Okay, I’m gonna try to go through these a little more quickly…I’ve given you a lot to read this week, which means a lot of typing on my part, and a man’s gotta get some sleep sometime. Plus, that Doctor Who Genesis of the Daleks DVD I got from Netflix ain’t gonna watch itself.
So, here are a few more answers to questions posed to me about the comics market, the ’90s, and, God help us all, POGs:
Cove West asks
“Did you as a retailer see any signs that comics were recovering in the late-’90s, or was it just a long period of malaise from the Bust until Quesada/Jemas at Marvel kicked off the Media Age?”
I think the simple departure of the investors meant a stabilization/correction of the market…unfortunately, that stabilization of the market also included the departure of fans who were present prior to the fad/boom, who left for a myriad of reasons (tired of the decline in quality, disgusted by the catering to investors, distracted by other hobbies, etc.).
At that point, there was no where to go but up, really, and with the shaking out of lesser books and a general increase in quality in what was left, you got the sense that a slightly healthier market was beginning to emerge. Retailers ordering more sanely, consumers showing a bit more discretion…we all went from “wild abandon” to “cautious penny-pinchers” right quick.
The Quesada/Jemas thing, if anything, probably stirred things up a bit more than the market was really ready to deal with at the time. It’s like taking someone out dancing two days after they broke both their legs…a little more recovery time is probably required. I’m thinking the whole “upping comics schedules to every three weeks instead of monthly” shenanigans they tried, briefly, before discovering everyone hated it.
Commenter Bill asks
“I was wondering if your shop saw a lot of customers who, like me, didn’t even notice the boom and bust.”
Probably…we had a few folks wondering where all their Punisher titles went, for example, or noting that a lot of the comics they were following suddenly dried up, or came out less frequently. Whether some of them were aware of the changing marketplace as a whole, I don’t know…I imagine some never really noticed. So long as we still had our doors open, still getting new comics every week for them to buy, then it was all Business As Usual.
The mighty and fearsome Ken Lowery asks
“Rare, sought-after book = high value. Did speculators not realize that companies printing 300k-500k copies of a new book, and everyone buying five copies apiece to store away, meant that these books were by definition not rare and therefore not valuable?”
You’d think. I did a lot of explaining to people trying to sell us comics during the lean years why their stacks of Image #1s weren’t worth diddly squat.
On the other hand, there’s a particular phenomenon I’ve noticed when I see collections from people who bought multiple copies in large quantities. The vast majority of these people did not keep their comics in new condition. Of those 500,000 copy print runs, chances are the copies that actually made it into customers’ hands (and not just stored away in shop’s backrooms) are not longer in mint shape, if they were even kept at all and not just tossed out once the faddish fever broke.
So, maybe, just maybe, that one person who bought fifty copies of Secret Weapons #1 and managed to keep them in mint shape actually may have something, there. Still not going to buy ’em, though.
Commenter P-TOR asks
“You wouldn’t happen to have any packs of GHOST RIDER hero caps (aka; pogs) left over would ya?”
Nope, no more POGs. A year or two back I found one last cardboard box filled with POGs and associated paraphernalia still gathering dust in the back room, threw it as is on the eBay, and got about thirty bucks for it. Aside from maybe a POG promo or two in our card section, and that little tiny plastic POG case with a few caps in it that I use as both a paperweight and as a constant reminder of my retailing sins, POGs are no longer welcome in the store. Phooey, sez I.
FMguru has lotsa questions, so let’s see what kind of answers I can give him:
“When the boom was going on, did you believe that the market was ascending to a new plateau (i.e. that a lot of the boom was actual long-term growth in the market) or did you think it was all hot air and candyfloss and likely to end in tears (or, more positively, a nice little bump in sales and cashflow before things settled back to normal)?”
My expectations was that it was a faddish increase, and that things would eventually normalize…but I figured it would normalize with some extra folks joining the comics scene as regular readers, so that as a whole the market would be slightly larger than before. Alas, what ended up happening, as I noted earlier in this post, was that the investors went away, the fad-followers went away, and a bunch of the regular fans went away, leaving us with a shell of an industry.
“Also, what was the most traumatic event of the boom, from a retailer’s POV? What one thing (corporate decision, book delay, whatever) did the most damage to your business?”
I’ve discussed this in past posts of mine, trying to track down the book that killed the industry. In my mind, it’s still Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant, which every retailer overordered, and ended up not selling anywhere close to expectations. It might just be me creating connections in hindsight, but it seemed to me that this was the book that triggered the realization that investing in comics, particularly comics that had larger print runs than the Bible, was a really stupid thing to be doing.
“What was the most ludicrous waste of money that was clearly going to be an enormous failure? I’m thinking Tekno Comics, here.”
Tekno Comics is a good answer, featuring a lot of Big Famous Names on titles that they were only tangentially attached to, like, say, Isaac Asimov’s I-Bots. Not saying they were bad books, but having “Isaac Asimov’s” and “Neil Gaiman’s” and “Mickey Spillane’s” across the tops of the covers, and having someone else write the insides, was bound to disappoint somebody. Yeah, I know, what were they expecting, but still.
In general, though, I think the huge amounts of money spent to try to compete with Marvel and DC at their own shared-universe superhero game was a bad idea. And the whole “collect the trading cards to assemble the first issue of our series” idea for Defiant’s Warriors of Plasm and, I think, Dark Dominion, seemed like a good way to dissuade people from trying your books.
“What role did the Magic: The Gathering boom of 95-96 have in helping keep your store afloat during the comic market implosion?”
Games in general helped keep us going…half the store was devoted to role-playing and tabletop gaming, and that kept bringing in the bacon when the comic half was in the doldrums. I knew something was up with Magic almost from the start, when we’d get calls like this:
“Hi, I’m in Los Angeles. Do you have any Magic packs?”
“Uh, yeah, I have a couple left here.”
“HOLD THEM FOR ME I’M DRIVING UP THERE RIGHT NOW.”
So, yeah, RPGs, Magic, Warhammer…all that stuff definitely helped.
Not a question, but an observation:
“One other good side effect of the boom was that it created a huge demand for writers and artists, and a whole bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t have broken into the industry got breaks.”
True enough…I was going to touch on that, but I kept wanting to phrase it as “consumer confidence was undermined by the influx of not-ready-for-prime-time artists and writers hired primarily for their ability to fill a page with something, regardless of quality, as all those books being pumped out each month couldn’t go out blank.”
But you’re right…the side effect of this was that, just by the sheer numbers involved, some of those people would actually turn out to be pretty good, and got their breaks during this creative influx. So that’s a good thing, but too bad about the trials we all had to endure for this to happen.
“Finally, of all the dumb cover enhancements that came along in the 90s, which was your favorite? I really liked a Superman cover that was just a Metropolis cityscape with a slightly waxy coating – and it came with a sheet of ColorForms(tm) you could peel off and make your own cover with. Reusable!”
I’m kinda partial to glow-in-the-dark covers, too, like the Spectre ones. Or that elaborate Mighty Magnor pop-up cover by Sergio Aragones.
All in all, I didn’t hate the idea of novelty comic covers, but there were just too many, too fast.
(FMguru has many other good observations that I’ll eventually get around to discussing in a future post.)
Commenter Mark dares to ask
“You know, I still can’t effin’ understand how POGs are played. Is player? Are played with? I can’t even get the prepositions right!”
It involves throwing a heavier POG, or a Slammer, at a stack of other caps, and whatever flipped over you got to keep, or something. Either that, or the point was to accumulate as many POGs as possible, so your mom will something to complain at you about leaving all over the floor of your room.
And Pal Nat notes
“About the black-and-white boom, it should be noted that some of those ‘failures’ were selling in numbers which would happily get them continued by a small black-and-white publisher today.”
True enough…though a portion of those b&w titles were selling to retailers, and not necessarily getting into the hands of any customers. Shadow of the Groundhog sold great to that convention guy I told you about yesterday…he just couldn’t sell ’em to anybody else!
But I get your point….lots of good b&w titles sold solid numbers, to actual readers…numbers that may have been sneered at by Marvel and DC at the time, but are probably looked at now as “pie in the sky hopes” dream numbers by the Big Two.
Speaking of Pal Nat, the (sniff) last issue of Licensable Bear™, #4, is now out in stores. Read more about the cutest little licensable bear ever at Licensablebeartm.com.
And here’s a Licensable Bear™ video that I seemed to have accidentally skipped featuring on my site when it was released. So, please, enjoy a lesson in branding and marketing from the only expert you can trust…a bear wearing a shirt:
Tim O’Neil continues his in-depth examination of the rise and fall and rise again of the Punisher comic book, inspired, at least in part, by a post of mine briefly discussing the character’s waning and waxing popularity. (Here’s part one of Tim’s Punisher posts.)