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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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’).
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.
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.’ ”
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.
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 . . .
Mystically liberal Virgo enjoys long walks alone in the city at night in the rain with an umbrella and a flask of 10-year-old Laphroaig who strives to live by the maxim, “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know that just ain’t so.
I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a college dropout (twice!). Occupationally, I have been a bartender, jewelry engraver, bouncer, landscape artist, and FEMA crew chief following the Great Flood of ’72 (and that was a job that I should never, ever have left).
I am also the final author of the original O’Sullivan Woodside price guides for record collectors and the original author of the Goldmine price guides for record collectors. As such, I was often referred to as the Price Guide Guru, and—as everyone should know—it behooves one to heed the words of a guru. (Unless, of course, you’re the Beatles.)