Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Geek Memories: Conventions, Part 3!

So when I last left off, I had written about the conventions I went to when I was in the Navy... well, during the five years I was in the Navy, I had accumulated a pretty big collection of comics, thanks to having a lot of disposable income. Even when I got out of the Navy, I was still buying new comic books each week, first at O'Leary's Books in Lakewood, and then later at Lady Jayne's Comics & Books in Tacoma (sadly, neither store is still in business these days).

When I got out of the Navy and into an apartment, it didn't take long to realize that my collection was getting big -- it pretty much took up a third of my bedroom! Not only that, but there was still the dream of publishing comic books, although by this point, the plan had been altered a bit... now the idea was forming that my friends and I would first open a comic book shop, and then start publishing our own comics. Naturally, we didn't have the funds to start the shop... but I'm getting a tiny bit ahead of myself here.

During the five years I was in the Navy, I hadn't gone to any of the Norwescon SF conventions in Seattle, and by that time, they had moved to the convention center in Tacoma, so it seemed that when I got out, I should renew my relationship with NWC, and planned to attend the next one. As it turned out, it was a mistake for me to do so. During the five years I was away, either I changed, the convention changed, or both changed, and it was no longer a good fit for me. I think I spent about $30 in the dealer's room (mostly on some 80-Page Giants one dealer had for sale at a cheap price), and aside from that, I spent most of my time at the convention doing sketches in the lobby of the convention center... something I could've done at home.

Now, at this point in time, there weren't any real comic book conventions in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Oh, there were comic book shows, which were basically just a dealer's room, and sometimes an artist's alley area, and occasionally a guest or two to sign autographs, but there were no panels, no costume contests, no representation by any publishing company (save for some small press people from the area). But as it transpired, my friends (Mark Grochowicz, who I'd mentioned before as being my co-conspirator on the abortive black and white humor comic, and Henry Elling, who was a co-creator of some of the characters) and I heard about one of these comic book shows, which was being held in Seattle at the Seattle Center. Since we needed to raise funds for our future projects, we decided that we'd get a dealer's table at this convention, selling our comics.

It was an interesting experiment, to say the least. While we did get a business license, we never bothered to write up a partnership contract, and that was the biggest mistake we made. Honestly, I tried to come up with a partnership agreement that would be fair and equitable, but the fact of the matter was, I had contributed about 85% of the comics towards our total inventory, and as such, I felt like I should have some say in what we did and how we did it. I found a cash register at a yard sale for $25 that I purchased (and then spent about $100 buying paper and ink for, as well as replacing a few other items) so we could use it at the show for totaling things up (and give us a register for our future shop), an expense that neither of my friends agreed was worthwhile. Or maybe it was just a printing calculator at this point, and the register came later.

My memory is that we had a good location at the show, and made a decent amount of money, but since I was expecting to be reimbursed by the "partnership" for my expenses, and my friends didn't agree, that kind of ended things there. Still, I enjoyed selling at the comic show, and when Steve Minor, who ran that show, contacted me about his next show, I happily reserved a table or two at that show, as well as for other shows of his.

For about two or three years, there'd be one of Steve's shows in the greater Tacoma-Seattle area, and I'd have a table or two there. During that time, like many other dealers at shows, I would get my table set up, and then go peruse other dealer's tables to see if they had anything cool that I thought was underpriced. Sometimes people would do the same at my own table (there were some shows where I made up my expenses before the show even opened, just selling to other dealers). I got to know quite a few of the other dealers that were regulars during this time, and it was a nice way to come up with a little extra money.

One of the things I spent that extra money on was action figures. I started going to Tacoma's Swap Meet on the weekends, and one dealer there had Super Powers figures. I started picking up one or two of them each week -- originally intending only to get the characters who had been Justice Society members only (meaning Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Dr. Fate, Red Tornado, and maybe a few others, I can't recall now), but it wasn't long before I started getting all of them. Previously, I'd started collecting the Secret Wars figures as well, but hadn't bought any aside from the original release.

From there, I started acquiring Megos as well... but the best place to get those was the Greater Seattle Area Toy Show, held in Kent, Washington (as it is to this day). This show was held twice a year, and after attending it twice as a buyer, I started thinking about attending it as a seller! As it was, I'd started haunting yard sales, second-hand stores, and other places looking for cool old (or current but rare) toys that I could bring with me to the comic shows, and it become apparent to me that I had enough inventory to sell at the toy show as well!

So, I started selling there as well... for a while, it felt like I was doing a show of some kind at least every two months. Along with Steve's shows, there were one or two other local shows that I sold at, too.

But at some point, I stopped selling at any of them. To this day, I can't recall for certain why... but what I suspect happened is that when I lost one job in Seattle, and couldn't find another full-time job, I didn't have the extra money to spend to make extra money, if that makes any sense. See, I didn't do a good job of saving the money I was making at shows. I'd typically spend about a third or so of what I made buying other items there -- some to keep, some to resell.

For the next year, I didn't sell at any comic show... nor did I attend any show in any other capacity.

Well, with three exceptions.

First, there was a local card and comic show that was being held near where my then current apartment was. A different friend of mine, Glenn King (who I'd met when I moved into that apartment complex) and I decided to get a table at this show just to see what we could do. The two of us had been talking about opening a comic book shop ourselves, although we hadn't made any specific plans at that stage. We didn't make a whole lot of money there.

And then, there was another show that came up one November, one of Steve Minor's shows. I found myself in need of extra money, and so I paid for a table, packed my stuff up, and headed to that show. That was much more of a success, so much so that I was able to afford to pay my rent entirely out of what I made that day!  The next Steve Minor show after that, Glenn and I did the co-table thing, and once again, I did very well (probably because I brought all of my Megos, Super Powers, and Secret Wars figures there to sell... I was preparing to move to Wisconsin at this time to be with the woman who would be my first wife, and I needed money for the move).

So that was it for my time selling at comic book shows at all... during that last year before I moved to Wisconsin, I started selling some comics over the internet, through a newsgroup. This didn't work out too badly, except that I really wasn't equipped to determine postage rates very well, so I had to guesstimate most of the time -- usually in my buyers' favor!

After moving to Wisconsin and living with Barbara, who I'd marry a year or so later, I started going to some of the local comic book shows in the Milwaukee area. These were very small affairs, with probably only about 20-25 dealers' tables at the most. Much more interesting to me was the Mad Media Convention that Barbara and I went to in Madison, Wisconsin.

The three biggest guests there were Harlan Ellison (Barbara's favorite author of all time), Peter David (my favorite living author at the time), and Neil Gaiman. Barbara had met Harlan before a few times, and to her delight, he actually recalled one of those meetings! All three of them were delightful speakers, and Peter in particular was very patient with me when I demonstrated my lack of knowledge about developments in his personal life (that being his divorce from his first wife, and engagement to the woman who'd be his second). We had a great time, although I don't recall spending a whole lot of money there!

The next show we went to together was held in another state entirely... and for a long time, it ended up being my favorite show to go to, for it was there I got to meet in person Tony Isabella!

But that's a story for next time!

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