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.
Just a couple more answers to questions for today:
Hulk It Up, Y’all impresses me with his user name and then asks
“Did you ever read Toyfare when it was running? If so, what was your opinion of the magazine, especially Twisted Toyfare Theater?”
I didn’t read it as a regular thing, by any means, but I would poke through the occasional issue. On the whole I liked it a bit more than its sister magazine Wizard. It’s my memory that perhaps Toyfare was a bit less…mercenary, maybe, no so concerned with the value of this and the hotness of that as the comics magazine was. It’s possible I’m not remembering that right, that I wasn’t so concerned with the collectible toy market that I kinda glossed over all that, whereas I would regularly shake my head at some of the nonsense in Wizard, a magazine about the hobby that did occupy most of my attention.
“Twisted Toyfare Theater” (a feature in Toyfare that was basically photo funnies with action figures) was usually pretty amusing…some good, solid, occasionally…well, mostly…sophomoric chuckles were to be had. The paperback collections of those sold well for quite a while. Of course the spirit of Toyfare Theater lives on in the television series Robot Chicken, which some of you may have heard of (and carried over some of the Toyfare Theater creators, which I hadn’t known ’til Googling it up).
ExistentialMan has gone too far with
“Not sure if you’ve addressed this before but how do you manage customer pull-lists? Do you use a web-based site like Comixology, Diamond software or app, paper forms, or some combination of all of the above. What is your policy/approach to clients who visit infrequently and let issues stack up for months? In general, what percent of your average weekly sales can be accounted for with pre-ordered books on pull-lists? Yeah, three questions, I know. Sorry!”
GASP! How dare you! Three questions, indeed!
Ah, well, what can you do? As to your first question, in Ye Olden Days we actually did use paper forms, featuring as many of the currently published titles as we could fit onto there, with extra space for write-ins, that customers could mark off and we’d use to pull books. Of course, that meant updating the forms on a reasonably regular basis and transferring all the customer info from old forms to new ones and sheesh that was crazy. Eventually, we dragged ourselves into the 20th century and started using computerized spreadsheets which made things a lot easier to update and print out for weekly pulls.
As far as pick-up policy, I tend to be a lot more stringent at my new shop than I was at the old, since I’m a smaller store and it’s a bit more of a ding if I get stiffed on a comic saver. Unless arrangements were made with me otherwise (or if you’re a regular of mine from the old shop and I’m familiar with your purchasing habits/timelines), I tend to give people a call after about a month if I haven’t seen ’em. I tend to wait a little longer than I should, and give people multiple calls/emails before I give up on them. Even then I might hold onto their pulls a little bit longer just in case (even if I don’t pull anything new for them) before I file everything back into the stacks.
This brings up something I had gone on about on the Twitters a while back, about how there were pull list customers who hadn’t been in for a while, and I called multiple times, and then I finally close out their boxes…and then they walk in the door, apologizing that they hadn’t been in, that they’ve been getting my calls but haven’t had time to come by. …Okay, if you’re getting my calls, it’ll take a whole, what, 30 seconds to call back and say “Hey, I’m coming in, keep pulling my stuff!” Or you can reach me on Facebook. Or by email. Or on Twitter. I’m not in the Witness Protection Program…I’m easy to reach! If I’m calling you repeatedly about your comic saver, that’s a hint that maybe you’re not going to have a comic saver for much longer unless you call back.
On the topic of “percentage of business” – without getting into specific numbers, let’s just say it’s a not insignificant chunk. It’s good to have a dependable source of income like this…I mean, more or less, discounting situations like those in the previous paragraph. (And thankfully, there haven’t been too many of those!)
“No questions, NO QUESTIONS…well, okay, a few questions.”
“With the Free Comic Book Day coming up, this is a chance for comic book stores to connect more with the community. But it is only once a year. How else should a comic book store connect with the community, besides as a seller of goods? Does it offer any ‘complementary services’ like a comic book meeting club?”
Er, I’m getting to this a bit late, obviously, though I suppose next year’s Free Comic Book Day is technically coming up (see y’all on Saturday, May 6th, 2017!). But in terms of connecting with the community, just in the most basic of ways, the very fact that the thought of “hey, comic shops give away free comics every May, where’s the nearest comic shop?” drives the interested parties in the local community to discover (or be reminded of) your store.
And there are other methods of outreach, too…not to give away all my secrets, but I did mention here a few days ago that I donated a bunch of leftover FCBD comics to a nearby school (and have been getting some new customers in return, specifically citing that donation!), and I regularly donate merchandise or gift certificates as prizes for contests, auction items, and so on for various organizations and causes.
An actual comic club, with meetings an’ all, sounds like fun, but maybe more viable in the pre-internet days, I think? Nowadays if you’ve got an opinion about comics, you just hop online and
yell at other people thoughtfully trade ideas with your peers, but perhaps an actual physical place where folks can gather and just chat about funnybooks for an hour or two…hmmm. It’s not like I don’t have a large-ish backroom area that’s little used at the moment…this might be something to ponder.
DanielT glues me down with
“It seems because his hood was permanently attached to his head, Baron Zemo had to be fed intravenously. Why didn’t he just cut the fabric from his mouth?”
Now, my thought was that the dreaded Adhesive X, which was dumped onto Zemo’s head and bonded his hood to his skin, somehow strengthened the hood’s fabric in the process, preventing it from being cut. However, the hood still was permeable enough to allow him to breathe, so Adhesive X…I don’t know, molded so finely with the individual strands of the hood that it retained its basic physical shape (allowing air to pass through as before) but was now many, many times stronger and couldn’t be damaged? I’m sure all of this hypothesizing is fully supported by current science.
Turan, Emissary of the Fly World, mightily crusades for this question:
“Marvel and DC are determined now to let none of their trademarks lapse, and so no matter how poorly a character’s previous appearances sold, he is guaranteed to return every few years, or at least have his name attached to a new character.
“Given that, why has there been no return of the Super Boxers? Or has there been, and I have missed it?”
Ah, man, Super Boxers by Ron Wilson (script by John Byrne). That’s a comic that probably needs to be revisited and re-appreciated, since I don’t recall it going over that well at the time. At the very least, Ron Wilson is an artist that definitely was inspired by Jack Kirby, or at least working in a similar style as Kirby, but doing it in his own wonderful way. Go check out his Marvel Two-in-Ones or the 1980s Thing series for some great action-packed work.
Anyway, Super Boxers…I don’t have a copy right in front of me, but a little online research seems to indicate that Super Boxers is actually owned by Mr. Wilson, so if it’s ever to come back, he may have to do it himself. I honestly haven’t heard of any revival attempts over the decades, so…I don’t know. Marvel recently reprinted Greenberg the Vampire from their old graphic novel line, so who knows…maybe we can get Super Boxers out on our shelves again!
Trouble with Comics had a massive response to Question Time this week…so massive that the responses were posted in three parts, all of which can be found here. The Question this time around is “what are your three favorite current titles?” and you can find my response at the end of Part Three.
Also, Twitter pal Ryan is Kickstartererering a comics-related novel he’s written, Four Color Bleed, and you can check out the details about that, including a preview sample of the novel, right here. Plus, my pal Weshoyot is one of the artists on the project, so you’ll be helping her out, too!
A few days ago I was chatting with pal Nat, and somehow the topic came up about a particular bagged four-pack of comic books published by Hamilton Comics in the mid-1990s that was distributed exclusively through the Walmart store chain. Three of the included books were the Eek! the Cat mini-series, pictured here in a scan “borrowed” from this eBay auction:
Nat wrote one of the stories featured in this comic, which is why he owns a couple of copies of the four-pack, and also why he was able to let me know the fourth comic in said pack was inexplicably the comic book adaptation of the Alex Winter/Tom Stern horror/comedy film Freaked:
(Image also “borrowed,” this time from the Comic Book Database.)
Now, why Eek! the Cat and Freaked were paired up like this, aside from Hamilton having these apparently piled up in a warehouse and undistributed to comic book shops (sadly, because I would have been all over that Freaked comic) I don’t know. But this was bit of an oddity, I thought, and what use is this blog if I can’t showcase oddities?
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
From the Question File, DavidG doesn’t make it easy on me with
“In the long run, The Legion of Superheroes never recovered from the Post Zero Hour reboot, in which baby boomers destroyed years of continuity in a misguided, nostalgia based decision to make the Legionnaires teenagers again, even though they were more popular as adults. Discuss.”
Yeah, well, that was somethin’, wasn’t it? I think, in its defense, and in the short term, the Zero Hour reboot worked, as the twisted timelines/multiple Legions hoohar was resolved in an effective and not entirely unemotional manner during a DC Universe-wide event. And, unlike the usual shoehorning of the Legion into these events (difficult, given the Legion was set 1,000 years later than the rest of the DCU), it actually seemed to fit about as naturally as these things can.
Now, the problem here is that a lot of the appeal of the Legion is its soap opera aspect, with decades of character development and relationships mixed in with the superhero action, creating a significant fanbase in the process. The Legionnaires whose lives you were following in, say, the 1980s were essentially the same Legionnaires that started to be introduced in Adventure Comics #247 (1958) and continued to pop up for many years following. There were the occasional reboot or retcon (the whole post-Crisis Superboy thing, the “Five Years Later” timejump) but you can still draw a line from the beginning of the Legion to, well, the end as represented by the Zero Hour tie-in.
With that Zero Hour conclusion to the Legion saga as we knew it, the chain was broken. Granted, Legion fandom wasn’t what it once was by the time Zero Hour rolled around (what comic’s fandom hadn’t?), but that was the final break between What Had Come Before and What DC Was Going to Try to Attempt in the Future. Even Crisis on Infinite Earths didn’t cut off the Legion’s progression, despite throwing some serious monkey wrenches into the works (like, as previously noted, the whole Superboy thing).
For longtime Legion fans, that was a lot of investment in the characters that was seemingly just discarded by DC, but in DC’s defense, they couldn’t depend on just the longtime Legion fans to support the title. They had to pursue new readers and build the audience for this particular franchise, and usually the #1 strategy comic publishers go to when trying to bump up sales numbers is, well, new #1s. Or in this case, #0s, where as part of the Zero Hour event issue #0s were released in which the status quos of DC’s various titles were reestablished. And, in the case of the Legion titles, the adventures were rebooted…started from scratch and presenting a hopefully fresh, new jumping on point for readers previously intimidated by the decades of backstory.
It worked, for a while anyway, and as I recall it sold reasonably well at least for our shop, gathering some new readers as hoped, and old Legion fans (like me) sticking around out of curiosity and, oh, because the comics were actually pretty good. This version of the Legion went through some interesting permutations, I thought, including the dark but still enjoyable Legion Lost mini-series, which followed the end of the previous Legion comics.
There were a couple more series set in that Legion continuity, but eventually (and presumably sparked by a need to improve sales) a new Legion series was launched, rebooting from scratch again. It was a fun comic, I thought, with some new takes on old characters, but this reboot of the Legion only made it five years (versus the second reboot’s ten years), and then suddenly we were into our next rebooting of the Legion, which was actually more of a reinstalling of a back-up of the original Legion continuity into then-current DC continuity (with some minor tweaks here and there to jibe with the DCU as a whole).
Following that was a mini-series connected to the Final Crisis event, in which all three (or three and a half, depending on how you feel about that last reboot-ish thing) versions of the Legion encounter each other, and I think it was around this point that I sorta lost the Legion thread. I love the Legion, I read ’em for years, and it was even the only extended DC Archives hardcover set that I collected. But after reboot and relaunch and wait we didn’t mean to reboot it again let’s go back to how it was before…I couldn’t do it any more. Like I said, one of the appealing aspects of the Legion was getting immersed in the soap-operatic nature of the stories, but the multiple reboots just gave me the feeling of “well, if they write themselves into a corner, they’ll just reboot instead of trying to write themselves out of it” and that sort of soured me on the books.
I realize this is a complaint you can have about ANY comic that has a history of rebooting/restarting…I’m guessing DC’s New 52 relaunch hit a lot of people this way. But specifically with the Legion, with such a long history behind the title, to see what was special about it fragmented this way, was disappointing. The reboots seem to have shorter and shorter lives, with the New 52 version of the team (which I guess was still more or less the original continuity still, I guess?) lasting around a couple dozen issues. I’m hoping letting the team’s shelf presence rest a while (its first extended break that I can think of!) will help, and that whatever forthcoming relaunch may occur will be more well received.
There are ideas I hope DC would attempt at refurbishing the Legion for current audiences. Maybe they could appear as supporting characters in another title, or perhaps a new title could launch focusing on just one member of the team (like Brainiac 5) with other Legionnaires appearing as needed. Or maybe the Legion can just say out of the public eye until someone has a really good idea how to use them…but with hints at their existence in the Supergirl TV series, I suspect any possible media presence may force DC’s hand sooner rather than later.
So yes, DavidG, I think the Legion’s involvement in Zero Hour did cause the long-running franchise to stumble and never quite find its legs again. Not to say there weren’t good comics that came out of all the reboots, because there were, and that a five-year run of a series isn’t something to sneeze at. However, I’m not sure if or when the team will ever find any kind of extended traction again. Like Hawkman, the Legion was “fixed” until it was broken and…wait, that’s it!
Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes! I did it! I fixed ’em both! DC, get on this right away!
EDIT: Pal Andrew has additional wise insight on the matter.
PICTURED: the first Legion of Super-Heroes comic I ever read – Superboy #208 (April 1975)
Today’s short post brought to you by Mike’s recovery Thursday night from dental work earlier in the day.
Hey gang, I’ll be back on Monday with real posting, but meanwhile please enjoy my contribution to the latest Trouble with Comics Question Time, in which we discuss moments we really like from comics we don’t like all that much. My response is a comic I’ve discussed on this site before, but it’s been, like, a decade, so maybe it’ll all seem fresh and new.
Speaking of fresh and new, don’t forget that The Biggest Bang and Amelia Cole writer D.J. Kirkbride is going to be at my store this Saturday (said store being Sterling Silver Comics, located in Camarillo, CA). I expect you all to be there. …Yes, even you, the fellow from Rhode Island. They have planes for a reason, you know.
Gareth volleys the following at me:
“What’s the best comic book story that’s told completely in a single issue?”
WELL SURE THAT’S AN EASY QUESTION…uh, hoo boy, lemme think. I know my favorite superhero story is Justice League of America #200, but it’s basically a sequel to the team’s origin issue so not really “complete” as such. And it’s basically a framework to get heroes to fight and show off the work of several talented artists, so…yeah, I don’t think this counts. And then there’s Spider-Man’s origin in Amazing Fantasy #15, which I think is still the Most Perfect Superhero Origin Story of All Time, but…I don’t know, that’s setting up a follow-up series, but even if that were the only Spider-Man story ever published, I think it would still stand up as a classic example of the genre.
But I think I’m going to go with “Only A Poor Old Man” by Carl Barks, from Four Color Comics #386 (1952), in which we learn that Uncle Scrooge’s attachment to his fortune isn’t greed, but rather the memories each coin brings him. Also it’s the example of Scrooge fighting the Beagle Boys, and the whole thing is just perfect. It’s been reprinted many, many times, most recently by Fantagraphics, and there was a Free Comic Book Day version of the story released in 2005, if you can track that down.
Okay, the next question in the list is going to take a bit of effort to answer, but in the meantime, I’m kind of curious what your answer to Gareth’s question might be. So, let me know in the comments…what do you think is the best comic story told completely in a single issue? Yes, that’s right, I’m soliciting responses to a question while I’m still answering other questions. HEY, I CAN MANAGE IT. But please, let me know…I’m curious as to how you’d answer this tough question.
Yes, I know those characters over at War Rocket Ajax are doing their “Every Story Ever” list, but the entries there run the gamut from single issues to full series to even sequences in comic strips. But here, let’s keep it to single issues of comic books…no graphic novels, or trade paperback collections of minis, or what have you. Just one story, in one comic book, with a beginning, middle, and end. Even if that ending is “…THE BEGINNING” in which case you have your work cut out for you explaining why this is so great.
So again, drop that suggestion in my comments, with a few words of explanation if you’d like, but you don’t have to. In a while, I’ll tally up results or at least comment on your responses in my usual overly-verbose fashion.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your questions!
Hooper Triplett has me jumping through the following:
“What do you do with a creator like Paul Grist? Love his work, want to support it, but how can I not knowing if/when it will ever come out?”
Why, you hug him and you pet him and you sq…er, (cough) that is…. Yeah, What Do You Do? Well, I don’t know what Mr. Grist’s particular situation is, but in general, if you have a creator that you like and it seems as if that person’s output is not on a predictable schedule, I’d suggest looking for that person’s online presence, or for an official site, or a regularly updated fan site where someone else has done the work for you. In Grist’s case, he has a Twitter account, and there is what seems to be a thoroughly-done fan page. That’s the sort of thing that should keep you updated on your favorite comic person’s goings-on.
If the person doesn’t have an online presence, or at least not a reliable one, you can try asking your local comics emporium to use Diamond’s retailer site’s search function to see if any new material is pending. I should note that using the new search function just implemented there, where you can supposedly search on creators’ names, I found only one entry for Paul Grist in the entire past, present and future items database, and I know that’s not the case. But if you know specific titles, that should be easily hunted down there.
jason has the cure for what ails me with
“Do you ever feel like the internet…for lack of a better word…’fetishizes’ key books? Does all the slabbing/ unboxing videos/ haul videos create an insatiable appetite for them?
“More succinctly, does social media drive people to hunt key issues?
“Do you get more knowledgeable fans looking for keys, or more everyday people with limited knowledge? Follow up question, would you ever pit one against the other in combat?”
To be fair, this was a thing even before The World’s Greatest Porn Delivery Service™ was invented by Al Gore, thanks to price guides and fanzines and the like. I know even in the early days of my retail experience, prior to the influence of online hoohar, I’d get people who’d walk into the shop and just ask “what Key Issues do you have?” and I’d be sorely tempted to pull out comics with this guy in them. Certainly social media, and eBay, helps, by even more quickly creating awareness of hot items and short supplies, but it’s just the latest tool with which collectors hunt down their specific treasures. I remember word getting around quickly enough in Ye Olden Times about how Thor #337 was a Hot Item, even without your Compuserves and your eWorlds.
As to knowledgeable fans vs. general folks looking for keys…I think it’s still a pretty even mix. I’ll get a different walk-in every couple of days who rattles off a list of the same books everyone’s looking for…Amazing Spider-Man #300, New Mutants #98, etc. Some even look a little surprised that I don’t have a huge stack of each book just sitting behind the counter waiting specifically for them to walk in. And there are the people looking for Iron Man #55, the first appearance of Thanos, who are shocked that anyone other than them are looking for it, much less that it’s been an in-demand book since the last time Thanos was hot back in the early ’90s.
I think if I could nail down a difference, it’s that the more investment-inclined collectors are looking for specific key issues, while the more general interest collectors just ask “let’s see your box of old Spider-Man” (or “let’s see your box of Silver Age”). As for making them fight, well, I won’t admit to making anyone carve their own chromium-cover shiv….