Author: Stephen Albertini

My Grandfather’s Flannels

I’ve always modeled my own personal style on the dichotomy between the two most influential men in my life, my father and grandfather. While my father has always been a spread collar, Windsor knot wearing man, my grandfather’s style is the antithesis of that look. He was an outdoorsy, handy, renaissance man who only wore a suit when needed. I’ve grown to be just as comfortable wearing a 3-piece to a wedding as I am wearing jeans, boots and a hoody to the corner bar. If my father was the inspiration for my dressed up look, my grandfather was certainly the inspiration for my casual style, particularly casual button-down shirts.

Where my father introduced me to tailored suits and pocket squares, my grandfather showed me flannel work shirts, buffalo check and brushed plaid patterns, and denim jackets. He made the everyman look cool for me, usually because he was always constructing something with his bare hands or reading a book outside–he was a voracious reader–with a cigar in his mouth. Maybe I didn’t inherit his handyman skills, but I like to think I got some of his intellectual curiosity.

My grandfather would wear flannel shirts while working in his garage or while helping my mother tear wallpaper off the walls in her new house or while putting together toys for me on Christmas morning when I was a kid. He would unwind and sit on the bench outside of his Philadelphia rowhome with a cigar and a glass of vodka while wearing a flannel in the fall months.

He never particularly cared about fashion, nor spent a second putting together an actual outfit, and he didn’t have to. His style was rooted in authenticity, just as it was authentic for my dad to wear suits and coats and loafers. My grandfather wore work shirts and boots and actually worked in them. Instead of a peacoat in the fall, he wore a vintage satin Flyers jacket from the 70s with his name embroidered on the chest–the only heirloom of his I insisted on having when he passed. On Christmas and Easter when the family tended to dress up a bit, he wore the same check-patterned flannels. Then while everyone else was extending dinner with small talk, he would exit to the backyard or front porch, where he would hold court over a drink and a smoke.

I’ve incorporated flannels with plaid and check patterns into my button-down shirt wardrobe in recent years, partially as tribute to him and partially because I’ve just grown to enjoy the versatility. I like that I can wear them on a brisk fall walk to get coffee with my fiancé or for a night at a dive bar with friends. I enjoy the wild color schemes and bold patterns. I appreciate that it’s a common style bond between us.

On the day my grandfather passed away, I wore my red and black flannel and went to my mother’s house with the rest of my family. I sat in his favorite spot by the fire pit in the backyard and drank wine and recalled old stories, trying to carry on if just a shred of his legend. The last picture I have with him where he’s able to stand, we’re in that same yard, both wearing red flannels—our favorite color.

It made sense that he wouldn’t wear a shirt and tie in his casket. He wore his blue blazer, which my grandmother loves and he always wore at dressier events, and a turtleneck. The shirt and tie just wasn’t authentic.

As the season changes over and the chill finally starts to creep in, I’ll undoubtedly break out more and more flannels. I’ll take walks for coffee and go out with friends, the holidays will come and go, but every time I throw on a flannel or a brushed plaid button down shirt, I’ll think of my grandfather, who unbeknownst to him, was always one of my fashion inspirations.

4:44 Review

Jay-Z has been at the forefront of rap and pop culture for the better part of three decades now. Twelve number one albums, one high-profile marriage with Beyonce — one of the few artists who’s more popular and beloved than he is, an endless string of successful investments and finesses that famously elevated the businessman Jay into the fully-formed unstoppable business, man. All these years later and he’s still at the forefront of the culture.

It’s been so long, in fact, for the calculating Jiggaman who is seemingly always one step ahead of the game and his peers, that we nearly forgot all the times he sidestepped multiple landmines where all of this could have slipped through his fingertips.

These missteps and past transgressions form the blueprint for 4:44, his 13th studio album. They range from his legal issues (his admitted stabbing of Lance “Un” Rivera in 1999) to modern-day tabloid fodder (his infidelity, namely). The latter serves as the “crux” of the album, as Jay puts it, and seemingly serves as the inspiration for a project that is his strongest in years, and most personal, perhaps ever.

The album is hardly a direct response to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, a 2016 visual stunner of an album that outlined the perceived infidelity of her famous husband, no matter how badly some want it to be. The famously quiet couple’s rocky private moments were put on display for the first time in their decade-plus romance and Jay’s perfectly cropped public persona showed chinks in the armor. Big Homie needed to grow up, according to his wife, and at least some of that showed in 4:44’s construction and delivery, inspiring some of his most personal bars in recent memory, none of which shine brighter than when he addresses his marital shortcomings on the album’s title track.

In “Smile” he brings up his mother, Gloria Carter, and informs his fans that she is a lesbian, and he openly wept when she found true love. She nearly steals the show at the end of the track when she speaks on the importance of being true to yourself, no matter what people think they already know about you or what your facade may portray. It’s hard to imagine that strength didn’t inspire Jay to do some soul-searching of his own.

“My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes” he says to his daughter at the end of the album’s title track. The a-ha moment that one day he’s going to have to explain to his daughter all of his transgressions, and the admittance that–even worse–she’ll read about it all online on her own, is searing. Keeping that superhero facade for his daughter is all he wants, and he realizes one day that might not be the case.

For the first time in seemingly forever, Jay places emphasis on atonement over his typical self-mythologizing storytelling. Not that it doesn’t have a place here–it’s a focal point of his entire discography–but it always has been served up as a cautionary tale to his contemporaries and those coming after him: Hov did that, so hopefully you won’t have to go through that.

Credit to No I.D., the MC whisperer/producer who helps bring out this side of Jay with his beautiful sample selection and guttural drums throughout the album. Credit to Jay for stripping himself of current trends for a more cohesive feel—a torn-down Blueprint-era exoskeleton.

I like the Blueprint comparison. In many ways it could be its spiritual successor, even though in reality we’ve had two more “Blueprints” over the years. They lacked the original’s cohesion and soul. The Just Blaze/Kanye duo gave the album a sonic blueprint to go off of, and even though there was production from others, their sounds still fit in with the album’s mission. No wonder why Jay was able to finish it so quickly once he started. While it’s certainly unclear at best to see how 4:44 stacks up against the Blueprint historically (Blueprint is easily one of the best rap albums of the past 20 years), the move to hand the reins completely to No I.D.’s vision made for a solid album, one built around a central sonic vision and not chasing hits.

Jay is acutely aware of music history, and he knows that rappers are in somewhat uncharted territory. Has there ever been a rapper approaching 50 years old who managed to stay relevant and make quality music? He knows that chasing trends isn’t the answer. No one wants to hear Jay rap like Drake, and definitely not rap like Migos, 21 or any of the other young up-and-comers out right now. Fans want to see an evolution, and it sounds like Jay understands that. None of the greats before him were able to transcend into elder, relevant rappers. LL and Cube went the Hollywood route. Rakim faded away. Biggie and Tupac never had a chance. Jay managed to crank out a solid rap album at 47 by opening up about his family and his failings. For a man who’s family is worth a billion, it’s one of the few ways he can still connect.

Back in 2003, Jay emphatically rapped that no other rapper was “this good for this long” on the opening bars of “What More Can I Say.” Fourteen years later, with another number one album in tow, that line still holds up.


For a while, I swore by a daily stream of consciousness writing exercise. Every day, for sometimes 500, maybe even 1,000 words, I would just carve out some time to crush the keyboard and knock out SOMETHING. The goal was two-fold; I would create a routine that forced me to write every day and hopefully, somewhere in that sea of mostly word vomit, I would find a nugget that could be the beginning of something. A new pitch for an online article, maybe even an idea for a novel, could be birthed from this simple writing exercise, I thought.

Then the months past and the exercise turned more into a therapeutic diary session than any meaningful writing exercise. I spent most of the time talking about all the things I wanted to write about, without actually writing them, because I was so busy knocking out this exercise every night. Each post was more ambitious than the next. This week I would start my novel. The next week I would knock out a book of poems. Success would just flow so naturally now that I was dedicating time every single day to writing. That was, after all, what all my teachers told me in grad school. If you want to be a writer…then write!

But success never came and my frustration mounted. I was finally doing what I had neglected doing for years (writing every single day) and I found myself publishing less and writing absolutely nothing of value for months. So I decided to take a step back and write less. I would read more, and read more carefully. I would focus on pieces that I wanted to write, in publications I wanted to be published in. I would carefully craft pitches and ideas with precision, instead of hoping that through a series of rushed writing exercises a fantastic idea would just find itself hiding in one of my rambling sentences.

It’s a delicate balance, especially when you aren’t a full-time writer. You work all day, come home and then the work really begins. You need to unplug from your day job and focus on doing whatever it takes to get your writing where it needs to be. It’s a daunting task, one I’ve neglected for quite some time. But this approach, when done thoroughly and consistently, seems to be working for me.

I compare my old daily writing exercises to streaming songs on Spotify. There are millions and millions of songs on these streaming services right at your fingertips. It’s beyond overwhelming. I find myself switching songs before they’re even halfway over because I’m so ready to jump to another song I haven’t heard in a while. There are songs I’ve long since forgotten, songs I haven’t had access to since my mom through out a bunch of my old CDs years ago, or old classics that bring me back to the old days when my friends and I were coming up. But jumping from song to song doesn’t help retain any of the words. It doesn’t establish any connection. I’d rather sit with an entire album, front to back and learn all of its nuances. Truly great albums, ones that are personal classics to me that have withstood the test of time, are ones I can play front to back any day.

I’m trying to adopt that classic album approach with my writing. Less streaming, more crafting. Less skipping, more focus. Less clutter, more clarity.

Searching for Inspiration

What’s a writer who never writes?

That’s the questions I’ve been asking myself repeatedly over the past few months while I’ve been searching for any inspiration whatsoever to write.

The answer, of course, is…well…not a writer.

I’ve been seeking out the advice of published writers from different aspects of the written world–journalists, communications professionals, authors–and when I ask them for advice, they all tell me the same things I heard on my first day as an English grad school student. If you want to be a writer, you only have to do two things to improve as a writer: read and write.

For about a two year stretch, I published multiple pieces per week on various web outlets. Some of those pieces received thousands of page views, some hundreds, some next to nothing. But the sensation of seeing my name on the author line, or being able to tweet out a link to something I WROTE to people was a high I never really experienced before. It was tangible. Over the past year I’ve worked hard on a few pieces that still haven’t seen the light of day. And even though I know how hard I’ve worked on them and how good they could potentially be, they aren’t tangible. The world can’t see them. And that’s where the doubt begins to set in.

People write for a lot of different reasons.

One of the most popular reasons is catharsis. Writers internalize a lot of emotions and for some, writing is a way to purge themselves of negative emotions. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but many times a writer tries to write about something personal in the hopes that it could have a positive effect on a reader maybe going through the same emotions. I’m guilty of this sometimes. Sometimes getting the thoughts and feelings out on paper helps, even if no one ever sees it. You’ve purged yourself of that feeling or that event and it’s gone.

Another reason is because you genuinely have something to say. I read tremendous music and art critics who legitimately help me view that specific piece of art and the culture at large in another light. They have productive ways of breaking down what we take in every single day and they’re doing their best to help the rest of us digest it. I wrote a lot of sports articles over the past few years where I also felt that way, like I had an opinion that could slice through a lot of the noise that permeated the sports media, the bland, ridiculous takes that lack any semblance of nuance and analysis that I didn’t value whatsoever. So I wrote and wrote and published until I felt like I ran out of things to say.

That’s kind of where I’ve been the past year or so. Searching for the right topic to pitch, finishing a creative project I abandoned, hopelessly looking for something to say, something that will not only make sense, but maybe it will have a positive effect on someone. Maybe it will provide inspiration to someone else. Maybe it will just help me get the ball rolling.

They told me I needed to read and write if I wanted to be a writer. I do plenty of reading. Let’s get writing.

The Long Overdue Inclusion of Sports Entertainment at the ESPYs

The union of World Wrestling Entertainment and the sports world at large is long overdue. Thanks in large part to ESPN’s partnership with the WWE in the past year, casual sports fans get to see WWE Superstars on SportsCenter each week, becoming exposed to characters they wouldn’t normally see on their weekly channel surfing.

One of those Superstars, John Cena, the 15-time WWE World Champion and burgeoning actor, became just the third athlete in the history of ESPN’s ESPY Awards to host the show, along with LeBron James and Lance Armstrong.

If you’re going to bypass the comedian/actor/multi-dimensional musician route for an awards show host, going with a WWE Superstar is not a bad way to go. For one, WWE Superstars are inherently charismatic. One needs to be when speaking to 15,000-plus fans on a weekly basis in packed arenas around the world. Good sports entertainment doesn’t exist without good storytelling. If you can’t cut a good promo and get people invested in your upcoming match and your character, then your ability in the ring is instantly overshadowed. Just ask former champion Roman Reigns.

The great ones have a way of connecting with the audience. We live in a world where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. His movies gross billions of dollars all around the world. Twenty years ago, long before he transitioned full time to Hollywood and became a megastar, he was cutting his teeth in the WWE as Rocky Maivia, third-generation wrestler and future heir to the throne. Then came the eyebrow and the catchphrases, and the rest, well, is history.

Cena himself has appeared alongside both Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in “Trainwreck” and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in “Sisters,” both with surprisingly hilarious results. He’s easily the most visible face among active WWE Superstars around the world, and if we’re going to have a night that honors the best in sports at an awards show in Los Angeles, why not pick someone who represents the best of both worlds, sports and entertainment?

The world of sports has always kept the WWE at bay. Despite its enormous popularity and high-flying athletes, WWE has never really had a seat at the big boy table in the sports world, and Chairman Vince McMahon has probably wanted it that way.

McMahon and his “superstars” have openly embraced the entertainment portion of their “sports entertainment” moniker. We get it, it’s scripted. Cena admitted what we all have already known for decades in his opening monologue. “Monday Night Raw,” its flagship show, is the longest-running episodic show in television history. “Raw” is essentially an athletic soap opera.

But it certainly isn’t “fake” and anyone that screams wrestling is fake from a mountain top with a megaphone is missing the point. This isn’t the 1980’s where a remark like that to a wrestler might get you a beer bottle cracked over your skull. It wasn’t fake when Cena himself was out for months rehabbing a shoulder injury, or when former champion Seth Rollins had reconstructive knee surgery last winter. Injuries arise just as much inside the ring as they do on the court, out on the field or in the octagon. There is no offseason and the travel schedule makes NBA players who rest at the end of back-to-backs hide in fear.

The two worlds have always been linked in one way or another. Muhammad Ali made an appearance at Wrestlemania I in Madison Square Garden, helping propel the event to the record-breaking spectacle it is today. NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor HEADLINED Wrestlemania XI. Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone and dozens of others have made appearances over the years.

Nowadays you can’t go far online without seeing the latest big hit spliced together with some Jim Ross (Bah gawd!) audio clips from an old WWE brawl. We couldn’t wait to see video clips of LeBron James, and more recently Kevin Durant, with their heads photoshopped on the bodies of the nWo and The Shield, during their respective “heel turns” in free agency.

The two worlds are inextricably linked by athletics and entertainment value, of course, but even more so because of the stories that they each tell. It’s about time these athletes, ones that have had such a unique influence on sports and pop culture, had a presence at sports’ version of the Academy Awards.

The ESPYs, more so than any other award show, honor athletes and inspirational men and women outside the world of sports on the merits of their courage, passion and civic duty. For years, the WWE has been at the forefront of many charitable causes.

Cena himself holds the record for most wishes granted at the Make-a-Wish foundation. The company has also partnered with the Special Olympics, Susan G. Komen, the Boys and Girls Clubs, as well as The V Foundation, to donate millions of dollars to these respective causes over the years and drum up support at their live events and in television spots. Not to mention the tremendous support they provide our military through special live events, overseas trips and charitable donations.

Most importantly though, the ESPYs honors the narratives that have taken the sports world by storm during the past year. The ESPYs give out an award for “Best Moment”, which rightfully went to the Cleveland Cavaliers for winning the NBA Championship this past season.

The city of Cleveland’s championship drought, the town’s prodigal son makes good on his promise, backs against the wall against the team who just had the best regular season of all time? Vince McMahon could not have written a better script himself.

On LeBron James and “Grit”

In Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit,” she examines achievement through the lens of grit and talent and compares which of these tools is most necessary to achieving a high level of success in a variety of fields. Duckworth, a MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, provides examples from disciplines ranging from West Point to the Olympics to the board room, that grit, the power of passion and perseverance, is more integral to success than natural-born, innate “talent.”

While the book is highly informative and a great read, her theory is nothing new. She cites Nietzsche, the famous philosopher who once opined, “with everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be.” Instead, “we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.” Malcolm Gladwell has written books on the need to practice your craft for 10,000 hours before becoming elite. How many little leaguers have heard the phrase “hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard?”

As we know from watching sports all year round, talent and grit are attached at the hip. In the book, she relays an anecdote about Olympian Mark Spitz. One day, a decade after Spitz cleaned up at the 1972 (check) Olympics, he races members of the current U.S. Swim team. They marvel at his speed, his fluidity. “He looks like a fish,” one of them says. The young swimmers awe at him as if he swam directly from Poseidon’s throne in the ocean, ignoring the fact that Spitz was really just like them: a man who spent hours, days and years honing his craft in the pool. 

Everyone at the highest level of his or her sport is talented, that’s why they’re there. The special ones, the ones whose commercials get replayed ad infinitum and get bronze statues erected in their honor, are able to achieve a proper cross-section of talent and grit. Whether it be Michael Jordan’s maniacal competitiveness or Peyton Manning’s diligent preparation, the special ones become special because their grit matches their talent, and most times, exceeds it. 


To truly appreciate LeBron hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, you have to be cognizant of his career trajectory–the long, laborious journey from gifted prodigy to now, battle-tested champion. 

From the time LeBron James appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior, no athlete has been under more scrutiny at every turn. No athlete has been both adored and reviled with equal fervor. And that’s probably because no one has been deemed so “talented” at such a young age, so preordained for greatness.

Some things cannot be taught or improved upon. James is blessed with an Adonis physique, ideal height for his skill set and tremendous foot speed. He can jump out of the gym. No player in the world can make the combination of game-altering plays — the chase-down block, intercepting a close-range chest pass, thunderous dunks — he makes on an almost routine basis. Because of this, we had to endure the same old criticisms when he fell short of a championship, “he’s so talented, he’s supposed to do that”; “he’s bigger and stronger than everyone else,” or my personal favorite, “why can’t he do that every night?” And when he did eventually break through, the criticisms were equally lame. “It’s about time,” or “he should have so many more rings.” 

After Sunday’s completion of the Cavaliers’ history-making 3-1 comeback victory in the NBA Finals, a series that saw LeBron average 35/8/13, while leading all players in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, the King has exorcised whatever demons remained. His prophecy has been fulfilled, his dream realized. 
In the years since he left Cleveland in 2010, he put in his 10,000 hours learning not how to be a better basketball player, but learning how to win. He was already the best player in the world by all accounts. He carried the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals once during his first stint with the team, leading a ragtag group to an eventual sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. He was on the precipice. No one is saying that LeBron couldn’t have won a title in Cleveland before his departure — some think he should have in the subsequent years and he was certainly capable — but after traversing through different obstacles over the past few years, you can see how better equipped he was for the mission the second time around. 
LeBron and the Cavaliers needed the last five tumultuous years to happen, both from a team-building standpoint and for LeBron personally. Thanks to LeBron’s initial departure, the bottom-dwelling Cavs were rewarded with three lottery picks in four years. The first one was Kyrie Irving, a dynamic player who has become the Robin to James’ Batman and the man who knocked down what would be the series-winning three right in the eye of the two-time MVP. The last one was Andrew Wiggins, who ended up being the centerpiece in a trade that would net the Cavaliers Kevin Love shortly after James’ return. While Love has been sporadic, and has sometimes drawn the ire of James and fans alike, he played exceptional when it counted most, in Game 7, hauling down 14 rebounds and forcing Steph Curry into a bad shot in the game’s waning moments. Those years of terrible basketball in Cleveland were necessary to build a winner. If the Cavs were middle of the road during those years, they probably wouldn’t have had the assets to lure James back in the first place. 

LeBron needed to go to Miami. He needed to become vilified for the first time in his career. He needed to learn how to build a winning organization under Pat Riley, to team with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and see what sacrifices were necessary for winning, to learn how to be a better leader. In addition, he’s become an obsessive student of the game. LeBron is famous for having a nearly photographic memory of past game sequences. He’s a historian, able to rattle off names of role players from championship teams past. He implores teammates to work out with him in the offseason and push themselves to another level physically the same way he always has. His dedication, his preparation, his “grit” as Dr. Duckworth puts it, has finally exceeded his talent. 

Most importantly, he needed to lose in 2011 to Dallas and again in 2014 to San Antonio. He needed to lose his two most talented teammates last year in the playoffs and despite his Herculean efforts, he needed to lose last year’s Finals. He needed to be down 3-1, staring down a deficit no team has ever recovered from, against the team with the best record in NBA history on their court. He needed to do the impossible. 

His teammates commented this past week that LeBron was supremely calm in the final days of the Finals despite the enormous task in front of him. The odds, the stakes, none of it mattered. He prepared himself for years specifically for that moment.
He needed to do all those things to make history, to cement a legend, and to rid the city of Cleveland from a 52-year championship drought. And he did just that. 


How To Conquer Comic Con


On June 2nd, the Philadelphia Convention Center will welcome Wizard World Comic Con, the four-day spectacular featuring some of your favorite movie stars, comic book artists, and thousands of eager fans dressed in costume as their favorite Marvel superhero or Game of Thrones character. Check out all the info here for tickets and scheduling if you haven’t already.

If you’ve never been to a Comic Con before, they can be overwhelming. There are dozens of vendors lined up from end to end, peddling their exclusive comics, one-of-a-kind artwork and Avengers t-shirts. While the Philadelphia Comic Con experience may not yet be up to the obscene levels of San Diego or New York, it’s still packed with excitement and energy, and tons of things to spend your hard earned money on, whether you’re a die-hard fan of superheroes, fantasy shows, WWE superstars or Japanese anime. This year, Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and old favorites like Michael J. Fox (Back To The Future) are just a few of the big stars expected to be in attendance.

If you’re like me, and don’t want to drop June’s car payment to take a picture with Chris Evans—or even some of the lesser, cheaper celebs in attendance—fret not. There are still thousands of items you can take home with you from the show’s collection of vendors. I’m a comic book guy myself—primarily old X-Men and assorted Marvel titles—and I enjoy going from vendor to vendor haggling about prices and flipping through bins in search of a hidden gem.

Last weekend, I took a stroll through Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Con, an awesome little precursor to the madness that will ensue at Wizard World in the coming weeks. I compiled a list of things to keep in mind if it’s your first Comic Con experience and how to get the most of your dealings with the various vendors, but most importantly, how to make the most of all the great items up for grabs.

Buy Your Tickets In Advance

It may seem like a simple tenet for pretty much any function, but it’s especially true here. While you’ll still have to check in and get a wristband, it’s a much more seamless process. You can save yourself $5-$10 by purchasing your tickets in advance, and the line to buy tickets on site is generally long. Five dollars might not seem like a lot, but every little bit helps, as you’ll soon see. If you’re planning on doing autograph and meet-and-greet sessions with stars, you must buy the tickets in advance to secure your place in line. If you’re going on Thursday, check a secondary site for a deal that could save you almost 50% off the asking price, like this one from LivingSocial.

Bring Cash

I understand that most people my age really hate carrying cash with them. If you or your company doesn’t allow us to swipe our debit cards then we really have no use for you. But I implore you, men and women of all ages, bring some cash with you to Comic Con. From a practical standpoint, most vendors only accept cash for purchases. There should be an ATM close by, but save time and aggravation by making a withdrawal in advance. Secondly, and most importantly, paying in cash allows for you to negotiate better with vendors. Always tell them that you’re paying in cash and I guarantee it will save you a few dollars, as long as you…


Whenever you’re asking for something you want, always remember the worst thing someone can say is “No.” No one is going to kick you out of Comic Con for trying to finagle a deal, but please approach this delicate situation with caution. Don’t press a vendor who is disinterested. If he or she has put thorough time into the pricing of his or her products and stands by them, then you have to respect that, but it never hurts to ask. Here are two examples from last week’s Boardwalk Con of simple negotiating tactics that are guaranteed to save you a few bucks.

At one table, I spotted a comic I coveted, Limited Series Wolverine #1. I was with two friends who were buying some assorted $5 and $10 comics from the different bins on the table. I combined all of our purchases and simply said, “If we buy all these (handing him a stack of about 6 comics, Wolverine being the most expensive) and pay cash, can you do anything for us on the price?” He could have simply said, “No, those prices are firm, sorry.” Instead, knowing that we were good customers who were making a sizable purchase, he properly read the situation and took $10 off the total. It might not seem like a lot, but that money can go towards parking, or in my friends’ case, they basically got a comic or two for free, all because we asked.

On our way out, I spotted another comic I had eyed up earlier, Secret Wars #8 (first appearance of Spider-Man’s black suit). This copy was already cheaper than any other stand had it listed, and we were on our way out the door, so took a shot and said, “Is this the best price if I pay cash?” The vendor looked a bit ticked, probably because he was busy and he already had a competitive price on the sticker. But instead of saying no and potentially losing the sale, he knocked five dollars off the price. Within seconds, I paid cash and was on my way with another great deal in tow. Vendors want to move the product, so if you finesse the situation correctly, they won’t lose a sale over a few dollars.

Take a Lap

First and foremost, Comic Con is an awesome time. You get to hang out with fun people who share your common interests, meet new (and often masked) faces, and you can buy so many cool items. It’s a fun day, but it can also be a sensory overload with all of the merchandise for sale, not to mention all the cosplay. When you walk in, take a lap and soak it all up, especially if it’s your first time. Enjoy your time there from the moment you walk through those doors and see the first person dressed as Jon Snow or Captain America.

By taking a lap, you also get to take mental notes of all the items up for sale. Locate a few items you like and compare prices with some of the other vendors before you even think about taking out your wallet. When dealing with comic books especially, there can be a tremendous price disparity among vendors, all things—like quality of the comic itself—being equal. The Wolverine #1 I purchased for $40 in Atlantic City was for sale at another vendor down the aisle for $100, in the exact same condition. I experienced similar issues with Secret Wars #8, which ranged anywhere from $45 (what I paid) to $85. Amazing Spider-Man #300 (First full appearance of Venom) was at most stands for $200+, while one stand had it in good condition for $120. Uncanny X-Men #266 (First appearance of Gambit) was at one stand for $120 and another for $60, both in similarly great condition. Don’t be the person that overpays because they were impatient.

Soak it all in, enjoy your Comic Con experience, and by all means ask a vendor if that price is the best they can do.