Tom Brulato was one of the early enthusiasts to commit his collection to
the process of encapsulation by the independent grading service Comics Guaranty
Corporation (CGC). The results were, to him, eye opening to say the
"I didn't really start reading comics until I was
12-years-old," said Tom Brulato. "My sixth grade student teacher handed me some
comics, and I think the first one I ever read was Incredible Hulk #159,
while Amazing Spider-Man #118 was the first Spider-Man comic I
ever saw. I was bitten by the comic book collecting bug right away. There was a
shop about five miles away where I would get new comics. It was the closest one
I could find, and I used to have to ride my bike there. Then, there was a back
issue store that my father would take me to once and a while. It was about 10
miles away. That's when I started buying back issues."
With a highly
regarded Silver Age Marvel collection, he stuck to the path he began.
was strictly early Marvels," he said. "I always was and always will be a Marvel
guy. I was chasing down the early Marvels, the usual suspects. The same titles
that are still around today."
Fantastic Four was the first title
to really grab his imagination. Brulato enjoyed the fantasy element in it, as
well as the cosmic nature of such guest stars as the Inhumans, the Silver
Surfer, and Galactus.
"I didn't know why I loved it at the time, but I
suppose in hindsight it was the Jack Kirby art and the cosmic scale of the
stories," he said. "Particularly, the issues from #30 to #100."
describes himself as "the first and only" collector in his family, explaining
that they didn't quite understand his burgeoning obsession with the four-color
"They really couldn't comprehend how much passion [comics] raised
in me," he laughed. "I think guys who collect can understand, but either you get
it or you don't. They couldn't understand the time or money I spent on
As he grew up, he kept reading - though his interest waned
during his college years. The familiar story of changing priorities and the
workaday world asserting itself stopped there, though, as he started his career
and also got back into comics.
"When I was about 29, I started going
after high-grade back issues," Brulato remembered. "I was still reading
Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and some others, but I became
more interested in putting together early Marvel runs that were in the highest
grade I could find. I concentrated on Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic
Four. I included all the major Marvel titles, not the Westerns, but all of
the super-hero titles that I had started when I was young. I would buy the
highest grade copy of any issue I could find."
The path to the
high-grade Marvel comics was not always what it seemed to be.
think you know what you're doing, and you don't," he laughed.
that didn't prevent him from continuing his search. It was the overall eye
appeal of the high-grade comics that kept him going.
"At the time I was
probably buying VF+ copies thinking they were NM+," Brulato confessed. "I wasn't
really refined enough in the early days. With the eye appeal it was obviously
the gloss, the edges, but I wasn't a spine fanatic. That ended up hurting me in
later years because I had a lot of issues with spine wear, but I didn't really
pay much attention to that at the time. I also didn't pay much attention to the
back cover, which in many ways can be as important as the front cover. I never
used to check for missing coupons or that sort of thing."
He said that
when reality set in, it set in hard, and ended in fellow collectors being
disillusioned and leaving the hobby.
"It happened to a lot guys like it
happened to me," said Brulato. "They come into the hobby with more money than
expertise, which is what happened to me. They get hooked up with an unscrupulous
dealer or a dealer who isn't unscrupulous at all but who is inconsistent in his
grading. Just because you're a good guy doesn't mean you're a good grader and
can spot all types of restoration.
"Unfortunately, years later when your
eye sharpens up, you see that a particular book is not NM and you find out that
it's restored. It's very distasteful. If you had one of the major pieces in your
collection and you find out it's been restored, it's heartbreaking. At this
point, I can grade for myself without any doubt and spot most types of
restoration. But what about the novices? What about the people who are at the
level I was at 10 years ago? What this experience did was chase a lot of people
out of the hobby. I personally know three or four collectors who, once they
found out about all the restoration and over grading on books they had
purchased, were distraught."
These types of experiences are what led
Brulato to consider sending his comics to CGC. His experiences since then made
him an avid supporter.
"I was probably a little ahead of the curve," he
said, "but not as far ahead as I could have been if I had embraced it right
away. I slabbed my whole collection early on because I had to see where I was,
what I still needed. If I had embraced it three months early, I would be a lot
further ahead because I sold a lot of books unslabbed that would have brought in
a lot more money if they were certified."
Brulato said that he believes
the certification process has created a lot of interest by removing some of the
doubt for new buyers. He also said that it's added a volatile element to the
competition for books in the grades he prefers.
"Other than hard-to-find
examples, like Fantastic Four #12 where I have the only known 9.4,
there's often a big difference between 9.4 and the higher grades. Some of my
friends and I have a saying: 'The madness begins at 9.6,'" he said with a
When you get a mental image of his collection, it's easy to see
why. Part of it comes from the "Curator Copies," a pedigree not so amazing for
its quantity as for its quality.
"I bought a pristine run of Amazing
Spider-Man from issues #1 to #80. At the time, I paid a very reasonable
multiple of Guide. Almost all have been graded 9.6 and above, including a
9.6 Amazing Spider-Man #1 and several 9.8's under #20," he said. "The man
who owned the collection was a curator at a museum. He kept the books in the
museum in a temperature-controlled room. They stayed pristine for 35 years.
There are a lot of 9.6s and 9.8s. He knew that temperature and humidity would
degrade the books, so he took excellent care of them."
Those copies are
among the two complete sets of Amazing Spider-Man #1-#125 that reside in
"In my 'A' run, I have 41 9.8s and only seven 9.4s," said
Brulato. "All the rest are 9.6, so I'm closing in on having a 9.6 run of
#1-#125. In addition, I also have a 9.6 #1 and two copies of Amazing Fantasy
#15 in 9.4, one of which is the White Mountain copy."
Other gems in
his collection include a 9.8 X-Men #1, a 9.6 Journey Into Mystery
#83, a 9.6 Tales of Suspense #39, and the only known Hulk #1
in 9.4. Accompanying his 9.8 X-Men #1 are #2-#10 in 9.6.
early Journey Into Mystery run, issues #83-#125, is only
missing four issues to be completely in 9.4 or better. His 9.6 copies of
Tales to Astonish #35-#40 are the only known copies in that grade. And
his Avengers #1-#5 are all rated 9.6.
For his early comics
love, Fantastic Four, he has completed issues #1-#116 in 9.4 or above,
except #18. He said this includes about 76 9.6s. Fantastic Four did lead
him to what might be considered a "one that got away" story.
"I own a
9.4 copy of Fantastic Four #1, but I passed on a copy that is the only
known certified 9.6," Brulato admitted. "I could have bought it for $25,000, and
it's probably worth seven times that now. I couldn't see spending that much on
it at the time, and a good friend of mine wound up with it. That's the most
heartbreaking story that I have."
With all the record prices being
realized in recent months, it might seem that Brulato's prizes have him thinking
strictly in terms of dollars and cents. That doesn't seem to be the case though.
Now, as then, it is his love of collecting that drives him.
"It was just
pure passion - the love of the comics and the characters," he said of both his
start in collecting and his growing focus on obtaining the best. "Up until the
last three or four years, I didn't look at it as, 'Wow, one day they will be
worth a lot more than what I put into them.' It was just a love of Marvel Comics
and the characters. I don't know what it that compelled me to get them in the
highest possible grade, but there was definitely something there. I can
go into a room and stare at a wall of comics and it stirs me
t o r s " t o
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