Slabbed: did I just throw thousands of pounds away? (Part1)
I destroyed a valuable comic (or did I?) and then it became even more valuable (or did it?)
If you don’t know what slabbing is, it may behoove you to read this blog first: SLABS: a very peculiar practice
I grew up loving The Hulk stories in Mighty World of Marvel Comics. We bought issue one in the local newsagents, me and my dad. Mum showed me how to iron the free transfer that came with the comic on to a pale orange t-shirt and I wore that until it was too small and too tatty to still wear.
The early stories were drawn by Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko or Gil Kane ~ names and art styles I quickly came to recognise and respect… if one of these men was drawing a comic, I wanted to read it!
Marie Severin did a too-short run that still knocks my socks off today.
And then… and then along came Herb Trimpe!
Trimpe (rhymes with ‘blimpy‘, they told us in one letters page) drew the green manchild monster version of The Hulk for yonks. His oh-so-comicky style set the tone for how the character looked for a generation. More than one generation, as it turned out ~ Dad kept reading MWOM after me each week for these stories, paying to have the comic delivered tucked inside his daily paper. When we moved house, he painted a floor-to-ceiling Trimpe style portrait of The Hulk on my bedroom wall for me.
We were fans together.
And I grew up and I moved out and I forgot how I used to bond over these comic stories with my old man, as you do. Time and tide wash away so many good moments.
Fast forward umpty-umm years and I’m working for David Lloyd on Aces Weekly from Volume 4 (we are currently in the late 50s as I type this ~ so many good strips!). Volume 4 of Aces Weekly has a fun airplane strip written and drawn by Herb Trimpe!
Now, some of the strips we receive for Aces Weekly are ready to publish and I have little communication with the creators. Others might need some editing or lettering or in some cases help with reformatting work drawn with a different process in mind.
Herb’s strip, Firehawks, had started as a 12-page printed strip about the Bugatti 100P plane and a team of adventurers who fly it and he was reformatting it to work on our site…
It’s often tricky to revisit a completed project and restructure it ~ old habits die hard and new technology can seem like a hindrance as much as a help…
So I was put in touch with Herb Trimpe, creator of so many of my dreams, and worked with him on adapting and expanding his original comic.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably spotted that I enjoy a good digression and anecdote…
Looking at the distinctive Trimpe drawings on my screen brought back memories of those halcyon days reading his Hulk in the living room in Stevenage. And I was flooded with nostalgic feelings about my Dad and how much he’d encouraged my comics reading habit. With kids of my own now I can see that he probably enjoyed our shared subscription as much for the time it gave him with me as for the comic itself and it filled me with gratitude for Dad’s indulgences ~ and also for the way Herb’s work had given us a space to connect all those years ago.
I shared those memories (overshared them, no doubt) with Mr Trimpe and was delighted to find him a warm and friendly fellas who chatted back and forth while we worked on his strip.
While my enthusiasm for Herb’s work revolves around The Hulk (or Ka-Zar or Machine Man…), there is one superhero character that cemented his fame in wider comics circles: he drew the first appearance of Wolverine, a funny little side character who later became insanely popular.
A friend of mine had a copy of that comic, The Incredible Hulk 181 which he’d got Stan Lee to sign at a London comic convention the previous year (why I do not know… Mr Lee was not the writer of that issue, but my friend was getting anything he could signed). Herb agreed to sign that comic for him so I posted it off to him and when it came back I passed it on and forgot about it.
And then my friend passed on.
Well, all good collectors are familiar with The Pact ~ the agreement we strike with a trusted friend that whoever goes first will leave their goodies to the mate to sort and sell on behalf of their family. There are usually a few items that stay with the mate, and in this case I was gifted a small number of slabbed comics ~ including Hulk 181.
I broke the other comics out of their plastic coffins to read them, but as this comic was signed by my late pen pal I kept it as it was while I decided what to do with this ‘valuable’ collector’s item.
This was my first experience of slabbed comics and I can’t say I was a fan of the concept. It felt like a scam and one that would collapse in a year or two when everybody tried to sell their slabbed collections on and found there weren’t enough readers who cared about just owning a specific comic to sell to.*
I decided to do something with this slab… (see part 2)
*I genuinely thought that there were maybe 1000 fans in the world who wanted a Stan Lee autograph and he was signing so many that when he died there would be a rush to cash in and the glut of items available would reveal these comics to be worth no more than if they’d been unsigned. Little did I realise that there was a new breed of collector growing ~ one that traded comics like commodities without ever reading the bloomin’ things.