Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

Comics: No Laughing Matter


Whether for want of subjects, or the increased presence of mood lighteners in the first waning days of summer, I have sometimes written about the comic book business as a parallel universe to rare and used bookselling. This month I’m at it again.  Why? To answer the age old question:  are comic books really more appealing than rare books?  And the answer: a qualified yes.


Comics are deeply woven into the American fabric, although the thread employed was once quite fine.  One could buy a comic for 5 or 10 cents and read and reread latest installments of the super heroes of the day. Or, if one had literary pretensions, it was an extra nickel for a Classic Comic Book of some famous literary work.  The stores that sold comics tended toward the seedy, and the comics themselves might be a bit obscured to protect the sensibilities of the elderly and upright.


At home, comics fell into the category of things that, if left on a living room table, were thought to convey vice, if not depravity.  “Keep those things in your room.”  Compare this to books, that were thought to convey education and intelligence and, if neatly arranged on shelves, to testify to high family standards.


Well, times have changed.


These days, comics are embalmed at birth to ensure greasy fingers and unscrupulous copy-and-pasters do not ever touch pristine examples.  The last people to have any physical contact with the new comic are the companies that grade them, and the fee is about $25.00 to place them in their plastic mausoleums.  Thereafter the comic becomes part of the commoditized, world and your comic not much more or much different than a share of pink sheet stock on the Vancouver stock exchange.


Not so long ago most daily newspapers printed stock quotes but today not so much.  Now we turn on the television or use a smartphone to connect for up-to-the-minute quotes and breaking news.  For comics, there are various marketplaces, but the best way still is simply to visit a comics shop because you can hear first-hand what is hot and what is not, and often be offered rarities from the collector-owner’s hidden reserve.


Certainly some collectors also need to attend the comics shows to feel fulfilled, and it is entirely normal to dress as your favorite character.  There are some who view this as over-the-top, but these are the same people who stopped trick-or-treating when high school rolled around.


Whether wearing street clothes or whatever, who's at these shows has also changed.  Not so long ago movie stars went to Europe or Montana in the summer.  These days they show up at comics shows to promote their increasingly comic-book based movies that once were on Hollywood’s Olympus, but now are on the front lines of the movie theatre versus home theatre and straight-to-streaming wars that undermine the price and value of star power.


From all this I gather that when the next Gutenberg Bible comes up at auction, it will be slabbed, the plaster edges melted into a seamless clear box filled with inert gas that lets you see the front and back covers and spine but not experience first-hand the two volumes.  For that you’ll have to buy the two volumes and break the seals.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Adam Smith, <i>Wealth of Nations,</i> first edition, descended from William Alexander, London, 1776. $70,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> George Gershwin, photograph signed & inscribed with autograph musical quotation, <i>An American in Paris,</i> 1928. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Friedrich Engels, <i>The Condition of the Working Class in England,</i> first edition, NY, 1887. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> <i>Bury St. Edmunds Witch Trials,</i> first edition, London, 1682. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Robert Rey, <i>Estampes,</i> complete portfolio of 12 wood engravings, Paris, 1950. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Archive of 47 letters by Enrico Caruso to a lady friend, 1906-20. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Books of Hours in Flemish, Netherlands, 15th century. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Jack Kerouac, <i>Doctor Sax,</i> deluxe limited edition, signed, NY, 1959. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Walt Disney, signature on title-page of Ward Greene’s <i>Lady and the Tramp,</i> first edition, first printing. $3,000 to $4,000.

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