A Fisherman’s Tale: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Grail, Blue Grail
Oxford dictionary defines Grail as “a thing that is being earnestly pursued or sought after.” In comic collecting, we throw around the word grail to any book that is highly sought after, but according to this definition, it could be simply a comic that has eluded you for years.
For the completionist, there can be comics that others consider worthless, but for some reason can never be found in the wild. One of my fellow fishermen is a die hard Amazing Spider-man completionist. I am trying to complete my run of ASM, but for me, it doesn’t matter the quality until I have that first copy, then I will upgrade. For him, all copies must be at least 8.0 and he needs both direct and newsstand of each issue. He carries around a picture of his list. Which he writes out again each month as he marks books off the list. For him, there are a few later issues of ASM newsstands in the late 600s that are becoming his grails. He scours Facebook auctions asking them to hold the barcodes up. He has given up on eBay because sellers rarely honestly document whether it’s newsstand correctly, (and he likes to complain in the comments). It is hard to pay extra for a book simply because you are desperate for a newsstand copy.
My grails are high dollar keys, of course, I have a few Amazing Spider-man grails left. But here is where I get frustrated, because how many “grails” can I have. Should a grail be “The Book” or can it be one book on a short list? Even if you are a list person, does the list become shorter as you check books off your list? The other part of the grail question is the phrase “earnestly pursued” I would love to own Action Comics 1 or Detective Comics 27, but they are not realistically on my list, because of cost, and I don’t care much about DC books right now. Now Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1 are my “win big at poker” grails, but not realistic. For me, my current grail would be Werewolf by Night 32, but it is quickly becoming unrealistic. It is also one of my fishing misses. I have had a couple of opportunities to purchase this book, but the first time I balked at the price of $400 for a 4.5 graded copy. By the time I decided to buy it, it was gone. The last time I saw one, was a few months ago. A huge batch of Bronze Age keys came into a Local Comic Shop (LCS). I was the 3rd person in the store after the batch had been put on the wall. I am not well connected at the store, but I saw a collector who arrived just before me, receive a stack of Bronze Age keys to sort through before they were put on the wall. Stores begin to recognize who their regular big spenders are. In it was WWBN 32 for $250. He actually debated purchasing it, I was in a hurry and finally asked him if he was going to get it. If I had not been so eager, I probably could have gotten it. I grabbed an NM Tales of Teen Titans 2, first Deathstroke.
Now grail fishing can be challenging because depending on where you fish, your grail might be a little like hunting sasquatch. Everyone knows someone who has seen one. For me a “little g” grail I recently crossed off my list was Iron Fist 14, “big G” Grail would be the 35 cent variant. I have always liked early Sabertooth and getting his first appearance was important to me. The only one I had ever seen “in the wild” was in a local shop for $200, a VG copy. Too pricey for me, but I hadn’t seen one in three years of hunting since. A few months ago I hit the flea market, I did my rounds, I have found some good books before, but I have also walked away empty handed a few times too. I went by one of those booths where everything is spread out on tables (books, magazines, figurines, badges, and random stuff), the guy running it sleeps on a cot by the booth and he looks like he hasn’t showered in a week or two. He sets up in the same spot every month. A couple of years ago he had a glass display case with a VF copy of ASM 129 in it for $500. At the time that was way too much money for a comic. I stopped by his booth again, usually, he has beat DC horror books in the glass display case, but this time it was two NM copies of Incredible Hulk 340 and a VG/F Iron Fist 14. He had $200 on IF14 and $80 each on IH 340. I walked away to think and research but countered with $200 for the lot. He accepted. After the transaction, he smiled and told me he found the books at a yard sale for $1 each.
I was so happy to affordably cross a grail off my list, I did not care.
Just last week I found another G/VG IF 14 for $100 with 20% off. It seems like books pop up in cycles for me. I am learning my Bronze Age grails can pop up affordably as long as I am patient, which is easy to say when I have reader copies of GSX1, ASM129, HoS92, IH181, MS5 already crossed off my list before their price jumps. My fellow fishermen who try to complete their grail list quickly can miss some joy out of collecting. My near misses and What if? stories make the eventual purchase that much sweeter. Dropping $5,000 on a Fantastic Four 1 might be financially possible (not if I want to go home), but trading and swapping my way toward a second copy of ASM129 that I can flip into a bigger book down the road is way more satisfying.