Random Reflections: On Cutting Comics and Making Mark Cry

I wonder how the artistic community would react if some retailer found a beat-up old Picasso painting and decided instead of trying to resell the whole thing, he’d cut the painting up into multiple 4 x 6 panels and resell those. The premise would be, “yeah, this isn’t the whole Picasso. That painting was too beat up to be appreciated anyway. Instead this is your chance to own at least a small piece of a Picasso.”

I’m sure I’m about to offend Picasso-lovers everywhere by using that metaphor to segue into a discussion about the Upper Deck trading card company cutting panels out of old comic books in “terrible condition” and reselling them as collectible, one-of-a-kind cards, but the super-passionate, sometimes illogical, comic book collector side of me died a little bit watching the above video.

Yes, that’s somebody taking an issue of Amazing Spider-Man #2 (please note, one of the missing issues in my quest) and cutting out a panel of the Vulture (his first appearance in a comic) to be featured on an Upper Deck trading card. In mint condition, that comic could net someone thousands of dollars. The comic featured in the video, by my humblest guestimate, is probably in Fair, maybe, MAYBE Poor condition (though I feel the cover is too complete to be considered a Poor), which would only net the reseller a few hundred dollars. According to Beckett.com, these comic book cards, dubbed Upper Deck Marvels, are already bringing bids as high as $80.

ASM # 4, 6, 9, 14, 18 and 50 are also apparently slated to be cut up for these inserts. For those keeping score at home, there are some major key issues in that lot, including the first Sandman (#4), the first Lizard (#6), the first Electro (#9), the first Green Goblin (#14) and the first Kingpin (#50).  Many of these issues I own, but some of them, notably #4 and #6, are on my “to-do” list for the chase. And considering that I’ve been on record in saying I actually WANT to buy these issues in a lower-grade condition, this whole initiative makes me a little nervous as a collector.

I guess it all comes down to what Upper Deck’s definition of “terrible” is. To me, a terrible, or more technically-put, Poor, comic books have almost zero collectability. And even that is a terribly subjective classification. For example, check out this copy of ASM #4 for sale over at the comiclink auction site. It’s a verified “Poor” copy of the book with a fairly nice cover. What classifies it as “Poor” is that a few of the interior pages, which impact the story, are missing. But for $75, you’re telling me somebody may not be tempted to pick that up if they want to get a cheap copy of an otherwise very expensive comic book?

As for the copy of ASM #2 featured in the video, I have a hard time reconciling the idea that this comic is beyond collectability. Would I necessarily want to buy THIS specific copy of ASM #2? On first blush, and without knowing of any other flaws on the back cover or interior, I’d probably say no, because I’d rather pay the extra $100 or so to get a copy with its spine more in-tact than this one. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be tempted. I’ve seen much worse looking comic books for sale and I even remember seeing a copy of ASM #2 at a major comic book convention a few years back that had a taped-up spine to compensate for the damage. I was talking to the dealer about my ASM quest (at that point, I was a good 100 issues away) and he was pushing to sell the copy to me for about $250, using the argument, “when are you ever going to be able to buy a copy of ASM #2 for that little?” I obviously didn’t buy it, but it was an argument that got me thinking about it for at least a few seconds before I walked away from the table.

Maybe if Upper Deck was taking coverless comic books and cutting them up for cards, I’d feel a little bit better than this. To me, a coverless comic is beyond collectability. I believe an attractive cover is the most important feature from a collector’s standpoint. While there are certainly issues of ASM that have interesting, well-crafted panels on the interior, the cover is usually what makes a lasting impression from an aesthetical standpoint. A coverless comic book is essentially only good for reading, and with so many reprints and collected edition paperbacks out there, why would someone drop any money on an old coverless comic just to read it?

Ultimately, I’m not too concerned that Upper Deck is going to start taking all lower grade copies of Amazing Spider-Man and other comics out of circulation just to make a few extra bucks with trading cards, but anytime somebody or some institution gets subjective about the notion of what’s “collectible” I think it’s troublesome.  Yes, I will inevitably find MY copy of ASM #2, probably in Good condition, which means the cover won’t have a split spine, or a ton of tape, but that doesn’t mean I have to sit back and be supportive of somebody making the population of the comic one less for the sake of a trading card. Though, I might withdraw my objection if Upper Deck comes out with a Picasso line in 2012.


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