We've been horribly negligent in terms of updating this blog, and I'm hoping to write something a little more substantial in the next few days. We (Ben Woo and Bart Beaty) provided an update to the comics scholars community earlier this month at ICAF in Seattle that is certainly worth expanding on here for the record. This isn't that post.
In a nutshell: This past summer we concluded the work of assembling the What Were Comics? sampling frame. This meant cross-checking our three data sources (the Grand Comics Database, the Overstreet Price Guide, and the database at MyComicShop.com) for works that are in all three. The resulting Excel spreadsheet was then organized by year, and we randomly sampled to generate a corpus that amounts to two per cent of the comics in our sampling frame, by year and rounded up. This is the What Were Comics? corpus and it amounts to 3,563 comic books.
So. We are now in the process of acquiring those comic books. Ideally, we would like to have physical and digital copies of each of them. Realistically, this may not be possible. For instance, our corpus includes four different issues of Gulf Funny Weekly from 1934 to 1940, and we have yet to find any copies for sale. It also includes things like Action Comics #17. MyComicShop currently has two of those for sale, both of which are incomplete and which cost in the hundreds of dollars. Budget realities will work against us.
That said, we are making progress. This month, I donated my collection of American comic books to Special Collections at the University of Calgary, but before I did I rifled through it for comics that appear in our corpus. At the same time, we have begun purchasing what we can - including buying more than 1,500 of the comics today in one fell swoop.
This has been an interesting exercise in comics buying. Notably, the vast majority of what we have bought so far has cost us less than $2 per book. It turns out that random Black Lightning comics from the 1970s are not that valuable. We are currently focussed on the lowest hanging fruit, acquiring as much as possible at prices below $20 per book. Once the dust settles, we will see about getting the older works that we need.
I think that the most interesting things that I have noticed so far is that two categories of books are trickiest to find: the first is reasonably contemporary children's comics (like Nickelodeon books), which are probably not in high demand and which don't have a big secondary market. The second are almost any kind of romance comics, which are causing huge gaps in the Excel spreadsheet. War comics from the 1950s? Easy. Western comics from the 1950s? Here you go! Romance comics from the 1950s? No way. There is certainly something substantial to be written here about gender and collecting...
Speaking of collecting, the one thing I was telling people at ICAF was that it was striking how the random sample turned up so few "important" comics. No Fantastic Four #1, no Detective Comics #27, and so on. This is mostly good news for the budget conscious researcher. However, yesterday I went to buy Marvel Super Heroes (2nd series) #8 from 1992, fully expecting it to cost about $1.70. Imagine my surprise, therefore, to learn that it is a "historically significant" comic book:
So, the first appearance of current fan favourite Squirrel Girl is highly collectible. We've passed on this comic at those prices - just can't mentally justify it. We'll have to hope her stock goes down before the end of our project.
So. Sampling frame = Done. Corpus = Complete. Acquisitions = Ongoing. Coding Protocols = Drafted. Data Entry = About to begin beta-testing.
Back soon to talk about a couple of the larger issues. If you'd like to donate a copy of Marvel Super Heroes #8 to comics research, hit us up!