big box of comics, bookmans, comic books, fifty cent rack, Mars Will Send No More, memoir, perpetual motion
Today, after nearly nine years of blogging, I want to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before.
Once upon a time, I reversed entropy.
In the early years of this blog, I sometimes mentioned my “top secret fifty-cent rack” where I got ridiculous deals on vintage and contemporary comics. I mean, they were ridiculous. For example, someone would dump Grant Morrison’s entire run on Animal Man, immaculately bagged and boarded in VF+ to NM condition. At fifty cents an issue, that find cost me $13.
If you’ve recently tried to collect that run, then you understand what I mean by ridiculous deals.
Or I’d find half of the Lucifer series, or an uninterrupted chunk of Sandman issues I was missing. Or, on two separate visits, I’d piece together the entire hologram cover series from a 1990s X-Men crossover. Then I’d find near-mint copies of complete story arcs from the Ultimate X-men series, plus random underground comix from the 1970s, current indie publishers I’d never heard of, and a staggering pile of colorful vintage awesomeness.
Don’t get me wrong. Nobody was dumping Fantastic Four #1 from the 1960s. I wasn’t getting bloody rich at the fifty-cent rack. But I discovered so much there and did quite a bit of collecting. It was the best time to love comics.
Then it went away.
Since it is gone for good, and the sacred secret no longer has any power over my destiny, I will divulge to you the fountain of comic book infinitude that fueled the early days of Mars Will Send No More.
Drum roll, please.
It was the Bookmans Book Store at 19th Avenue and Northern in Phoenix, Arizona.
Now, don’t be sad for the store. It did not die in a cataclysmic Crisis on Infinite Crossover Wars event. It is still there, selling second-hand books, video games, movies, toys, and musical instruments. You can take stuff in, and they offer you cash or a significantly larger store credit. You can also drop in empty-handed to shop for decent deals on slightly used stuff.
But several years ago, the top-secret rack died. And it died without a warning.
I had no idea until one day I walked in and discovered the horror they had made of my paradise. The shelves were moved to a different location and changed to a dollar rack. The quality of the comics decreased, the shelf size decreased, and the price went up.
A golden age had ended.
The epic was over.
But I recall when the golden age began. At a friend’s invitation, I visited Bookmans for the first time with her. It did not take her long to wonder what horrifying hell she had created for herself. The comic book rack was a huge set of shelves with not just hundreds but thousands of books. I spent hours looking through them all! Every single one! My friend told me it was okay and went to one of the posh reading corners to enjoy a book.
But just between you and me, she never invited me there again.
I’m just kidding. We went back there a bunch of times together. And I got hundreds of comics from that place. Stacks of hundreds at a time. Every couple of months, for years.
It was not merely a fifty-cent rack. If I brought in comics to the “trade counter”, and the books were in reasonable condition, Bookmans gave me twenty cents of store credit for them.
Do the math. If I have old comics I don’t want to read, then I take them to Bookmans and get twenty cents credit per book. But all I am there to do is buy their fifty-cent comics. With my credit, those now cost only thirty cents. If I come back and trade a stack of comics I picked up on my last visit and paid an effective rate of thirty cents for, and I get twenty cents credit for them again, then they only cost me ten cents in the long run.
If that sounds like a perpetual motion scam, then realize that the thermodynamic friction in the system was that I loved a ton of the books I found there, and I kept them.
Also, friction means, “You must work for it.” You need to feed energy into any system to power it. Every system is always losing energy through friction, expressed in terms of heat loss, which is called entropy. If you don’t add work to a system, it eventually stops.
So, I looked for ways to feed into the system for the lowest cost. Three things proved especially effective.
One, I scoured the city for “quarter” bins, especially where you could get five for a dollar. If I could get five for a dollar, then they cost twenty cents each, which was exactly how much store credit I could get for trade-in at Bookmans. I got some things worth keeping and re-reading from those bargain bins, and I traded in the rest of it for even better stuff at Bookmans. As a bonus, the stuff I traded in was fun to read and discover. It was not always material I wanted to keep, but it was something I was glad I had a chance to see, and occasionally would sell on eBay for more than I paid for it.
In another attempt at perpetual energy and comic books forever, I bought a collection from a friend, cleaned it up, sold a few things on eBay, kept a few gems, and traded in the rest. I did slightly better than break even on that venture, minus a little time and elbow grease, plus a few cool vintage things for my collection, and a bunch of fun stuff I scanned for this blog before parting with it.
But of all the perpetual motion schemes I tried, one remains unmatched in all of time and space. It was like I had broken the laws of physics and economics simultaneously. Anything and everything seemed possible.
Acting on a tip from a friend of a friend, I bought several long boxes at a pawn shop for a stupidly low cash price. I threw maybe $20 or $40 at this purchase, max.
I am such a social retard that I spent a couple hours in the parking lot behind the place, doing what I had to do to get the collection in order. Any civilized person would have fucked off and done his work in private. But to be fair, I did ask the shop if I could park in back and go through the goods. And they said yes.
They just didn’t realize I meant for maybe all afternoon.
In a dirt-alley parking lot with a beat-up old truck I later sold at a loss after some drunk driver totaled it, I cleaned up the collection, took stuff for myself, threw out damaged worthless issues, and organized other issues into runs that belonged together.
I picked out a couple things that sold on eBay for just enough to cover the entire cost of the long-box purchase. I broke even on the purchase through eBay sales, and still got twenty cents of store credit at Bookmans for a couple boxes’ worth of stuff I didn’t want. Hundreds of dollars of credit.
Take that, Isaac Newton. For one glorious moment in time, I stumbled upon a perpetual motion machine of comic books that generated pure profit and excess reading enjoyment.
That is how I reversed entropy, cheated thermodynamics, and ended up with forty short boxes of comic books lining the walls of my former office.
For a few years, it was comic book heaven. At one point, I took bagged and boarded comics and nailed them to the walls in orderly rows and columns—not through the book, just the bag and board. For a couple years, I changed the display every few months. One month my office would be nothing but Wolverine covers. Two months later: four walls of seven stripes in the colors of the rainbow, one color per stripe. Next, two walls of covers featuring awesome solo shots of my favorite heroines, and two walls of dinosaurs.
I went through a fuck-load of nails, bags, and boards.
But every single day, it was geek heaven to walk into that office to get some work done.
Yes, I miss it. Life happened, and I needed some cash, so I sold about thirty boxes from that collection. Though I didn’t get rich, and it was a desperate attempt to break even, I made a small profit when all was said and done. I took the profit I worked my ass off to get and immediately spent it on rent.
For my efforts, I was left standing with a few short boxes of my favorite comics.
As the old song goes: “Regrets? I’ve had a few.”
Until recently, I regretted selling off some of my treasures. But in the last couple of years, thanks to this blog’s readers, I’ve reacquired editions of the most awesome stuff, the stories I consider indispensable and love to read and re-read, even if they come back to me in an Omnibus or TPB format instead of the original issues. I got a hell of a bargain on them the first time around, and now this blog’s readers support me in getting a second chance.
Along the way, we discover new treasures.
Psycho Andy said:
Oh, the golden age of Bookman’s 50 cent racks was truly an era of magic. At the Mesa Location, I managed to put together the majority of both the 1980s X-Factor and Excalibur series’, and filled out the few remaining issues for both series at All About Books & Comics discount hub. I discovered some wonderful treasures that someone had discarded, as well as a few things that, well, I completely understood why someone would get rid of them.
I can’t believe I never thought to read-and-return the comics. It’s such an obvious ploy. Alas.
The Mesa Bookman’s comic section now rivals that of its stripmall neighbor, Samurai Comics, at least in terms of sheer volume of back issues. Although, I haven’t been there since February.
Still. I’ve managed to find a lot of great deals on some out-of-print TPBs in the last couple of years.
Thank you for bringing back those memories.
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Mars Will Send No More said:
Andy, you and I were scouring the same discount bins! It’s nice to hear from someone who recalls the fifty cent golden age.
I hit up the Mesa Bookmans a couple times, but it was a longer drive and I wasn’t seeing as many awesome runs there. Maybe because you got them all first 🙂
I’d almost forgotten about it, but the All About Books and Comics discount room consumed a few days of my life. I pulled so much stuff out of there that they let me negotiate an even bigger discount once or twice. They also sold a few vintage goodies on commission for me.
I haven’t raided bargain bins for a few years now, but I have recurring dreams about looking through boxes of old comics.
Gems from a golden age…
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