A Collector’s Journey – Getting Started

by Dan Gagnon

All-About-Collecting-Comics-199x300 A Collector's Journey - Getting StartedComic books are a vehicle we use to temporarily escape our reality.  They take us to a place where good guys get to win.  A place where doing the right thing is the norm, not the exception.  Comics can make us laugh and make us cry.  Great stories open insights into the real world.  More importantly, they provide glimpses into how the world could be.  They provide us with heroes when real-life ones can be hard to find.  Our fictional heroes challenge us to live up to the same ideals they display month to month.

Captivated by Bronze Age Comics

Jarella2 A Collector's Journey - Getting StartedI’ve been an avid comic book reader since the 1970s.  I cheered on an undersized Canadian hero as he first popped his claws to take on the Hulk and Wendigo.  Alongside the Hulk, I choked up a bit as Jarella died in his arms.  Professor X and I traveled the world to recruit an exciting new team of X-Men.  I eagerly waited as comic book storylines paused to focus on secondary characters when their main heroes were off battling in a Secret War.

The Wire Racks

There were no comic stores in the little Upper Michigan town I grew up in.  We had three ways to get our comic book fix.

Metal-Men-199x300 A Collector's Journey - Getting StartedThe least desirable choice was to pick a plastic bag off the wire rack at the corner market.  These sealed bags contained two comics, but the top third of the cover (and sometimes the first few pages) had been sliced off to allow for resale.  You could see what the top book was but the one hidden beneath it was anyone’s guess.  Sometimes you got lucky and got another issue of one of your favorite heroes.  Other times it could be a great introduction to heroes you had never heard of before.  That second book is where I met the Metal Men, the Freedom Fighters, and Klaw.  It also allowed me to wander through Houses of Secret and Mystery with caretakers Cain and Abel.

The second option for locating comics was our neighborhood drug store.  Often comics were mixed in with a variety of other magazines on the spinning wire rack next to the counter.  The challenge here was the clerk behind the counter, who frowned upon young men perusing the merchandise.  Here you had to shell out your hard-earned thirty cents based upon the cover of the book alone, and those could be quite misleading back in the day.

A Hidden Cache of Comics

My favorite option was the IGA grocery store.  Ours kept stacks of comics in a little alcove near the produce counter.  While mom shopped I could browse through several titles before selecting the one I was allowed to bring to the checkout with her.

None of these methods guaranteed that you could follow a multi-issue story.  Often it was years later before I learned exactly how my hero escaped that sticky situation to defeat his foe.

Keeping Books vs. Collecting Books

Hulk-171-200x300 A Collector's Journey - Getting StartedSadly, very few of these classic early Bronze Age comics survived my childhood.  Collectors will cringe as I tell how we spread open the cover on an old window pane supported on brick legs like a tabletop.  Below it shined a bright light so we could trace our heroes onto paper, creating new stories and new heroes.  Sometimes comics got traded away for other treasures.  I even lost a few on a bad bet in a game of marbles.  I remember ruining Hulk vs. Abomination and Rhino because I spilled my cereal bowl as I was re-reading it for the tenth time at the breakfast table.

A few of my books survived these tragedies and were plopped into an old cardboard box in my closet.  As high school turned into college then into “real life”, I continued to purchase my favorite series.  These got less abused than my earliest issues did, and eventually I graduated from racquetball boxes (which fit comics quite well) into my first official comic book box.

Turning This Mess Into a Collection

Twenty plus boxes later I decided it was finally time to turn my boxes of memories into an official collection and look seriously at their value.  I’d like to invite you on this journey from comic reader to comic collector.  This is not a “how-to” manual, because I really have no idea what I’m doing.  What does “slabbed” mean?  When did Fine and Near Mint condition change to a numeric rating system accurate to a decimal place?  Along the way, I will be soliciting your advice on how to best do this.  My first question for you is an easy one and I hope you’ll take a moment to leave a comment.

What got you hooked on comic books?


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BGD August 8, 2020 - 12:13 pm

Reading them as a kid in the 70’s…I worked in the fields and used all of my money to buy comics and baseball cards…same as you lost a few and still have a few. Fast forward to 2015 started really collecting again and I have grown my collection to over 850 slabs and 35,000 plus in boxes. Pretty crazy!

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 10:52 am

Wow! I really want to hear how you store these (I will be talking about that in a future post).

Philreal August 8, 2020 - 12:58 pm

So winter of 1964 I walk over to the corner drug store. Clutching two dimes in my hand as I make my usual beeline directly to the spinner rack of comics I stand transfixed as I gaze on a truly incredible sight: there it is; a 72 Big Page Annual of the Amazing Spider-Man! “WITH A GALAXY OF THE MOST GOL-DARNED GUEST STARS THAT YOU CAN SHAKE A WEB AT!”
Such a great cover! Thinking then: 72 pages of Spidey fighting every foe basically from his beginnings! Who wouldn’t shell out a quarter to see that!! So out I went, looking for a few returnable glass bottles or shovel a sidewalk to get my copy!
Well I did get it and read it so many times it basically fell apart. 30 years go by and I acquire a graded copy for my collection.
Needless to say every time I pull that copy out and gaze upon that cover I go back to the winter of ’64 for just a few minutes.
To me that’s what got me and keeps me hooked on comics; the cherished memories of the early purchase and the glorious reunion as we find that book again that was long gone.

Brooks Robinson August 8, 2020 - 3:53 pm

Thank you for sharing this! We should all remember to read and appreciate these books instead of spending so much time obsessing over their value. ?

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 10:55 am

Thanks. I’ll be talking about my struggles between reading comics and storing them to preserve their value…

Dennis August 9, 2020 - 8:52 am

Excellent article! We’ve similar experiences with mine starting in 1967 and turning to collecting in 1973. Though I’m a big Marvel fan, when I started comic books it was DC’s Superman and Batman that I (my mom) bought from the local drugstore. I’m guessing the Batman tv show and bubblegum cards led me to the comic books. Two years later I ditched those two heroes fir Sgt. Rock and Marvel monster comics. Actual collecting started when I bought Werewolf by Night #10 at a comic shop and the owner explained that there were NINE issues before this one!! What???? It… continues? I never ever knew that!

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 10:57 am

Ha! I can relate to that. Thanks for sharing!

Marcus McCrary August 9, 2020 - 9:54 am

Hi Dan,

My love for comics start in ’82, but it was not a passion until one of my parents secretly entered me in a contest and I won the ’84 Secret Wars limited series minus #3 and #4. Those two were replaced with He-Man and Skeletor Action figures. I have no clue what happened to them, but my love for comics remain today.

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 10:59 am

I loved Secret Wars and only found out recently from another blog that it was created to sell action figures. Thanks Marcus!

derrusf75d621fc4 August 9, 2020 - 10:18 am

My brother and I started collecting baseball cards in the early 80’s. We bought from a LCS and noticed that there were Star Wars comic books. Both of us being rabid Star Wars fans, we picked up an issue, which led to another issue, and so on. One day, while perusing the new comics’ rack, I spotted the cover of Marvel Super Heroes Secret War #1, once I bought that book, I was forever hooked into the world of super hero books.

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 11:00 am

I wonder if Marvel was aware of the impact Secret Wars had on comic readers back then.

Ken Stone August 9, 2020 - 11:18 am

I got started in this crazy world of collecting Through my Grandfather, He use to bring my Gold Key and Whitman books. I started with superheroes with a book give to me from my mother Silver Surfer #2. 44 boxes later, and still going strong.

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 3:32 pm

44! That’s awesome! Where do you store all these?

Ken Stone August 9, 2020 - 11:45 pm

Right now all over the house. My wife is very understanding

stephenb August 9, 2020 - 2:03 pm

In the mid 70’s as a kid I would go to every house on my block and asked if they wanted to get rid of any bottles they might have, a couple of seniors would give me some and over time I would run them to the store for some cash. Cash was spent on candy and cherry slurpies..bazooka bubble gum was only a penny back then and came with a comic strip. In 1978 I was still a pre-teen and my mom took me to work and she needed a babysitter so she gave me some cash to buy some comic books from the circle K next door. They would keep me busy sitting reading for hours while she worked. Pretty soon I had a stack and wrote on the inside cover the year and the number to document its place in my collection. Collecting came in when later I started to see/notice adds inside that had a yellow mini price guide that sellers were using and I started to notice some comic books were worth money. In my teens the wizard mag came out and I was a collector. Traded other kids, visited my first comic shop like 30 miles away, discovered bags and boards, got a subscription or two. My favorite story was in 1982 I bought a wolverine limited series 1 and read it. Right after I was so enthralled I emptied my piggybank and rode my bicycle to every place that sold comics in town and bought 7 off the rack. CGC just graded them on two days ago from this post and I even paid for FM to sign them…1@9.2 4@9.4 and 1@9.6 the seventh one I had given to my buddy in the 80’s (he still has it). Unemployed now enjoying the past.

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 3:35 pm

Wolverine Limited Series is one of my all time favorites. I own them, but I’m incredibly jealous to see you have 6 copies in such good shape and all signed. Wow…

BGD August 9, 2020 - 5:00 pm

I store mine in bags, boards, mylars, standard boxes. Constantly at 70 degrees in closets and in the dark…I have CGC slab boxes for those. My wife is not happy about the amount of closet space!!!

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 5:08 pm

Your wife must really love you! I would imagine that many books takes up rooms more than closets. What do you imagine you will eventually do with your collection?

BGD August 9, 2020 - 5:29 pm

Hmmmmm…probably narrow it down to 20 or so huge keys and pass them to the kids or buy a cabin in the NC mountains or move to New Zealand. In other words still up in the air! I would like to complete my run of X-Men 94-150 all in 9.8’s. About 80% completed.

Dan Gagnon August 9, 2020 - 6:55 pm

Sounds like a great plan and a fun goal! Good luck!

stephenb August 10, 2020 - 4:24 am

Don’t be Jealous….I babied these for years since 1982…so like 38 years….so I paid the price…my comics became a dependent…I wish I could have put them on my taxes….The story above is the only one I have like this…So happy and that’s ok at this stage of life.

stephenb August 10, 2020 - 7:25 am

CGC: 2141183001 thru 006 …they are like having kid’s in your house in their late 30’s….

K2 August 10, 2020 - 11:25 am

We had a new Convenience Store open up in my small hometown in Kansas. It was just a short ride from school and also my house during the summer to get there. The owner was an awesome man and allowed me to read all of the comics and then I purchased the ones I loved. He did not have many but it was good enough for me. I spent a lot of grass cutting money on comics and baseball cards at that store. I stopped collecting for a little while to be a grown up and raise kids but I started back up again and have completed a few complete sets and my kids also collect and I am collecting for my granddaughter to maybe get her into it also. Thanks for this article. Brought back some great memories.

Dan Gagnon August 10, 2020 - 1:59 pm

I wonder if those old, kind store owners knew the potential impact they were making on kids back then?


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