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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Annual Report

As a kid I used to love comic annuals, they were often double-sized (at least) and were chock full of "extra" material that the monthly series lacked the space to publish. All this for just a little more money, too bad they only came once a year.

Originally they were nothing more than reprint vehicles, a good way to sell the same stories to a new public (or to the same public who were fooled or just had to get everything Marvel/DC published). What also was very profitable to the publishers is that they have to pay the artists as under the work-for-hire regime all the art and all the rights belonged to the company to reprint ad infinitum.

But after a while common sense prevailed and most annuals got new longer single stories and multiple stories in a single annual. There still was the odd reprint, but at least for much of the 60's and 70's the balance was perfect between new stories, epilogues to stories published in the regular comics and reprints of older stories now unavailable (or too expensive) for the everyday comic reader. Also popular among the extras were biographical information on featured characters, full-page pin-ups of characters and "back-up" stories.

Later annuals often featured stories with greater importance to the characters featured than in the monthly publication, reflecting the "special" status of their once-yearly publication. Annuals also sometimes featured the finale of a multi-issue storyline running in the monthly series and became unmissable.

The publishers started seeing dollar signs when they realized that if a regular story concluded in the annual, everybody was forded to buy the annual.
But the publishers smelled even more money and they wanted Joe Collector to buy ALL annuals. Now annual were usually released in the summer of the year,and became more and more unified and thus the much maligned crossover storyline came to be. Marvel and DC thought it a good idea in bringing many of the characters in continuities together for a single overall event.Sounds like a good idea on paper right ? Well not quite, this meant that writers and artists were very restricted in what they could do as everything had to "gel" and each issue had to end on a cliffhanger so the public was forced to buy all of them. A lot of the stories in the annuals of the mid 80's through to the 90's seem very convoluted and are oft riddled with inconsistencies. Artists had to draw characters they were uncomfortable with or unaccustomed too so the art was lacking too.

Annuals started to die out in the late 90's due to the near-collapse of the comic book industry in the wake of the speculator boom. After the recession, they were reinstated but sparingly but by no means as regularly as before the "bust", when numbered series of annuals had reached the teens or twenties, indicating over a decade of regular publication. But the good news is that if and when an annual hits the stands (ok, the comic book shop) it's never a bunch of reprints anymore or part of a crossover...it's a proper annual again.

I bought the pictured annuals a few weeks ago, all from the early 60's and all cross-over free (but some do have the odd reprint)

FF Annual #2 from 1964 has that iconic Dr Doom cover and is a key book because Doom's origins were finally revealed here, more than two years after his first appearance.
Annual #4 & #5 started using the wording "King Size Special" instead of Annual, but #6 uses both "Kings Size Special" and "Annual"... Marvel was always experimenting during the Silver Age. But don't you just love those (Kirby) covers ?

I still need #1 & #3...but I'm working on it.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

The ones that get away...

The old adage "lose some, win some" seems to have been invented for online auctions. It's the nature of the best, nobody expects to win all the stuff they bid on (thank god) but now and then you can get lucky. I'll ramble on a bit today about the other side of the coin, the stuff I didn't win and which in hindsight should have turned out differently.

Like a lot of online-buyers I'm guilty on lowballing a lot of auctions. You see an item for sale that you wouldn't mind owning and you bid (or snipe) a really low amount. Very well knowing you have 99,9% of losing, but hey you might get lucky, everybody else might forget about it, some freak electrical storm might render all PCs (except yours) inoperative and you end up winning a $500 for $62.86 (the 0,01% at work). Ok, I know this never happens...I know people that bid on 100s of auctions each week using this method and I've never heard of somebody getting a super deal this way, sure you might get books way below market value if you are tenacious enough, but that's about it.

No, what I would like to talk about is missing something you really wanted (you really, really wanted) by a few dollars and not being able to put it out of your mind for weeks. (if I only had bid more, if I only had...). I work with "want-lists". One for my comic collection and one for my original art collection and try not to buy anything that isn't on one of those lists and I have a set rule, I only offer/bid/pay a certain percentage of guide and always stick to it. If I don't get it then the only reason is that it went for more than I was willing to part with, and I'm fine with that.
But I also have a few "grail" pieces, books or art that I just NEED to have (just like air, water and Cadbury Cream Eggs) or my life will have been a wasted one. Once I have a chance to go for one of these pieces, I throw all caution to the wind, lock all my common sense in a little velvet box and let emotion take over and bid, bid, bid.

But sometimes there are higher forces at work and you still don't get what need.

Probably at the top of my comics grail list is a nice low-grade Amazing Fantasy #15. I traded my copy last year and the wound just won't stop bleeding and then only thing that will make me healthy again is a new copy. Alas prices have shot up at 15% for low grade copies (even higher for mid graders), which means the $2500 copy will now almost cost you $3000. So finding the perfect book at the right price is getting harder and harder.

All my key books have been bought under the same circumstance, I go for lower graded CGC'ed books that look better than the technical grade. What I mean by this is that I go for books that have defects that don't jump out at you. Books where the main damage is on the back cover and no
t the front cover, books that take minutes of studying before you catch the blemishes. I'd rather have a 2.5 book with a bigger piece missing from the back (or from the first page) than a 3.0 book with three little pieces missing from the front cover.

These are not easy to find books, especially since I'm after off-white to white pages. So check all the major dealers and auctions sites every day. Two weeks ago I thought my quest for the grail had come to an end (sound of clapping coconut shells slowly fading) as I saw a 2.5 Amazing Fantasy with OW/W pages up for sale. Front cover looked a lot better than the grade, almost no Marvel chipping and a little moisture damage on the back cover, my ideal book.
The seller wanted $3000 which was a bit steep, so I took a chance and offered a lowball offer of $2200 (yes, I am a cheap bastard sometimes). Less than an hour later he countered with an asking price of $2800..I went to sleep thinking about the offer and when I woke up the seller had sent me a second offer of $2600. Now in hindsight I should have taken it, it was a decent price for a rare book, but I was thinking that the seller probably wanted
to sell it fast judging by the speed of his counteroffers so I re-counteroffered (is that even a word ?) with $2400...Now I was pretty sure the seller would split the difference and come back to me with $2500...well he doesn't and counters with $2550. So my turn again and this time I offer $2500, now I was sure he would go for this price, if you follow the back-and-forth on this you see it leading to this price. Trouble is that it was getting later, so I went to bed, expecting an acceptance of my offer when I woke up. No such luck, sometime during the night the seller got back to me with $2525...read it again $2525 ??? What a weird price. So I wake up and see I have a few emails, the first one is his $2525 offer, I said to myself, "ok, I'll accept it, don't want to fight over $25" and then I saw a second mail, sent three hours after the first one...retracting his offer of $2525...and then a third mail saying the item was sold for $2600...WTF ?
Looks like while he was waiting for my reaction to the $2525 (I was sleeping !) somebody else offered him $2600 and he took it...Aaaaaaargh.
Now if he had accepted the $2500 the auction would have ended and we would have set up the deal...or if I had decided not to sleep that night I would have been mine for a lousy $25 more.

Moral of the story, don't try and squeeze the lemon until there is no juice left anymore...oh and don't go to bed...ever

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