Having been and still am a fan of Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, I was quick to add his latest creation to my monthly comic book pull list. Honestly it didn’t matter what the comic was going to be about, Matt and Sharlene Kindt’s names were on the cover, I couldn’t pass it up. The truth is, I would have snagged the first issue of Dept. H no matter what…because it’s a murder mystery. In addition to being a Kindt fan, I’m also not one to pass up a well scripted “who done it.” I cracked the cover of Dept. H and dove right in.
This comic has all the wonderful earmarks of an intriguing murder mystery: strong female protagonist, death under unusual circumstances, isolated list of suspects and everyone involved has personal history with the investigator. As I read through the pages, I imagined an atmosphere similar to that of “The Abyss.” As expected with a Kindt title no page goes to waste (sans advertisements). The front cover is used to describe the unique details of Mia’s deep dive suit. The back cover provides publisher and creator details.
I, for one, am looking forward to learning all about the crew of Dept. H, a science research facility located at the bottom of the ocean. Even more important, I want to know who and why someone would kill the smartest man on earth? Issue two hits comics shelves May 18th, join me.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I love comics. I’m down with the reading, with the collecting, and sometimes the speculating. I’m reflecting on comics that I really enjoyed in 2015. Oh, there were “tons” of them, and I can’t write about every one of them, so I narrowed the list to share the best. These were my guidelines:
I have 119 books on my 2015 “Pull List”; the majority of them are NOT DC or Marvel. The 2015 “Pull List” includes books from Boom Studios, Valiant, Image, Vertigo and Dark Horse. There are some smaller press books on the 2015 “Pull List”, though I admit the spectrum isn’t very broad. The books on this list have a release date within the year of 2015, despite the printed cover date. Also, I don’t include re-launched titles that start over with issue 1, because this is too gimmicky for me. That’s it. Ready?
I have really enjoyed some titles from Boom Studios. Their solicitations are truly unique, ranging from kid-friendly to mature, and much between. I really love the YA drama of Giant Days, and–honestly– some of the funny antics showcased in the book truly remind me of my college youth. Dating, roommates, drama fields, lost love, and secret crushes are all tackled in this engaging, ongoing series by John Allison and Lissa Treiman. Included in the mix are strong young women who push at social stereotypes, acknowledge self-doubt, and develop strong personal character. Initially solicited as a six-part mini series, Giant Days’ success was rewarded when the creative team was asked to extend the series to 12 issues. The comic was so popular that it’s now an on-going series with an updated creative team. I’m in it for the long haul as I find Giant Days too much fun to pass up.
When I first read about Harrow County in Previews, I immediately added it to my regular pull list. I instantly recognized this comic book was going to be something I’d love to read. Young Miss Emmy has a mind of her own and a soft heart for the dark souls that inhabit the creepy places of Harrow County. She can speak to the haints (haunts), and what she says to them is typically motivating, if not compassionate. Have a ghoul kicking up a fuss in your attic? Emmy will gladly quell the behavior. Just know, she’ll do it by letting the ghoul know it’s welcome, and by inviting it to stay put. Emmy has a strong streak of “right” versus “wrong”, and she condemns those that would use her for something evil. She adheres to the “live and let live” motto, even if it does not always work out for her. The writer, Cullen Bunn solidified his space on my “read everything” list when he penned “The Sixth Gun.” He truly is a fantastic writer and I’m a happy fan. I first came across the artist, Tyler Crook, while reading WitchFinder (another Dark Horse favorite). Tyler’s drawing style and color blends match so perfectly with Cullen’s words that their joint work has uncanny flow. They’re a creative combination paired in heaven, I say.
Eden, Wyoming is an intriguing place. It’s a layover town full of criminals. Throw in several random acts of violence, a dirty FBI agent, a postman with Asperger’s, and dark family secrets, and you have the backdrop for the comic Postal, written by Matt Hawkins & Bryan Hill, drawn by Isaac Goodhart. Mark is the local postman with Asperger’s. Actually, he’s the only postman in town. Mark pays attention to who gets what in the mail, and reports this information to the mayor, who “just happens to be” his mother. By way of post, the mayor collects the town secrets and uses what she knows to keep everyone in line. When things don’t go her way, the mayor calls in the sheriff. Can you guess with whom the mayor’s having an affair? Postal is more than family drama though, the series is on issue… and so far what readers have learned about the townspeople is: there’s a former meth dealer in residence, a cheating federal agent on-site, the murderer of Mark’s sister on the loose, and a suspected child molester in hiding. Oh yeah! There’s so much going on, so many sub-plots in this comic, I can’t help but keep reading it.
Coming in Part 2: Head Lopper, Chrononauts, and Descender. (By the way, feel free to leave me a comment or drop me a line about your favorite comic book from 2015. I welcome the discussion.) ****Update****
I would have loved to continue this discussion but truth is, I let the time slip past me. With that understanding, here are the books I really enjoyed in 2015:
I’ve had the privilege of attending several cons in my day; from C2E2, Wizard World Philly (back when it was good), to New York Comic Con and Baltimore. Based on my experience, not all cons are the same, so here’s my take.
New York Comic Con – If you are interested in large scale, tons of pop culture, celebrities (old & new), and don’t mind lines that sore feet, New York Comic Con is your bag, baby. From rare con exclusives to big name announcement, and celebrities galore, New York has grown so large it’s crowds dwarf San Diego. Getting tickets is difficult, but worth it for the number of events, swag, and sheer comic fandom to be had. In 2014, it was rumored that 150,000 people per day entered the doors of the Jarvis Center for New York Comic Con.
C2E2 – Let’s say you want something a little less hectic, marginally smaller, but not small? Then, C2E2 is for you. There are huge crowds, but not so daunting as to impede your con enjoyment. C2E2 is a spring con that hosts a number of comic and pop culture flare, a little bit of something for everyone. There are even big name celebrities, though not as may as… say… New York.
Baltimore – If you are a true comic book fan, looking for a comic con that really means, “comic readers con,” then Baltimore is the show for you (and me). The focus at Baltimore is comic books and comic book fans. While walking the floor of the show I overheard a self-publisher say, “This is a great con for creator-owned works. I’ve sold more books at this con than any other.” In my opinion, he was likely telling the truth. The draw of Baltimore is the pure focus on comics and the people who like to read comic books. It’s also good ground for those willing to try new things (new reads, new characters, the unknown). While the “big two” publishers may not appear at the con, the smaller presses have a field day. Additionally, Baltimore’s VIP pass is the only ticket in the field that actually gets the passholder early admission. Most VIP tickets mention something about “first access” to the con, but this is smoke and mirrors. For other cons, “first access” is simply a ploy, as convention organizers don’t actually mean early admission. They mean that… maybe… the first spots in line (if you get there first) at the door before opening might be available and open for you to stand and wait like everyone else, granting just a few moments more to the holder, before swarms teem in at your heels.
Wizard World Comic Con Philly – Interested in a mix bag of celebrities, sci-fi, wrestling figures, and comics? Any of the Wizard World cons is just for you. A-listers, B-listers and some of those in-between appear at Wizard cons. A draw for some has been Wizard’s ongoing agreement with Image Comics, allowing the continuous re-issuing of The Walking Dead Issue 1. Each Wizard World con has a new variant cover of the hugely popular comic book series. I haven’t attended a Wizard con since 2007, so I can’t say with assurance that this is still true. However, there have been fewer and fewer top-notch comic book guests and more pop culture guest appearing at these cons. Wizard cons aren’t overly expensive and have many locations thus making it still a good draw.
I’ve still some cons on my comic con buckets list: Emerald City Comic, Toronto Fan Expo, and perhaps–if I’m willing to take out a second mortgage on my home, give up my aversion to crowds–San Diego Comic Con. I’ve been hearing good things about Dragon Con, that may be in my future as well. We will see.
In the span of 24 hours, Dex pisses off two rednecks, makes a reluctant deal with a local crime boss, gets shot point blank… several times, and ends up arrested. That’s quite an accomplishment for a moonlighting private investigator with a gambling problem. Dex is in the hole for about eighteen-grand, so when her credit is no longer good, casino management pulls her card. To pay off her debt, Dex agrees to honor a request by a casino manager, and sets course to find a missing person. The tale is gritty, dark, moody, and enjoyable. What appears to be a straight-forward missing person case morphs into gang wars, illegal drugs, and murder. Within the first few pages of Stumptown, Dex is shot and left for dead in a river. Quite the opener. From White Out to Lazarus, Greg Rucka consistently narrates a spectacular female tale. He creates strong female protagonists who do not lean on conventional stereotypes, and Dex is no exception.
Cool Factor: Dex has a nonchalant attitude about everything, which may give the impression she is not interested or paying attention to people talking at her. Truth is, she is way more astute than the bad guys realize, and–nine times out of ten–she is 3 steps ahead of her enemies.
There are two “camps” of comic book collecting: those who slab and those who don’t. I readily admit, I am in the first group and I’m perfectly happy to stay put. “Slab” or “slabbing” is collector slang for “comic encapsulation,” otherwise known as “grading.” Since 2000, impartial thirty-party comic book grading has been available thanks to Certified Guaranty Company, known in the industry as CGC. Several knock-off/bootleg grading companies have emerged, but none of the CGC quality… until last year. More recently, Comic Book Certification Services (CBCS) launched, and CGC finally as a worthy competitor. I have used both grading companies and, to be honest, I like them equally. CGC corners the market; they have been around for 15 years and are an industry icon/standard. CBCS was founded by some of the folks who started CGC. They have a similar business model and offer competitive services to CGC, except they offer less expensive service. One last plus to CBCS is the general public can submit comics to them directly, whereas CGC requires either a paid membership or submission through a third-party.
Okay enough about that. So you have decided you want to submit your books to CGC or CBCS. You believe you have a rough idea regarding the potential grade your comic(s) will earn, so you pack up your book(s), ship to one of the graders, and wait the 6-8 months it takes for your submission to go through the grading cycle.
Why have your comic book graded? Because it increases the value of your comic and thus increases the value of your collection. Here’s an example:
In 2003 The Walking Dead sold for $2.95. By 2015, the inaugural issue is worth $1,600 raw (not slabbed). A 9.8 (near mint, slabbed and graded) copy of The Walking Dead Issue 1 is valued at $4,300. I say no more.
You have submitted what you believe to be near mint books expecting a grade between 9.6 to 9.8. Low and behold your book(s) returns to you and–to your surprise– with a lower grade than you anticipated.
As I’ve mentioned in my “about me” post, I am a collector/hobbyist. Therefore, the joy of the hobby comes first. Value or speculations of “it might be worth something/it’s a good investment” comes in a limp second. I like slabs. I think slabs look awesome on display, and I do like that graded comics add value to my collection. Feels like a win-win. I preface the following with “I am not a professional comic book grader,” I am offering my advice on the topic just to share.
I have self-submitted over 100 comics (okay that’s not a lot, but still). I have received grades that range from 9.6 to 9.9. During my early submitting days, 9.6 appears to be my average. Over time, however, I have learned to really pay attention to the physical details of the books I submit and have improved my average to 9.8. Though, admittedly, I have seen a lot more 9.9 than I expected (let’s hope that trend continues).
Okay let’s grade some comics – amateur style. Dirt and oil from your fingertips can cost you grading points in the end. I recommend using gloves while you assess your book. I have experience with cotton and latex. Both types of glove seem fine, though I recommend staying away from latex gloves that have powder in them, as this substance can be introduced to your comic and it will cause damage. To properly assess your comic, you must be able to view the front and back of the book. If bagged and boarded, remove your book (be gentle). Good maneuverable lighting helps with assessment, as changing light angle can show defects or discrepancies. Have a clean work area to perform your assessment, and get right to it. First, look at the corners of your comics. Are the corners crisp or blunted? If one or more of the corners is blunted, not at a point, points are deducted from the grade. Be very critical. It is better to assess your book lower than to assume a higher grade. Next, look at the spine, and pay attention to the staples. Are there any creases in the spine? What about staple tears, including those from the printer? Again, small dents and dings cost points, and any blemish can make the difference between 9.8 and 9.4. Okay, so you’ve looked at the corners, reviewed the spine. Now, lay the book flat and determine if there are any scuff marks on the cover. Once you assess the outward condition of your book, give the pages a flip, and do so from cover to cover. Here you are looking for folded page corners or manufacturer defects. If the book looks sharp and clean, give it your best grading guess. Remember, be critical. If you think it is a 9.8, consider 9.6. If you think it is a 9.9, consider 9.8.
What’s the point to all this? Having an idea of the potential grade of your comic should assist you in making the decision to invest in grading your comic book.
I applied this assessment method to this reprint of The Walking Dead. I’ll post a follow up in about 6 months as to the grade it received.
*** UPDATE *** January 2016 ***
The above comic has just arrived from CBCS. It was graded 9.8 and I am quite pleased. And for the record it took a little over 4 months, that some great turn around time I say!
As a modern comic collector, I am bombarded with new and fresh comics each week. The conundrum in collecting is deciding what I want while trying to maintain a budget. Then, some hot, new, creative team introduces a “must have” book, and–just to spice things up–the publisher offers a kazillion variants. The completest in me wants very badly to have every issue of the new Archie relaunch AND every one of those awesome Star Wars covers issued by Marvel. Some books are issued as “1 in 10” variants or “1 in 25.” There are “1 in 50,” too, and so forth and so on. Add to these “1 in…” are special interests variants like Ghost Variant, Phantom Variant, Loot Crate Variant and Hastings Variant. Sometimes, to encourage high order numbers, publishers allow retailers their very own special variant unique to their store!
Publishers aren’t just issuing variants for comic release dates. They are also doing special limited (debatable) print runs for specific comic conventions, such as San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, or any of those Wizard World conventions. This means the market is duly flooded with variant cover comic books as far as the eye can see. Some variants really are extremely rare; like those 1:100 and 1:200, and especially those 1:300. Some variants are limited by print run, as only 500 copies are made. That’s it. Five-hundred. All these different approaches to printing a comic book means a collector has the potential to be inundated with… too much. And, can you imagine what it must be like for the retailers? What about all the stock that doesn’t sell?
So here’s my love/hate: I like variety and I enjoy having the opportunity to see artistic vision, one artist versus another. And, I–like many other collectors–want that rare book that might be worth money many months (years) from now. But, I realize there is a down side to this hype. Variants cause an extra layer of speculation in this hobby, and that speculation can turn some collectors off. What’s hot now may fizzle out later, and what I paid a premium for today may not be worth cover a few months from now. This means if I don’t want to get burned I have to be discerning.
I recently stumbled on to this website and found myself wishing I had more money. I am a sucker for really unique variants. I mean, I want something more than just the black and white variant. I will pursue variants by specific artists, people I like, such as: Charles P. Wilson III or Fiona Staples and I’ll pay whatever is the asking price. Honestly, if I didn’t impose my own restriction on variant purchases I would go broke trying to own them all. As I recall, the Archie relaunch had about 20 different covers. Some were amazing and some, well acquired taste. If you are a Godzilla fan, there were over 100 variants issued by IDW. That’s like a short box of comics all for one issue.
Update just before posting, the awesome variant subscription service Four Color Grails has closed. This saddens me as I really enjoyed their enthusiasm for the hobby. I feel lucky enough to have gotten some of their books. RIP 4colorGrails.
I’ve spent some time reading the CGC chat boards and have come away with a cynical feeling about modern collecting. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t stop buying or reading what I love, but witnessing some of the speculation nonsense does put me off the hobby sometimes.
See here’s the thing: Skybound, a subsidiary of Image Comics, introduced an anniversary box set of comics this year at San Diego Comic Con. The box set comes with 10 comics, Issue 1 reprints of popular titles by Image Comics. There are two sets, of covers: a more common color version, and a less common black & white version. All box sets are sealed, so you don’t know what you have until the box is open. Included in each box is also a flash drive with PDF versions of all 10 issue Issue 1 books. Skybound sweetened the deal by randomly inserting “golden tickets” in some of the boxes. The “golden tickets” were bonuses which meant the possibility of an additional rare CGC 9.8 signature series book. A purchaser could potentially come away with an original issue 1 such as The Walking Dead, Clone, Thief of Thieves, Birthright or Outcast. (Use this link to see the full list of 10 comics.) The box set sold for $80/pc and was initially only available at the con. With the popularity of The Walking Dead, one can imagine the “feeding frenzy” over graded copies of the original series that appeared as a consequence of the “golden tickets” in these boxes. Enter the speculators.
Some of the “golden tickets” have been redeemed, however the one that matches The Walking Dead CGC is not yet claimed. As a result, many fans are buying stacks of the anniversary boxes (now at prices in the range of $100 – $300) with the hope of landing a “golden ticket” for a CGC Issue 1 of The Walking Dead. Some speculators on the chat boards assume the book is so “rare,” it could easily command $10k for whoever owns it.
For my part, I purchased two boxes hoping to get one color edition and one black & white edition of the reprints for my collection. Both of my boxes were color and neither had a redeemable ticket. Since my purchases, I notice, unopened boxes are posting on eBay and disappear quickly as fans attempt to find the last elusive “golden tickets.” And because the ticket is not yet redeemed, the prices of remaining sets in the secondary market are being driven ever higher by speculator. In my opinion, it’s reaching ridiculous height. For some, this kind of marketing event generates revenue from second market sales. For others, this kind of marketing event is a complete turn off and reminiscent of events that led up to the comics bust in the 90s.
I think some speculation is good for the hobby, especially as I do believe there will never be another modern sleeper hit like The Walking Dead. However, to what end?
In 2009, three very creative guys got together and wrote the narrative for a fantastical child adventure. Set in the 1940s, The Stuff of Legend is tale of friendship and bravery. The Boogieman really does exist, and he uses closets and shadows underneath beds to capture his victims; victims who are never heard from again. One such victim is ‘the boy,’ who is taken by the boogieman into the world of shadowy dark. This is not a simple story about a little lost child, but rather the heroic adventure of the child’s loyal toys in their pursuit to find him and rescue him. In their quest to get ‘the boy’ back, seven toys and a faithful family dog enter the world of the boogieman, bonded in affection and displaying a fierce sense of duty to one another. It’s an epic adventure. What happens when older toys resent newer models? Are they willing to help? Can they be trusted? And, seriously how much help is a ballerina, a stuffed teddy bear, or a Jack-in-the-box? The Stuff of Legends is a dark, twisty tale of bravery and betrayal. Now in its fifth volume, The Stuff of Legend was picked up by Disney for film adaption.
Cool Factor: These toys turn into their real life counterparts once in the Boogieman’s world.
Format: Floppy (though the first arc sold out), Trade paperback, Hardcover & Limited Edition Leather-bound, Digital
All images belong to Th3rd World Studios. For more indy goodies from this publisher, visit th3rdworld studios.
I’m an avid comic reader since early childhood. Some of my first loves were Ritchie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost. As I got a little older, I found Mike Grell’s Warlord. Man, I thought Travis Morgan was the bomb. Then my cousin introduced me to Peter Parker and the Uncanny X-men. Oh my god! The action! The drama! The crossovers! I was hooked.
From the Death of Superman to Wolverine losing his adamantium, I devoured all things DC and Marvel. If either press published it, I bought it. (I bought what I could afford, anyway.) I had them all and read each issue like a junkie. And then I fell prey to the “collector’s hype,” wanting gold foil variants of every title. Alas—I shortly learned my habit wasn’t sustainable at that magnitude, and I left the hobby around ’95.
Five years later, around the time Marvel’s Ultimate line launched, I walked into a comic book store and my excitement for comics returned. I really enjoyed Ultimate Spider-man, The Ultimates and Ultimate X-men. I bought every issue, and then some. I wanted to rekindle the joy I felt from titles like Wolverine Volume 2, but I didn’t have the cash. Though I wanted them all, I had to leave so many books behind, on the shelf. I started doing all the old things that caused me to leave the hobby before: buying every #1 issue of re-launch, purchasing every book on a crossover event, hunting down limited variants. I was headed for broke, and that’s when I realized… I needed to step back. Was I really enjoying what I was buying or was I just buying comics because of some perceived value/rarity?
My tastes in stories and titles were changing, and they weren’t “collector’s hype” oriented. I didn’t want a typical collection of capes and tights. I wanted something different, something I could enjoy reading over and over again. Enter The Walking Dead circa 2003, a zombie apocalypse tale with blood and guts, and I thought, “Eh… what could it hurt?” I bought one copy and fell in love with my first modern Independent. (In hindsight I wish I’d purchased the whole stack.) Incidentally, did you know there are two different covers of the now famous issue one of The Walking Dead? One cover depicts the words, “Mature Readers” in white, while another cover, depicts the words in black.
Today, some 15-years since my re-emergence into comic collecting, I really enjoy creator-owned works, especially original concepts. The imagination it takes to step “off the beaten path” of hero comics, away from the tried “capes and tights” formula stories, and try something new is–in my opinion–phenomenal. Currently on my pull list is almost everything from smaller presses (not exactly all “small,” cause… you know… Image, Dark Horse etc.).
I read comics ‘cause I like them. I’m not here to speculate. I don’t fancy myself a talented writer, so I’m not looking to write or draw my own comic; I’ll leave that to the experts. Comic writers and artists can have my money. I just really enjoy the energy of this hobby, and reading comics brings me happiness. I only write about books I like. If I read a series and think it holds a good story, I want to tell others about it.