Tuesday, July 28, 2009

THE PRICE OF MINT CONDITION



The world is divided into those who seal their comic books in mylar containers and those who do not. This division is more fundamental than politics, race, religion or gender.

At last week's
San Diego Comic-Con, collectors with the foresight to preserve their comics in mint condition reaped huge economic benefits. Comic books that had been hermetically sealed, unread, in climate controlled environments sold for hundreds of times the price of battered, well read comics.

Still, I'm baffled by those who moaned, "if only I had kept my comics in mint condition I could be rich now." I've never seen any comic book, no matter how perfect its condition, sell for enough to buy back those missed hours spent reading comics under a shady tree during our childhood.

In fact, as we become older and richer, and our pleasures become more complex, that youthful form of ecstasy slips further and further away. Its distance in the rear view mirror seems to increase exponentially in proportion to the value of the car we are driving. We can't take it with us, even in that Mint 10.0 copy of Detective Comics no. 27 vacuum sealed in a lucite block on the front seat next to us.

Still, you have to respect the fact that people collect comic books, like they collect other art, for all kinds of reasons. I took good care of my own comics because I respected their magic pictures and stories and wanted to visit them again and again. Today they are no longer in mint condition but they do have the additional glow that all things acquire from being seasoned by love over a long period of time.

I was particularly interested by the numerous comics business services at Comic-Con. Rating and scoring experts. Insurers. Appraisers. Economic consultants promising to fit your comic book "inside an archival-quality interior well, which is then sealed [through a combination of compression and ultrasonic vibration] within a transparent capsule" where you can no longer see the drawings.


This may make economic sense for some. For me, the best economist remains the great Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "economy does not consist in saving the coal but in using the time while it burns."

22 Comments:

Blogger einbildungskraft said...

sweet David, seems to me someone mentioned in some past comment that he saw you drive by in a rolls, so I presume you have had/have the best of both worlds... the fine jalopy and the tattered well used comics...
I liked Lois Lane.
Beth

7/31/2009 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Rap Music said...

WONDERFUL pieces of art. thanks for the post!

7/31/2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger david said...

Absolutely great point. Comics have interiors, with stories, and that's wonderful.

Some people forget that...sadly.

Thanks for the Emerson quote - I'd never seen it but I'll try never to forget it.

7/31/2009 5:31 PM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

Very nicely done, David. I am getting ready to do a column on a comic blog site called ComicImpact, where I am going to showcase one fanzine from the 60s/70s/80s a week or two (not sure yet). It was the same sort of feeling (for me, anyway), getting these handmade items in the mail frequently. Some were hastily done on mimeograph machines, and at the other end of the spectrum, some were offset printed complete with full color. Many artists and writers that went on to careers in comics or the arts (or film) started in these sometimes cruddy little pamphlets. People had a chance to grow under a smaller spotlight, under less pressure, and with a whole lot more fun than what comics and the industry has become. To some degree, the internet functions in the same way, since it's hard to be sure sometimes whether you have a large audience or an audience composed of your mom. I started to draw learning from comics, and had my first works published in these fanzines. Man, that was a fun time. If anyone wants to know more, feel free to ask.

7/31/2009 6:41 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I wonder if the people who buy these hermetically sealed comics actually go home and rip the plastic covers of and read the things to bits.

If they don't, what a waste.

invest your money in diamonds, and waste it on comics.

7/31/2009 7:04 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

I imagine that the depth of love felt by these collectors is similar to that a person has for a trphy wife...and she for him.

7/31/2009 9:30 PM  
Blogger Black Pete said...

Well said, David. It applies well beyond the world of comics, come to that.

8/01/2009 8:24 AM  
Blogger Robert Cook said...

Of course, if everyone had saved their precious comics in hermetically sealed bags, the availability of mint condition decades-old comics would be so plentiful they would be worth...nothing.

I was an avid comic book reader when young, and I have never regretted "using" the comics, thus devaluing them, or begrudged the pleasure I obtained from them, and even now, the notion of sealing up one's possessions in hopes that 30 or more years hence they will reap a windfall on the collector's market seems foolish. After all, one can never know if one's particular hobby will gain the cachet decades on such that one's preserved treasures will gain value, no matter how well preserved.

8/01/2009 9:00 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Einbildungskraft, it would pain me to think you are calling me "sweet David" just because you believe I have a Rolls. But I like Lois Lane too.

Thanks, David and Rap. Matthew, I agree; and remember, money that you enjoy wasting is not wasted.

Ken, I'll look forward to seeing what you write about the old fanzines. I'm glad that someone has kept them.

8/01/2009 9:39 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, neither trophy seems to signify much.

Black Pete, I'm afraid a healthy percentage of art collecting falls into this category.

Robert, I agree.

8/01/2009 9:53 AM  
Blogger Radiation Cinema! said...

Like everyone else, I agree completely. Comics were meant to be read. To seal comics and put them away is like storing a painting in a dark room so light won't damage it. If a comic goes unread, it is no longer a comic; and those "collectors" are no comic lovers. They are simply investors.

I learned my comic etiquette from an ex-girlfriend, Gwenn Seuling (daughter of Phil Seuling NY comic convention God). No one loved comic art like Gwenn, and I never, ever saw her put a comic in a baggie. She read them until the staples fell out. Even Original comic art, was always put on display, never stored out of sight. -- Mykal

8/01/2009 2:58 PM  
Anonymous bhanu pratap said...

Ahhn the golden days , I used to reread my comics so much that my father had to secretly give them away to my cousins, whom I used to beat up later and take back my comics. Now the story's a bit different, I get a good comic book I read it , and enjoy it a good number of times. And then I let it out in the world, just randomly give it to a friend, and tell him/her to pass it on, you wont believe where all my comics have been.

8/02/2009 1:52 AM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

The traditional, and still best method for archival storage of comic books carefully stacked in a box under the bed. The dust kittens kept out the oxygen.

Comic books used to be the universal trade goods of boys, and usually reflected that brisk trade. Seeing the current state of comicbook collecting resembles the cases of obsessions in Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis

8/02/2009 6:00 AM  
Blogger Jack R said...

The only comics I have in mint condition from my childhood days are the duds. My Silver Surfer number one looks like it was worn in by a steam roller but Inferior Five #1 is still minty fresh. Yet, among comic book readers there always were a few boys who had a hermetic fixation about their possessions, be they comics or toys. They often had the coolest stuff but were no fun to play with because they wouldn't let you touch any of it. I suspect most of them now have jobs in museums.

8/02/2009 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob Howard said...
I imagine that the depth of love felt by these collectors is similar to that a person has for a trphy wife...and she for him.

-Who should know better than you.

8/02/2009 6:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

hmm, last anonymouse should at least have the decency to sign their name.

Rob might be a disagreeable bugger, but at least he signs his comments.

I guess some people like to hermetically seal their names up, afraid to use them in case they get soiled or fade in the daylight.

8/03/2009 12:39 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Radiation, I met Phil Seuling once. There was a true blue lover of comics, for all the right reasons.

Bhanu and Jack, those are two additional "market tests" of the quality of comics, and both are probably superior to the current rating system: 1.) how hard do you beat up your cousin to get them back? and 2.) can you resist reading them?

Anonymous, as a student of human nature I have been trying to figure out what would motivate you to write such a comment. Do you think Rob's comment offended trophy wives everywhere? Are you trying to defend their honor? Please help me on this.

8/03/2009 7:33 AM  
Blogger Monque said...

Hey hey, if it weren't for us archivists/preservationists/investors/collectors the world would have a much smaller supply for its visual record. My cryo-stasified comics will be read and revered by students of history a thousand years in the future!

Just think David, your Illustroid Deluxx Multi Clone build.58-Appa23J ("Now with self-regenerative MaxAlloy infrastructure!") will be intently studying my mint "Walking Dead #1" through its protective encasement with transpara-spectrOs while commenting on the curious nature of 21st-century post-mortem activity via his/her/its communications pulse-node on the stellularlattice-based Central Omnivac. HA! You'll be lucky if your staple-less pulp gets as far as build.32-A2F

8/04/2009 12:04 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Hey Monque, when you refer to "staple-less pulp," will that be my comics or me?

8/04/2009 1:09 AM  
Blogger Monque said...

I suppose whichever is most applicable come 2148 :S

Much as I enjoy a sealed package, I also enjoy the imagery Radiation Cinema painted in the phrase "read them until the staples fell out." I've read the hell out of some material even if I never roughed up my physical copies, so I do think there's plenty room for both levels of appreciation in this world -- even if one seems to strive for a ridiculous extreme with the investor-based fervor surrounding it.

Semi-related note: I just remembered a particular Watterson strip where Hobbes is remarking to Calvin (who had just purchased several mint copies of a comic book) what happens if every kid keeps theirs sealed and protected, what then? Calvin responds how they're all counting on the other kid's mom to throw the comics away.

8/04/2009 1:30 AM  
Blogger Leif Peng said...

David; you really hit the mark with me on this one. Every summer I wistfully try to recapture that wonderful feeling of lazy summer afternoons sitting under a tree reading comics. Maddeningly, it doesn't work. Comics just don't capture my imagination in that way any more. I have driven too far in the opposite direction in that car you mentioned.

When I was a teenager I used to deal a little at local comic cons in Hamilton and Toronto. It was fun participating in a peripheral way in the speculator economy. But at one of those cons a 10 year old kid (a ten-year-old-kid!) walked up to my table with a briefcase (!), flipped the latches, and pulled out a half dozen hermetically sealed early 60's issues of Spiderman he was offering for sale... and somewhere in the back of my mind I realized the magic of comics collecting had just died.

*Similarly, the joy of collecting bubblegum cards died when kids stopped carrying them in a huge stack in their front pocket, secured by a thick rubber band. I remember hearing that the companies stopped inserting those wonderful, horrible strips of that awful pink gum because collectors complained that the card adjacent to the gum was in danger of being less valuable due to powdered sugar residue. Ugh...

8/06/2009 10:53 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Leif, it sounds like you had your fair allocation of time on that oasis of childhood. We can't go back (as Robert Nathan said, "there's no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday") but having lived through it once, I suppose we have received all the benefit we are supposed to derive from it. Some people (including perhaps your ten year old kid with the brief case)don't even get that. Sounds like you came down on the right side of the spectrum.

PS-- is that why they stopped putting bubble gum in with those cards? I assumed the Environmental Protection Agency banned it as a toxic controlled substance!

8/06/2009 12:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home