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Skip the Movie – Read the Comic Book

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picked what might have been the quietest day of the year – the Wednesday after the Great Election of 2008 – to dip back into my life-long, semi-permanent romance with comic books.

I am not a big fan of super hero movies, my tastes, pedestrian as they are, run a lot closer to the CSI television franchises. But, I can’t recall too many times when I ever passed up a chance to read a good comic book, or drool over someone’s lovingly assembled collection. I do suffer from a complete inability to walk past a comic book store and not go in.

Why has this romance become semi-permanent? Inflation — plain and simple. In the glory days of comic books, (Golden Age, Silver Age, and so forth) from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, you could buy thick, gorgeously drawn and colored first editions, from Superman to Archie, for as little as .10 or .15, or less.

Today, you would have to literally “invest” in those same comic books as collectibles, at an auction. Comic books as art, as “assets”, have more than come into their own.

Here’s a revealing case-in-point: Nicholas Cage, the actor, recently wanted to enter into a movie-with-tie-ins project with his son.  They started shopping it and the bankers began asking all the usual hard questions. Impatient and frustrated, Cage decided to circumvent the bean-counters and finance the project himself. How did he raise the money? He sold part of his comic book collection, reputed to be one of the finest in the country.

You might have to stretch your mind a little here, but beginning in the 1990s, everything from hedge funds to Penn’s Wharton School to  very serious art galleries finally began to pay comic books the long-overdue respect and homage that they had earned as the progressive, ultra-creative, mold-breaking leading edge of the graphic arts industry. Think of it this way, without comic books, there would be no glossy national magazines, very little Internet art, no USA Today, no over-the-top Madison Avenue advertising, a much tamer version of MTV, a limp brand of cable television, and the kind of creative and financial Great Depression in Hollywood that no one even wants to think about.

Comic books re-invented themselves throughout the 1980s and 1990s, moving, simultaneously, on to the Internet and out of the school yard. In part, this has to be due to the reluctance of Baby Boomers like me who grew up on Batman and the Justice League of America, refusing to abandon a cherished childhood delight just because we became adults.

Rather than just giving up on comics, as the generation before us did, we adapted the then crude wonders of story-boarding and computer-assisted animation to bring comic books right along with us. You can look at that one of two ways: lavish self-indulgence or the ingenious triumph of pop culture over the perceived limitations of the old comic book form. I say “perceived”, because those limitations never did exist.

Either way, the new world of comic books thrived. It was a natural progression for Boomer comic book readers to branch off and eventually become Boomer movie producers, who longed to see those timeless comic book heroes up there on the really big screen.

Comicon

What is the single most important gathering that takes place in the entertainment business each year – the event that is a must attend, if you have any hope of selling your movie, television show, high concept deal or next international superstar? It’s the Comicon convention that takes place annually in the blazing summer breezes in San Diego.

Comicon is the global gathering place that serves as the headquarters for the world’s comic book universe. Entertainment Weekly devoted as much coverage and analysis to Comicon this year as it did to the roll-out of the fall television season. Without the comic book-centered buzz that was generated at Comicon, there would have been no Dark Knight in 2008, no Iron Man, no Hell Boy II – pretty much no profits for anybody in Hollywood.

Haunting the Yard Sales

The last comic book I bought was at the end of the summer. I was making my way through one of those huge flea markets that spill over into the parking lot of the closest, nearby supermarket, moving methodically from car trunk to car trunk, from blanket to blanket, stopping the longest anywhere I could glimpse old toys, old jewelry or trading cards. If there are any comic books to be had, that’s where you are likely to find them.

That’s when I saw a deal I couldn’t pass up. Keep in mind, that the price of comics has all but driven me underground as a consumer. I just can’t afford to open my wallet anymore for first run Marvel or DC comics, with as few as 16 pages, lots of nice pictures, decent storylines, but not much that’s really captivating for $4.00 a pop.

A woman who was mostly selling junk books had a 1956 Special Issue of a Classics Illustrated for sale, The Ten Commandments. This line dominated the high end of the hobby from about 1941 to 1962 when the company went under. I have a nice little collection of Classics Illustrated, but nothing approaching the 169 original titles.

It was carefully sealed in plastic, in what looked like very good to excellent condition; 96 perfect pages, including every magnificent scene ever written in the Good Book, depicting Moses and the Pharaoh and the ten heaven-sent plagues.  She was asking $8.00 for it. We settled on $5.00, with a hard-cover promo book from the original Ben Hur movie thrown in. At some point I plan to offer The Ten Commandments on E-Bay. I will be asking a lot more than $8.00, just in case anyone wants to start the bidding right now.

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