Popeye the Zombie Man.

§ February 22nd, 2018 § Filed under popeye, publishing § 8 Comments

So Wednesday morning my first customer in the door had a question for me, regarding the variant cover for the recently-released Popeye Classics #65, which looks a little something like this:

Charming, no? Frankly, I’m surprised King Features even let this fly, but that’s kinda beside the point of my post here. Anyway, my customer was asking if I could somehow get my filthy comic-selling mitts on a copy, as he tried eBay and someone there was asking for $500 for that particular comic. I found that a little…alarming, so I went to the eBays to see for myself, and sure enough:

…a “Buy It Now” listing for $499, and a still-active auction for one of those graded ‘n’ slabbed copies at nearly $300. But, you know, there’s free shipping.

That’s…something else, to be sure. And if that’s not enough, looking around at other Popeye variants that have been on eBay, here’s one that seemingly sold for $4,100!

Now, these variants are available at 1:10 ratios…for every ten copies of the regular cover I order, I can order one copy of the variant. I mean, I don’t need to tell you, you know how this whole comic book variant thing works. Under normal circumstances, a variant with only a 1-in-10 “scarcity” is hardly scarce at all, and wouldn’t sell for too high of a premium. There are some circumstances where I even say “eh, don’t feel like baggin’ it and markin’ it up” and just sell it for cover. That’s okay for high-selling (or, you know, “relatively high-selling,” given the state of the marketplace) comics, where even the 1/10 variants are easy to come by.

But Popeye Classics…that’s a different story. That’s a niche market in a niche market, a comic book directly reprinting comics from 50-something years ago. I love this comic, personally…when people ask me what my favorite comic on the stands is right now, that’s usually my go-to answer. But, unfortunately, it’s not a series that really moves off my shelves. I get a copy for me, a couple of copies for pull lists, and every time I try to rack it, it just doesn’t sell. It’s a shame, really, but at least I get copies for the folks around here who appreciate it…like me!

At the store (and on the Twitters) I was speculating that the print run was likely in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, which means, at most, there could only be potentially 200 to 300 copies of the 1:10 variants. Now, realistically, not every store who orders the comic is going to order 10 or more copies. I’d imagine far more stores order well under 10 copies, with shops ordering over 10 (and thus qualifying for the variant) being the exception. Thus…well, I don’t know how many stores exactly could qualify, but I was thinking the number of circulated variants would be closer to, maybe, 30 to 50.

Well, as I was tweeting about this, Twitter pal Dave let me know that, according to the information on this site, the number of copies of Popeye Classics #65 disseminated through Diamond Comics Distribution was 1,287. Presumably that number includes the variants, too, so as you can see, the actual maximum number of potential variants sent out to Diamond accounts is much lower than I assumed, and probably, realistically, way lower than even that. Again, I don’t know the specific number, but if it amounted to just a couple of dozen, I would not be surprised.

As I also wondered on on Twitter, I don’t know what kind of printing limitations there may be, too. Like, is there a minimum number they have to print of each cover? For example, if they need 25 copies of the variant cover to send out to retailers, and there’s a minimum print job of 100 copies, does that leave IDW with 75 extra they can sell at a premium at shows or in online stores and such? Or can they just…switch out the covers during the print job easily enough and only print out what they need? …Look, I just sell the things, I don’t print ’em, so I honestly don’t know what the deal is. If anyone could clarify the actual mechanics of this, particularly at this small of a scale for what is otherwise a major publisher, I’d be interested.

So of course the temptation is to always order enough Popeye to get variants, sell the portion of that I could actually sell, give the rest to Swee’Pea for him to read, sell the variant for that high premium, and then dive around in my money like a porpoise, and burrow through it like a gopher, and toss it up and let it hit me on the head, if I may mix up my cartoon characters a bit. But naturally the day I do that so will everyone else, and then the 1/10 Popeye variants are suddenly not expensive and in demand, and all we’d have gotten out of it is higher sales on Popeye comics and presumably more publishing interest in continuing to provide Popeye comics. But…despite those high prices I noted at the beginning, there are several of these variants that don’t sell for that kind of money, or at least not enough to let me eat the cost of extra unsold comics. And I’m not sure there’s much rhyme or reason to which ones do sell, and besides, speculation could pay off, or just leave me with a backroom filled with unsellable product. If I could guarantee that $4000 payoff, sure! Or even that $300 one. But that’s the sort of behavior that can kill a store, and one I’m wary of as a result.

But “your pal Mike thinking about making a big score” isn’t the point of all this. Mostly, it’s just amazement at finding out about this strange micro-market involving some variant covers I’d barely thought about over the last few years. And partially it’s about that Zombie Popeye cover. I mean, holy cow.

8 Responses to “Popeye the Zombie Man.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “But naturally the day I do that so will everyone else, and then the 1/10 Popeye variants are suddenly not expensive and in demand, and all we’d have gotten out of it is higher sales on Popeye comics and presumably more publishing interest in continuing to provide Popeye comics.”

    Two economists were walking down the sidewalk when they passed a $20 bill. The first one said, “Hey, somebody dropped a $20 bill!”

    The second economist responded, “Don’t bother, if there were really a $20 bill on the ground, somebody would already have picked it up.”

    Ha! It’s…it’s, well, it’s economics humor. Because of the efficient markets theory? You know? OK, never mind.

    But your post reminded me of that joke.

  • Dan says:

    Whenever you see an eBay listing that has sold for an insanely high price, be mindful that some use eBay to launder money.

  • Mikester says:

    Dan – Well, let’s throw an “allegedly” in there, since I’m definitely not accusing anybody of anything here! But yeah, there can be all sorts of reasons why this particular auction result is so…out of bounds, as it were, which is why I used the qualifier “seemingly.” Could have been a mistake, could have been someone just messing with the auction, could have been a bidding war that just got way out of hand. I don’t have access to the bidder list, so I couldn’t check feedback to see if any payment had been made yet. Who knows what happened here.

    At any rate, I found another copy of the same variant for sale with a Buy-It-Now price of $300 with no takers, which, again, means not a whole lot…could be the folks that fought over the $4000 one haven’t been back to eBay to look for more copies.

    But that particular auction…it’s certainly the outlier, so something unusual was going on here.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I sometimes wonder, when I see something selling on eBay for an obviously absurd price, if it actually sold. In other words, did the seller himself, upon discovering that there was no real interest in his item, bid through a second account?

    I do understand that eBay charges fees on successful auctions, so this scheme would be a money-loser for the seller. However, he might think that “proving” that there is a market for this comic at that price might move someone to bid on it when he put it back up for sale (“it went fast before, don’t miss it this time”).

    I would not expect this to be a common practice (most people would recognize the guarantee of eBay fees balanced with no guarantee of real sales makes a bad deal). However, people have done dumber things.

  • JohnJ says:

    Sometime would you give us some insight as to how you order something like Action Comics #1000 with 8 covers for 8 decades. Primarily by pre-orders or do you favor some artists over others? I am going to order an Allred cover since I collect his stuff anyway but my temptation to buy a Steranko cover was only beaten down by some common sense. I don’t need two copies!
    I had a comic shop from 1987-2001 and some of this variant nonsense was going on then but nothing like today. I still remembering feeling a little guilt over selling my Platinum copy of McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 for $100. Wonder what that’s going for today.
    I’m so glad I no longer have a shop since I have to imagine that ordering is an absolute bitch.

  • Brian says:

    I’m still stuck on the Zombie Popeye thing. Shouldn’t he be eating rotten spinach or something?

  • Teddy Eddy says:

    More comics need a trypophobia variant cover.

  • Ben says:

    I’ve no insider knowledge on this but did once buy a copy of the Morrisoncon Happy variant off a guy on eBay. They were supposed to be strictly for attendees at the convention only, but this guy had like 25 copies for sale for *much* less than what the auctions were going for at the time. I asked him about it and he said he was a buddy of Eric Stephenson and that he got given run off copies from the printers to sell. I looked the guy up online and a year or so earlier he’d sold an unsigned copy of a Walking Dead #100 cover that was only supposed to exist as a signed version (it got a write up on Bleeding Cool iirc).

    So there probably is a printing minimum that’s a fair bit higher than a couple of dozen copies, but whether those extras ever reach the marketplace seems to be a different matter altogether. Wasn’t there a company recently (ish, maybe a year or so ago?) that made a big show of burning all the extras they’d printed of a particular variant to ensure it really was as rare as they claimed?