Monday, May 2, 2011

More Like A Book (Still Worthless) Comic Values Annual Is A Tough Sell!

The Good: Contains guides to quality and prices for comics, Cover images are cool.
The Bad: Out of date by the time it is printed.
The Basics: Save a tree, use the internet: Comics Values Magazine is a once-a-year publication that is outdated by the time it hits the stands!

Sometimes, I encounter something that is so very simple, I am left with almost nothing to write about it. I am there right now with Comics Values, a once-a-year magazine that is published to keep comic buyers and sellers on the same page as to the value of comic books. The thing is, the name of the magazine more or less says it all and readers looking for a complicated publication – and a complicated discussion of that publication – are likely to be severely disappointed. Printed each year with a cover price of over $25.00, Comics Values is a compendium of prices of comic books from the start of American comic book printing through the month before this yearly guide is published. The latest issue of Comics Values had over 94,000 comic books listed!

With minimal articles, Comics Values is one long index. After an introduction with the usual collectibles disclaimers of “this is a guide, prices may be different in your transaction,” the “magazine”(it is comic book size in its length and height, hardcover novel size in its depth, so this has more the feeling of being a trade paperback) provides the most useful section it can. Comics Values has a single article in it, which is about how to define the condition of one’s comic book. For those not in the know, comic books are graded from Mint (never been touched) to Poor (well-read, dog-eared, possibly missing pages) with gradations in between. The general criteria used to separate each of the gradations is spelled out by author Alex G. Malloy in a very readable and clear way.

After that single article, the guide begins. This is a giant, alphabetically arranged list of comic books and their current value as defined by . . . this publication. The criteria used by Comics Values is kept somewhat vague, though given the generally high prices on many of the issues, one assumes this is guided by auction values, as opposed to eBay pricing. Page after page is a very simple format: The title of the comic book, publisher, year range it was published and then issue numbers follow. Prices are then laid out next to each title of each issue for each major gradation. As a result, each page is a simple listing of names with a lot of numbers. Malloy makes it very easy to follow by having the names of the comic books in boldface and there are index letters at the top of each page, to those flipping through may easily tell where they are. As well, titles that had multiple imprints (Star Trek, for example, has appeared in comic book form from Gold Key, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Marvel (again), and IDW) are easily arranged in chronological order, so it is very easy to find the correct comic book one is looking for.

Why am I so down on Comic Values then? The reason is simple (and two-fold). The first is that values of all collectibles are highly variable. These values change week to week or month to month, not year to year. A crate of unopened, mint condition comics from a previously thought short run can suddenly make a tough to find comic plunge in value or a warehouse fire destroying a similar crate could cause the value to skyrocket! These changes are the exact type of things that those who are out of the loop and needing a price guide like this need to know. With Comics Values as one’s only guide, the reader is left woefully unprepared to do business in a very volatile market.

And the second reason is that the internet (and the prevalence of dealers who simply dump their products at low prices on eBay) has made everything that was once hard to find much more accessible. Instead of having to go into obscure shops worldwide, through the use of the Internet, comic book buyers may now gain access to inventories that they might not have local access to. The result has been that every collectibles market, comic books especially, have plummeted. Dealers have been able to unload their older, unsellable merchandise to targeted audiences and competitive sales sites have made it impossible to maintain the value on any given comic book – there is always a dealer who will screw over every other dealer selling something by offering it less expensively. Conversely, when something is truly rare, bidding sites make it possible to instantly explode the value of a comic book. Is the value of the book what is in the guide, arrived at through decades worth of study of the market, or what someone will pay when three people all decide they want it NOW. Most sellers come to price by the latter method.

Either way, by the time it appears on the newsstands or in bookstores (usually in mid-May), Comics Values is already obsolete. In the weeks it takes to print and ship the publication, values have changed. It may be a guide, but there are plenty of those, especially on-line (including one from this magazine!). As a result, this physical copy is becoming more and more superfluous.

For other magazine reviews, please visit my takes on:
National Wildlife
American Photo
Pillsbury Classic Cookbooks


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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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