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So the general consensus to Monday’s post, in which I talk about not wanting to spend my time grading and pricing other people’s comics for free, is “good on you.” And a lot of “you shouldn’t feel bad,” and honestly, I don’t. My comment near the end of that post about seeming “terribly selfish” was my half-attempt at trying to balance just how negative I was sounding. It was all “I won’t do this” and “I won’t do that” and, despite being entirely justified, I felt like I was coming across like a real sorehead. Thus, I assure you, I am perfectly happy saying “no” when I feel like someone’s trying to take advantage of me (even if they don’t realize they are, which most of the time is the case).
Thom H. had a question about what was goin’ on:
“It sounds like it’s happening to you more frequently lately. Is that true? And is there a reason for it? Has something suggested to your community that this is a service local comic shop owners provide?”
I’m not sure, frankly. In fact, my first phone call at the shop that Monday was someone else asking if I’d price their comics for them. Now, part of it may simply be the local populace becoming increasingly aware that there’s now a comic book store lurking in their midst, and that’s enough for people to dig out their backpacks and milk crates filled with full runs of Youngblood: Strikefile out of the storage units and haul ’em into my shop. Also pointed out is that you can expect a flurry of this sort of behavior whenever there’s a widespread puff piece in the news about “first Batman sells for a billion dollars.” I don’t think there’s been a widely disseminated story along these lines lately (well, there’s this, but I doubt that’s putting dollar signs in the eyes of people in Southern California), but they’re easy enough to find online, so those stories never really go away.
Also, it seems to me that any collectibles store probably gets a lot of this sort of request. I can only speak for comic shops, since that’s where I’ve been
imprisoned employed for all this time, but I’ve been hearing “can you tell me what this is worth?” for decades now. Usually, it’s someone calling on the phone (as one may infer from the title to Monday’s post) with a book or two or a dozen that they rattle off to me and expect me to price and grade on the spot, which I can’t do because I have no idea what condition the item is in, and it never does any good to ask because the person on the phone never knows. Sometimes I can’t even get the title out of ’em. The running gag is that if I’m told it’s a mint X-Men from the 1960s, it’ll ultimately turn out to be a Cyber Force from the ’90s that might actually still be on fire.
In person, it works about the same. Someone has a comic at home, they want me to nail down a price on it, and I really can’t, not without seeing it. Now, I’m not a complete jerk about it…on the off chance that they know the actual title and issue number, and I’m not otherwise occupied, I can pop open the price guide and give them the range of values the book might fall under, emphasizing that “condition is everything.” And like I said last time, if they want to poke through the store copy of the price guide, so long as I’m not using it, no problem. I just can’t price books without seeing them, because if I do so and then they bring in the comics to sell, and they’re not in the condition promised, then any prices based on that condition are out the window and nobody’s happy.
Anyway, that’s Day Two of “Mike’s Comic Buying Philosophy” and my thanks to my two remaining readers for sticking with this.
A weird thing that’s been happening of late is the preponderance of folks stopping into my store with stacks and stacks of books wanting me to, you know, just spend a few minutes grading and pricing them out of the goodness of my heart and not out of any expectation that the comics would eventually end up in my possession. As you may have gathered from that too-long sentence, this is not a thing that I want to do. I’ve spent decades learning to grade and price comics, and that the actual grading/pricing process of a pile of comics takes time, and if I’m spending time doing this without receiving any benefit from it (like, say, being able to sell the comics myself to make profit for the store), then it’s taking away from my ability to make a living with my shop.
My old boss Ralph used to offer an appraisal service, where he’d go through a collection and do a full write-up of grades and current estimated pricing on each comic, but he’d charge an hourly fee to do so. In my case, there was one person with a small stack of books that he asked me to grade, as he was attempting to grade and price them himself and he wanted to see if he was doing it at least reasonably properly. This person did offer to pay me for my time, and seeing as how it wasn’t too many books, and I wasn’t necessarily busy at that very moment, I went ahead and did so. Doing a full-on written-up appraisal of a large collection is probably not something I can do right now, since the shop is still a one man show and paid or not, that sort of appraisal would take away more time from other store duties than I’d be comfortable with. But, getting paid for a quick run-through of a small selection of books? Sure, I can manage that.
Otherwise, expecting me to go through each book in a large-ish assortment and give you a report on the price and condition of each one, for free? That’s asking a bit much. Thankfully, the other folks asking me for this realized my reluctance to do so, and pulled back their requests, mostly just wondering if they had anything particularly valuable in their piles of books that they should be aware of. That’s clearly a bit less time consuming, particularly in the case of the duffel bag full of well-worn ’90s comics. Maybe not so much with the large bag filled with ’60s comics, also mostly worn and water-damaged but with a couple of nice copies of Detective that I made sure to point out to the gentleman. I was trying to help them, but not in the much more extensive and time-consuming way they initially desired.
I don’t think I’m being too much of a hardnose about it. If someone drops in with a couple of comics they’re wondering about, I’ll give ’em a hand figuring out what they’ve got. But I honestly can’t spend the time processing other people’s collections when I’ve got boxes full of comics I actually am able to sell that I need to grade and price.
When I’m actually buying a collection, I have to do grade/price estimates, obviously, but that’s specific information I usually keep to myself, using it to decide my total offer at the end of the transaction. I mean, if the seller asks “how much am I getting for this comic?” or “what’s the most expensive one in the bunch,” of course I’ll let them know, but if they decide not to take my offer, all that exact grading/pricing info stays with me. I didn’t do that work so that someone can take that information and use it to sell the comics themselves. (They probably couldn’t read my chickenscratch notes that I scribble during the process anyway.)
This all probably sounds terribly selfish, but I have to protect myself. I can’t do extensive amounts of free labor for other people to profit from. That’s not fair to me. Like I said, I don’t mind looking at the occasional book or two for someone, or even just letting them peruse the store copy of the price guide, but those three or four long boxes you dragged in just for me to price for you? Obviously those comics are all in Gem Very Good to Fair Plus condition, at a penny apiece. That estimate is no charge to you.
Oops, sorry, I really was planning to have a post on Friday, and then when I missed that, a post on Saturday…but I have an excuse, honest. I was out car-shopping, and then, eventually, car-buying, over the last week, and was coming in awfully late and very tired in the evenings. Turns out that, if you’re running a shop seven days a week, that doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of time to do other things, like, oh, say, getting a new vehicle to replace the old about-to-die one.
Yes, buying a new car wasn’t something I wanted to do, but rather had to do, as my old pickup, immortalized in this Google Earth image from long ago (pointed at by the blue arrow):
…was well north of 200,000 miles on the odometer, and a visit for a smog check resulted in the mechanic telling me “I can’t test this thing,” so that, and several other issues, resulted in the need for a new Mikemobile. And thus, the 1994 Mazda B2300 is dead, long live the 2016 Hyundai Tuscon. …Actually, I tried to buy used, but it turned out there was nary a difference in price between a used 2015 Tuscon and a new 2016 one, and frankly, instead of driving a car that already had 20,000 miles on it, I’d rather put those 20,000 miles on it myself (or approximately 1,200+ trips back and forth between my home and the store).
So anyway, I have a new car, with all kinds of crazy electronic gadgetry I have to learn, as my previous vehicle was essentially a collection of levers and pulleys and this new car is like a more advanced version of KITT from Knight Rider. But now Caveman Mike have new magic machine to bang club on, and Blogging Mike should be back on schedule with his website. Thank you for your patience.
Oh, and by the way, on a completely unrelated note, now might be a good time to, say, come shop at my store, or maybe buy something from my eBay listings, or even patronize my Patreon. Or just overnight me a shoebox full of twenties, that’d be okay, too.
• • •
Okay, how ’bout some comic book-type stuff? I kept meaning to do a little write-up about DC’s Batman Day event, in which DC tries to get the word out about this crazy dude what dresses like a bat and fights crime. Yeah, okay, it’s the comic industry’s version of advertising Coca-Cola, but there’s usually a freebie of some kind involved (this year, a reprint of the recent Batman
#1 from the Rebirth event), and it does
get folks into the shop. I did the same thing I did last year, and set up a table filled with Bat-books and boxes of back issues and offered discounts on all the stuff, and did some pretty good business. Certainly there were people out enjoying Batman Day decked out in their Bat-regalia…shirts and dresses and the like, and I barely had to advertise it at all for the event to be considered a success.
Now, this is all part of trying to create Free Comic Book Day-esque events throughout the year to generate business for comic shops, like the still-forthcoming this year Halloween-Fest and Local Comic Shop Day. That’s fine, I won’t say no to stuff like this that’ll boost sales, especially when they don’t really require a whole lot of effort. Advertise, have the goodies ready for the day, and be a happy and polite retailer that welcomes everyone that comes into your shop. Actually, that’s good advice year-round, though it sounds like some folks can’t even manage that minimal amount of effort, as related by pal Shane on his Twitter.
Speaking of stores, Diamond Comics has regular Best Business Practice awards, and this year I put my shop in for Best Free Comic Book Day 2016. Only Diamond accounts can vote, so I can’t push the Progressive Ruin Army to my bidding here, but I figure I was the only comic shop with Jaime Hernandez, Batman, and my dad in-store for FCBD this year, so surely I have a chance at claiming this honor. (And if Jaime, Batman and my dad did all show up at another store without my knowing…well, wouldn’t that have been something.)
Oh, and I did another Back Issue of the Week at the store site, too. These are fun to do! Maybe I should start a comic book blog.
And one more bit of Turok Dinosaur Hunter first issue follow-up from last week: read this account of the dreaded fate that befell approximately 5,000 copies of said comic, if you dare.
Because you demanded it…TUROK DINOSAUR HUNTER FOLLOW-UP:
So after my post on Friday, I was going through a bunch of boxes at home and found my stash of planned eBay fodder that predated opening my store. In that box was my personal collection of the Valiant Comics Turok run, up through about issue 30. I think that was about the time I’d stopped reading Valiant Comics anyway, after losing interest in what had been an entertaining/exciting line of shared universe books, but that’s probably a subject for another post. But I still have my very own copy of the embossed foil chromium-carded cover, which I’m oddly pleased by.
Speaking of which, Aaron said in response to Friday’s post:
“Pretty sure it was solicited as a chromium cover similar to Bloodshot #1 which also was basically just a glued on card. The solicits made a huge deal about X-O Manowar #0 being a full chromium wraparound cover which was way better (and cooler) than either the Bloodshot or Turok…”
That sounds likely. I mean, it’s possible it was originally solicited one way but released as we know it if it turned out the full chromium cover wasn’t feasible. But, if that happened, that would have been a pretty big deal, I’d imagine, and a sizeable egg in Valiant’s face that would have been noted somewhere in something more Google-able than anything I’m finding now.
“So Turok #1 goes for $2.25 these days, huh? It used to be one of the comics that I would regularly see in large blocks in dollar bins – just sitting there sadly hoping some child would pay a dollar for the shiny cover.”
Well, that particular copy in the shape that it’s in, I have priced at $2.25. I think it guides for…$4, maybe? Now at the previous place of employment, we had…more than plenty, shall we say, so we thought nothing of dumping ’em in the old bargain bin. Okay, maybe not “nothing” — I’m sure we sighed a little as we tossed in there alongside Wolfpacks and Semper Fis — but their familiarity in the storage room bred some contempt out in the front of the shop, so away they went, hoping someone would take pity on us and haul them away a copy at a time.
At my shop, I think I have just that one copy currently in stock. And I’ve sold a few since opening, none of which were out of the bargain bin. Twenty-something years on, it may not necessarily be as widely available as it once was. Stores that were around then that are still around now are few and far between, and stocks from old now-closed shops may be languishing in garages or storage units or landfills somewhere, effectively off the market. I mean, this is just me throwing a wild guess out there — you know where to debate me — but barring warehouse finds (or an E.T. Atari game-style archeological dig) newer stores, like mine, probably won’t have Turok #1s in depth. And like I said in that post on my store site, fancy covers are getting rediscovered by newer generations who weren’t make sick of them back in the ’90s, so there is a market slowly building for them again!
Wayne answers my question about what was under that chromium card on Turok‘s cover:
“…It was just blank white space beneath the glued on chromium. I’d forgotten about how many issues of this comic our store had left over. Our real death knell came when the four different covers for DEATHMATE came out.”
Thanks for that info, Wayne! And as for the overstock on Turok, a look back at my review of the animated Turok movie reminded me that in the extra feature, it was revealed that 1.7 million copies were shipped to stores. So, yeah, like i said in answer to the previous question, they’re likely out there, somewhere, waiting for their moment to strike, but as for now they’re probably not as widespread as they used to be. There are some larger shops still around now that were around back then, who may have Turok wings in their storage buildings, but like I said, newer shops may not have built up a stock on these yet. (As opposed to the 1992 X-Men #1, where I haven’t been actively buying them and yet I seem to have, out of nowhere, built up a pretty good supply of them, somehow.)
There’s also the “SHAZAM! Effect,” as described here in yet another post where I talk about Turok #1, where copies are dumped in bargain bins and generally mistreated for decades when suddenly, whoops, near mint copies are suddenly hard to find now. Okay, 1.7 million copies are quite a few to work through, but there may be a point, someday, where nice copies of this comic are the exception, not the norm. We may all be giant-headed cyborgs with spindly bodies in floating chairs by then, but, you know, it’s theoretically possible.
One other thing that can contribute to the attrition of nice copies of this comic (or any popular, way overprinted comic of the ’90s) came up in a Twitter chat I was having with pal Brandon. He was asking about the black-bagged Superman #75, and I noted that while there were a lot of copies sold of this, it seems like a lot of the copies I’ve seen come through the shop over the years were not kept in any kind of decent condition. This happens a lot: I direct you to this (gasp) 10-year-old post about an attempted investment collection where said investor did nothing to protect this investment. A lot of the people who bought comics in the ’90s are not buying comics now, and their collections have largely been discarded, shoved away in the garage, or otherwise no longer being stored properly since their owners have lost interest. A good portion of collections I see from this era are just straight-up unsellable. You’d think with all the bags and boards and top-loaders and high-end fancy-pants protectors we sold throughout the decade, more comics would have survived the trip.
Just to be clear: I don’t think near mint copies of Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1 are rare in the slightest. But they may not be as easy to find as they once were.
As for Deathmate…man, I may have to gather my thoughts on that turkey for future discussion, but I think it’s cute how hard folks tried to make Deathmate: Black a hot comic because Gen13 made an early appearance in it. Frankly, I think even typing the word “Deathmate” made all comics in my immediate area lose 20% of their value.
Now here’s a thing I’d totally forgotten about: the 8-page Marvel Spotlight giveaways from the mid-1990s. I mean, I completely forgot this was even a thing. I remember the various iterations of the regular DC promo flyers, the Eclipse Comics one…but no memory at all of this one from Marvel. It’s got the usual features: the individual issue spotlights, the brief interviews with creators, the full checklist of every comic due out that month. I know we must have had carried these at the shop, and I’m sure I shoved them into the shopping bags of customers, but…nope, these have completely departed what’s left of my mind.
Anyway, this turned up in a box of comics that looked like it had been pretty much untouched since the 1990s…all the usual X-Men and Avengers comics that you see in every collection, plus a small stack of Wizards probably used to price said comics — RECREATION OF THEORETICAL PRICING EVENT PICTURED BELOW:
• • •
…And as usual with collections like these, there are a small handful of comics that are actually of use, and then there’s the pile that goes straight to the bargain boxes. Ah, well. But it was neat seeing that old Marvel Spotlight…makes me wish for the days of regular individual company “coming attractions” freebies again, though those have been mostly supplanted by the Comic Shop News weekly paper and by Diamond Previews and oh, maybe the internet too, I guess. I mean, yeah, there are occasional high end free preview comics from Marvel and DC, but that’s not quite the same as a regular newsletter. The things one can get nostalgic for….
In other news:
- DanielT asked in response to my recent End of Civilization post:
“…I presume Erik Larsen coming to Spawn did absolutely nothing? How does Spawn sell for you compared to Savage Dragon?”
Well, despite my joke from that post, Spawn appears to be slowly crawling up in sales. Yes, it’s true that for the most part, this series sells pretty much at the same level, month after month, with the occasional fluctuation, and right now we seem to be in a slight upward trend. It seems unlikely that it’ll ever come close to its ’90s heights again, but what titles do? That it’s still selling at all is a success worth noting.
Now Savage Dragon…it’s fine, more power to Larsen to keeping it going and staying true to his vision, but it’s bit of a hard sell around here, I’ve noticed. Well, at least on the rack…I have pull customers for it, but it’s not a title that people just sort of casually grab off the shelf anymore. Even at my previous place of employment it wasn’t a comic purchased by walk-ins…it mostly just went into hold boxes. Which is a shame, because it is a solid and weird superhero comic. Hopefully our area is just an oddball one, and that it sells just fine elsewhere.
And you know what? Good on both McFarlane and Larsen for not relaunching/rebooting their respective series with new #1s!
- Hey, after a long hiatus, Dr. Polite Scott has resuscitated his site and once again doing comics medically-related funnybook blogging! Encourage that man to stick around a bit…go, read!
So a couple of weeks ago my parents got themselves a pair of new iPhones, and as part of the deal they received a couple of free iPad Minis. They kept one, and gave the other to me.
Now I was trying to figure out what to do with it, exactly…I have another tablet, a Nook, which I used primarily for book readin’, as I generally used desktop computers for fooling around on the internet. But given my recent entry into store ownership (that store being Sterling Silver Comics, located in the heart of beautiful Camarillo, CA) and my increased work hours, I’ve been falling behind on my reading, be it comic books, actual physical novels or virtual novels on said Nook. Now, I did power up the Nook again just recently, to take advantage of the recent ebook settlement credit I had in the Barnes and Noble account to finally get that final Dexter novel, and I totally plan on reading it as soon as I finish these other two books I’m in the middle of (yes, two, I paused reading one to read the other). If it takes me this long to get around to reading something on my Nook (which I do enjoy, by the way), what am I going to do with yet another tablet?
Well, I think I may have found a possible use…the Comixology app.
GASP! What? A gentleman whose livelihood depends on the selling of physical media comic books, delving into the digital alternative of same? MONOCLE LOSS: IMMINENT.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Mostly I poked around some of the free offerings just to see what reading a digital comic on one of these newfangled contraptions was like. Of course, I tried it out with Swamp Thing #1 (1972), and enjoyed the guided reading, where it goes from panel(s) to panel(s), zooming in when necessary, as you swipe the screen from page to page. (I did notice Swamp Thing’s word balloon from this page was miscolored…don’t know if that was a deliberate artistic choice or a mistake.) Anyway, for an Old Person like myself who still prefers holding an actual comic book in my hand, I found the Comixology thing an interesting novelty. I know many people find it a convenience, and it’s certainly a cost-effective way for smaller publishers to get their material into the marketplace.
Now, while I would prefer comics on actual paper, the digital alternative does seem to solve a particular dilemma I have as an owner of an Actual Comic Book Store That Sells Actual Back Issues.
Recently, I acquired another collection of ’60s and ’70s comics, including a small stack of Metal Men. Metal Men is one of those series I’d always meant to collect…it was one of those series I’d planned on tackling after finishing my run of the original Doom Patrol, though after completing that run, I never got around to seeking out the other series. It’s not like I didn’t have opportunity, as my previous place of employment usually had a good selection of them. But it was financial constraints, not really wanting to get started on chasing down more comics, getting distracting by other shiny objects…there were a whole lot of reasons why I never got around to it.
And here we are, years later, at this point in my comic collecting, and I’m still not really looking to start yet another back issue hunt. Yes, I’m still filling holes in my ’70s Atlas/Seaboard comics, I need a couple more comics to round out my Inferior 5, and I’ll grab any fanzines that come within reach, but I’m now buying back issues to resell in the store, not to fill my own boxes at home. I need to show some restraint, as any old comic I decide to keep for myself is suddenly a comic that’s not going to make me any money. As much as I’d love to take all these recently-acquired Metal Men home and love them and pet them and squeeze them and call them George, I need them to make me some scratch. I don’t even particularly want to “borrow” them and take them home, since it might take me a while to get through them and I don’t want to take a chance on losing a sale. (And no, I don’t really have time to read comics at the store.)
Here’s where the digital comics thing comes in. If I were to buy them as digital comics, that’s not taking product out of my store that I could resell, and that reduces the time I’d spend searching for these. I don’t necessarily need to have all these Metal Men in the original physical format…I’d just like to read them, and digital versions would be good enough.
Of course, after thinking about all that, it turns out those original Metal Men are not available through this app, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time. If DC eventually does some softcover color editions, as opposed to the high-end DC Archives or that black and white Showcase book, I’d rather get those, but digital would be fine. But this particular strategy might come in handy for any other older comics I’d like to read but not take away from store stock…or even comics that I’m likely not to see anytime soon, like that New York World’s Fair book.
So this iPad Mini looks like an interesting way to supplement my comics reading…I certainly don’t want digital to replace my beloved physical comics, but I realize the day may come sooner than I’d want it. Just give me two or three decades to make a living off of selling actual items before you younglings push Old Man Mike out of the way to download Marvel’s newest line of monthly first issues.
Okay, he also has some pog-related questions there, but I’m not quite ready to tackle those yet. However, PTOR has the honor of having the last question from that last Question Time post from all those months ago, and that question is THIS:
“How do you keep on top of Diamond / Previews constant ‘newly announced product’ and ‘just now added-on variants and reprints’ that are announced DAILY (with their own dedicated web pages on the Previews site)?
“I’m just a guy trying to keep up with the solicits of pretty much ONE CHARACTER (Doctor Strange, natch) and the constant newly announced stuff is hard to consistently track.
How do you do it for your entire store’s new inventory?”
It’s actually not as bad as it seems. Yes, there’s a constant stream of emails and announcements and whathaveyou, but when it comes to actually ordering all these different items, there’s generally only one or two places to go.
In the Diamond retailer website, you’ve got the Final Order Cutoffs page, where you can adjust your initial orders on comics and toys and other products from select vendors…generally Marvel, DC, IDW, Dark Horse, Image, Zenescope, and some others. Usually any newly announced variants or reprints from these companies will get listed here. This is the place where, if you noticed that your order of 100 copies of X-Squirrels isn’t selling very well on the rack, and you feel like your pending order of 75 copies of issue #2 is going to be way too much, when that issue shows up in the Final Order Cutoff listings you’ll have your chance to drop those numbers down to the far more reasonable 5 copies you should have ordered in the first place.
Then there’s the Previews Plus order page, where all the new products…not just comics, but pretty much everything Diamond carries…show up for your ordering pleasure. Sometimes there’s overlap with the Final Order Cutoff page, but if there is whatever numbers you may have placed will be shown here too. But generally this is the place where you put in your numbers for new product that didn’t show up in the monthly catalog.
Pretty much all new product that Diamond announces shows up in one place or the other. There are rare exceptions, such as the rush print job DC tried to do on the 2nd print of DC Universe Rebirth. We were told to contact our sales rep directly with orders, as, due to its rushed nature, it would not be in the Final Order Cutoff listings.
Occasionally there are special lists made available for other new products (like offers for some San Diego Comic Con exclusives), which are made obvious to anyone logging into Diamond’s site. Like, literally a banner across the top of the page telling you “HEY, PLACE YER ORDERS ALREADY, SHEESH.” Well, maybe not in those words exactly.
And then there are periodic liquidation sales and other special offers, which either show up in email or just when you go to Diamond’s site, but that’s for previously-available product and not quite as vital, but definitely welcome. You just kinda have to keep an eye out for those.
New product, though…the announcements come all the time, but there’s really only a couple of places to put in your orders, so it’s reasonably easy to keep up on that stuff.
And now that I’ve revealed all these secrets to you, PTOR…I’m afraid I’m going to have to kill you. Nothing personal. But that’s just how it goes in the world…of comics retail.
So when I’m not answering your questions, foolin’ around on Twitter, or allowing comic creators to vent in my comments, I’m running a comic shop, and of late I’ve been worrying about sales on the whole DC Rebirth thing.
My initial thought was that, like Marvel’s multiple reboots/restarts on their titles, the number of sales I can expect to receive on yet another round of first issues was not necessarily going to be very much. This wasn’t going to be like the New 52 relaunch from five years ago, where it was a month full of new #1s in a newly-formed (and, frankly, not quite done cooking) continuity all thrown at us at once, and the sheer novelty of it translated to big sales, even for the titles that traditionally didn’t do very well. Of course, sales atrophied on the New 52 eventually, with Batman and Justice League still doing respectable numbers, but everything else mostly just slowly fading.
DC’s “Rebirth,” by contrast, was going to be spread out over several months, with most titles effectively getting two first issues (a “Rebirth” one-shot, to sort of reestablish the characters vis-à-vis where they left off prior to the start of the “Rebirth” event, and an actual #1 to kick off the new thread of adventures, presumably). Add to the fact that most people weren’t 100% clear on what “Rebirth” was actually going to be (most of my customers seemed to assume it was another full-on reboot)…well, I had a hard time figuring how this was going to sell.
To DC’s credit, they probably assumed everyone was going to feel that way, so the early issues are returnable, which eases the burden on poor ol’ retailers like me a bit. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m going to order a thousand of everything to make darned sure I have enough to go around…I still have a budget, I still have other comics to order, and I don’t really want to tie up that much money in product for, likely, months while I wait for the go-ahead to send ’em back. So I ordered about what I estimated what I thought I could sell, plus a little more for good measure, and hoped for the best.
And then the DC Universe: Rebirth came out a couple of weeks ago.
Now, on that book, the 80-page, bargain priced one shot that was kicking off the whole thing, I ordered a ton. I ordered numbers on that book specifically so that I’d have it around for the next couple of months, as all the new “Rebirth”-branded relaunched books came out and people asked “so what’s this all about, hah?” I could hand them a copy of the 80-pagers and tell them “all the answers you seek are in here, my son.”
It, of course, sold out by the weekend.
Now, a second printing and a third printing have been announced, with the 2nd print due in stores next week (and at the more reasonable-for-the-publisher price of $5.99). That part didn’t worry me…I figured another printing would be rushed out. What did worry me was how many of those I sold, and how quickly. The first wave of new Rebirth comics were coming next week, Mike of Last Week thought, and judging by demand for that one-shot, does that mean I’m going to have crazy demand for all the Rebirth comics? Maybe I ordered too low! Can I get reorders in on time? Am I panicking? IS THIS THE END OF MIKE?
I worried mostly for naught, because for the four Rebirth titles that launched this week, I appear to have ordered more or less correctly. I probably could have used more Batman, but that wasn’t entirely my fault, as a portion of the order arrived damaged, with replacements hopefully arriving next Wednesday (and more copies heading my way, thanks to an early reorder). But even still, I appear to have had enough to meet demand. This wasn’t a New 52-scale epic rush on the stands to grab handfuls of books, but what I sold was certainly far above what I’d been selling on these titles…even Batman, which had been a strong seller prior to this Rebirth hoohar. Now that I have an idea of how Rebirth will be received, that helps me judge orders for future weeks, and it’s certainly a load off my mind after worrying about how these were going to do.
One question I’ve been getting since last week’s DC Universe Rebirth one-shot came out was “where are the plot threads introduced in that book going to play out?” I think everyone was expecting “BATMAN VS. [REDACTED]” in his first issue, or that there would be some central “Rebirth” mini-series where that stuff would be addressed. From what I understand, we’ll be seeing elements from that one-shot in the DC books over the next couple of years, but if it doesn’t culminate in a series of “DC Character Versus [REDACTED] Character” one-shots, followed by a big DC Universe Rebirth: Omega giant-size special to wrap it all up, I’ll be terribly disappointed.
In regards to my previous post, pal Andrew had his own take on the decline of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and makes a cogent argument that it wasn’t necessarily Zero Hour what done the deed.
And hey, blogging brother Tim has also opened the floor to questions, so while you’re waiting for me to finish answering what you’ve asked me, why not pick Tim’s brain?
BIG SPOILERS FOLLOWING for DC Universe Rebirth #1 (like you don’t know ’em already) and…well, I don’t really spoil Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
So anyway, about this:
First, I’m not thrilled about full spoilers for this comic getting spread all over the place days before it’s even available for sale. Comics can be a hard enough sell already, without removing yet one more incentive for buying. “What shocking surprises await within? Well, read this website and find out…save yourself buying the comic.” Gee, thanks guys, not like I didn’t order a pile of these for my shelves.
There are a couple of things that keep this from being entirely disastrous, saleswise. It could be that said spoilers might encourage people to pick up the comic, in a “I gotta see this” kind of way. Not to mention, actually reading the comic is an entirely different experience from reading a list of plot points. And there’s the fact that it’s 80 pages of comics for $2.99, which is a swell deal, though I suppose the more critically-minded may be of the “the food was terrible, but such great portions!” opinion on the matter.
Plus, there’s the fact that, believe it or not (and as I’ve mentioned on my site before) some people going to comic shops aren’t plugged into every social network and comic website, and their engagement with comic news begins and ends with walking into the comic shop, looking at the rack and picking out their books, and walking out again. Oh, and reading them eventually, too, I guess.
Anyway, I enjoyed the comic, and hopefully my customers will, too. Oddly enough, it’s actually strangely touching at one point, when a character who’s returned from the pre-New 52 universe finally connects with one of the rebooted characters. It’s probably as emotionally affecting as it is because it’s not just that we’re seeing these two characters reuniting, but that the fictional universe we readers thought was washed away forever may have a chance at coming back. Yes, that’s a silly thing to get emotional over, but I’m not made of stone.
I know DC has tried to walk back, or at least refurbish, revamps/reboots before…Kingdom and “Hypertime” being the most notable line-wide attempt at doing so. That the New 52/Flashpoint reboot was so obviously a last-minute decision, with the cracks showing almost immediately, the overall story premise of “Rebirth” being a pushback against a timeline purposefully inflicted by unknown parties upon the DCU certainly brings all these shenanigans to an almost metatextual level. That these parties appear to be the characters from Watchmen, one of the sources of the “grim/realistic” superhero trend that “Rebirth” appears to be rebuffing…well, no danger of subtlety of theme here, I suppose.
And speaking of which…holy crap, they’re using the Watchmen characters in a DC Universe thing. And not in a dream sequence, either. My guess is the same as when “Before Watchmen” was unleashed onto an unsuspecting world — Watchmen TP sales are moribund, and this is a way of spurring interest in the book again. Or maybe someone figured, hey, what the hell, this will get everyone’s attention, and lo, they were right.
Yes, yes, I suppose I should be angry about the violation of the sanctity of a classic work, but I have to tell you, I laughed and laughed. Partially because I’m amused by the idea of, I don’t know, Batman vs. Rorschach or something, and partially because I love seeing everyone else’s reaction to it. Anyway, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted and I’m sure I’m a bad person for thinking so.
Seriously, though, this whole “New 52 was an attack on the DCU” thing is a weird but interesting way of dealing with continuity issues, and would be quite clever if it were the planned outcome of the New 52 way back when, and not just a way to directly address a rushed reboot that didn’t quite take. This Rebirth one-shot is still an entertaining read for the continuity-minded superhero fan, a snapshot of where the DCU is now, what brought us here, what problems need to be resolved, and the sheer hilarious gall of bringing Watchmen into it. That’s gotta be worth your $2.99.
And you guys had to go and try to spoil this story for everyone, too! CAN WE NOT HAVE NICE THINGS
“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.
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Oh, hey, over at Trouble with Comics, to make up for all of us hatin’ on Jack Kirby in our younger years, we pick out our favorite obscure Kirby works
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