Five Ways to Be a Comic Book Superhero Geek on a Low Budget

Updated on January 2, 2018
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Chris Peruzzi is a comic book superhero historian who is passionate about how today's comic book heroes are the new mythology for America.

Being a Comic Geek Shouldn’t Break Your Bank

There are two types of comic book superhero geeks: geeks that spend a huge amount of their disposable income on everything even remotely connected to their superhero idols and geeks who have a true love for comic book superheroes and just want to keep up to date with the characters. Most of us start like the former and end as the latter.

I was lucky. I started my habit early when comic books were $.25 an issue. A dollar bought four issues of ad-laden comic book stories. The good news was you were never at a loss to buy x-ray specs. My cousin got me hooked on the comic book monkey with his old Marvel Comics collection.

Trust me, these were no longer in “mint” condition, either. My cousin was a true superhero fan.

Back in the days when Stan Lee was running things at Marvel as “Smilin’ Stan” and sported a full flowing head of hair, a pencil-thin mustache, with his omnipresent prescription sunglasses, and when kids could still join the Merry Marvel Marching Society, Marvel printed collectible stamps on their letters page (on the opposite side of their ads). My cousin had cut out the stamps, leaving giant holes in the pages.

Those issues weren’t going to be resold as collector’s items.

This was a true shame because while I can’t remember where I keep my car keys half the time, I can tell you that he had pivotal issues of “The Avengers versus Defenders War”, Captain Marvel #28 (where Thanos’ first major campaign against Earth began), Uncanny X-men #65 (where Professor X fakes his death to his original X-men team), and some of the earlier Carmine Infantino Flash issues.

Looking back, it was drug dealer marketing ploy done in absentia. He just left the comics where any visiting six-year-old could wander in, read them, and become an addict. The first issues were free and then, after that, I had to fend for myself.

The next year my dad had bought me a pocket-sized collected work of The Amazing Spider-man issues #1-6. There ought to be a law against giving an unprepared child six Lee/Ditko stories all at once. It was like taking crack.

My allowance money forever went to supporting this new habit.

For those of you who have started collecting comic books now, you’ve probably figured out that collecting comic books is an expensive habit. Buying issues from your local dealer can get pricey. I’m one of those few individuals who live close to Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, NJ. Despite the celebrity status of Comic Book Men’s reality television show, they still offer standard prices for their covers. Do they have everything? No. But, if you’re looking to get your comic fix out of the way, it will do in a pinch.

The standard cover price for a comic book is $3.99 per issue. This can get hefty if you’re following several hero storylines. Buying ten issues at a time is not uncommon. New titles come out weekly. Spending a hundred dollars a month on comic books is not the best investment for your money unless you’re buying rare comics. My current collection of comic books which I’ve been maintaining since the eighties, numbers in the thousands. When you add the cost of bagging, back boarding, and boxing (as well as the time and effort it takes to do that), you’d better figure out a way to economize.

Being a comic book collector can be very expensive and if you’re looking to travel that path, may God have mercy on your soul. Saving money as a collector is not really what this article is about. However, if you’re looking to follow superhero stories and keep some money for silly things like food, water, and rent, I have some tips for you.

Get a Subscription

These were the ads we saw back in the day. There is some savings to these.
These were the ads we saw back in the day. There is some savings to these. | Source

It is often the simple and obvious solution that escapes our notice.

Subscribing to Marvel and DC is one of the more obvious things you can do. There are definite perks to doing this.

Buying comic books from your dealer costs around $4 an issue of Marvel. If you subscribe and have them mailed to your house, they’ll cost you half that or $2 an issue. DC charges $24.99 for twelve issues which, according to them, is a 30% savings. The added benefit is that introverted comic freaks don’t have to leave their caves in order to get a near mint copy of their favorite comic. The downside is that most comic book collectors buy two copies of whatever they’re seriously collecting so they can read one and bag the other.

For comic book collectors who like to read an issue in their hands, this is a practical solution. It allows collectors to buy at a discount.

Also, like Amazon, both DC and Marvel give a discounted rate to buying trade collections and graphic novels. This is good for fans like me who like to catch up on some past storylines I’ve missed. These editions also have added extras, like author commentaries and sketches added at the end.

All these things make for good reading.

Subscribe Through Digital Readers

These comic readers have come a long range and are a fraction of the cost of print books.
These comic readers have come a long range and are a fraction of the cost of print books.

Within the last five to ten years, the digital revolution has made reading cheap. If you own a Kindle or iPod, iPhone, iPad, or Android device, congratulations – being a comic book geek just got that cheaper.

Much like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, Marvel Unlimited offers a service that gives access to 17,000 of their digital back issues for $99 a year or $9.99 a month. The yearly membership gives another 15% discount on current digital comics. DC offers similar deals within their digital apps.

All of these issues are downloadable to your device.

Personally, I recommend reading these off of a larger pad like an iPad. It’s just easier to work with.

These programs give new readers a chance to go back and read many of the classic stories that helped shape the heroes they see in the movies like Captain America: Civil War, Agent Carter, Iron man, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-man, and The Avengers. Digital copies are great because many of these old issues are nearly impossible to find outside of a collector’s horde and can be read multiple times.

Plus they’re convenient to read anywhere.

It has to be nice to relax with your touchpad and read some of the older stories. Giving new fans and old fans access to these stories is a great way to keep the base engaged.

Comic Book Conventions

The New York Comic Con is the second largest money maker for the city.
The New York Comic Con is the second largest money maker for the city.

Comic book conventions, both large and small, are probably one the best things a comic geek can enjoy. Not only will he find many like-minded geeks at the con, visit panels (where available), check out the inventiveness of cosplayers, but also find some incredible deals on collectibles.

Fair warning, most of the bigger ones are a bit crowded. If you don't like standing around a convention floor in the presence of thousands of other people, this might not be for you. It's also a physical endurance test. Comic-cons last for days. If you have a three-day pass, be prepared to be on your feet for hours at a time and bring lots of money for food and souvenirs.

Aside from all of the writers, artists, and guests, there are deals-a-plenty there. Comic book vendors travel from all over to sell their wares. They offer discounts on, not only back issues, but the deals you can get on trade paperbacks are amazing. A savvy collector with a good eye can find some hidden gold in those long boxes. The good news is that most of the vendors already have the issues bagged and back boarded. I should mention that if you do buy a collectible, make sure you have something solid and durable to guard your investment.

No one wants a near mint copy (or autographed copy) to have premature bends near the staples before they get their prizes home.

Remember, you'll be around A LOT of people at the big conventions... bumping into you. Protect your investments and remember there are not a lot of places to store your stuff.

If you can find them, there are a lot of smaller conventions probably in your area. I was shocked when a fellow geek let me know about one in Edison. The deals were great and the crowd was bearable. I got to meet some pretty awesome writers and artists as well. Great deals were there. I remember picking the entire run of Omega the Unknown for a song (Steve Gerber fans should rejoice).

If you go to these just remember to enjoy the panels and the celebrities as well. Comic-cons are fantastic.

Buy Used Collections from Amazon

No color ink, but cheap and great for reading.
No color ink, but cheap and great for reading.

As much as I think digital comics are a godsend, some people, like me, can’t get used to the digital readers. I’m just old school. Sometimes there’s a lot of twisting and turning and it can slow things down.

Print readers should not despair. There are alternatives to digital readers.

Marvel and DC offer black & white trade copies of many of their back issues through their Essential and Showcase editions. Cover prices for these editions go about $17 to $21 a book. These are not collectibles; they’re collections. They’re cheaply made with regular low grade paper pulp – which I like. They have the advantage of being thick and full of content. I use them for research (as well as enjoyment, too). Many of these editions are printed as they were originally published, warts and all – sans color. I own the collection of Captain Marvel Essentials Volume 2 that recounts issue number #29 as it was originally printed – which had a huge continuity error in it that subsequent collections have edited out.

These are good books.

What’s more, you can buy them “used” off of Amazon for a fraction of their price. Used copies can be bought for as little as $2 a book. All you pay for is the postage. Considering that none of these are collectibles, the condition of each book is irrelevant.

Plus, if you grow tired of them, they make great coloring books for children.

The Public Library and the Internet

Getting a library card was one of the best things I ever did for my comic book budget.
Getting a library card was one of the best things I ever did for my comic book budget.

I’ve saved the best for last – The Public Library.

Do you know that most libraries carry graphic novels? I discovered this a few months ago and it has curbed my comic book buying immensely. It’s like discovering a hidden channel on your television set that is the secret archive of every movie and television show you’ve ever seen or heard of. Trade paperbacks that I’ve put off reading for years were available to be checked out at my leisure.

All for free.

I was thrilled.

I caught up with Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, and The Watchmen within the first week. I found volumes of Neil Gaiman’s work published in graphic novel format – as well as his Marvel 1602. Many of the trade paperbacks they had gave me a chance to catch up with a lot of the stuff that’s going on with the Marvel Universe. DC had an entire collected edition of The New 52 hardcover and Grant Morrison’s Multiversity which I consider required reading for anyone who is looking to see what DC has been doing for the last two years.

The only downside is getting damaged books. I belong to the Monmouth County Library of Freehold and I’ve only had one incident with a collected Batman work where one page was torn out. I was more disappointed in the reader who did it than with the library’s book maintenance team.

The last thing you can do only requires nothing but an internet connection.

If you’re completely lost on the character history of anyone within DC or Marvel, you can always look that character up on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is maintained by its readers and comic book readers are the most conscientious around. Changes in a character’s history are made as soon as they’re available. Even if the answer isn’t within Wikipedia, it’s a good springboard for getting to other resources that might have that bit of information.

I use Wikipedia whenever at get to a “what the hell happened?” moment after I missed an issue or two. More often than not, it answers my question.

Final Words

You never know who you'll meet at a comic shop
You never know who you'll meet at a comic shop

Listen, I'm a hopeless addict when it comes to comic books.

I don't make a tremendous amount of money doing what I do, but I love writing these articles. When I do, I go everywhere to get good research. I'll go to my personal stash. I'll go through my graphic novels. I'll check my collections of OHOTMU (The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Deluxe Edition)) and whatever else I can find.

Then I'll go to the library and see what they have.

When it comes to loving the comic book mythology, no geek is so snooty that they won't share their views on a story. Geeks come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. It has been my experience (especially reading through the internet boards) that geeks take great pride in sharing their knowledge about characters and theories. Through the comic book community, people grow. We imagine more. We think more. We talk, type, and read more.

It shows a passion rarely seen in anything else.

But that passion has a price and that money has to come from somewhere unless the geek can find a way to make ends meet one way or another. Whether he's a collector or enthusiast, or even a newbie, something within the comic book universes grabs that fan and won't let go. He'll need his fix.

Getting something cheap is great. Getting something free is awesome. So long as it keeps us reading.

Pros and Cons

Method
Pros
Cons
Buying from a specialty store
Buy it, read it, bag, box, and board it.
It's expensive.
Buy at a convention
There's gold in those long boxes. Some good issues are sold at a discount.
If you're a collector, caveat emptor. Some books are not up to grade. Be careful.
Print Subscription
Never miss an issue. Get new books at a discount.
Mailmen may not love your comics as much as you do. Risk on condition
Electronic Subscription
Inexpensive, digital quality, right to your reading device.
Older generations enjoy the feel of the book in their hand. Not for a collector though.
Buy used trade copies from Amazon
Great reading material at a fraction of the cost.
Not for collectors. Very little chance of trading (though not impossible - depending on the book)
Library
It's free! Return it in two weeks!
It's free. Return it in two weeks.
Different strokes for different folks.

Getting Your Fix

How do you get your comic book fix?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Christopher Peruzzi

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