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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Price Guide from the past

Whilst throwing out a load of comics the other day I came across an old British fanzine that I'm definitely hanging on to. The Comicollector's Companion & Price Guide was published in late 1975 or very early 1976 and billed itself as "The first authoratitive (sic) British guide to American comics and their values".

Published by Fantasy Unlimited (in other words fanzine editor Alan Austin) the 100 page A5 booklet was black and white throughout, including the covers. Yet for its time, production values were high compared to stenciled fanzines of the day. Alan's introduction is interesting as it reveals just how small comics fandom was 32 years ago. "In numbers, comic collectors are still quite a small group: perhaps 20,000 in the USA, and a couple of thousand or so in Britain, with several thousand on the Continent."

Austin also points out that many comic collectors of the time may carefully save their comics but be unaware that there are other comic enthusiasts around. (This is true. I was 16 when this book was published and, like many at the time, had no idea that others my age and older were collecting comics. I was even too embarrassed to tell most people that I still read comics! Hard to believe that now, when the internet has made people more aware of the medium and celebrities such as Jonathan Ross regularly talk about comics.)

This proved to be an extremely useful book for collectors new to fandom such as myself. Alan Austin carefully explained the grading of comics (then just seven grades, from Poor to Near-Mint), how to store them, and where to buy them (comic marts and adzines mainly, as so few comic shops existed then). "There are growing numbers of shops selling comics for collectors, mainly in the London area".

There then followed a feature entitled The Most Influential Men in Comic Book History. (No women, you'll note, as so few women worked in the industry then. How things have changed for the better!) Austin listed 20 entries including Max C.Gaines, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby and Robert Crumb.

Personally I've never taken much notice of Price Guides; in reality comic "values" can vary wildly, especially today with online sources such as eBay. However, I've always found such books essential as a source of reference. Back in 1975 The Comicollector's Companion & Price Guide was a comic fan's Bible as it contained issue runs, dates, artist details, etc. And names of so many American comics I'd never even heard of before! Freedom Agent? Double Dare Adventures? Unusual Tales? I'd never seen those in our corner shop but the info was all there in this book of secret treasures. Fascinating stuff.

Thirty years on, the prices given to vintage comics back then just shows how supply and demand has affected collecting. Here's a few examples, all mint condition prices:

Fantastic Four
No.1 -£45.
No.164 - first new look (yellow bat symbol) 30p.
No.1 - £32.50.
Conan the Barbarian No.1 - £12.50
Creepy No.1 - Frank Frazetta - £3.50

...and the most valuable comic book in the world 32 years ago? Marvel Comics No.1 (1939, first Human Torch and Sub-Mariner) priced at £2,500. The first appearance of Batman (Detective Comics No.27, 1939) - £1,000. A fortune back then. (Consider that in 1975 I was an office filing clerk fresh out of school and earning £14 a week and you can imagine how out of reach those prices seemed.)

You'll have noted that this book was strictly about American comics. Not one British comic was listed, apart from the early British Marvel weeklies, and even those were stuck in a corner at the very last page of the book. Comics fandom in the UK practically ignored British comics until 2000 AD came along in 1977 and it took a while for fans to accept it as being on a par with their beloved American superhero comics. Even today there's still a leaning towards US product in magazines such as Comics International or at comic events, but the situation has improved drastically compared to 30 years ago.

Alan Austin, the author of The Comicollector's Companion & Price Guide, was a dealer in comics himself, so publishing a Price Guide may have seen a vested interest in some ways. However, I don't think we cared too much about that at the time. I remember buying some comics from him and his prices seemed fair to me and his Comics International fanzine was a welcoming entry point into comics fandom. I'm not sure if Alan is still dealing in comics today, but his Comicollector's Companion book was a very useful guide to the world of comics for myself and, I would guess, many others.

Click on the archive of this blog for January 2007 for more reflections on UK fanzines of the 1970s.

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