Buy Comics Cheap: Back Issue Purchasing

Previously, in this column, I’ve discussed some of the best comics around. Now I’ll explain the best method of getting some (comics, that is), some that may be even cheap enough for college students.

There are two kinds of comics that you can buy, new comics and back issues. Back issues are any comics that were published more than a month ago. For new comics there are two ways you can go: subscriptions and buying them directly from comic book stores.

Subscriptions are normally done directly with the comic book companies that produce them. (Marvel, DC, etc.) They are exactly like magazine subscriptions in that you pay a set price for a year’s subscription. This has the advantage of giving you up to 30% off the cover price, but the drawback of trusting the US Postal Service to deliver your issues in undamaged condition, if at all. It also requires an advance commitment to a title you may not like.

The other way to get new comics is to buy them in a comics store. There are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can either buy them directly off the rack, or you can join a pull service. For the latter, you must sign up in advance, at the comics shop, for the individual titles you’ll buy each month. They’ll pull them for you each month and you can buy them without the hassle of finding them on the rack. This has the additional benefit of a discount, usually around 10% off the cover price. There are places that will do this through the mail, usually for a deeper discount, but you must know what you want, and pay for it months before it comes out.

Due to continual price hikes of new comics (most comics now start at $1.50, but some can cost in excess of $5.00) it can actually be cheaper to buy back issues, especially if you are a frugal college student. Often back issues are sold for cover price or less. The easiest place to find back issues is your local comic book store. Many local stores carry a selection of back issues and are willing to look for any they don’t have. The best thing to do is find out when the store is going to have a sale during which they frequently discount the comics from 10% to 20%. There are a lot of good local stores, including Big Planet Comics in Reston, and Burke Used Books in Burke.

Another good way to get back issues is through the mail. There are many companies that will do this, but it is best to stick to the well-known, established ones. The best one I’ve found is Mile High Comics at 2151 West 56th Ave., Denver, Co 80221. They carry nearly every comic published in the last fifty years, and offer some really great specials in their catalog, with several thousand comics for under a dollar each. I will say this: they’re not that fast, although they are accurate and dependable.

The other place to get back issues (and some new issues, for that matter) is at a comics show. These are events held in the main room of a hotel, usually on a weekend. With anywhere between 15 and 40 dealers selling comics and cards, you can usually get a good deal. To make their money back, they are usually willing to lower prices, especially if you have cash. The best bargains are usually found here, as many dealers bring boxes of comics for under a dollar. If you are interested in attending any shows in our area, there will be two on March 6: one in Springfield at the Hilton and one in Tyson’s Corner at the Ramada.

If you have comics to trade or sell, that puts you in another situation. Your best bet is to trade for more, as people are generally inclined to make better deals for trade if they do give out cash at all. The comics shops are not a great place to go; they’ll offer the worst prices. Some good trades can be worked at comics shows, but the best deals I’ve found have been through the mail. You can either place your own ads or respond to ads placed by others.

The best way to learn about mail order houses and comics in general is to pick up a copy of the Comic Buyer’s Guide, the only weekly periodical about comics. CBG contains reviews and letters by and about the comics industry, as well as plenty of ads to buy and sell comics.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]