Used-book stores and flea markets were key for this small-town kid who loved comics and didn’t have access to a comic-book store until his high-school years. But even with a great local shop these days and the availability of just about anything a comic collector could want online, I still like to hit a flea market from time to time in search of treasures.
The problem I’ve encountered, though, is that many vendors at these markets and even at used-book stores are turning to price guides — both printed and online ones — to guide them in pricing comics. Often, they don’t know how to grade or interpret those guides — I saw one flea-market vendor offering a copy of Freedom Fighters #1 that looked as though it had been run through the wash for $10; it wasn’t worth a quarter, though I would’ve paid 50 cents to read that bit of comics history from 1976. Other vendors don’t completely understand the marketplace, such as those who feel Superman #75 from late 1992, featuring the “death” of the Man of Steel, should be worth big bucks, but they don’t understand just how many copies of the first printing are out there and how many other ways there are to read that story.
But once in a while, you happen upon a vendor at a flea market who knows what a flea market is about: haggling and clearing out stuff he or she doesn’t want lying around anymore. And this weekend, at the weekly Sunday flea market in a school gym, I happened upon just such a vendor. In addition to many non-comics related flea-market fare, he had a small stack of Bronze Age comics, all bagged and boarded, most with sticker prices ranging from $14 up to $40. Definitely pricier than what I was looking for, but the array of these 1970s and 1980s books were just so appealing.
I went through the stack and ended up selecting most of them, and had I paid the sticker prices, it probably would’ve been $300 or more. “How about 50 bucks?” I asked, handing him the stack. He thumbed through, looking at the price stickers and not the comics themselves. “I can do 60,” he answered. “Done,” says I.
There wasn’t a single comic in the bunch that was on the vague, ever-shifting want list I have floating around in my head, and there were a couple I didn’t even recognize. But there are definitely some great gems in the bunch: three issues of Iron Fist by Chris Claremont and John Byrne from the 1970s, the death of Robin (Jason Todd) from Batman #428, three consecutive issues each of Tomb of Dracula and Invaders, the first issue of the first Moon Knight series (with early Bill Sienkiewicz art), the first issue of Marvel’s take on 2001: A Space Odyssey (by Jack Kirby!), two Frank Miller Daredevils and a Steve Ditko Creeper. And that’s only half the stack!
Condition on most of them is quite nice — very fine or higher — and the newest of the bunch is 30 years old! I might flip a few of these comics, but for the most part, these will be added to my collection (until the day when I need to divest myself of said collection, and that day grows nearer with every passing year).
I can’t wait to read these classic, quirky books, but honestly, I think finding them and haggling for them might have been just as much fun as reading them will be.