Toronto Comic Book Show Report

On July 6th I had the opportunity to attend the Toronto Comic Book Show (TCBS) for the first time. This was the second TCBS after its inaugural show in May. You won’t see any cosplay or signings at TCBS—the show’s organizers are 100% focused on serving those who just want to get their hands on books (both raw and graded). The admission person I spoke with said they expected over 400 people throughout the day. While that’s a far cry from some of the bigger Toronto shows or US shows, it’s a pretty respectable number considering TCBS is a collector-first show.

On July 6th I had the opportunity to attend the Toronto Comic Book Show (TCBS) for the first time. This was the second TCBS after its inaugural show in May.  You won’t see any cosplay or signings at TCBS—the show’s organizers are 100% focused on serving those who just want to get their hands on books (both raw and graded). The admission person I spoke with said they expected over 400 people throughout the day. While that’s a far cry from some of the bigger Toronto shows or US shows, it’s a pretty respectable number considering TCBS is a collector-first show. In fact, the organizers are so happy with the reception that they’re thinking about adding a second show to serve the Ajax/Oshawa area.

Toronto Comic Book Show  #1

I had the opportunity to speak with several of the vendors at the show. I was very curious about the state of the comic show scene considering that most collectors (myself included) would rather click a few buttons and pay with MasterCard than carry hundreds or even thousands of dollars to a hotel conference room. I was also excited to pick the vendors’ brains to get a feel for where they see comic values going and get a handle on what books are currently most in demand from collectors.

Frank Chang of Fun Comics was the first vendor I spoke with. Frank was packing some serious hardware at his booth. I noticed a nice 9.8 Batman #227 and a 9.8 Incredible Hulk #181. For all the valuable books Frank brought with him to TCBS one would think Frank was optimistic about his chances to move some books. Well, that’s wasn’t the case! He felt interest in comics is dipping and traffic at shows like TCBS on the decline. He was not expecting to move any big dollar books that day (“who brings thousands of dollars to a show?”). Frank believed that the Silver Age keys have moved well beyond the average collector and they’re certainly beyond anyone looking to get into the hobby. He also expressed frustration that Silver Age books with high price tags are taking longer to sell. After our brief exchange I thanked Frank for putting me into a depressed mood. “I’m just telling you like it is,” was Frank’s reply. There was a lot more Frank had to say but I encouraged him to leave his comments at ComicBookDaily!

So was Frank optimistic about anything? Deadpool, Wolverine, and Spider-Man are his “three main staples” and are always sought after. He’s selling more Bronze Age titles and expects their values to rebound after suffering the last few years. After all, with Silver Age values in the stratosphere, collectors need to look somewhere. He sees the movies having a big impact on the Modern Age and lower end grades but not so much on the high-end Silvers. One book currently in high demand is Iron Man 55 (first appearance of Thanos).

Toronto Comic Book Show #2

Paul McFaul stood in stark contrast to Frank (which I was thankful for because I really needed a pick-me-up). This was Paul’s first show ever as a vendor after being in the hobby for a long time. He was energetic and excited to be at the show. Paul’s table was certainly not the most impressive at the show but he more than made up for it with his energy. A huge Spider-Man fan, Paul’s passion for the hobby was evident as he spoke about seeing the books he was now selling (encased behind CGC slabs) on newsstands when he was younger. After talking to Paul for a few minutes I was so pumped up by his energy I was thinking about buying the McFarlane ASM run he had on his table! He’s wasn’t interested in selling the stuff he wasn’t even alive for. That may not be the wisest business move but I have to give respect to Paul for sticking with what he’s passionate about. Paul thought Iron Man, X-Men, and Spider-Man will continue to do well. I pointed out a Walking Dead he had on his table but his outlook for the series was not optimistic.

I met Todd Manefski for the first time at the show. Todd’s a cool, laid back guy with an impressive depth of knowledge about books from all ages. He’s the kind of guy you want to grab a coffee with and just soak in his years of experience and collecting thoughts. Also with him was a very lovely lady who I assumed was his wife but I actually forgot to ask!  Todd’s approach for the show was not necessarily to move a lot of books but to meet the right kind of collector.

Todd echoed Frank’s sentiments about the Silver Age; it’s just too far out of reach for most and especially tough for shows such as TCBS. He also mentioned the movies creating demand for certain titles. Nova comics are in demand now as he could be the Next Big Thing if Guardians of the Galaxy is popular. We had an interesting conversation about comics as artwork, an idea I plan to visit in a future column. Collectors are really embracing good looking books and great artists. With CGC slabs and lots of choices for frames out there, collectors are increasingly hanging books on walls. People are looking for great artwork and great artists. Alex Toth was an artist Todd mentioned.

Alex Toth

TCBS was great fun. I really enjoyed talking with the vendors at the show; it was a refreshing change of pace from typing thoughts on forums and looking at images of books on eBay. Frank’s concerns about the decline of shows should be taken seriously. I would encourage TCBS to think of ways to bridge the gap between offline and online. Many vendors I spoke with at the show had no online presence whatsoever. It would be great if TCBS provided vendor profiles on the TCBS website or even created an online store that exclusively sells vendors’ books in parallel to the show itself.

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R.J. Steinhoff
RJ Steinhoff is a lifelong comic book fan and when he’s not working for a living he runs the comictrend.com website.
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25 Comments

  1. R.J. , as much as I hate to admit it , I have to agree with Frank ! the shows I do in Vancouver have terrible sales , considering all the great books we bring .everybody is looking for a deal . one customer even offered me $10 for a bunch of books totaling $65 !!!when the time comes to sell all of my books from my collection , it’ll probably be thru ebay , since I won’t be able to sell them here in Vancouver . Peter Chin goes to these shows , and he could tell you I’m right !

  2. these are small shows. you will never get the clientele at small shows that will buy books like that. even larger shows in Toronto you would be hard pressed to move those. i would be looking for bargains, or small items at these types of shows.

  3. How does the size of the show dictate what you want to buy? Makes no sense. If you want or need a particular book… it’s the same book whether you pick it up a big show or small show.

  4. I have to disagree with Frank, this is a phenomenal show for one reason only: its very existence shows that interest in comics isn’t waning.
    I’m a big comic chaser but I’m getting fed up with the ridonculous prices at Fan Expo. Even if you did find a deal, you still had to offset that with the skyrocketing admission prices, autograph hounds, pop culture seekers, gamers, etc.

    I just want a show for COMICS! That’s it. Simple, elegant. I want deals, and I want runs from the ’70’s and 80’s and even the ’90’s.

    It’s good to hear that they’re thinking of expanding the show. It shows that on some basic level, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

    Just out of curiosity, was this strictly for vendors, or was there space for indy creators to sell their comics – a sort of mini Artist Alley?

  5. Great comments!

    Nelson: I only saw vendors selling comics, toys, and clothing. Contact the show organizer (link in article). I would be surprised if they turned down the idea of an indie table or artist alley.

  6. those two books have a specific buyer. not everyone is looking for books like that. i’m certainly not interested in those. and why should i go to a show like that to search for books that i want when there are tons available on ebay, or the auction houses. if i want a Wonder Woman #45 or #105, am i going to find it at these shows? will i be able to find a good selection of quality golden age books? you tell me… chances are, i’ll find the odd silver age book, and mostly bronze age .. even so, will i find the books that i want?

    while shows like this are great, i remember back in the early 90’s, these shows were common place. we’d have dozens of dealers from all over. Canada, US…. with tons of books.

  7. Yes… but you being not interested in those books has nothing to do with the size of the show. Different vendors have different stock so I can’t tell you what you’ll find at ANY show. If you’re happy shopping on eBay, good for you but again, your interest has NOTHING to do with size or even venue…

  8. Yeah, definitely agree Chris. The sales at Vancouver shows are lousy. I talked to a dealer at a recent Vancouver show and he told me that he started selling more at Alberta shows because he’s making more money there. Alberta, with all its oil money is where it’s at!

  9. Well fellow collectors like it or not this is the reality we are all facing which is a decline of vendors due to lack of sales and declining collector base here in Toronto. Reasonable expectations of table costs being 10% of your overall sales are not being met. Dont forget it is 4 trips to move your items into the comic show. House to car, car to show and vice versa packing it home. Sounds like a lot of work- well yes it is and when you count the returns is it worth it. Read on I will tell you. A fellow friend and dealer who has a warehouse in kitchener and runs shows across the usa is seeing similar results. In fact he has bought out dozens of dealers who are outright fed up and sell their entire stock to him at deep discount due to high overhead costs and lack of sales during convention set-ups.
    Comic book movies help push the overall interest but not the aggregate dollar spent on books. ie I liked the wolverine movie I will spend $1 and pick up a common wolverine comic in the back issue bin at a convention and not pay $3.99 cover price for a new wolverine book. Well folks if you have $1 books then you will do well setting up at shows and getting rid of clutter. I have heard plenty dealers primarily bringing this heavy stock to cover their table costs.
    That same dealer buying up other dealer stock is now counting ants at the show and lacking sleep spending countless hours bagging and boarding comics and loading up 100 long boxes in preparation for a unprofitable comic show when back in year 2010 it was shoulder to shoulder and lineups at his booth. The glory days are gone and we need Torontonians to step up to the plate and be more supportive of the hobby.
    Oh by the way, vendors selling plush toys for $40 a pop at comic book shows are doing incredible and require re-stocking from the van.

  10. In response to Todd Manefski- the so called energetic vendor who is not out to move alot of books and meet the right collector. Does that mean paying set up costs to meet and talk about great art work as if at a starbucks. I dont know a single vendor who loves hauling there books into a show without an intent to move them at the right price. Or does meeting the right collector involve making a spread on a piece of original artwork where the right buyer is tough to come by as it is a hit and miss without a price guide and subjective pricing.

  11. Oh by the way, I have been to a few shows in the USA and they are consistently more passionate about comics and do not mind paying $40 admission to shows while bringing a few hundred bucks with them to spend even as a cos-player. Phx con in particular was a great hit for vendors. In Toronto by sharp contract and I do mean real sharp, the collectors with deep pockets have all but left for auction sites and their disposable income went from bringing 5K to a show to 15 bucks. Dealers set up are feeling the pinch.
    In fact I had a buyer mull over an hour contemplating spending $2 on a new issue at my table- he finally put it down and said he was going to a bank machine and never came back. Folks a house in Toronto is 1Million bucks on average so why are collectors in a deeper recession than 1912. Perhaps the housing costs and other expenses have led most into deep debt. This is an alarming trend I am seeing despite household income exceeding 150K per family household on average- comic spending is taking a back seat when bills stack up. Most people here in Toronto just want to sell comics or if they buy then it is with the intent of re-selling on ebay or craiglist, kijiji for a quick buck. Folks dont believe everything you read in the Overstreet 44 market report- it does not apply to Toronto.

  12. Times are tough everywhere. I don’t know a single dealer who is not hurting on sales with the amount of cash being tied up on dead products, this includes comics and trades with toys as well. Everyone is looking for a quick spread but they don’t realize that after buying the product and paying for the tables and the amount of time it takes to sell the item they are losing huge at the end. Let’s hope more collectors turn out to support the hobby otherwise this will turn into sportscards where everything crashes in price.

  13. comicbookscalping you must be a victim of 1 million comics – I sell mostly cgc old books at shows so nice try. Who ever you are come out of hiding coward. I know a few losers in the hobby and you are on the top of the list. Dean.

  14. Nelson it is a phenomenal show. We just need more community support for comics.

  15. “In Toronto by sharp contract and I do mean real sharp, the collectors with deep pockets have all but left for auction sites and their disposable income went from bringing 5K to a show to 15 bucks.”

    you are correct. i no longer go to shows to buy books. all through auction. heritage, comic connect, or ebay. my usual spend is $5K at one auction.

    i decided to go to the Fan Expo this year, with the wife, until i saw what they were charging. fat chance now. what a waste of money. $100 to go for two people? give me a break. i’ll spend that this weekend on ebay easily. why spend it on a show like that.

  16. The Toronto Comic Book show is the perfect show for collectors to attend and concentrate on buying, selling, trading comics. There is a wide selection of hi end comics, cgc books, trade paperbacks, toys and great reading material from marvel and DC. The prices are more than reasonable and is much cheaper than local comic book shops. The promoter is one incredible dude who meets all dealer and convention attendee needs with big book giveaways and a great convenient located venue. The show is becoming a bigger and bigger draw for the average and sophisticated collector. I saw alot of happy customers and heard great positive feedback from my customers saying they will for sure be back with their friends and family.

  17. Back in earliest days of collecting circa 1961-1969 , there were the dealers and collectors and investors ; but here’s the key factor why it all worked so well. We build a foundation of info. and education about the Golden Age to inform and nurture a love and passion to collect and learn its history. Some time in the 80’s this incredible balance was beginning to unravel toward a mindless race for grade and Marvel madness–the closing of the original purpose of it all, to nurture the study and research of the history of comic books. Robert Jennings The Comic World fanzine series is one of the best examples. I am saddened by this dearth of passion to collect thru the broad range of comic books and feel down right hostile to those who want to keep the focus on the same niche of primarily Marvel Keys. This will imo fuel a bubble that will discourage future growth of the collector base!!

  18. I’ve never felt the need to “nurture the study and research of the history of comics”. If comics never existed or it collapsed tomorrow… I think the world would be just fine. Many industries are feeling pain due to change. In order navigate this change, I think it’s better to look forward then backwards.

  19. Past Present Future Forward Motion! I stand by my comments above. With out a solid foundation it will all dissolve that is comic book collecting! Change can be healthy, but it can at times be destructive. Lets be more attentive of what’s going on. Are we comic book collectors or do we choose to be Spidey Xmen Zippy the Pinhead world where Hollywood sucks up $ and then leaves! I believe It’s insane that a Marvel Premire 4 or 7 can fetch more then let’s say a Feature Book 26 or a Thun’da 1! There are only a handful of Marvels deserving this status- AF !5 And FF 1, Spidey 1 and a few others.

  20. insane it may be, but that is the reality now. as far as i am concerned, this offers me a chance to buy very scarce golden age books at far reasonable prices, while at the same time, selling off newer “hot” comics to fund those purchases.

  21. Lets just agree to disagree on the concept of “change”… but I get your point Stephen. I’ve always felt torn about the current trend towards collecting only “keys”. Just because a book is “key” does not make it good, and vice versa. Much of which is determined by a superficial movie appearance anyways. Nobody cared about Howard the Ducks 1st appearance but all of a sudden every so called “collector” was asking for Adv into Fear #19 at the show this past Sunday. Why? If it was a bum book before Howard’s appearance in GOTG, what has changed? It’s still the same book.

    I would almost conclude that collecting is unraveling or has already fallen apart. The whole idea of picking up only “key” books (which is primarily defined by 1st appearances) limits a collection. “Key” collectors miss out on some great story arcs or runs or other well written and/or drawn books that don’t contain a 1st appearance. In fact, I don’t see “key” collectors as “collectors” at all. The idea of “key” is a representation of MONEY, which has less to do with the actual comic as a medium. What’s perplexing to me is, if “key” collectors are essentially chasing a books value, there are more efficient, lucrative ways to make a buck… But trying to make sense out of people who’s interest lies in an imaginary universe where people wear spandex and fly is an irrational behaviour in itself. Yes, I’m self aware.

    I believe this is one of the main reasons comics are failing at cons. Vendors are forced to sell their non-keys cheap and jack up the prices on “keys” in order to make up the difference. The cheap books devalue the non-keys even more and high priced keys just adds fuel to the speculative frenzy. There are very few actual comic collectors. With less collectors you end up with a glut of books which pushes the value of non-keys continually lower. Speculators hunt for cheap “keys” that they feel they can flip, but if vendors have jacked up the price, smart flippers wouldn’t touch those books, which results in no sales. So, as a vendor, you end up eating the cost of setting up. It’s a vicious cycle and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the years to come.

    I like these smaller shows because with cheaper costs of setting up for vendors, and cheaper admission for attendees, it brings buyers and sellers closer together. It’s basically the same people you would see at the much larger FaxExpo with the same books with a much lower cost to engage each other. Also, these shows tend to be more focused, so no cos players or other frills… just sellers and (potential) buyers.

  22. There’s an awful lot of us out there with similiar views, for a long long time, but many but many dealers are afraid to speak out! Richard Muchin is one brave soul, who loves,who’s passion is GA and early SA! So, it’s up to us to voice these thoughts and opinions! And Charlie, yes we are perhaps a relatively trivial bunch concerned with the corruption. But this is never the less part of the macro nihilistic manipulation of Capitalism.

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