What price comics?

Yesterday, one of my co-workers saw me reading a library copy of The Best of The Spirit (review forthcoming) and was really thrilled to tell me how his son was able to find copies of Batman vs. Predator for just $1 an issue at a Wicker Park comics shop (the same one I’d been shopping at last weekend, as it happens). As someone who hadn’t read comics since that era, he hadn’t expected the shopkeeper to even be able to find such a specific item, much less that he would be offering it for such a reasonable price.

I found this encounter a pleasant contrast to the one triggered by my reading another library paperback at a job in Orange County (it was a volume of Stormwatch). In this case, he started in on the usual tiresome inquiries as to how much his comics are worth. When he explained that they were largely published in the 1990s, I explained that they were in fact likely worth nothing, but the man decided to act as if I’d said nothing and and continued speculating about his potential windfall. To paraphrase: “gee, how much is my copy of the eight-million-selling X-Men #1 (1991) worth? no really, it can’t be worthless, that’s impossible!”

Perhaps, however, it’s unfair to blame that guy too much when most of the shops out there, including the closest one to my house, are run by people who should know better, but seem to be in as much denial. Riverside, California once had a shop downtown in which issues of Hourman or Starman were priced at $4 each, even though I had picked up most of each series at conventions and Sacramento shops for $0.25 an issue! Truthfully, though, that Wicker Park shop is rare in selling most of their 80s-00s back issue catalog at $1. The reason I took the bus out there was because they actually advertise this fact on their website, although they have recently removed some text that had set themselves up in direct opposition to those other stores, working off of some kind of faith-based pricing.

I suppose the point of all this is that the depreciation in comic book value is usually posited as some kind of unfortunate event, when in fact, it should be seen as a great opportunity, not just for the hardcore fan who has a few gaps in his or her collection (having started the habit in 2003 as an adult, my gaps are larger than most), but also for the lapsed fans or the never-were fans who has a whole world of discount back issues to dip into. Or at least, that’s the way it should be.