The Big One: Fan Expo

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Another Fan Expo has come and gone, and this year, I had the good fortune of being able to set up as a vendor. In the past, I’ve set up at both the spring and winter show but I’ve always avoided the summer Fan Expo due to the high cost. However, I have lots of inventory left over from buying out a store that was closing down. Although I’m a big proponent of eBay, somethings you just can’t sell online due to the added cost of shipping. As well, the cost of setting up at the spring show has really creeped up over the years to near Fan Expo prices anyways, so when I was offered half a table, I accepted.

conan
I wasn’t planning to report on Fan Expo, so unfortunately, I don’t have pictures to share. Instead, I present to you images of my purchases. First up, a generous gift from fellow writer Dennis De Pues. I haven’t had the chance to read these yet but he highly recommends them.

I saw all the regular people here who attend and set up at shows, but Fan Expo being the big attraction that it is, I also knew there would be lots of people who specifically and only attend FanExpo. There were many people from outside the city and tons of ordinary families taking part in the pop culture event. So, although it was expensive to set up, I rationalized this cost against the 100,000+ people who would be attending.

spidey
Is it just mean or are Spidey’s always going up in value? These high grade beauties, numbered below #200 were priced at $10 each but I managed to haggle a small discount for the bundle.

The cost for one table was $1100, plus tax and $128 for two parking passes, which works out to just under $700 (or $685.50 to be exact) for half a booth or 4’x 8’ strip of space. I maxed out my small space with a couple of retail shelves for the back and filled it with merchandise I wanted to liquidate. I think most people are curious about the earnings so here they are:

Day 1: I sold a few ungraded books totaling about $300. Not a great start I thought, but it was the first day and I assumed that most people would be tired from working all day.
Day 2: I sold even less on the second day. I netted out at only $200 which made me nervous. At this rate, I was barely going to recoup the cost of setting up.
Day 3: I decided to switch up my inventory and brought some CGCed Hulk #181’s to serve as eye candy for the back wall. These are the kinds of books I prefer to sell online but I brought them anyways to help generate traffic. It worked and I ended the day at $1,400.
Day 4: I made further adjustments to my table. I put away stuff that people didn’t seem to be interested in and added more of the merchandise that was actually selling, which also gave the products a noticeable presence on the table. I ended the last day with $2,400.

conmen
From former CBD contributor and my new best friend, Anthony Falcone has written a book and I’m really looking forward to reading it. It takes a lot of effort to write a book so I hope you’ll support his creative spirit and pick up a copy. And what a beautiful cover by Ramon Perez of RAID Studio. People typically pay $20-$50 to a colour copy of art at these shows. But this is an actual print with a novel attached to it for much less.

That’s a total net of $4,300 during the four day session. I was happy with the results because:

  • My sale increased as I adjusted my set up. Although, it’s difficult to say how much of the improvement came from my efforts versus the natural progression of the show.
  • The products I sold were high margin items so a good chunk of the net was profit.
  • The results were comparable or better that the other shows, at least for me.
  • I didn’t lose my shirt. I didn’t know what to expect so I’m happy that I came out ahead, which made it worthwhile.
x-men
Some fillers for another X-Men run I’m trying to build and several part ones from the Weapon X story arc by Barry Windsor Smith. The art is so beautiful, I had to pick up all 3 copies.

How do the results compare with other vendors? It’s difficult to say since people are not as forthcoming with their numbers. Some vendors around me said they were bringing in $5k per day, which seemed kind of high considering what they were selling. As well, I could see first hand where the crowds were gathered. There were also whispers of $250,000 or nearly $400,000 in sales for the larger set-ups, which I find hard to believe. Many vendors tend to talk big and are boastful, however, I’m told the general rule of thumb is to make 10 times your set up cost, which puts me behind the curve. There were a few vendors with $20,000+ set-ups so if the rule holds true, I suppose it’s possible. The person I was sharing the table with netted over $10,000 on 3 to 4 large sales, which goes to show that it is possible to achieve big numbers on very few transactions. Still, I think my partner would have been happier with less money if the transactions were smaller but more frequent. Not to mention, once a key book is gone, you may end up paying more for it down the road if you ever wanted it again.

alien
I’ve always wanted to read the Alien adaptation so I finally decided to pick up this copy for under $10.

alien2

I love Walter Simonson’s work but I’m not a fan of the colouring. Hope it reads well.

So, what have I learned from my Fan Expo experience?

• The pop culture market, being what it is these days… comics alone are not enough. Less than half my sales came from comics, the rest was from stuff like key chains, toys, superhero watches, etc. You need to have variety, both in terms of merchandise and pricing in order to cast a wide net.

• Most buyers are not knowledgeable about the value of comics, or other goods for that matter. Many of the sales were impulse purchases so it helps to have a good presentation.

• Having said that… many items can be found at a very wide price range. But eventually, the market will tell you what it can bare.

• I personally don’t like pushy sales people, especially those who like to spin stories. I usually know what I want and what I want to pay. However, I have found that if you talk to people you have a much greater chance of a sale, which is a lesson for those introverts who prefer to sit quietly behind a table. If all else fails, offer a discount.

• There’s was no point in holding on to merchandise. If I was offered anything above my cost, I would accept. There’s no shortage of goods out there and buying is a lot easier than selling so I was happy to let things go if the opportunity was there.

• This last point is an important realization for me. As I mentioned, I picked up inventory from a store that was shutting its doors. I made the purchase mainly because I wanted to try out different merchandise. While I can see that there is a huge market for stuff like Pops and other kinds of toys, I realize that these products simply don’t interest me. So although toys can bring in just as much money or more money, my first love is still with comics. I enjoy buying, selling, reading and being immersed in comics. More specifically, I like older books and I like the art. Although older books may be less sophisticated by today’s standards, they have more charm and less pretense. And I view the art as being fundamental. This basic ability to draw is foundational to all other forms of art and even visual communication… so when I see comic art, I see potential.

ddomnibus
A few years back, I was looking under every rock and behind every doorway searching for a first print of the Daredevil Omnibus. With a limited print run, many Omnibus books have been rising in value but I wasn’t willing to pay the inflated $250 US dollars from the secondary market. Omnibus’ has leveled out since the re-release of the more popular books but I was still lucky to finally find this first print for only $60 bucks! Now my DD Omnibus set is complete.

My primary goal was to be rid of all the toys and stuff that I acquired, so I was happy to have cleared some merchandise. I also enjoyed chatting with people, which was part of the fun. It can be difficult to have an intelligent, objective conversation among “fans” so I appreciated the few grounded attendees who stopped by my table. I heard some complaints among the the vendors, but honestly, considering the size and scope of the show, I thought it was all handled very well.

I know that some people are curious about the earnings from these kinds shows so I hope I provided some insight. But keep in mind that this is just a hobby for me and I’m far from being your typical show representative. I don’t have the kinds or quantity of merchandise that a full time vendor or retailer would have. If you have enough material and the time, I encourage you to fill out an application and sign up for Fan Expo 2017. Experience is the best teacher and I think most people would enjoy the action on the floor.

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Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.
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16 Comments

  1. Hey Charlie
    I’m curious, were there many actual comic book vendors? When I look at that pic, I don’t think I can see a box of comics in sight, just T-shirts and other product. This is the main reason I stopped going to comic conventions. Big conventions. Not much in the way of old comics. Are there still any real “comic” conventions out there that you know of?

  2. Hi Mel. Yes… the usual comic vendors were there and many first timers to Fan Expo like myself from the 1-day shows. The problem is that there are not enough collectors of old books to justify lugging around 50lb long boxes. Set up cost is expensive so most people will focus on what sells in order to recoup fees and hopefully make a bit of profit.

    The Con landscape has definitely changed over the years so you really need to enjoy the experience to make the outing worth while. If you’re a serious collector looking for that rare or odd book, then online is probably our best bet.

    There are enough shows within driving distance that you could do this all year long. Here’s a listing of some of the smaller shows in Ontario:

    http://www.ontariotoyshows.com/

    Many of the small shows tend to resemble a flea market where the dollar bin reigns supreme. Great for people who like to rummage. Shows are very much about being social, as opposed to the isolated experience of buying online, so good or bad… these shows are as “real” as they get ^_^

    Don’t be a stranger Mel… come out and hang out, or try setting up yourself.

  3. Hey Charlie
    I actually met you at the Waterloo (Hespeler, Cambridge to the locals, and far from Waterloo, although within the Region) Con when I was there with Ivan Kocmarek and Mike Huddleston, and there was a fair amount of actual paper in sight, unlike some of the cosplay, T.V./Movie star, precious product sales I have witnessed most recently. That’s what I miss a lot from a few years ago, especially the bavardage and camaraderie among fellow travelers.

  4. Apologies Mel. I remember chatting with Mike and Scott, but the rest of that day is a bit of a blur. My memory is very lacking these days. To bad the Waterloo show fizzled out but there doesn’t seem to be much of a market out there.

  5. Thank you for the convention insight Charlie…its always nice to have a peak inside the curtains.
    The energy of this show is something to marvel at.

  6. Great post Charlie! The”Death Covered in Gold” was Big John Buscema’s last full pencil and inks take on Conan.The story is nothing out of the ordinary for Conan, battles,babes and behemoths,but the artwork is a real joy to behold. Buscema really enjoyed himself in this short series.You can tell by some of the beautiful story telling throughout.

  7. Thanks gents, and thanks for picking out those Conan books for me Dennis. I’m looking forward to reading them, Big John literally wrote the book on how to draw (the Marvel way with Stan) and remains one of my favourite creatives. I dream of owning one of his original pages someday.

  8. Hey Charlie. Great to see some fresh faces at the con. It’s a tough nut to crack sometimes. Especially when emotions and being a collector get involved.

  9. Wow, nice haul Charlie. I like the Amazing Spider-Man issues that you picked up.

    I heard that it was Stan Lee’s last appearance at a Canadian Con. I was tempted to fly out to Toronto to get Stan’s autograph and then get it slabbed on site by CGC. I should’ve gotten his autograph when he was here in Vancouver a few years ago.

  10. Thanks Gents.

    Yes… Stan’s last appearance, which was part of the draw for many fans. If you do fly out here, let me know… We’ll grab some burritos and talk shop ^_^

  11. Thanks Charlie. I’ll definitely look you up when I’m in the GTA again.

    BTW, what’s your take on the Overstreet guide values of Strange Tales #110 and Daredevil #1? I remember 5 years ago, a 9.2 copy of DD#1 was about $8000 and far more valuable than ST #110, which was $3800. In the current guide, the values have reversed with ST #110 at $17,000 for a 9.2 copy and the value of a 9.2 DD#1 has barely budged, now sitting at $10k.

    I know that the movie and tv show have really moved the value of these two books, but it’s incredible to see Strange Tales #110 has more than quadrupled in value in 5 years!! Meanwhile, I feel that the current Overstreet guide has undervalued DD#1. On eBay and other auction sites, 9.2 copies of DD#1 are going for twice the Overstreet guide value.

  12. Peter, I think Mike would have a better take than I considering he’s our Overstreet expert. But for what it’s worth, CGC copies of DD#1 out number ST#110 by 3 times and this may be the case with ungraded books as well. Most collectors have always been aware of DD#1 but ST#110’s recognition has been fairly recent so I think its had more room to grow. As well, the dark ST#110 cover makes higher grades tougher to find compared to DD#1’s white cover. So, if I had to hazard a guess, I’m thinking the Overstreet numbers are trying to reflect the sudden surge of Silver Age key collectors wanting to add ST#110 to their collection. And keep in mind that Overstreet is not without their own bias, which is why, like you… I prefer to look at actual sales.

    If I had to pick one, I think I would chose DD#1 over ST#110. I do like Dr. Strange but I think ST#110 falls short in some respects (which I’ll discuss in a future write up) and considering it’s meteoric rise, seems like a riskier prospect. I own both books so I’m not just trying to prop up DD#1’s for my benefit but ST#110 does seem overvalued to me at current prices. I felt the same way about FF#52 surging past FF#48 but I’ve had a change of heart in this case and now I think there is some room for FF#52 move even higher.

    Having said that… this has really been an interesting year for politics, the economy and by extension comics. My feeling is that the exuberance in the US, or the lack there of will determine the fate of both these books. Also, let’s see what happens after the movie and see how well ST#110 can hold its value ^_^

  13. Thanks for sharing Charlie. The numbers that you mentioned put it in better perspective. I didn’t know that there are 3X the number of Daredevil #1s in the CGC census compared to Strange Tales #110. I would go with DD#1 anyday over ST#110.
    Also ST#110 came out about 8 months before DD#1 so there are probably fewer copies in existence.

    As a kid, I was never into Dr. Strange comics, but maybe the new movie will make me a believer. I just feel that Daredevil was always a more interesting character and I did buy a few Daredevil issues as a kid. Then in the late 1990s, I had a renewed interest in DD after buying a small run of Frank Miller issues and I was also reading the excellent Kevin Smith stories at the time.

    Yes, interesting times with the uncertain global economy. My theory is that the low interest rates initiated by the world’s central bankers are also inflating assets such as real estate (hello Vancouver and Toronto real estate), stocks, and yes, high end comics too. I believe that a combination of ultra low interest rates and speculators are inflating some comics into bubble territory. A good case in point is Avengers #55 – Ultron had his “15 minutes of fame” in the last Avengers movie, now demand has dried up and this book’s value is tanking. I’m sure there are other examples as well. However, the really key Silver and Golden Age books will be fine (e.g. ASM #1, AF#1, Hulk #1, etc.) and their values will remain high, even when interest rates start rising again.

  14. Correction in my previous post – I meant to say AF#15 (Amazing Fantasy #15), not AF#1.

  15. Charlie/Peter

    Hi guys. Just got back from a lengthy “road trip”. out thru Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I read this post out there but didn’t bring my own tech to comment.

    1st – Great post Charlie on the show. It felt like I was there (but wasn’t). It sounds like you made out pretty well. Was the selling pretty well all keys?
    2nd – In terms of Strange Tales #110 vs Daredevil #1. Strange Tales #110 has always, always, always been far more difficult to find in grade than most keys. It is a tough book. I believe the reason for this was because Strange Tales as a title with the Human Torch as the lead, was a bit of a laggard in terms of popularity. The brief Doctor Strange appearance went largely unnoticed when it first came out. The recent sharp uptick in demand probably cleaned out a lot of the stock. Overstreet may have over compensated for the demand. Future appreciation will probably be determined by the popularity of the movie and how well received Benedict Cumberbatch is as Doctor Strange.

    I see future “Overvalued Overstreet” posts coming from the pair of you ^-^!

  16. A road trip across Canada… how awesome ^_^

    Mike, your comic knowledge is unparalleled. The CGC census appears to be inline with what you’re saying. Interestingly, Marvel movies may be leaning on characters like Dr. Strange more as Robert Downey Jr is expected to be hanging up his helmet after the Infinity Wars and Iron Man may be killed off. Chris Evans will probably stay on as Cap while the other contracts are up in the air. Phase 4 of Marvel is expected to be a very different dynamic… Hard to imagine the MCU without Iron Man or RDJ but time marches on.

    On the other hand, the change opens the door for the development of other characters such as the She-Hulk, although she may be tied up by Universal Pictures… and if Marvel can get the FF back, it would be a huge win. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that they will get the FF back. X-TV shows are in development which suggests that something is cooking between Fox and Marvel.

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