Category Archives: The Web-Stir

THE WEB-STIR #2: WHAT ARE COMICS FOR?

What are comics for? That might seem an odd question but stick with me. Are they for entertainment? Are they for education? Are they for investment purposes? Well, I would say probably a bit of all three but mainly they are for entertainment.

One of the most common questions we get asked in Wow shops is what is your most valuable comic? It’s such a disappointing question. Surely the question to ask is what is your best and most enjoyable comic? It’s the view of all of us at Wow Comix that first and foremost comics are to be read and enjoyed, not bagged, boarded and, put away untouched, unread and unloved.

Tasty comics!

Why should it matter? Well one reason is that when people lose sight of the real purpose of something there is a danger that the thing they love gets taken over by people who do not love it and just want to make a few quid out of it.

During the 1990s comics became almost self-destructive, the US comics industry started and fuelled a massive speculator frenzy with comic books. It was the time when the multiple variant cover was introduced. Could that be anything more than a cynical ploy to get you the reader to buy lots of copies of the same comic? It was the time when multiple titles featuring the same character or spin off titles appeared. Why on earth would you want 12 titles featuring the X-Men or Batman each month? Surely fewer titles of a better quality would make the comic industry more sustainable? It was the time of new “hot” writers and artists and people were encouraged to buy anything with their name on it. It was when “creators” names started to appear on the cover. Not something the previous generation ever needed. People were tricked in to thinking that anything by these guys would one day be worth a fortune, which we now know was not the case.

The 90s were a strange time for the comic industry

The speculator boom was unsustainable. People believed that buying multiple copies of the same comic was a great idea because one day they would be worth a fortune, ignoring the fundamental stupidity of the argument. What makes comics valuable is their condition, their desirability and above all else their rarity. Think about it logically and the stupidity of the argument becomes evident. If there are millions of copies of a comic available then they are by definition not rare. If they are not rare then lots of people have got them and they are largely worthless. That is what happened to the speculator boom of the 1990s. Once people woke up to the fact that they were buying loads of copies that they could not get rid of then they stopped buying. Publishers and comic shops who had themselves invested and speculated that the boom would continue suddenly-found themselves over committed, and their customer base drying up. Publishers and retailers went to the wall. All because they had turned what was “entertainment” into perceived investment, when there was no real value to it.

This was the start of a decline in comic sales from which the industry has never recovered. American comic book sales now are a fraction of what they were 20 years ago. The same with British comics. There are few titles published now and sales of those that do survive are a fraction of what sold years ago. When you take out Beano and 2000AD there is not much left now. The same argument as to value applies to British comics as much as to American comics. Never a week goes by when we are not offered a collection of 2000AD. Generally, people believe that because they are old, they are valuable but so many were produced that there are still thousands in circulation which makes each individual copy worth very little.

They may not have the highest value, but annuals are a great value way of starting your journey in the comic world!

So, what am I saying here? That you should not look to make money on your old comics? Absolutely not. However, what I do believe is that you should buy them for the right reasons. Don’t buy them because you think they will be worth something one day. Buy them because you want to read them and because a well-written and well-drawn comic can be fantastic entertainment. Whilst the mainstream comics are, in my personal view, going through a bit of a rubbish period at the moment, there are still some great stories coming from DC and Marvel. If you are more adventurous look at some of the independent labels where there are brilliant and innovative titles being published. That should be your starting point, buy them to read them.

Comics should entertain and, in some cases, educate as well by turning the spotlight on the issues of the day. It’s all-too easy to jump on a band wagon and push out loads of comics with covers in celebration of Pride or Black Lives Matter. What is much harder to do is to produce comics that focus on issues that impact on real lives in a subtle but impactful way. Good writers can do that without having to make it gimmicky. Think back on what Lee and Kirby did back in the 1960s in the pages of early Marvel. Yes, they may be a bit dated now, but they covered topics such as racism, feminism, corruption and drug abuse. They were dealt with in a sensitive and informative way. They supported things like the civil rights movement.

Green Lantern & Green Arrows team-up is hailed as a game changer for comic books.

DC did a fantastic job in O’Neil and Adams Green Lantern & Green Arrow issues 85 and 86 where they turned the spotlight on a serious and growing drug addiction problem in America. It is possible to tackle important issues whilst being entertaining at the same time. Ironically those issues are some of the most sought-after and valuable of the period. Mint copies go for high prices. It is true that most comics are not worth very much and few retain their value, let alone significantly increase in value. Where we do see prices going up are for key issues where a new or important character or major plot point is introduced. These can be valuable but you can’t predict what will be a key issue in advance. Who would have thought that the New Mutants 98 would have become much sought after? It was a mediocre comic living on borrowed time and yet now it goes for high prices. Why? Well because it introduced a number of characters including a fairly pedestrian assassin but who changed out of all recognition over the years to become the one and only Deadpool we all know and love. It made that comic worth very much more than it otherwise would have been. Probably no one at the time it came out thought it would be worth much and probably few people bought multiple copies.

So, what is a comic for? All of the above but mainly just get it for the fun of it and spend a short while in a different world enjoying a good read.


John Webster

03/06/22




The Web-Stir #1 – Origin Story

Welcome to the first “Web-Stir”. I have been asked a number of times to write something for followers of Wow Comix and to give some background on what it is like to run what is slowly developing into a multimedia retail and entertainment business. I have resisted the idea as even my ego is not that big, but after continued prompting from the other guys at Wow, here we are.

I have often been asked how I got into the comics business in the first place. I guess for the answer we have to go back to about 1965 or 66 and a man called Ernie Nicholson. I lived at a place called the Elephant and Castle in London. Ernie was one of our neighbours and he worked at the print where they used to produce most of the weekly British comics of the day.

I don’t know if the printers were given the comics or if they just nicked them, which was a very popular pastime where I grew up (especially round the old London docks) but every week Ernie would come home with a big stack of all the titles out that week. Ernie’s kids had grown up and were not interested in comics so he used to give them to me and my sister. We had all that week’s comics and what is more we had them several days before they hit the shops I loved them and spent hours reading and re-reading them. Beazer, Topper, Sparky and so on. My sister had the girls’ comics like Bunty and I had the boys’ ones like Valiant, TV21, Smash and Pow.




Then in 1967 my life changed forever when Terrific and Fantastic came out. They introduced me to the world of Marvel Superheroes. I was mega excited, particularly with Terrific number 1 which came with a free gift of an iron on Iron-Man transfer. My Mum ironed it on to a white t-shirt for me and I proudly wore it all summer.

About this time the Adam West Batman TV show hit our televisions and I became a massive Batman fan. Still am in fact. I soon discovered that the British superhero comics were not original and were just reprinting American comic books. We called them comics but they called them comic books. They were smaller than ours, they were in colour and they were just so much more exciting. They began to appear in our local newsagents and I could not get enough of them. Marvel in particular was just great fun. I got to know not just the characters but also the people who wrote and drew the comics. Everyone had a nickname, Stan (The Man) Lee, Jack (The King) Kirby, Jazzy Johnny Romita and so on. It was like they were our friends and I thought they all lived and worked together at the Bullpen in New York, New York, USA.





Original Marvel and DC comics were now at the local newsagent but they were hard to collect as distribution was so haphazard. In a way though it became part of the fun because I would spend hours each weekend going round the local newsagents trying to find the ones I was missing. I also discovered several second-hand book shops where I could buy or swap comics.

I remember one at the top of East Lane, near the Walworth Road where I spent many happy hours working my way through piles of comics. The same with the Popular Book Centre down the Old Kent Road. Always gives me a shiver now when I come across a Silver Age comic with the Popular Book Centre stamp in the middle of the front cover. Nowadays everyone wants their comic to be pristine but it never
bothered me. I did not mind the shop stamping the cover or the old T&P stamp on it (Thorpe and Porter who used to import the American comics). I just wanted to read it and if it was a series I was collecting then I would get what I could until a better copy came along.

Come my mid-teens the addiction to comics became a bit more secret. Collecting comics was hardly cool and left one open to significant ridicule. I also discovered girls and beer which pushed comics right off the agenda. I sold my first collection of comics to pay for a pair of 3-inch stacked heel leather and snake skin shoes. Now they were cool (Don’t judge me, it was the 1970s).




Years went by but my interest never totally faded. I dipped in and out. Bought a collection, sold a collection, bought another collection and so on. Always kept my core favourites though. Adams Batman, Kirby New Gods, Wrightson Swamp Thing, John Byrne X-Men. Then got right back in with the British Comics of the early 80s like Warrior and The Daredevils (still my favourite).

During this time something amazing happened. Comics changed and so did the people who bought them. As we moved in to the new century comics suddenly became cool. People who previously would not have been seen dead in an Iron-Man T-shirt now wore them loud and proud. Now this clearly had a lot more to do with films and TV shows than the comics themselves, but it did have a
knock-on effect. People knew the characters and wanted to see where they had originated from.

Yes John, this is all very interesting but what has it got to do with how you got into the comic business I hear you ask. Well, I am coming to that. After school and almost by accident I ended up working in a firm of Solicitors. I was just the office junior but after a short while a chance came up to go out to Court and sit behind Counsel. I got to see how the Law works and I watched the Lawyers.

I began to think these people are much better educated than me but they are no smarter than me. I thought, I could do that job and so I did.




Night school, Law school, and lots of hard work later there I was as a Solicitor. I worked in various Law firms and did lots of different types of work, mainly to do with ships and aeroplanes. I worked for years in the City of London and in the 1990s moved up to Manchester. I had spells in Newcastle and Birmingham. I was also lucky that my work took me all over the world on different cases.
Eventually, I set up my own firm called Webster O’Brien Solicitors with my colleagues Peta O’Brien and Wayne Thompson. Not bad for a boy from a south London Council estate.

A few years ago, I retired from the law but I still had a brain and I needed something to occupy it. You know what they say? Use it or lose it. I decided to try something different and as I had always had a keen interest in comics it seemed like a no-brainer to do something in that area. Also around
this time we decided to downsize. The kids had grown up and gone and the house was too big. My wife suggested that if we were downsizing the time had come to get rid of the thousands of books, records and comics I had stored away. After I stopped crying, I realised she was right and everything
had to go. I thought right, if I am going to do that I will turn it into a business and sell it all.

I started selling on eBay and things went well. I realised there was still a market out there for this stuff. I got chatting to Wayne and Peta about it and they both had things to bring to the party so we combined our collections. I had started selling under the name of back catalogue comics but neither
of them thought that was a particularly inspiring name. We still had several companies under the Webster O’Brien name and decided to use them for this new venture. Wayne came up with Wow Comics, which stood for Webster, O’Brien and Wayne. (WOW). We then decided to make it a little
different and changed the comics to comix. We changed the company names and were then off and running.



A year or so goes by. Selling has gone well, so much so that we had started buying stuff in as we were running low on stock. We moved on from just selling on eBay to attending conventions and comic fairs. Within a year we have opened our first shop. A few more years go by. More shops, a much wider range of products. New and vintage comics, books, T-shirts, posters, mugs, toys, games
and so on.

New companies and partnerships are formed. Diversification happens. We move into putting on our own conventions and events. We go on line. We start to develop new areas such as publishing. People leave, people join but throughout I am still here in the middle of it. Still enjoying what was a hobby that got out of hand ………………. and that dear reader is how I got into the comic business!!


Written by John Webster