“Sobered up” = nice way of saying “crashed like the Hindenburg.”

§ March 1st, 2021 § Filed under collecting, market crash, retailing § 7 Comments

So last week, when I was a’typin’ about the weirdo Marvel trading card boom allegedly going on right now, Matthew noted (in reference to X-Force (1991) #1’s involvement:

“You’ve mentioned the ‘Shazam! effect’ before in relation to the 1970s Shazam comic and I think there’s an element of that happening here too. I mean, X-Force #1 came out 30 years ago, that’s the same gap between Fantastic Four #1 and X-Force #1. Plus people who were young when it first came out our (potentially) old enough to have money and nostalgia for that thing they used to have?”

I did sort of refer to the Shazam Effect obliquely in that post in the following passage:

“…While millions of X-Force #1 were printed, that doesn’t necessarily follow that millions are out there in readily available circulation. And the ones that do turn up aren’t necessarily going to be in that minty-mint collectable condition.”

…and if someone out there doesn’t remember what that is…in short, the ’70s Shazam! #1 was ordered in huge quantities, with large amounts going unsold. It remained a cheap back issue for decades, often finding its way into quarter boxes and the like…until one day the market realized that actual nice copies were getting harder to come by. Partially due to age, but almost certainly a lot to do with available stock being dumped into said bargain boxes and basically being mishandled and poorly stored and such. And thusly, high grade Shazam! #1s go for a premium.

Now that’s my theory, built upon decades of observation and just how I know early on at the previous place of employment, we’ve just pour the buckets of Shazam! comics into the blow-out boxes and hoped someone would take them away.

This does apply to X-Force #1 (and other early ’90s blockbuster hit comics) a bit, I think. But first, I believe there were a lot more copies of X-Force #1 and its contemporaries printed than of Shazam! #1.

…And that while X-Force #1, in contrast to, say, the ’90s X-Men #1 and Spider-Man #1, did suffer in general reputation and consideration after the market sobered up a bit later in a decade, I don’t think quite the same percentage of them ended up in the bargain bin dregs to be misused and abused. Not saying no copies ended up there, but I believe it wasn’t enough to create a paucity of near mint copies in general circulation. If anything, like I said in my original post, actually being purchased by consumers who didn’t store their comics properly seems to be, just from my general experience, the more likely culprit in this matter.

There’s also the inverse relationship of product versus outlets to consider. Shazam #1 was released as the direct market was beginning, with more and more comic-specific retail stores opening up and presenting more opportunities for Shazam #1 to be sold. Even if, you know, it was just in quarter boxes. X-Force #1 was published just prior to the direct market’s near fatal contraction, with piles of unsold copies of that comic disappearing along with the stores that ordered too many of them. Assuming former store owners didn’t dump their stock on other surviving shops (or, uh, had them shredded), and also assuming proper and not contemptuous storage, there may be masses of mint-ish X-Force #1s still lurking, hidden, waiting to make their move.

Not saying every copy of those unsold Shazam!s got circulated, and that millions of X-Forces aren’t in circulation. But I do think there are potentially enough of those X-Force #1s out there in what would be considered “collectible” shape that all it really takes is one big warehouse/storage unit find for the supposed scarcity of that comic to dissipate. (If I recall correctly, something similar happened to Wally Wood’s Heroes Inc.) As garages and storage areas open up and get cleaned out by their owners, or progressively more often, surviving family members or third-party purchasers, they’re only going to become more common.

And going back to my original assertion, if there is an apparently scarcity to X-Force #1 at all, it comes from newer stores who weren’t around when it came out, and thus didn’t acquire an enormous backlog of unsold copies to dole out over the decades. Newer stores would have to acquire them in collections…and they do pop up there, time and again.

I hope none of this sounds like I’m trying to argue with commenter Matthew…just taking his response as a launching pad for considering the differences in situations here. Which isn’t to say his idea that “nostalgia + relatively shortness in supply” isn’t a fact. Sure it is. And that increased demand for a once moribund back issue is going to cause the prices to rise. But that Deadpool promo card going for hundreds of dollars…that’s almost certainly the result of folks trying to “force” a collectible, to find something relatively common in a market where genuinely scare items are becoming harder to come by, and declaring something “rare” and “hot.” Just by the natural order of things, I think any really high prices on these things is outside the normal causes of supply and demand.

Anyway, there you are. Over-rambly and self-contradictory, in the Mighty Mike Style, but there you go. If I were to sum up…while some price increases can be expected in even over-printed items like X-Force #1 due to a relative dearth of supply at current outlets, it’s still likely not rare enough to cause such extremely high pricing based on ordinary market forces. But none of that matters if it’s decided this is the new normal and that’s what these items go for now, regardless of abundance.

This is all conjecture and opinion based on what I’ve seen over my nearly 33 years in the industry. I could be (gasp) wrong, but this is my general sense of things. You know where to argue with me!

Thanks to Matthew for his response.

7 Responses to ““Sobered up” = nice way of saying “crashed like the Hindenburg.””

  • JohnJ says:

    There must also be some basic pricing difference between copies still bagged and those removed from bags, just as there would have been with Superman #75 or Spider-Man #1. Is an X-Force #1 even possible to be considered “mint” if it’s out of the bag and card-less? No matter how pristine the book itself might be, would the “slabbers” turn up their noses at it?
    Too bad “readability” and “story quality” so rarely factor into pricing.

  • Thom H. says:

    @JohnJ: I don’t know. Uncanny X-Men #137 is still selling for a respectable sum these days, and I can’t believe that’s because the horrible Dark Phoenix movies have made it “hot.” I think it’s good, old-fashioned quality comics storytelling at work.

    @Mike: I see some mini-arcade games have made it into your Twitter feed. I just want to say that I had a mini-Frogger back in the ’80s, which I remember quite fondly. In fact, my sister and I would fight over it so much that it was probably the most-confiscated toy of the decade. Quite an achievement.

  • Caat says:

    There is also a possibility of there being hidden X-Force stock and that the market is being inflated to drive an eventual dump. With trading cards I’ve heard that many grading agencies are backed up for months so there is possibly lots of stock just sitting in queue to be graded which means the there is supply it is just being unsold. New comics as prices are pretty volatile and until the smoke clears it’ll be hard to see whats really going on behind the curtains.

  • Brent Keane says:

    Heh, I ended up with *two* copies of Heroes Inc. added to an online order many years ago. Someone wanted to get rid of ’em!

  • Snark Shark says:

    JohnJ:

    “There must also be some basic pricing difference between copies still bagged and those removed from bags, just as there would have been with Superman #75 or Spider-Man #1. Is an X-Force #1”

    I hope not! I collect COMICS, not crappy plastic bags!

  • JohnJ says:

    Shark, me too!! Comics always come out of the bags but I’m not talking about my personal reading habits. I am curious about the slabbers. I’m curious if they slab books still wrapped in plastic and how that effects their grading if they have been removed.
    Reminds me of the only time I sent 3 comics off to be graded and one came back graded 7.5 instead of the 9+ the other two got, due to its having a tiny little indentation on the cover which I don’t remember it having when I sent it in. All I could think of was what if that happened when they were grading it and how totally subjective the whole grading nonsense seems to be. Not to mention the notion this would never be read again. But we all know this has a huge effect on the price a book will sell for. A certain percentage of fandom can be defined as “anal retentive.”

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