Comic Character Collectibles
by J.C. Vaughn
At 80 and showing few signs of slowing down, author and publisher Robert M. Overstreet, who launched The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide in 1970, is at work on the 49th edition of his best-known book.
He began the year in his “Comic Book Marketplace” column in the January edition of the monthly Previews catalog from Diamond Comic Distributors with a call to his enthusiasts to remember why they got into this hobby/business in the first place.
“Each year, dealers, collectors and historians take time out of their busy lives and dedicate themselves to providing the information that has helped The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (CBPG) develop over the course of almost five decades,” Overstreet wrote.
“Whether they’re suggesting that prices should go up or prices should go down or that specific issues should be singled out, their diverse perspectives inform us and cause us to think. The Guide would simply not be all that it is without their efforts,” he said.
Even before his first edition was released, he networked with as many different sources as possible to get the most comprehensive look at the market he could put together. Sales lists, catalogs, fanzines, and first-hand reports of transactions were his stock and trade in the early days; over the years auction results and internet sales were added.
“In every edition, the market reports are packed with nuggets of information —some of it even contradictory in their views of the marketplace—that will provoke you to take a look at what’s going on in our hobby,” he said.
As much as the book is a price guide, though, he said he really has a soft spot for the contributors who concentrate on their love of collecting in their market reports.
“One of my favorites in CBPG #48 came from Dr. Steven Kahn, a retired successful dental surgeon, whose second career saw him open a comic shop. What I liked so much about it its call to really love what we’re doing,” he said.
“The passion and excitement of collecting helped me to create a second act in my life that is exhilarating and satisfying beyond my dreams. After practicing oral surgery for over 40 years, I let it go and opened my store, The Inner Child Comics and Collectibles, about five years ago in Kenosha, Wisconsin,” Dr. Kahn wrote. “Instead of going to work with anxiety and stress of how things might go terribly wrong and the heavy responsibility of the job itself, and acting as a surgeon and an anesthesiologist at the same time, I now go to work every day filled with excitement and anticipation. I never know who may drop in the store or call me with something that I may have never owned, and possibly never even seen. Although significant finds may be few and far between, I, nonetheless feel like a kid on Christmas morning whenever the phone rings or someone pops in the store. It is, and continues to be, intoxicating.”
Overstreet said that one of the ways to kindle or re-kindle the love of what you collect is becoming an expert in one niche or another. Whether it’s the work of a particular creator, a specific genre, or a select publisher or imprint, there are many different sub-fields that can be mastered.
“Even when you’ve been at this game as long as I have, you can still find out the details of some new, fascinating niche in comic book collecting. A few years ago, in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #44, Canadian collector and historian Ivan Kockmarek authored an extensive, intriguing analysis of the ‘WECA’ comics or ‘Canadian Whites,’” he said.
Little known just a few years ago, the topography on collecting these issues changed as a clear picture of their history emerged, he said. Canada entered World War II on September 10, 1939. The U.S. did so on December 8, 1941. One of the side effects of the war was the creation of a Canadian-centric new comics market.
“… on December 6, 1940, the Canadian Parliament under Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King, in an effort of protectionism, passed the War Exchange Conservation Act (WECA) to bolster the Canadian dollar and the war economy in general. Included in the list of banned imports were comic books,” Kockmarek wrote in his Overstreet market report.
“All of a sudden the adolescent and pre-adolescent population of Canada (as small as it was compared to that of the U.S.) became an untapped and captive audience (read: customer base) for comic books that were no longer there. What must be noticed here is that WECA was passed in early December, 1940 and that the indicia date of the first Canadian comics to appear (Robin Hood and Company Vol. 1, #1 and Better Comics Vol. 1, #1) was March, 1941. Given the fact that comics usually appear on the stands a month or even two months before their indicia dates, the turn-around time from nothing to finished product is amazing – capitalistic opportunism at its finest,” he wrote.
They were called “Canadian Whites” because the interiors were printed in black and white rather than color. These comics were produced from March 1941 until the end of the war, when the return of full-color American comics to Canadian newsstands spelled the end of their Canadian off-shoots.
“While certain collectors and dealers knew about them, they never got widespread play until recent years. This was a great example about people caring enough about the history of the medium to do the research. Then they came to us and we were happy to help spread the word. That’s a passion project. That’s the real spirit of collecting,” Overstreet said.
The Overstreet Guide Itself as a Collectible
A CGC-certified 9.2 copy of the first edition of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide sold for an incredible $9,000 at Heritage Auctions on Thursday, November 15, 2018. According to Heritage’s description, CGC has only certified four other copies to date and the next highest grade is an 8.0.
J.C. Vaughn is Vice-President of Publishing for Gemstone Publishing
Comic Character Collectibles