Going to My First Comic Convention and Getting Ripped Off

A photo of a bunch of comics piled up in a bin at a thrift shop. (Photo by Jack Szwergold; Taken October 5, 2018)

It was the 1970s, I was in elementary school, had a meager $2 a week allowance and liked to buy comics. I wasn’t some hardcore collector of any kind but I just liked to buy comics that caught my eye at the time.

My favorite superhero comic was Spider-Man with Iron Man coming in close behind. I didn’t really follow any deep storylines or get into the deep (yet hackneyed) sci-fi logic of the worlds; I just liked the way the comics looked and the overall basic story that I read.

Since comics were cheap back then — 25 to 35 cents new in many cases — I would score some new ones at the local newsstands. But more often than not I would dig through the used bins at the local bookstore, “Nostrand Books.” They would buy comics for at least 5 cents a pop and then sell some of the used comics for 10 cents to 25 cents a pop. This was a decent economic transaction for some of the poor kids in the neighborhood like me… And when I think of it practically everyone else.

But regardless of whatever comic I bought for my own enjoyment at the time, in the back of my mind the idea of “striking gold” and finding a comic that was worth something was ever present. More often than not, scoring a literal #1 issue of a comic was a theoretical ticket to smalltime wealth and fame. I mean, people paid good money for #1 issues of famous comics, right? So buying a #1 issue of almost anything was a good investment, right?

Anyway, back in the spring of 1979 the original Battlestar Galacticawas a semi big deal on TV (taking advantage of the Star Warscraze at the time) and the tie-in/cash-in comic book was a semi big deal as well. The first issue of that comic came out, but nobody I knew could score a copy. “It’s gotta be worth something!” friends would say, but none of us knew how much it was worth since we were just 10 or 11 years old at the time and didn’t know much about price guides and such.

So one day in the cafeteria — as we were all sitting around and talking about this, that and the other — someone chimed in and said, “Hey! You know what? Phillip has a copy of Battlestar Galactica #1!” And everyone’s eyes lit up.

Philip was a cool kid, but didn’t really mingle with our table. He was Pilipino and hung out at another table with other kids. But one day — before one of our classes started — I poked Philip in the back of his shoulder with a pencil and asked, “You have a copy of Battlestar Galactica #1?” “Yeah,” he said. “You want it?” he added.

At that moment I just wanted to know if he had a copy, but the idea of owning it was something else. “Well, bring it in and let me see it,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll bring it in tomorrow,” he added as the teacher started to talk and we all composed ourselves and started to listen.

The next day we all waited at the lunch table for Philip to show up, but he was nowhere to be found. “Did he cut out of class?” someone asked to which we all shrugged and had nothing much else to add.

Then — seemingly out of nowhere — Phillip came over to the table, sat down and opened up his book bag.

“Okay,” he said as he opened the flap of the olive drab Musette book bag and pulled the copy of Battlestar Galactica #1 out from between some textbooks.

There it was! He kept it in a protective mylar plastic storage bag with an acid free backing board — to prevent it getting bent — and we were all impressed. You only really spent the extra money for a decent plastic bag and backing board for comics that are worth something, right?

When he pulled the comic out we were a bit less impressed. The cover had some dings and folds and it was clearly handled and read; this comic was not in mint condition but rather it was “fair” to “good” at best.

He passed it over to me and as I flipped through it he said, “You can have it for $5.” A few kids gasped and looked at each other. “$5?” I said, “This isn’t mint and it sold for 35 cents when you got it,” I added. He then came back at me and said, “Okay, how about $3.50.” To which I retorted, “I’ll give you $3.25 since that’s all I have.”

We all fell silent. And after a seemingly endless pause he said yes. And with that I pulled out the $3.25 in a mix of crumbled dollar bills and change from my pocket and paid him.

As he took the money and I took the comic, gave it a quick once over and then slid it back into the plastic bag. It was finally mine!

“You know that’s gonna be worth something someday!” someone said. I nodded and thought I made a good investment. I might have been only 10 years old at the time, but dreams of selling this comic for $5 or $15 or maybe even $20 when I was 20 years old swam through my head.

For the first time in my life I made some kind of financial plan for the future and I was damned proud of myself.

When I got home I showed my dad what I bought and he was feigning pride thinking I only paid the 35 cents cover price for it. Then I told him how much I actually paid for it and he exclaimed, “What?!?!” as I blubbered and said it would be worth something someday. “Okay,” he said. “But you have to take care of it,” he added. I nodded yes as I took it back to my room and carefully stored it way at the bottom beneath all of the other comics in my nightstand.

A few weeks passed, and school had ended. While it wasn’t exactly summer, it was a nice spring day when I got a call from a friend asking if I wanted to go into the ever magical “The City.”

“What’s happening?” I asked and got the response, “There’s a comic convention. Let’s go!” And with that I headed over to my friends place deeper down in Brighton Beach to head into “The City” and go to this comic convention.

I had never been to a comic convention before, but I heard about them and they sounded like a cool thing to do. From what I gathered they were basically flea markets that just sold comics and other related stuff. And I would occasionally hear about someone finding something cool at a comic convention so why not?

As we waited on the platform, I started to think about what I was going to get. Maybe some Micronauts comics? Maybe some Archiecomics which I still liked but weren’t as “cool” as super-hero comics? Maybe something else?

Before you knew it we were at 34th Street in Herald Square. Despite being a kid, I kinda knew the lay of the land around these streets there — since that’s where my parents usually went to bargain hunt on the weekends — but this time it was a wee bit different because we were headed to Madison Square Garden; a place I never really went to.

While Madison Square Garden was huge, the convention was definitely not big enough to justify it taking up that amount of space. But it did take up some small part of the building that wasn’t the main arena for an event like this.

As we walked inside, it was exactly what I expected it to be: Basically a huge flea market… But just slightly nicer. Piles of cheap folding tables filled with tons of dingy white boxes with transparent, protective plastic bags that had comic books in them.

Once inside, we all kinda spilt up and wandered around. I tried flipping through a box of comics, but wasn’t really into it. First I wasn’t — and had never been — a big comic book collector; I just liked buying a few specific titles. So the idea of flipping through piles of boxes to find something seemed weird to me. I never really cared about huge, elaborate plots and after a while the “game” of comics became pretty clear: You bought one comic because a secret from another comic was “revealed” in another. It was all a scheme to get kids to buy more and more comics just to close some silly trivia loop. And I wasn’t into it; I just liked comics because of the art and action and not much else.

So I just wandered the aisles and looked at the randomly displayed ephemera and related junk that people had for sale across some of their tables. Novelties, promotional buttons, toys, “Star Trek” junk, “Beatles” junk and stuff like that. I did spot one table that had cool, imported Japanese toys but they were too expensive for me.

As I walked around I ran into my friends again. Unlike me, they found stuff they wanted and they eagerly showed me their haul. I nodded politely and feigned interest; I genuinely didn’t care about superhero comics the same way they did. I was just bored and wanted to leave. I mean, I found cooler stuff in the discount bin of Nostrand Books anyway.

Just as I was about to actually say, “I want to leave…” I spotted some guy walking around the aisle of a nice sized stack of seemingly mint comic books and shouting something about them being 25 cents each. At least! Something I could score.

I walked over to him and asked what he was selling, and he showed it to me: It was a truly pristine stack of Battlestar Galactica#1 going for 25 cents a pop. My brain was spinning: I just paid Phillip $3.25 for the same comic. But this guy was selling the same exact comic for 25 cents a pop? Wow! Without thinking much about it, I gave the guy 25 cents, he gave me a copy from his stack and I looked it over. Not only was it $3 less than the one I paid $3.25 for, it was clearly in much better shape than the one Phillip sold me.

I showed it to my friends and they all agreed: This 25 cent copy looked great and clearly got ripped off by Phillip. Maybe I should confront Phillip at school and complain? But I pretty much realized immediately that doing something like that was a losing proposition at best. I mean, how would Phillip have known about this one random guy and his seemingly random stack of Battlestar Galactica#1 comics at a comic convention in “The City?”

Part me of also thought a better tactic might be buying a second comic for 25 cents. I mean if I had three comics that were destined to be worth something — because what #1 of a comic doesn’t increase in value — wouldn’t I really be increasing my meager investment? I mean for $3.75 ($3.25 plus 25 cents plus another 25 cents) I could have a solid investment that could have increased in price to $5 to $20 per copy netting me $15 to $60 in the future when I was 20 years old and would finally sell these gems.

But no matter. I didn’t buy another copy. I simply found a bag of some sort, slipped the comic into it, headed out into the streets with my friends and headed back home.

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An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

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Jack Szwergold

Jack Szwergold

An acute perception does not make you crazy. However, sometimes it drives you crazy.

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