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The New Economics of Comic Convention Shopping

I’m just taking it for granted that if you’re reading this, you’ve also read some of the dealer reports from the 2009 comic convention season.  By the sounds of it, high end back issues are out and clearance sale pricing is in.  The thing is, the prices are getting slashed so low in some cases, it may be hard to appreciate the mindset you find yourself in.  Suddenly, artist alley is really on the expensive side and you may well find yourself thinking “do I really want to pay $5 for this $20 graphic novel?  Maybe it will be $4 tomorrow?”  It’s a really odd place to be.

In an attempt to illustrate what convention buying now looks like, I’ve mapped out my purchases from the Chicago Comic-Con/Wizard World Chicago (perhaps the gold standard for convention clearance sale pricing).  I’m going to present this in approximate order of bang-for-the-buck:

Oh, no! Cover price!  Without the dime in change!  2 for $10

Oh, no! Cover price! Without the dime in change! 2 for $10

That’s right, you walk into an artist alley, odds are you’re going to be paying cover price and a lot of the time, if the price ends in $*.95, you’re going to eat the nickel.  This isn’t a big deal, really.  You’re supporting an artist you like, all the money goes to said artist.  And in my case, Cursed Pirate Girl is plain old cool, my copies are signed and a lot of you may not even know what comic I’m talking about (getting new/undiscovered/under-rated indie comics is what artist alley is theoretically supposed to be there for).

Trouble is, the second you leave an artist alley, you walk into the discount zone and see something like:

New comics at 50% off

New comics at 50% off

Yes, some booths will have recent titles at significant discounts.  50% off cover, maybe even $1 if you’re lucky.  Me, I spent $2 and got an issue of Captain America Reborn.  Assuming somebody had 5 recent books I was looking for, at that discount, I could have gotten 5 $3.95 cover priced comics for the price of my two artist alley Cursed Pirate Girl issues.  That alone might warp your thinking a little bit.

Then you start to see the graphic novel sales:

$15 for 3 graphic novels.   How's that for value?

$15 for 3 graphic novels. How's that for value?

By Sunday, the majority of graphic novels / trade paperbacks were $5.  Screw 50% off trades, that’s last year’s discount.  Have you been complaining that the color tpbs of ’70s material have been a little on the pricey side?  That “Invaders Classic” book retails for $25.  I paid $5.  That’s an 80% discount.  Holy bankruptcy liquidation sale at the Holiday Inn, Batman!  And I wish I’d seen the Kirby Eternals TPBs for that price.  Essentials for $5 gets you down to a pretty low price per page, and might be the best deal in the room.  Think about: for the same price, I can have an entire TPB or a book from artist alley.  That’s kind of twisted.  and with all the selection available at $5 you start to get picky about what you want, because you suspect the price will drop if it isn’t the end of the day on Sunday.

Point in case:

Behold, the $3 TPB

Behold, the $3 TPB

I saw a handful of booths with $3 graphic novels.  For the most part, these were slightly older titles, but here’s the bottom line: I can try out 6 issues of that Carlos Pacheco run I was always curious about for a mere penny more than the first issue of the new Hickman/Eaglesham run in a couple of weeks.  And it’s cheaper than an issue of New Avengers.  If I don’t like it, I can give it to my friends’ kids.  $3 wasn’t the absolute lowest price for graphic novels at the convention, but it was the lowest stable price.  I know someone who stumbled onto a temporary 4 for $10 sale at the end of the show on Saturday.  But now we’re talking about a TPB for the same price or less than a new issue.  Uncharted territory.

And then you have the old stand-by:

15 issues of Judge Dredd for $3.75

15 issues of Judge Dredd for $3.75

Ah, the faithful quarter box.  Mind you, there are a lot more dollar boxes and $0.50 boxes, but they usually come back down to a quarter by the end of the show.  Quarter boxes are a dicey thing.  You never know what you’re going to find and you can’t always get a run together.  With my Dredd issues, I was fortunate to find some 4-issue runs.   Still, if you can piece together a run, your typical 6 issue TPB will cost you $1.50 out of the quarter box, though you might prefer having a spine on your comic.  $5 will only get you 20 issues, so if you aren’t too attached to the color, most of the Essentials and Showcases still give you more comics for that price point.  With more comics hitting $3.95 and up, quarter boxes are looking better than ever.  Conventions are usually going to give you a better selection of quarter bins, unless you’re really, really lucky with your local shop.

This is a pretty wide range of how you can spend your money.  Really, it depends on what it is you’re interested in, who has it and what price point it ultimately falls to.   Still, to illustrate the spread of value, let’s say you had a $50 budget to spend at the con.  Would you rather have:

  • 10-15 new single issues from the artists in artist alley?
  • 25 – 30 new single issues at a 50% discount?
  • 10 graphic novels in the $5 bins? (Call that 60-80 issues if they aren’t Essential/Showcase books.)
  • 16 graphic novels in $3 bins? (Call that 96-128 issues if they aren’t Essential/Showcase books.)
  • 200 comics from the quarter bin.

That’s a lot different from 5 or 6 years ago when you might have been looking to fill out a run of Gerber Defenders and trying to stay under $5/issue.  (That’s two volumes of Essential Defenders for $10 at this show and you end up with probably 15-20 non-Gerber issues as a bonus.)  Is this a new convention economy or just the overall economy sinking its teeth in?  I guess we’ll know in a couple years.

Still, if you’re _really_ into bargains:

8 graphic novels from the Chicago Public Library: FREE

8 graphic novels from the Chicago Public Library: FREE

The libraries really are getting better about carrying comics…

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  1. At Wondercon here, the trick was to look for one booth with all 50 cent comics. I bought many poor-condition but readable Charltons and even some 50s romance comics at that price. Fun gems, much cheaper than new… Most booths had rows of quarter comics, but they were typically unsuccessful Marvels and DCs from the seventies and eighties—and they were generally ignored…


  1. Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources - Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment » Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

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