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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cerebus 1, the Counterfeit

When I first started the blog, someone offered me the opportunity to write a weekly or biweekly column in some electronic publication about the history of FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order house/publisher/convention operator where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988 (actually longer, but that's another story). I believed I could, because I had come across some old diaries that covered the period. But it proved to be harder than I thought. I still want to do it someday, but at least I want to address one of his specific questions from a year and a half ago, which was, how much did we pay for those counterfeit Cerebus #1s we sold?

For those of you not in the know, Cerebus the Aardvark was a black-and-white comic book by Dave Sim. Interestingly, when Dave Sim and his then-wife Deni came to FantaCon as guests on Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20, 1981, we didn't even carry Cerebus because our distributor, Phil Seuling's Seagate Distribution, didn't/couldn't carry Cerebus; I don't know why. But this was a problem when Deni, who I didn't know by sight, came to the FantaCo table on Saturday and demanded to know why we didn't have any Cerebus. I told her we'd try to get some from somewhere. On Sunday, and this is a direct quote from my journal, "Deni Sim harassed the people at my [FantaCo's] table re: not having Cerebus there, as tho' the conversation I had w/ her had not taken place. Tom [Skulan, owner of FantaCo] later got her a ride to the airport, rightly fearing that she'd otherwise make a scene..."

Anyway, we subsequently started carrying Cerebus in the store. Then on Friday, April 23, 1982, Tom bought 54 VF/NM (very fine to near mint) copies of what was purported to be Cerebus #1 from a guy allegedly from Binghamton, my hometown, for $770, $700 from money Tom borrowed from Steve at our neighboring business, World's Records, and $70 from the drawer. That's about $14.25 each; I don't know what a real Cerebus 1 was going for at the time, but I expect it was at least thrice that. I bought one copy for my girlfriend at the time, who was a fan of the book - I never was, for some reason.

On Sunday, Mitch Cohn from FantaCo called me. The Cerebus 1s we got were apparently counterfeit, since the ones Sparkle City had gotten that weekend were deemed so by an underground comics expert.

Monday, Tom, Mitch and I made a number of calls to comic distributors, the South Jersey FBI [I don't remember why them in particular], and the Comics Journal. We bought our 54, Sparkle City 62, Longhorn Distribution 10, hundreds in the Bay Area, and who knows how many more, all between Friday and Sunday? Jay from Sparkle City believed the culprits were from a syndicate from Detroit. They were selling to Pacific Comics on this day, and somebody got the license plate numbers.

Wednesday, we believed we would be able to get our money back. Here are notes right from the journal: "the guy who sold them [to us] (who says he got 'em from Big Rapids) didn't know they were frauds. Somehow, Silver Snail has something to do with this as well as one of Glenwood's employees." (Those companies were comic stores and/or distributors.)

Now that's the last journal mention of the incident. In all likelihood, we discovered we wouldn't get our money back - I have a vague recollection that the FBI wasn't all that concerned over phony funny books - and we decided to sell the counterfeit Cerebus #1s as counterfeits for $20 or $25. I seem to recall that we eventually sold out of them.

Recently, I came across this discussion over the ethics of selling a counterfeit comic. Sure, we had over $700 invested in the product, but I never had any moral discomfort about selling them since we were very clear that they were fakes. Anyway, here's a piece that describes how to tell the real one from the fake. ADD, that's pretty much all I know on this topic.

Oh, not coincidentally, today is Dave Sim's 51st birthday.

EDIT: Since the above link to the article that describes the difference between the real one and the fake one has occasionally overloaded that website from time to time, I have appropriated the piece and copied it here.
And now I see Cerebus has purchased Chrysler. No, wait, that's Cerberus. Never mind.



ADD said...

Thanks for posting this, Roger. It remains one of the most fascinating stories in comics history, and I appreciate you sharing your memories of that time!

Roger Green said...

well, the link comparing the real and fake Cerebus WAS working. But there are discussions out there:

Roger Green said...

This, BTW, is the message I've received about 50% of the time trying to access that article delineating the real mag from the faux:

Sorry, this GeoCities site is currently unavailable.
The GeoCities web site you were trying to view has temporarily exceeded its data transfer limit. Please try again later.

dlp said...

I inherited a lot of Cerebus (and why is the plural NOT Cerebi??) and recently tried to auction a genuine #1 along with a bonus counterfeit, clearly identified, at no additional charge. My guy, who died 8 years ago today, bought some of each in the late '70s... one unknowingly for $168, the rest as curiosities. He was a completist collector.

I was almost instantly ALERTED! by eBay that I had done a terrible, terrible thing. I cannot sleep nights now. I'm not so afraid of eBay coming to get me as I removed the bogus book... but will I go to Sim/Gerhard hell now? And what do I do with four fakes?

Thank you,

Yr Mst Hmbl & Obdt Svt,


HemlockMan said...


I was always surprised that more b&w "hot" comics weren't counterfeited.

I recall one time a certain publisher (I describe the guy as a comic book artist who became a pimp) called me at my shop wanting me to sell a comic he did with, I think, the guy who created a certain "bad girl" character. He was reprinting the hell out of them and wanted me to sell them as first prints, but didn't want the other creator to find out about it.

Somehow, miraculously, the guy who created the other character did find out and put a sudden stop to the counterfeiting.