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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

Forget eBay — digging for comics at a Con remains the best

By Mike Avila
Comic book collecting

I spent a good portion of my time at the just-wrapped 2019 edition of New York Comic Con looking for comics.

I did lots of interviews, too, as people who saw our Live Stream coverage of NYCC may have noticed. Not only did I get to talk to people on the Live Stage, but we taped dozens of interviews and gathered material for upcoming Behind the Panel features that we’ll slowly roll out over the next few months and in 2020. One feature we shot involved me scouring the convention floor to find a few specific comic books. In other words, I spent a substantial amount of my Con time on the SYFY WIRE clock walking the floor, browsing booth after booth for rare comics.

I know, I know — I'm running a killer scam and it's just a matter of time before the suits catch on.

Comics collectors know that eBay has all but made the treasure hunting that once was the primary reason to attend conventions, all but extinct. For me personally, it's been years since I've dug through long boxes to find specific issues needed to plug a hole in my collection, or searching for a book featuring the first appearance of a character whose value was about to skyrocket. It's never been easier to find that one JLA issue needed to complete your Gerry Conway run, or finding a high-grade copy of Amazing Adventures #11. But the convenience of the Buy It Now button has almost completely wiped out one of the most fun aspects of being a comics fan — the thrill of the hunt.

I’m mainly an original art connoisseur these days, but when eBay and online shopping first came of age, I was still an avid comics collector. Like many other collectors, I quickly fell for the convenience of filling holes in my collection, while sitting on the couch.

I remember picking up a Fine condition copy of Amazing Spider-Man #14 and a near-flawless Daredevil #168 on eBay within hours of each other in the early aughts. In the pre-Internet days, I remember striking out in my quests to find those same books at my local Cons. I should've been ecstatic and doing the Happy Nerd dance when those Marvel keys arrived in the mail — except I wasn't. I remember both being smooth, flawless online transactions … that offered me next to zero collector joy.

Searching for comics treasure at NYCC

Eventually, I came to realize that the ease of Internet shopping had come at the expense of that unique taste of satisfaction collectors experience when we stumble across a unicorn out in the wild. In my early collecting days, filling the holes in my Uncanny X-Men run was my main mission at any convention I attended (watchers of BtP videos are familiar with my love of the Byrne-Claremont X-Men). I still recall quite clearly the day I finally scored a nice copy of X-Men #120 (first Alpha Flight!) at the annual convention that would set up shop at the old Howard Johnson's in North Miami Beach. Online comics collecting, even with the tense, cutthroat nature of auctions, can't come close to the blissful contentment I felt that day after successfully negotiating down the price of that VF-NM copy.

Getting to spend a good part of my weekend doing the 'flip-flip-flip' through bagged and boarded comics on the NYCC floor took me back to those days when I would spend three hours searching for comics on my want list at a Con. And I did find a few gems, including a nice condition copy of Jack Kirby's Marvel Treasury Special adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I got a good deal on it, too, which admittedly had less to do with my atrophied bargaining skills and more to do with the fact the dealer was a fan of Behind The Panel. Who am I to turn down a sweetheart deal?

Here’s a request to all of you collectors reading this column: Highlight a few comics on your want list and go treasure hunting for those books at a nearby comics convention. Resist the temptation to make the easy score on eBay, and go long box diving at the con. And haggle! C'mon, the only thing better than finding that sweet, sharp-cornered copy of Werewolf By Night #32 is winning a hard-fought negotiation and getting a good price. Give it a shot, and see how much more rewarding collecting is, when you do it old-school style.

Now get the hell off my lawn and go get some comics.

Got a great story about an awesome find at a Con? Hit the comments below and share it, or find me on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. I love hearing great collecting stories.

Here's your weekly reminder that Behind the Panel is a video and audio series, too. Our video series is chock-full of my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.