Well, it’s 2021, and things are supposed to be back getting back to normal, correct? Not so much. But I did set up at a comic book/toy/video game convention recently, which was a nice step in that direction.
As everyone knows, trade shows and other large gatherings are few and far between these days, thanks to a certain pandemic that shall remain nameless. In fact, prior to the Retropalooza Swap Meet, which occurred Jan. 30 in Arlington, Texas (home of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers), I hadn’t been a vendor at a show since RetroFest, which was held in Fort Worth in March of 2020, just as the virus started gaining traction and taking over conversations and newscasts.
In the weeks following RetroFest, which now seems like a lifetime ago, cities and businesses began shutting down across the country, and conventions that hadn’t already announced that they were cancelling or postponing their shows began doing so en masse. I grieved over the loss of some of the bigger in-state events that I typically attend each year, such as Fan Expo Dallas, Classic Game Fest, and the Texas Pinball Festival.
Even worse, I was set to appear as a guest author at a number of major out-of-state events, including the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, the Long Island Retro Gaming Expo, and the Midwest Gaming Classic (in Milwaukee). I love to travel, and these types of shows let me do so for free. In fact, I usually come out way ahead financially, thanks to book sales. Not only did I miss the financial, promotional, and entertainment opportunities these shows offered, I missed the heck out of seeing my geeky and geek-adjacent friends, many of whom I only meet up with once per year.
As the Retropalooza Swap Meet drew near, I reserved one of the last booths, despite some reservations (so to speak). I had attended a couple of small shows last year—a record convention and a mini comic-con—but only as a fan, not as an exhibitor, where I would be trapped all day with a crowd of people. My reservations were two-fold; would anyone show up, and, if they did, would I be able to safely conduct business?
Like a lot of people, I confess that I’m getting Covid-fatigue (oops, I mentioned the virus by name), so I suppose I’m willing to take more risks than before, just to preserve my sanity. Also, as with most other people, the pandemic has been hard on my wallet, so I figured the money wouldn’t hurt. A 10x10 booth at the swap meet was just $65, and the show, both in its larger Retropalooza form and its smaller Swap Meet iteration, has a history of solid turnouts, so I took a gamble and got a double booth with a good friend who I first met at a convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in the mid-2000s. That way, if the show got slow we could talk instead of being bored, and we could cover each other’s restroom and walkaround breaks.
Every time I do a show, no matter how well-attended, I get a little nervous if I haven’t sold anything within the first hour or so, which is ridiculous since a lot of people are just in browsing mode at this point. The first hour did indeed see few sales at my booth, but by conventions’ end I had sold plenty of stuff to make it worthwhile, and I did have a lot of fun. Better yet, I felt safe. Tables were spaced out according to social distance guidelines, everyone was masked up (only a handful of customers wore them below their noses), and hand sanitizer and other protocols were in place.
I was at the show to make money not spend it, but of course I did find some things I couldn’t live without, thanks to a complicated math equation regarding cool factor/price ratio (something I just now made up) of said items.
I love digging through bargain boxes, especially under tables where a lot of people don’t bother to look, and in just such a box I found a copy of The Official Marvel Comics Try-Out Book (1983), a massive volume that, back in the day, fans could use as a tool for becoming a creative talent for Marvel Comics. The brainchild of editor Jim Shooter, the book has a gorgeous cover by definitive Spidey artist John Romita Jr. (with inks by Al Milgrom) and is broken into sections on coloring, inking, lettering, scripting, penciling, and plotting. It is printed on large, heavy paper like real artists use, with plenty of blue-line pages for inking, coloring, etc. I paid just $5 for this cool book, which regularly sells on eBay for $20 to $35.
I traded for an excellent Super Nintendo game I needed for my collection called Mystical Ninja, and I paid just $50 for a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures for the Nintendo GameCube. I say “just $50” because it’s factory sealed, and if you’ve been paying close attention to Heritage Auction prices of late, you know that older factory sealed Nintendo games featuring desired properties like Zelda, Mario, and the like are going for big bucks these days. It’s a beautiful piece that I may just put on my shelf for awhile before deciding whether I should open it (horror!), sell it, or simply keep it on display. It is the “Player’s Choice” (later printing) edition of the game, which goes for around $150 to $200 on eBay. (The earlier printing without the “Player’s Choice” text at the top of the cover typically sells for $230 to $300.)
All in all, the Retropalooza Swap Meet was a big success. I made some money, hung out with friends, found some cool stuff, gained some new readers (and subscribers to my YouTube channel), and, most importantly, lived to tell about it. Not a bad day, all things considered!