Weekend Update with Nico

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Nico at Baltimore.jpegHere is a picture of Nico from Balitmore Comic Con 2019

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I want to apologize in advance.  I know most of our readers are looking for pointed information about trends in comics in the long form format and I am sorry but that is not technically what you are getting this week.  I acquired some kind of con-tagion that has me sick as a dog following Baltimore Comic Con. Because I have a day job and other responsibilities, it is particularly difficult for me to find time to recover from my physical illness.  Therefore, you are going to get my article Deconstructing Baltimore Comic Con as your traditional Weekend Update. I apologize for not publishing this as a separate article, but hopefully next time I will be able to escape a big con without contracting the plague. Without further ado,

This is your Weekend Update! 

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Sometimes it’s hard to maintain the excitement around comics.  Maybe money is a little tighter than usual, maybe your eBay sales are less than usual, maybe you haven’t found any gems hiding in the long boxes you’ve been digging through.  To be perfectly honest, I hit a rough patch following the SDCC and D23 news cycle. I was still buying and selling a lot of comics, but I wasn’t feeling it.

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It’s easy to feel stupid for loving comic books when you are sitting at a small show with lackluster sales.  That’s been my experience at many smaller cons this con season. For me, most of the smaller shows I do are more about buying books and networking than they are about selling books.  However, doing too many shows where no one is buying your books can wound your spirit.

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By the time Baltimore Comic Con rolled around, I was suffering from serious comic book fatigue.  When I arrived in Baltimore, the atmosphere was infectious. Thursday we set up and I managed to sell more comics in the course of the hour and a half I spent at set up than I had at any regional con this year.  It was truly astounding. Sales the remainder of the con were even better. I slabbed close to two dozen books onsite and was more than happy with my grades. Baltimore Comic Con got me excited for comics all over again.

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For whatever reason, the internet is often a place that is divisive and mean spirited, the online comic book community can feel this way too.  Look no further than the number of thumbs down that our weekly podcast gets before it is even live. Resentments flourish without accountability.  By contrast, the crowd in Baltimore was filled with excitement and collectors who were celebrating a shared interest and a shared purpose.

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I had the pleasure of meeting some of the content creators at Lords of the Long Box, Comic Corpse, the Golden Guys, and the Comic Book Fiend Club.  Each and everyone of the men that I met were gentlemen. Similarly, I had the pleasure of meeting the Halperin family that owns and operates Heritage Auction House.  I can best describe these men as humble, kind and it was a lot of fun to spend time with them. I anticipate that you will see some, if not all of their faces on forthcoming special episodes of Comic Book Wars.

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If there is anything you should take away from my experience at Baltimore Comic Con, it is that it is worth the hassle, worth contracting whatever sort of flu/cold/illness that I am currently suffering from and there is no substitute for a quality convention.  If you can’t make it to a big con this year, do yourself a favor and get to one next year. You will not regret it.

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This week, I am going to to try and deconstruct my experience at Baltimore and try and provide our readers with some insights from Baltimore.  Here are my top ten takeaways from Baltimore Comic Con in no specific order.
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Number one, location, location, location.  I stayed at the Hyatt Regency which was pricey but I would absolutely encourage you to stay within walking distance of any large convention center that you travel to.  It makes life easier. For example, unbeknownst to us, there was a marathon going on Saturday in Baltimore and it would have been an extreme hassle if we had to drive to the convention center and fight traffic delays and re-routing to accommodate the race.  My intentions were not to stay in a hotel, but to rent an airbnb. However, we got a last minute notice that our reservation was canceled and were forced into a hotel. In hindsight, this worked out in our favor.

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Two, get organized.  Whether you are there to shop, sell or both; organization is essential.  There is no excuse for not having all of your books ready for CGC with the invoice already printed out.  This helps CGC, helps the other collectors in the community and makes life a lot simpler for you. I failed to do this because the printer in the computer lab at the hotel wasn’t working Thursday, and it was my responsibility to have it done before I got to Baltimore. I know better now and won’t make this mistake again.

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In this same vein, I would have benefited if I would have thrown cleaning and pressing equipment in my car because I could have pressed/cleaned and slabbed onsite books that I purchased at the con Thursday.  Similarly, trying to price books and organize them at the last minute is a nightmare. I had work and responsibilities in other areas of my life that didn’t afford me the time to get as organized as I wanted, but in the future, I intend to be prepared months in advance.

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Three, onsite grading is always a win.  It makes zero sense for me to not grade books onsite.  Anything I am upset about, I can always re-grade. Is it perfect?  Of course not. CGC is not perfect nor is any person or business, but they did a damn good job under the circumstances.  The only book of mine that they screwed up was mislabeling a Miracle Man #1 with the wrong volume. I am tempted not to correct this because of how unique it makes the book, but it also screws up the census and for that reason alone, I am going to have to have it regraded and/or reholdered.  My experience was that CGC was a tougher goalie on newer books than they were on Silver Age and Golden Age books. I’m confident that every show is different and every would not under any circumstances use this one ad hoc example from one submission to make broad and sweeping conclusions about how CGC graded books in Baltimore or begin to speculate how they may grade books at the next onsite grading opportunity.  To the contrary, I would encourage you to try and submit a variety of books and I am confident you will not regret this decision.

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Four, con-tagion is real.  Whatever I contracted from breathing the recycled air in Baltimore was all bad.  It left me deathly sick. It probably pays to invest in immune system boosting supplements/aids and several bottles of hand sanitizer.  I laughed when I saw my buddy Steve (a dealer from NY) wearing a hospital mask and now I think he was onto something. No offense to cosplayers, but they often stink from sweating in their elaborate outfits, others in attendance radiate last night’s alcohol from their skin.  It is a tough environment by Saturday. The convention center smelled worse than a nursing home with an outbreak of a stomach flu. I would encourage you to do whatever is necessary to take care of your physical health and wellness at these things. Eat regularly, stay hydrated, pack snacks, wash your hands and get fresh air early and often.
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Five, beware of sharks.  The book of the con for me was a Startling Comics #49 CGC 7.0.  It and a handful of other truly amazing Marvel Timely books were in the hands of my friend Rob from Moving Picture Comics.  I had an opportunity to make a play on some or all of these books and I hesitated. The books sold in a matter of moments. There is real money in the room at conventions like this and big books sell.  If you see something that you never see, you need to move on it when you see it. There were probably a dozen copies of X-Men #1 and more than a half a dozen copies of Fantastic Four #1, #4 and #5 at the convention.  There was at a half a dozen copies of Hulk #1, Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man #1 and multiple copies of books like Journey into Mystery #83 and Tales of Suspense #39. But I didn’t see one copy of Black Cat #50. There were two copies of Chamber of Chills #19 (one was mine and it sold within minutes of it being returned to me by CGC).

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If you are into big books, truly rare books, etc., then you know what Silver Age books are more common and which are more rare.   You know which Golden Age books are out there and which ones never leave the hands of private collectors. This same analysis is true for modern variants.  If the book is truly rare, if there isn’t a good GPA data documenting recent sales, make a play on the book when you see it. You never know when you will see it again.

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Six, comics are all about relationships.  In a community where there is so much strife, so many collectors who love to bicker and fight, it is often tempting to retreat and do your own thing.  I can’t encourage you enough not to do that. Conventions are great networking opportunities. The buyers are amazing, the sellers are amazing and there is no reason not to get to know people when you are there.  Take pictures of people and their business cards, put numbers in your phone and add people on social media. I met some really smart, funny and good natured people who love comics the same way I do and it is a priceless privilege to have the opportunity to make these connections.  Other collectors/dealers are the best source for information, perspective, and buying/selling opportunities. I met people from all different walks of life, but was mildly shocked when I met a couple different Hedge fund guys that were at the show buying big books as an investment strategy.  They suggested that the problem was never selling the books, but finding buying opportunities. It was an amazing dialogue and one that I enjoyed.

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Seven on the list, buyer beware.  Not all dealers are honest and reputable.  Not all dealers are educated and informed. For example, I picked up a higher grade copy of X-Men #14 (in the CGC 9.0-9.2 range) for a very reasonable price.  This book was in such good shape and at such a discount that my friend feared that it was trimmed. We lined up a copy of X-Men #15 and generally concluded that the book was mis-wrapped, but it was a frightening moment to think that I blew almost $400 because I wasn’t taking proper precautions before buying the book.  If you are buying raw books, take them out of the bag, inspecting them for structural and other defects that affect the grade, but also be certain to check for restoration, color touch, extra glue, trimming and other defects that may be nearly fatal flaws that decimate the value of comics. Trimming and micro-restoration are more and more common the larger the book you are buying and it is incumbent upon buyers to be aware regardless of whether the seller is or is not aware.  It’s your money that you are risking.

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In case you are wondering, I am going to be buying high grade copies of X-Men keys for the foreseeable future.  I am a big proponent of what Hickman is doing with these characters and I believe that Feige’s appointment as Chief Creative Officer at Marvel Comics drove the last stake through the heart of the doubters.  It is just a matter of time before we see these characters on the big screen. Feige’s rendition of the X-Men will change everything.

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Eight, pay close attention to what books people are asking for and what books are actually selling.  Talk to dealers about their big sales, ask them what books other people are looking for, be inquisitive.  It’s much more difficult to get this information out of dealers in the days, weeks and months following the show.  Some of it is of course already forgotten, but in other cases this information is guiding and directing the buying habits of dealers who want to be able to meet the wants of their prospective buyers at the next convention.

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Nine, I suggest that you take some time to meet and converse with artists, writers and other vendors.  Conventions are at their core an opportunity to network and share information with others who share a common passion for the hobby.  I was delighted to finally meet James Haick in person. I admire what he’s done with Scout Comics and suggest to my friends that they buy Scout comics for their content and to support the team there.  I would never have read any comics published by Scout had I not been introduced to James and Scout comics on the Unpressable Defects podcast. There is no better time than the present to support small press publishers.  These are the books that have the potential to be the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, Crow #1, Albedo #2 (first appearance of Usagi Yojimbo) and/or Primer #2 (1st appearance of Grendel).

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And finally number ten, a couple of thoughts about the “S” word.  “Speculation” has become a very dirty word in the comic book community.  It is unfortunate but it is reality. Many dealers are afraid of speculators as are many collectors.  While it is important sometimes to stand for what you believe in, some fights aren’t worth fighting. My suggestion is to use your best judgment when disclosing what you intend to do with the books you are buying.  While there are few rare dealers, like my friend Rob at Moving Picture Comics, who love speculators, most dealers do not. I would have got better deals from some dealers if I was buying books without a dealer badge and better deals from other dealers because I was wearing a dealer badge.  You are just going to have to feel that out for yourself.

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From my perspective, it is in your best interest to be asking questions rather than answering them.  Talk to dealers about what they like, what they are interested in, what they are speculating on in the future.  Flip the script. Use the opportunity to get into their heads, learn about their buying habits, books they are looking for and hoarding for later sales.  This helps open them up and allows you as a prospective buyer the opportunity to focus on the similarities between you as a buyer and them as a seller. Identification comes first.  If a dealer sees a little bit of themselves in you, they are more likely to cut you a deal and more likely to listen to what you are saying to them with an open mind. Perhaps we can truly appreciate that we are always both the teacher and the student in all our interactions with others in the comic book community.

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I hope you enjoyed this installment of  Weekend Update. That’s all for this week.  I’ll be back next week with more news. In the interim, “Happy hunting You bunch of savages!”

– Nico, Esq.

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2 comments

  • Great post dudddde! Love your articles Keep up the good work!
    My name is Gus and I love everything you write about!

  • I had a couple dealer friends work the Balt Con show and said was their best show to date and recommended I work that show next year too. Great Article!!

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