Scoop contributor, collector, and Overstreet Advisor, Art Cloos sat down with Greg Reece, who runs Greg Reece’s Rare Comics. At gregreececomics.com, he sells classics from Marvel/Timely, DC/National, and Dell/Gold Key, among others. He also sells comics at conventions across the U.S. He can be reached at (240) 575-8600 or by email at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scoop: Greg, we here at Scoop are very happy that you could find the time in your very busy schedule to sit down with us to talk about your life in comics.
Greg Reece (GR): My pleasure.
Scoop: So how did it all begin with you and comics? When did you first discover them?
GR: I first saw them in 1972 on a spinner rack at a 7-Eleven in Gaithersburg, MD. I was instantly drawn to the vibrant art and incredible colors. They just blew me away! From there, about six months later, I discovered a guy selling comics in the back of a coin shop. I couldn't believe I could find issues I had missed and better yet, issues that had come out years before. Then, I found a bus route that costs .50¢ each way – which I hated because it ate in to my very meager comic budget – but hey I was with a single mom who had to work so there was no other way to get there. It was absolutely thrilling every time I went.
Scoop: I can totally sympathize as I got a big fat 25¢ a week for buying my comics.
GR: I hear you. I washed a lot of cars at $1 per auto.
Scoop: So how old were you at this time?
GR: I was 11 when I first began reading the new comics and around 12 or 13 when I found the back issue market.
Scoop: Did the annuals drive you crazy? They sure did me. They wiped my budget for the week.
GR: I had to pass on them. It killed me to, but I just couldn't afford them. And also, once I discovered back issues, the majority of my money went there.
Scoop: Did you get family support in your reading habits? I got some from one side of my family but not from the other.
GR: Frankly nothing one way or the other. My mom was busy trying to make ends meet. My dad encouraged the collecting aspect as he collected coins but I only saw him every other weekend.
Scoop: So you basically had a clear field to collect. Very cool. Did you have a favorite title or company? For me it was always DC first.
GR: Daredevil was my favorite. I loved Amazing Spider-Man but the back issues were too pricey to put a run together so I didn't get to read the stories with any continuity. An Amazing Spider-Man #1 in 6.0 or so was $40 whereas when I bought my first Daredevil #1 – same range, maybe a little better – that one cost me $20. Those were the days! I also read Batman regularly. Those along with JLA's were my favorites.
Scoop: Batman has always been my favorite character too. Now, when did you discover conventions?
GR: I went to a few of the Jubilee hotel shows in the early ’70s. While my parents would drive me an hour or so, I had no access to the mega conventions until much later in life.
Scoop: What were those Jubilee shows like? I never got to any of them.
GR: They were incredible! Very comic centric. I'd say 90% of the tables were all comic books. I distinctly remember buying a Daredevil #3 for $8 that was pristine 9.6. A treasure trove of books were always there which made it difficult to make choices.
Scoop: Who were some of the dealers that set up there?
GR: You know, that's what’s funny. I couldn't name one dealer at any of them. I was just geeking out on all of the books all of the time. I'm sure Ritchie Muchin and some other long time dealers were there but as a 12 year old, all I did was glaze over the books. And, I only got to go to a couple of shows so I didn't really form any dealer relationships as a result.
Scoop: It’s the same for me, the only dealer I remember distinctly from the ’70s Sueling shows I went to was Gary Dolgoff and he remembers me better than I do him. And talk about being overwhelmed. That first Sueling show totally blew me away. I was a kid in a candy store with no money to buy the candy.
GR: Yeah, being a kid doesn't help. We were all totally overwhelmed I'm sure.
Scoop: Where were these shows held?
GR: Usually at Holiday Inns in and around the Washington Beltway.
Scoop: So you were building a collection. I assume Silver/Bronze books? Did you come to a point where you stepped away from them to do something else?
GR: Yes. At 16 I lost interest as all of my expendable income went towards purchasing a car. I sold everything I had for $300. There was a complete run of Daredevil’s, numerous Amazing Spider-Man's, Batman's and Justice League of America's. It was easily the worst financial decision I'd ever make as even as an early collector, I was condition sensitive. Back then, you could buy common Silver for $1-$2 and it didn't matter if they were VG or VF, they were all priced similarly and sometimes exactly the same. I would cut up freezer bags to store my books. My friends were not happy that I wouldn't let them read my books.
Scoop: Grad and post grad school forced me to stop for several years in the early ’80s.
GR: Yep. Too many other things required money for a long time.
Scoop: Now I was going to ask about that. Your friends read comics too?
GR: Yeah, actually a couple of kids in the neighborhood, but they were not as into it as I was. Much more casual readers.
Scoop: What got you interested again?
GR: In the early ’90s, I was looking for a new career. The only comics I had left from my childhood were Spectacular Spider-Man #1 – I had speculated and purchased 10 copies – and other books like that because when I sold out I was only offered 10¢ apiece. When I went to sell them, I was shocked at the shoddy treatment at two different stores. Just flat out not friendly. So I decided to open a store in 1994.
Scoop: What had you been doing before this?
GR: I worked for a floor covering distributor. I actually toggled back twice as I closed up shop in 1997 because the ’90s were a brutal time to try and launch a comic book store. So, with a family, I had to leave what I was passionate about for something that paid the bills. I did however end up leaving floor covering for good in 2009 and went to a web based/trade show model.
Scoop: So you are a relative newcomer to the world of selling comics? Did you find there was a lot to learn when you started selling?
GR: An incredible amount. But what really helped me was my 15 years running divisions for the floor covering distributor. Knowing how to run a business was paramount to be able to compete with dealers who had vast arrays of inventory that they had purchased very cheaply as well as all of the relationships they had formed with customers.
Scoop: Usually at this point I ask about how difficult it is for new dealers to break into the hobby. In today's market how would you answer that?
GR: Well, if I knew then what I know now about how hard it was going to be, I'm not sure I would've taken the leap. I underestimated the amount of inventory you need to make a living as well as how long it would take to get our brand out there. Basically the first 3 years are 70-hour weeks with every dollar is thrown back into the business. As much as I love comics, it was just brutal getting the business launched. I still work a lot of hours, but not 70-hour weeks anymore so it's good now.
Scoop: So what types of books do you specialize in selling?
GR: I'd say I am known for selling high end graded books. That's a double edged sword though as a lot of folks assume if a book is slab worthy, that I would slab it. It would be impossible for me to do so as there wouldn't be room in the van for it all. Plus, I have a lot of customers who only buy raw so it's important to have something for them.
Scoop: You sell across the ages? Golden, Silver, Bronze? EC's, Disney etc.?
GR: To some degree yes. But I don't have a lot of Disney as the demand just isn't there. Primarily my sales are high end Silver/Bronze but Copper has been picking up steam in the last year or so.
Scoop: How different is the hobby today from when you were that 12-year-old kid going to your first comic cons?
GR: There is a 360 degree difference from when I went to those first shows back then and today. It is completely different. Back then, there were very few data points to extract valuations. You had to "go with your gut" a lot of the time. At the end of the day, while there were a few forward thinking speculators, the vast, vast majority of collectors were simply fans who wanted to fill in their runs. Today, the market is much more fluid but is also filled with folks buying $1,000 books who've never read a comic.
Scoop: And how sad is that? If I didn't read them I would not collect them.
GR: Indeed. It is always more satisfying to sell to a collector finishing his run.
Scoop: You are an Overstreet Advisor so you get to input your observations on the market. That has to be a bit of a thrill?
GR: It really is. I remember being accepted and it was just surreal. I remember devouring market reports as a kid so for me it was really a buzz to get to write one.
Scoop: Now let’s talk about the future. Will comics be the investment class ten years from now that they are today? And will people get tired of the multimedia focus on them that has helped drive prices up so much over the last few years?
GR: I think the next ten years are very bright for the hobby, particularly keys and high grade. We had a flurry of pedigree collections hit the market a few years ago including the Rocky Mountain, Twin Cities, Savannah and the Suscha News ones and the market absorbed it all. There are a lot of predictions by dealers and collectors that there are hundreds if not thousands of these ultra high grade collections out there but I just don't think it's so. Are there beautiful 7.0 to 8.5 runs out there in numbers? Absolutely. But I don't think there are that many left with 9.2 to 9.6 books across the board. When I look across my booth at trade shows, my average customer is between 25 to 50 years old with disposable income. And that customer is passionate about his/her books. The hard part is acquiring the books, not selling them. As to people tiring of the media driven price increases, that's harder to predict. My bet would be it would cool off some, especially for historically B-level character books.
Scoop: Do you collect today?
GR: No. I only recently sold all of my art and comics through Heritage Auctions. With two kids still in college it made sense. Plus, I don't have to think about whether to sell or keep a book anymore. It just makes it simpler for me.
Scoop: Speaking of your kids how do they and your wife view all this funny book stuff you are into? My kid could care less and my wife is more of a collector then I am at times.
GR: When I first told my wife I wanted to quit my corporate gig and sell comics, she was a little less than enthusiastic. But now it's really great. She helps me part time and one of my sons, Alex, is with me full time. I used to hate the road in my old jobs but now, going to the various comic shows I attend each year and being able to travel with my family and being able to see all of my friends in the hobby, it's the best part of the job.
Scoop: Does anyone in your family read comics today?
GR: Regrettably not. All of my boys were and are video game addicts.
Scoop: Which brings me to the question of technology and how it will affect the future of comics? Will video games and digital books change the whole concept of comics over time?
GR: I don't think so. I believe if they were going to, they would have already had a meaningful impact, which they haven't. In fact, store owners I know say that they have realized a slight net gain because of electronic comics as some customers want to hold "the real thing".
Scoop: Do you keep an eye on the local comic stores to check sales and trends?
GR: No, not really. I am too busy processing my own material, doing mail order, getting ready for shows, etc.
Scoop: Lastly, I want to touch on the topic of original art. How do you view its place in the hobby today?
GR: It reminds me of comics in the early to mid-1970s. Somewhat illiquid, hard to value, etc. But it is fascinating! There is nothing quite like holding a piece of history in your hands. I owned the splash to Daredevil #158 which was really special as I remember opening that book and being blown out of the water by Frank Miller. It was an incredible experience for me.
Scoop: Do you see it continuing to grow as a collectible class?
GR: I do. It's inevitable a piece will break the $1 million mark and when that happens, you will get main stream coverage (CNN, CNBC, etc.). And then the real money will start coming in.
Scoop: Well, Greg, it has been a lot of fun talking to you and we thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.
GR: Likewise. I enjoyed it.