Tagged: Gemstone Publishing

Review: The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition
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Review: Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition

Finally, a time machine for me!

Most folks visiting this site know about Dr. Doom’s Time Machine, the Guardian of Forever from Star Trek or that little book written by Herbert George Wells called The Time Machine.  Or at least they know about that fantastic DeLorean that Marty McFly drove.

Well, there’s one more Time Machine to add to the list – Gemstone Publishing’s The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #1 Facsimile Edition, a reproduction of the very first Overstreet’s Price Guide published in the fall of 1970. What a treat it is! This book is, at the core of it all, a snapshot of old comic book prices.  But faster than you can say “Why, oh, why didn’t I buy multiple copies of Fantastic Four #1 for $30.00 back in 70?”, you realize it’s so much more.

This is also a celebration of fan-focused entrepreneurs (Fantropreneurs?) grabbing the reins of their industry. This was the time when fans, and especially one fan named Robert M. Overstreet, rolled up their sleeves, researched meticulously and published an industry bible that would become both a tradition and the foundation upon which a million collections were built.

There’s an important thing to remember. Back in the “old days”, when you finished with something, it was discarded. As a society, we didn’t collect or save magazines or comics.  My Italian relatives would save bottles and paper bags, but comics didn’t quite fit into that category. There were collectors, but they were either breathing rarefied air (e.g. Art Collectors) or they were weirdos… who’s maturity was obviously stunted.

But the Guide, in assigning values to comics in such an authoritative way, publicly established economic value for comics. The outside world could respect that. Society back in the sixties or seventies might not have cared if Captain Marvel debuted in Whiz Comics #1 but they did care if an old funny book, with a newsstand value of 10 cents, was suddenly worth $235.00.

“Oh, if only my mother hadn’t thrown them out!” laments every non-collector.

(Note to my mom -thanks for never throwing out my comics. But I am still bummed you sold my Major Matt Mason Space Station at a garage sale.)

Beyond the prices, this facsimile edition also showcases ads that, once ubiquitous, have now morphed into curiosities. Passaic Book & Comic Center has the first ad in the book. And it’s fun to recall when Big Little Books were an adjacent collectible. (There don’t seem to be too many collectors any more, but I hope I am wrong.) And surely mail order legend Robert Bell deserves his time in the historical spotlight.

I’m so glad Gemstone’s VP of Publishing J.C. Vaughn and his team pushed for this delightful reproduction. Flipping through it sends me back in time, back when the world was shiny and new and full of potential. Or at least comic collecting was.

Ed Catto: Nerd Rage – Is It Clobberin’ Time?

Supergirl_v.5_36There are two sides to every coin. I usually write the incredible passion fans have for Geek Culture. This week I’m thinking about Nerd Rage.

This term probably started as a way to describe frustrations in video gaming. But it is now generally used to describe the intense anger that arises when fans vehemently disagree with development plans or ongoing creative efforts for a brand, mythology or intellectual property with which they disagree.

You’ve seen many examples of Nerd Rage. During the yuletide release of the new Star Wars movie, it seemed as if the whole country waited with bated breath for the core fans’ judgment. There had been months of speculation prior to the debut. Would fans approve or shake their virtual fists with the fury of Nerd Rage?

Sports radio is, in many ways, founded on the concept of Nerd Rage, although they’d never call it that. “Real fans” offer their own opinions on the activities, plans and choices made by coaches, teams and players. And all too often, the fans are angry. That makes good radio, I guess.

The-angry-fanboyAnd closer to home, this past month DC Comics announced their mythology would be undergoing a “rebirth.” Fans anxiously gritted their teeth in anticipation of yet another rejiggering of the fictional background and histories of the characters.

“Nerd Rage is not a joke – fans get upset when their favorite mythologies are changed,” said Gerry Gladston, CMO/CLO of Midtown Comics. As a long-time fan and one of the architects of a best-in-class comic retailer, Gerry has a unique perspective on the ramifications of Nerd Rage.

“Midtown Comics’ long term official observation demonstrates that a large percentage of fans tend to cool off after the initial exposure to their Nerd Rage trigger, and often embrace it if they deem the new direction to be of high quality and to add substance to the mythology,” explained Gladston.

angry-girl-wallpaperRich Johnston is the founder of BleedingCool.com, a leading geek focused news site. With his knack for uncovering rumors of industry changes, he routinely offers prophetic glimpses that often trigger Nerd Rage. “The things we love, inspire passion. People damaging the things we love, inspire hate,” said Johnston. “There’s only so much nerd rage because there’s so much love in the first place. Just sometimes that love … can be seriously misplaced.”

A little while back, Fast Company ran an article called “Why Being Hated Isn’t the Worst Thing For Your Brand.” Tom Denari explored the idea that brands being noticed, and achieving a level of salience, is more important than being liked. He also noted that it’s natural that brands that are loved by many, like The Yankees or Duke University, are also hated by many.

But when it affects sales of a brand or product, that’s a problem. “In cases where a new direction for a mythology is not found to add substance, nor otherwise make sense, Nerd Rage can cause fans to jump off,” said Gladston. And that’s what happened with DC Comics’ last few rebooting initiatives.

article-1283295-0395DFA4000005DC-224_233x333J.C. Vaughn, Vice-President of Publishing for Gemstone Publishing explains that there are no simple answers in these new directions. “It’s easy to come up with the editorial-or management-driven dictates that have chased readers away in comics, but I’d like to concentrate on one that sparked a fair bit of outrage before it came out and then turned out to be one of the greatest runs in comics history. For years, there were two deaths in the Marvel universe that were sacrosanct, Uncle Ben and Bucky. And then Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting brought back Bucky, made him a Soviet-era pawn responsible for deaths across six or seven decades, and Cap’s foe. Tell me that twelve years ago and I would have thought you were insane (even then, though, I wouldn’t have thought you should be killed). And the result was a truly great, long run on the comic and a wonderful film.” That film, of course, was Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Vaughn concludes that story-driven changes often justify creative change-ups. “We’re talking about fiction after all. On the other hand, we’ve seen the fallout of change for the sake of change.”

But there is a problem when Nerd Rage becomes irrational.

“Nerd Rage is sort of a big boat and a lot of things from irritation and justifiable anger are getting lumped in with out-of-control vitriol that truly has no place in civilized discourse,” said Vaughn.

“Make a website because you know Greedo did not shoot first? Rag on George Lucas for such decisions? Sure thing. I’ve got your back. Saying or posting that a reporter should be killed because she doesn’t ‘get’ Star Wars? Are you kidding? Do you have no sense of proportional response? The world is a pretty horrible place. Comics, movies, books, and video games are among our escapes. And you feel comfortable saying someone should be killed for thinking other than the way you think? You are the problem, not the person you’re criticizing,” said Vaughn.

What’s that old Oscar Wilde quote? “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Ed Catto: The Spirit of 76… minus 1

The Spirit Overstreet

Back in 1976 I loved comics (big surprise) but I didn’t really know who Will Eisner was. I didn’t know who The Spirit was either. But I still kind of got the gag on the cover of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide that year. As you may know, this annual publication has a long tradition of showcasing different artists and characters each year. The Bicentennial was a big deal and everybody was getting in on it. That year, the guest cover artist for The Price Guide was Will Eisner. In order to get into the Bicentennial theme, his Spirit cover portrayed The Spirit’s supporting cast in patriotic regalia and the subtitle became The Spirit of ’76.

I know. That’s a long run for a short slide.

Over the years I’ve learned what a brilliant visionary and hard-working guy Will Eisner was, and I’ve read and re-read so many of his fantastic stories. And here we are now, nearly 40 years later, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Will Eisner’s signature character, The Spirit. It makes me wonder – how can one manage a brand like this with 75 years of history? America’s favorite cookie, Oreo, was an even older brand I managed for a few years in the 90s and sometimes I found it daunting. When I spoke with Carl and Nancy Gropper, who run the Will Eisner Foundation, I learned about the challenges of managing the legacy of an iconic brand.

As I was doing my research, my pal J.C. Vaughn, Vice-President of Publishing at Gemstone Publishing, alerted me to an intriguing opportunity: to explore the “secret origin” of that Overstreet Spirit of ’76 cover. So next week we’ll focus on the insights from the Eisner Foundation, and this week I have a real treat to share: insights from Robert Overstreet. As you might know, over the years Bob has never really been one for interviews. He’s always preferred personal, one-on-one conversations. That hasn’t changed much, even for the Guide’s 45th anniversary. But Bob Overstreet loves The Spirit, and in particular, that Bicentennial cover.

Bob explains how it all started. “In the fall of 1975 DC Comics recommended that I contact Crown Publishers in New York about bookstore distribution for the Guide. I called them and they pre-ordered 10,000 copies of my next book, which was The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #6. I contacted Will Eisner to do a 1776 theme since it was our country’s 200th anniversary in 1976. He finished the art right away and upon receiving it, I sent Crown a copy of my new cover.”

“Crown called me on Christmas Eve 1975 and told me that Eisner could not have his name on the cover because his illustrated cook book series had sold awfully. I had to call Eisner on Christmas Eve to ask him if it would be okay to drop his name off the cover art,” he said.

Call Will Eisner on Christmas Eve and say his name couldn’t be on the cover? Piece of cake, right?

“This was very hard for me and something I did not want to do. I got him on the phone and surprisingly he agreed for me to delete his name from the cover art. However, I just couldn’t do it. I left his name on the cover, much to Crown’s chagrin,” Overstreet said.

“Incidentally, it ended up selling very well. This was so important because this was my very first book for bookstore distribution worldwide,” he said.

J.C. Vaughn’s experience with the cover started in the same place as my own. “The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #6 was the first copy of the Guide I ever saw, so Eisner’s “Spirit of ‘76” cover has been lodged in my mind ever since that day at Eide’s in Pittsburgh (in their old location, where PNC Park now stands). I didn’t know anything about The Spirit at that point, but I loved the cover,” said Vaughn. “Pretty soon I saw the previous edition, which featured Joe Kubert’s powerful Tarzan, which also remains one of my all-time favorites, but there’s always been something about Eisner’s work, hasn’t there?”

And he also explained a little bit about his office, and I immediately got a bad case of ‘office envy’. “The Eisner piece was one of the few original Guide covers that Bob didn’t own,” J.C. explained. Will Eisner gave him a one-of-one litho. When I joined the staff, that litho ended up hanging in my office for a decade, so no surprise that I have such strong, fond memories of it.”

And to bring it all full circle, The Spirit will adorn the cover of the souvenir book from Comic-Con International, (which everyone really calls the San Diego Comic-Con). I’m in awe of a brand, and the creator behind a brand, that can last 75 years.

Of course, I’m wondering if some kid, like me 39 years ago, won’t know who The Spirit is when they see him on the cover of the souvenir book. But we’ll get into that more next week.

Note: Special thanks this week to J.C. Vaughn and all his help with and insights for this week’s column. He’s a real connect-the-dots kind of guy!