Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about why back issues are increasingly a thing of the past.


At the moment I'm in the middle of a move, my first in decades, and while it's not exactly huge in geographic terms (it's only a three and a half hour drive between Yellow Springs and my native Akron, which shall become my mobile base of operations for the foreseeable future), as I've repeatedly said this week 'you really don't know what you own until you try to move it.'  I've had lots of awkward moments where everything I owned was sprawled out before me and I had to decide what was coming and what was going to be left behind.


Including my comic books of course.  After a decade of scaling back and selling off the few valuable parts, my 'collection' was now down to a meager three long boxes of the really weird stuff no one else wanted, only one of which was going to fit into my mid-sized Saturn (which is how I ended up donating copies of Razorguts, Felix the Cat, and Propeller Man to Super-Fly Comics).  I put 'collection' in quotes above because I've never self-identified as a collector; I mean, sure I've always kept what I bought but I've always been able to make the distinction between the comics and their contents and for me my love and loyalty has always been reserved for the characters and their stories.


But of course I'm not made of wood; I can fully understand how comics can get fetishized into an object of worship.  Early Silver Age Marvel and DC titles were a dime a dozen at Dark Star but if someone brought in a mint copy of an early House of Secrets without so much as a crease on the spine or better still one of those really rare I.W. Publishing Super Comics reprints like Jungle Adventures (featuring Zangar, the only redheaded Jungle Lord), I'd geek out as loud as anyone else.


Which, in an extremely roundabout way, brings me to the current discussion of back issue comics.  In my opinion for the most part comic book shops could do very well without them.  I'll explain.


I'll confess back issue comics have never done particularly well for any of the Dark Star stores due in large part to the people looking for them who (not counting those searching for undergrounds; they're in a class of their own) can be divided into two groups; the collectors and people who want something very specific.


Now, while a collector may at all times have his well worn want list of the specific titles he's collecting, he at least can be encouraged by deep discounts (like, say, the way Dark Star makes back issues 25% off every weekend) to pick up all sorts of other comics.  On the other hand, the people who want something specific are generally looking for a single issue of fairly obscure or eclectic titles like Dawn or Stray Bullets.  Not only don't they want anything else, they can't be made to want anything else and, worst of all, we almost never have what they're looking for.


Of course there are people who don't fit into either category looking for back issue comics, but over seventeen years these are mostly the ones who came to visit us.  Now I know unsold comic books have to go some place, and it's always nice to have cheap bagged collections about (they make great impulse purchases, especially for kids), so your average comic shop probably should always have some back issues on hand.


But what most of us don't realize is we're already competing with someone who sells back issue comics infinitely better than we can--eBay.  Ah eBay, the perfect expression of capitalism (I'd like to think it would have driven Karl Marx insane): two individuals agree upon the price of something and with a minimal amount of intrusion by middle men, one buys, the other sells and (ideally) everyone goes home happy.  Oh occasionally buyers may grumble about the price, condition of the comic or the service, but eBay always has the tremendous advantage of already having what you're looking for, which sure beats the next best alternative; cold calling comic shops more or less at random.


What I'm suggesting here is that maybe now that we've started to adopt a more European model for our market, comics are finally about the reading, not the collecting.  Back issue comics are ever more a thing of the past, as well they should be.  Sure the person looking for that one issue of Avengers wanted to fill the hole in his collection, but he also probably wanted to finally read the Korvac Saga in its entirety.  And now that we live in a world where just about everything is deemed worthy of collection (from Gladstone's upcoming Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse collections to Bob Haney's hyper-wonky Saga of the Supersons), trying to find the comics where the material first appeared is increasingly unnecessary.


The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of