Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chronic Review:  And Then Emily Was Gone # 1
Comix Tribe

Script:     John Lees
Pencils:   Iain Laurie
Color:     Megan Wilson
Letters:   Colin Bell

Emily is a delightfully weird little horror comic.  The story is set in the Scottish isle of Merksay, and the boogeyman of the piece is a local spook named Bonnie Shaw.  When parents get jammed into a corner so bad there's no way out...ol' Bonnie Shaw will appear and offer them a solution.  All he asks for in exchange is the couple's child.

Emily tells her best friend Fiona that she know it sounds crazy, but she's seen Bonnie Shaw.  Emily is so convinced of this, she tells Fiona that she's leaving the island.  Meet me tonight, and we'll leave together, says Emily.

So Fiona shows up at the meeting place and waits for hours.  Nobody shows.  And then Emily was gone.

This is not the kind of story the police are likely to take seriously, at least not the regular police.  So Fiona visits Greg Hellinger, who used to be impossibly good at finding missing people.  That is, until he started seeing monsters everywhere.  Now he mostly huddles into his apartment without pants and tries to drink the monsters away.  He hasn't had a good night's sleep in five years, but you can see why Fiona might think Hellinger is useful.

And that's the crux of the hook.  It's one of those stories loaded with unreliable narrators, so you're never quite sure what to believe.  There are a couple keys to making a story like this work.  One is to build real characters around the madness - if the madness doesn't "pay off", it doesn't matter because the human element is enough to draw you in.  In my opinion, Emily neither excels nor fails at that element.

I would say that the leads of the story (Fiona and Hellinger) are fairly flat...but with some plusses.  Lees did not go over-the-top with Hellinger's character, thankfully.  He's clearly suffering from depression with a side of suicidal tendencies, but that's to be expected when you've been seeing monsters for five years.

Fiona shows some hints that there might be more than just a little girl lurking beneath the surface.  Very subtle hints.

Subtlety is the second element that a good "is there a supernatural element here or not?" story.requires.  Here, Emily does excel.  Emily is gone, so the only witness we have to the Bonnie Shaw part of the story is Fiona.  All of this could plausibly be in a couple people's heads.  Teenage girls run away all the time.  

Except.  We do get to meet Emily's parents... and something is definitely sideways with her father Gordon.  He's mumbling cryptic nothings fit for a psycopath, and he's building a box with ornate Cthulhian symbols on it in the basement.  There's something in that box that he needs to show his wife.  We'll get to see it next issue....

About the art.  We need to talk about the art.  I'm a bit of a cave man, so Iain Laurie's loose pencils don't do it for me.  My rigid perceptions prefer the glossy, illustrative style of a Jamie McElvie, where it looks like the pencil has been gliding across the page like Oksana Baiul.  Laurie's pencils look like they were scratched into the page with an awl.

The proportions are not true to life, (Fiona's eyes are usually right next to her ears) and most people in the book have very weird overbites.  Maybe it's an Orkney islands thing?  I don't know.  I think it's a funny Iain Laurie thing. The loose pencils are not a deal-breaker for me, and to be fair I don't think I'd want a Jamie McElvie drawing this story.  It's not about glamorous, super-hot, L.A. people.  It's about weird backwoods Scottish peasant people.  I don't know who I'd put on here.  Matt Wagner, maybe?  Yeah, he'd be good.

The point is that I'm a cave man, and you probably aren't, so you'll be fine. If you're a horror fan that found yourself enjoying movies like Insidious, Let the Right One in, or May, I think it very likely that you enjoy this comic.  This is not a gory monster comic.  We don't see Bonnie Shaw in this issue, and we may never see him.  That's perfectly fine, in my opinion.  The mystery/suspense elements shine, and that's more than enough for me.

I recommend the book, and really doubt your local comic shop ordered many (or any) of these.  If you want to see how the series turns out, ask your shop to order it for you, and use your Jedi mind powers to make them rack a few extra copies as well.  This comic deserves to be seen by more people. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Market Spotlight:  Pedigree & Prototypes

David Lyon posted this on the wall, and he makes some important, salient points about my last Market Report on Big Hero 6 strategy, so I thought I'd share it here and respond:

"I agree for the most part on Big Hero Six (sell soon, etc etc). However, I AM a bit cautious about saying that the early issues won't raise in value because of lack of ties and emotional connection to the film. Why? Because the precedent has been set with the GotG movie. Marvel Super Heroes 18 abso-freaking-lutely SKYROCKETED in value, even though Yondu was the only movie attachment to the original team, and that status was pretty well known for a while. Case in point, about 5-6 months ago, I sold a NM unslabbed copy for $550(!!). Probably would've gotten more if I graded it."

This is good to talk about, because David is 100% correct about the Guardians situation:

1) Marvel Superheroes # 18 has seen significant increases since the movie announcement
2) Those characters have almost nothing at all to do with the movie itself

Yondu is in there, sure, but other than the blue skin bears almost zero resemblance to the source.  The mohawk is all wrong, and the attitude is completely backwards.  I won't ruin too much for you, but they got Michael Rooker to play Yondu, and he approached the character as a Space Hick.  The comic book Yondu is kind of a quiet, dour, altogether too serious dude.  Movie Yondu is searching the galaxy for Ned Beatty so he can plunder his ample backside again.  

So...if the Guardians have shown us that a movie can spur value increases even if the movie attached is similar in name only, why am I worried about connections with Big Hero 6?

The answer is pedigree, and the prototype phenomenon.  The Guardians of the Galaxy have always been B-Listers on their best day, but they do have a history.  They've been around the block a few times, they've hooked up with the Avengers a few times, and they were an integral part of the Korvac Saga.  The Korvac Saga is legendary. 

Comic Baymax
The Valentino series ran 62 issues, which is a pretty good sized run.  A grand epic by today's standars, actually.  And Valentino is a founding Image guy.  The Guardians don't have the resume of a Batman, that's for sure.  Ask 100 people on the street what they can tell you about Charlie 27, and you'll get 100 blank looks.  The team does have some meat behind it, and some historical weight.  There was (some) ambient interest in that property, though, and then a movie launch stacked more interest onto it.

When we're talking about  Big Hero 6, we're talking about a single appearance nobody cares about in an Alpha Flight book nobody cares about, eight issues of worth of mini-series, and a one-shot reprinting five of those eight issues.  Your Big Hero 6 "omnibus" contains nine obscure comics.  They've never carried their own ongoing title.  Not only do
Movie Baymax
civilians not know or care about Big Hero 6, most ardent comics fans couldn't name a single team member outside of Sunfire or Silver Samurai.  

Apart from this movie...there is nothing there for Big Hero 6.  That's why I think the visual/emotional connection matters more for that property.  There's nothing else in the culture letting us know these characters even exist.  Since the movie is largely defining the property, I think it matters more that the perceived source comics line up properly.

My other concern is the "protoype" phenomenon.  All things being equal, first appearances rule the day.  But collectors are a fickle lot, and sometimes they organically decide that certain appearances are "true", and others aren't.  And by the way, these definitions can change relatively quickly.

My go-to examples on this is Sgt Rock.  Our Army at War # 81 features a prototype "Sgt Rocky" character, and that book does pretty well on the secondary market.  Overstreet lists a NM value of $8,500 on that comic.  There was a long time when most considered that his first appearance.  

Over time, though, the War Book folks determined that the real foundations of the character weren't established until Our Army at War # 83, "The Rock and the Wall".  So now that comic leap-frogged # 81 and now commands $15,000 in 9.2 condition according to Overstreet.  In reality, if you actually had a 9.2 I bet you could get $20K for that, easy.  The point is that it's definitely possible to back the "wrong horse" in situations like this, and it can cost you money.  Big Hero 6 isn't going to cost you Sgt Rock money, but still.

Now, nobody can perfectly predict how the collecting community is going to feel about anything.  Maybe they take to the original Sunfire & Big Hero 6 without a hitch and it works like a standard first appearance. I could be wrong about all of this.  The other thing to clarify again is that prototypes aren't worthless - they just pale compared to whatever the community designates as the "true" first appearance.

What I have discovered in my old age is that most humans make their decisions entirely on emotion.  I worry about those obscure comics holding value when the characters on the page look almost nothing like what appears on the screen.  I think the resonance might fail, and it's disconcerting enough that my cautious nature is shouting at me to pull the plug on the earliest of the Big Hero 6 material.

Thanks for chiming in, Mr. David Lyon!  We got a little deeper into the weeds on some relevant market stuff, so I thank you for prompting that. 

Market Spotlight Report:  Sunfire & Big Hero 6

Sunfire & Big Hero 6 have been speculator darlings for some time now, for lots of reasons.  Tops on that list being the fact that the property has an animated feature from Disney coming out in late fall.  Disney is a powerful horse to be hitched to, and the creative team is helmed by the Man of Action folks.  In the comics community, we know them as crazy bastards like Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, and Steve Seagle.

Man of Action is responsible for stuff like Ben 10, the Ultimate Spider-Man Cartoon, and Avengers Assemble.  They know how to transition comic book material into other quality media.  So Big Hero 6 seems like a pretty strong play on paper, and the returns have already been solid.  Alpha Flight (2007) # 17 is the first appearance, and that trades for around $40-$50 in nice raw condition.  The first issue of the initial mini-series sells for similar figures.

Those books do not have particularly large print runs.  These were niche books, and hitting right smack in the "we don't overprint any more" era of Marvel.  Again, on paper this has all the makings of a long-term speculator bonanza.

Having just watched the trailer for the upcoming movie...I feel like The Move is to cut bait on everything before the 2008 series and sell for whatever you can, as soon as possible.  Judging from the trailer, your POV character is Hiro, with his trusty balloon robot companion Baymax.  They're both great, but they bear little resemblance to those early Marvel issues.

In the Sunfire mini-series, Hiro wears glasses, appears a little older, and cobbles together guns to fight off secret agents.  Baymax is absolutely unrecognizeable as the same character.  In the trailer he's a dopey, harmless looking balloon blob.  In the comic, he looks like a giant angry lizard.

If you squint really hard, you can trace the lineage back.  Both Hiros are smart kids that program an artificial sidekick to take care of them.  I'm not suggesting that these early Big Hero 6 books have no future value.  I'm saying that when a kid comes out of that Big Hero 6 movie, the best case scenario is that they are very excited about what they saw.  When that kid gets to the early Big Hero 6 comics, he or she won't recognize the Hiro and Baymax on the covers, and they won't give a flying fig about no damn Honey Lemon or Sunfire.

So why would anybody pay big money for characters they can't emotionally connect to the thing they actually like?  Answer: I don't think they will.  I think the earliest issues of Big Hero 6 are not good long-term plays, and I would get out toot sweet.

Things get a little more interesting when you get to the 2008 mini-series by Chris Claremont and David Nakayama.  The Hiro and Baymax from that series visually "feel" much closer to what's going on in the trailer.  I think the movie audience might find some resonance in that series.  These books also do quite well in the current secondary market.  No single issue from that series approaches the $50 mark like Alpha Flight # 17, not even the first issue.  I have seen complete sets of the five issue series go for $100, though.

Should you sell those right now and avoid getting burned?  Hmmmm....I don't know for sure.  I'm fairly risk averse, and this feels like risk.  If I had one set of the 2008 Big Hero 6 series, I would get out now and make sure I'm in the black.  If I had multiple sets, I absolutely positively would sell at least one set now, and if you really believe the audience will feel that emotional connection between comic/movie, you can hold on to the rest for greater gains.  It's definitely something you should be thinking about now if you're holding this material for profit.

Other Books That Have Recently "Popped"

Hellblazer:  Phantom Pains

John Constantine has been a big earner for me in my history as a book scout, and I expect the upcoming TV series to increase those earning opportunities as demand outpaces the already limited supply.  Hellblazer is a perfect secondary market machine. It maintains a fervent, dedicated fan base, but that base is never large enough to entice DC into quick reprints.  Eventually DC does go back to press, they always do.  But there are often extended windows on huge chunks of the Constantine library.

Right now Phantom Pains is sitting directly in Crazy Town.  I recently posted a copy on Amazon for $80...the next in line for the "new" category is $225.  Now, I'm not suggesting that you're likely to ever sell that book for $200+, but I will say that listings don't get to that level unless the supply is severely stripped.  If you see this in your LCS, it's an insta-buy.  There are lots of Hellblazer titles that can make you money right now, (India, Laughing Magician, Roots of Coincidence) but that's the one I'd be most interested in.

Batman & The Monster Men

I've been waiting for this to pop for ages and eventually I'm always right.  This is not a tough thesis to crack - Batman is the most powerful force in out-of-print trades, and Matt Wagner writes a helluva Batman story.  Wagner handles the art chores on this one as well, so...double bonus!

This is an easy sell at $40 in nice condition, and as recently as last week your Amazon min for a "new" copy was over $100.  It would not surprise me to see a book like this trading at that level.  Wagner is a strong name, and Batman is the strongest brand.

Let me clarify that a bit.  Any volume of the Walking Dead is going to sell more copies than Batman & The Monster Men.  The difference is that Walking Dead is also going to stay in print, precisely for that reason.  If DC ever allowed Watchmen to go out of print, that would be a $100 book inside of a month.  Nosebleed prices happen at a magical little sweet spot between Some People Really Like This and We Don't Want To Print 5,000 Copies Because It Will Take Us Three Years To Sell Them. 

Scarlet Spider Volume 2: Lone Star

You've got a window right now on this book, and it just might be sitting at your LCS collecting dust.  This series had a decently sized cult following.  People liked the Yost concept ("All the power, none of the responsibility) and they really liked the Ryan Stegman art.

There are four collected volumes of the series, but the second has gone out of print.  Amazon mins for nice copies are trading for $40+, and there's a possibility this could go higher.  The bad news is that the Scarlet Spider series is cancelled, which makes it less likely that current readers want to go back for old volumes.  The good news is that Dan Slott is about to roll forward with "Spider-Verse", which will feature nearly every spider-character in some fashion or another.  It's going to be big, and if Kaine gets the right kind of spotlight, it could definitely drive more people toward this book.

The problem these days is that the newer material carries a pretty hefty SRP.  A copy of Lone Star at cover price is going to run you $19.99, which is a fairly steep investment if you conservatively figure a sale at $40.  If your shop is running a sale or you have a nice discount, there is room for some good profit on that book right now.