It seems really almost like yesterday I was setting up a table near the front of the store to show off all the editions of the brand-new X-Force #1, drawn by red-hot young artist Rob Liefeld. Each factory-sealed in polybags with one of five different trading cards, stacked up high and waiting for us to open our doors for that new comics day.
And did they sell? Oh Lordy, did they ever. It was 1991, the Good Old Days of Comics Retail, and anything that even just slightly smelled of being Hot and Collectible was in high demand. As I recall, a number of our copies of X-Force #1 shared a particular printing defect, a thin dark line that stretched down the front cover, painfully obvious and not obscured at all by the polybag covering. We pulled these aside for replacement from the distributor, but again, as memory serves, such was the demand for the comic that we were even able to sell copies of these, perhaps under the customers’ assumption that the comic’s presence within that sealed polybag thus ensured it was mint, regardless of the item’s actual condition. We noted the damage, we may even have dropped the price a bit to account for the flaw, but still they sold.
And everyone bought them. Yes, everyone. I bought one. I admit it. I was caught up in the hype and the craziness and it’s not like this was the only time I apparently overlooked any kind of deficiency in storytelling in my funnybooks.
If you were around buying comics in 1991, you probably bought one too. You may have bought one of each, to get all the trading cards. …Hey, I’m not judging. It was a weird time, and a lot of us conspicuously consumed a lot more comics-related product than was probably healthy. I’m sure most of us have full sets of the first series of Marvel Universe trading cards, too. (Judging by the number of people who try to sell these sets back to us now, I suspect Marvel went door to door and gave a set to every U.S. citizen.)
Anyway, we sold a lot of X-Force #1s. I’m sure a good number of them went into the hands of kids and teens who dived into the comics collecting hobby during its peak faddish phase, who dived right back out again as soon as that fad was over. I didn’t sell any full cases of them to single buyers, but I’m sure they did somewhere. They sold and they sold and they sold, and sales on the book continued to be strong, as both current issues on the rack and from the back issue bins, and so it went until the comics market crashed a couple of years later, and well, you can read more about that if you’d like.
X-Force continued with mostly reasonable sales, relatively speaking given the state of the marketplace, ’til it finally wrapped up in the early 2000s after a dramatic revamping of the book (and restarting as X-Statix). It’s had the occasional relaunch since then, selling on a much, much smaller scale (just like everything else in the comics market nowadays, compared the land of good ‘n’ plenty back in the early ’90s). Unsurprisingly, back issue demand has dropped, and most people who were interested in those early issues likely bought them as they were coming out. Plus, tastes have changed…what was “hot” and seemingly cutting edge in 1991 is now dated, its shortcomings more obvious now that we have the perspective of distance.
I was looking at eBay the other day, specifically looking at entries for sold items featuring Deadpool. Deadpool, who had debuted in New Mutants #98, just prior to that title being retooled into X-Force, who has been experiencing something of a renaissance over the last couple of years in a handful of popular series. Of late, I’ve noticed that sales haven’t been quite as strong for us on the various Deadpool projects that have reached the stands. The trade paperback collections still move quite well, but the bloom appears off the rose for the actual periodicals. A temporary dip? Burnout from overexposure? Anticipation dying down from a supposed movie that never materialized? Who knows, really, but it’s a trend I’ll need to keep an eye on.
However, back to the eBay. I saw some eBay sellers trying to move those early issues of X-Force with liberal application of “DEADPOOL! H@T! L@@K!” shouting from the auction titles, a desperate marketing move to rid themselves of stagnant product, not too dissimilar from using the “Copper Age” label to get folks to oh God please buy some of these copies of Arak Son of Thunder. In particular, I saw one or two instances of X-Force #1 being sold with a “DEADPOOL!” notice in the title, and I, a proud owner of X-Force #1 as I have explained previously, could not recall Mr. Pool’s presence in said comic, beyond being on one of the prepacked trading cards.
Turns out, sure enough, there he is, in one of the Cable Guide files that filled some space not taken up by house ads in the back:
This does not appear to be a sales incentive, it seems. Even X-Force #2, plugged by many sellers as featuring Deadpool’s second (in-story, as opposed to trading card or Cable Guide page) appearance, doesn’t appear to be gaining any sales traction. That these comics originally sold in quantities probably far in excess of the actual number of comic collectors still remaining in the marketplace is the main reason. In fact, I suspect there’s some kind of economic concept regarding the supply of things and potential demand for them that covers the situation quite nicely. (On the other hand, the aforementioned New Mutants #98, which sold okay back in the day but not nearly close to X-Force numbers, currently sells for big money whenever you can dig one up.)
That’s not to say X-Force is now entirely unsellable. I’ve sold some of those early issues. There are still fans of that type of work. But it’s a weird sort of nostalgia that I get when I deal with these comics now, a reminder of a time when it seemed like the industry, the publishing industry itself, not the media adaptations, was an unstoppable juggernaut, an unending tidal wave of new comics and new relaunches and new #1s and Big Name Artists and new superhero universes and that we couldn’t see the bare ocean floor that wave was going to leave in its wake.