Monday, April 6, 2009

The Comic Book Baron of New Jersey

sg Doug Slack - "Five dollars!"

I said the words slowly and carefully enough to convey the prestige of the four color treasure I removed from the brown paper bag.

My mom hit the brakes and stared with her mouth agape. Perhaps her knuckles whitened as she gripped the steering wheel. I couldn't say because I was busy watching her eyes as they lifted from the comic book in my hands to my face to some point further on out in the distance where she may have been hopelessly looking to see where exactly she had failed. I recognized this expression and braced myself for attack.

The comic seemed like a sound investment at the time. I spotted Tales of the New Teen Titans #1: Cyborg a week prior, sleeved in a thick mylar and pinned to the wall behind the counter of Heroes World. I had been collecting comics regularly for a few years and had just entered the Anal Stage. This is the most regretful, shameful stage of a comic fan's life what with the plastic sleeves and the backing boards and the long boxes.

I was a devotee of the annual Robert M. Overstreet Official Comic Book Price Guide. I would actually spend hours reading that ridiculous book, pouring over titles and prices, admiring the ludicrous supplies advertised in the color pages, wishing I could someday own one of those precious collector's items that were worth thousands.

In my greedy quest to become New Jersey's biggest comic book baron I bought every "Collectors Item!" I could get my hands on. Somewhere within my moronic reasoning synapses, I determined that limited series and one shot issues were the best investment. Something about a limited run translating into increased consumer demand, I think. Occasionally this insistence on collecting first issues reaped quality material such as the original Claremont/Miller Wolverine miniseries. But it also compelled me to blow cash on Marvel’s Annie movie adaptation and Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew #1 (Guest appearance by Superman?! Double score!).

So there was Cyborg, as rendered by George Perez, posing on the cover of the first issue of
Tales of the New Teen Titans (4 issue limited series!) in all of his cybernetic glory. The hero who was part man, part robot stood firmly in the center of the cover, cyber feet planted a full yard apart, cyber fists clenched as he broke a giant steel chain from around his mighty cyber torso. It was the first time I had ever heard of the character and at least I can say that my initial interest wasn't capitalistic. I actually thought he looked cool.

When I noticed the title had "Teen Titans" in it the dollar signs cha-chinged over my eyes. This was 1984 when
The New Teen Titans was DC's hottest book. The early issues were already worth double digits. Double digits! This was a mere spin-off title, but Heroes World--surely a fair minded establishment--already had it tagged at five dollars. Obviously the value of this book was going places and I could still afford to get in on the ground floor of this excellent investment opportunity.

The following week I returned with the cash in my Wranglers, ready to make my most expensive single comic book purchase to date. I distinctly remember how nonchalant the clerk was about the whole transaction. It was as if she didn't realize what a valuable commodity she was handling. I had assumed brokering this sale would carry the same weight as closing a deal at Tiffany's Auction. If she was impressed at what a big shot comic book collector I was (as I just knew she would be) her manner didn't betray it. Casually--I swear it was almost carelessly--she separated the issue from it's mylar sleeve.

I blurted out, "Oh no, uh, I-I'll take that too!"

"It's an extra fifty cents."

Good thing I brought some extra change just in case. No way was Cyborg traveling home in nothing but a flimsy paper bag.

I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of buyer's remorse. I'm sure every baron has moments of doubt. What I needed was a little reassurance. I needed someone else to tell me I made the right investment. So I showed my mom.
Which brings us back to the station wagon outside the mall.

"There better be something else inside that bag..."

"Nope! This is it!"

"No. Oh... no! Ohhhh you were ripped off!"

"No! No! It's the Teen Titans...and see? Number one! Number ones are always more--"

"Five dollars?!?"

"Well it is over a year old...!"

"It's not even a new one?! No, take it back."

"It's an investment!"

"Go inside and get your money back. I'll go with you."


The horror of such a thing occurring--of my mother dragging me back through the mall to Heroes World to demand justice--was enough to put me on the defensive. I dug in my heels and said, "You don't understand! This is a collectors item! I'm a Collector! This is going to get more valuable!"

"Oh, Doug..."

"Look. I'll make you a deal. Just wait until next year's Overstreet Price Guide comes out and we'll see if it goes up in value. Just let me keep it until then."

In retrospect I don't know what kind of retarded deal that was supposed to be. What happens if she was right? Was Heroes World really going to give me a refund on a six month old purchase? But she relented.

"Alright. We'll just wait until that new book comes out and then we'll see. Grrr, mutter, gripe, five dollars, kvetch..."

After we arrived home I carefully read the issue (lay flat on the table, turn pages slowly from the top corner) then returned it to it's sleeve. I inserted an acid free backing board and sealed the top with scotch tape. Luckily the "T" titles fell in the middle of my long box so Cyborg was wedged safely inside my collection. There it waited to silently appreciate in value and ultimately vindicate me.

Today you can purchase
Tales of the New Teen Titans #1: Cyborg from various online sellers for $1.00. That cost does not include mylar sleeve.


Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Oh brother, have I been there, done that. It was a fever I tell you, a disease. I'm a lot better these days, but every once in a while the scars burn. And variants, don't ever mention variants or my ears ring.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! I think that we have all "been there/done that." Mine was a terrible, ratty copy of the golden age Captain America #7.

I still have it, but I no longer have any clue to its value other than as an object lesson.


kidjutsu said...

Awesome! I remember spending a whole night running calculations to figure out if I should "invest" in 500 mylar sleeves and acid free backing boards. I added up the value of my collection and tried to see if the "devaluation" from NM to VG in 10 years might justify the extra protection.

I'm glad I didn't tell my mom =).

Russell said...

Yes, I think we've all been there, done that.

Atleast your issue in question wasn't a particularly bad one, right? :-)

Luis said...

Excellet story! And let it be a lesson to us all. Comics are only worth the enjoyment they bring while READING THEM.