My Ten Year Comic Book Journey

We go back to the future one more time. Let’s re-visit the 80’s, and the embarrassment of riches published in this era.

My Ten Year Comic Book Journey

We go back to the future one more time.  Let’s revisit the 80’s, and the embarrassment of riches published in this era

by Dan O’Brien  / Published March 5, 2021  / @vedafy1

Presenting:  THE COMIC BOOK CINEMATIC UNIVERSE.  

The stories, trailers, and rumors of the super hero movies and TV shows of our time…….and the comic books that inspired them.  The comics listed on these pages are not meant to offer advice on what you need to go out and find, but are reference points only on the current market trends in the industry.

Peabody, Massachusetts.  The year is 1979.  I’m driving around the city doing shopping errands with my mother, and we make a stop at the corner D & R Convenience Store. As she shopped, I gravitated towards the magazine section to browse around and keep myself busy. On that day, I spied their spinner rack, carrying the latest comics books of the day, the majority of them bent over in the rack looking very lonely, and clearly in need of some attention.

I randomly grabbed something called “Conan“.  It did not take long before I was whisked away to some magnificent, dangerous, far off land, and was forever hooked.

The issue was Conan the Barbarian, Volume 1, issue number 97, cover dated April 1979. It still resides in my collection today, as of March 2021.

Written by Roy Thomas, with art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan, Conan is a character created by pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard long before that time when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee announced a new type of super hero story telling had arrived, with the launch of 1961’s The Fantastic Four Number One.

Howard’s Conan stories were released in the 1930’s, a fantasy world of sword and sorcery where Conan is one of the mightiest warriors of his time, a smart, fierce, powerfully strong fighter, who would one day become king of the Hyborian Age that sprang forth from the creative mind of the writer.  I did not know it at the time, but back in 1970, a still very young but now very confident Marvel Comics took a chance by breaking away from the standard capes and cowls super-hero genre by adapting Howard’s stories into a comic book, releasing Conan the Barbarian #1, published in October of 1970. This series would last for 275 issues, finally wrapping up in 1993.  It spawned multiple spin-off series and magazines, animated television series, as well as film adaptations in the 1980’s, and as recently as 2011.

Eventually I would try to acquire every book of the original Marvel Comics series, but did fail to find that elusive issue number 1. For a young teenager, it simply was not meant to be.

That fateful day led me to a truly wonderful ten year period where I was blessed to be part of the incredible run of stories, writers, and artists that would unleash a flood of magical books between the years of 1979 to 1989.  I was there every Thursday night, picking through the very best looking comics released weekly at the Book Ends Bookstore of Peabody’s North Shore Shopping Center.

Marvel and DC Comics issues of the 1980s

Oh, the Eighties!

Consider just some of the incredible list of series and stories published during this period of time:

The Claremont-Byrne Uncanny X-Men run, the Mantlo-Buscema run in the Incredible Hulk and that amazing Rom: Spaceknight series. That sensational series of stories and new characters found in Marvel’s flagship book, The Amazing Spiderman from issue #200 through the Todd McFarlane run of the early 300’s. Jim Aparo’s Batman, the launch of the New Teen Titans in the iconic DC Comic Presents #26. The birth of the legend Frank Miller, starting with his jaw dropping Daredevil saga (I was there when it become a monthly series, and all of a sudden we didn’t have to wait 60 days!), Batman Year One, The Dark Knight, and so many more.

There was so much more. The sudden, stunning appearance of Alan Moore, a discovery I remember to this day in Swamp Thing #20.  From John Byrne’s legendary writing and art provided during his time on the Fantastic Four, Marvels first Secret Wars, and DC’s game altering Crisis on Infinite Earths, and then to independent publications, such as Kirby’s epic space fantasy Captain Victory, and Matt Wagner’s Grendel.  Add in the fantastic work such as Bill Sienkiewicz’s stunning covers and artwork on Moon Knight, this was a period of my life I will always cherish.

It did have to end, eventually.  By the early 90’s, life’s other challenges and events took over, and collecting more or less ended. I did dabble in a few things here and there, but the 90’s were a different period of time in the industry, and I could not spend the time necessary to make good buying decisions, making it difficult geiting into new characters arcs and storylines.

Over time, and after cleaning up my collection, making sure everything was properly bagged and boarded, I ended up with 21 longbox of comics, somewhere around 5000 comic books, with a huge percentage picked up right off the book store shelf (and, NOT spinner racks) during the 1980’s.

A note on comic book grading; terms and acronyms to know:

“Grading Scale”: Comic books are graded on a sliding scale starting at a perfect ‘Gem Mint’ grade of 10, all the way down to it’s lowest acceptable rating grade of .05. At this Heritage Auctions link, they provide a comprehensive summary of how the industry typically grades the conditions of a comic book.

“CGC”: This is the acronym for the third party company recognized to be the worldwide benchmark for the professional grading and certification of comic books, trading cards, magazines, and other collectibles.
The CGC comics division will grade each book it receives, encapsulating it in a sturdy plastic container designed to preserve the book in it’s current state, as well as offering a visually appealing case for it’s owner.

“CBCS”:  The acronym for the next most popular grading company, the Comic Book Certification Service, a major competitor to CGC.

Conan the Barbarian number 1 graded at CGC 9.6

Still on the Wish List: Conan the Barbarian, Volume#1, Issue 1

Published in October of 1970, Conan the Barbarian would unleash an entire new world of fantasy, sword and sorcery, and magic and monsters to the Marvel Comics universe.

This classic comic book, often considered one of the first issues of the Bronze Age, is difficult to find in high grade today. Recent EBay sales include:

CGC 9.0 Feb. 24: $1199.98
CGC 9.2 Feb. 23: $1100.
CGC 9.4 Dec. 9, 2020: $1797

DISCOVERING GOLD ONE ISSUE AT A TIME

This brings us that wonderful period of time known as the “Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020”. As I often did during this year, I was perusing comic book values, and suddenly the lightbulb in my head wasn’t just flashing, it was blasting off like it was a Mercury rocket launched to the moon.

I knew Amazing Spiderman #300 was an important, valuable book. It is typically highlighted as being the first full appearance of the one of the most important characters created in the 80’s, Venom, and features the now legendary Todd McFarlane cover. But I truly had no idea of the value it had attained in the industry. I was seeing professionally graded, high-quality versions of this issue now selling for as much as $3000 to $4000 each.

NOW I was curious. I dug deeper, found an online list of the current highest value books of the modern era, and did the proverbial falling off the chair. Let’s look at just a small list of the books I had stored in my long boxes, all safely preserved and mostly untouched by human hands during the past thirty to forty years.

IF THERE EVER WAS A TIME TO JUMP INTO THE COMIC BOOK MARKET, THIS IS IT.

The prices listed here is what I was seeing in December of 2020. Listed at the end of each item is a recent Ebay sale.

G. I. Joe #1: $1000+ The first comic appearance of this Hasbro toy franchise for multiple G. I. Joe characters, such as Cobra Commander, Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, and Hawk. For a real piece of history, check out this early 80’s era commercial. The first time a toy franchise created a television commercial for a comic book. (FEB. 4, CGC 9.8: $1999.99)

Star Wars #42: $2500+ First appearance of Boba Fett, and first full appearance of Yoda in comics. (FEB. 15, CGC 9.8 $4242)

Star Wars #43: $500+ First appearance of Lando Calrissian in comics (JAN 4, CGC 9.8, $1200)

Swamp Thing #37: $1000+ First full appearance of John Constantine. Two copies owned. (FEB. 17, CGC 9.8, $1980)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1: $1500+. First Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang comic appearance and first comic appearance of The Turtles in multi-colored bandanas.. Where did I buy this and when: absolutely no idea.  The estimated grade of my copy is no less than a 9.4.  (JAN 27, CGC, 9.8, $3200)

The above is just a very small sample size of the discoveries I was making in my collection.  There’s too many to list, as it just goes on and on…………

The Frank Miller Wolverine Volume 1 four issue mini-series. The Mike Zeck Punisher Volume 1 five issue mini-series.  Multiple copies of the original Marvel Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths twelve issue limited series.  All of those key issues from the early appearances of Spider-Man’s famous black suit in it’s pre-Venom days.

Long, high quality runs of all of the major characters still massively popular today, especially with the explosion of film and TV events: Avengers, Batman, Teen Titans, X-Men, Captain America, Spiderman.  

Amazing Spiderman, Volume 1, #300:

First full appearance of Venom. Considered the holy grail of 1980’s era comic books, this 1988 issue is the perfect storm of the comic book collectibles industry. The first full story and appearance of one of the most popular characters created during the 1980’s, there is no end in sight to Venom mania. 

Combine this with the on-going Marvel Studio/Sony synergy we’re seeing in the film industry, and you have here an absolute monster of a comic book.  This is also one of the most recognized covers of this generation. This issue is just the third Spiderman work done by Todd McFarlane, considered the most impactful artist of the last thirty years.

Finally, this was the 300th anniversary issue of Marvel’s most important and most universally loved character within it’s massive library.  So, yes….this is a rather important issue.  As this came out during a period of time where I was not regularly collecting, I do feel fortunate to have one copy. My conservative estimate is that my copy will grade out at a 9.4. (FEB. 12, CGC 9.8, $4995).

UPDATE: The verdict is in. It is a 9.2. Here’s the link with all of the details, plus more background on this issue.

Amazing Spiderman #300, graded at 9.8

On top of everything described, I was also seeing premiums in sale prices for books labeled as ‘newstand‘ versions of an issue. These were books sold to convenience stores and similar types of merchandisers where they were basically sold and cared for as if they were newspapers. The other variant that become more prevalent by the mid-80’s was the ‘direct‘ market book, which was sold directly to comic book stores and thus had the benefit of being handled much more carefully than it’s newstand brethren.

Another recent discovery I made is the fact that virtually everything I have are newstand copies.  They were bought from a wonderful bookstore that sold their wares on solid wood backings.  As stated above I was there every Thursday picking the best of the lot; I could carefully inspect every issue before buying it. Which you can damn sure bet I did.

So….the shock to the system I had after realizing exactly what I was sitting on here was quite a lightning bolt. Five thousand high quality, sometimes perfect comic books, all preserved in bags and boards for the last four decades.

Sweet Christmas. The decision was made. Everything goes.

The cost for shipping, pressing, cleaning, and then grading a comic book is on average $40 each, and as of February of 2021 I’ve made the decision to get as many of the highest quality books graded as soon as possible. Current lead times can be six months for this grading process, so I need to be patient. But later on in 2021 I should possess HUNDREDS of near-mint (CGC 9.6 to 9.8) graded books.  

This won’t end my collecting career, as it is finally time to seek out the comic books that have long escaped me. Early Spiderman, Fantastic Four and X-Men are just a few targets, and for sure that elusive Conan the Barbarian #1 WILL happen.

Please join in me in this adventure. Besides discussing the latest comic book-related TV show and film, I plan on providing stories on the wins and losses as my comic book buying and selling career kicks off during this year of 2021.

Amazon.com Library: Highlighting Related Omnibuses and Other Collected Works

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