So you wanna buy a comic book

Meditations on a mutated medium and marketplace

Many of us, at one point or another in our lives, have browsed a comic book or two. Some, like yours truly, become pseudo-religious- scholarly-encyclopedic aficionados. More become fans of some sort, and still more go on to have little or no truck with the things thereafter. If you ever or seldom read comic books, but might be sufficiently adventurous to pick one up in the future, read on for an inkling of what you're getting into.

First, where do you find these guilty treasures? Well, in Charlottetown there's a mere handful of significant outlets. Your best bet for most of your comic book needs would be the Comic Hunter in the Confederation Court Mall (note: the Comic Hunter is now located at Queen St. - kc), since the closure of Not-So-Casual Collectables (formerly Outlands) left the Hunter as the sole comic book specialty shop in the area. They carry books, posters, toys, trading cards, t-shirts, collectibles, gaming equipment, and a sizeable quantity of them there comic book thingies. The new releases are spread prominently across the main shelving in alphabetical order, Aquaman to X-men and so forth.

The average 20-odd page "standard format" comic book you may or may not remember will now set you back at least $2.00 or thereabouts (inflation, corporate greed and a nose-diving Canadian dollar have taken their toll). Beyond that, there are various comic formats with higher quality stock and better coloring, often referred to as "New Format" (about $2.75 and issue) or "Deluxe" or "Glossy" format of some sort (now less common - prices vary). There's also "Prestige" or "Boolshelf" format comic books, which are high quality, heavy paper stock, squarebound like a book rather than stapled, and usually containing no ads. These babies run for at least 6-7 dollars before taxes, though a well-done book is worth it given the enhanced durability and visual quality the format brings with it. All of these prices naturally increase if a given issue has an extra page-length for whatever reason.

Yet another extra cost applies to many new books - cover enhancements. "Enhancement" generally refers to anything beyond the conventional printing methods, ranging from extra colored ink(s) to foil coating. Popular variations include foil-stamped covers, hologram covers, holografix (light-reflective) foil stamping, prismatic foil stamping, chromium (sorta glossy, pseudo-matallic) covers, glow-in-the-dark printing, die-cut covers, pop-up covers, embossed covers, gatefold (fold-out) covers, and the list goes on and on. It's frankly gotten more than a little ridiculous as the fiercly competitive comics companies try to out-gimmick each other at every turn. An "enhanced" book usually sells for at least $3.00 to over $6.00 depending on what the size and format of the books are. Sometimes the visual effects are impressive, but seldom worth the extra cash. If you check, many "enhanced" new releases come in standard format as well, for the budget-conscious collector. The special-cover editions are generally considered more colectible, though, as are books that contain inserted goodies like posters and trading cards. Many such books are "polybagged", sold pre-wrapped in plastic to increase their collectibility, and/or contain the aforementioned "freebies" (which usually, like cover-enhancements, add a buck or two to the cover price).

Other visual storytelling formats, moslty available through comic shops, include: the graphic novel (a larger, wider format on higher quality paper, usually at least several times the page-count of a standard comic book, usually squarebound softcovers but sometimes hard- cover); the trade paperback (oversize paperback book, usually squarebound softcovers but sometimes hardcover) and hardcover books (often reprint volumes of old or prestigious material from comics' Golden age [late 1930's to early 1950's] and Silver Age [1950's to late 1960's]).

Many new comics are available on newstands at drugstores, convenience stores and so forth (i.e. Batman, Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Superman) while others are available only via direct market outlets like the Comic Hunter (i.e. Legion of Super-Heroes, Sandman). In Charlottetown, another option is the local comic book subscribers cooperative called Beyond Imagination, owned and operated by its members, who are avid collectores. For more information or to join, phone (902)569-1529 and leave a message.

If you're a collector or nostalgic or both, you may be looking for older comics rather than new releases. Apart from raiding a friend's collection, you have a few options: used bookstores and flea markets often carry comics, but selection, condition and prices are often poor; regardless, it's usually cheaper than buying them new, and occasionally you can find a few gems overlooked by the sellers. Usually more expensive but more extensive in terms of selection is the back issues section of specialty stores like the Comic Hunter. Other options include mail order back issue companies (many advertise in comics and trade magazines) and off-Island specialty stores. A variety of price guides (from the venerable Overstreet price guide books to magazines like Comic Values Monthly, Wizard and Hero Illustrated) can help you know what a fair market price is for a given book.

If you want to take care of your comics, you can get bags and backboards sized to fit individual comics for safe storage; for longtime security, try to get acid free bags and boards lest they break down over time and eventually harm the book. The better condition you keep your book in, the better it looks and the more it's worth. While it's important to keep your books in good shape, it's a bad idea to collect solely for their actual or potential monetary value. Prices go up and down, and a hot new million-seller like X-men (2nd series) #1 is overpurchased and virtually worthless as a collectable, while low-print, low-profile books like Bone become near-priceless due to their rarity in the event of later popularity. Speculation is risky, unpredictable business, and it's far wiser to just collect books you like because they're good - it's more enjoyable, and it's often the initially overlooked good stuff that becomes a valued collectible in later years. Comics can be collected for fun and profit, but the key word there should be fun - otherwise, you might as well invest in soybeans or something

- Sean McQuaid
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