Leroy Harper is a local comic book collector and expert who has turned his hobby into a business. In the spring and summer he travels around a lot sharing his collection with others - that's why he likes winter when he travels much less. Along with comics he collects antique toys. iMeet this former USEC employee who has created his dream job.
Welcome to iMeet, Leroy. Tell us about yourself...
This year I’m 56 years old. I went to Clinton elementary, middle and high school and graduated in 1979. Now I live in Paducah. After high school I went to a two-year electronic school here in town, the Institute of Electronic Technology, and got an associate’s degree in electronics.
We hear you’re a proud grandpa...
I have been married for 37 years to Elizabeth Harper and together we have three children - Sara Mansfield, Adam Harper and Ethan Harper. I have three grandchildren - Katherine Mansfield who is 6, Julia Mansfield, 2 yrs and Cooper Harper who is 3 years old. Luckily for me, all three grandkids live in Paducah. Sara is a physical therapist assistant, Ethan is a plumber and Adam is a tattoo artist - he lives in San Diego.
Tell us about your business, Leroy Harper Comics...
I have a few different ways to sell comics…I sell on eBay as Lhcomics. I also sell at comic cons in Chicago, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland. I also have a couple of booths with about 4,000 comics at the Paducah Antique Mall. They arent too expensive. They range in value from $2-$40. You can visit my booth full of vintage toys and comics at Paducah Antique Mall located at 407 Broadway in downtown Paducah.
If I have really rare, obscure or valuable comics they will usually be sold on eBay or an auction house that specializes in comics. Comic Link, Heritage Auctions and ComicConnect are three great options for high end comic auctions. Sometimes I’ll bring these expensive comics to the comic cons.
When and why did you start collecting comic books?
I started reading Richie Rich comics in late 1960’s when I was nine years old. As a kid they were very simple stories lasting about three pages, so you would get five or six stories in each comic. Around 1973 my cousin introduced me to his chest full of Marvel Superhero comics from the 1960s. WOW! I was hooked! I would use my dollar allowance to buy comics - back them you could maybe get three or four for a buck.
Hulk was my favorite then Spider-man, Daredevil, Silver Surfer, Avengers, X-men etc.The only DC comic I would read was Batman but he quickly became my favorite.
When I went to Electronics school I used to buy new editions at Readmore Books. A friend told me that my comics were worth some money - I had no idea! I hadn’t really thought about it. They were worth five or ten bucks a piece, and I’d paid a quarter!
When did you start selling them?
After getting my associates I moved to California. By 1984 I had assembled a big collection so I decided to sell some of them - i mean, I had a bunch. I used the name Leroy Harper Comics. From 1984 until 2014 it was just a part time things - dealing in comics. I did start selling at Paducah Antique Mall in 2011 and quickly found a customer base hungry for old superhero comics at great prices. I mainly deal in older comics from 1940 to 1980.
I hear you have Paducah's largest collection of vintage comic books. Tell us about some of the ones that you are proudest of...
Well my personal collection consists of less than 100 comics. I have in my inventory that I need to process for sale in excess of 40,000 comics. Two of my favorite comics are Captain America #1 from 1941 and Batman #1 from 1940.
There is a massive collectibles market for rare books, but only maybe 800 are at the top of the list that people are looking for. Im interested in Amazing Fantasy #15 - that's where everyone got to meet Spiderman. I own the first Batman and Iron Man comics as well the early Detective Comics where Batman saw his debut.Those are precious.
Are there any comic books that you'd like to get your hands on and why?
Yes, Detective Comics #27 1st Batman and Action Comics #1 1st Superman. Honestly, they’ve become an investment for my retirement. I like to think I am a steward of comic books.I think about the first child who walked into a drug store to buy the latest escape into fantasy.
As this was a part time job art first, did you have another job?
I have been a full time comic book dealer for the last four plus years. Before that I worked at USEC in Paducah for 17 years until they closed in 2014. USEC was in charge of running the uranium enrichment process at the Paducah site. I was an Instrument Maintenance Planner. S,o from 1984 to 2014 I was part time with comics.
We read that you are one of the nation's comic book and antique toy experts...what makes you an expert?
I feel I’m quite knowledgeable in the comic field since I have been at it so long. As for toys I know a little and I’m still learning. I wouldn't call myself a toy expert but I know enough to identify valuable toys versus yard sale items.
We also know that you have a antique toy collection. Tell us about that...
I have some cool and old 1950’s Japanese robots, 1930’s – 1950’s tin windup toys, Disney toys, Batman toys, lunchboxes and numerous other toys. Probably 95 percent of my toys are from 1970’s and older.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to play with my grandkids, watch St Louis Cardinals baseball as well as follow UK basketball and football.
What's your favorite season and why...
Winter time. I hate the heat and I travel much less in winter so I get to stay home more. That’s a great time to spend with my grandkids.
What advice would you give a beginning comic book collector?
Collect what you love and be careful - don’t fall for what’s hot today because of some movie announcement.
You attend events such as Comic Con? What's one of your favorite experiences you've ever had at a convention?
From 1984-1991 I worked for Baker Hughes Oil Services in Bakersfield, California servicing automation equipment. Back in 1989, and again in 1990, I setup at San Diego Comic Con selling as a dealer. That was a great time.
Since my son Adam now lives in San Diego I have had the opportunity to attend the SDCC with him as attendees. We have gone each year for the past seven years. It’s a great experience - we just geek out!. I love attending the convention, especially with my son.