“…And that’s how pogs saved our bacon.”

§ September 20th, 2017 § Filed under batman, market crash, retailing § 5 Comments

Okay, still trying to extract some old Batman ’89/early comics retailing memories from my head to supplement the last couple of posts. A few of you have contributed your own memories, and I shall be commenting upon them soon, oh yes, so prepare yourself for that.

As it turned out, I was talking to my old boss Ralph the other day and pestered him a bit about the impact the first Tim Burton Batman movie had on the shop. In line with what I told you the other day, Ralph said that business had pretty much exploded what with all the excitement over the film’s release, and while lots of different things were doing well, Batman comics and merchandise were of course doing the best. One thing he mentioned that I should have remembered was what happened to prices on the 1970s Joker series, which suddenly skyrocketed. Prior to this period of time, you could get them dirt cheap…I’d bought a copy of #1 for one slim dime at a comic book convention, and Ralph had issues scattered throughout his 50-cent bargain bins. Ralph recalled that when the Bat-craze hit, and prices shot up, he dug through the bargain bins to pull out all those Joker comics. Of course, one or two got missed, and Ralph would just have to cringe inwardly as he sold the $20 comic (or whatever it was) for four bits.

On a related note, I had asked Ralph what his invoices were like at the time…I had vague memories, but wanted some confirmation. Ralph said that during the boom years, the weekly comics invoice would easily reach several thousand dollars, at a time when DC and Marvel comic book prices were still, what, about $1.50 each, and indies were $2 to $3? Ralph said he was ordering hundreds of copies of several books and mostly selling through on them…and the back issue market was still strong enough that we were selling a lot of back-numbered comics as well. So basically money was just pouring in the door, to the extent that Ralph had bought a new truck about that time and paid for it entirely in cash. That’s the sort of thing that would probably set off alarms today, but back then, in the wild and crazy days of the late ’80s/early ’90s, ’twas no big deal.

As I’ve said in the past, when the crash came, it came quick, and we didn’t know it was a crash at the time. We figured it was a brief lull in sales, and that folks would be back, and orders continued to be placed as if sales would be back up shortly…and it eventually became fairly evident that wasn’t happening. For business to go from doing so well to [crickets] was a shock, and the store had nearly died before orders could be adjusted back to realistic levels. One specific example Ralph gave (and gave me permission to relate here) was having a new comics invoice that cost about $12,000, and then making only about $7,000 for that week. As you can imagine, having too many weeks like that could drive any business into the ground…and it did, for many comic shops at the time. We were able to ride it out, once we scaled orders back, and plus we had game products in the store that supplemented our income, and we were still the biggest comic shop in the area, so we still did some comics business. Oh, and pogs helped too. No, really.

It was a strange time to live through, and one that I hopefully learned from as I run my own store now (he said, juggling numbers to get those Marvel lenticular covers). Anyway, next time I’ll talk more Batman ’89 and less “I SURVIVED THE ’90s COMICS CRASH AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS FOIL-LOGOED SHADOWHAWK T-SHIRT.” If you have your own Batman ’89 memories, feel free to chip in!

5 Responses to ““…And that’s how pogs saved our bacon.””

  • Thom H. says:

    I don’t remember where I saw the first Batman movie, but I do recall thinking it was kind of cheesy and watered down. I had really liked The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, and I remember thinking that everyone seeing the movie didn’t really “get it” the way I did. I was “deep” in high school, though, so most experiences were beneath me at the time.

    I did really like the soundtrack by Prince, especially the single Batdance, which has not aged well. And talk about cheesy. Yikes.

    I do remember seeing Batman Returns at the drive-in with my boyfriend. That’s when it hit me how big a deal the Bat-phenomenon was and how it probably wasn’t going away anytime soon.

  • GE says:

    I’d already pestered you on the tweets with my Big Bro’s xeroxed collage of our 1989 Big Blockbuster Movie Summer, which included Batman (also Ghostbusters 2, Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Star Trek 5…a weird summer, man, but kind of awesome for a bunch of goofy teenaged boys).

    What always comes to mind for me was something you mentioned previously: popular doubts (at the time) that Mr. Mom could play Batman. Which is strange, to say the least, since the only live-action Batman most of us knew before then was Adam West, who certainly didn’t get all dark and grim and gritty. It was probably the influence of The Dark Night Returns (et al) that put that doubt into the zeitgeist. I’d borrowed it from a friend a year or so before then and thought it was an interesting read, but didn’t get all gung ho about it. (That was not a clever Michael Keaton reference, I swear.) But then, I was the kind of guy who always wished there were more issues of X-Men where they just played baseball on the school grounds. I loved those bits.

    Those doubts about Keaton culminated in a parody of Escape Club’s “Wild West” that kept playing on a morning radio show (probably Scott and Todd on 95.5 WPLJ in the NY/NJ market – don’t know if it was theirs, or they just played it…?), titled “Adam West” and poking fun at the idea of Keaton taking over the cowl and cape. Big Bro even taped it off the radio (y’know, the way we used to have to do that, with a boom box and all!), and I’ve got the MP3 of that recording right here – we spent the last few years scanning/transferring everything we had (video, audio, drawing, writing…) to modern digital formats.

    Happy to share it, though I’ve zero clue who actually owns it or how the copyright laws apply. I can only assume that, in some roundabout way, Disney owns it today, like they own almost everything else.

  • MrJM says:

    Although many of our friends were worrying about whether the titular ‘Mr. Mom’ could pull it off, my brother and I weren’t worried — the previous year, we went to a screening of ‘Clean and Sober’ specifically to vet Michael Keaton as a grim actor.

    What a pair of nerds.

    — MrJM

  • Bryan says:

    I seem to recall the issue was less about Keaton’s comedic background (although that was certainly a factor) and more that his receding hairline and less than powerful jawline didn’t make him seem “heroic”. A quote I’ve long enjoyed (no idea who to attribute it to) is “only Tim Burton could work on a film with Alec Baldwin and Michael Keaton, and decide to cast Keaton as Bruce Wayne.”

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Interesting post. So readers preferred the Joker series to The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke?

    Does Ralph remember any effect like this for the earlier Superman movies? What happened for subsequent Batman movies?

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