Monday, February 20, 2012

Market Spotlight: Hunting Trip!

Big score or an interesting flop?

I thought I'd just share a "day in the life" of a comic book hunter/gatherer, just for the anthropological value, I suppose.  This is what I did today as a book scout and a collector and an investor, and a bit about why I did these things.

Lately I've been branching my research and buying outside of my usual TPB avenues, for a couple of reasons.  One, it's more entertaining.  It's not that I get bored with making money, that's pretty fantastic.  But ultimately this little game of mine begins and ends as a mental diversion, a game of "me against market" to determine who is more clever.  If you constantly run the same searches, look for the same material, hit the same places, it becomes rote and dull.

I'm also branching outside my niche because I still hold out hope that if I can get good enough and cast my net a little wider, I might be able to make a living selling books only.  That is absolutely a goal worth pursuing.  So I've been investigating other little corners that also pique my interest like role playing materials, genre paperbacks outside of comics like Warhammer and Magic: The Gathering, and I've really spiked a renewed interest in the floppies, particularly bronze age floppies.

Not sure why I haven't spent more time trying to game that, I guess because it felt as though too many were in that game, and I didn't feel I was blazing enough of my own trail?  Perhaps it's because the floppies tend to demand speculation, whereas the TPG game I was playing felt like a "sure thing".

Having done the TPB thing for about five years now and recollecting the number of times I made purchases "guaranteed" to make money that I took a bath on, it occurs to me that all investing is speculation unless your buyer is lined up.  All of it.  What I do with the trades is less inherently risky, because it's reacting to data in front of me instead of predicting tomorrow's data, but the risk is there.  The floppy speculation game is betting that what you believe today will happen tomorrow.  The trade game (as I've been playing it) is largely betting that what you see today will still work tomorrow.  Seeing is better than believing, but both bets are susceptible to error.  And as a side note, if you're making your TPB bet solely on what the current Amazon min is and not analyzing closed sales, (and I've done this about a billion times) that is also more about belief than data, and therefore pure speculation.

The TPB game has felt intrinsically safer, and I surely wouldn't complain about it.  I've made some bad purchases, but I've never had a bad month.  But I'm starting to rethink the notion that floppy speculation is by nature toxic, ultimately a losing game.  My current notion is that if one spends the same kind of time doing the work, one can build a winning formula that will inevitably include some hits, hits that will be outweighed by sheer volume of successes.

This does not mean that I go out and purchase 30 copies of Prophet # 21 because it's the flavor of the week.  What it means is that if you look at both the guide prices and actual money trading hands, it's difficult to lose purchasing vintage key books in grade.  Here's how simple this gets - find something people are interested in now with a cover price of 25 cents or less, buy it in NM or better for whatever the going rate is, and next year it will trade for more.  And five years from now it will trade for double or triple, or more.  Not just guide triple, trade triple. There are precious few exceptions to this phenomenon, with more positive exceptions than negative ones, (ask Green Lantern # 76 how it's done in the past five years)  and this while the entire American economy circles the toilet ever downward.  The easiest thing in the world to do is flip an old comic book in high grade.  (High grade does make a significant difference - lower grade material is discounted heavily and much more difficult to move)  You don't have to search out a buyer, they are scrambling about and frothing trying to get to you.

Long story longer, I've started to dabble in buying bronze age stuff in higher grade, often with CGC slabs.  My favorite game now is to put together runs of stuff I enjoyed when I was young, I call them "premium blends" in my head.  I started with Doctor Strange, the 1972 iteration that opened with the gorgeous Frank Brunner art, and I completed it last month.  I have all 80 issues in NM (9.2) or better condition, and I decided I wanted the first issue slabbed, since it's key and I don't want any arguments over key issues if and when I decide to sell the run.

It's a good game that takes time, or at least it takes time if you want to keep your costs down.  Now that Dr. Strange is done, I've moved on to The Defenders, and I've got about 60% of it complete.  It's tough to find this stuff in grade, and really tough to get it without going broke.  It takes an artist with patience, and I am that artist.  Other "premium blends" I mean to create at some point include; Master of Kung Fu, the Frank Miller Daredevil collection, and West Coast Avengers.  That last one's a little weird, and not exactly vintage, but I have fond memories of that series, and it sounds like fun.  Also, it's not exactly not vintage, either.  WCA is about 25 years old now, believe it or not.  And yes, it was born in the modern age of bags and boards, but if you think there's a ton of these book out there in strict NM....try and find some.  This is assuming that any of your local shops are bothering with back issues at all.  You would be shocked at how difficult it really is to find copper and even modern material at investment grade.  These things are not made of titanium, many of them are in 9.0 or less by the time the Diamond box arrives at the shop, much less after a pack of mouth breathers have roughed them up their first day on the rack.

Anywho.  I went to a couple of shops today scouting out material, and specifically I was looking for two items:

A)  Fatale # 1

Most everyone under-ordered this, it immediately went to a second print, and then those sold out in about five seconds as well.  This is the same duo that have been serving up Criminal, and what's a little strange to me is that Criminal seems to do little or nothing in the secondary market.

Fatale is essentially Criminal with a little Lovecraft thrown in for supernatural seasoning, maybe that's exactly the ingredient needed to secure a hit.  Prices on this have been highly erratic, and there's a wrinkle with the "B" cover, too.  Fatale # 1 shipped with a slightly more scarce "Beast" cover.  The second print featured the femme fatale, so that Cthulhian bastard becomes even more scarce relatively.  I've observed the pair of first prints trade as high as $50, which seems a bit absurd, and it's come down some from those lofty heights.

This one might have some legs, though.  The quality is going to be there, and Criminal's history seems to indicate that Fatale should avoid those dreaded shipping delays that crush so many other would-be dynasties.  I couldn't find any first prints, though.  The Source had a handful of second prints.  Not interested.

B)  Adventure Time # 1

Adventure Time is a more risky proposition, but I like it better.  Apparently, this has its origins in animation, and anybody that gets within ten feet of these comics instantly falls in love.  I've seen other "all ages" stuff get buzzy only to disappoint, though.  A few years ago Gargoyles hit with a significant splash, and even more recently Dark Wing Duck had the punditsphere clucking.  Where are those books now?  Are they even in production at this point?  The point is, I have reason to doubt the secondary market legitimacy of a licensed cartoon property.

I'm still interested for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, the talk I'm hearing just feels different.  Not very scientific, but when people talk about Adventure Time, it isn't with the kind of backhanded complisult that says "suprisingly good for a kids book".  People talk about Adventure Time with the kind of unreserved enthusiasm that hits are made of.

It's also the # 2 re-ordered item for the month, regardless of publisher.  That's pretty crazy, and pretty significant.  It's a Boom! book driving more extra interest than AvX, which tells me all I need to know.  Re-order activity on a book like that means that shops are not only selling out, but more importantly, people are asking for it.

I couldn't find any copies on my afternoon trip, so when I got home I called every shop within driving distance - nobody had one in stock.  This is a seriously under-ordered little comic.  First prints are selling for more than cover, but they haven't gone truly crazy just yet.  It feels like it's coming, though.

I found a seller on eBay dealing copies for $7.99 plus shipping and bought three copies.  Post shipping, I paid $10/book.  This is without question the most risk I took today, but I didn't go broke, I had fun, and I think the ceiling on this is an "Angry Birds" type level of hipness.  I'm sending the best copy I get to CGC for grading, that's how sick I am about the possibilities.  It smells like a freight train to me, but on the flip side, if it was buzz dead inside of four months, I wouldn't be shocked. Sometimes there's just a little juice in trying to get in front of something, you know?

I couldn't find what I was looking for, but this is what I did find:

Chew # 11-15  ($2.75/per)

Chew is quietly behaving like Walking Dead's little brother, all the way down to the television option.  Image Book, previously unknown creators, tiny little print runs creating tidal waves of buzz, a first issue that skyrockets and a first trade paperback that tops the charts.

Another similarity is that these issues are just not easy to lay hands on.  I don't know if you've looked at the prices on Walking Dead back issues, but they have officially hit the ridiculous stage.  Like its big brother, Chew issues are also largely not available for any price.  They're just....gone.  It's seriously about impossible to buy issues of Chew from issues 5-15, in any condition.  So when I do happen to find copies at near cover price, I bring them home with me.

I found these for cover price, paid closer to $2.75/ per after my discount.  Issues 13 and 15 are not in strict NM, but that's fine.  What could you get for Walking Dead 13 and 15 in VF?  Probably about $50, and maybe a lot more.  I'm not suggesting that's the near future for these Chew books...but he is the little brother.  I'm in for cover price all day long.

Worlds Unknown # 6  ($7.50)

Oh man, this is the greatest thing ever!  I actually don't remember when Killdozer made it to television, but I wish I did.  This is the most absurd piece of nonsense ever created!  The goddamn Killdozer is talking to people!

I bought this priceless bronze age beauty for $7.50 (after discount) in NM (9.2) condition.  Book value in 9.2 is $20, and it's not unusual to find some really nice bargains on these non-key 70s items.  Unless the shop owner goes through their entire stock regularly, eventually these books end up looking like bargains.  I could not be happier with my Killdozer.  Absolutely ridiculous.

Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game  ($15)

I took a stroll through the role playing games at The Source, looking for little gems and opportunities to expand my game.  One of the things that instantly attracts my eye at this stage of my development is anything I haven't seen before, like this book.

It was published by Steve Jackson Games in 2002, and there was no price listed on the book, which I thought was damn odd.  I hit it with my phone, and Amazon min was $38.  I took the book up to the counter and asked how much it was, and after some deliberation, it was decided they would charge me $15.99, which suited me just fine.

It's a nice little piece that probably makes for some interesting reading.  It also reminds me a little of the old Watchmen sourcebooks and modules that Mayfair produced a while back.  I like it so much that I don't have it up for sale right now, this one might just be mine.

Blacksad Vol 3 HC  ($9.64)

After hitting The Source, I stopped at the Barnes & Noble store in the Har Mar mall, because it has that annex in the middle of it that operates like a Half Price books.  They have half a bookshelf filled with trades, and this one instantly caught my eye.

It's a beautiful looking hardcover, and in the original French.  It's oversized and a bit of a pain in the ass to fit on your average bookshelf or ship.  But I've certainly never seen one of these before, and it just had the stink of rarity about it.

I hit it with the phone, and the Amazon min was something around $80, but that was for an ex-library copy.  The other two listings were somewhere in the $6,000 range, which is of course, pointless and stupid.  Why do people do that?  You're never going to sell it for that, are you trying to pull chicks with your astronomical Amazon listing?  Whatever.

Truth is, I don't know what to think about this book.  I ran an eBay search, and there is no history there for what I've got.  Which is a potentially good sign in and of itself.  I put it up for sale for $200, and that might be a huge mistake in either direction.

On the one hand, I paid $9.64 for the book, so a $200 flip doesn't seem like a bad idea.  On the other hand, if you somehow found a nice copy of Action Comics # 1 at an estate sale for $1, and you didn't know what the hell you had, you might feel good about selling it for $100.  But really, you didn't make $99, you lost millions of dollars.

This is the problem with french language books you've never seen before.  I might be under-selling this by a gajillion dollars, or it might be a junk book that I've completely over-charged on.  All I know is, it's got a noir detective that looks like a cat in it, and he totally bangs this other naked cat chick.  So basically, I win.

-  Ryan


Ander Sarabia said...

Blacksad is pretty big here in Europe and has several editions(the collector´s edition,the watercolour ed)Looks like you get the third regular book of the series.In fact,the pic you posted is the spanish cover

I don´t know if these links can help you:

Anyway,as you said you have a book full of Juanjo Guarnido´s beatiful art,so yeah,you win.

Long time fan of Chronic Insomnia

Web Wreckage Stephen said...

Thanks for the share of a day in the life of a fellow 'hunter'.

As you know I recently decided to dip my toe in the comic-selling waters. So far I have had minimal success with it; I have created listings for such floppies as early Snyder Detective issues, issues of the dead space mini and prophet #21. The only book to sell so far is a copy of the prophet issue at a price just below the ebay norm. I cant help but think that the comic buying market has not yet come to think of amazon (especially the amazon Canada site) as a legitimate back issue marketplace. I haven't totally given up on the idea of moving singles through amazon yet however since I believe that given time, amazon could become known as a legit alternative for single back issues especially with their streamlined selling systems. Right now, it seems that amazon is littered with numerous multiple listings that have sold and are now effectively useless unless someone else puts a copy up for sale.

This leads me to ask you, Ryan, what are the sites you would most recommend for selling singles at higher/premium prices? And where do they slot in compared to Ebay in your opinion? There seems to be many sites selling singles theses days and some are auction sites but I have no clue where to consider selling any singles in the future.

Thanks for any ideas you can offer up!


Andrew Kolvek said...

Adventure Time has a huge following, most fans probably weren't aware of the comic until it was too late. I preordered one on DCBS. I wish I had ordered more.