Heroes worship

You can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you just might find you get what you need!

By Edward Martin

Ah, exclamation points, pulse of the comic book!

“Superman, thank you! You saved my life! How can I ever thank you enough?”

”Well, Lois, there are a million comics for sale in endless rows of boxes at the 25th anniversary Heroes Convention! If you insist on thanking me, elbow your way through the crowd jamming the main exhibition hall at the Charlotte Convention Center — Phoomph! Take that, moose breath! — and find me Action Comics No. 1, June 1938, in which I made my debut. Find one in mint condition — not one of the known specimens is — and brokers here say it should be worth $1.1 million or more, up about 12% in the last year!”

“Holy cow!” organizer Shelton Drum exclaims.there must be 10,000 people here for the three-day show! Drum, 53, grew up in Newton, near Hickory, and as a kid bought comics at Downtown Pharmacy, dreaming of one day drawing them. He never made it. “Drat!” But in 1967, when he was in the seventh grade, he noticed that some issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, which had a cover price of 12 cents when they came out just a few years earlier, were fetching $7 each. “I started buying extra copies when each issue hit the newsstands.”

He opened his first comics store — Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find — in Charlotte in 1980 and soon had six in the Southeast. “Then a lot of speculators got into the market. That was in the early ’90s, and they were buying cases of books they could sell in a short time for an inflated price. That’s not how the market works. You can’t manipulate it. The market contracted quickly.”

One by one, he sold his stores — “they’re all still there, just under different owners” — keeping only the 10-employee Charlotte one. That, a few one-day shows and the convention, which this year featured more than 500 dealers and creators, including some of the biggest names in the business and legendary artists of the past. Here, among the geeks and gawkers, circulate some serious collectors,willing to fork over six figures if they find what they’re looking for. But the odds of finding a hidden gem like Action Comics No. 1 at a show like this are virtually nil. These dealers are pros who know exactly what they’re selling!

Most buyers are like Tony Brock, 39, from Tuscaloosa, Ala. — that’s a seven-hour drive! — who collects Bronze Age comics. Collectors often focus on a period: platinum, 1897-1937; golden, 1938-55; silver, 1956-69; bronze, 1970-79; and modern, 1980-present. Brock has been at this since he was a kid,with Silver Age stuff among his bronze. “The garage is full.” His collection is insured for $15,000. “I love the artwork, and they’re fun to read and fun to look at.”

Guys like Brock, Drum says, are the staple. “When a vendor sells a $5,000 or $10,000 comic, it makes me feel good. But the bread and butter is the $3, the $5, the $10 book.” So how much dough does this show rake in? That’s a figure he guards as jealously as a superhero does a secret identity.

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