means to an end for me. I got to “see” my favorite comic characters in action.
My earlier comment of my life being quite different if I’d never discovered comics may seem a bit overblown but from 1984 to 2000, I lived in a comicbook world. Well, the retail side of the comics world. But the set up of that career was made possible because of my rediscovery of comicbooks in general. Cast your mind back to 1977. I was settling into my first real job as an adult, I was in my mid-twenties and had a darn good job. Not my dream job but still a job that allowed me to be comfortable. I was still, with my roommate, a party guy and we both worked at the same company so we would have parties with people from our work. There was a party one night, and I’d left my comicbooks out on the coffee table as I was no longer embarrassed by the fact, I read comics. At one point in the evening a woman we worked with pointed to the comics and said,
“Oh, you like comics. My boyfriend has a comicbook store.”
I must admit I stopped and with an absolutely incredulous look, (I’m sure my mouth was wide open, and my hands were twitching), I said,
“Umm ya. What’s a comicbook store?” keep in mind that up until that moment I’d always bought my comics from 7-11. Off a spin rack. A spin rack that bent the corners and quite often didn’t have the next issue for some reason. And don’t get me started on the kids who touched the comics with sticky fingers. Ya I was a bit of a stickler for condition of my precious comics. I grew out of that but that’s later in the story. So long story short this woman told me where her boyfriend’s store was. It was in downtown Seattle. At that time, I was living in Kent, which is a good twenty miles from Seattle, and was a small town even though today it’s the sixth largest city in the state but back then it was a small town. I wasn’t very versed in getting around in Seattle. That would also change later in the story. But I braved the big city to find the mecca of comicbooks. I adapted to the one-way streets and the hills. San Francisco is known for it’s hills but Seattle could and did give SF a run for it’s money in the hill category.
When I walked into Zanadu Comics, I began a journey that would not only show me a world I could have only dreamed of but also lead me to a career. A career that I would love until reality set in but, here it is again, that’s a story for another time.
When I walked through that door into Zanadu I saw an older gentleman behind a counter that was surrounded by books. This was the front of the store, and it was a used bookstore. But then I saw a younger guy, the owner of Zanadu. Perry Plush was close to my age but a couple of years older. He was dressed not in a comic t-shirt and torn blue jeans but a nice button-down shirt and slacks. He didn’t have any sweat stains and he certainly had taken a shower before coming to work. Oh, and he wasn’t overweight as a matter of fact it looked like he took care of himself in all departments. His hair was cut in a longer style, and he’d shaved. I don’t remember but I think he had a goatee that was trimmed and clean. Ok I guess I’m saying he wasn’t the comicbook guy caricature that was perpetuated by those that felt the need to belittle others.
He greeted me and we struck up a conversation. I was amazed and super excited to see all the comics he had on display. Then I saw boxes sitting a ways back and they were loaded with comics. Comics from series that I’d read when I was young, and I found I could buy comics that were new that week and comics from the 1960s and up to the current day. I walked out of there an hour later having spent probably twenty to thirty dollars (which today’s comic prices would be put that stack somewhere in the neighborhood of $200). When I bought that first stack of comics, comics were 25-30 cents each. Today comics like those I bought are $3.50-4.50 each in price and those are comics you buy every month.
Perry was cool and we hit it off. Of course, I was spending that $20-30 each week and I was open to many titles that were considered not mainstream. There was Marvel and DC but there was also comics that were from companies no one had ever heard of, almost one hit wonders like in the music industry. I bought them all. I had disposable income and better to spend it on tangible things instead of what others in the 70s were spending their hard-earned money on. Now don’t think I was a saint, but it wasn’t until the 80s that I went down that road. Still though I spent the majority of my disposable cash on comics. But I never felt that Perry was just humoring me because I was spending money with him. And later, that connection would prove to be the in for my comics career. That connection did help me figure out the industry and how I fit in. I did go the investor route and was quickly disabused of that idea when I attempted to sell comics to Perry, and he set me straight. It was an eye opener to learn that just because the price guide said something was worth $1 didn’t mean that a store or even another collector would pay that. I learned my lesson and after that I only bought comics that I wanted to read. Now some of those comics were considered “collector” comics and that meant that there was a premium on them. Which brings up another of my favorite stories about comics and how much their worth depends on being smart and careful.
This happened after I’d been collecting for a couple of years and was pursuing my dream job. I was going to school to become a radio DJ and I found a small store that had all things paper. This store owner had newspapers from the 1920s, Life magazines from the ‘30s and more paper items than you could ever imagine. Amongst those magazines and newspapers, he also had a few comics. On one visit with a friend from school who also collected comics I found a comic that I knew Perry had in his store for $30. This same comic was just sitting on a shelf buried under other comics. I picked it up as my friend from school said we should check the price guide as the comic had no price on it. The comics was priced in the guide at $1.80. Good deal if you ask me and the owner said when I approached the counter to purchase my find,
“I’m going to have to look that one up.” I innocently nodded agreement as I held my breath. Remember Zanadu was selling this comic for $30. What would this guy want for this copy?
“Okay,” he said looking up from the price guide, “I’m going to have to charge you $1.80 for that one. It’s popular and it’s my only copy.”
I couldn’t give him $2 fast enough and almost ran out of there before he changed his mind.
That was my first foray into the world of comic investing. Ten years later, the ‘90s, I sold that comics for $50. Today that comic is worth, according to Google, $13,000 in near mint. My copy wasn’t mint but if I still had it, it would be about $7-9000 probably. No worries though on my part I got pleasure and some cash and that’s all that matters, well too me anyway.
My comic collecting took a decidedly downturn in the early ‘80s as I got what I thought was my dream job and along with that job I took a deep cut in disposable income. Still bought comics but wasn’t as quick to throw down a dollar for a comic I wasn’t totally interested in. I learned to pare back and only buy what I really liked and wanted to read. And other…interests took over. Nudge nudge wink wink. Bottom line? Disposable income was fighting a battle between the pleasure of the tangible and the intangible. It was the ‘80s and I was susceptible to world around me.
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