Michael Carbonaro – Making Comic Book Magic Through the Eyes of the Impresario of The Big Apple Con
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Making Comic Book Magic Through the Eyes of the Impresario of The Big Apple Con
by Brad Balfour
Boy, it's hard to keep track of comic book impresario Mike Carbonaro. Maybe he can sit still for a two-hour movie – or so – such as the 93-minute The Night At The Opera, a film as fast paced and crazy-quilt as Carbo himself. He's a Maven of media, especially that which involves superheroes and costumed characters. Now in his mid-60s, this NY-accented character may not be costumed but he is heroic, a rescuer of our pop culture. And he's profiting from it.
At least once, maybe twice a year, Carbo holds the Big Apple Comic Con in the New Yorker Hotel. On Saturday, December 17th, is Christmas Con, then a co-sponsored Trading Card Con on Sunday. And next year, there's the extended March 2023 edition.
If the New York Comic Con is like a glittery version of a Comic-Con, maybe the Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen of cons, then the Big Apple Comic Con is a punk rock equivalent – kind of like The New York Dolls versus The Rolling Stones. It's hard-core for real lovers of the books, their artists and fans. Oh, it has its share of media stars, panels, signings/photo booths and an artist alley but it's really for the basic collector.
A very active collector and buyer of comics, discs, and pop culture memorabilia, Carbo's comic book story began as a young boy who would use his toy dump truck to roll his comics into a treasure chest covered with Superman wallpaper. Over 40 years later, he's still rolling along and buying comics – only now it's in a white SUV, sometimes having woken up in the middle of the night to spend $20k on comics.
In the '70s, Carbo attended almost every comic book and collectible convention in the NYC area. He paid his way through private school and college with money made by dealing comic books. In the '80s he opened a comic book store in Forest Hills, Queens, NY, which he ran for more than a decade.
Then, ever restless in the 1990s, he launched a new venture – the Big Apple Convention. Over the years, he's run over 75 comic cons locally. Over the course of its history, the convention has been known as the Big Apple Convention, the Big Apple Comic Book, Art and Toy Show, and the Big Apple Comic Book, Art, Toy & Sci-Fi Expo. Larger three-day November shows were known as the National Comic Book, Art, Toy and Sci-Fi Expo and the National Comic Book, Comic Art, and Fantasy Convention. In 2014, the name "Big Apple Convention " was revived by Carbonaro for the March 2015 show. He's sold and then reacquired it. But whenever and wherever he did, Carbo was its ringmaster.
In 2000, the bushy-haired dynamo also kicked off a career as a Senior Buyer for Neat Stuff Collectibles. He spent millions of dollars buying comic books and collectibles during his tenure. Then, Carbonaro helped Dave & Adam's Card World build their comic books business. He's always gearing up to spend billions on every collectible imaginable – comic books, pulp, toys, and sports cards and artwork. Whatever you've got, Carbo will buy it!
In typical Carbo fashion, when we met up, he was in a whirlwind. "Get down here to the public library near the Lions. I'm coming from my accountants, meeting a long-time collector and then you. And I'll be off again."
Michael Carbonaro: This is the most beautiful spot — the Chrysler building right there — 42nd Street, Fifth Avenue, New York Library, and my friend, Arnie Sheinman. What are your memories of comics and the library? Michael Carbonaro: You know what? I actually want to build a comic book library. This is not it. But I do enjoy the 42nd Street Library when I'm here. But the reason I'm here is my accountant – who is also Arnie's accountant, at least for this year, and is across the street. I imagine your accountant has a lot of work to do. Michael Carbonaro: You mean when it comes to me? Well, yes, he's kept things honest and stable for the last 20 years. You're always running around with all that cash to buy comics. How do you keep track of it all? Michael Carbonaro: I don't know. The comics keep track of themselves. But Arnie and I were doing business way back, starting in the earliest days. But you were doing business before me, at the comics shows. We were just talking about this new movie, the Shazam! movie, the Black Adam, which is okay. But remember Captain Marvel? There was a time when the Captain Marvels were the X‑Men — when everyone wanted to have Captain Marvels, this whole period. But Marvel Family No. 1, which is now $1,000 to $20,000, nobody cared that much about Marvel Family No. 1 — 25 dollars, maybe 50 dollars, a hundred bucks, would have been a lot for that. Tons of those all the time. Anyhow, it's amazing what the movies will do for the awareness, value of a comic book. Do the movies make you more motivated about a particular comic book? Michael Carbonaro: Not personally, but from a fiduciary point of view, yes. It makes me want to buy more because everyone wants them, and the value goes up. Then it goes down, as the movie does well or worse, depending. So yeah, it motivates me a little bit to do it. So you weren't motivated by Black Adam? Michael Carbonaro: The comics themselves motivate me. And Black Adam didn't do it for you? Michael Carbonaro: It was okay. What can I say? How about the comic? Shazam No. 26? Michael Carbonaro: Shazam No. 26? That's another book from the 70s. You can buy it in the dollar bins all of a sudden, the dime bins. Now you're talking about the Golden Age ones? Michael Carbonaro: No, no, this is the 1970s appearance of Black Adam – the Shazam one. But then there's Marvel Family. Arnie Sheinman: So worthless. Michael Carbonaro: What about Marvel Family No. 1? Didn't that have something in it too? Arnie Sheinman: No, I'm talking about the Silver [Age] one. Michael Carbonaro: Right, right. That's what Shazam was – kind of silvery. Arnie Sheinman: That's the Marvel stories. Michael Carbonaro: Yeah, that's the one I'm talking about. The 1940s kept Marvel Family as well as the Shazam ones from the '70s. Did it ever confuse anybody about, there's Marvel’s Captain Marvel, there's a DC Captain Marvel and then there's Shazam, and then there's... Michael Carbonaro: Yeah. Well, that's the whole thing of a lawsuit with that. I think it's interesting. Marvel – I believe DC actually stopped, or paid off, Fawcett [Press] to stop printing Captain Marvel. Then, later on in the Seventies, Marvel bought the rights to it, or owned the rights somehow, and then created [their own Captain Marvel] and [DC’s version] became Captain Marvel themselves, calling it Shazam. Arnie Sheinman: They named Marvel "Captain Marvel." It was Captain Mar-VEL. Michael Carbonaro: Right, right. And then Marvel Comics created a Captain MAR-vel character in the '60s. So it was... Then it was [morphed] into a woman? Michael Carbonaro: I believe that's correct, right. Oh, I remember when I had my comics store, that was actually the first graphic novel that really did amazing [business]. We had to keep reordering it, the first printing and the second printing. I had my comic books store in the 1980s – I guess that's '83-'84, when "The Death of Captain Marvel" came out. That graphic was six bucks, and it was great. That's like selling six comic books. So I was making three dollars on every six‑dollar sale. I kept reordering that graphic novel and reordering it. And that's at the retail rate, right? Michael Carbonaro: Yeah. That was at my comic books store in Forest Hills – Continental Comics in the '80s. I had just moved back again to Forest Hills, and the guy whose house I moved into and I invested a little, and I'm paying him rent – is one of the kids that used to buy comic books from me in the 1980s. In a $2.2 million house in the Forest Hills Gardens. So you're in Forest Hills now? Michael Carbonaro: I'm back.
Is there a difference between the Queens comic book fan versus the Manhattan comic book fan? Michael Carbonaro: Absolutely not. Everyone likes comic books, it's all equal. We all love them the same. It doesn't matter where you live or where you are. Comic books are equal. Now some people are a little more crazy about the way they love their comics and how they love their comics, but nevertheless we are all equal lovers of comic books. Whether we buy them, sell them, or whatever, right? Now that you're back living in Queens, have you ever thought to set up your house in such a way that it becomes a comic book haven? Michael Carbonaro: Oh no, no, no, I already have a warehouse, and a basement. Actually the reason I bought it is because of the whole garage and basement of the house, I am turning into a business and an office and all that. And for my Big Apple Comic Book Convention, which is coming up this month. And Christmas.
BACC is not a corporate show – it's a collectors show. It's not 100,000 people, it's 10,000 people. But we bring celebrities, we bring artists; if you come to the show, you can move around and breathe easily, you can get to see everybody; you can do your comic book business, and that's what I like about it. It's a fun experience. It's real social media with other collectors. That's the thing, you walk into a comic book convention, or you collect comic books, regardless of race, color, creed, anything, you have that common interest. That's something I learned as a kid buying and selling comics, the melting pot of comic books has been a very positive experience for me in my life.
So Arnie, you told a few stories of me in the past, and one of these is amusing. I would like to negotiate when I buy something, and you mentioned that I negotiated with you and I left the difference on the floor when we did it? Arnie Sheinman: A little kid used to come over and pay me in change, and he left more change on the table than he spent. Did he have any valuable change? Arnie Sheinman: No, just nickels and dimes. But to an 11-year-old... Michael Carbonaro: But buying comic books back then was pretty cool. Then you were an 11-year-old... Michael Carbonaro: No, I was 12 or 13. This is 1970. So you're 12 or 13. Why is it comics and not something else you collect? Although you do collect a lot of other things, do you? Michael Carbonaro: No, comics were it. Because I liked collecting comics when I was a kid, I enjoyed it, and comics were – it was something easy to figure out. I liked the numbering system. I liked buying them. I liked seeing them. I liked that Marvel Comics were exciting.
The comic book business is a 24-hour business and when the comics come out, people want to sell them when they want to sell them. And I've had guys I've known since I was 12 years old. So all of these years I've been collecting, and I've had guys I've known all their lives, guys 45 years old, "I'll never sell, I'll never sell." All of a sudden, in the middle of the night they'll call me and go, "Okay. I'm ready to sell." And if I don't answer that bell that day, they'll find someone else to buy it. That's the cool thing about the comic business, it's very liquid. If you need money, you want to sell something right away, you don't have to deal through any brokers. You have to be ready to go. For me, the middle of the night and doing the deal is my life. It was the best dream I could have had, and it came true. Coins and stamps were dull. My dad collected coins and stamps. He taught me how to collect things, and I liked postcards as well. I collected postcards – Coney Island. I won first prize for my Coney Island collection. That was pretty cool. But Coney Island is, you know, the old Luna Park and Dreamland, and all that, that's all gone now. Did you go out to Coney Island? Michael Carbonaro: Yeah, I used to make my mom take me. But it wasn't the same in the '60s. How was the Mermaid Parade for you? Michael Carbonaro: Didn't get to that one. That was way back. This was the '70s. But I'm flying out to buy a comic book collection in Florida next week, and I'm probably not even going to see Disney [World]. For me, the comic book collection is Disneyland. New York City has been my home. I've fallen off the roof at Studio 54 [and] I had a comic book store in Jackson Heights. I like the fact that I run the Big Apple Comic Con in New York City. It makes me feel good that I'm a part of New York and I've done something fun here.
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