wally wood’s “heroes inc” and the fluctuating value of collectibles

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

IT WAS A COMIC BOOK CON­VEN­TION, fifty years ago. It was a hotel in New York—probably Phil Seul­ing’s Comic Art Convention—but it could have been in Bal­ti­more. There I paid top dollar for a copy of the first issue of Wally Wood’s ‘He­roes Inc’ and then ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand the fluc­tu­ating value of collectibles.

It was set-up day for sellers and my table was ready for the crowd due the next day. I searched the ball­room looking for one item. There were tens of thou­sands of comic books in that room, most of them old. But my goal was to find a comic book that I had never seen ex­cept as a thumb­nail il­lus­tra­tion in a fanzine article. 

That was the first issue of Wally Wood’s little-known He­roes, Inc. Present Cannon. Not only had I, a fan of Woody’s every pen­ciled or inked line, never seen a copy, but most col­lec­tors had never even heard of it. 

If there was a single copy in this room, I would find it and buy it.

Which I did! But finding it and buying it led to an en­counter with the fluc­tu­ating value of collectibles.

Now, let’s have a look at the first issue of He­roes Inc. Presents Cannon!

 

Fluctuating Value: front cover of the first issue of Wally Wood's "Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon" from 1969.
This is the front cover of the first issue of Wally Wood’s “He­roes, Inc. Presents Cannon” from 1969.

Wood sallies forth!

By 1969, Wally Wood had been a crit­i­cally ad­mired comic book artist for two decades, es­pe­cially for his work for EC Comics. This in­cluded the early is­sues of Mad, which in­tro­duced Wood’s satir­ical takes on movies to mil­lions of new readers when Mad went from its comic book format to a mag­a­zine format. 

Wood was also one of the most pop­ular artists in the busi­ness and, as a trend­setter, had pub­lished Witzend in 1966. Witzend was in­tended to be a pro­fes­sional fanzine [sic] that al­lowed Wood and other artists to pub­lish sto­ries and art that had no place in the stan­dard comic book of the time in the United States. 

Meaning it did not fit into the few genres still pub­lished by an in­dustry re­stricted by the Comics Code Au­thor­i­ty’s seal of ap­proval—such as ro­mance, western, war, funny an­i­mals, su­per­heroes, and Archie (which ex­isted in a world of its own).

I be­came a life­long fan of Wood’s work upon pur­chasing Dare­devil #4 in late 1964. I had been ex­posed to Wood in old comics that my brother and I bought at the Back-Date Book Store, which sold comic books with the covers ripped off for a nickel each or six for a quarter.

The first issue of He­roes, Inc. was pub­lished by Armed Forces Distributors—which may have been a pri­vate company—exclusively for sales to the US mil­i­tary. Wood was pop­ular with ser­vicemen as his action/comedy strip Sally Forth had been fea­tured in the US Army pub­li­ca­tion Mil­i­tary News in 1968. 

As He­roes, Inc. was not in­tended for gen­eral news­stand sales, it was not re­quired to carry the CCA’s ap­proval. In fact, the cover promised “Amazing Adult Ad­ven­ture” and the book fea­tured three sto­ries with orig­inal characters. 

 

Fluctuating Value: splash page for the Cannon story in the first issue of "Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon" from 1969.
This is the splash page for the Cannon story in the first issue of “He­roes, Inc. Presents Cannon” from 1969. The art was pen­ciled by Steve Ditko and inked by Wally Wood.

Cannon

The fea­tured story was about a se­cret agent named Cannon, who bore an un­mis­tak­able re­sem­blance to Doc Savage. Cannon was written and inked by Wood and drawn by Steve Ditko, the artist re­spon­sible for Spider-man and Dr. Strange and, along with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, one of the forgers of the fu­ture Marvel Comics empire.

 

Fluctuating Value: splash page for the Misfits story in the first issue of "Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon" from 1969.
This is the splash page for the Mis­fits story in the first issue of “He­roes, Inc. Presents Cannon” from 1969. The art was pen­ciled by Wally Wood and inked by Ralph Reese.

Misfits

The Mis­fits was written and pen­ciled by Wood and inked by his pro­tégé Ralph Reese. The story fol­lows a young ar­ti­fi­cial human with tele­pathic abil­i­ties (Mystra), an ex­trater­res­trial stranded on Earth (Shag), and a human in­fant mu­tated by sci­en­tists into a gray, sim­ple­minded giant (Glomb). It was a hu­morous take on sci­ence fic­tion and su­per­heroes and might re­mind some readers of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

 

Fluctuating Value: splash page for the Dragonella story in the first issue of "Heroes, Inc. Presents Cannon" from 1969.
This is the splash page for the Drag­onella story in the first issue of “He­roes, Inc. Presents Cannon” from 1969. The art was pen­ciled and inked by Wally Wood.

Dragonella

Drag­onella was scripted by Ron Whyte and Wood with art by Wood. It is classic Wood from this time in his ca­reer: a hu­morous, fairytale-like ad­ven­ture of a baby aban­doned in the woods raised into (buxom) young wom­an­hood by kindly dragons. Named Drag­onella, she even­tu­ally ven­tures forth seeking a prince to marry, ac­com­pa­nied by her dragon brother St. George.

 

Fluctuating Value: program book for the 1971 Comic Art Convention with cover art by Jim Steranko.
This is the pro­gram book for the 1971 Comic Art Con­ven­tion, held July 2-5 at the Statler Hilton in New York. Cover art by Jim Steranko.

Do you have a copy of Heroes Inc.?

So, let’s head back to the comic book con­ven­tion of fifty-some years ago: after set­ting up my table, I left my helper (my sis­ter’s then-boyfriend John Keenan) to watch my wares while I searched the huck­ster’s room. I started at the table to my left and asked each dealer the same ques­tion: “Do you have a copy of Wally Wood’s He­roes Inc. for sale?”

This was not as easy as it sounds: many dealers had also left their ta­bles to a helper who would point to some guy across the ball­room and tell me to go ask him. Even­tu­ally, a guy walked up to me and asked, “Are you the one looking for He­roes Inc.?”

Yes, I am!

“I have a mint copy at my table,” he told me. “Follow me.”

And sure enough, he had a minty copy of the one comic book I wanted in the whole place!

“How much?”

“Twenty-five.”

I gladly paid him, pro­fusely thanked him, and re­turned to my table. 

When the room was fi­nally closed for the day, John and I went looking for a Brew Burger to have dinner. We went back to our hotel room with a bottle of Kahlua and a quart of Half & Half (Som­breros being a with-it drink at the time) where I fi­nally got to kick back with a drink in one hand and my He­roes Inc. in the other.

I was in heaven (with a small ‘h’).

 

Fluctuating Value: program book for the 1972 Comic Art Convention with cover art by Jose Gonzalez.
This is the pro­gram book for the 1972 Comic Art Con­ven­tion, held July 2-5 at the Statler Hilton in New York. Cover art by Jose Gonzalez.

A special announcement

The next was Sat­urday, the biggest day of the three-day con. At one point, a spe­cial an­nounce­ment came over the public ad­dress system that the con’s or­ga­nizers were going to allow two young men, both former G.I.‘s, to do some­thing un­usual: they would be al­lowed to set up and sell their wares without a table. 

And what did they have that was so spe­cial that the normal rules were set aside?

Two thou­sand copies of He­roes Inc. Presents Cannon!

And how much were they selling them for?

Two dol­lars each.

 

Fluctuating Value: program book for the 1973 Comic Art Convention with cover art by Russell Myers.
This is the pro­gram book for the 1973 Comic Art Con­ven­tion, held July 4-8 at the Hotel Com­modore in New York. Cover art by Rus­sell Myers.

A collectible’s fluctuating value

Be­fore the final words of the an­nounce­ment were out of the speaker, the dealer who had sold me my copy of He­roes Inc. the day be­fore was at my table apol­o­gizing and of­fering me a refund.

I said, “I don’t want a refund.”

He asked why not.

I said, “Yes­terday, this was a $25 comic book and you had the only copy in this room. I gladly bought it from you. It was a good deal for me and made me one of the hap­piest people in this hotel! Was it a good deal for you?”

He ac­knowl­edged that he had told his wife that selling an odd title for top dollar without any hag­gling was a good omen—a good way to start the con.

I said, “So, today this is a $2 comic book but that has no ef­fect what­so­ever on yes­ter­day’s trans­ac­tion and how happy it made me, then and now. I am con­tent with my purchase.”

As Kurt Von­negut might have said if he had been there, ‘So it goes.’ ”

 

Fluctuating Value: box of 300 copies of "Heroes Inc. Presents Cannon" from 1969.

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is a box con­taining 300 copies of the first issue of Wally Wood’s He­roes, Inc. Presents Cannon from 1969. It was taken from a sale at the Her­itage Auc­tions web­site in Oc­tober 2005 that of­fered a rather large lot of this comic book. Here is their de­scrip­tion of that lot (slightly edited by me):

“Ini­tially in­tended to be sold in Army PX’s, the first issue of this title fea­tured ap­pear­ances of Cannon, the Mis­fits, and Drag­onella. Orig­i­nally some 1,800 copies were stored in a ware­house, and about half of them were stolen, seem­ingly making this a scarce issue to ac­quire in­deed. Some of the copies have sur­faced over the years, but pale by com­par­ison to the group we’re of­fering, which con­sists of ap­prox­i­mately 70,000 copies! 

Overall grade quality varies widely, but many of the copies packed in the center of each box com­prising this lot grade at least NM 9.4. Be­fore placing your bid, be aware of the bulk of this lot and the in­herent ship­ping ex­penses the win­ning bidder will incur.”

The win­ning bid for the lot of 70,000 copies was $5,462.50.

That’s 8¢ each.

Finally

I used the pro­grams from Phil Seul­ing’s Comic Art Con­ven­tions above be­cause I know I at­tended sev­eral of those over a pe­riod of sev­eral years. I also at­tended what was pur­ported to have been the first re­ally big comic con in Bal­ti­more and the first and only EC Fan Ad­dict Con­ven­tion, also in New York.

Fi­nally, cur­rent 2023 prices for near-mint copies of He­roes Inc. Presents Cannon on the in­ternet span a fairly wide range from as little as $7.50 to as much as $30—and that’s only the rea­son­ably priced ones. I also found ads with asking prices in the hun­dreds of dollars!

So it goes . . .

 

 

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