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The Forensic Comicologist: Insight From A Life In Comics by Jamie Newbold (book review).

January 3, 2019 | By | Reply More

Jamie Newbold is a comicbook collector, ex-police officer, and dealer hence the rather long-winded title to his book, ‘The Forensic Comicologist: Insight From A Life In Comics’. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the title until a flick through the pages and one of the boxed snippets about Neal Adams, which revealed Newbold could write well and with interesting insights. I’d loved to have seen the Adams interpretation of the Marx Brothers here. He has also helped the police after retiring from them when it comes to evaluating stolen comicbook collections and identifying them when brought to his comicbook shop.

Settling into the book properly, Newbold reveals himself to be a couple years older than me and had a similar addiction to comicbooks as myself when young, even if there is a big pond and nationality between us. We’ve both seen comics grow from, in my case, a newsagents pick-up to the fodder of comicbook shops, so there’s an immediate connection. His first comic, bought for him by his dad, was All-Star Spangled War Stories # 91. I started off in British junior fodder but was reading a neighbour’s American comics long before I was able to buy them for myself. You’re going to get a lot of nostalgia from this book and I suspect matching what were you doing or buying at the same time Newbold was. He also gives box time-outs for other contributors to give their insight as well.

Several chapters look at the evolution of comic-dealing in the USA and although it’s alien turf for someone from my side of the pond, there are some similarities in the UK.

Something I wasn’t aware of that it was artist Murphy Anderson whose preference for twice-up page size became the norm, helped along by the printers because it was more economical. Equally, well not so equally actually, DC Comics and Marvel Comics original much larger original page sizes actually differed from each other. Had I also bought original DC comic pages, I think I would have noticed eventually. Back in the 1970s, it was a lot easier to acquire Marvel original comicbook pages than DC Comics ones.

Another thing that Newbold points out is Marvel experimented with different prices in the 1970s but limited it to a few cities in the New York. In the UK, we could get UK priced covers and, in comicshops, the original American priced ones. I do have a vague memory of and probably own 30c and 35c differing comics in the same month, although I’m less sure if they were from this period. I did make a distinction of using a different colour in my comicbook list file when I had American priced editions. This was more for my peace of mind than anything different in value. I was just curious in identifying which I had.

If you ever wanted to know about how dealers determine demand over availability, Newbold presents some interesting observations of the American market and why some comicbook series haven’t keep their value. Looking at any comicbook collection, there is always bound to be a lot of deadweight against the issues that are really worth money. I tend to agree with him that comicbook companies need to pay less attention to what they think sells and go over the top on that than just produce decent work. I think I was lucky that I dropped out of comic buying in the 1990s and missed the mess that was created then and after.

I did wonder if Newbold was going to cover original comicbook pages in detail. There was only a glimpse for only a page. When I bought my original X-Men pages in the late 1970s, even in those non-inflated days, they were seen as curios and only moderately expensive compared to buying comics. Even so, they still bit into my budget whenever I was at a comicmart or convention. It would have been interesting seeing what and how the prices accelerated so much. Newbold is planning a second book, so I hope he goes into more depth on this branch of collecting. Before anyone realised the significance of them being one-offs, the prices were moderately cheap. I do wonder how many comicbook collectors who bought them then and don’t include them when selling their collections realise just what they have.

When it comes to the price of original comics in the early 1960s, Newbold points out the rise from 10c to the more outrageous price of 12c. Drawing comparison to the UK and my young interest in American comicbooks, these prices were converted into pence. An American monthly comicbook at 10d or 12d (a shilling although it wasn’t always called that on the price tag) was a lot of money compared, say, to ‘The Beano’ or ‘The Dandy’ at 3d a weekly issue (their issue numbers are way ahead of anything from the States, especially as they came out weekly. The Beano is currently over 3660 issues!). There is a very limited market for British comics collecting even in my own country with only the likes of the original ‘Eagle’, ‘TV21’ and ‘2000AD’ likely to get the most interest. I do remember the newsagents would re-circulate earlier American issues from time to time at 6d. Back in the day, that was still a lot of money to get off my parents to buy them. In the UK, a lot of other became hoarders as much as collectors simply because they were too expensive to buy, read and throwaway. Often as not, teachers would have some sort of supply in their storerooms brought out when it was too wet to go outside at playtime. Ah memories.

One of the things I do with any non-fiction with a subject I’m familiar with is seeing which subjects are properly checked off. Even Newbold apologies even he left anything out. Even so, I did find it odd that there is no reference to the second version of the ‘Teen Titans’ by Wolfman/Perez which was DC Comics reaction to ‘X-Men’ sales. Come to that no reference at all to Marvel’s upsurge back in the mid-70s when it went with an obscure SF film series called ‘Star Wars’. Then again, nothing at all when DC Comics had two versions in different paper quality of ‘The Titans’ and ‘Legion Of Super-Heroes’ our at the same time. I’d love to know if that made any difference to their collectability. I can answer one question of his regarding ‘Watchmen’. With so many reprints available, there is less bother about owning the original print run. I suspect my copy of the first boxed ‘limited’ edition is probably worth as much as them singly.

Newbold does provide one answer about graded comics that I was curious about. Once sealed, the purchaser can no longer read the comic which, as a reader, I tend to be saddened by. I was curious about the value of comicbooks where the value stamps are cut out, he cites Marvel but DC also did something similar in the 1960s, and now it’s accepted it just regrades them from 1.0 to 1.5. At least both my complete and incomplete copies of Incredible Hulk # 181 have value, as indeed must some of my early ‘Adventure Comics’.

In the final chapter, Newbold examines what he looks for in buying comicbook collections. As I commented earlier, a lot of it is likely to be deadweight and not worth very much. He points out first characters key appearances, which often includes number ones, from the Silver and Golden Age to be more significant than anything from the past 30 years. Add to that some significant events like the death of Gwen Stacy in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’. I wish he’d explored the deaths and resurrection of characters as to their overall values and how too much of this can undermine things. I suspect the same thing applies in the UK as over in the USA. If you do have a lot of key issues, then if you have to sell your collection, you should have some idea of the overall value when a dealer offers a third of this.

A couple things puzzle me. With the ‘Overstreet Price Guide’, just how do they round up the current sell prices? Do members of their team go around to all the dealers for all the information? Are they all likely to remember or inflate a little from time to time? This is another area that should be explored.

As you can tell from the length of this review, this book as stirred a lot of old memories and some interesting comparisons, not to mention some questions. It would be interesting to see a comparison written by a British comicbook dealer as old as Newbold to mark the changes with American comicbooks. Such insights from the dealer point of view are pretty rare and Newbold has been very honest about his trade.

If you have an interest in comicbooks, then not only is this book informative but a real memory stirrer.

GF Willmetts

January 2019

(pub: McFarland. 264 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £38.02 (UK), $29.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-47667-267-0)

check out websites: www.mcfarlandpub.com and www.eurospanbookstore.com

 

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Category: Books, Comics

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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