This interview series is with the founder of a great new product in the comic book collecting hobby - Gator Guard! If you ever wanted something a little nicer and stronger than a top loader, this is your answer. They also have UV protection built into the case as well. Victor Otero was even nice enough to send me a complimentary guard in advance of the interview too. He lets us know about how he came up with Gator Guard and also what's planned for the future of the brand.What got you into comics?
- I have been collecting comics on and off since I was a kid (13 or 14 years of age). My dad was in the Navy and we lived on a military base in Oakland, CA, and our small px/exchange had a comic book stand that was full of comics. So I would pick up a few here and there every month. Mostly GI JOE and Spiderman. That was back in the mid-80s. I stopped for a long time, and then picked it up again in college when IMAGE started making waves in the industry. The art, and the glossy paper were very attractive and there was a frenzy to get those books.
- You know, I don’t know if I have a favorite childhood memory when it comes to comics. I enjoyed reading the GI Joe comics and then re-enacting those with the toys I had. But most of my memories come as an adult. In Houston I had a chance to attend my first comic con, and the guest speaker was Eastman from TMNT and that was really cool. Watching collectors get their books signed and seeing so many new titles on publishing companies.. it was overwhelming but really cool! So this was during the time that New 52 came out and I was really impressed with Snyder/Capullo/Glapion’s Batman. The art and storyline.
- The Houston Comic Con had two long lines, there was a line to have Eastman sign a comic and then another line which I thought was another artist, but it was actually a 3rd party grading company that collectors were submitting their books to have them slab. I thought that was really cool, so I researched it and got a membership myself to submit books.
- A few months later there would be another con in San Antonio, TX where Capullo and Glapion were going to be at, so I took a few books over there to get signed with the intention of having them slabbed. I was assigned to some guy from the grading company to ‘witness’ the signatures. With the lines being so long he was able to witness the Capullo signature. I then went into the Glapion signature where I did not see him at, then an hour later to the grading company’s table to submit. They said they couldn’t verify the signature. Mind you Glapion is sitting two tables down from them.. I’m like.. HE’S RIGHT THERE! This is his signature. I submitted the books and received a good grade on the comic with a green label stating ‘2 names in marker’. I was like.. WOW!
- I was a little upset, but in all honesty all I really wanted was a cool slab for both protection and display-ability. I started looking to see what was out there, and at the time no one had anything worthwhile. There was a toploader and that’s about it.
- When I wasn’t collecting comics, my brother and I were really into basketball cards. Jordan was really in and we started with Upper Deck cards and Fleer. For the higher end cards you would put them in a plastic top loader and for premium cards they had this harder plastic case with tiny silver screws. So I thought.. how cool would it be to make one of these big enough for a comic book.. so I started researching and coming up with some designs. Then my buddy, CAD guy who helped with the design said.. what if we added colored screws, which has become really popular.
- We were on our way to design our first prototype, but life happened which delayed it. A few natural disasters across the country had me busy. By the time we were in proto-type production, two other really good self-slab products came out, so when I tell collectors that we are ‘late to the dance’, I’m not exaggerating. Of course we were trying to provide a cool slab that didn’t have all the extras, such as a label. We wanted a minimalistic design that focuses solely on the art, and we thought the GatorGuard did just that.
- There are so many…
- Coming up with the right design, especially the fact that not all comics are made the same, what books we want to focus on first
- Coming up with a silver age soon!
- Coming up with the right material
- Working with our Attorney on our Patent
- It’s like going back to school, researching and writing papers to ensure we are covered. Long hours but a lot of fun.
- Sadly affecting us all. We were originally going to launch at small comic cons in the area to generate some buzz, and a few in the West Coast with our buddy and artist Walden Wong, who did the work for our cover page. But production and logistics have been difficult with city ordinances where we produce these as they have to follow strict guidelines due to COVID.
- I don’t discriminate. I like them all. I usually collect for the cover/art. If I had to collect for a character I would probably have to say Batman/Spiderman, where for a title, it would have to be Justice League/Avengers. But I’m liking some of the Indy comics that are making noise and doing well like the Umbrella Academy and The Boys. I was never into Walking Dead but those books seem to do very well, and of course Eastman’s TMNT.
- In college when I was collecting, I remember seeing a book with three girls on a batman adventure. The art wasn’t great, and I was like.. why would anyone buy this book with three random girls. First appearance of Harley Quinn ☹ Now.. I want that book. Hopefully I’ll find one at a good price.. Raw of course.
- Also a few other keys like Punisher, DareDevil, Juggernaut. It’s never ending, but that’s what makes collecting so fun. The other day, a few posts were about collectors being upset that a book they were about to drop on certain sites sold out in seconds. They were upset. But let’s be honest if every book you wanted was attainable, then collecting and searching for the next great book wouldn’t be fun. Trust me, I get bummed too!
- I don’t really have any crazy expensive books. A few first appearances. Most of my books are just for the cool covers. I know.. boring, right?
- We will expand our sizes. Next will be silver, then we will revisit our current size to make them larger for annuals. I really want to get a size out for TMNT books and DC’s Black Label, but that’ll be down the road.
- We have collectors reaching out all of the time about using this case in a grading company, but those grading companies do such a good job that I don’t know if that is a venture we want to take unless we find the right partner. But then that changes our current reason to have these which is a great display that protects your book and still gives you access to it. So I’ll leave that alone for now.
- We are shipping everywhere, including Canada and Europe.. but I would like to work on our logistics to make it more feasible for our collectors out of the US.
- Back in college a buddy of mine had a long box of comics, and I had just purchased a large amount of Image comics.. i.e. WildCATS, Spawn, Kindred, Youngbloods, and he was interested in trading. He had the first appearance of Gambit, Deadpool, Phoenix.. and I’m sure a ton more that I can’t recall. But I made a few trades for those books. Neither of us knew what we really had. Sadly, the image comics didn’t move too much, but the ones that I received in the deal seem to have held their value. I wonder where that kid is now? HA HA
Advice to new sellers or those that want to come up with their own product.
- Just be patient and have a solid game plan going in. Don’t take shortcuts, because shortcuts are EXPENSIVE in the long run. Align yourself, if you can, with some good peeps if you aren’t able to complete them on your own. Most of all, do it for yourself.. if you like it for yourself then it’s easy to stand by your product even if others don’t. There will always be individuals out there that aren’t very positive.. especially with the ease of just writing something on social media without having to actually interact with you, so don’t take it too personal. Everyone likes what they like.. and that’s fine.
A huge thank you to Victor for a great interview and an awesome product. I put one of my copies of Venom in it I got signed last year and the plastic really makes the colors of the books stand out!