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Longbox Graveyard Podcast: “Form Follows Function”

The Fifth Longbox Graveyard Podcast Is Here!

This month’s podcast is a history lesson and editorial all in one (be still my beating heart), looking at how there is really no sacred, artistically pure form of comics storytelling … that everything about our beloved comic books has been driven by technology, convenience, and commerce.

it does NOT get more exciting than the Yellow Kid!

I return to my thirty-minute form after last-month’s epic so it should be that much easier to give it a listen!

Thanks, as always to Mo Kristiansen at the We Talk Podcasts network for hosting the Longbox Graveyard Podcast. You can find all of my past podcasts and appearances on my podcast page.

Longbox Graveyard Podcast at iTunes

Longbox Graveyard Podcast at We Talk Podcasts

Glorious Bastards

Longbox Graveyard #22

Five whole boxes in the Longbox Graveyard contain cherished books that have been separated, indexed, bagged, and boarded.

Another two or three boxes contain books waiting in line at Ellis Island.

Ten boxes are full of dross.

And then there are the five boxes full of my own stuff. “My own” meaning books that I wrote.

These boxes are freighted with old memories, but I’ve done little besides take quick little Pandora peaks at them these past twenty years.

nice ink job on this cover by future Marvel Comics bigwig Jimmy Palmiotti

I worked for about four years to break into the mainstream comics business by writing black & white comic books for Malibu Comics and it’s various imprints. At first I did series of my own creation, then later wrote scripts for properties Malibu owned. I learned a lot about myself as a writer, but like a lot of comics from this era, few of my books got much traction. For the most part, I’ve locked the books away as a means of keeping those ghosts buried. Most of the reasons why I got out of comics entirely, both as a pro and a fan, stem from those hard days working flinty soil as a comics writer in the early 1990s.

But something about working through other parts of the Accumulation gave me the courage to tackle my own books. It wasn’t even a gradual coming to terms — it just sprung on me in the middle of the night, a sudden and nearly irresistible urge to organize and catalog just the books that I had personally written during my brief career as a comic book writer. It was like bagging and boarding five hundred books from other creators made me want to see my own work afforded similar ceremonial respect.

I restricted myself to organizing and indexing books in this pass — I’m not ready to read them just yet. But this is a huge step for me. It’s like acknowledging a pack of bastard children, and if it is too late to actually tend to their rearing, at least I can start to form relationships with them now that they’re grown.

Here’s an alphabetical and incomplete list of what I wrote, based on what I’ve been able to find and enter into my database.

BadAxe #1-3: My original sword and sorcery epic, and a love-note to Joseph Campbell. I have fond memories of this but I haven’t tested them by reading the books.

Bones #1-4: First comics I ever wrote. Light, goofball fantasy. I remember it as uneven, but heartfelt.

Empire #1-3: An original space opera that I deeply loved, but poor inks trumped good pencils in the first issue, and the book met with untimely cancellation.

Ex-Mutants Winter Special #1: I turned in my scripts every thirty days, and sometimes we’d get way ahead of schedule and end up printing a book or two as a special edition, or an annual, or a double issue. I think that’s what happened here.

Ex-Mutants: The Shattered Earth Chronicles #1-15: Grind-it-out work-for-hire. The check I got for issue #1 was the most I was ever paid to write a comic. For most books I never got paid beyond my advance-against-royalties (because most Malibu/Eternity books never generated royalties!). For that first Ex-Mutants I probably made six or seven hundred dollars, which was two or three times what I made on any other book.


Heavy Metal #645: An outlier from 2005 — everything else here is from the early 1990s. A promotional story I helped create to launch Darkwatch, a video game I co-created for High Moon Studios.

Interactive Comics: Dudley Serious & The Dungeon of Doom #1: Our splicing of comic books and “pick a path” adventure books. We also did Dudley Serious & The Space Patrol and Dudley Serious Saves The World (a superhero spoof that you can read online HERE).

Lensman #1-6: I thought some Lensman would be better than no Lensmen at all, but I ended up underserving a great genre tradition. I loved space opera and leaped at the chance to do this series, but it had to be based on a pretty crappy Japanese animation series (rather than the original books). Not great.

Lensman War of the Galaxies #1-2: Really just a continuation of Lensman, but we started a new series to juice sales numbers owing to a new #1.

The Liberator #1-6: Along with Bones, the first series I ever wrote. My homage to Captain America, by way of Alan Moore. I’m afraid to read it! Pencils by my old pal Jim Chadwick, who is an editorial wheel over at DC Comics now.

Monster Frat House #1: I remember writing a dynamite series bible for this, and then just having nothing left when it came time to write the issue itself. This was a naked IP pitch for animation, or something. Fizzled.

New Humans Annual #1: See comments above for that Ex-Mutants special.

New Humans, Volume 2 #4-15: Another long run that I can scarcely remember. This was more work-for-hire in the Ex-Mutants universe.

Paranoia #1-6: Certainly the best art I ever had on a book, and a rare color book for me (pretty much everything else here is black & white). This was based on the role playing game license, and I initially wrote it as a “straight” Paranoia story, but then we scared up a wild-ass South American artist who went completely off the rails with his own look and feel, and I gleefully followed him. We might have done a disservice to the license and its fans but I liked what we did. There are scans of a couple issues over at Mars Will Send No More. I recently re-read the series and quite enjoyed it. My last copies of this series are being offered in lots over at eBay — order one and I’ll sign it for you!

Roger Wilco #3: Comic book version of the old Space Quest computer game. Pretty sure I wrote #2 as well, but I can’t find it.

The Three Musketeers #1-3: I loved Dumas. I probably loved Dumas too much, because I tried to put too much of him into the three issues of this book. I nearly killed my poor letterer (the good-natured and very professional Clem Robins) — these books were a wall of words! I failed to understand the difference between adaptation and transcription. But I loved Dumas so much that I couldn’t cut a word …

Tiger-X Book II #1-4: I got to play with Ben Dunn’s giant robot property for a couple issues.

Ultra Monthly #1-6: A promotional rag I wrote to support the Ultraverse line. It was a clever idea — a newspaper from inside the Ultraverse — and an idea that might still work for marketing superhero comics.

And I know I’m missing some of the kids, too, probably all lurking in the same box someplace. There was a “Shattered Earth” anthology series I remember, another Roger Wilco book, and a couple fill-in issues of Rune that I wrote during the last gasp of the Ultraverse (which I already covered in detail).

I’ve always had this vague idea that I’d written around a hundred books for Malibu, but there are only sixty-odd here, so either my memory is faulty or I’m missing a box, or both. There were also several unpublished books (some of which I was paid for), including a multi-part history of baseball; an undead pirate epic called The Black Joke; a fill-in issue of Sludge where the deeply-missed Steve Gerber put me through the wringer (and did me a great service); an extensive pitch for Ultraforce that didn’t get picked up; two or three long-gestating original superhero stories that I still remember fondly; even a translation of a French pornographic comic that I wrote under the name of “Armand Jean du Plessis” (all the more amusing because I don’t speak French). I’ve found a few of these lost scripts and put them up for your examination on my Comics Scripts page.

Sorry this is only a survey, but just writing fifteen hundred words about my comics oeuvre is a big, big step for me. It’s the most I’ve thought about my comics in twenty years. I’ll dig deeper in a future post. For now I’m going to do some deep breathing and maybe read BadAxe.

Maybe.

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #23 Queen of the Black Coast

X Ratings

Longbox Graveyard #14

So far I haven’t given much thought to selling my comics.

It’s been enough to process the books from the Accumulation to the Collection, make note of them in my database, and sometimes read a book or two as I go.

But now I’ve come to my 1970’s-era X-Men books. If I have any books that might command significant prices, it is these.

I like X-Men well enough … but if books I bought for .40 can be listed for forty bucks then I have to sit up and take notice. Besides, many of the most valuable books that I own have been collected in the excellent Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 1 (and if you don’t have it, you should — get it HERE). I find the idea of selling my X-Men to finance purchasing Omnibus Volume 2 if/when it comes out very attractive. Especially when spitball numbers tell me I should be able to afford that second Omnibus several times over, thanks to the completeness and condition of my X-Men collection.

Problem is, preparing comics for sale plunges me straight into terra incognita (value grading comics) and terra I-don’t-wanna (eBay).

The first issue is one of authority.

Yes, Judge Dredd IS the law … but he’s not here to grade my comics. Who decides what a comic is worth?

Back in the day, we were supposed to look at the Overstreet Price Guide. The Guide is still being published, but it has no significant online presence that I can find. Overstreet Guide is probably still the “authority of record” for comic book values, but as a print-only resource publishing on a yearly basis … well … as far as I’m concerned, the information superhighway has done a Radiator Springs on that rest stop. I like thumbing it at the book store to skim the chatty and anecdotal market reports, but I’m not ready to drop thirty bucks on getting a copy.

A little more current-century is CGC. The Certified Guarantee Company is an independent grading company, who will examine your books, offer an objective grade, and seal the book into a plastic clamshell likely to survive the apocalypse … for a not-inconsiderable fee. If I was grading Amazing Fantasy #15 or, say, a copy of the Bible, numbered and signed by the Original Author, then I’d spring for this service in a heartbeat. But paying CGC twenty bucks to grade books that might be worth forty doesn’t pencil out.

So after groping about for a bit I’ve decided to invest blind faith in ComicsPriceGuide.com. For the price of a (free) registration, I get access to their price guide, which at least gives me a consistent baseline for valuing my own books. “CPG” also solves my second issue …

… which is methodology.

CPG has outlined a reasonably in-depth Comic Book Grading Guide on their website.

Beginning with (I gather) standards established by prior authorities, the CPG list outlines thumbnail guidelines for rating comics on a ten point scale, from “GEM MINT 10.0” all the way down to “POOR .5” (we won’t consider the existential despair of the even-lower “NO GRADE” grade). Working from this standard, I think most of my old X-Men books fit into  “FINE” to “VERY FINE” categories, between 7.0 and 8.0 grade. Not bad, but I think they would rate higher, if not for a slight-but-noticeable curl for my books, a result of being stored on-end (but without backing boards) for decades. Curiously, the CPG list doesn’t call out “cover curling” as a consideration in grading, but I think I can draw equivalents by knocking off points for curling the same way points are deducted for a “rolled spine” (shudder).

OK, I’ve solved authority and methodology to a comfortable degree. This leaves me with the third and largest issue …

marketplace.

There’s a big difference between value and price — almost as big a difference as there is between asking and getting. It’s one thing for me to note in my Collectorz database that I have issue #120 of X-Men, that I have it stored in Box 2 and marked “For Sale,” and that I rate it “VERY FINE 8.0” with a current value of $50.00. It’s another thing, entirely, to sell the book for that or any other price.

I’m no stranger to eBay. My feedback rating is positive enough to earn me a fancy star over there, garnered mostly from buying and selling boardgames. But I don’t really like eBay. I don’t like the interface for listing items, and I especially don’t like persnickety buyers busting my balls over problems, real or imagined, in the condition of my items. And if people have given me grief over the condition of used video games, what are they going to say about my comics? I’m trying to err on the side of the buyer when assigning grades, but still. I’m new at this. And we’re talking about eBay.

There’s also the issue that eBay appears to be a ghost town of a market for comics right now. Searching for current auctions on the books I’d offer reveals a lot of overpriced “Buy It Nows” and zero-bid items. The only upside is that the care I’m taking in grading my books appears to put me in the minority for sellers in this category, who seem to pick just any-old number to grade their books, and price them — shall we say — optimistically, in view of market realities.

Which means there might be a niche for me here, as the Honest Guy Who Undergrades His Comics & Genuinely Cares About His Customer.

I’m just not quite ready to change into my eBay costumed identity. Until then, I’ll keep marking select books “For Sale” in my database, so I will be ready at a moment’s notice to offer “Captain Marvel #1 VERY FINE (MINUS) 7.5,” “Tales of Suspense Vol. 1 #65 FAIR 1.0,” or “X-Men #96 FINE 5.5″ for sale.

As an experiment (and with little hope of success), I’ve put up a page on this blog listing a few of my comics for sale. If you want to buy a book from the Longbox Graveyard — complete with a little sticker on the backing board to establish the book’s provenance — then hit the Back Issues For Sale tab at the top of this page!

The Longbox Graveyard back issue store is open 24/7, and graded VERY FINE 8.0 for ubiquity and ease-of-use. Thanks!

NEXT WEEK: #15 Catching Lightning

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