I hate my internet access. Not much more to be said about that – but they assure me the problem is fixed now, so here goes…
Actually, I’m rather more cheerful than usual at the moment because all things considered it’s been a good news week. Like so many other aspects of the economy comics have been in a bit of a slump lately.* People just don’t have the silly money to splash around that they used to, and let’s be honest – if you have to choose between comics and food, more often than not food’s going to win.**
But – as you almost certainly know already – in recent weeks a couple of back issues have sold for huge amounts of money. Admittedly they were Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27***, but in a very real sense that just makes them really really old back issues – and yet they both went for seven figure prices when they went under the hammer Stateside.
Somebody must have money to burn.
That of course isn’t the only fun part of this little news story either. Action #1 went for a cool $1,000,000, which is more than a little impressive. But Detective #27 fetched a whopping $1,075,500. I always said that Bats could kick Superman’s arse**** and it’s nice to have confirmation that he can even do it in an auction sale.
Mind you – the idea that somebody would spend that amount of money on a comic – any comic – has made me think a little about what’s important. I mean, you know how much I love the Bat, and while I find the Boy Scout more than a little irritating even I am prepared to concede that his first appearance marks a historically important milestone in the development of modern comics. I like the idea that original copies of these important works exist somewhere and are being cared for appropriately.
But a million dollars?!
Obviously I don’t have a million dollars. But if I did I really don’t think I’d want to spend it on a copy of a comic I already own several reprints of and that I wouldn’t dare ever actually read. I mean seriously. How bad would you feel if you has a million dollars worth of comics and you accidentally ripped it, or spilled coffee on it or something? What a nightmare!*****
Now, in pure market terms, these comics are clearly both worth $1,000,000+ dollars because people have actually paid that much for them. That’s what a market value is. But in real terms? How much money would I need to have before I was prepared to spend so much of it on something as flimsy and insubstantial as a comic?
I don’t have a clear answer – but I know it must be a very very big number.
I’m not even sure that spending such a colossal sum on a back issue – however rare and significant – is even a good thing for comics.
What would have happened if these comics had been unsold? At the very worst they might have ended up being neglected to the point they were effectively destroyed. Would that really be the end of the world? Don’t get me wrong – if the last ever copy of Detective #27 were to slip into a puddle and fall apart I’d be sad of course, but not too heart broken. The story would still exist. Nothing would really be lost.
I can’t help thinking that those seven figure sums could’ve done so much good if they had been invested in new comics. Great new work could’ve been supported – maybe the next groundbreaking industry shaking comics could’ve been born out of such funding.
And that raises another question with me. Would I feel the same way if somebody had spent a seven figure sum on a first edition Jane Austen novel? Because I’m not sure I would, and that bothers me. Objectively there is no real difference between one literary artefact and another. If anything I suspect that copies of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 in good condition are actually harder to find than first editions of Persuasion******, so why would I approve of spending money on Austen and not Kane?
I really don’t know why, but somehow the two things feel different to me. Perhaps it’s partly down to my long standing Jane Austen obsession – I wouldn’t give you tuppence for a Dickens first edition, for example – but I’m pretty obsessed with Batman too and I really can’t contemplate spending a million bucks on a comic.
Am I becoming a literary snob?
I hope not. Maybe it’s the sense I have that books, with their hard covers and stitched bindings have more of a sense of permanence than a comic. I’m talking hardbacks here because I admit that I am enough of a literary snob to think of paperbacks as slightly less booky than hardbacks. Not that my house isn’t stuffed the gills with paperbacks, because it is, but the volumes that matter to me are all in hard cover.
In fact, maybe I’m on to something here. Because while I think soft backed books are less like books than hard backed ones, I feel exactly the opposite about comics. While I do own rather a lot of hard backed comic books – from DC Archive editions to Original Graphic Novels – somehow to me a hard cover on a comic never feels quite right. Comics to me are like paperbacks – portable entertainment to be shoved into bags and pockets. I guess that for me, that makes them less valuable as individual artefacts than their more solid but less portable hard covered cousins.
I’ve done it again, haven’t I? Start out with a good news story and end up with an angst ridden rant. Still, never mind – on with the next bit of good news.
Regular readers will remember my admiration of The DFC, a subscription only anthology for kids which, like Warrior, Crisis and Revolver before it falls into the “really good effort, shame it didn’t work” category of defunct British anthologies. It finally went under last year and it looked as though that would be the end of it. But now something is stirring, phoenix-like in the ashes.
The DFC was nothing if not eclectic and in the course of it’s cruelly curtailed run it built up a library of pretty excellent stories which presumably are now all filed away somewhere gathering metaphorical dust. This is a shame, because not nearly enough people read them in The DFC******* and of course while ever they languish in a publisher’s filing cabinet they continue to not be read by anyone.
So, great news!
This month sees the launch of the DFC library. Three books at first – Dave Shelton’s canine crime caper Good Dog, Bad Dog, Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank’s prehistoric adventure Mezolith and Kate Brown’s unutterably beautiful fantasy Spider Moon, to be followed by more in the autumn. I like this strategy. While, as stated above, I like my comics to be comics, from a publishing perspective I understand that books have a longer shelf life and as a result can reach more people.
This is of course a good thing – from both the point of view of new readers who get to read these excellent stories, and from the point of view of the creators whose work will now bring them more exposure and – hopefully – more work. Obviously I’m particularly pleased about this because I count a few of the creators involved as friends********. Take for example the dual-headed dynamo that is the Etherington brothers, long standing friends of this column and creators, amongst other things, of the awesomely inebriated Leporidae********* Malcolm Magic.
Their contribution to the DFC, Monkey Nuts, is one of the strips to be collected in the Autumn. Before then Lorenzo, the artistic half of the team, has other things to be getting on with. Friday 26th March will be the Opening Night of his solo exhibition, One Man Army, at the Weapon of choice gallery in Bristol – and he’d like you all to go look! The show will feature a series of brand new paintings and some exclusive one of one prints. Now, you already know how much I love Lorenzo’s art so I’ll be in the queue at the earliest opportunity – if you find yourself in or around Bristol in the next few weeks, why not check it out?
What? You want more reasons to smile? Well, how about this. I picked up a couple of weeks worth of comics yesterday. The cover tag on one of my Batman comics?
”The Return of Bruce Wayne starts here!”
I’d say I told you so, but honestly, we all knew that was going to happen, didn’t we?
*Which of course is why I can’t believe they all insist on putting their prices up every five minutes, but let’s not get started on that again…
**Not always of course. Back in my student days I was known to skip the odd meal here and there so I could afford my panelology fix…
***And if you needed me to tell you the significance of those particular issues you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
****Indeed as long standing readers of this column may remember I have a great idea for a story that would prove this once and for all. Seriously, I’m just waiting for the call from DC…
*****And I would. You know I would.
******Austen’s last completed and undoubtedly finest novel. I have to say, hand on heart that if I had the money I’d give rather more than $1,000,000 for a first edition.
*******Somewhat self evidently given that if they had it wouldn’t have gone under, now would it?
********Well, aquaintences at the very least…
*********Ok, Ok, I won’t make you look it up. It’s the taxological name for the rabbit and hare family, from the latin “leporis”, meaning “hare”. Ah, the benefits of a classical education…