Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Regrets, I've had a few. They are part of a long list under the heading of “should’ve” in my collecting phase of my life.
 
It happens all-too-often in collecting and antiquing, should’ve bought this or that. But the price may have been a little too high. Maybe the prize item can't be turned around at a decent profit quick enough.
 
Or the spectre of a bad buy hovered over me, urging me to walk away, nothing to see here.
 
Granted, comics are often in the hands of vendors who have no idea how to grade and price properly and expect the moon. Worse, many refuse to acknowledge that comics should be graded and priced accordingly.
 
“All comics, $3” read the scrawl on a box I spotted recently in a bookstore. The books, in their conditions, were worth 50 cents each. And of course, none were graded, let alone bagged and boarded (see Wayback Times issues 102 and 103.
 
But I digress.
 
Whenever I make the wrong decision and leave behind a good find, a penny pincher’s remorse sets in. And when I return with cash in hand, the prize is gone. A few examples come to my mind, like the batch of Charlton Emergency! comics in the sale bin at a Charlottetown, P.E.I., book store.
 
Remember that television show? It starred Randolph Mantooth, Kevin Tighe and Julie London, where fire rescue crews attached to L.A. County Rescue 51 linked in by radio to Rampart Hospital, saving people from sure doom. It was a great show that ran between 1972 and 1979.
 
Really? It was that long ago?
 
Sigh.
 
Anyway, there I was staring at the batch in the bookstore. I bought a few that were in better shape, the best being in Very Fine, but left behind the rougher copies, meaning they were well read and no better than Good.
 
But a little thought in the back of my head kept telling me to take them all. They were only a buck each. I should’ve listened. Emergency! was not that common in Ontario and all grades remain as hot as the show.

Charlottetown also gave me another tick on the “should’ve” list. An antique dealer had a hardcover Katzenjammer Kids book of comic strips, from the early 20th Century, no less. He wanted, if I recall correctly, $50, which was a little steep then, but a steal today.
 
The popularity of the Katzenjammers as a collectible is mixed in Canada. Created by Rudolph Dirks it first appeared in 1897 in the American Humorist, a supplement to Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal newspaper. The strip is significant in comic art history as it was the first to use speech balloons to contain the spoken dialogue uttered by drawn characters.
 
The strip is still going strong - it's considered the oldest strip in syndication - through King Features Syndicate and is drawn by Hy Eisman. It inspired a stage play, a number of cartoons and a U.S. stamp.
 
I decided not to purchase the Katzenjammer book. While not a big seller in Ontario, it was easily a “stooopid” move. I should’ve thought forward, as in years, not the usual days or months like a short-term business plan.
 
To own a little bit of history is always great. I did manage to find a Katzenjammer book from the 1930s in a collection I later purchased.
 
When collectors think they're moguls, they regularly make that mistake. I have. I forgot how to enjoy the item for the item’s sake.
 
I also recall a decent collection of low- to mid-grade comics that I let slip through my fingers because I wouldn't budge on price. For a measly $100 more, I could have picked up a substantial silver age and bronze age collection that included a Poor copy of an early key silver age Showcase by DC Comics. I could have made half my money back in a day if I was a little more, say we say, willing to negotiate and less obstinate.
 
Gosh, Mr. Kent, how many screw-ups does it take to learn my lesson?
 
Well, when I negotiated to buy a small collection of about 600 books that included a low-grade copy of Amazing Fantasy 15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, I paid slightly more than what any other dealer would pay, but I was thinking long-term.
 
That book is a significant catch in any condition.
 
But then again, on the other hand, there are sellers who just hate vendors. No matter how hard you try, the deal won't be consummated.
 
I recall one man who had a collection of comics, where only a few were in higher grade, the rest were well read. Indeed, a number had bug holes in them, so when I held the comic to the window the sunlight came shining through.
 
I went home, did my sums and additions, and telephoned him with an offer that I knew was more than what other dealers proposed. I thought I had heard all the swear words in the English language, but that day I learned a couple of new ones. And no, I didn't get that batch of Classics Illustrated.
 
Illustrations
1 - The 1937 Katzenjammer Kids Story Book, Rob Lamberti photo
 
2 - U.S. 32-cent Katzenjammer Kids stamp
 
•••
That golden age Canadian edition Captain America that was part of Mike Kowalchuk’s collection sold May 16 for an astounding $4,750 in an Internet auction. The Good-plus condition book was published in 1942 . With the buyer’s premium, the final tally was $5,676.25. But there’s more. The Marvel Mystery Comics black-and-white Canadian edition that was listed as Poor sold the same day by auction for $1,434, including the buyer’s premium.
 
Way to go, Mike.
 
Next column: Comic artist Jack Kirby
 
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
 
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
 
 
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