5/30/04 - Call me an old-time Marvel collector. I fondly remember the days in the mid-70s when the Marvel Universe used to have a unified universe where repercussions in one title was felt in another, totally different title. When villains, after apparently dying in their last appearance, would re-emerge to threatened the day with a full explanation on how they cheated death the last go around. Storylines were seamless in such a way that little notes had to be added to highlight readers to prior issues where an event was impacting the story they were reading. And, most importantly, knowing that these storylines were only released in a limited number of titles each month. If I wanted to read the Fantastic Four, I had one title a month to search for. If I wanted to read Spider-Man, I had three, to include the monthly team-up. Things were much simpler and that's the way I liked it.
Fast forward to today. No two titles relate to each other whatsoever. Even those featuring the same character. Villains reappear with no explanation on how they returned. Previous storylines are forgotten and frequently contradict what happened before. And so many titles are released on a monthly basis it's mighty difficult to keep up on what's going on much less what's being released at any given time.
The result of all these changes? I think it's slowing killing Marvel as a major publisher of comics. And with the fortunes of Marvel goes the future of comics in their current form in my opinion.....
The changes have alienated the readership to a certain extent. Readers, or more aptly put "Marvel Zombies", used to buy every Marvel comic they could get their hands on. One of the reasons was the coherent universe that was offered. Titles used to co-exist even if the storylines never merged. Spider-Man would reflect in Marvel Team-Up on the beating he received by "insert villain here" last month in Amazing for example. It was great serial fiction with a whole universe as the back drop. Now readers don't need, or feel compelled, to pick up any title other than the one they're reading each month because frankly, that other title might as well be a whole other universe in itself. Including those featuring the same character. Also, the range of titles featuring a single character or team in any given month can put a serious dent in the pocket book. For example, if someone wanted to buy every Spider-Man related title released in May/June, this is what they're looking at:
Marvel Age Spider-Man
Marvel Knights Spider-Man
Spider-Man/Doc Ock: Year One
Fifteen titles. And I'm sure I missed a couple SM guest appearances in other titles. That's overkill by any stretch of the imagination. Reminds me of the early 1990s when Marvel overexposed the Punisher and Venom to the point that both characters disappeared for years afterwards. I realize that the number of titles also reflects the build up to the movie this summer but the number of Spider-Man titles or appearances offered in any given month has exceeded 7 for a couple of years now. Still too many in my opinion. And the same, or better, case could be made with the proliferation X-Men titles on the racks in any given month.
This over saturation of the market has resulted in two things. One, readers can't afford to follow all their favorite character's adventures each month so they don't even try anymore. And two, Marvel has become lazy and abandoned trying to tie all these storylines into a coherent universe. In fact, Marvel seems to endorse the telling of singular stories with the excuse that Marvel continuity is too limiting on writers and too overwhelming on readers.
My answer to that:
Good writers can script a decent comic book story. Great writers can take what's gone on before and expand on the mythos. If current writers can't handle writing in someone else's universe then bring in the pros from the past who have excelled at it.
Stop being disingenuous to readers. A unified continuity did not stop generations of readers from jumping on the Marvel bandwagon in the past.
My answer to this situation? Totally revamp the entire Marvel line. Get rid of all the various imprints. Family of titles (i.e. SM, X-Men, Fantastic Four, etc) will have no more than 3 core titles per month. Events in each of these titles will relate to the others. I'm not implying they should crossover. I'm saying if SM got beat to a pulp in one title, he should feel the effects in the others. In addition to the core titles, add a family title similar to DC's "Elseworlds" concept if a storyline has to be told outside established continuity. But these "Elseworlds" titles should be limited to one title and should be the exception not the norm.
The one exception to all this is the Ultimate line. It should be kept as it has proven to be popular with readers. But keep it limited to one title per family as it is currently.
Limited series are a whole different animal altogether and one shouldn't be released unless it meets two criteria:
(1) It is a truly special story that cannot fit into the core titles
(2) It's importance to the ongoing titles is of such a degree that it deserves it's own title.
And that's it. Full stop. One of the reasons that so much junk is released in any given year is the influx of crap limited series to the market. Make the limited series special again and fans will flock to the issues.
As you can probably tell, I'm not too happy with the current state of Marvel. Current Marvel stories remind me a lot of DC in the 1970s. Singular stories that really don't have much in common. There's a reason Marvel overtook DC during this time. Marvel was perceived as special in the eyes of readers with a universe they could immerse themselves into. Marvel has lost their way since the early 90s but all is not lost. They could mend their ways if they hurry though I suspect it would take a story of "Crisis on Infinite Worlds" magnitude for it to be successful. And that's OK with me. I just want the Marvel I've enjoyed back.....
5/24/04 - I read today that Marvel hinted during a presentation at Wizard World Philly the possibility of Gwen Stacy's return in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #509. If true, this just furthers my belief, outlined in more depth here, that Marvel has run out of ideas and is willing to harm their creative heritage in the quest to bolster the quarterly report. There used to be three dead Marvel characters whose "rebirth" was considered by fandom to be taboo; Captain Marvel, Gwen Stacy, and Norman Osborne, the original Green Goblin. They've already broken that taboo once with the ridiculous return of Osborne in the mid-90s, he was evidently vacationing in Europe, to deflect attention away from the disastrous Clone Saga. Now they are hinting about the return of Gwen....
I can't say I'm surprised by the teaser. Collectors will obviously flock to buy the issue and further encourage Marvel to think of another way to disregard their history to sell some more comics. Pretty much Marvel's saying to hell with those long time readers that may care about that history. It's this short term thinking on Marvel's part that's causing them to lose readers and resort to these, at least in my eyes, desperate measures to shore up the bottom line. That's OK though....just another comic I won't buy that month. It's also possible that Marvel has absolutely no intention of bringing Gwen back and it's all a ruse. But the mere fact that Marvel is hinting at her return at all illustrates how creatively corrupt the current regime has become....
5/24/04 - An update on my experience with Comic Grading Group. Today, I received a $70 refund check as promised to make up for the label error.
5/24/04 - A clarification of the article below, and to answer a couple of e-mails I've received, on my decision not to set-up at the Erlangen Comic-Salon. I fully understand their decision to have me set-up outside and I'm not bitter whatsoever. Any responsible con organizer needs to look after their past and future customers before accommodating a potential dealer such as myself who will only be able to attend this show with no intentions of setting up there in the future. Putting on a show, and one that's reoccurring such as the Comic-Salon, is a business. And in business you can't possibly make everyone happy. They offered an alternative that I chose not to accept. That's it in a nutshell. The only thing I wished was if they could have told me the information sooner than 3 weeks before the show but no big deal.....I'll find other things to do that day......
5/23/04 - While the watchword in collecting in the States is the Wizard World Philly Comic Con, I was attending a much smaller but very enjoyable Stuttgart Comic Show yesterday. Located in downtown Stuttgart on the second floor of the Gewerkschafts House, the show was probably the biggest of the four I've attended this year. It also was the first giving the impression of a typical show you'd find in the States. Two European artists were there offering sketches and the organizer was busy throughout the afternoon giving updates over the intercom or running a trivia contest.
One bizarre occurrence started off the show. When I arrived, a very large group of people were gathered outside the front of the Gewerkschafts House. At first glance, I thought it may be a demonstration but found out later that employees of a local telecom were staging a strike. They were a festive group and "struck" for about 2 hours before leaving. Some cruising the comic show aisles on their way out.
Attendance was quite good for the first three hours of the show before tapering off as the afternoon wore on. Regardless, this was the second best show I've set-up at this year. Me and my trusty assistant, my son, were busy for the bulk of the show.
US comics were again in short supply. Other than myself, only one other dealer had US comics in bulk and those were mostly early 90s issues. Another had a short box of direct market current issues and another was selling trade paperbacks. As usual, I was the only dealer with an ample supply of late Silver and Bronze comics. Other dealers had the usual mix of European issues and figurines. Smurfs are everywhere at these shows.....
This show also cemented what I've been observing in regards to what sells in the German back issue marketplace. DCs rule the day! Marvels sell but DCs blow out the door. I'd say I sell about one Marvel comic for every three DCs. Especially sought after, other than DC war which didn't sell particularly well at this show, are any pre-1975 issues (20 centers and below). And when I say "any" I mean all DCs. To be honest, I've always liked Marvels better from this timeframe, with the exception of DC mystery, but Germans seem to differ.
I didn't buy many comics this time out. Other than some Marvel Godzilla comics to fill some holes in my collection there was not much that interested me. But I did buy something though. Two more pieces of original art.....
Shogun Warriors #3 Pg 10
Click to Enlarge
First, I bought the page at right. Shogun Warriors #3 Page 10 drawn by Herb Trimpe and inked by Dan Green. Trimpe has his distracters among collectors. Either some like his work or loath it. I'm one of those in the "like" column. His Incredible Hulk is the definitive Hulk in my mind and his style is pleasant on the eyes. I always wanted to own a Trimpe page and now I do. And the price was right: 15 Euros!
Avengers #387 Pg 9
Click to Enlarge
Second is an Avengers page (#387 Page 9) drawn by Mike Deodato and inked by Tom Palmer. Now I like Mike Deodato. I liked him when he was accused of being an Image imposter in the early 90s and I continued liking him through to his acclaimed run on current issues of the Incredible Hulk. He displays lots of flash and his characters pose a little too much at times but his pages are always dynamic. You could take the same criticisms of Deodato and apply them equally to Jim Lee but Mike continues to get less respect. No matter though....I like him and am quite thrilled to finally own a piece of his comic art. Price? 50 Euros.
And that's that. The next Stuttgart show is scheduled for December and I've already made my reservation. But of note, I believe this will be the last show I set-up at for awhile; maybe until the Leonburg show in September. I was scheduled to attend the Erlangen Comic-Salon in two weeks (June 12); one of the biggest shows in Germany and only held every two years. Despite registering as a dealer in late Feb, I found out this week that they cannot fit me in the dealers room but I have the option to sell outside the building. This is unacceptable. I'm not going to drive four hours to a show in the hopes that the erratic German weather will hold up and, god forbid in June, not rain. Not to mention the problems I have with selling paper products outside in the elements. That's fine.....I'll just keep my comics at home....thank you. I just wish they had told me this back when I registered......
5/18/04 - Just a heads-up if you're in the area....
The 20th Annual Stuttgart Comic Show is this Saturday, 22 May 04 from 0900-1600Hrs.
I'll be there with a wide assortment of Silver, Bronze, and Copper Age (got to like that new designation!) US comics for sale. There will also be other dealers selling their wares on over 100 tables throughout the Gewerkschafts House. The great thing about this show, over the others I've attended, is the sweet fact that it's being held only a couple of miles down the road from my house. No travel horror stories for me this time out!
If you can make the show, make sure you stop by and say Hi!
5/9/04 - When I first heard a company was going to offer a comics grading service, I was less than impressed. The company, Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC), was going to grade and encase a comic in a tamper resistant shell so no further damage could occur. The person with the comic, while probably happy to have a definitive grade applied, couldn't read it without breaking the slab and invalidating the grade. In my mind, this smacked against the core of comics collecting; reading and enjoying the comic. A slabbed comic had no value other than a pretty display or extra incentive on the comic for sellers in my eyes.
That attitude has been tempered somewhat over the years. I do see some valid reasons that slabbed comics can serve a vital role in this hobby. Restoration detection and consumer confidence in what they are buying are two. CGC has enjoyed great success over the last couple of years and become a major player in this hobby with really no competition for their services....until recently.
Comics Grading Group (CGG) has emerged to challenge CGC's sole grip on the slabbed market. CGG has tailored their visible business model closely with CGC's. Their slabs are nearly identical, grading scale is the same, and offer similar tiers of services. The major differences are CGG's services are cheaper and their turnaround times are supposedly on target; a problem that CGC has struggled with since their inception. It could be argued that the turnaround issue is more about the much greater volume of comics that is submitted to CGC vs. CGG.
I've heard the pros and cons for both companies over the years. I've heard the horror stories and kudos. But really, you never know for certain about anything until you try something out for yourself. So I decided that I'd see firsthand what these two companies had to offer. I pulled five nice comics out of the collection, actually I pulled most from recent purchases, with as much variety as I could think of. Most importantly, if I lost any in the mail or due to mishandling, I picked comics that could easily be replaced. The comics that made the cut:
Tomb of Dracula #17 Marvel Comics
Jungle Adventures #3 Skywald Comics - 52 Page Giant
Strange Adventures #230 DC Comics - 64 Page Giant
Marvel Tales #45 - Marvel Comics - Includes the Mark Jewelers Insert
House of Secrets #109 DC Comics
I decided to send them to CGG first.....
I went to CGG's website and printed their submission form. I decided to use their Classic Service (7 business day turnaround/$22 a comic) vs. their Standard Service (13 business days / $14 each). All together, my cost to CGG for grading 5 comics to include return shipping/insurance and a 10% discount for new customers was $121.
On 3/29/04, I put the comics in Mylar with backing boards, packed them in a Priority mail USPS box, and sent them on their way to get the CGG treatment.
Two weeks went by and despite what I understood was common when submitting to them (though it isn't outlined anywhere on their website), CGG had not sent me an e-mail stating they had received the comics. Concerned, I called the company on 4/12/04 inquiring about the comics. Daniel Patterson, CGG senior grader, answered and stated they had not received the comics but were going to check their box that day and it's possible it may be there. I was fine with the answer. Two days later, I received an e-mail from Dan saying the comics had arrived and gave a date of 4/30/04 for grading. I didn't give the grading date much thought at the time as I was relieved the comics had arrived. Later, the fact I paid for 7-day service dawned on me but I was too busy at this point with my computer problems to make an issue of it.
On 4/30/04, I still hadn't heard from CGG concerning my comics. I decided to give them another call. Again, Dan answered. I asked for the status of my comics. He stated that the comics were in that day's grading pile. I inquired about the fact I paid for Classic service. He apologized and said the Classic notation on the submission form had been overlooked and the comics were processed and placed in the Standard tier. He stated that the comics would be graded and mailed that day.
I received an e-mail from Dan on 5/01/04 stating that comics had been shipped out. Attached were grading notes but missing were the actual grades the comics received, I sent a subsequent e-mail asking for the grades and a grading notation that wasn't identified on the notes. On 5/3/04, I received an e-mail clarifying my question on the grading notes but Dan didn't have my paperwork available to tell me the actual grades.
On 5/5/04, my comics arrived. The postmark indicated they were mailed on 4/30/04 as promised. I pulled them out of the USPS package and found that 3 of the 5 comics had been mislabeled. I sent the following e-mail to CGG with scans:
I received the following answer on 5/6/04:
I am sorry about the error, we haven't had a mislabel in several months, let alone three in one order. If you are sending in another order, simply include those three books and we will take care of them and give some sort of discount to your order. Otherwise, send the three books back and we will fix them. I apologize for this error, and want to assure you this is not a normal occurence.
Well that was unsatisfactory as indicated in my first e-mail that I wasn't going to send the comics back. I had expected the comics back to me within 3 weeks the first time I sent them off but due to mail delays and the screw-up by CGG I had to wait 5 weeks. I didn't want to go through that again with the same company. So I sent off another e-mail on 5/6/04:
Dan replied on 5/7/04:
Maybe I'm dense but I still didn't have a warm and fuzzy that they were offering me any money back. So I sent yet another e-mail on 5/7/04 asking for clarification:
Now after every other e-mail exchange I usually received a reply within 12 hours. This time I didn't. I decided that maybe I wasn't going to get an answer and posted my CGG problems on the CGC message board on 5/8/04, a forum I've been a part of for almost two years. Three hours later, I received an e-mail from Dan that money for three submissions would be refunded. I received another e-mail later asking me to clarify a comment I'd made on the board that could be taken as CGG had the comics in their position for an entire month. I posted a clarification.
Before I comment further let's take a look at the comics and my impression of the grades. My impression is exactly that. I've collected comics for a good number of years, am very familiar with Overstreet's grading definitions and have seen enough CGC graded comics to get a feel for their grading as well. Note I've taken the grades from the correct label regardless of whether the label was on the correct slab:
Tomb of Dracula #17 CGG Graded 9.0 White Pages
CGG Grading Notes: Miswrap, Minor Edge Wear, Multiple Stress Lines Along the Spine
My impression: Should be higher. I suspect that CGG deducts more (rightly so in my opinion) for miswraps than CGC. There is one small non color breaking crease on the bottom left spine but other than that it's smooth.
Strange Adventures #230 CGG Graded 8.5 White Pages
CGG Grading Notes: Edge Wear, Multiple Stress Lines Along the Spine, Minor Back Cover Spine?
My impression: Should be higher. I suspect that CGG is hard on Giants. I'll speak later on this.
Marvel Tales #45 CGG Graded 8.0 White Pages Mark Jewelers notation included
CGG Grading Notes: Two Abraded Corners, Multiple Creases and Stress Line Along Spine, Edge Wear, Cover Wear
My impression: About right. I was thinking 8.5 though when I submitted it. This comic was included because it had visible issues and I wanted to see how they were graded.
Jungle Adventures #3 CGG Graded 9.0 White Pages
CGG Grading Notes: Moderate Cover Bend Front Cover to Back Cover
My impression: I have serious issues with this grade. Out of all the comics I submitted this was the one that I thought would grade the highest. Absolutely beautiful, like new, comic.
House of Secrets #109 CGG Graded 9.4 White Pages
CGG Grading Notes: No notes. Apparently CGG doesn't give notes if the comic grades 9.4 or higher. I find this odd as something must have been found to knock it down from 10.0....
My impression: Well at least one comic got the coveted 9.4 or higher! The TOD #17 is just as nice, and JA #3 is better, but received lower grades.
My experience with CGG has definitely been less than expected. If I had received first class service, I would have certainly wrote a glowing review. But because of the problems encountered, I can't say I will be submitting any more comics to them in the near future. It's apparent that they have, at a minimum, quality control issues to work out. Correctly receiving the correct service tier paid for is a customer service issue that should be looked at. Mislabeling errors need to be eliminated all together. A customer who receives a bad label is stuck. They can't sell the issue ("trust me the correct label says 9.0") and a collector would have no use for it in their collections. The only recourse is to send the comic back to CGG to fix or break the slab. Not very tempting options for potential new customers.
I also got the impression that Dan seemed to feel he wasn't getting a fair shake after I posted these comics on the CGC message board. CGG is banned from responding on the boards. Fair enough. If he has anything to add.....to include responding to this article, he is free to post on my board his comments other than what he has done in the past and post e-mail through proxies to get his word out. I promise to not censure his comments. A large number of collectors, those that frequent the CGC boards and otherwise, read this site everyday and I'm sure would be willing to share their experiences. With that said though, I would be willing to take on the hard questions.....
I, on the other hand, always intended to break the slabs and resubmit to CGC. And when I get them back, I'll let you know of my experience. Let's just hope that article doesn't read like a case of deja vu.....
5/6/04 - What's wrong with this picture?
To make matters worse, I have two more just like it. I'll let you all know how I came about this comic, and the others, once I get a little matter cleared up. More than likely it isn't going to end up being a "feel good" story.....
5/3/04 - Wizard, the monthly comics magazine and price guide, announced a partnership with comics grading company Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC), to offer hot off the presses graded comics to collectors. The program, Wizard First (WF), will ship new Marvel comics directly from the printer to CGC offices in Florida for grading. These slabbed comics will be offered exclusively through Wizard's website. Also, CGC will use a new grading criteria as outlined by Wizard. So instead of the normal .2 nomenclature for 9.0 and above that's familiar to collectors, the WF books will be divided by .5 notations (9.0/9.5/10.0). There is so much wrong with this alliance, I'm not sure where to start....
First and foremost, CGC willingness to change their grading criteria, to the highest bidder apparently, has immediately cast a cloud on their whole grading operation. CGC's grading criteria has been a source of debate since their inception. It doesn't help that CGC has repeatedly refused to divulge their criteria to the public. Now, they are willing to change their standards to meet the demands of a customer? Granted a customer that probably is paying a pretty penny for the service but a customer nonetheless. This smacks of collusion between, arguably, two of the most powerful players in the Modern market.
A price guide company should not be dealing in "manufactured collectibles" period. Of course, Wizard's reputation as an unbiased guide went out the window in the early-mid 90s when they continued to hype over ordered junk and paint a rosy picture of rising prices despite mass evidence that the market was collapsing. The magazine has always tilted towards the speculator instead of the collector. Their complicity in this arrangement doesn't surprise me. But guaranteed that these WF comics will be listed in their price guide for higher than retail prices with a normal monthly price bump regardless whether they are successful or not. I've seen them do this same act before and the results almost destroyed comic collecting as we know it.
Comics are going directly to CGC offices and bypassing the normal distribution system. Wizard First is just that. Getting their slabbed comics to market before anyone else. And that's the secret of being successful in the Modern market. Any delay is costly. This puts Modern dealers at a huge, and I can't emphasize this enough, disadvantage. The current turnaround time for Moderns at CGC is 9 weeks. If Wizard is allowed to "jump the line" and get their comics out within a few weeks, they will essentially eliminate any competition and kill the Modern dealer. Kill the Modern market and the trickle down effect to the other Ages is certainly guaranteed. That's why, even if you wouldn't touch a Modern comic, you should be concerned with this development. Just because you don't collect a certain Age of comics doesn't mean that it shouldn't be your concern what happens in that market. We collect comics plain and simple. If the modern market collapses, only a fool would think back issues would be safe.
For Wizard, this is a win-win situation. They get to sell slabbed comics directly to collectors with little to no risk to their reputation. CGC, on the other hand, will feel the repercussions of this decision for years whether WF is a success or not. You can't look at CGC the same anymore. A major attribute, and critical factor, in the success of any grading company is the appearance of steadfast impartiality. If that is in doubt, their competence and ability to grade comics comes into question. Gaining credibility in any field is hard to come by and usually takes hard work, time, and perseverance to achieve. Losing that credibility, once gained, is much harder to reacquire. CGC lost theirs in the form of a several paragraph news release. I hope the money they are making out of this partnership is good because they could be in for some rough times ahead.....