On the Hunt: Finding Back Issues, Then and Now

How I searched for back issues of comics in…

1989:

  1. Look at the local comic store.
  2. Wait for a convention that my parents were going to.

1999:

  1. Look at the local comic store.
  2. Drive around to other stores.
  3. Save up for San Diego Comic-Con.
  4. Look on this new site called eBay.

2009:

  1. Look at a couple of local comic stores.
  2. Look on eBay and Mile High Comics (singles)
  3. Look on eBay and Amazon (for trades & hardcovers)
  4. Look at a convention.
  5. Look for other sources on the net.

Two main things have changed: mobility (I couldn’t drive when I was 13) and the Internet.

Limited Range

Back when I was a kid, my main options were two local stores: The one my parents visited regularly, and one that subsequently opened close enough for me to walk to. It was at that first store that I picked up my first comic book, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #19. The series was canceled after #20, so I started looking for back issues very quickly!

Cover: The New Teen Titans #30I also had some access to conventions. My parents went to sci-fi cons, and would bring me and my brother along. I remember running around to all the comics dealers at the 1984 WorldCon (a.k.a. L.A.con II) looking for back-issues of The New Teen Titans, trying to figure out who this Terra person was and why she wasn’t in any of the current issues.

Silver-Age

Cons became a more important source when I started looking for the Silver-Age Teen Titans books. Fortunately, this was around the time that we started going to what was still called San Diego Comic-Con (starting in 1990), so the percentage of dealers who actually sold comics was much higher!

Cover: Flash #163Later, when I started looking for pre-Crisis Flash books, this became my main source. I tapped out the local stores’ supplies of Bronze-Age Flash, and even though I could drive elsewhere, no one around seemed to have much in the way of Silver-Age Flash. So it was back to Comic-Con with a new list, and I’d pick up a handful of books each year. Though I do recall spotting a comic store while on a road trip with my girlfriend (now my wife), one of our friends, and her family (in another car), and convincing the others to stop for a few minutes so I could look. I think that might have been where I finally filled in the last missing issue of the Trial of the Flash.

The Web Arrives

Then I discovered eBay. Suddenly, I didn’t have to wait until the next convention. (I don’t remember why I didn’t just look for other conventions. I suppose my brain was just too focused on other stuff back in college.) So many issues, right there. All I had to do was sort through for the ones I wanted and find something in my price range.

After I filled in the last of Barry Allen’s series, I dropped out of the hunt for a few years. For almost two decades, I’d had one series or another that I was trying to complete, and now they were all done. Around the same time, I lost interest in Comic-Con. The hunt had been one of the main reasons I’d enjoyed going. I found a new way to enjoy the convention by finding the time to go more than one day, re-focusing on the panels and events instead of looking for old comics.

Going for the Gold

All-Flash #19Then I bid on a few Golden-Age Flash auctions for the heck of it, fully expecting to be outbid on all of them, and won two. I realized I could find 1940s books within my budget, and rejoined the hunt.

At first I tried stores and conventions. The local stores didn’t really have anything older than the 1980s. I called some other stores within driving distance, with no luck. One day I had several free hours in Pomona, and tried some stores in that area, which sent me to a collectibles fair, where I actually found a few books…way outside of my price range. I drove up to the not-quite-monthly “convention” at the Shrine in LA, and found the same (though I did find some interesting small-press gems including Discworld, Hawkmoon and Elric adaptations). All the while, I thought, “Comic-Con is coming up, I’ll find some stuff there!” And of course I didn’t.

The problem is not just that Golden-Age comics are scarce. It’s a matter of supply meeting demand. As near as I can tell, most people buying Golden-Age comics are serious collectors, and they want the book so they can have a piece of comic book history in their collection. So dealers focus on the best copies they can find, the ones that will sell for $300, $700, $1500 or more. But I didn’t want good copies of a few issues, I wanted readable copies of as many issues as I could find. I was looking for the beat-up copies that would run $10–50, and dealers just don’t seem to carry those. In 3½ years, every single Golden-Age Flash issue I’ve bought has been bought through the internet, most of them on eBay.

Trades

These days, when I look for specific comics from 1980 onward—say, an issue of Justice League with a character I’m researching—I’ll usually try the local stores first. It’s faster, for one thing, and I like having those stores around. If they don’t have them, I’ll go to the web. And if it’s pre-1980, I’ll go straight to eBay and Mile High.

With more recent back issues, I tend to go for the trade paperbacks. Sometimes I’ll pick them up at the local store, sometimes I’ll wait for a good deal on Amazon, sometimes if I have a gift certificate at Barnes & Noble or Borders, I’ll pick one up at a bookstore (I like encouraging bookstores to keep carrying graphic novels). And sometimes I’ll look through boxes at conventions.

And I’m always open for actual trading. I’ve got a list of comics I want to sell. Take a look, and if anything looks interesting, let me know.

How About You?

So, readers: how do you generally look for old comics? Do you dig through back-issue bins at stores? Do you save up for conventions? Do you go straight for eBay or another online source? Do you not bother with physical books and just look for scans?

Originally posted at K-Squared Ramblings. I’ve been meaning to repost it for a while, and a week before Comic-Con seemed like the right time. Covers courtesy of the Grand Comics Database.

7 thoughts on “On the Hunt: Finding Back Issues, Then and Now

  1. Lia

    For years, my major focus was the characters of Freedom Force, and I was determined to collect their every appearance. Most of these issues were bought at various comic stores — scouring all the local ones, and hitting new shops when visiting other towns. A few hard to find issues were bought on Ebay. A few were bought at comic cons (because we didn’t get to very many, not having a car).

    A few years passed in boredom after I’d finally completed all the back issues I was looking for. Then I developed an interest in the Flash Rogues, and also decided to collect all their appearances (reprints count, though I like to get originals when it’s economically feasible). I started going to the local comic shops, but wasn’t finding nearly as much stuff as I would have liked and was getting supremely impatient. So I, um, started downloading what I was looking for. However, I’m also still buying all those back issues at comic shops and conventions, and have a fairly hefty chunk of them so far. I keep looking every time I go to a con (the shops around here are pretty much tapped out, I think). Occasionally I buy stuff on Ebay.

    One day I’ll have a complete collection of the physical books, but I’m enjoying the hunt AND not pulling out my hair because I don’t know what happened in such-and-such an issue (since I have it downloaded). It works for me.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      It’s an odd feeling, isn’t it, to finish some project that’s taken years to complete? On one hand, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. On the other hand…now what?

      Reply
  2. JC Norris

    I recently got back into comic collecting. 95% of my collection is in the form of TPB or hardcover collections. I usually get them from a local comic store, book stores, or WizardWorld Chicago. I will occasionally get full runs or sets through eBay, but those take up more space and can’t be displayed like trades.

    Reply
  3. JLR

    I started collecting comics with the second last issue of the original Marvel Transformers run, but stopped about the time that Carnage came out in Amazing Spider-man.

    I live in Australia and we don’t have the conventions or shows that America seems to. Nobody around me was collecting, so I allowed myself to stop.

    I had still kept an interest in comics for my art through Highschool when in 1994 I found an issue of Flash #93 in the local newsagent.

    That was it, I was back into comics in a big way trying to track down issue #92 for Bart’s first appearance. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched every comic book shop in Sydney (no ebay back then, and no comic conventions), any relatives or friends going to America I begged to track me down a copy, but to no avail.

    Eventually I did find an Australian comic convention in sydney, I just happened upon it whilst I was out shopping in the city (It was about the time X-force was relaunched by Milligan and Allred). I think at the time the convention was known as Ozcon, I not only found a copy of Flash #92, I found 2 copies I was over the moon.

    The thing that annoyed me at the time, was that my local comic shop hadn’t told me it was even on, and they had a store at the show!

    Anyway, then CGC came along and I had to have Flash #92 slabbed. I sent my prized comics away, damn, 9.4 and 9.6, not good enough, and I was not going to pay for a 9.8, there was no fun in that.

    This time around they had got ebay up and running, so it was a lot easier to track down a copy. I tracked down and bought about 30 or so copies from all over the USA, England, Israel, Australia, Germany and Spain, not even Bart’s death would stop my quest. The condition was varied, so some I kept for sending to CGC, some I onsold.

    After about four submissions I finally got Flash #92 back from CGC graded at 9.8 this Monday.

    In Australia that has been no mean feat, postage is a killer and I can only say I know one other collector outside of my local.

    Anyway, for me back issue searching went something like the following:

    Pre 2000
    Local comic store

    Post 2000
    Ebay

    After 2000 it seemed like the back issues were allways locked out the back or kept off site. I have to say though, it was allways more fun looking through old boxes then staring at numbers ticking on a screen.

    Reply
    1. Flashfan

      I live in Australia too and totally feel your pain! I’ve been so lucky in my online searches, but where I used to live, there were no comic book stores. I used to watch TV shows that featured comic stores and drool!

      For some really hard to find issues (Like a lot of JLA) I’ve unfortunately resorted to *ahem* downloading them. But whenever I see a copy (even if I have it on my computer) I’ll buy it. I prefer having hard copies.

      I’m going to go crazy if I ever go on holiday to America.

      Reply
  4. Touch of Grey

    I’ve been collecting comics since 1997, when my uncle gave me a shortbox full of titles from the eighties. I passed the Marvel titles off to a classmate of mine, but kept the dozen or so issues of New Teen Titans and Justice League International, and what has since become a lifelong obsession was born.

    At that time, I couldn’t get into the Justice League lineup, so I passed over them in favor of stories about their sidekicks: Robin, Nightwing, Impulse, Superboy (and the Ravers, for the short time it was printed), Legion of Superheroes, Legionnaires, Teen Titans, The Titans, and eventually, Young Justice, which still remains my favorite comic of all time.

    (Keep in mind, I was under the age of ten when I started collecting, and my parents had no interest in taking me to any of the South Florida conventions, so a bimonthly trip to Tate’s Comics was how I got my fix.)

    In 2004, my mom and I got into a huge fight. During that fight, she grabbed one of my longboxes and dragged it out of the room. She then proceeded to turn on the hose and drench my poor comics into oblivion. I don’t bag things, it’s too much of a hassle and the boards take up too much space. After checking my other boxes, I realized that the only series’ that had been destroyed were some Flash comics, some issues of Birds of Prey, and my entire run of Young Justice.

    Flash forward to January 2010. I’ve grown a lot and moved down to Miami, but I still make that ocasional journey to Tate’s. This time, I’m leaving with Young Justice #55, the last issue I needed to re-complete my collection.

    I mean, yeah, I probably could have found it on eBay, but where’s the fun in that?

    Reply
  5. Flashfan

    Living in Australia, my ability to buy comics is extremely limited, esspecially back issues. I first become interested in the flash from the Justice League Unlimited tv series. At first, I was only ever able to read scans that people had put online… Then, when scouring a comic forum, someone offered to sell me his whole Wally West run for only $90US. I jumped at the chance! Not only did it include all Wally West issues, but also crossovers, Flash Rebirth, Final Crisis: Rogues, Impulse, Young Justice and The Fastest Man Alive. Since reading all of them, I now download digital copies of what I can get from Justice League, which is limited.
    I’ve also managed to buy the whole Teen Titans (with Bart Allen) run for about $100US. I’ve been very lucky.

    I also moved from a small coastal town to the city of Sydney, which I was astonished to discover had a comic book store right near my new house! While their back issues are limited, and (in my opinion) expensive ($7.50 US for a copy of pre-52 Blue Beetle) I’m really excited to be able to buy the 52 Flash, Teen Titans and Justice League runs.

    Considering I’ve only been buying comics for a couple of years now, I’ve only ever had to chance to buy online, and Ive been extremely lucky in my finds.

    Reply

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