Edi and I went with our pals Rob and Rachel Ginsberg today, as we've been telling each other forever we would. The idea is that maybe Rob and I would team up to sell some over our copious amounts of crap and split the cost of renting a table together, and this would be our chance to research the market and see how it shaped up. That was what we were supposed to do. What we actually did, of course, was pounce on any box of comics we could find and rifle through, holding up particularly unappetizing examples to each other.
Which is how I found issues #2-5 of Captain America by Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb.
Now, I should, with a header like the above, talk about how freakin' scary the Allemany Flea Market is. But it's hard, frankly, to really convey the sheer weight of how depressing and awful the place actually is. It's less a flea market and more like a refugee camp for the self-deluded. Large bins of rusty tools and battered jewelry compete for space with tattered, unread magazines. A grease-stained kimono flaps like the flag of a defeated army over quivering fold-out tables and rusted out tricycles. And all of that would be fine if it was priced accordingly, or at least put forward with a kind of humility that would allow browsers to amuse themselves. But the prices were ghastly--"Three dollars," a man announced proudly when I started to sift through his collection of battered VHS cassettes to see if he had any DVDs (he didn't).
At one point, I held up battered X-Men: The Motion Picture action figures, still carded but flecked inside the bubble with spots of moisture. "Oooo, you can complete your collection, Rob," I said and the owner all but leapt at us from the other side of the table. "I've got others," he said and pushed forward to Matrix action figures. "Only six dollars each."
Similarly, when I was caught elsewhere showing off a pair of matching Punisher figures (from the Toy Biz "Street Action" series), the guy came forward and said, "Both figures for ten bucks."
I scrutinized the figures, still marked with yellowing Kaybee Toys tags of four dollars. "They're exactly the same figure. Why--"
"Different comic books," he said, pointing at the backs. "They're, uh, variants."
At another point, walking by DVDs, I said to Rob, "Oooo. One Night at McCool's."
"Yeah," Rob said. "How could they let that one go?"
A young guy appeared out of nowhere. "Which movie?"
"Oh, uh, One Night at McCool's."
The guy stepped forward to the table and looked at the movie. "Oh, yeah. Great movie."
Rob and I walked forward about ten steps and Rob looked back. "Dude," he said to me. "I think we convinced him that One Night at McCool's is a keeper. He took it off the table and put it over near his car."
It wasn't until halfway around the "Mart" that we found any comic books at all. A large Jamaican woman had approximately two long boxes of mid-90's DC and Marvel titles, with the quality reaching the peak of the four issue Saint of Killers mini (and a few issues from the first ten of Hitman) and then quickly spiking back down to Midnight Sons, Dan Chichester's Daredevil, issues from the Death of Superman storyline, and Liefeld & Loeb's Captain America.
I walked over to the woman with seven books. "How much?"
"Two dollars each? How about seven for all of 'em?"
She shook her head and nodded her head at the long boxes. "Those are thousands of dollars of books."
"No," I said. "They really aren't."
"When I was a girl," she said in her accent, which may not have been Jamaican. "A man who lived next door collected comic books. And one day, another man came and bought four comics for twelve hundred dollars. I couldn't believe it. Four comics for twelve hundred dollars!"
"Yes, well, some older comics are worth money to collectors. Some collectors."
"So," I said. "Seven?"
She shook her head. "Ten." She kept shaking her head while taking my money, sure I was robbing her.
Finally, Rob and I found four boxes of good stuff. Starlin issues of Warlock; issues of Jimmy Olsen, including what appeared to be the entire Kirby run scatted among the different boxes. Gold Key Twlight Zones. Werewolf By Night. Creatures on the Loose featuring Man-Wolf. Unfortunately, they were priced like the good stuff. "50% off the marked price," the wild-haired guy in his sixties said to us. The marked prices were between eight and fourteen dollars apiece.
As we walked away, Rob said, "It was just a relief to see some real comics. Even if they were comic book store prices." And he was right. The rest of the flea market was like something out of a Nathanael West novel, a small setpiece of despair where people who'd been cheated out of their money by buying useless junk tried to prove they hadn't by selling it to the next guy. It was commerce as a failed redemptive act.
"Yeah, but I dunno," I said. "I was just hoping we'd find some, you know, Rom: Spaceknights for cheap."
And then finally, at the end, in the back corners of the mart, next to the guy selling plastic lawn furniture for twenty dollars a piece and a lonely guy who'd talk about his Tex Avery sheet music to anyone who'd ask, I found a small beat up stack of yellowed, unbagged, bowed-in comic books. Supergirl #401. Montana Kid #46 (called Kid Montana in the indica and the corner of the cover). An issue of Strange Tales. Our Fighting Forces. And Amazing Spider-Man #35. I walked over to the guy standing by his van, a shirtless man in a baseball cap eating salad out of a foil take out tray.
"How much for these?" I said, holding up the small pile.
He looked at me, squinted. "Three dollars a book."
And so, somehow, despite all my bitching and my group's general lowered spirits from visiting this short, brutish and nasty pavillion of chintzy, overpriced goods, I ended up with this: