“You probably covered this, but can you think of a time in early Mike’s comics retail career where something came up that completely junked how you thought comics should be ordered?”
I think I follow what you’re saying here, but let me give a couple of different answers to you.
One of the first lessons I learned from my old boss Ralph is “order with your head, not your heart.” And before anyone pipes up, that’s not a 100%, completely binary thing, by any means…yes, sometimes you order with your heart, because there are comics and characters and creators you like and want to support and of course you think investing your time and money in them is a good idea. I mean, we’re not machines, we all have our preferences and that informs our decisions. The trick is not to be stupid about it.
If you’re supporting a comic you like, which, oh, let’s say it’s Our Swamp Thing at War, and you’re ordering piles and piles of it, thinking “well, if I love it, surely all of my customers will love it, too!” Then, after a few months of not selling any, you’re still thinking “it’s gonna catch on, I just know it” — well, sooner or later your head is going to have to pull rank on your heart and cut those orders down to what you’re really selling versus what you think they should sell.
This is probably a “no-duh” kind of realization…I’m pretty sure I didn’t go into this thinking that it was all “la de dah, just get whatever” and throwing down whatever numbers you wanted on the order form. But I think I was surprised by the amount of number-crunching involved in actually ordering comics, with looking back at the sales histories of individual titles, at seasonal changes, at what creator or character’s presence in a particular issue might do its sales, etc. And sometimes this decision-making is crazily exact…I have, well, not agonized exactly, that’s too strong a word, but I’ve definitely waffled over the difference of a single unit on a comic for a longer period of time than I really should have. Like, maybe 20 copies feels like it’s too many, but dropping it down to 19 just doesn’t seem like that would be enough. No, I’m not exaggerating.
So maybe that’s the actual response in this first part of this answer: that I wasn’t aware at first of just how much work actually went into placing orders. I’m not sure what I pictured, but it was probably a lot more casual than the advanced calculus I’ve since ended up doing to figure out how many Marvel variant covers I can order.
The second part of my answer is more involved with the overall health of the marketplace. I am sure I’ve mentioned once or thrice over the years about the sudden seachange I experienced during the boom ‘n’ crash period of the early 1990s, when the latest Diamond Previews arrived, cover-featuring Dark Horse’s new superhero imprint “Comics’ Greatest World.” My memory is a little fuzzy on the details, but my recollection is that there were either multiple superhero universes launching in that same Previews, or that I realized just how many superhero universes were being thrust upon the stands. I do remember thinking “where are the customers to support all these new ‘universes’ going to come from?” and, perhaps on a more selfish level, “how are we going to have room on our shelves for all these different comics?” Now, as it turned out, the marketplace eventually took care of this problem for us, but that was still a bit of an alarming realization.
Now keep in mind the big comics boom was still in progress of becoming a crash around this period, so we had been more-or-less accustomed to (or perhaps spoiled by) the idea that there were plenty of folks in the marketplace ready to support nearly anything that was published. There was of course no shortage of clues that the market was sick…the prevalence of investors, the proliferation of gimmicks and enhanced covers…but for some reason, seeing that particular issue of Previews, with the promise of More of the Same Kind of Stuff Coming on Top of the Stuff That’s Already Here, was the literal final straw. The sorta vague feeling that things weren’t healthy, the one you could ignore because hey, look at all this money we’re making, now came into tighter focus. To try to bring it back to your original question, Brandon, is that this was the transition from “order lots because comics will always sell great forever” to “order what’s going to sell now, and be more picky about what you want left over for backstock.” Not the catchiest way of putting it, I suppose, but true just the same.
So when Topps Comics released The X-Files #1 in the mid-1990s, about a year or so after the TV show’s debut, the demand for the comic caught us a bit by surprise. We ordered what we thought was a good number, considering the industry was well into its market crash at this point, but this was one of those comics that caught folks by surprise by managing to bring non-comic readers into shops. We sold out in short order, and proceeded to field requests the rest of the week from people looking for copies of that first issue, while thinking the whole time “if only we knew” which you can never really know for certain, really.
The upshot of all this is that X-Files became a “hot” item in a business where “hot” items were a pretty significant factor in almost destroying said business just a year or two earlier. And you can see a good example of just how “hot” it was if you cast your peepers back to the scan above and the price sticker visible therein.
That issue was among the many, many comics that came with this collection, and was one of the books that survived the sorting process as I worked through the boxes, throwing some into the bargain boxes and keeping some aside for potential use in the regular stock, or on the eBay. I haven’t dealt much with the old Topps run of X-Files…people poke through its slot in the back issue boxes once in a while, but it’s not like I’ve had a lot of demand of the series lately, even with a new series being released from IDW. At any rate, I’ve not really thought about the prices on this series in some time, and spotting the #1 in this collection, I pulled it aside thinking it was, if no longer at the $55 price it had been marked, surely it was probably still worth something.
Well, nope, not really.
A quick search of the eBay shows lots of the first three, four or five issues (including the first printing of #1, like the one I have from that collection) usually only sell for about five to ten bucks. The #1 by itself sold for as cheaply as $2, and I found one that sold for nearly eight bucks, which is more the exception than the rule, it seems. (A “slabbed” copy of #1, signed the stars of the TV series, sold for about $400, so I guess there’s that.) There are copies currently listed in the $10 – $15 range, but unless someone’s desperate to get a copy, they’re probably not going anywhere fast.
And I didn’t go back to double-check, because I’ve looked at eBay enough today, but my impression was that there were many attempts to sell the serial-numbered second printings as some kind of special big-deal thing, but no one cares too much about those, either.
The “too long, didn’t read” version: some formerly-hot comics don’t sell for what they used to anymore, which I’m sure comes as a surprise to everyone. And yet, even with this knowledge, I still don’t want to just dump this comic in the bargain bin. The days of getting $55 for this comic are long gone, but I might be able to get $5, maybe, if I’m lucky.
Still think that’s a good idea. The team book version of Legion is not one people seem to want anymore, or at least no one’s hit on a version of the Legion that really does anything for anybody. There’s going to be another Legion book sooner or later, and it can’t hurt to try something different…I mean, what, you might end up with another dead Legion book if the idea doesn’t pan out? Or maybe you might have something that has a little staying power? What’s to lose, really? Other than money, creative efforts, market value of a DC property which has been adversely affected by yet another cancellation, so on?
Back to that collection: Wayneasks if we have to inventory all the toys that came with this collection. In this case…no, not really. Our perusal of the toys, an informal inventory, revealed a handful of figures sans accessories that we might be able to sell for a couple of bucks each. Haven’t really made the time or space to price these things up and put ’em out for sale…they’re low cost, low priority items, which we got essentially for free, and we haven’t really dealt with them yet because there are always other things occupying our time at the shop. The investment in this collection, aside from employee costs in processing and space taken up by storing the boxes, is minimal.
Having looked more closely at the toys, we’ll probably keep a handful of the usable stuff and dump the rest, either in the trash or in an eBay auction titled “BIG BOX OF CRAP – cheap! L@@K H@T” just to get it all out of my hair. Even the box of little accessories probably isn’t worth the trouble or mess, and may go on the eBay too. Someday. When I have the time.
Pal Dave is starting a new feature on his site: “I Had That!” Nostalgia ahoy from one of the best comic/pop culture bloggers out there.
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.
While the Valiant Comics collectability heyday of the 1990s is now a distant memory, along with most collectability of ’90s comics for that matter, there still remains some market desirability for certain Valiant releases: the early “pre-Unity” issues (Unity being Valiant’s line-wide crossover event series), the last issues of some of their series (with their smaller print runs, you see), the early video game comics (Captain N, Super Mario Bros.), some of the #0s and mail-away/promo books, and the gold logo/gold foil variants of some of their regular issues.
Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about how these gold variants were distributed to retailers…I don’t think it was like how variants are doled out by the big publishers today, where you get one special variant for every 10, 25, 100, whatever regular covers you ordered. I suspect, at least in some cases, that the gold editions were just mailed out to retailers for us to do with as we wish. In any case, in recent years these gold variants have been selling for a pretty penny on the eBay, and the few we’ve acquired in collections over the last few years turned over some sizable profit via the online auctions.
However, I suspect we may experience where the line is drawn vis-à-vis Valiant gold-logo collectability with this recently-acquired golden edition:
It’s probably a bit hard to tell, but that’s a gold corner box and a gold foil logo on that Turok #1. Now, as I’ve written before, Turok #1 was, if not a cause, at least one of the primary symptoms of the ’90s market crash. Hot collectable company produces what should be a hot collectable #1, every retailer on the planet orders a royal assload of said #1, #1 comes out, nobody cares. So all those retailers end up with a huge ol’ turkey that they try to blow out in their bargain bins in the subsequent decade or two since.
Now, it’s possible that someday we’ll experience the Shazam! effect, where the greatly-anticipated release of Shazam! #1 in 1973 resulted in a huge abundance of that comic in the marketplace, with many copies going straight to quarter boxes. There they sat, thumbed over and exposed to the elements, until suddenly…oh, hey, it’s awfully hard to find mint copies of that comic nowadays, and now price guides have mint copies of Shazam #1 at, I don’t know, $40, $60 maybe? I don’t have my guide in front of me, but you get the idea. But if that happens to Turok #1, ever, it may not be until after I’m long dead, so, you know, in ten years or so. But basically what I’m saying is that Turok #1 is not seen as a desirable collectable by pretty much anyone, and I suspect even having a gold logo may not make that much of a difference. This site, which has been monitoring online Valiant sales, notes the market value at about $12, but ain’t too bad, I guess, but not really a patch on some of the money we’ve made on other gold Valiant variants.
But still, that gold edition Turok is nice-looking. And I do like Turok comics. Maybe I’ll just keep it.
Speaking of gold editions…this strictly isn’t just a variant, as such:
…but a second printing, which DC indicated by changing the frame of the cover from the first printing’s dark blue to this printing’s gold adding a gold border (thanks, Old Bull Lee!). Mostly I was just going to bring up the fact that Deathstroke, at one point in history, was popular enough in his own title (due in part to a brief renaissance of the Teen Titans franchise at the time) to warrant a second printing for his first issue, but then, oh yeah, it happened twice.
So anyway, I did this as a quickie gag for a couple of friends in email, and the files have been sitting on my desktop for a few days, so what the heck, here you go:
Just grabbed the pic via the Googling, so hopefully I didn’t offend anyone with my repurposing his/her scan. It was for the purpose of creating a better world, my friend.
Anyway, in other news:
Regarding that panel I posted yesterday…I felt a little funny picking out a panel by freakin’ Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, for a bit of good-natured mockery. I mean, it seems almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it? Anyway, that panel was from a strip called “Federal Men,” which ran for quite a while in the various iterations of early Adventure Comics. You can read descriptions of some of the stories here. A reprint collection of these stories would be interesting, but I’m not holding my breath.
By the way, speaking of sacrilege: here’s reader Todd with his slight reworking of the panel:
Tom Spurgeon has some commentary from one of his readers about comic pricing and buying habits. In particular, there is some discussion about the likelihood of someone spending more than $20 a week on comics in the late 1980s. As someone who entered the high-finance world of funnybook retailing in the late ’80s, I thought I’d supply a brief bit of anecdotal…well, perhaps not “evidence,” but it may be of interest.
Starting about the mid-’80s, and off and on through the late ’80s, our shop had a box of overstock and/or deadstock comics by the register with a sign on it that read “FREE COMIC WITH $20 PURCHASE.” And, it is my memory that the $20 level was originally picked because 1) it wasn’t a price level that was normally breached terribly often by the majority of customers, but 2) it was close enough to what a significant portion of customers were spending that the hope was that they’d plop another comic or two on the pile to hit $20 and qualify for their free comic.
Now…and please consider, I’m working off decades-old memories here…I believe that we had some, but not a lot, of customers slapping on additional comics to get to twenty bucks, but that eventually we had enough people already buying twenty dollars’ worth of stuff without going back and grabbing an extra book or two that they got their free comic anyway. And, eventually still, sometime around the big Batman movie-fueled boom, we did away with it completely. (I suppose we could have just raised the price level to, say, $30 or $40 for the free book, but at the time rivers of cash were flowing through the direct market and thus, perhaps the need to encourage additional sales in that fashion was no longer as strong.)
Later, we briefly did a “spend $50, get a free poster” thing along these same lines, which I’m pretty sure was in the post-market crash years of the mid ’90s. And that tells me that, even though the high-livin’ days of the boom were long gone, the customer base that remained was spending far more on average than they had pre-boom, so that $50 now seemed like the just-above-average typical sales level that seemed achievable.
My memory was that was more about clearing out old poster stock than hoping people would hit $50, which, like what happened with the $20 level, is something people gradually started doing anyway.
Wish I remembered more details about these things. Should’ve kept better notes.
Speaking of our retail past: Chris Sims recently concocted this Comics Alliance article about comic book bumper stickers, and in the comments section to it, someone mentioned our old “U.S. OUT OF LATVERIA” stickers that we had at the shop. [NOTE FOR MY DAD, WHO READS MY BLOG: Latveria is the fictional country that the Fantastic Four’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Doom, hails from.] Now, I tried to respond to said comment with a link to a post on my site featuring said sticker, but alas, the CA comment machine does not like linkity-links, so instead I’ll post that link here.
And before you ask: no, I don’t have any more. Sorry, kids.
I’d noted something on my Twitter the other day, and thought I’d repeat it here: you know what I’d like to see Christopher Nolan name the third Batman movie? The Caped Crusader. That’d be pretty awesome, right? Yeah, I knew you’d agree.
Someday I’d like to see a collection of all the space-filling short humor strips used to fill out comics back in the day. Also…was this Weird Watson’s only appearance? How can you not love that guy?
What fresh hell is this? Weekly World News…shutting down? Bat Boy…homeless? Ed Anger…even angrier?
Weekly World News has had several connections to the comic book world, such as editors Paul Kupperburg and Bob Greenberger, writer Andy Mangels, and, of course, Peter Bagge’s run of initial “Bat Boy” comic strips, among others.
The supermarket just won’t be the same without Weekly World News staring back out at you at the checkout line. Another little piece of Americana slips away.
“One thing I’ve started wondering about your memories of the speculative boom – how much cash would your average collector buying multiple copies for investment value actually have sent down the toilet, in terms of purchase price versus current value?”
That’s a hard question to answer. Well, maybe not…the general response would be “a lot,” but it would depend really on what multiple copies they purchased (and assuming they kept them in sellable shape, which, as I noted Friday, was rarely the case).
But even if they did end up investing in a boom-era comic book with some current demand and a reasonable aftermarket price — say, for example, Spawn #1 — is the 30% to 50% (if you’re lucky) of that aftermarket price you’re going to get by selling it to a dealer, or on eBay, worth the fifteen years you’ve stored them? And if you have a lot of them, you might run into the problem I mentioned here…you might be able to sell 5 or 10 or even 20 copies of Spawn #1 to the same buyer, but it’s not likely you’ll be able to sell a full case of a couple hundred copies to that buyer. At least, not without taking an enormous loss on them. I can use some Spawn #1s for the shop, but I’m not going to tie up a lot of money in 200 copes that might take me a decade or more to sell. If you want me to buy a full case of Spawn #1, it better be cheap.
And if you’ve got something nobody wants, like, say, Brigade #1, you’ve gone from the “you may make a little bit of your money back” situation with Spawn to the “too bad it’s not soft enough to use as toilet paper” side of things. Sure, the price guide might say it’s worth cover price or so, but they’re not actually selling for that. To anyone. Ever. They’re not even selling in our bargain bins, much less at full price. Anyone who invested in Brigade will find themselves…well, I believe the technical term is “losing one’s ass.”
Speaking of asses and the loss thereof…another thing to consider, when it comes to value of many of the boom books…some of you folks may remember that our shop was clearing out some backstock, selling about 100,000 units to somebody who needed comic books in bulk, regardless of title or publisher. We unloaded tons of ’90s crash-era comics at the princely sum of one shiny nickel per funnybook. Alas, I doubt you’ll see that pricing reflected in the listings of your favorite price guide (“SECOND LIFE OF DR. MIRAGE #1 – $0.05 in NM condition”).
So, anyway, to actually answer the question: while I’m sure there are some success stories, the vast majority of people who invested in multiple copies probably only realized pennies for each dollar spent, if even that.
“Do you think 52 would have sold as well if DC published it as a monthly trade rather than a weekly pamphlet?”
If they had gone the monthly paperback route, 52 would have been a drastically different creature. (For one, they would have called it 12.) It was designed as a weekly serial, with cliffhangers, and its impact (and novelty) would have been diminished had it been yet another monthly publication. Not saying there isn’t room for DC to experiment with a superhero story serialized as a monthly trade paperback, but 52 was primarily designed to take advantage of the weekly new comic pamphlet release schedule, which contributed to its sale success.
Another good sequence from Adventures into Darkness #14:
I don’t normally buy current publications from Archie Comics, and when I do, it’s almost always books that reprint their work from the ’60s and earlier. Such was the case with last week’s Archie Digest #236, which reprints Archie’s first appearance from Pep #22, along with a full reprinting of Archie #1 from 1942.
One of the stories from Archie #1 has Archie involved in a series of mix-ups on a train with another passenger, and the poor railroad porter gets caught in the shenanigans as well. The porter looks and talks like this:
I realize it’s no shock to anyone familiar with comic book history that racist caricatures of black people (and Asians, and Native Americans, and so on) were common in early stories (and this isn’t even the worst example from this particular story, with other panels including dialogue like “I done thought…” and “Mus’ be dat bump on yo’ had!”). Not having an original Archie #1 lying around the house, I’m going to assume the porter has been recolored slightly for the reprint, even though all his stereotypical dialogue appears to have remained intact.
I’m not saying this shouldn’t have been reprinted as is. If you’re going to reprint your old material for historical purposes, it should be reprinted as it was, warts and all*. And that’s what folks have been doing…a glance through your Shazam Archives and your Golden Age Wonder Woman Archives, among others, will show you examples of political incorrectness similar to that bit of business with the porter. But these are high end reprints, aimed at comic collectors, who are presumably familiar with the poor way minority groups were portrayed. Disclaimers aren’t uncommon, noting the usage of such caricatures were typical of the time, and left unchanged for historical reference.
This Archie digest, however, is aimed at a young, general audience. It’s one of the few modern comics actually sold in places where people who aren’t comic fans shop. At my grocery store, they’re right up there at the checkout line, next to the TV Guide and the Weekly World News. How will kids take the porter’s portrayal — how will the parents? — particularly since there is no disclaimer that I can find noting the historical reasons for that portrayal.
I’m very curious as to the response Archie Comics will receive.
Okay, one last round of “Mike Remembers Barely Making It Through the 1990s:”
“Do you think we’ll ever see comic books back in supermarkets and convenience stores?”
It’d be nice, and in some cases apparently you can find comics in some convenience stores…but a widespread revival of this manner of distribution? Not unless 1) comics get a whole lot more popular, and 2) the profit potential for them is enough for store owners to risk valuable space on them.
“Do you think Gemstone will keep publishing Disney comics for very long?”
Hard to say…my gut feeling says “no,” since their number of publications has declined, and their prices have gone up. Their last Don Rosa reprint book has sold very well for us, though, so maybe there’s some life there yet.
“There are those who insist that monthly super-hero comics will be dead sooner rather than later. Do you see a trend in that department? What’s your take on the viability of our beloved monthlies?”
I think if the price point of the standard comic book goes much higher, something is going to have to give. My guess is a regular comic book will eventually undergo some form of evolution, possibly into a much thicker publication with more stories, at a slightly higher price point (but giving a higher perceived value to the reader), and just loaded with ads to help subsidize the cost of the magazine.
There are a lot of economic factors there that I’m overlooking (such as whether or not a comic book publication could attract enough ads, and get enough money from them). At the very least, I don’t think monthly books will go away, but they’ll have to become something new to give readers more perceived value for their money.
“Where the hell did all these investors come from in the first place? I mean, why did everyone suddenly get the idea that these comics would be worth a lot of money? Comics had been around for decades and decades, and then — all of a sudden, out of nowhere — all these non-comic book fans start investing in them? Why? Was there some sort of triggering event? I don’t get it.”
Apparently there was a large crash in the sports card market just prior, and it was just a lateral shift from collecting one thing to another…I don’t have exact details, but it appeared to be common knowledge at the time. I can personally testify to the number of investor-types requesting “comic book Becketts” — Beckett being the publisher of several sports card price guides — so that lends credence to that theory.
Also, the greater awareness of comics among the general populace, driven by movies and media-hyped events, combined with a possible economic downturn and plenty of newspaper stories dragging out the old “did you know old comics are worth money?” thing…that made comics a large, attractive target for investing, without all that “dealing with brokers” stuff.
“Oh, another question — why are you so remorseful about selling pogs? How is that any worse than selling, say, a trading card or an action figure? People wanted pogs, and they wanted to give you money in order to own them. What’s the big crisis of conscience there?”
Because I can see the value of a trading card or an action figure. Though technically, I realize, there’s only a slight difference between a trading card and a POG, but least trading cards were numbered, sometimes had cardback text, and could be put into sets. They had something to them. POGs (or, rather, milkcaps) were, with some exceptions, just random pictures on bits of round cardboard, and just felt to me like it was worthless junk. The alleged “game” involving milkcaps was essentially jacks or marbles, without the skill….you threw a heavy disc down onto a pile of cardboard discs. and you kept the ones that turned over, or some damned thing.
I understand this might just be bias on my part, since there are plenty of folks who think comics are worthless junk too, but even if customers were willing to part with their money for POGs, I felt like I was giving them nothing of value in return. I was essentially turning their money into crap. I know I should feel like this when I sell someone a copy of, say, Purgatori, but I don’t.
Yeah, cheap shot at Purgatori, sorry, but I can accept that someone might find entertainment value in that comic. Somehow. I just don’t see that value in milkcaps.
* As far as story content goes, anyway…I realize the comics in question have been recolored and (it seems) relettered for clarity.
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:
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!”
“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.
“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:
So some of you folks had some good questions in response to this post of mine from yesterday…I’m mostly just answering direct questions today, but I’ll probably get around to speaking about some of your more general observations soon.
If you have more questions or comments, feel free to lay them on me.
“I would be curious if you could think of any possible bright sides of the bust. Did anything good come out of it (besides the death of a ton of lousy titles) or was it just a great big pile of suck without any glimmering glints of gold peeking out from underneath the rubble?”
Well, there were a few good things, I think:
1. A refocusing by certain publishers on comics that were worth reading, rather than just being foil-covered, die-cut objects for magpies to gather. (Though this is slowly coming undone.)
2. Shaking out some of the retailers who jumped into the market just to exploit their customer base with “investments” and “collectibles.”
3. And most importantly, teaching the surviving retailers a very important lesson about over-ordering, buying fads, and the transience of “investing” customers. You’ll find a lot more retailers nowadays swearing by their cycle sheets and ordering a lot more conservatively, particularly if they weathered the ’90s.
“As a retailer, did you ever try to talk any customers out of buying multiple issues or otherwise contributing to the speculation bug? If you did, was it regular customers or just guys thinking they would cash in on the Death Of Superman or X-Men 1, etc?”
If someone came up to the register with multiple copies of a book, I wouldn’t necessarily try to dissuade them, but I would at least ask them something along the lines of “Are you sure you want this many?” Even if they had just two copies of a book, I’d say “Hey, you had two copies of this comic in your pile…did you mean to do that?” But, if they were adults, and they wanted to have multiple copies…hey, it’s their money.
Also, keep in mind we had ginormous distributor bills…we were raking in a ton of cash, but we were also doling out a lot of coin of the realm at the same time. If someone wanted to buy thirty copies of a book that otherwise was kind of sitting there, we weren’t in a position to say “no,” really. Multiple copy sales of that magnitude (or more, like full cases of books) rarely happened anyway, and it was usually as special-ordered wholesale items to people selling at swap meets, or via mail order, or what have you.
On the other hand, when customers asked me which comics would be a good investment, that’s where I drew the line. Depending on my mood (and how well I knew the customer) I’d say “If I could tell the future, I’d be at the racetrack,” or I’d just respond with a “Who can tell?” Or, more likely, I’d say “Buy something you’d like to read, that way it’ll always be worth something to you.” That particular mantra was repeated many a time.
At no time did I ever, ever, recommend a comic book as an investment. Aside from the fact that I’d prefer people read the books, the danger of that was, of course, recommending a book that turned out to be a turkey, and having the customer chase after me with a rusty clawhammer because I sold him four hundred copies of Team Youngblood #1.
Another thing that, hopefully, makes me look a little less bad was, at the time, I had set up a “RECOMMENDED READING” rack of good comics that I wanted to encourage people to actually read, as opposed to just dropping into a Mylar and waiting for the price to skyrocket. (That’s how we ended up regularly selling about 5% of the print run of a Pirate Corp$ issue, to bring up one fond memory.)
“I’ve often wondered if Overstreet and the other pricing guides acknowledged the crash, or whether their ‘market prices’ for various issues just kept going up, and up…”
You know, that’s a good question, and I think I probably have the magazines and guides at the shop to research it. But just as a hunch, I imagine it’s like this:
Overstreet, on the whole, is pretty conservative with pricing, so aside from some fluctuation on, say, Valiant titles, it probably didn’t alter its pricing too much, since they probably never acknowledged too much of the “hot title” pricing to begin with.
Wizard probably just dropped “hot” comics out of their price guide entirely as prices dropped, with “not enough interest in the title to justify using the space” as a reason.
And the other fly-by-night price guides all dried up before they could start running post-crash pricing.
I need to dig out some of the guides and take a look to see what they actually did. Watch this space!
“…Do you think there will ever be another time when comics are a mass medium, as they were from the 1940s-1990s? And if so, what changes in the comics industry and/or society will be necessary for that to happen?”
I think it was Dave Sim, of all people, who said that television is the only real mass medium, and everything else is a distant second. But, for a while there, comics were enormously popular, but I think the ’90s may have been the last hurrah of that particular market situation (no matter how hard the publishers are trying to revive it with all their variant covers).
1. We had an enormously popular Batman movie that created a faddish interest in comics.
2. The sports card market collapsed, driving investor types into the comic market looking for more collectibles (a drive pushed by the Batman-created fad, most likely).
3. This may just be crazy talk, but I’ve had a half-baked opinion that comic sales seem to bump upward during times of economic depression, and maybe someday I’ll get around to researching that a little more fully.
And I’m sure there are other reasons, but I think the main reason for the ’90s market being the way it was could be attributed to the faddish nature of comics’ popularity. There’s no real telling what will create a fad like this, how big it’ll get, or how long it’ll last…and now that comics have had their big fad moment, it’s unlikely it’ll happen again in the near future. (How many big “pet rock” revivals have there been since the ’70s, for example?*)
As it is, the comics market is improving slightly, as the focus moves ever so surely towards a trade paperback-based system. As awareness of comics increases, more people find things they like, and readership increases…and so long as the market grows naturally, and healthily, I don’t care if it does reach the heights of the ’90s. And frankly, the only way that would happen at this point is for another comics fad to hit, which I don’t know any of us really want to see.
By the way, in some instances, comics are doing enormously well. How many best seller lists is the Naruto manga on, for example?
“…Was there one “eureka” moment for you when you knew the crash was coming? When you knew things were falling apart, or about to fall apart?
“For that matter, did you smell the crash at all?”
I think I’ve noted before that the crash was pretty sudden. We had a few weeks when sales dipped a bit, and we thought it was just one of those periodic sales adjustments, and things would be back up to normal shortly.
And then things just kept dipping, and we thought “Well, this is going on a little longer than normal, surely those customers will be back. We’d better keep ordering our regular numbers so that we’ll have the back issues for them when they return.”
And then the sales continued dipping, and then we, along with every retailer in America and abroad, went “Oh, shit.”
The one thing that really made me think “Oh, this can’t be good” was a certain issue of the Diamond Previews catalog. For one, it was much thicker than previous issues. I think it was even thicker than the current Previews. And two, it contained the debut of (or at least special-featured solicitations for) at least three different superhero shared universes from three different publishers (one may have been Dark Horse’s Comics’ Greatest World). I remember looking at that and thinking “We don’t have the rack space to support this” and “How do they expect customers to afford to follow all these books?” I can still recall my very strong feeling of dread.
“I guess like Larry E, I’m interested in, for lack of a better word, the ‘ethics’ of the 90’s speculator boom. Did you feel a certain responsibility to dissuade folks from being a bit too silly with their money (multiple issues, ‘investing,’ etc.), or is this sort of like asking a liquor store owner if he feels bad about taking money off a guy who buys a 30 pack?
“I know you to be a generally swell and ethical guy, but were there ever any moments in the 90’s where you felt tested, or even points where you were like ‘No, this is not why I got into this business at. all.’?”
I addressed this at least partially with my response to Larry E…I think my responsibility was in telling people who asked about comic book investing was that it wasn’t a good idea. But, if people wanted to spend money on multiple issues, even after I asked them if they were sure…well, I’m not their mom, I’m not going to tell them what they can or can’t spend their money on. And like I’d said…most of the time, it was just people buying doubles, which was no big deal.
Was that healthy for the comics industry in the long run? Probably not. But not even a Mikester in his early 20s’ fightin’ prime could save the industry by himself, refusing to sell multiple copies and extolling his customers to turn away, turn away I say, from those five different X-Men #1s, stop rubbing the blood on Bloodstrike #1, and buy only comics you’ll enjoy reading! I did what I could to encourage reading and discourage investing, but the economic reality of it was that I had to accept the investors are part of the deal. Besides, if they didn’t buy ’em here, they’d go to one of the other half-dozen stores that popped up in our immediate area and buy ’em there. (‘Course, most of those stores dried up years ago.)
On the other hand, the kind of person who’d buy a case of any given issue at a time wasn’t someone who was going to stick around as a reader anyway. He was in it for short term profit, not long term entertainment.
As far as the “not why I got into this business” part…it wasn’t comics, but POGs what did the deed. I’ve written about this before, but POGs and their ilk are really the only thing I hated, hated selling. It honestly made me feel like a crook taking money from kids for POGs and POG supplies and POG sheets and slammers and what have you. I would have probably felt better about selling cigarettes to them, because then at least the kids would get cool menthol flavor, which is far more than they’d be getting from these stupid milkcaps. This was pretty much post-crash, however, and we were doing everything we could to get cash in the door and keeping the doors open. And, kids wanted POGs, we had no shortage of people wanting to wholesale POGs to us, and our will was weak.
When my time comes, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to God.
“Were you around for the ’80s ‘Black and White’ boom? If so, how was it similar and different?”
I was around as a reader and a fan for the black and white boom, but I wasn’t on the retail end of things until shortly afterward. Our shop didn’t fall for the b&w boom like some folks did…we may have carried Solson titles and assorted other small press titles cranked out to take advantage of the investors market created by the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but never more copies than we thought we could sell. There was no investing in these b&w #1s in quantity, in the hopes a financial killing could be made (like the poor bastard I saw at a convention circa ’91, with a whole long box of the notoriously terrible Shadow of the Groundhog).
I would say, in general terms, that the primary difference between the black and white boom and the late ’80s/early ’90s boom was that the former was more publisher driven, while the latter was consumer driven. When TMNT came out, it was a huge hit, with early issues commanding enormous prices. Suddenly everyone was a comic book publisher, cranking out their own black and white titles hoping for that same success. Not saying there weren’t any good publishers that came out of that (like Slave Labor and Dark Horse), and that some titles didn’t sell well, but there was a metric assload of terrible, terrible comics, number ones pumped out one after another, in the hopes that if you threw enough crap at a wall, some of it would stick…and very, very little of it did. (And then there are the tales of some publishers holding back cases of their own titles, attempting to manipulate the market and create their own “hot” books….)
And Comic Bob wants a more detailed timeline of the ’90s, in regards to the rise and fall of the industry. I’ve sort of noted some of the things he mentions in past posts linked in yesterday’s post, but perhaps a more thorough timeline would be in order. I’ll see what I can cook up.
Related: Dick has been relating his history as a kid reading comics in the ’90s beginning with this post, which may be of interest to people curious about what the market was like from a reader’s point of view.
* A TRUE MIKESTER STORY: In grade school, we were given a project to create some kind of marketable product, along with its packaging, for…well, for some reason, I’m sure. Hey, it’s been 30 years, give me a break. Anyway, the product I created was a Pet Rock knockoff called the “Pet Stick,” a wooden stick packaged in a triangular tube I constructed (kind of like the priority mail tubes you get from the USPS). It came with a set of instructions that included games you could play with your Pet Stick, including “Fetch the Dog” — you throw the stick, it’ll attract a nearby dog, which will pick the stick up and bring it back to you. I’ll still defend that as being a pretty good joke.
As I’ve mentioned previously on this here weblog, one of my projects at the store lately has been going through dead stock in the back room. We have a buyer who just wants to buy a lot of comics in bulk, and doesn’t care what they are…we’re not getting much for ’em, but “a little” is better than “the nothing” we were getting for them before. Plus, we’re freeing up lots of valuable store space, and that’s the half-full cup I’m focusing on.
The vast majority of the bulk comics we’re unloading are from the early ’90s, that crazy period when comics were booming, recent back issues were selling like you wouldn’t believe, money was coming in by the crateful, and these good times were never going to end, never! Well, they ended, all right, with promised blockbusters not busting a darn thing, and the collectors/investors that were driving the inflated comics market bailing out and buying, I don’t know, Beanie Babies or some darn thing instead.
One of those comic market bombs was the much-ballyhooed Image Comics/Valiant Comics mini-series Deathmate, which I mentioned briefly before. As I noted, a crossover between two red-hot companies was sure to be a sales success, and most stores ordered accordingly. However, it ended up tanking, whether it was due to its erratic shipping schedule, lack of the more popular Image characters (like Spawn), or just plain awfulness, it’s hard to say. Actually, it’s not hard to say…it was all three, surely.
At the time, I was still enjoying some of the Valiant books, and though I had little to no interest in the Image characters represented, I thought I’d give the series a try. No go…after the first two issues, I decided that it wasn’t for me, and I hardly gave it another thought. Well, as a fan, I didn’t give it another thought. As a comic store manager, I gave it plenty of thought…”well, crap, what am I going to do with this boatload of Deathmates?”
My plan for this weblog today was to gather together a full set of Deathmate, read the series from beginning to end, and do a (hopefully) light-hearted and fun review of the comics, and we could all have some fun reminiscing about this strange time in the comics industry.
That was the plan.
However, to pull the plan off, I would have to read the comics in question. And you know what? They’re really, really bad. They’re like the epitome of what early ’90s “hot” comics were like…barely competent art, extremely sparse plots that still managed to turn into jumbled messes, laughable dialogue. I managed to give a full read to the first couple in the series, but could only manage to skim the rest.
The overarching “plot,” as it were, of the series was that Solar (from the Valiant Universe), heart aching from the loss of his life-long love, flings himself into a some kind of interdimensional limbo and finds the WildC.A.T.s’ Void (from the Image Universe). The two of them get down with some cosmic lovin’, and as a result, the two Universes are merged, and the rest of the series is characters running around shouting at each other that something is wrong with reality.
The best part of Deathmate (and by “best” I mean “oh, look, the dog poop on my shoe isn’t so thick by the heel”) was probably the first story in the Prologue, which is at least is by Bob Layton and Barry Windsor-Smith (inked by Jim Lee), so it’s at least competent. It is a nice companion piece to the generally excellent early issues of Valiant’s Solar series, in which Solar’s companion Gayle asks him to stop extending her life with his powers…to let her die. It’s affecting, in its way, and kicks off the whole “Solar seeks companionship with ultra-powerful cosmic being” thing I mentioned earlier. It’s a bit more complicated than that — isn’t it always? — but that’s the gist of it.
Now, as for the rest of the series…lemme explain first, for those of you blissfully ignorant of how this whole Deathmate thing worked. Instead of issue numbers, which would have made things easier, the issues are identified primarily (har har) by color. The Prologue and Epilogue issues have silver foil covers, and the other issues have blue, black, yellow, and red foil. There are also variant covers, of course, since this was the ’90s, but I’ll get to those later.
The foil cover on Deathmate Yellow is probably the worst of the bunch. Scanning it doesn’t do it any justice…I tried, these guys tried, but nothing quite properly conveys the piercing, acidic yellow on this cover. Sunday at the store I was packing up a pile of these for the bulk sale, and that yellow actually started to make me physically ill. And no, it wasn’t the thought that we dumped so much money into this comic…I was having an honest-to-God reaction to that horrible, horrible shade of yellow. I’ve no explanation.
Anyway, back to the actual contents…the majority of the stories in the Deathmate series are Valiant and Image characters fighting each other, but the first story in Yellow features Valiant characters Armstrong and the Eternal Warrior being “Jerked Through Time” (that’s the title, I swear) to ancient Rome. As a result…quite possibly the finest use of a vomitorium in an intercompany comic book crossover:
CLICK FOR BIGGER
And, yeah, that’s pretty much the highlight of that book. In fairness, it’s not a terrible story, given that Armstrong is so slovenly a character that he’s usually fun to read.
Deathmate Black is notable for being the only issue of the series to have even the slightest aftermarket demand, primarily due to the brief appearance of the briefly-popular Gen 13. Also, this issue provides a good microcosm of the ’90s comics market. Here’s what about half the books from Image looked like:
CLICK FOR BADDER
And here’s the other half:
CLICK, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CLICK
The most infamous issue was, as I recall, the one that was the most delayed, Deathmate Red. I believe it was also returnable, at least partially, as well, making it the hardest to find. Though why you would want to find it is beyond me…it’s Youngblood and Bloodshot, with Rob Liefeld at the helm for at least the first half, and you can glance at this cover for a taste of its greatness.
Aside from the core series, there were also variants and a “preview” issue. The preview is generally referred to as “Deathmate Pink,” and you can see a pic of it here. It’s simply a few pages from Yellow, with Shadowman sitting down and having a quiet cup of tea with Grifter. Oh, okay, not really, they’re actually fighting. “Pink” was distributed with the Diamond Previews catalog, though, according to some of the signage I still had with our copies at the shop, copies may have also been distributed with boxes of Ultra Pro comic supplies.
The variants were simply gold foil editions of the books, which made the variants for Blue and Black stand out, but the gold variant of Yellow always used to make me look twice. It was just close enough to not be immediately obvious to me at the time, though looking at it now…well, the fact that the gold foil doesn’t make me sick should be difference enough.
I should admit that, as I was processing the Deathmates for disposal, I thought I’d better check the back issue bins in case the Deathmate section needed restocking. Surprisingly, we needed Blue…though seeing as how this is probably the first time I’ve checked this section is, oh, a decade, who knows when it actually sold.
So anyway…so long, our backroom Deathmate stock…we barely knew ye, but I’m glad to see the back-end of you as you become someone else’s problem.
Of course, with my luck, suddenly Deathmate will become red-hot again as soon as we unload all these turkeys. Though I shudder to think of a comics industry shift that would make Deathmate popular.