Sporadic Sequential
Friday, March 27, 2009
Feeling Frugal: Don't Let The Perfect Be The Enemy of The Good Bargain

Here's another shopping tip if you're looking for great bargains on graphic novels: Buy used or worn copies. Sounds obvious, but it requires a mindset that's OK with imperfection, something comic fans traditionally have a hard time with. ("What do you mean it's not in mint condition???") It also requires even more patience than regular tradewaiting, as you now have to wait for books to show up used somewhere.

One of my favorite places to find not-quite-new bargains is TFAW's Nick & Dent section, which I've written about several times before. I've found some great deals there, and the prices are always at least half-off. And even though TFAW describes their nick-and-dent books as being in "less-than-mint-condition" all the items I've ordered have been virtually indistinguishable from new books. TFAW is also great about offering coupons to cover shipping costs every month. Check out DealTaker for the most current coupon codes.

For the truly adventurous among you, TFAW has also recently added graphic novel "grab bags" to compliment their comic book grab bags. For three bucks apiece, you can get random volumes of Dark Horse manga, Dark Horse graphic novels, or Marvel graphic novels. You're gambling that you'll get something good, but no matter what you end up with, you'll only be out the cost of a single floppy pamphlet periodical comic.

One of my other first stops when looking for cheap graphic novels is Google Product Search (hereafter abbreviated 'GPS'). GPS does a good job of aggregating a variety of sites that are selling the item you're looking for, including aftermarket resellers such as Alibris and A1Books. When buying from used book sites, it's important to keep in mind that those sites generally aren't selling you the books directly; they're connecting you with other sellers who have the items you're looking for. So it's important to look at the seller's rating before buying from them. The lowest price won't mean much if they never ship the item to you or if it arrives in much worse condition than you expected.

One reseller that I've ended up buying from several times is B-Logistics. The name sounds like a site specializing in speakers and other electronics, but it's actually a clearinghouse for libraries and other organizations. All of the books I've purchased from them have been library copies and at first they looked pretty beat up, but once I removed the protective coverings taped over the covers, the books have all been in great shape. My most recent bargain through B-Logistics was the first volume of Heartbroken Angels, something that was recommended to me as an offbeat humor manga in a vein similar to Short Cuts. The book is still available new through several sites for the full price of $15.95, but I got it for 99 cents plus $2.99 shipping, making the total cost a very reasonable $3.98. (A GPS search this afternoon revealed that B-Logistics is offering the book through A1Books for $0.89, but shipping is $3.95, bumping the total cost up to $4.84. I couldn't find the book searching directly on B-Logistics' own site.)

One limitation of GPS is that it doesn't show the prices from affiliated resellers on Amazon Marketplace or Barnes & Noble's authorized sellers, so it's a good idea to check those sites out as well to see what their prices are. Keep in mind that shipping costs for used books can be higher due to the per-item charges.

So how about you? Any other favorite sites to track down used book bargains? (I just realized I didn't mention eBay, which is because the times I've bothered to look there I haven't found any good deals and I don't want to deal with the hassles of auctions. Have others had better luck finding deals there?)

* image nicked from this thread where posters discuss their most beat-up comics

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Hanamichi SMASH!!!

I was re-reading Slam Dunk volumes two through four when it suddenly struck me: Hanamichi is a lot like the Hulk in several respects. In general, both have explosive tempers and get stronger the madder they get, but here are some other similarities that struck me:

Both have the superhuman ability to leap great heights.

The Hulk is able to control his leaps to travel great distances.

Hanamichi has difficulty controlling his leaps, frequently crashing into backboards, teammates, or opponents.

Both characters are fond of boasting about their prowess.

For the Hulk, it's always about how he's "the strongest one there is!"

For Hanamichi, he's always bragging about being "a natural" at basketball.

Both give others nicknames based on defining attributes.

The Hulk referred to Dr. Strange as "Magician" and Nighthawk as "Bird-Nose."

Hanamichi's nicknames include "Judo-Man," "Monkey Boss," and "Four Eyes."

Both join teams even though they're not really team players, and their presence on the team is maintained through subtle subterfuge.

The Hulk was a member of the "non-team" team The Defenders for several years, but he frequently fought with teammates and abruptly quit the team when upset.

Hanamichi joins the basketball team even though he hates sports, and he frequently clashes with teammates. He has threatened to quit several times and often must be flattered in order to remain.

For both, Beauty tames the Beast.

The Hulk always calmed down for Betty Ross.

Hanamichi's mood does a complete 180 whenever Haruko is around.

Both shred their clothes whenever they "Hulk out."

'Nuff said.

I could go on (for example, what is it about both Hanamichi and the Hulk that attracts adoring adolescent boys willing to overlook their every flaw in order to idolize their strength and arrogance?), but I'll leave it to others to draw additional parallels between the two brawny brutes. And of course, there are important differences, too. For example, the Hulk is primarily associated with the color green ("Jade Jaws," "Greenskin," etc.) while Hanamichi is identified with his striking red hair. Wait a second... you don't think Hanamichi could be this guy, do you?

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Please Please PLEASE Don't Send Any Cease-and-Desist Letters Over This, Marvel

This is a great story on so many levels: Thai 'Spider-Man' to the rescue

I especially like the fact that the fireman just happened to keep a Spider-Man costume in his locker. Does that mean I don't have to feel ashamed of the Soul Reaper outfit I keep in my drawer at work to liven up boring project meetings anymore?

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Friday, March 20, 2009
Feeling Frugal: The 99-Cent Tokyopop Store

Lori Henderson has spotted a great sale on Tokyopop manga over at BookCloseouts: Each book is only 99 cents! I haven't read a whole lot of Tokyopop manga so I'm not sure if there's much that's worthwhile, but I here are some of their books that I've enjoyed:
The sale ends March 26th, so hurry on over. I don't see any shipping offers at the moment, so those costs might eat into your savings. I added five books to my cart and the charge for standard shipping was only $3.25, which doesn't seem too bad.

* As I was writing this, volume 13 vanished from the list, so it looks like their warning that "inventory is limited" is accurate. I didn't notice at first that the detail page for each book lists the quantity remaining. As of this writing, there are only three copies of Sgt. Frog volume 11 left, for example.

UPDATE: I wasn't able to find any shipping coupons for BookCloseouts, but here's a code good for $5 off orders $35+ if you're really planning on stocking up on three dozen or more Tokyopop manga.
Coupon Code: BookSale-5
password: bookcloseouts.com
There's also a sale on gardening books and today is the first day of Spring, so maybe that could help you fill out your order.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Feeling Frugal: Buying Comics on the Cheap

One of my favorite sites for buying new graphic novels is Tower.com. Their prices on comics always seem to be a little bit lower than other sites. For example, here are the prices for several books I'm tracking:

Book List Price Tower Price Amazon Buy.com
A Drifting Life $29.95 $18.86 $19.77 $18.63
The Photographer $29.95 $14.99 $19.77 $18.63
Emma 8 $9.99 $7.99 $9.99 $9.00
Kekkaishi 15 $9.99 $7.99 $9.99 $9.00
Flower of Life 4 $12.95 $8.99 $10.36 $12.38*
Total for all 5 $92.83 $58.82 $69.88 $67.64
Total savings
$34.01 $22.95 $25.19
% savings off list
37% 25% 27%
* Flower of Life 4 wasn't listed at the time of this writing, so I used the price for vol. 1.

As you can see, buying the books from Tower represents a significant savings not only off cover price but also from other sites. OK, time to place an order on Tower for these books, right? NOT SO FAST!! Even though the prices are low, they could be lower. In my experience, Tower's prices frequently fluctuate and every now and then the prices can get close to half-off. So now I wait for the prices to hit at least 40% off before I buy them.

But how do I know when the prices reach my desired threshold? In the past I would check periodically on my own, but now I use the site Shopping Notes to track price changes for me automatically. The site allows you to save lists of items you want to watch and then sends you alerts whenever the price changes for a product (or drops below a certain threshold price if you prefer). There's also a bookmarklet feature that allows you to install a bookmark that you can then click when you're on a product page at a site like Tower or Amazon to save the product to your watch list.

Using the site definitely helps me catch sales that I might otherwise miss. For example, a couple days ago I set up a monitor for CMX's Fire Investigator Nanase (after Katherine Dacey reminded me it was out and renewed my interest by describing it as "ridiculously entertaining" and "a glorious mash-up of Firefighter Daigo of Company M, Silence of the Lambs, and Quincy, MD"). Yesterday I received an alert that its price had dropped to $5.79 (42% off), so I placed an order for it along with several other books whose prices had just dropped (20th Century Boys 1, Real 3, Parasyte 6). Today I received an alert that the price for Fire Investigator Nanase 1 had jumped back up to $7.99. If not for the alert, I probably would have missed that short-lived sale.

A couple caveats about using Tower:
  1. Shipping is free for orders $25 and over, so make sure to buy enough to qualify for that.

  2. The free shipping is pretty slow. For a couple of my last orders, items took even longer than the upper limit of "15 business days" to arrive after they'd shipped.

  3. It looks like Tower no longer ships items individually as they become available, or at least that's what the change in language in their email notifications leads me to believe. The emails used to say "Your item, [item name], has just shipped from our distribution center and is on its way to you RIGHT NOW!" but now the phrasing is "Your item, [item name], has just processed in our distribution center. If you qualify for free standard shipping please note that your order may take an additional 5-7 business days to ship after all items in the order are processed." So I take it that an order won't ship until all items in your order are ready to ship, which could hold up an order containing pre-orders. So plan your orders accordingly. (I understand the reasons for doing this — why should Tower pay to ship items individually, especially when I don't know of any other sites to do that — but it does remove one of the big reasons why I used to love Tower.com so much.)
Related thoughts:

The changes in my shopping techniques have led to changes in my reading habits. I used to be more obsessive about tracking when certain books were coming out, grouping books with close release dates together and ordering them when I had enough to qualify for free shipping. Now that I'm setting up monitors to track price drops, my main qualification for buying a book is how much I'm saving, not when it comes it out. This results in my falling behind on certain series, such as Kekkaishi, which has two volumes out that I'm still waiting to buy once the prices go down. It also means that I can forget about books I was once interested in if I fail to monitor it, as I almost did with Fire Investigator Nanase.

As Augie De Blieck, Jr. wrote in his infamous column last week, training yourself to delay gratification can lead to interesting results. Augie was talking mainly about weaning yourself from weekly Wednesday visits to the comic shop (a step in my comic-reading habits I remember all too well), but his point applies to other forms of delayed gratification as well. When I was more concerned about buying books as they came out, I would often fill orders with interesting but inessential items to reach the free shipping limit. Now that I'm putting off my purchases longer, I often pass over items that originally caught my interest but that now seem less like something I absolutely have to own. (For books like this, I usually end up checking them out through the library if they're available.)

To be fair, other factors are probably helping my resolve besides sheer willpower: A general unease about the state of the economy; a lack of time due to kids and a recent attempt to exercise more regularly; a quasi-resolution to avoid (or at least reduce) new book purchases until I make more headway in my unread stack. All of these undoubtedly contribute to my glacial pace in acquiring new comics.

I'm glad that the comics I'm interested in were never serialized in another format (at least not within the U.S.) so I don't have to bother with attempts to make me feel guilty for not supporting the current method of subsidizing the cost of collected editions.

I have nothing against local comic shops. It's just that my overriding concern in deciding where to purchase my comics is getting the best possible price. I don't care about getting it quickly, being able to browse it before I buy it, or interacting with other like-minded customers face-to-face. But obviously if any of those factors matter to you, buying online won't be as attractive for you as it is for me.

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Monday, March 16, 2009
And People Thought L-Ron Was A Goofy Character

I would pay good money for an annual containing nothing but scenes of Hitler getting hit by heavy machinery driven by superheroes.

Idea and hilarious cover by Alice Hunt and Tracy Williams, creators of the webcomic Goodbye Chains. Add this to the growing list of fan concepts I'd rather read than the actual comics DC and Marvel publish. (Maybe DC could put out an anthology based on reader pitches, kind of like a more grassroots version of Bizarro Comics or Marvel's upcoming "Indie Project.")

Related: A pinup from Hunt and Williams of Guy Gardner and Ice enjoying a quiet stroll together.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009
Marvel Comics Proudly Presents...

...Greg Land's Pride and Prejudice:

Seriously, Marvel, WTF? I was thinking of maybe picking this up for my wife, a huge Jane Austen fan, once it was collected, but there's no way she'd be able to read this without laughing her ass off about the bad casting.

Sigh. The world is such an unfair place. We get Marvel's collagen-lipped version of Pride and Prejudice but we'll probably never see Tintin Pantoja's manga adaptation since it was canned by Tokyopop.

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Friday, March 13, 2009
It Took So Long Because Every Time It Was Delayed, They Had Update The References To Include The New Volumes That Had Since Come Out

According to letterer Susie Lee, Oh My Goddess! Colors will finally hit stores May 13th. Apparently the advance copies have already arrived in the Dark Horse offices and they're being printed and shipped from China.

Given the nearly four year delay this book has faced so far, I don't find Susie's list of potential problems that could still derail this book that far-fetched. (It's already been delayed since its last solicitation, which had the book coming out in March.)

At this point I don't have much interest in picking up the book, although it's something I could see myself ordering in the future if it shows up half-off in TFAW's Nick & Dent section.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009
What's Black and White and Red All Over?

Here's an upcoming comic reprint I'm interested in: In his latest email newsletter, Steve Rude announced that he's launching an inexpensive, black-and-white version of the Nexus Archives. Here's the full text from the email:

You guys have been requesting it for a long time and we're finally bringing the Nexus Archives out as a black and white paperback! Size will be just slightly smaller than a comic book on an excellent quality paper. The main cover is black and white, but the logo, etc, will be in color.

Overall a fantastic package at only $9.95.

In Previews April 2009 for a June 2009 release.
I can't find the announcement on Rude's website or MySpace blog and I don't see the book listed on Amazon or any other site, so hopefully this does come to pass. I think it's a great idea. I've been wanting to back and reread the whole Nexus series but I'm too lazy to dig out my singles and too cheap to spring for the hardcover books. Plus, I'm curious to see what Rude's artwork looks like in black and white. IIRC, the orginal series from Capital Comics was in black and white and that looked fine, but later issues were designed to be printed in color, so it'll be interesting to see what they look like reproduced without that detail removed.

Interesting use of the ten dollar "manga format." I'm assuming this will be the same page count as the color archives (roughly 200 pages a pop), which would make it a good bargain. Wonder if this will be coming out through Dark Horse or through Rude's own "Rude Dude" publishing company?

Also, I just realized that Nexus is a comic I'd be curious to see translated into a movie. Done right, it could be a rip-roarin' sci-fi blast. Of course, I doubt Hollywood would get it right and I'd just sit there complaining about how they didn't capture any of the magic or joy of Rude's imagination or character design.

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