Christmas was only four days away and Joe still hadn’t found anything for his youngest brother, James. One of his coworkers had told him about a shop that sold vintage comic books and magazines in the outer edge of the city. James was a fan of Batman and had all the latest issues on his tablet. Only the indie comic publishers still put out paper trades these days. Ever since the price of a single comic reached $15 for ten pages folks just stopped buying them all together. All the major titles had moved to digital only and simply put out a large trade volume when the series concluded. Joe figured a copy of one of the vintage single issues from the teens would be a great gift. He looked up the shop on his phone and added a tag to it to drive there the next day.
It was sunny for once, bust still freezing cold and windy as Joe climbed into his civic and drove down towards town. The outer ring of the city had all manner of shops and buildings. Most were once used for other purposes and had been reclaimed by mom and pop shops for various things. Most of these were niche restaurants, private offices, and resale shops. It wasn’t always worth the effort to return an item so much of the stuff in resale stores was unworn or still in the box it came in. The address to the comic book shop was buried in a block of Euro restaurants. The smell of smoking sausages and aged cheese wafted through the streets as he looked for a parking spot. This far out there were still street parking spaces available, one simply parked and a sensor charged you via the chip on your license plate.
Joe bundled up in his jacket, and put his wool hat on to brave the wind. The front of the building had thick pained glass, and what appeared to be a dropbox embedded in the brick of the exterior. It had clearly previously been a bank of some kind. He opened two sets of glass doors to enter the building and was met with a very dry and slightly cool atmosphere. Since they were dealing with old paper, the store had exquisite climate control installed. Along the walls were black wood framed posters of various superheroes, and large format recreations of famous issues. There were wooden bookshelves around the outer edges of the shop and a long glass display case at the rear where the owners were helping a customer. The man at the back of the room waved to Joe, given the small space it was quite obvious when someone walked in.
The store had hard wooden floors that creaked when one wandered around the bookshelves. You couldn’t be silent while shopping in this place. The walls were covered in soft textured wallpaper that absorbed much of the rest of the sound and kept dust to a minimum. Joe walked over to one of the bookshelves marked Detective Comics Comics in large steel letters. The issues were encased in protective plastic backings meaning one couldn’t open the books to look inside and had to rely on a verified grade placed near the top. Comics had grades from 0.1 to 10. There were no 10’s out on the shelves. Most of what he looked through were old issues of X-Men from the 80’’s to the early 2000’s when comics were overprinted and over collected. They were still a hefty 60 dollars each.
Just then the man behind the counter called out to him, “Can I help you find anything?” He asked. He was a thin older man with a thin beard and hair combed forward nearly covering his eyes. Nearly matching the bank theme he was wearing a nice suit and tie as well, something that told him nothing in this store was going to be cheap. Joe peeked out from behind the bookshelves.
“Yeah, I was wondering if you had any Batman issues?”
The man nodded and motioned for Joe to meet him up at the counter. Joe stood and watched the man disappear into the old bank safe behind him and quickly return with four encased comics. Two were some of the last issues to be printed, each nearly $200. One was one of the New 52 singles that was nearly $400, and finally a Jim Lee variant of Batman 608. The lack of orange price sticker on this one made Joe nervous.
“How much is the Jim Lee?”
The man tipped it over to check the back of the protective plastic cover, “This one is $1200 but it’s a 7.5. You can look them over if you want, no rush.” He said as he waved to a new customer who just walked into the store. A thin woman with scraggly hair rushed up to the front counter, almost in a panic, looking back at the door to see if anyone else came in after her.
“You’se guys buy old comics right?” The woman said, opening up her large purse and pulling out a dirty old yellow envelope.
The store owner shook his head, “I only buy graded comics right now I’m afraid.”
The woman pinched the prongs on the folder and pulled out the ratty old comic inside, nearly tossing it onto the glass counter top. Grungy brown pages from the inside spilled out as it slid towards the store owner. His eyes went wide as he recognized the comic from the back page. “Look man, you want it or not?”
“Where did you get this?” The shop owner asked in shock, reluctantly taking the comic and carefully turning it back over to see the cover.
“My dad died last week, and my brother and I was going over his things and all, you see. Dad got this from our granddaddy and kept it up in the attic in a safe. He passed suddenly, no will or nuthin, so we’re at the house and my brother is fighting with us over who gets what. Now, I wanted the kitchen table. That’s all, just the table, don’t care about nothing else. He goes in about how he wants it and most of the rest of the stuff too. Then I remembered dads comics up in the attic and while my brother was busy stealing my kitchen table I stole his precious comic book.”
“Do you know what you have here? I mean, are you sure you want to sell it?”
The woman nodded, “Look, I don’t care about it. I know it’s worth something cuz it was in the attic. I also know if I sell it somebody who actually cares about it will buy it and that’s better to me than having my brother keep it up in the safe again.”
Joe looked over to see the comic book in question. There was Spiderman on the front, holding a man in a green suit. He was confused because the comic wasn’t titled Spiderman at all, and it looked absolutely terrible.
“I can give you 300 for it.” The man said.
“That’s all? It’s pretty old right?” The woman said.
Joe nearly dropped the Batman issue he was holding. What on earth was this woman doing with a comic worth that much money and how was this ratty bit of stapled paper worth this much? Joe took out his phone and looked up the title while the owner set up a payment for the woman, it was Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider Man. It took several minutes for the shop owner to handle the payment for the book. The limit for most p2p wireless transfers was 100k so he had to dust off the old physical check book and hand write the woman a check for the comic.
“It’s been a while since I had to write one of these out.” The man said.
The woman nervously checked the front entrance, and would move off to one side of the counter when anyone walked in. Her nervousness was making Joe nervous. What if her brother were to suddenly burst into the building and demand his grandfather’s old beat up comic book? What if they physically got into a fight in this fancy comic shop and the police had to come break it up? Joe watched her as the store owner ripped the long slip of paper from the huge spiral checkbook and handed it over to her. She quickly stuffed the check into her purse, thanked the man, and bolted outside.
The store owner looked down at the old ruined comic book in front of him. “You find one you like?” He asked Joe.
“Um, yeah I’ll take this one.” He said handing the Jim Lee issue over. The store owner was still looking down in awe of the Spiderman comic. “You have any others of those?” Joe asked.
“I’ve only seen one other in person and it was in a plastic case just like you’ve got in your hands there.” He motioned to Joe to move in closer to see the loose pages. “I never got to see inside of one before.” He said, flipping through the brittle sheets of yellowed paper.
“Is it really worth all that much?” Joe asked looking down at the pages while the man rang up his purchase on a tablet nearby.
“Almost twice what I paid for it, but she clearly didn’t know that.” He said, winking. “In far better condition they go into the millions easily.” The man then tapped a final button causing a payment notification to go off on Joe’s phone. Joe accepted it and the man carefully wrapped the comic, case and all, into fine white tissue paper and a thin wooden storage box with the stores logo on the front. He thought this was all a little much for a comic book but didn’t object to it being treated like a fine bottle of wine. With his comic case in hand, he waved goodbye to the shop owner and thanked him for his help.
“No no, thank you. I just sent her all the money I had in the bank. You just bought me food for the week.”
“I thought you were going to sell it for twice what it was worth?” Joe asked.
The shop owner, still reading through the comic, slowly turning through the old withered pages just smiled at him, “Oh no boy, I could never sell something like this.”
Joe walked out of the shop and slowly let the glass doors close behind him. Before he began to head back to his car he looked inside the shop one more time. The man was still at the counter, smiling away, reading every panel of every page of that old comic book. He went to his car and unlocked it from the sidewalk.
A man came rushing up to him in a panic. “Hey man, you seen a thin dark haired woman come by this way recently?” He asked, looking down at the wooden box Joe was carrying. “Was she in the comic book shop by any chance? Did you see a woman in there just now?” He panted, attempting to catch his breath. There were six other comic book stores on this road and he had apparently hit each one. “She was carrying an old Spiderman comic.”
Joe figured this was the woman’s brother, he was sweating profusely clearly not having run down a city street, much less walked down one, in a long while. He wore a very expensive suit and jacket that was overheating him even on this cold windy day. Joe thought for a moment, he really didn’t know where the woman had run off to to even give him a hint of where she might be. Then he remembered the look of the shopkeeper who was most likely still gleefully reading through the issue this man was about to try and take from him.
“I think I saw a woman with one over at Galaxy Comics two streets over, I was looking for this Batman issue and they didn’t have one. You should try there.” Joe said.
The man thanked him, waving his hat in the air as he backtracked down the opposite end of the street. Joe watched as he opened the door to a red convertible Mercedes.