Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Pioneers of Comic Book Collecting

Sunday morning, Comic Con, Todd Severin and I stop off at a collection of Mutt and Jeff originals from 1924 at Robert Beerbaum's booth, and start flipping through the 12 or so boards, neither of us with a huge love or appreciation for Bud Fischer, but with the same thought: neither of us, in our original art collections, have anything this damn old. After all, the latest piece here was 1924, the earliest was 1921, and, while i lack the provenance here, they have the distinction of being pieces that had been taken to england and had places or money references changed for publication in the UK.

We also, being long time Bay Area comic fans, myself from Marin County, Todd from Danville, had a long discussion with Robert about the "old days", which was, for us, the rough and tumble 1970's. Todd and I share the distinction of being the next wave of dedicated comic book fans, those that followed the pioneers in the comic fandom like Thomas and Shelley, and the first real wave of retailers like Rozanski in LA, and Beerbaum with Best of Both Worlds in Berkeley. We went to those early conventions that were being produced in the mid to late 1970's, not realizing that the rules of fandom were being made up around us, and that the direct market was about to change the retailing world forever in comics.

What we didn't know, as impressionable kids, was all the behind the scenes drama that would go on: Golden Age books being stolen, friendships torn apart as collections vanish and reappear, retailing horror stories when things were a lot less controlled than today. Drama from the original Bay Cons at the Jack Tar Hotel, or the Old California Hotel, both on Van Ness in San Francisco. It fills in a lot of gaps to tell you the truth. Perhaps a great new book for someone to write would be the history of Phil Seuling and the Direct Market.

The problem here is that we approach this both as a business and as a hobby, a collector's mentality. And most of the dealers that you see on the convention floor will make decisions that any sane business man would never make, regarding cash flow and inventory. How many of then have everything computerized? How many of them run reports on a weekly basis to check sell thru and inventory? And god bless them, because the true businessman would never have kept the comics scene alive with one hundreth the passion that these guys do. They become the conservators of the field, an oral history of comics that only comes out with a few beers.

I certainly think that the original art field has become almost all business, especially as collectors with real money, Hollywood money, hell, decent job money, have moved in and allowed the Albert Moys of the world to bring their prices up to levels that we honestly never would have ever thought.

Next post, we discuss Allen Siegel and the pricing of Dave McKean.


Glen David Gold said...

How funny. I went to my first comic convention in 1973 or 74 on the Berkeley campus, then to the shows at the hotels in SF -- and another one at the Claremont Hotel right after Howard the Duck 1 came out. I'd forgotten the name Jack Tar Hotel, but that's right. I used to spend long days on Columbus at the comic store there, and associated the smell of coffee roasting (done next door) with the latest issues of Warlock coming out. Are you on the comicartfans website, Charles? Check out the galleries (including mine, I suppose -- evidence that the madness didn't stop in 1977 when I moved.)

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

glen - i left a note on your blog, not sure if you'll get it, but thanks for the comment here.

Carter beats the devil is the real deal, BTW.

Todd Severin said...

Holy Wow! I made your blog! I MADE YOUR BLOG! Finally, I'll be able to start sleeping at night!

Seriously though, great review of the early days of comics. It's amazing the information that lies out there, just wainting to be garnered, if only we take the time and talk to people.

Keep up the good work