When it comes to the bargain bin, more often than not you’re taking a chance. Though this column aims to shed light on the brighter corners of the cheap boxes, there’s still a certain amount of risk. A dollar’s worth of risk, sure, but a risk nonetheless. Occasionally, you’ll stumble on gold and discover a great series you never knew existed. Sometimes the story doesn’t catch you but the art is fantastic. Sometimes the writers flop but the character is intriguing.
Surprise quality for your spare change is one of the most satisfying aspects of bargain bin diving, but then there’s the other kind of satisfaction. It’s not the excitement that comes from unearthing a fantastic new title; it’s more like the rush of discovery, the Look what I found! feeling.
Sometimes I don’t understand how comic shops price their titles. An issue of John Byrne’s Namor is five dollars? They want how much for this mid-90s Superboy? Is this Cable really six bucks? Seeing prices like that can really bring a collector down, but one must persist. Keep looking, dig deeper. Try a pawn shop, go thrifting or purge that used bookstore you’ve yet to check out. You never know, you may be staring at a stack of Marshal Law—three for a dollar!
If you can find this low-priced—buy it!
As a fan of Jack Kirby (and who isn’t?) I don’t often expect to find his work in the bargain bins. Reprints? Sure, but not the actual issues from back in the day. As a novice collector I naturally assumed everything The King touched would boast an impenetrable price tag. With that in mind, seeing a dozen or so issues of Kamandi amongst the cheap stuff was a shock to the system. I picked up an armful of issues for a dollar each. That’s when I really started to pay attention to what I could get for a steal. “Surely this was a one-time occurrence” was my thinking, right up until I found Kirby’s Eternals for a buck a piece.
And these? Inexpensive? Buy them!
These strokes of luck weren’t limited to one store or one author either. I began searching places I’d never thought to check, and more often as well. Amazing deals on material I’d previously thought to be unattainable was not a daily occurrence, but on the rare occasion, lady luck was mine. Darwyn Cooke’s complete New Frontier showed up for a dollar a piece. I picked up the entire, original Savage She-Hulk run for 25 cents an issue. These were not comics I was simply laying down my spare change to take a chance on, but issues I was actively seeking out that happened to be unexpectedly inexpensive. I was able to complete both Grant Morrison’s JLA and Doom Patrol runs from the dollar-or-less section. Every single Stray Bullets I own cost next to nothing. Patience, timing and a massive amount of luck proved to be the formula for great finds.
All found cheap. All awesome.
With the examples listed below, my aim is only to inspire hope; to keep the deal hunters hunting. This isn’t boasting or bragging, but instead a push to dig deeper, search longer and go out of the way, because you never know what you’ll find out there!
Written by Alan Moore, Illustrated by Garry Leach and Alan Davis
Price Paid – $3.00 CAD
To many, Miracleman is a book worth waiting for. And we have waited. In fact, it seems Miracleman has become something of the poster-child for “lost in the legal system” out-of-print comics. We’ve seen famous players like Alan Moore, Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman all vie for the rights to this legendary book, and in the end it seems Marvel has won. “Seems” is the key word here, because even with one of the big-two publishers grabbing Miracleman’s rights, we’ve yet to see the stories we’ve all been clamouring for reprinted. Fans have been frothing at the mouth to read this now legendary book penned by Moore (and later Gaiman) and every time it seems we’re close to a reprint, we’re reminded how messy the legal workings have been. You’ll understand my surprise, then, when I discovered I was able to find a good chunk of the original issues (or at least the Eclipse “reprints”) for around the price of your average weekly floppy.
Issue two was the first issue of Miracleman I found for cheap, lying in a bin at a random vendor at a random free comic-con in Toronto. While flipping through their “$3 bin” (which normally I might avoid) I passed on numerous Marvel Two-In-One issues, the occasional 90s X-Men and a few “rare variants” before hitting gold. I snatched the issue from the box and quickly placed it face down on my “to buy” pile. I was afraid to look. I knew I’d just seen Miracleman issue two with a three dollar price tag, but perhaps it was a mistake. After all, this was the book everyone wanted to read. This was the lost Alan Moore tale that began his infamy. I’d read so much about the book—I never thought I’d actually own the original issues. I was a dollar bin guy, not some rare book collector. But there it was, with a reasonable price tag, now in my possession. Surely the book couldn’t live up to the hype, right?
It does, at least in my opinion. Everything you expect from a great Alan Moore story is there. We get great characters, interesting plot, deep themes and fantastic art from both Alan Davis and Garry Leach—a creator we don’t see much of in North American books. For those uninformed, Miracleman is something of a Captain Marvel analogue (the Shazam Cap, not Marvel’s) with a darker edge. The story is built from Mick Anglo’s original Marvelman series with typical Moore embellishments—evil government, crazy poetic dreams, atypical (for the time) role reversal. In issue two we catch up with Miracleman’s old sidekick (now an evil tyrant) and epic battles ensue. It’s great stuff, whether read as the unattainable, legendary book it’s become or out of context, without considering the publishing mess behind the scenes.
And what happens if and when you find issues 3, 4 and beyond for cheap? Well, there’s a lot to look forward to. Miracleman contributors include John Totleben, John Ridgeway, Rick Vietch, Mark Buckingham (pulling off every style you can think of), Dave McKean, Barry Windsor-Smith and later writer Neil Gaiman. Oh, and Chuck Austen draws a few issues (credited as Chuck Beckum). Yes, that Chuck Austen.
There’s a lot to like about Miracleman and finding it for a great price only adds to the list. Turns out the Eclipse issues of the series aren’t even that rare, so quit waiting for the trade! Let the hunt begin!
Written by Jim Starlin, Illustrated by Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Price Paid – $1.00 CAD
To some collectors, condition means everything. I’m forever grateful for that feeling, because occasionally that means I can grab a book like Warlock issue eleven for only a buck. There’s no denying my copy is well read, but I take a certain pride in owning a book of that condition. It’s rather nice to think that back in the day, when this issue was new, it was sitting in the spinner rack beside other comics. Judging from its appearance it wasn’t instantly zipped up in mylar, but instead read—and read again.
When flipping through the back-issue bins, I came across several copies of issue eleven. One was marked up to nine dollars, while another was only five. After making sure every page was accounted for, no staples were missing and the interior hadn’t been used as a colouring book, I decided the copy that cost only one dollar was the one for me.
Was this originally bought simply to keep the kids quiet on a long road trip? Perhaps allowance was saved, lawns were cut and papers were delivered just to grab this off the shelf. Someday it would wind up in the hands of a collector and be stored with four other copies, only to be sold to a used bookstore and forgotten amongst its better-condition siblings. I’d like to think that the original owner would be happy to see this book in my hands, once again flipping the pages and enjoying the crazy imagination of Jim Starlin. I make it seem like the emotional ending to a Toy Story movie, but old comics get me that way.
I’ve always been fond of Adam Warlock. He’s my kind of character: ridiculously powerful yet ill-defined abilities, larger-than-life enemies, unique costumes and great, often overlooked potential. Fortunately, there was one writer who understood Warlock’s potential early on. That writer was Jim Starlin, and had this issue been in perfect condition with a hefty price-tag, I may never have discovered one of the craziest books from Marvel’s 1970s.
If you can’t handle time-travel tales that may or may not make sense, this book probably isn’t for you. If you like a writer who isn’t afraid to throw everything at the cosmic wall to see what flies at warp-speed, then I suggest you take a chance with Starlin’s Warlock. The story here deals with Adam Warlock attempting to erase his evil future-self (the Magus!) from enslaving the universe. With the help of Thanos, the In-Betweener and his soul gem, he manages to travel through his destiny-trail to eliminate any chance of becoming the Champion of Life. Again, if that makes your head hurt, perhaps you should back away. If that sounds like a bowl of nuts you’d like to dive into, you’ll find plenty to savour.
Starlin manages to match the craziness of the story with some equally crazy art. With help from Steve Leialoha we get great layouts, terrific cosmic imagery and characters that emote at near-soap opera levels. It’s terrific to see Starlin carve out his own unique artistic vision for space, destiny and the fate of the universe. With Warlock, his name deserves to be held next to Ditko and Kirby as one of Marvel’s most creative, insane visionaries.
Ed the Happy Clown
Written and Illustrated by Chester Brown
Price Paid – $8.00 CAD
Eight dollars certainly seems like a lot of money considering this column regularly deals with issues priced at one dollar or less. Ed the Happy Clown is a special book, though, and one not easily (at least at the time) found. I’m not just talking about the cheap bins either—this book is hard to find anywhere! Now, I understand Drawn and Quarterly have finally released a reprint of this book in a nice new hardcover, but to be honest I haven’t even seen that on the shelves yet.
Ed the Happy Clown has long been considered Chester Brown’s masterpiece. It has also been out of print and highly sought after since (correct me if I’m wrong) 1992. As a Canadian comic book collector, Chester Brown is a revered name I run into often. He’s something of a celebrity when it comes to independent comics, Canadian comics and biographical comics. Whenever a new Brown book is released, there is much rejoicing in the shops I frequent. Personally, I could never really understand the hype. I bought his Louis Riel book and loved it, but was disappointed when I read his other work. It was all very personal and depressing, and I was in no mood for personal and depressing. To be fair, I had just finished Epileptic by David B., Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, so I'd had my fill. But there was still one Chester Brown story I needed to tackle. It was apparently his best, but being so out-of-print and rare the only copy I was able to find boasted a price of over one hundred dollars. That’s not my bag, man.
When I did find a copy of Ed the Happy Clown for an affordable price, I flipped. Sure, it was a little rough around the edges and I’d heard a reprint might happen, someday, but I needed to see what all the fuss was about right then and there. I read it on the train on my way home that day. It might’ve been the single most embarrassing thing I’ve ever read in public. It was certainly the single most bizarre thing I’ve ever read.
To try and describe Ed— I’m not sure that could. It begins with a few short, seemingly unconnected stories. In typical indie comic tradition the stories are shocking in their violence, sexuality and humour. Ed, our main character, is a seemingly happy clown who gets attacked by rats. Aliens arrive, tiny pygmies invade and a janitor’s hand gets lost in the mix. Ed gets beat up, jailed, stabbed and shot numerous times. Eventually, Ronald Reagan’s head gets displaced. Really, whatever I write about Ed will only serve to confuse; while everything seems improvised at first (and, as I understand, it was), things start to tie together. Suddenly, a story forms before your very eyes and what was once disgusting and vomit-inducing becomes hilarious. A throw away gag between panels near the beginning of the book becomes
a major plot twist. Around every corner there’s a unique concept, perverse joke or shocking twist. The pacing here is both perfect and dizzying. You’ll have no idea what’s on the next page, how it relates to the page before or how Brown’s warped mind thought it up.
I find it hard to describe in part because I’ve never read anything else like it. Reading Ed was a totally unique experience, one often filled with cringes, groans, laughs, gasps and complete bewilderment. If you’ve read Ed, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you should. I wouldn’t suggest reading it on the train though.