I’ve no idea why it’s called a flea market. None of the ones I’ve been to ever sold fleas or flea related products. But they do sell pretty much everything else under the sun! Antique furniture, toys, textiles, clothing, sewing machines, miniature train sets, vinyl records, and comic books. Oh my, if you have the patience to roll up your sleeves and dive in a bin of haphazardly thrown together comic book collections, you just might find a little treasure in there.
I first discovered the local downtown flea market on a lazy Saturday afternoon. After having had fresh coffee and done my groceries at the local farmer’s market, I walked by the flea market and thought: “Hey, let’s see what junk I can find in there”. So I paid the mandatory $1 dollar donation to charity and dove in. Well, after my nerves settled from all the hyper-stimulation (flea markets tend to be very cramped, every inch of surface or wall displaying one thing or another. It’s really another world in there) I located a vendor who had a few hundred comic books for sale. Some overpriced, some at bargain prices. A couple hours later I emerged from his boxes and racks with some very interesting finds! I was hooked. Now I go to one or both of my little town’s flea markets whenever I have a few dozen bucks or so kicking around. I’ve gotten to know the vendors a little bit and how much I can bargain with either and what type of stuff I can possibly expect to find in their bins.
Below are a few of my observations about different types of vendors which will hopefully help you find cool comic books at a good price.
Vendor type 1: The Collector.
One of the vendors I deal with regularly is a collector of hockey cards and coins. So he does know about the hobby. He checks his acquisitions against overstreet and prices each book accordingly. His books are bagged and boarded and well organized. But I usually won’t find a killer bargain at his booth and he usually won’t go down overly much in price. But he’s a nice guy and he’s given me generous credit whenever I brought something in to trade for comic books. Being on a budget, he’s a good guy to know. He is talkative and sometimes enjoys a conversation about comic books to learn more about him. I’ve built a bit of a rapport with them which tends to make him a tad softer during price negotiations.
Vendor type 2: The Pack Rat.
Another guy who sells comic books at one of the flea markets in town sells them simply because he sells pretty much everything he puts his hands on. He doesn’t care about the condition of books, he doesn’t bag or board, he just buys collections dirt cheap and throws the books in a cardboard box to sell them in bulk. To this vendor type, comics are just another thing to sell. I never bother trying to talk to him about comic books. I just go through the cardboard banana boxes expecting to find nothing and if I see something cool I set it aside. Once I’ve found a few books I might like to buy I decide how much I’m willing to pay then I ask the vendor how much he wants. If I like the price I buy it, if I don’t I make a counter-offer. If he says no, I don’t argue and I put the books back. No fussing. I’ve never heard a price I don’t like from this particular vendor. His goal is to move merchandise to make way for more.
Vendor type 3: The Incidental Comic Seller.
There is a vendor I’ve come across who occasionally sells books. He is a vinyl record specialist. He only sells other things if someone comes in with items to trade for records. So he’ll occasionally sell comic books along with other odds and ends. This guy has no clue about comic books other than what he gleans on ebay. His prices accidentally make sense once in a while but are usually so off the mark that negotiating would not be worth the effort. Not when he’s asking $8 dollar for some random copper age issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I’ll sometimes do a quick look through his stuff but I don’t spend too much time there.
Vendor type 4: The Loser.
I don’t mean “loser” as an indictment of this person’s character. I mean that they somehow came across a few long boxes of 90s x-men or somesuch and now can’t get rid of it even for dirt cheap. They unfortunately were at the losing end of some deal, not knowing what those books’ market value really was. Unless they locate a fan who specifically wants those runs, they’ll be stuck with those boxes for a long time. I try my best to hide my disgust and pity when I walk by this guy’s booth.
A FEW THINGS TO REMEMBER.
These are some of the vendors I’ve come across but every person is different and you have to be able to make decisions on the fly. Always look for the bargain in case you want to “flip” the book for a profit or use to trade with someone for different books. Don’t succumb to the temptation of buying for the sake of the deal. Just because something is priced low doesn’t mean you should buy it. I find it’s useful to check my wish list on Stashmycomics.com to remind myself of what I really want before I go flea shopping. Additionally, I never go flea shopping without a budget. I make sure I know how much I have to spend and I don’t bring more cash than that – flea markets don’t have debit or credit card machines so bringing cash limits you to a certain spending amount. Also, bring your Overstreet Price Guide with you to quickly look up an approximate market value. Overstreet is generally on the mark for older books, but if you have a smart phone you could check out prices on ebay as well. These practices keeps my purchasing streamlined and it builds a nicer collection in the long run. Instead of having odds and ends, I have a collection that makes sense and has purpose.
I would assume many of the same principles of flea shopping apply to yard sales and garage sales. Summer season is coming and there will be lots of people getting rid of their “junk”. The big difference I’d say is that in flea markets there is a possibility of building a rapport with vendors and you can get to know what sort of books to expect from each vendor. Yard and garage sales are more ephemeral and “hit and miss” in nature.
Most importantly use flea markets as an opportunity to have fun. Take some friends with you and just walk around and stare at all the strange random items for display. Talk with the vendors if they’re not too busy. Some of these folks are real characters! It’s good for a laugh or two and it’s a funny way of spending an afternoon.
Here are a few images of some of the more interesting books I found at flea markets.
Crime Does Not Pay issue 51.
By the infamous Charles Biro. This is the title which spawned many imitators and gave rise to the crime genre. It was also part of the controversy surrounding comic books and juvenile delinquency in the 1950s. An interesting slice of North-American culture.
Richie Rich issue issue 41
Go to our forums to see what other people are finding at flea markets!
Jason Newcomb is a frugal Canadian geek. He apologizes for the lateness of this article while hugging his mug of neo-citran.