I won’t name any names, but I once worked at a major retail chain where people would Stop to buy a video Game. It was at this job that I came to loathe a certain type of customer; the flipper. A flipper is someone who can identify rare and valuable things, and instead of collecting these things, he or she purchases the product and flips it to sell for a higher price somewhere else (retail is full of labels like these because it passes the time, and it’s really stunning how as much as we would like to be considered “original,” everyone seems to fit into nice and tidy categories). The worst example of this type of customer was a guy I named, “Rare Boy.”
As soon as Rare Boy would enter the store, he would ask us what new rare games had come in so he could buy them and then put them up on ebay for others to purchase. I was a wet behind the ears rookie to retail and so I was infuriated that someone like Rare Boy would purchase games that I wanted to play just so he could make a profit off of them. I felt like my appreciation for their aesthetics was being sold out so this guy (who didn’t even have the common decency to hunt for the rare games on his own) could make money off of them – ironically, I never questioned my role as a corporate drone.
Since that time, I’ve come to terms with my hatred of flippers in some way. I reason that if someone is stupid enough to purchase something for higher than retail, then the flipper deserves the money for being able to scam people. While there is still a piece of me that wishes that people who flip things like video games and comics would appreciate the material they are profiting from beyond a simple dollar value, I recognize that it would be impossible to measure this appreciation and I have no right to judge someone for wanting to make money off of entertainment.
Still, it’s stories like the man who inherited his great uncle’s comic collection and sold it all for $3.5 million that really make me sick.
Regular readers know that when it comes to comics, I’m an unashamed Marxist. Comics exist to make money and when people make the argument that a particular story line was written “for the money,” I can’t help but laugh. All comics are written “for the money” because if they weren’t, they’d be given away for free. People create things because they want to be paid for them so they can provide for themselves and their family. So, of course, mainstream super-hero comics are all written “for the money” but make no mistake, even your favorite indie comics are being made “for the money.” Sure, someone might really have a burning desire to tell a particular story, but if that person wasn’t being paid for his or her work, they probably wouldn’t still be doing it.
A common misconception associated with my particular philosophy is that people believe that by viewing comics as existing to make money, that comics can never be viewed as a work of Art as well. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course comics are legitimate Art, but Art and Commerce aren’t mutually exclusive. Nothing is either classified as “Art” or “Commerce” because all Art is part of Commerce because at some point, Art will be sold.
But, even with all of this in mind, there comes a point when the “Art versus Commerce” argument even wears me out. And that’s where this $3.5 million collection comes in (note: it was a $2 million collection earlier today when I started this article). While stories about comic collections that have been found in closets are interesting in the same way that the hottest Youtube video is interesting (it fills the day, but will be forgotten later), they are also a dangerous exploitation of the form.
Every single time a story like this breaks, I’m bombarded with questions from clueless co-workers. “Did you hear about that comic collection that guy found?”
“Wouldn’t that be something to have those?”
“I guess so.”
“You probably have a small mint in your closet, don’t you?”
“What is your most expensive comic?”
Until recently, I didn’t have anything interesting to say. I would share that I spent too much money on a copy of Miracleman #15 or that my wife still refuses to tell me how much she spent on her Flash #123, but I know it was more than her Christmas bonus. Now, I can tell them, ”I have a Stan Lee signed copy of Ultimate Hawkeye I pulled during a contest. It’s one of one hundred signed issues.”
“Wow! How much is that worth?”
“I dunno. It went for around $400 on ebay the week it came out, but these things fluctuate.”
At this point, there is always a head shake followed by the inevitable follow-up question, “How much did you pay for it?”
“$4 plus a discount.”
And then they freak out and for ever so brief a moment, they consider buying comics so they can put them in a box and one day make a fortune for their grandchildren.
I don’t have the heart to tell them that it’s a waste of time. I’ve been collecting since I was ten and the Stan Lee comic was the first I’ve ever gotten for cheap and could turn around and make money on. I want to tell them to save their money, but with the industry still in a slump, any sale is better than none, I suppose.
The problem is that these people will never buy new comics because they don’t see any worth in them which brings me to the second problem with stories like these; the sellers market.
Every time the media reports on some amazing collection, people flock to their local comic shop to try and dump their ratty, old bargain bin comics off for what they believe will be a huge profit. It usually starts with a phone call:
“Do y’all buy comics?” I live in Missouri, so please pardon the dialect.
“Yes, we do. We buy comics from before 1970.”
“Well, I got a whole box of really old comics and they’re all still in the package.”
Grocery stores used to package comics together in “limited edition” or “collector’s edition” bags, but these comics were never really worth any thing at all. There just aren’t a lot of people out there who want X-Men 2099 #1.
Yet, no matter how many times my local comic shop warns that they aren’t buying comics before 1970, the customer assumes that the store is somehow lying, so the customer drives to the store anyway only to be disappointed with the news that his or her comics aren’t worth $3.5 million.
Kevin Smith’s television show Comic Book Men has done nothing to change this perception. People enter the store and get outrageous quotes for their items and no one seems to be there to buy anything. The way the media projects our hobby, it’s always the comic shop that’s buying and no one really wants to collect at all. It’s always “sell, sell, sell” because that’s all comics are good for; get rich quick schemes.
Don’t get me wrong, the production of comics is still meant for people to make money, but there is still something to be admired in the way comics tell stories that is lost in the reporting of these treasured collections. Of course, I don’t expect the AP wire to go into the cultural significance of Superman in a story about finding a comic collection (that’s what Sequart is for, after all), but the central message of “this guy found $3.5 million worth of things you would consider worthless in his closet” is inherent in the news reports themselves.
I’m not sure what the alternative is, however. A co-worker once asked me, “What do you do after you buy your comics?”
And I responded matter-of-factly, “I read them once, bag them, and then put them in a box – never to be read again.”
“You don’t sell them?”
“Why would I sell them? I like them and they wouldn’t be worth much even if I did sell them.”
“You don’t read them again?”
“Sometimes I do, but most of the time I don’t.”
“Then, what’s the point?”
I couldn’t answer her not because I didn’t know what the point was, but because I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see it.