mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005

Well, color me surprised...Wendy and Richard Pini, creators of
Elfquest, popped by the shop today just to say hello. They were very nice, and they were good enough to sign several of DC's recent Elfquest manga-sized trades for us. Okay, I know I've said before on the site that I'm not an Elfquest reader (nothing against it, really, just not my thing), but I think I'm a fan of W 'n' R themselves, now.

And for a brief moment, I thought about telling them that this site of mine is the top Google result for "elfquest orgy," but I resisted. Barely.

I hadn't seen it until
Broken Glass pointed it out, but this trailer for the Ghost Rider movie starring Nicolas Cage looks...well, looks about as good as you'd expect. Generic action film, ahoy! (But then again, Peter Fonda is in it, so there's kind of a knowing wit in the casting, at least.)

"Roberts Continues To Stonewall On Logan v. Wayne"

"'Powers?' interjected committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter. 'Batman doesn't even have any powers. So my colleague's implication that Batman is even in the same league as Wolverine is nothing short of wishful thinking, wouldn't you agree, Mr Roberts?'"

"Public Enemy Return to Comics in 2006"

"'While they are touring the world they act as agents of peace and justice and help people whenever they are in need. They don’t have super powers but they still kick major ass. There will be lots of adventure and action as well as social commentary reflecting many of today’s issues.'"

"Parents Worried over Porno Comics on Net"

"'Children should not be allowed to surf the Net alone. Parents should accompany them. Parents may also need to help their children find desirable comic websites so they would not be unnecessarily exposed to porn comic websites....'"

"'V for Vendetta' graphic novel is worth a read"

"'V for Vendetta' is a very complicated graphic novel that only more mature people will be able to understand. And it also contains content that is appropriate for only mature readers.

"The graphic novel contains great quotes and rhymes that make very much sense while also making no sense at all. One of these is: 'Happiness is a prison, happiness is the most insidious prison of all.'"

Via linkbunnies.org: "Star Wars costume surfaces in fancy dress shop"

"'When you look at this very old brown fabric you wouldn't think much of it, but when you see Guinness wearing it you realise it is iconic.'"

"Disturbed Unveil McFarlane Album Art"

"'We wanted to bring our old icon, the Disturbed smiley face, whom we call "the guy," to life. [...] Being a fan of the Spawn comic book series and the artwork that Todd and his company have done in the past, we could think of no better team to bring this idea to life.'"

"Superman has a small todger: official"

"Just how pointy does Superman's schlong have to be before Middle America reaches for its Bible and its assault rifle?"

Thursday, September 15, 2005

In which Mike is all over the map. 

Pal Dorian told me about this cover for the third printing of Supergirl #1. It's an homage to the introduction of the original* Supergirl, it's charming as all get out, and it's a darn shame it's the exact opposite of the godawful mess that's actually inside the book. Ah, well.

Hey, there's some kind of giant orange lizard creature on the cover of the new Marvel Knights: 4. I hope the Thing fights it inside.

YOUR EMBARRASSING STORY OF THE DAY: Several years ago, I had a customer who, as it happened, was blind in one eye, and was wearing a patch over said eye. He asked me if we had a particular item in stock. I told him that, no, we were out of that item at the moment. He asked if we could ever get it back in stock, and if so, if I could let him know when it does show up.

I told him that I'd keep an eye out for it.

Even as I was saying it, I was thinking "maybe this isn't the best way to say this to this particular customer," but too late...it was out of my mouth.

Luckily, he wasn't offended...and maybe I was worrying just a tad too much, but boy, to this day I can't believe I said that to him.

Congratulations to Will Pfeifer on hitting his weblog's one year mark! Go visit his site, and give him some well-wishing along with the Duke!

And vaya con pollos to weblogging mainstay Franklin Harris, who's putting an end to his site, for good this time. We'll miss ya, Mr. Harris!

Someone, somewhere, at this very moment, is having a heart attack over how Batman is portrayed in All Star Batman and Robin #2. But man, I couldn't stop laughing, not so much as to the actual content of the story, but to Frank Miller's hearty "screw you" to the fans who want their Batman deadly serious. (And yeah, I know Batman's behavior was, mostly, supposed to be an act to get reactions out of Dick Grayson. Still damned funny.)

Okay, just when you've thought you've heard the last of this...so, about the early '90s comic crash....

Now stop that groaning, this'll only take a minute or two.

Anyway, we were trying to pin down if Superman #75 (the dreaded "Death of Superman" issue) came out at the same time as Turok #1 (the dreaded "Death of the Comics Market for All Time" issue). Some folks said "yay," others, like commenter Gardner said "nay," and, lacking easy access to our invoices of the time, I sought an answer elsewhere.

And that elsewhere was Comiclist, which not only has current new releases, but new release lists dating back to '91, complete with a search engine. Looking there, Superman #75 was scheduled for release in mid-November 1992, and Turok #1 was due April of '93.

Now, there were a lot of #1s coming out at the same time as that Turok, but the only really big one was Marvel's Infinity Crusade. However, with Marvel having gone to that "Infinity" well a few too many times over too short a period, it didn't do so well. So, basically, Turok wasn't facing much competition from other titles that week. However, looking at these lists, I see quite a few things that most stores (including our own...we're not innocent in this) probably way overordered. Sigh...this much "nostalgia" isn't healthy, I'm sure.

On a (mostly) non-comic-related note, pal Scott (who is also secretly pal JP's brother) has had his book turned into a movie directed by Harold Ramis and starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and freakin' Randy Quaid. Hey, pretty cool.

And in other movie news: "The Legend of Cabin Boy."

* Freudian slip alert: as I was typing this sentence, I was intending to type "original," but somehow I typed "real." I see what the deepest, darkest recesses of my fanboy brain is thinking....

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The things you find flipping through the new issue of Ultimate X-Men 

My favorite cover enhancement... 

...was probably on Adhesive Comics' Jab #3 from 1993, the "Bullet Hole" issue:

Yes, that's right, each issue was shot by a real, live honest-to-goodness bullet from a real, live honest-to-goodness gun. Here's a closer look:

And, in a clever twist, several of the stories in this anthology title incorporated the bullet hole into their narratives. Here's an example from Tom King's "Teen Squad:"

So you weak-kneed Communist vegetarian baby seal-huggers can stick to your comics with the machine-tooled, die cut holes through 'em, if you know what's good for you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

So my
insanely rambling post yesterday regarding the comic market crash, a couple commenters noted that Superman #75, the infamous "Death of Superman" issue, and Turok #1, the infamous "didn't sell like we were all expecting it to" issue, may have come out on the same day. That is very possible...I don't have my invoices handy to confirm, but it wouldn't be the only time one enormously red-hot comic's sales affected the sales of yet another allegedly-hot funnybook released at the same time. The first Aliens Vs. Predator comic, which seemed to have a lot of customers anticipating its release, came out at the same time as another "hot" comic (I believe it was Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man #1) and it just sat there, warming the shelf, looking at me with its sad, puppy-dog eyes, asking "why doesn't anybody wwwove me?" Of course, I seem to remember that green logo on an orange background cover not standing out at all on the comics rack.

Honestly, I don't know why that would be...why buying one "hot" comic would preclude buying another. I think in the two cases above it may be just due to the huge amount of real-world press one book got, over the limited fan-press coverage the other received...but who knows.

Commenters suggested some other books that may have contributed to the comics market crash...one in particular is Deathmate, which I'm surprised I forgot about. Well, maybe I was just trying to forget about it, since, yeah, it was another one of those books that seemed like it was going to sell like gangbusters, and ended up becoming bargain box fodder. It was a limited series, with the issues indicated by cover color rather than issue number, teaming up the Valiant Comics universe with the Image Comics universe. The two hottest comic companies, teaming up for a mini-series? How could this not sell well?

Well, first, people were disappointed that McFarlane's Spawn wasn't involved, Second, as noted in the Comics.org link, the Image-produced half of the series was enormously late (I believe that Rob Liefeld's Deathmate Red was the most infamously delayed), killing any momentum the series may have had. Third, it wasn't any damned good, though I realize that's hardly a detriment to many a popular comic book series. For a very brief period of time, back when people still cared about Image's Gen 13, people were looking for their appearance in Deathmate Black, but that demand dried up right quick.

Another popular choice was X-Men #1, which had five different covers, the first four forming one large image, and the fifth cover combining all four of the previous covers. The variants were released one a week for five weeks...it did sell enormously well, but many retailers ordered far too many, and it remains one of the most common comics of recent memory. If I remember correctly, we actually ordered pretty well on these and didn't get stuck with too many left over.

Commenter Jim notes that Pitt #1 was a contender. I know that some stores had far too many of this particular issue, but we actually did okay with it...we ordered a case of the things, and they blew out the door. Lots of multiple copy sales as well, though (and I think some of you are beginning to recognize that this is a common story from this period) investors started to see that a lot of the new comics they were buying were in no small supply, and thus had no "collectible" value.

Commenter Michael brings up the Spider-Man Clone Saga, which I always saw as mostly a Spider-Man killer rather than a comics market killer, though driving people away from the Spider-Man books surely wasn't good for the health of the industry as a whole (or, at least, for Marvel). As generally reviled as the Clone Saga was, what people tend to forget is that at first, the clone storyline sold enormously well. It was just when Marvel took a storyline that should have lasted six months, tops, and stretched it out for a couple years that the damage was done. And that damage stuck, crippling the Spider-books until Marvel finally shored up sales with the "stunt-casting" of J. Michael Straczynski as the Amazing Spider-Man writer. There's some small bit of irony in the fact that today's kids are fascinated with the Clone Saga issues, and snap 'em up like crazy. They also like the 300 different series starring Venom. Go figure.

Commenter Thorpe mentions Triumphant Comics, which I was actually talking to Kid Chris about on Sunday (though I think I kept referring to them as Chromium Comics, for some reason...they might as well have been). Each comic individually serial-numbered...as Mad Magazine used to say on their serial-numbered mags, "collect them all, kids!" I haven't actually cracked open a cover on one of these things in years, but I seem to recall that they were uniformly terrible, and that they didn't sell at all on the racks.

RobB brings up Wizard, which certainly encouraged the speculator mentality that drove the comics boom 'n' bust. I think my favorite part of the mag was when they'd list all the new #1 issues coming out for a certain month, with a notation that "first issues can sometimes go up in price" (or words to that effect). I think it was Gary Groth in an issue of The Comics Journal that described Wizard as a magazine that "tells you the price of everything, and the value of nothing," which I thought was a nice turn of phrase, there. (EDIT: I've since been informed that Groth was apparently paraphrasing Oscar Wilde. I probably should have known that. Ah, well.)

In other news:

You know, the earlier Valiant superhero comics were actually pretty good...the first ten issues of Solar still hold up, and Barry Windsor-Smith's run on Archer & Armstong is quirky fun. And, as far as company-wide crossovers go, Unity was fairly entertaining. You can read more about this company at the mindbogglingly-comprehensive Valiant Comics site.

Oh for pete's sake, if you're gonna cut 'n' paste a whole section of one of my posts, at least link back to my site! I mean, link back to my site in a way other than directly hotlinking my images. (At least the guy said he found it, rather than claiming he wrote it himself like some people have done.)


Monday, September 12, 2005

In which Mike goes on way too long about things that happened 12 years ago. 

So we purchased yet another comic collection the other day, and in this one was a copy of Adventures of Superman #500. "Oh, big deal," you're surely saying, "every comic book store has about a bazillion of those damn things." And, ordinarily, you'd be correct, but this is the platinum edition, friends. It's packaged in a black bag with a silver super-"S" on the front, and with the phrase "limited platinum edition" (or something like that) printed along the bottom.

Okay, now you can say "oh, big deal."

What amused me about this comic is that, like its non-platinum counterpart, it is sealed in the bag so that you can't see the comic inside without opening up the bag. And the comic inside is also some kind of variant as, unlike the regular edition, the letters of the Adventures of Superman logo are embossed and raised up from the cover.

Now, the sort of person who is interested in buying the limited "collector's" edition of the pre-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 wouldn't be terribly likely to open up the bag and, um, appreciate the variance of the cover inside, I'd imagine.

Maybe I'm wrong...perhaps whoever buys this will not care about maintaining full resale value, and oh so carefully trim open the top of the plastic bag in order to slip the book out. (And yeah, I believe that Overstreet Price Guide's official policy is that carefully opening a prepackaged-in-a-polybag comic doesn't affect the value, but as someone who sells these things for a living, it doesn't work like that in the wild.)

Anyway, the point of all this was that, of late, I'd been reflecting back on the big comics market crash of the early '90s. Specifically, which comic you could point at and say, "the market crash began with this very issue."

For several years, the comic I pointed at as being the turning point for the comics industry decline was Turok #1 from Valiant Comics. When Valiant first started their superhero line, their books were warming shelves coast-to-coast initially, but all of a sudden, a collector's frenzy (spurred on by the new price guide magazine Wizard, and an influx of collectors/investors from the then recently-collapsed sports card market*) sprung up around these books. Prices began to skyrocket on early Valiant issues, which were being ballyhooed as hot, rare, investable items. New #1s flew off the shelves, and sometimes we even had to tag the new books with "1 per customer" signs -- and, as I noted before, that tended to encourage further sales.

And then Turok #1 was announced for release in 1993. Comic fans (including me) had fond memories of the original Dell/Gold Key Turok Son of Stone series, and the investors who couldn't care less about comics industry were still excited about yet another Valiant Comics #1. Plus, it was going to have a shiny "chromium" cover, and people liked the chromium back in the day. Plus, Turok was introduced to the Valiant Universe in 1992's Magnus Robot Fighter #12, which was commanding some significant coin of the realm in the secondary market.

So, basically, perceived demand was high.

Retailers, who were getting the "high demand" vibes for the book, ordered massive numbers. Turok #1 was going to be like printing money, for certain!

Well, even if you weren't there for it at the time, I'm sure you see where this is going.

Since everyone ordered large numbers on Turok #1, there was plenty to be had. Racks were overflowing with Turok #1. Part of the collecting appeal of Valiant Comics was the apparent scarcity...Turok #1 was the exact opposite of "scarce." The investors who preordered dozens (or hundreds) of copies quickly realized that there was no way they were going to be able to turn them around into quick cash. And retailers realized that there was far more Turok out there than there was demand. Some people began blowing out copies of Turok for below cover, further damaging the perceived collectible value of Valiant Comics, and comics in general.

Plus, the chromium cover ended up being an embossed cover with a oversized chromium card glued to the front. It's not bad looking by any means, but people were expecting an actual full-chromium cover and not a glued-on card. It may be that's what was originally solicited, but it wasn't what people were expecting.

It's not as if the market immediately collapsed into nothingness following the release of Turok #1, but I think we all really began to realize that the glory days were over, and more and more collectors began trying to divest themselves of their investments over the following months...and years.

Another possible "death-knell" for the '90s comics boom was the aforementioned Adventures of Superman #500. If you remember the day Superman #75, the "Death of Superman" comic, came out, most comic shops were madhouses. Apparently a slow news week combined with increased media interest in comics resulted in a lot of news coverage of this particular storyline, and it seemed like everybody wanted to be in on it. On the day it came out, we had a line of people outside our store, stretched down the block waiting for us to open.

Now, keep in mind that we ordered Superman #75 a few months in advance, with absolutely no knowledge of what was to come. We did bump orders up to about four times what we normally received on our Superman books, which were okay sellers at the time, but nothing outstanding. So, seeing that line outside the store, we were forced to do the "1 per customer" thing, even posting signs in the window stating as such. Well, let me tell you, that pissed off some people something fierce, but if I had to choose between having someone mad at me because they one got one copy of Superman #75 and having everyone mad at me because they couldn't get any copies due to the first person in the door buying everything we had, well, it's not really much of a choice, is it?

And it was crazy even past that first day. I had huge waiting lists for fourth printings of Superman #75. That may seem like crazy talk, but I swear it's true.

So the "Death of Superman" story wraps up, the "Funeral for a Friend" storyline that follows wraps up, and the Superman books go on a very brief publishing hiatus.

And now, we have to order Adventures of Superman #500.

This isn't the issue where Superman comes back to life, but it is the kick-off for the long storyline that eventually would lead into the return of Big Blue. Demand is still huge for the Superman comics. People come by or call every day asking about what's up with Superman. "Is he back yet? Is he back yet?"

So, thinking about what we could have sold on the original, black-bagged, "collectors" edition of Superman #75 had we only known of the buying frenzy to follow, and considering the interest we were still getting in Superman, we place our orders for the white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500.

And so does most every other retailer.

You see where I'm going with this?

When Adventures of Superman #500 comes out, while it does sell relatively well, there's no attendant media push. The "Death of Superman" thing is old news, why should the media cover it again? Thus, there's no huge audience of "civilians" who otherwise couldn't care less about comic books lining up outside comic shops waiting to get their hands on the next new collectible. It's not a dog like Turok #1 was, but there's still plenty to be had, and for the investors that can drive collecting frenzies like the one for Superman #75, a lack of scarcity can only mean the bloom is off the investing rose (or, um, something like that). Coupled with the sudden realization that perhaps the black-bagged Superman #75 isn't worth the premium prices paid on the secondary market (at the time, I heard about someone selling them for $100!), this too surely was a contributor to the comics market crash.

Now this was just local market conditions...for all I know, someone in Wisconsin was selling Turok #1s and Adventures of Superman #500s like they had twenty-dollar bills stapled to the cover**, but it seemed to me that these two books did indeed mark the point where the comics market began its decline, as readers became disenchanted with event books and variant covers, as investors bailed out and starting buying toys and Beanie Babies instead, as comic stores started to shut down across the nation (we lost about seven or so in our tri-county area during that period)...wow, I'm bumming myself out, here. We were able to ride out that rough spot, but in some ways our store (and others, I'm sure) are still recovering from that huge crash.

It was a hard time, with some hard lessons learned regarding our own ordering habits...no one forced us to order that many Turoks, for example, but it sure seemed at the time like we wouldn't have any problem moving them! Of course, I'm moving them now...I'm blowing them out in our bargain boxes. I don't think I've had anyone pay cover price for a Turok #1 in years. Adventures of Superman #500 does still sell on occasion, but we have a pretty good clientele for Superman books, so that's not too surprising. We've still got plenty of 'em, though.

So, does anyone else have any likely culprits which, like Turok #1 or Adventures of Superman #500, seemed to trigger the '90s comic market crash?

* I could tell the new comic collectors fresh from the sports card market by the way they asked for "comic book Becketts."

** If they did have twenties stapled to the covers, you could be sure someone would complain "but, but...it's not mint!"

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

More conversations with Kid Chris. 

KC: "Hey, Shadowman is fighting Aerosmith in this issue!"

M: "All good men must rise up and fight when the threat of Aerosmith looms over our great nation."

KC: "You know, for all the bashing Brian Michael Bendis gets, he did actually get people to start reading Avengers. God bless that man."

KC: "What's up with this Liefeld Captain America comic? Why'd he only do half the series?"

M: "Because it was so crappy. It was so damn crappy even Marvel noticed how crappy it was."

[EDITOR'S NOTE: I may have used a word other than "crappy."]

KC: "Hey, do you think there's anyone out there who got themselves a Valiant Comics tattoo way back when?"

M: "'Man, I love my H.A.R.D. Corps tattoo! Valiant Comics will always be popular!'"

So yesterday, longtime customer Mark, who's visiting from up north, drops by the store and requests...nay, demands that we deliver unto him some Tales of the Beanworld. Which pleased me to no end, as Larry Marder's Beanworld has always been one of my favorite comics and, coincidentally enough, I had been reminded of it just the day before. Primarily, I was reminded of how we may never see the end of the Beanworld saga.

For those of you who don't know what Tales of the Beanworld is, a very brief description is that it's story of a group of beans living on what appears to be a small island, and their day-to-day existence as they struggle to survive and learn about the world around them. At the center of this island is Gran'Ma'Pa, a tree that provides food (and spiritual guidance) to the beans. Gran'Ma'Pa also produced Mr. Spook, the island's Hero, who...well, I can already see it's going to be a lost cause trying to sum up the series briefly. You can read more about Beanworld
at this long-running site, which includes an issue-by-issue synopsis.

Anyway, Marder appeared to have long-term plans for this series, and I would love to see more Beanworld stories. However, the series' last issue was twelve years ago, and aside from a short color storyline that ran in Maximum Press' Asylum anthology, and an ashcan I bought from Marder himself at a convention several years ago, I think that's been pretty much it for new Beanworld stories. There's also a mention here of a Beanworld print created for the 2003 San Diego Comic Con.

It would probably (well, certainly) be tough going to revive the Beanworld series now, since over a decade later I'm sure a good chunk of its reader base has since abandoned comics. Plus, it would be a bit of a hardsell to new readers without making them buy all the trade paperback reprints of the early material. Maybe an online comic strip may be the way to go...reprinting old material as "archives" for new readers, while producing new material that picks up from where the series left off. And, of course, selling the print versions in an online store, and perhaps reprinting the webstrips in a comic book format.... Sure, I know, that's easy for me to say...I'm not the one that would have to do it. But boy, I'd still love to see some new Beanworld, regardless of format.

I'd been obsessing over the genius that is...Snakes on a Plane for a while now (just ask pals Dorian and Tom), but somehow I overlooked The Real Sam Johnson's thoughts on the matter. Go look, you!

"Mature story lines, artwork attracting more grown-ups to comic books"
"Spider-man wrestles with insanity. Piranhas chew off Aquaman's hand. The Elongated Man's wife is murdered.

"Comic book readers have grown up, and so have the comics."

Wicker Man remake, now with 100% more killer bees. (via Robot Wisdom)

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