A couple of months ago, a few friends and I joined forces to be vendors at a local sports card/memorabilia convention. It's long been my dude Allan's (a big time sports card collector) dream to sell cards from a table at a convention, and I thought it'd be fun to share the cost of paying for the table (only $30 for a six-foot table, way cheaper than your average show) and pool together our cards and comics. Albert (aka Raging Bert) had a box of comics he was looking to unload, so he and a couple of other people joined Allan and me on this little excursion. We had a bunch of sports cards (basketball, baseball, football, hockey, golf, etc.) and quite a few comics to sell.
[Allan's written a pretty straight-faced account of the day at his blog here: Real Men Collect Baseball Cards. Me, I figured I'd give you the street's eye view of the event and the experience.]
Lynn took a bunch of photos to document the special day, seeing as how being a vendor at a collectibles show was on Allan's bucket list. Lynnsanity is a true pro, having photographed dozens of weddings. [See Lynn's website here: http://iamlkc.com/.] Even when we were getting ready to go to the show (which was held in the gymnasium at John O'Connell High School here in San Francisco), Lynn was taking pictures of us surveying our inventory at Allan's house. I felt like a bridesmaid getting all made up for my buddy's big day.
|Surveying our inventory before heading out.|
|Getting ready to pack everything up.|
Like I said, Allan's got a tidy overview of our day over at his blog, and some more of Lynnsanity's pictures to boot. It was a long day, but I felt it went by pretty quickly. I had a bunch of basketball and some football cards (stuff I collected when I was young) that I just dumped in Allan's boxes, and he was pretty much in charge of selling those.
He even helped me sell my autographed Will Clark baseball that I've had sitting in a box (not even openly displayed) since I was in elementary school. I'm not a baseball fan, so I had no regrets. Did a part of me feel a little twinge of regret for selling that piece of memorabilia? It was something I'd owned for most of my life... A friend of my father's gave it to me for my birthday or Christmas or something when I was but a whippersnapper. I guess in a way, I had a small amount of sentimental attachment to that baseball. And I got what, like five or ten bucks from that? I guess a part of me did die with that sale. (But it was reborn when I used those earnings and got some Batman comics a couple weeks later. No regrets.)
Likewise, Allan had a bunch of comics from his youth that were just taking up space. Between the two of us (regular joes who have never run an actual store), we had a pretty respectable amount of stock. Throw Albert's stuff into the mix and we actually had a good combination of quantity and quality comics for sale.
|Our table was in the corner of the school gym. Here, Albert and I review some of our stock.|
I think the most entertaining things about being a vendor at a show like this are the strangers you encounter, the things they pick up and consider buying (and sometimes actually end up buying), and observing them as they go about examining your wares.
It's probably no secret I can be kind of a comics elitist. I have pretty strong opinions on a lot of comics, including stuff I haven't really read before. Most of the stuff we were selling was stuff I had already read at least once, though, and even the stuff I hadn't really read was stuff I was still generally familiar with, like most of Allan's '90s Image and Valiant comics. Still, even though we were selling a fair amount of stuff I didn't really like or respect, I was able to be a pretty good salesman overall.
Like Allan said in his recap, we somehow turned a profit. This was despite the fact that this show was the first of its kind at John O'Connell and possibly could have been publicized a bit better. Plus, it rained hard all day long, which I'm sure kept crowds at bay. Most of the visitors at the show were John O'Connell high school students.
|Checking in for the day.|
There was a dealer next to us who was selling sports cards embedded into plaques that were like 20 or 30 bucks each. He had a few tables to display all his stuff and I honestly don't think he made a single sale the entire day. I chatted briefly with a couple other vendors around us and I got the impression that they had bad days and regretted coming.
Therefore, it helped that our prices were so low. We had an entire longbox filled to the brim with random singles. We were selling 'em six for a buck. We easily could have gone five for a buck, or even just kept it at 25 cents a pop, but I had no problem being generous. There were a couple of other tables in the gym selling comics, but I looked around during the day and I can honestly say that we had the most appealing stock in terms of comics that are actually worth reading.
There was this one guy right next to us who completely blew us away in terms of stock: he had probably a dozen or more longboxes filled with comics, and he also had some Silver Age stuff for sale. Still, his bread and butter longbox comics were priced at 50 cents a pop... Totally not a deal compared to 6 for a buck.
At one point, I saw two teenagers at his table browsing his stock. It didn't look like they were gonna buy anything because they'd put back whatever they pulled out to check out. Then one of them turned his head, looked over at our table, and saw our "6 for $1" sign on our longbox. Those two guys spent at least a solid 90 minutes perusing our comics. I was able to engage them and we talked comics as they browsed. It was kinda cool because I didn't feel like I was just trying to push stuff on them to buy, but they did ask me for recommendations. I guess we built up a decent amount of customer/vendor rapport and they bought a few stacks of comics. I think one of them even came back an hour or two later to buy some more stuff.
|Two of our best customers. No one else was selling a complete run of Morrison and Quitely's All-Star Superman.|
There was also this one kid who came to our table like four times throughout the day. Each time he left, he'd say, "I'll be back later. I just need to get more money." I think this was a day when my typically useless comic book savant knowledge actually paid off (literally). I remembered he bought a couple issues of Wolverine on one of his earlier trips, and when he came back I had the next sequential issue, which I remembered we had in one of our boxes, ready for him.
"You remember those issues you got earlier? This is the next one... Buy this and you can find out how the story ends," I said to him.
"You've convinced me. Thanks," he replied, handing me a quarter with no hesitation or forethought whatsoever.
By the end of the day, at his final trip to our table, he was scrounging his pants for loose change in a desperate attempt to buy more comics. I didn't even have to really try to sell him anything at that point. He just walked up, thrust a couple dollars in my hand, and asked me to pick some comics for him. I didn't do him no wrong, either. I gave him the Frank Miller/John Romita, Jr. Daredevil: Man Without Fear complete miniseries. C'mon, for less than a buck, that is just an amazing deal! I was envious of his bargain-hunting powers at that point. It was the least I could do for our best and most loyal customer.
|The guy on the right was our best customer. Look at him fiending for comics. That's great.|
It's nice to have repeat customers. There's a certain satisfaction in knowing you've got 'em hooked, a particular comfort in knowing you can depend on someone's addiction to bring them back over and over, and a dizzying sense of power in knowing that only you can satiate their hunger. I'm not saying that I felt like a drug dealer selling junk to helpless fools, but... Hurm. I felt more like... like a comic book pimp.
There was also this guy who came by early in the show and pulled out some of those X-Book Fatal Attractions hologram cover issues, as well as a variety of other holografx and foil and gimmick cover issues. It was like he was going through all our boxes specifically looking to score those. There was a moment when I saw him pull out a series of gimmick covers and Albert and I just made eye contact. I wanted to laugh, but I didn't wanna lose a sale. After he bought those comics, I looked at Albert and said, "You know what they say: A sucker is born every minute." Or maybe Albert said that to me. I don't know. I just thought it was extremely funny that someone would actively seek to buy the poop comics that were just trying to get rid off, stuff that was just taking up space in our lives that we probably would have just given away for free eventually. There were other people who bought a some of our crappy, worthless, useless '90s comics. I took their money every time, but a part of me unkindly kept thinking of them as chumps.
|Saw this guy pick up that holografx Web of Spider-Man issue and I could barely suppress a smirk.|
The other main thing I remember from the show was this one older, tall dude. He really, really needed a friend badly. He first came up to our table and we made some pleasant conversation. I think that might have been a mistake on my part. Usually at these kinda shows, vendors don't say crap to you unless you ask them something, like politeness is a sign of weakness or something. (It's somewhat true... Check out Allan's post and see Point #2 about being soft. Being soft isn't really a problem, I think. It's that most vendors at these shows are jerks trying to prey on the innocent-hearted. If I had known that guy in Allan's story was just buying Allan's beanie babies to resell them at his own table, I would have given his daughter a free copy of Todd McFarlane's Spawn.)
Anyway, I was too polite to the tall guy. He was browsing my trade paperbacks and hardcovers as we spoke, so I didn't mind, really, and he did end up buying my Breakdowns hardcover (a collection of early work by the Pulitzer-winning Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus) as well as Water Baby by Ross Campbell (although the cynical part of me thinks he bought Water Baby because of Campbell's ability to draw interesting-looking chicks). The problem was that even after he bought the stuff, he stood in front of our table and kept on talking to me.
I kept trying to be polite, but it's hard when someone has no social awareness and doesn't understand that a one-sided conversation isn't very interesting to the person on the receiving end. He kept telling me about his experiences with tennis players over the years and how he was a semi-pro and how he didn't want to play basketball because "Shaq would throw [him] around like a rag doll." Keep in mind that this guy probably had a solid 20 years of age on Shaq. Like an idiot, I kept on smiling and nodding at his comments, even asking him a question here and there to elaborate on some of his points. (Another one of my big mistakes.) The guy didn't stop talking. I guess he didn't have a real strong sense of social awareness.
|I have a fake smile because he'd been talking to me for 15 minutes at this point. Allan's got a genuine smile because he thinks it's funny.|
Albert basically saved me from purgatory after like 20 minutes of this by saying, "I'm going to walk around and check out some of the tables." That gave me the opening I needed to excuse myself because, you know, I had to check out the other tables, too. Unfortunately, that meant Allan was stuck listening to him. Sorry, buddy! I just felt like I'd done my time.
|Oh, ho. Not so funny now, eh?|
Later that day, I actually saw him doing the same thing to another vendor on the other side of the gym. Only it was worse. The tall guy was actually lounging on the floor right in front of the guy's table. The vendor looked pretty helpless and impotent. He didn't have a partner so he had no escape hatch. I felt sorry for him, but I thought that if I tried to help, I'd just get stuck with the tall guy again.
Yeah. He really just needed a friend. Unfortunately, we weren't selling friendship at our table.
[A couple weeks ago, I actually saw him again! I had just gone to a karaoke joint in Japantown with some friends, and as we walked out, he walked past us on the street! He was carrying a tennis racket and he was humming to himself rather loudly. Actually, humming might not be the best word... It was more like he was buzzing like a fridge. I don't know why. Fortunately, he didn't seem to notice me as he walked past us, but the incident definitely made me feel like he still really just needs a friend.]
At the end of the show, the comic book vendor next to us, the one with a bunch of longboxes, wanted to buy us out. He made us a lowball offer, which I didn't consider. The other thing was that I didn't want to just sell our comics to a guy who was just gonna try and resell 'em at a higher price. I mean, throughout the day, I know that other vendors came and checked out some of our stuff, and bought some. Those sales weren't the ones that mattered to me.
It was far more satisfying to sell comics to people that were actually gonna, you know, read them and hopefully enjoy them. That's why I liked selling a stack of cheap comics to kids. I remember when I was at that age and just starved for reading material and entertainment. I'd like to be a vendor again one day, and it's nice to know we still have substantial inventory.
Ultimately, that's what I enjoyed about doing the show. I liked being able to point people to good, cheap comics. It was fun to shoot the breeze with people who were interested in the things I'm interested in. Even the show organizer (John O'Connell's athletic director, who organized the show as a fundraiser for the athletics department) came by our table and said he appreciated that our crew was probably one of the least-shady vendors. He was also a big Spider-Man fan, and I was able to hand him some stuff he hadn't discovered before.
The show was fun. I'm looking forward to next year.
|And the saga continues...|