Comics and Ethics

I was put to the test in Montreal this past weekend and unfortunately I failed.

I was set up as a vendor at the Montreal Comic Con and at one point during the show a young kid, maybe 11, walked up to our booth looking for some comics to buy. During our brief little exchange the kid showed me a comic he had just picked up. I could see why the young man wanted to share his excitement; he’s just picked up a Hulk #181 which features the first appearance of Wolverine. I’m an old timer and I know that this kid picking up this book was a huge deal to him. We’re talking the 1st Wolverine, published a quarter century before the kid was born. Cripe that would be like me picking up a Detective #27!!

He showed me the book and it was a beat up rag, maybe a Fair or a 1.0 for all you CGC fans. The book was ok for a starter I guess. My heart sank when he told me how much he paid! The kid paid $550 for a book that was not worth $100. Now I understand how the game works, I know a book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it but I want to assume that means in a transaction where both parties are knowledgeable and aware. Anyway at this point I did the wrong thing. I internally winced and told the kid to keep it for a long time (hoping it would gain at least some of the value through time).

Fast-forward a couple of hours and the kid comes back to my booth looking rather pale. He asks me if I bought comics. I said I did. He produces the Hulk #181, my heart sinks a second time, the cat is out of the bag.  I explain that he made a mistake and ask him where he bought it. He tells me the dealers name (I will not mention the dealer in this post) and I tell the kid to go back to that dealer and ask for the money back. The kid tells me he did go back to the dealer and he asked for his money back but the dealer refused. I believe at this point I again did the wrong thing. I did not take the kid with me back to the dealer; I did not call the dealer out on selling a little kid a comic for at least 6 times its reasonable market value.

I’m not sure why I didn’t try to help the kid. Was it my place to police other dealers and pass ethical judgments on them? Anyway I tried to look for solutions that did not involve me confronting the dealer. I told the kid to take his parents to the dealer and that I would back up the opinion of value if needed. I sensed the kid was more afraid of his parents finding out than of getting ripped off so we dropped that. In the end I told the kid to try again with the dealer hoping a bit of time would knock some sense into the dealer.

Fast-forward a few hours. The kid is nowhere to be seen but I’m fuming, I’m consumed by my earlier inaction. A fellow dealer pops by the booth to say hi and I felt the urge to convey my story, hoping that telling someone I knew, trusted and liked of my chickenshitness would somehow make it all better.

To my surprise my colleague cuts me off mid story and finishes it for me. The kid had come to him too and he DID take the kid back and he DID confront the dealer in question. All for naught though since the dealers response to the challenge was “what’s it to you”. My colleague did let me have it though, indeed he tore a strip off of me for my inaction and I thank him for it.

Fast-forward to the next day, I heard word that the dealer in question did return the money, I even saw the kid and asked him if he got his money back and he in a very meek way said he did. I cannot verify if this actually happened but I truly hope it did.

Man what a taxing ordeal though. Looking back I see it as one of those “how would you react in the line of fire” questions and I did not like the answer I got.

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1601

14 Comments

  1. I remember you telling me about this on Saturday night and my heart sank, but sadly I was not surprised when I learned who the dealer was. I understand people have to eat, but I don’t understand how any ethical businessman could live with selling a $100 book for 6x that price to a kid. God knows there were other dealers in that room who have reputations for doing far worse (such as the one who knowingly selling restored books as unrestored to collectors) or the sketch flipping dealer.

    It’s only adds to our discussion about business ethics in our hobby, and the need to work together to identify the good ones from the bad ones, and do our best to draw attention to the good ones.

  2. You are right Kevin, there should be more discussion. Selling old comics and comic art is an unregulated industry which invites opportunists of all kinds..

    I think more knowledge in the collecting community is part of the solution, people should educate themselves more!

    Free GPA accounts for everyone!!!
    Mandatory CGC grading of all comics books!!!

  3. We don’t need regulation we just need people like your friend. We can police ourselves if we shine the light on these corrupt sellers.

  4. I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much over a “What If” situation. Hindsight is great. Should you have taken the boy back to the dealer? Maybe. But it’s hard to say how the human brain is working in a particular situation. Everyone thinks differently. The other dealer the boy went to acted differently than you did. I truly believe you tried to help the boy out, and rectify the problem. Transactions like this, are a “Buyer Beware and be informed” type of deal, but you can’t blame the kid. He was probably so excited that he found a copy of a book he was looking for, or heard about and jumped in unfortunately. The real problem was the unscrupulous dealer who over graded a (near) worthless book, and wasn’t honest enough to let the boy know what he was really buying.

  5. Personally I think the dealer’s name should be made public. It’s not fair for newcomers to the hobby to be taken advantage of.

  6. I’ve been that little kid, in and out of comics so I can definitely sympathize. This is why I equate the back issue market, or any 2nd hand market with that of the used car lot. There are some basic laws that try and protect the consumer, but the dealers who deal every day understand what they can get away with and count on the fact that most people wont take legal action.

    Generally, it’s a buyer beware market but to prey on someone so young is in bad taste. It also puts dealers in a bad light and hurts the hobby as a whole. When you consider the damage this kind short sightedness causes, the extra few hundred bucks seems like chump change and is not worth one’s integrity.

    Having said that, I also believe some responsibility should be placed on the kid as well… or more specifically, his parents. I come from a working class family so $500 means a lot to us. When I was 11 years old, my parents would never, ever let blow that kind of money without some supervision or guidance. I don’t mean to judge but for an 11 year old to put that kind of money down on a comic seems suspect.

    Also, this is how we learn. “Experience is a brutal teacher… but we learn…by God how we learn!”

    (Okay, that last line was from Anthony Hopkins in Remains fo the Day)

  7. Yeah later that night a group of us had some pints and we bounced around the notion that the kid and parents had a play in this too.

    I wish I had $500 in my pocket when I was 11. And you are right Charlie, or should I say Mr. Hopkins is right, hopefully the kid learns from this.

  8. You can bet the kid will never forget this lesson. A very good (and thankfully free) lesson that will stick with him for the rest of his life.

  9. Should there be a handful of impartial Martials patrolling the floor?

    If there’s a questionable book on offer for a questionable price, you could reserve the book – and go find a ‘Martial’ for a second opinion.

    You’re a good man, Walt. Maybe the kid needed this experience early-on to prevent something similar happening on a larger scale later in life.

  10. Being judged by your peers is the most effective means in this case. Word spread quickly amongst the dealers and everyone knew that what happened was wrong and needed to be corrected. It’s a small group and being ostracized will hurt their buying and selling, since the bottom line seemed to be all this dealer cares about.

    At the show I had the same reservations as Charlie: why is an 11 year old carrying around $600 by himself at a show and making these kind of purchasing decisions. The next day when Walt spoke with the boy his mother was with him.

  11. Maybe he had a birthday recently, or had a summer job mowing lawns and had saved up. Hard to say. Chances are likely he had gotten money from his parents to spend at the show, but you never know. I encountered a group of knowledgeable kids at the store recently, and they are aware of the keys, but haven’t quite grasped the concept of condition or even the value of the books. I remember being 8 or 9 years old when I bought my first silver age book (an ASM 18), but it was in poor condition for $10, and I bought it because it was affordable and old (and I have always had an affinity for Ditko Spider-Mans and at the time, it was the oldest comic I had scene).

  12. It’s tough being put on the spot like that. Until we’re in that spot we can’t know how we’d react. In the end, the dealer was a jerk for letting a kid spend that kind of money, and the kids’ parents should know what the kid is spending that kind of cash on. For him to be running around a large convention with that kind of cash unsupervised is a recipe for disaster.

    I don’t know what I would have done in your place, I like to think I might say something, but at the same time I can’t truly see it being my responsibility. It’s really, really tough.

  13. Walter, this is an interesting predicament to have been placed in. I think all the comments here are completely valid. Charlie’s notion that comic book dealers are equatable to a used car lot is pretty spot on. It does come down to “Let the buyer beware”. However, dealers like this make the whole industry shameful. And yes I do agree that the parents or guardian should have been around to witness spending like that. I was buying old comics when I was that age, but never anything so expensive all at once. I hope all ended well for the kid and although he may have learned a valuable less, it doesn’t take away the fact that he had to go through a horrible experience. Sadly the kid may not want to be a part of the collecting community, and that’s a community that can’t afford to lose anybody.

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