I'm stuck in the house. You're stuck in the house. Let's talk about comics. I'm trying to do a big chunk of writing every day while I'm working from home, so you all benefit with some new content and loads of overdue content. Here's one that's been on my mind forever…
I've been collecting comics for 35 years at this point. I've owned a lot of cool stuff. I own a lot of cool stuff. I've sold a lot of cool stuff. All these years in, I continue to enjoy this magnificent little hobby of ours.
Ask me what the toughest challenge I've had collecting comics has been and the answer might surprise you. Was it an aesthetically pleasing, pedigree-rich, high grade run of Daredevil? No. A run of Daredevil when I was a teenager and broke? No. Any number of smaller, but expensive runs of Bronze or Silver Age titles? Nope. None of those. The toughest books I've collected have easily been easily Image/Wildstorm books from the late 1990s/early 2000s. In particular, the Warren Ellis run of Stormwatch has been extremely difficult.
I know what you're thinking. Let me explain.
First, some facts- Based on the registry and the census, I have one of the best Wildstorm related CGC graded collections. I have the best Planetary, Authority and Stormwatch sets. I have the second best WildC.A.T.S. set. I also have a complete set of Global Frequency, the stellar Warren Ellis anthology series (including the RRP.) Based on the census, there's no one else with anything close to what I have across those titles. I've got a few other interesting oddities from some of the other titles, as well.
Getting there has been really, really hard. Expensive? Not particularly. But really hard, nonetheless. Hence the title of this post.
A CGC Graded Run of Stormwatch? How Hard Could That Be?
The answer to that questions is actually pretty hard. The photo above is not every copy of the Warren Ellis Stormwatch run that I've ever owned. I've sold multiple complete runs on ebay over the years and have sold stacks of Stormwatch #37 on more than one occasion. Stormwatch #37 took something like 15 years and maybe three dozen copies to grade a 9.8. What's amazing is, I'm still not done with the goal for the Stormwatch run. My goal for all three of these runs was, at minimum, CGC 9.6 for all the books. I'm still looking for a Stormwatch #38 in 9.6+. I've been working on that run for more than 10 years.
So, why? Well, for one thing, no one sells these books. With a few exceptions (The Authority #1, Stormwatch #37, Stormwatch v2 #4, Planetary #1) they're not valuable to anyone but a few diehards, so they don't come up for auction. People read them, and they're classics that set the foundation for modern comics and, in a direct line, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they're not books that people collect. Someday I hope they'll get their due, but for now, they're the stuff of Absolute Editions, not CGC slabs. I had to grade something like 95% of these books myself and doing so was not easy.
My actual plan to acquire a 9.8 Stormwatch #37, which is one of the hardest books I've ever chased, was to buy every reasonable copy on eBay. All of them. If it looked like it had a chance, even with a postage-stamped size scan, I was going to buy it. I eventually hit the jackpot, but it took literally ten years to grade a 9.8. Looking at the census, I graded one of the 9.8s, both 9.6s (and own a Signature Series 9.6) and two of the 9.4s. And those are just the books I bothered getting graded. I've owned maybe so many copies of that book over the years so the hit rate was very low.
Why so tough? For starters, it was a lower print run. Especially compared to the books earlier in the decade, but even compared to things like The Authority #1 and Planetary #1 which were ordered in bigger numbers and stored better since many, many people buy and hold #1 issues. The Ellis/Raney Stormwatch v1 run had Diamond pre-orders in the 25,000-30,000 range. I don't actually have a number for #37, but there's no reason to believe it would have been much higher than the later issues in the run. WildC.A.T.S. #1 sold around 300,000 copies through Capital City alone. The Authority #1 had around 41,000 Diamond pre-orders. Planetary #1 was in the same range at 37,000. So, there were less of them to start with and, since there was nothing obvious about them at the time (a new creative team that was unknown at the time) they were just tossed in boxes without the care that I've seen with copies of The Authority #1 or Planetary #1 (books that are much easier to grade out in 9.8.)
Another book that shows the difficulty of putting together one of these runs is Stormwatch v2 #4, 1st Midnighter and Apollo. That book was really tough to source. That makes sense as the Diamond pre-order numbers on that were even tougher than many issues in the v1 run- around 23,000 copies. I graded the first two 9.8s and sold my second copy for $463. Those exist on eBay now, but until I cracked the seal it was impossible to find even nice, raw copies. Now they're out there. I think that $463 top sale will stand for a while, though.
The second part, which I alluded to earlier, is that it's very hard to find these books in good shape, full stop. There aren't many of them, they were read and most dealers think of them as $1 books so they get tossed around with all the other 1990s "junk." So even buying complete runs on eBay, which in other eras can be a way to get nice copies since they're generally coming out of people's collections, doesn't work because they've been read. And dealer overstock has been bashed about for 20+ years. That's why I have 5 copies of every one of those books. There are some titles (later Miller/Janson Daredevils, for example) where you can safely buy stacks and stacks on eBay and if you get them for a reasonable price there's a good chance you can grade out some 9.8s. Especially if you're not averse to pressing since that stock responds well to the press. That is not true of Image/Wildstorm books from the pre-CGC era.
So, yeah, these books are tough.
Anyway, here are some of the books I've mentioned. They may not look like much to you, but these are some hard-fought books. I learned more about grading and submitting comics with these books than buying fancy Silver Age books, that's for sure.
Stormwatch #37 CGC 9.8
1st Jenny Sparks, Jack Hawksmoor. 1st Ellis/Raney.
The Authority #1
You don't get The Avengers without this book.
Stormwatch v2 #4 CGC 9.8
1st Midnighter and Apollo
Stormwatch v2 #5 CGC 9.8 Midnighter and Apollo Variant
Global Frequency #1 RRP CGC 9.2
Stormwatch v2 #1 CGC 9.8 New Horizons/Travis Charest Variant
WildC.A.T.S./X-Men: The Golden Age #1 CGC 9.8
WildC.A.T.S #1 Gold Edition CBCS Verified 9.6
Planetary #1 CGC 9.8
WildC.A.T.S/Aliens nn CGC 9.6
Good luck finding this book in 9.8 shape. I gave up after getting a 9.6 Two covers exist and both are impossible.