Buying/Selling at Local Comic Shows

What's up CBSI'ers, been awhile. Recently I escaped from Los Angeles and back to my old stomping grounds in the DMV (Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia).

This past weekend I attended a couple small comic conventions. I wanted to get a lay of the land. I've been in LA for the past 6 years so I wasn't hip to the scene out here. I talked to a bunch of people on both sides of the table and had a really good time… but boy was I in for some culture shock.

I was really fortunate back in the early 90's to have people take me under their wing and teach me the ropes. Most collectors have no clue how much work goes into selling at a show… or the cost for that matter. So today I'm going to talk about that instead… rather than tossing out free cornbread.

I got roped into helping a buddy of mine set up at two separate small shows this weekend. Which meant getting up at 5am the first day. I drove to his place and we left at 6am to drive to Maryland for the show. We unloaded 40 short boxes and metal grid for the wall books. We set everything up and were ready by 10 am when the doors opened. He had two 8 ft tables, I think, filled with dollar books.

To give you an idea about what it cost to do a show, you'd have to sell half a long box at a dollar just to pay for 2 tables. That not breaking even mind you. That's simply getting you flush with the show promoter. Once you start factoring in the price of your stock, gas and the dozen other expenses. You'd need to sell probably 2 long boxes of dollar books to make any money at all. Standing around all day and hustling books… let's face it, there's better ways to spend a weekend. People selling books this way have to really love it. No joke, flipping books on eBay is a hell of a lot easier.

The second show was a comics and card show, so I had to get up at 6am instead of 5. Some of the vendors selling comics were guys I had met on Saturday. However something was different… I noticed this show had a vendor selling 25 cent books. I remember 50 cent bins from when I was a kid in the 90's and one of the venders on Saturday was doing 50 cent books. He had some nice wall books and several priced as marked bins too. But this guy on Sunday with these quarter bins… I'm like, Really?! That's some next level undercutting right there. I guess you can do stuff like that when you don't have “special guests” inflating the table and entry price… which was only 3 bucks.

Let me just say this to comic collectors in the DMV, many of you probably have NO clue how good you have it. People in other parts of the country would kill to have low entry fees and the selection of key silver, bronze and modern books you have access to on a Sunday afternoon. Since I'm not interested in golden age books, I wasn't paying attention, there could have been a bunch of that stuff too.

Let me do a quick comparison, just to illustrate. Once a year in Southern California there's a show with golden, silver and bronze books. The entry fee for that is $10. While the So Cal con is bigger, you have access to some comparable books every month at these local show. That's 11 more opportunities … minimum. Keep in mind, that's just one promoter out here doing roughly 12 shows a year. There are several shows a month from different promoters and almost every weekend! Depending on how far you're willing to drive, there's so many options for picking up books locally in this area it's crazy.

I'm sure other parts of the country have small promoters doing comic, toy and card shows. Folks should really take advantage of those, if you're not already. I'd rather go to small comic show instead of an absurdly over priced Pop Culture con filled with beef jerky and junk.

As I mentioned before, a lot of work goes into setting up for a show. You have to remember, the dealers have to pay for the tables. So you're looking at north of 75 bucks multiplied by 2, 3 and sometimes 4 or 5 tables. They're not making table back selling 50 cent books people… or dollar books for that matter. You don't even see dollar books at Pop Culture shows normally because the cost of the table/booth is way too high.

Here's something else. If you're getting access to actual vendors who sell comics at a $3 -$10 entry fee, give'em a break. Don't try and grind them on the dollar bin stuff, seriously. That's just gauche. I found people pawing through the cheap bins looking for 9.8 candidates. Granted nobody was busting out UV lights checking the spine, but still. Holding it up to the light checking the surface… It's hard not to roll your eyes when you see that. Honestly, any dealer worth their salt is not letting a nice copy of anything relevant make it to the dollar bins. Doesn't matter where in the country you live, that's universal.

Another thing I noticed at both shows. I can count on one hand the number of dealers with variants. Nothing wrong with that. These sellers stick to what they know and I think that's wise. At west coast cons I've attended, the wall books are primarily variants with some expensive bronze and modern keys.

Touching on variants real quick. One couple I met on Sunday had a folder, it was like 10 pages with 20 covers printed out per page. That was smart. It's something I think more collectors should be doing, especially when you're just starting out. They could show sellers what they were looking for or just to use as personal reference. It helps speed things along and saves everyone some time. I was able to talk with them about some of the books they were hunting… also letting them know what to expect price wise when/if they do run across them. Surprisingly, I probably only met 3 collectors over the weekend that were interested in variant covers at all. Two of them were hunting Star Wars variants.

All in all both shows were a breath of fresh air. The attendees, the dealers, everyone was chill… I was even impressed by the cosplayers at the Saturday show. It reinvigorated my love of going to comic shows again… which I didn't think was possible after years of underwhelming Pop Culture cons.

Honestly, I never thought I would say this, but I'm glad to be back in the DMV.

Till Next Week!


  • CountZeroInterrupt

    Great article Skot! That was me with the printed hunt list. It was good to meet you and talk shop this weekend. I hope to see you around the DMV scene in the future. BTW, going to be at NOVAcon on Friday. It’s the first show for them so we’ll see how it goes. You going to be there?

  • jason jones

    Nice read ??

  • Khoi Cakes

    Must be nice to have so many local shows…

  • There is a small show here in the Houston area year round. I’ve been to a few when they have one located closer to me. There is a $5 admission fee to attend but never would sell at one. There is just not enough buyers that come through to justify the money and work involved with selling at one of them. I could get more of a buying audience on Facebook or Craigslist for hardly any work and no fees.

    • Skot Whitman

      Yeah, that’s the problem, fees and all the work involved probably doesn’t make it worth wild for most people. That’s why you have to really love doing it.

      However, that being said I think there’s one important factor that keep these shows alive. The Human aspect. It’s so cool to meet other people on both side of the table and trade story and opinions… many times the enthusiasm doesn’t translate properly across the internet.

  • I’ll be really honest, I’m amazed these shows still pop up in today’s internet and online buy and sell world.

    Like you say in the article, selling and more precisely flipping on Ebay is a joke.

    In 15 minutes, I can have 2 listings up and live on Ebay.

    It is true however that it’s pointless to use Ebay for common commics especially stuff you want to sell at 50$ to 1$. It’s not worth it.

    So I guess small shows can be a decent option to decrease inventory but in todays market with all the speculation running rampart, everyone is looking for value first and reading/collecting enjoyment second.

    I’m a collector of comics, I like to collect them and read them etc. But I will not say no to making money off of my books if a profit is to be made. Besides whatever money I’ve made of comics sales in the past, went right back to comics for my PC.

    I won’t lie, I too keep an eye out for comics I can flip for moey, however I do also buy comics for the stories and art. The problem is that most too many people will buy ONLY if there is money to be made.

    I believe a website where collectors can post there books to sell at no fees other than say a one time annual fee of a certain amount would be cool. Wonder if that exists?

    Say you pay, I don’t know, 50$ a year and you can post a list of your comics for sale on said website fee free would be cool and a good way to not have to do all the work of selling at a show.

    Basically Ebay without all the fees LOL.

    Anyways, nice write up bud.

  • I had the pleasure of finally meeting Skot at both of the shows he described. He’s 100% correct. In the DMV region, there’s practically a show every weekend!

  • I’m in SWVA and love how many small shows I have access to compared to what we used to get in Florida. It’s also pretty easy to cross the border into WV, NC or GA

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