Finding Back Issues: Then and Now

I’ve had parts of this in draft form for at least 2 years. Last night, while brushing my teeth, I decided to pick it up with a new approach. This morning, I jotted down a couple of notes. And earlier this evening I saw Comics Should Be Good’s post, Where do you buy your comics?—and realized the time had come to actually finish the darn thing.

How I searched for back issues of comics in…

1988:

  1. Look at the local comic store.
  2. Wait for a convention that my parents were going to.

1998:

  1. Look at the local comic store.
  2. Drive around to other stores.
  3. Save up for San Diego Comic-Con.
  4. Look on this new site called eBay.

2008:

  1. Look at a couple of local comic stores.
  2. Look on eBay and Mile High Comics (singles)
  3. Look on eBay and Amazon (for trades & hardcovers)
  4. Look at a convention.
  5. Look for other sources on the net.

Two main things have changed: mobility (I couldn’t drive when I was 12) and the web.

Limited Range

Back when I was a kid, my main options were two local stores: The one my parents visited regularly, and one that subsequently opened close enough for me to walk to. It was at that first store that I picked up my first comic book, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #19. The series was canceled after #20, so I started looking for back issues very quickly!

Cover: The New Teen Titans #30I also had some access to conventions. My parents went to sci-fi cons, and would bring me and my brother along. I remember running around to all the comics dealers at the 1984 WorldCon (a.k.a. L.A.con II) looking for back-issues of The New Teen Titans, trying to figure out who this Terra person was and why she wasn’t in any of the current issues.

Silver-Age

Cons became a more important source when I started looking for the Silver-Age Teen Titans books. Fortunately, this was around the time that we started going to San Diego Comic-Con (starting in 1990), so the percentage of dealers who actually sold comics was much higher!

Cover: Flash #163Later, when I started looking for pre-Crisis Flash books, this became my main source. I tapped out the local stores’ supplies of Bronze-Age Flash, and even though I could drive elsewhere, no one around seemed to have much in the way of Silver-Age Flash. So it was back to Comic-Con with a new list, and I’d pick up a handful of books each year. Though I do recall spotting a comic store while on a road trip with Katie, one of our friends, and her family (in another car), and convincing the others to stop for a few minutes so I could look. I think that might have been where I finally filled in the last missing issue of the Trial of the Flash.

The Web Arrives

Then I discovered eBay. Suddenly, I didn’t have to wait until the next convention. (I don’t remember why I didn’t just look for other conventions. I suppose my brain was just too focused on other stuff back in college.) So many issues, right there. All I had to do was sort through for the ones I wanted and find something in my price range.

After I filled in the last of Barry Allen’s series, I dropped out of the hunt for a few years. For almost two decades, I’d had one series or another that I was trying to complete, and now they were all done. Around the same time, I lost interest in Comic-Con. The hunt had been one of the main reasons I’d enjoyed going. I found a new way to enjoy the convention by finding the time to go more than one day, re-focusing on the panels and events instead of looking for old comics.

Going for the Gold

All-Flash #19Then I bid on a few Golden-Age Flash auctions for the heck of it, fully expecting to be outbid on all of them, and won two. I realized I could find 1940s books within my budget, and rejoined the hunt.

At first I tried stores and conventions. The local stores didn’t really have anything older than the 1980s. I called some other stores within driving distance, with no luck. One day I had several free hours in Pomona, and tried some stores in that area, which sent me to a collectibles fair, where I actually found a few books…way outside of my price range. I drove up to the not-quite-monthly “convention” at the Shrine in LA, and found the same (though I did find some interesting small-press gems including Discworld, Hawkmoon and Elric adaptations). All the while, I thought, “Comic-Con is coming up, I’ll find some stuff there!” And of course I didn’t.

The problem is not just that Golden-Age comics are scarce. It’s a matter of supply meeting demand. As near as I can tell, most people buying Golden-Age comics are serious collectors, and they want the book so they can have a piece of comic book history in their collection. So dealers focus on the best copies they can find, the ones that will sell for $300, $700, $1500 or more. But I didn’t want good copies of a few issues, I wanted readable copies of as many issues as I could find. I was looking for the beat-up copies that would run $10–50, and dealers just don’t seem to carry those. In 2 years, every single Golden-Age Flash issue I’ve bought has been bought through the internet, most of them on eBay.

Trades

These days, when I look for specific comics from 1980 onward—say, an issue of Justice League with a character I’m researching—I’ll usually try the local stores first. It’s faster, for one thing, and I like having those stores around. If they don’t have them, I’ll go to the web. And if it’s pre-1980, I’ll go straight to eBay and Mile High.

With more recent back issues, I tend to go for the trade paperbacks. Sometimes I’ll pick them up at the local store, sometimes I’ll wait for a good deal on Amazon, sometimes if I have a gift certificate at Barnes & Noble or Borders, I’ll pick one up at a bookstore (I like encouraging bookstores to keep carrying graphic novels). And sometimes I’ll look through boxes at conventions.

And I’m always open for actual trading. I’ve got a list of comics I want to sell. Take a look, and if anything looks interesting, let me know.

Covers courtesy of the Grand Comics Database. Which reminds me, I really ought to dig out that mini-series I was going to index for them. *oops*

2 thoughts on “Finding Back Issues: Then and Now

  1. Pingback: On the Hunt: Finding Back Issues, Then and Now « Speed Force

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