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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

An interview with Gerry Ross (of 1,000,000 Comix) 30 years later


In 1986, Gerry Ross and Montreal's 1,000,000 Comix were featured on the National News thanks to a $35,000 USD sale of six Marvel comic books. Below is the original footage that someone has generously uploaded to youtube for all to enjoy. For those of you who don't have access to audio, don't worry, we'll transcribe the key parts of the interview below.


This interview was a somewhat accurate foreshadowing of the 'comic book speculator boom' that would mark the late 80s and early 90s. The most telling part is the newscaster probing Gerry Ross for which "current" comics collectors should start 'investing in' in order to see a long-term financial gain.

Thirty years later, by pure happenstance, we ran into Mr Ross at our local sport memorabilia & collectibles show. When we introduced ourselves and told Mr Ross that we wrote for DC in the 80s, he bellowed "Why talk about 80s comics? Let's talk about 50s comics! They're way more interesting!" and that pretty much set the tone for our interview. (He was actually still riding the high of his recent sale of Action Comics #1 for nearly a million dollars.) All kidding aside, Mr Ross was very pleasant and easy to talk to. We had a chance to ask him what it's like to be a high-value comic book dealer, which DC comics from the 80s will rise in value, his opinions on comic book restoration and grading measures, and some hopeful news for Legion of Super-Heroes fans.

[Editor's Note: Parts of this recorded interview were transcribed out of sequential order, but only so it makes sense to the reader.]


DC in the 80s: "You're a big DC comics collector. You were telling me that you started off collecting DC comics in your youth. Is that correct?"

Gerry Ross: "Well, I'm 61 years old, so if you do the math I was born in 1955. In 1962-1963, when I started to get into comic books at age 7, Marvel comics was only a year or two old...and I didn't buy Marvel comics. The other thing that kept me into DC comics was a lot of people in my age group were watching the Superman TV show. If you had cable TV - which most didn't, but there was always one guy on the block who did -  so you went over as a little kid to watch Superman in the 1950s TV show. That hooked you onto Superman with George Reeves, of course. And then it hooked you onto all of the DC titles. It was a big fight in those days: by the late 60s, when Marvel comics was really breaking through and getting a lot of fans, the question was 'Are you a Marvel or DC guy?'. A lot of people were either/or. And Gold Key [comics] we didn't even talk about. Although there were a lot of people, obviously, who read Gold Key and liked them."

DC80s: "Here's the real reason for this interview: I found a recording of a televised news clip from 1986, featuring a very young Gerry Ross smiling into the camera, being interviewed by [what appears to be] a Toronto news program..."

Ross: "That was the National News. Somebody posted it recently. That was when I sold the first six Marvel comics - at the time - for a record price...  "

DC80s: "$35,000 USD"

Ross: "...I think it was for more than that, but anyways it doesn't matter. It's so long ago - that was 30 years ago, I was 31 in that video and now I'm 61. So that will give you an idea of how long I've been doing this, because I'm one of the first to even be a "comic book dealer", or set up at a convention, or be involved in conventions, or any of this stuff. Just because of my age that makes me one of the first guys in the hobby. "

DC80s: "I'm understanding that you're more of a high-value comic book collector/dealer. We're not talking about $50 books, we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars of comics per book..."

Ross: "Well, recently we sold the highest rated Action Comics #1 (1938) ever to go on the Heritage Auctions website about a month and a half ago. That went for $956,000 USD. That was exciting to watch that book sell. To watch an unrestored Action Comics #1 go for that much money. I was happy, I have to be honest with you, I was happy. I went in on this deal with another guy in the United States who I know quite well. Believe it or not, he had to do a lot of the legwork on this at the end - I got tied up with some other stuff. Y'know, I've done a lot of high dollar deals over the years."



DC80s: "So is it exciting? Do you sleep with the phone by your pillow like a high-value trading broker waiting for that 2 am phone call? 'Sell! Sell!'"

Ross: "The big problem in this business is that you have to tie up a LOT of money. If I paid $1 for that Action Comics #1 that would be GREAT, but in reality, we paid a lot MORE than one dollar."

DC80s:"I remember you mentioning that in your 1986 newscast. 'I can spend up to one hundred thousand dollars at any given time for good material from the 1940s...even the 1960s.' "

Ross: "Yeah, but I mean AGAIN I had to buy it. It's not like I bought it once, I bought it twice. Twice is enough. I've been around a long time - I've seen a lot of Action Comics #1's go, well... not a lot, but enough to just be amazed. I am amazed that one just sold for three million dollars last year. That's amazing stuff."

DC80s: "You also mentioned to me (in a previous conversation), in regards to a very scarce copy of Action Comics, that you kept buying it, re-selling it, re-buying it and re-selling it to the SAME collector over the span of the thirty years. Am I misquoting you, or is that something that was happening?"

Ross: "Yeah, that was the Action Comics #1 that just sold."

DC80s: "How does that happen that you keep re-buying and re-selling the SAME issue to the SAME collector? Is that a normal thing for collectors to do when they're into high-end dealing? Or was it just a fluke?"

Ross: "Well, the collector died."

DC80s: "Oh! Sorry. Didn't realize that." [feels like a heel]

Ross: "So that's what happened."

DC80s: "What prompted that 1986 National News interview? I'm assuming it was that massive sale of those six early Marvel comic books?"

Ross: "...and they were the Larson copies..."

DC80s: "In the interview, you were talking about the Lamont Larson collection as well as the Mile High collection from Denver, Colorado (also known as the Edgar Church collection). Is that still around? Have any other mint collections of Golden Age comic books been discovered since then? Or is it still only down to the Larson and Church collections?"

Ross: "Well, that was a big collection purchased by Chuck Rozanski who started Mile High Comics in 1976. There were many thousands of books, but they've been, more or less, dispersed over the years. So that's basically where the Church collection is. I wouldn't know, right now, how much Chuck Rozanksi still owns or how much has been sold. Couldn't tell ya."

[Editor's Note: I found a link from the Comic Book Pedigrees website that answered the 'Have any other mint collections of Golden Age comic books been discovered since then' question.]

DC80s: "In the same interview, the anchorman made a joke along the lines of 'If only I'd kept my old copies from back then, I'd be a millionaire today'. I guess he was also try to put you on the spot and asked you "Are there any comics being released NOW that are worth saving? Like brand new ones that'll be worth something in thirty years?" and this was in 1986. You quickly suggested Dark Knight Returns #1 by Frank Miller. You also explained that there's a new phenomena in which there's "comics that are released now that, because of the supply and demand, shoot up in price rapidly and within a period of months can be worth a cover price of a buck or two to a cover price of forty bucks".

Ross: "So what else did I recommend to buy? Was there anything else? I'm curious how smart I was. Or how dumb I was. What I should've said was 'early Marvel comics'. But I probably thought that they were in such great supply that they would last forever - which was a BIG mistake because, I mean, early Marvel comics... well, I think everything has shown big increases: early DC comics AND early Marvel comics. "

DC80s: "Well, the anchorman was pressuring you for something on the stands RIGHT NOW."



Ross: "And that's all I said? Dark Knight Returns #1? Let's look at it: it was, like, five bucks cover price back then, it now goes for $140. That's about a 25 to 30 times return on your money. Now let's look at Action Comics #1 in 1986: A low-grade copy was $5000 USD, it's now worth $125,000 USD. That's a 25 times return on your money. Let's look at Amazing Spider-Man #1: let's look at a high-grade copy in 1981 - just a $1000. Or Amazing Fantasy #15: let's look at a 9.0 copy in 1981: that's a $1000. It's now worth a million dollars. Or let's say a 9.2, 9.4, or a 9.6 (somewhere in that range)... they're worth $500k to a million dollars.So that would've been the GREATEST return on your money."

DC80s: "Absolutely. At that time period in the 80s, investing in Golden Age books - especially scarce mint copies - would've been your best return on investment. I know that you still deal with comic books, more so with Golden Age because that's where the BIG money is..."

Ross: "Well. that's not completely true, I sell everything. When I go to conventions, what I do is... in Canada - I have my BEST stuff here, because I'm in Canada more often now than in the United States for convention, because there's a lot of good conventions in Canada (whereas ten years ago, all the good conventions were in the United States). but in Canada, I bring 30,000 comic books minimum. They're runs. I try not to bring 'dollar' books. Although, I have a complete run of Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, y'know... and Batman is very hot at DC comics. Well, the 70s Batman, I'd say, are a lot hotter than the 80s Batman."

"In the 80s you have Batman: Year One (Batman #404 - 407, 1987), the Death of Robin books (Batman #426 - 429, 1988). So, those two right there are REALLY popular."



"You also have Year Two in Detective Comics which are pretty highly sought after. You have the first Killer Croc in Batman #357 (1983) - that's very hot. The Killing Joke which is pretty hot. The Vengeance of Bane one-shot is a very hot book."



DC80s:"So, essentially Batman has always been pretty hot, especially in the back issue market. First appearances of major characters, as well as really pivotal issues (written by Miller or whatnot), and stuff with low print runs?"

Ross: "I would say 'not'. I would say Batman has gotten hot - well I don't like using the word 'hot' - so let's just say Batman is the #1 selling DC back issue RIGHT NOW. Twenty years ago it was Superman and Action Comics, but things tend to go in cycles in comic books. So, right now, I believe the reason Batman back issues are so popular right now are due to two factors: the movie and Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. Joker covers are going for a premium right now."

DC80s: "Joker covers? Are you referring to variant covers?"

Ross: "No. I don't know if variants are a good investment or not. My guess would be 'no', but I could be wrong. I don't know for sure about everything. I'm just saying that I think that anything with a Joker cover is good. There's another good Batman issue that I just thought of: Batman #423 (1988). It's a Todd McFarlane cover of Batman."



"Batman Begins, to me, was the key movie. I like Batman very dark because he's psychotic, as far I'm concerned, watching your parents get killed in front of you does not leave you normal. Very angry. The Joker is portrayed perfectly in Batman Begins by Heath Ledger. It's really a shame he died because he would've done a few more portrayals. So that's what really elevated Batman. The thing is, I think Detective Comics #27 (1939) - the first appearance of Batman - is going to set a world record in price when a high-grade copy comes along. Incidentally, I've been working on that. I may be able to have one, hopefully, this year... if we can reach an agreement. I think the book will go for, in higher grade, from four to five million dollars. More or less."

"So, Batman is definitely the most popular DC back issue without any question. In terms of overall sales of newer comics, I'd say Harley Quinn is EXTREMELY popular. So, since we're talking about the early 1980s and onward, we'd need to mention that Batman Adventures #12 (1993) - the first appearance of Harley Quinn - is a $2000 book if you have it slabbed and it says 9.8. And I have a feeling that book is going to go higher. I don't know if it's going to be like an Incredible Hulk #181 9.8 - which is, like,  fifteen to twenty thousand dollars. But I think over time it's probably going to be good because Margot Robbie's portrayal is REALLY good - she's going to have her own movie - this is probably going to be a book that is going to keep going up."
  


DC80s: "So your predictions are based on theatrical performances? Let's suppose a REALLY good Green Lantern film came out next year - a film that blew all the critics away - would you suspect this would bring in new interest for Green Lantern? Early issues of Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn would suddenly shoot up in price?"

Ross: "Yeah, without question. And the reason you can say that is because Iron Man was a very middling character in the Marvel Universe, and then you had the performance by Robert Downey Jr and he just caused interest in Iron Man to go crazy. I'll give you an example: probably six years ago an Iron Man #1 (1968) NM was about $300 USD to $400 USD, an Iron Man #1 (1968) NM is now $1300 USD to $1700 USD, I'd say."

DC80s: "Could you tell me briefly, because you were active as a collector back then, what were the comic book collecting habits in the 1980s? I understand that collectors were trying to restore their Golden and Silver Age books because they just wanted to keep their books looking good, not realizing it would hurt the value of the book? I seem to recall this was a collecting trend in the 80s?"

Ross: "Yeah, things go through phases. The idea was 'Can you make the comic look nicer and get MORE money for it?' So what did collectors and dealers start doing? Y'know,... taking a magic marker and coloring the white stress marks on the spine or corner creases or stuff like that. That's where it started from. And then it got professional - they started learning that you could take tape off of comic books. Restoration has it's place, that's for sure. For example, a comic book with,say, a 7 inch rip up the spine, just for cosmetic purposes, you'd want to seal that tear just so it could survive a little while longer.  If you look at most hobbies or collectibles (like art), restoration has a definite place in it. And there's different types of restoration."

"What I find strange is 'pressing'. The pressing of comics, in my opinion, is really over-hyped. There's only so much you can do with a comic book just pressing it in a heat press with Mylar protection. It really does not change it that much, if at all. And it can sometimes hurt it. And I've seen that - guys who don't know what they're doing.  We used to use that pressing to take out spine roll. To do that properly, you need to take out the staples of the comic. Which means you have to open them up in the middle, take out the staples and you can take out spine roll by progressively pressing it and making a new fold in the comic down the spine. Just to press a comic by itself is not going to take out any creases or anything. What you're actually doing is your imparting some gloss from the Mylar onto the comic by heating Mylar. That's all your doing. So when people think they're really improving themselves by pressing a comic book, they have no clue what they're talking about."

"Basically, 'slabbing' books started in 2000. Sending your books down to Florida and having them graded by CGC. This makes it a pure collectible and a pure 'investment grade' comic. The only problem with slabbing books is that the grades are assigned rather than calculated. To me, someone with a math background, a number should represent a calculation. In other words, defects should be assigned numerical values - they should be added up or subtracted from a 100 point scale - so your number has validity. Right now, the numbers aren't valid because it's like a beauty contest and you're just ranking it subjectively. Supposedly, your subjectively is objectively compared to a collector's subjectivity. It's third-party graded, so that's why people like it. They're saying 'okay, the person grading it has no ax to grind' but my problem is there's always going to be, for the really expensive books, outside influences affecting the grade. It would be much better if we had an actual grading scale where we could assign defect points - subtract the points from a hundred - and come up with a number that is valid. Right now it's like you're judging a dog contest. Why not assign defects points to begin with so you have a uniform way of calculating it? They don't want to do that because it would take a lot of time, obviously. But they should do it for the very expensive books. I don't know if that'll ever happen, but that's the way it should be done: to have a system where the number means something. Otherwise they should just call it a Very Good or Fine. That would be more accurate than giving it an actual number. Numbers are objective and precise. Whereas this is like you're looking at a Cocker Spaniel at a dog show and saying 'This is a great breed, I want to give it a 9' and I say 'Well, I'll give it an 8'."

DC80s: "I'm going to pick your brain here for a second. Here's the theoretical situation: I have $200 USD in cash to spend, and I can pick any bunch of DC books from 1980s (barring Batman). What do you recommend I should invest in in order to see some sort of growth or investment value? No Batman, no Detective Comics, no Harley Quinn. Nothing like that."

Ross:"And it has to be from the 1980s? Alright. Teen Titans. New Teen Titans #1 (1980) is probably pretty undervalued. I hear there's lots of rumors about a Teen Titans movie or something else. And of course you've got New Teen Titans #2 (1980) - the first appearance of Deathstroke - people seem to really want that one. That one's going up in price a lot. And all the other issues too are petty good. Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (1984) is the first Nightwing - Robin becomes Nightwing. That's a good issue to pick up. "



DC80s: "Would you go with anything from...say... Legion of Super-Heroes?"

Ross: "You can get those for next to nothing now. You can get them for a buck or two a piece. Most of the Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes - they start at issue #222 (1976) - you can get most of those issues REALLY cheap."

DC80s: "Are you a LoSH fan? Did you read them when you were younger?"

Ross: "Of course! Of course, yeah!"

DC80s: "What do you think the problem with the Legion of Super-Heroes is? Why can't they hold a series? They had their heyday in the 80s, but they just can't retain sales for an ongoing series now."

Ross: "There's a lot of 'em. Again, it comes down to if they're delineated properly. From my time period it was Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy. Those were the first three. If you look at Adventure Comics #247 (1958) - they're first appearance - they're on the cover. I think there's rumors they will be appearing on the Supergirl TV show. You can have a lot of fun with that."

"So yeah, I'd say that if you want to buy something cheap that could go up a lot, buy the late 70s Superboy and Legion of Super-Heroes comics or any Superboy comics with the Legion in them. Mike Grell did a lot of great work in those books. And Adventures Comics, too. The first three Legion of Super-Heroes appearances: Adventure Comics #247, Adventure Comics #267 (1959) and Action Comics #267 (1960)."



DC80s: "In your opinion, is it better to spend a lot of money on one really high-grade copy? Or to diversify and buy a few okay or very good copies with my money versus buying one really high grade copy?"

Ross: "For investment purposes, it's better to get a high-grade copy."

DC80s: "So the highest grade you can afford, basically?"

Ross: "Yeah, FINE or better. A lot of people are really into that. They want higher grade copies."

DC80s: "Are you still running 1,000,000 Comix?"

Ross: "I started the whole company. All the stores got franchised out many years ago. For me, the best place to be is NOT in a store, the best place for me to be is buying collections and going to conventions because you have fun and get to check out different locales. We all need variety in our life."

DC80s: "Thank you so much for chatting with us, Mr Ross."

Ross: "It was a pleasure."


-Justin

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