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What? A guy who likes comics, nostalgic about something? You don’t say.

§ April 29th, 2020 § Filed under collecting, investing, retailing § 4 Comments

So I was digging through more decades-old comics promo stuff and came across the above flyer for Battle Axis, an indie comic released in 1993 from Intrepid Comics.

I’d posted this to the Twitters with the comment that this was “Comics in the ’90s, everyone,” and boy, was it ever.

First, the promise that the print run of the book would be capped at “100,000 copies per issue” which of course nowadays is a pie-in-the-sky number even most Marvel and DC titles can’t reach. Back then some comics easily blew pat that number…or they had been, given that this is around the time of the market crash. I wonder how many copies of this specific comic were ultimately ordered?

The second point is that the reason the print run was “limited,” was to protect your “investment,” to make sure the market wasn’t flooded with too many copies and that your own copy (or copies because let’s face it, you were buying more than one) would someday put all your kids through college and also pay for your comfortable retirement.

Now literally referring to your comic as “an investment” isn’t a tactic I saw too often from publishers. I’d see it heavily implied of course, with phrases like “limited edition” or whathaveyou, but far as I recall most drew the line at “buy this comic, it’ll be worth money someday.” And of course I don’t need to tell you that the end result was that this comic wasn’t an “investment,” it’s not worth anything now, and I’m not even sure there was a second issue. I can’t even remember my former place of employment even carrying it (though it probably did).

It reminds me just a little of the black and white boom, where publishers were cranking out piles of rip-offs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the sort of implicit understanding between those publishers and retailers/fans that “Turtles were hot, these might be too!”

And today publishers don’t even really need to do that sort of implicit encouragement anymore, as there are plenty of buyers out there who’ll do it do themselves. For a while there it seemed like every Image #1 that came down the pike wqs snapped up immediately by folks looking for that next Walking Dead #1, with sales on #2 immediately sinking to nothing. And then there are the apps/website encouraging people to invest and hoard certain weekly releases, sometimes for seemingly random reasons, and are just as often than not self-fulfilling prophecies. “This hot comic is hot because it’s hot!”

• • •

Speaking of hot comics, I was in a nostalgic mood, thinking about the Omega Men last night. Well, just kinda going on about it on Twitter, while procrastinating about writing this very post you’re reading now. Anyway, I starting thinking about that sci-fi superteam DC published in the early ’80s because I was going through some boxes at home and was pleasantly surprised I still had my copies of Green Lantern from when I was about 10 to 12 years old. I’d thought I’d long discarded them due to them being in poor condition or whatever, but nope, there they were, about issue 130 or so and on. Definitely reader copies, not valuable investments like Battle Axis, but I was glad to see them.

It’s in this run that the Omega Men first appeared, in issue #141 from 1981. And as I recall, the Omega Men were bit of a hot commodity, eventually getting their own title as part of DC’s more upscale line of books printed on better paper, available only through comic shops, and perhaps being slightly more mature in content.

I’d never really thought about why it was hot, ’til I was asked on Twitter “was it Lobo that made them hot?” And honestly, I don’t recall Lobo being a big deal until that first Simon Bisley-drawn series in 1990. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before his first appearance in 1983’s Omega Men #3 started to be in high demand, and today is pretty much the only issue of that series that sells anymore.

No, I’m pretty sure what made the Omega Men hot was the New Teen Titans. Their own title has just started a couple of years prior, and as “DC’s X-Men” is was the company’s most popular title. Sold great, fans loved it, back issues were in demand, it was a comics industry phenomenon. Marv Wolfman, the writer on New Teen Titans, was also the writer of Green Lantern at the time, so it never really dawned on me that, duh, the writer of the Big Hot Superhero Team Book introducing a New Superhero Team might have been a big deal. Kind of like those folks casting about looking for whatever was going to be the next Walking Dead, fans may have jumped on the Omega Men thinking it would be the next New Teen Titans.

Plus, it was tied to the Titans comics as well, made easy by Wolfman working on both, in that they hailed from Vega, the same solar system that Starfire of the Titans was from. So I guess technically, if you squint a bit, Omega Men was a NTT spin-off, maybe absorbing a tiny bit of that title’s hotness to capture fan attention.

As noted above, they did eventually get their own series, a Direct Market-only comic printed on that fancy white Baxter paper. However, early on it did engender some controversy for its depiction of violence, with the primary example being a particuarly gruesome on-panel death of the child of one of the main characters. As we all know, controversy in comics never helps sales in the slightest, he said sarcastically.

Sales did peter out eventually, it seems, as the title took a drastic turn from mostly superhero-y type stuff to weird sci-fi when Todd Klein and Shawn McManus took over the book…that kind of change usually doesn’t come to a series that’s, you know, doing as well as hoped/expected. And the series eventually ended with #38 in 1986.

So, you know, a five year run for the characters from their debut to the cancellation of their own series based in that initial burst of popularity. And they’re still around today, being used to great acclaim in that 2015 series by Tom King
and Barnaby Bagenda. But that Titans connection seems to be long gone, aside from that shared Vega origin with Starfire. Not htat it’d help anyway, since the Titans property itself isn’t what it once was.

Not sure entirely where I was going with this, beyond perhaps a reconsideration of what makes a comic property “hot,” especially an oddball collection of sci-fi heroes that I originally enjoyed reading as a 12-year-old until its conclusion before I finished high school.

It was, overall, a good run of books. No collection was ever produced, far as I can tell, and it seems unlikely, barring a movie or something, there will be one. But it’s worth seeking out, as the individual issues should be mostly cheap. Except that Lobo issue, of course. I understand that issue is hot, hot, hot.

In which I don’t spoil the Fantastic Four “death.”

§ January 26th, 2011 § Filed under death of superman, investing, retailing § 15 Comments

So the new Fantastic Four is the way-overhyped “death” issue, in which it looks bad for the character in question, sure, but not necessarily a cut ‘n’ dried demise by any means. I’m not going to get into spoilers, for those of you who’ve managed to miss the media blitz about the event which happily revealed the comic’s alleged starring corpse, but anyone reading the story can see it for the “all the other characters think this character is dead, but we’ll eventually catch up to that character and see what he/she’s been up to in the months during the apparent deceased-ness” situation that it is.

Not blaming the creative team of the book, I should note, which has been turning out a solid adventure serial. Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting are presenting complex, interesting, intelligent and still fun superhero stories. This “death” was clearly just a plot twist in an ongoing saga that got blown out of proportion to a general audience of non-comic-readers who are becoming increasingly wary of these stunts. (Let me link again to this post of mine about this sort of promotion.) Unfortunately, I can’t really blame Marvel for this promotional stunt, as it’s hard to get widespread mainstream attention on comics that isn’t “somebody dies, no really!” or “soon to be a movie!” or “this comic has a swear in it, WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN” or, as pal Dorian noted to me, “found strewn about the killer’s apartment….” It’s a shame you usually can’t get this amount of attention simply by saying “this is a good comic people might enjoy,” but the saying isn’t “if it reads, it leads,” after all. You need a gimmick, and “SOMEBODY DIES!” is the one that gets the real world attention. Conversely, “SOMEBODY COMES BACK!” never works as well in grabbing the public, as every return of a dead character since that white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 has shown.

It’s interesting to see that even the mainstream news media stories are now including the implied “what, again?” eyeroll regarding this kind of marketing stunt (such as in this spoiler-filled article), which may further undermine the influx of magpies clutching at the shiny investment potential of yet another temporary death. Especially since the last few have been reversed relatively quickly, turning hypothetical fortunes into just so much polybagged paper.

Ultimately, I expect we’ll sell out of this new FF…we didn’t go overboard on ordering it, and it comes sealed in a familiar-looking if fairly pixelated black bag which will certainly grab attention. But if we do get some new folks in looking for the comic, it’ll once again be a one-shot media-fueled bump, bringing a few bucks into the comics marketplace, but won’t be built upon, won’t be sustained, and will only return when the next “death” comes along, assuming there are still some people left who’ll continue to buy into the hype. The returns diminish each and every time.

Well, I’m certainly Mr. Downer-Pants. Here, let a little stuffed bull treat the topic at hand in the best way anyone can…with big laffs!


§ July 23rd, 2007 § Filed under investing, market crash, publishing, question time, retailing Comments Off on "(GASP!) EEEE EEAIIIIIEEE!!"

from Adventures into Darkness #14 (April 1954)

Someday I’d like to see a collection of all the space-filling short humor strips used to fill out comics back in the day. Also…was this Weird Watson’s only appearance? How can you not love that guy?

What fresh hell is this? Weekly World Newsshutting down? Bat Boy…homeless? Ed Anger…even angrier?

Weekly World News has had several connections to the comic book world, such as editors Paul Kupperburg and Bob Greenberger, writer Andy Mangels, and, of course, Peter Bagge’s run of initial “Bat Boy” comic strips, among others.

The supermarket just won’t be the same without Weekly World News staring back out at you at the checkout line. Another little piece of Americana slips away.

(First spotted via Metafilter.)

A couple more follow-up questions from the ’90s bust discussion:

  • Commenter Phil asks

    “One thing I’ve started wondering about your memories of the speculative boom – how much cash would your average collector buying multiple copies for investment value actually have sent down the toilet, in terms of purchase price versus current value?”

    That’s a hard question to answer. Well, maybe not…the general response would be “a lot,” but it would depend really on what multiple copies they purchased (and assuming they kept them in sellable shape, which, as I noted Friday, was rarely the case).

    But even if they did end up investing in a boom-era comic book with some current demand and a reasonable aftermarket price — say, for example, Spawn #1 — is the 30% to 50% (if you’re lucky) of that aftermarket price you’re going to get by selling it to a dealer, or on eBay, worth the fifteen years you’ve stored them? And if you have a lot of them, you might run into the problem I mentioned here…you might be able to sell 5 or 10 or even 20 copies of Spawn #1 to the same buyer, but it’s not likely you’ll be able to sell a full case of a couple hundred copies to that buyer. At least, not without taking an enormous loss on them. I can use some Spawn #1s for the shop, but I’m not going to tie up a lot of money in 200 copes that might take me a decade or more to sell. If you want me to buy a full case of Spawn #1, it better be cheap.

    And if you’ve got something nobody wants, like, say, Brigade #1, you’ve gone from the “you may make a little bit of your money back” situation with Spawn to the “too bad it’s not soft enough to use as toilet paper” side of things. Sure, the price guide might say it’s worth cover price or so, but they’re not actually selling for that. To anyone. Ever. They’re not even selling in our bargain bins, much less at full price. Anyone who invested in Brigade will find themselves…well, I believe the technical term is “losing one’s ass.”

    Speaking of asses and the loss thereof…another thing to consider, when it comes to value of many of the boom books…some of you folks may remember that our shop was clearing out some backstock, selling about 100,000 units to somebody who needed comic books in bulk, regardless of title or publisher. We unloaded tons of ’90s crash-era comics at the princely sum of one shiny nickel per funnybook. Alas, I doubt you’ll see that pricing reflected in the listings of your favorite price guide (“SECOND LIFE OF DR. MIRAGE #1 – $0.05 in NM condition”).

    So, anyway, to actually answer the question: while I’m sure there are some success stories, the vast majority of people who invested in multiple copies probably only realized pennies for each dollar spent, if even that.

  • Commenter Mathew has a question about something a little more recent:

    “Do you think 52 would have sold as well if DC published it as a monthly trade rather than a weekly pamphlet?”

    If they had gone the monthly paperback route, 52 would have been a drastically different creature. (For one, they would have called it 12.) It was designed as a weekly serial, with cliffhangers, and its impact (and novelty) would have been diminished had it been yet another monthly publication. Not saying there isn’t room for DC to experiment with a superhero story serialized as a monthly trade paperback, but 52 was primarily designed to take advantage of the weekly new comic pamphlet release schedule, which contributed to its sale success.

Another good sequence from Adventures into Darkness #14:

"Buy something you’d like to read, that way it’ll always be worth something to you."

§ July 19th, 2007 § Filed under investing, market crash, question time Comments Off on "Buy something you’d like to read, that way it’ll always be worth something to you."

So some of you folks had some good questions in response to this post of mine from yesterday…I’m mostly just answering direct questions today, but I’ll probably get around to speaking about some of your more general observations soon.

If you have more questions or comments, feel free to lay them on me.

Commenter Allan asks

“I would be curious if you could think of any possible bright sides of the bust. Did anything good come out of it (besides the death of a ton of lousy titles) or was it just a great big pile of suck without any glimmering glints of gold peeking out from underneath the rubble?”

Well, there were a few good things, I think:

1. A refocusing by certain publishers on comics that were worth reading, rather than just being foil-covered, die-cut objects for magpies to gather. (Though this is slowly coming undone.)

2. Shaking out some of the retailers who jumped into the market just to exploit their customer base with “investments” and “collectibles.”

3. And most importantly, teaching the surviving retailers a very important lesson about over-ordering, buying fads, and the transience of “investing” customers. You’ll find a lot more retailers nowadays swearing by their cycle sheets and ordering a lot more conservatively, particularly if they weathered the ’90s.

Commenter Larry E asks

“As a retailer, did you ever try to talk any customers out of buying multiple issues or otherwise contributing to the speculation bug? If you did, was it regular customers or just guys thinking they would cash in on the Death Of Superman or X-Men 1, etc?”

If someone came up to the register with multiple copies of a book, I wouldn’t necessarily try to dissuade them, but I would at least ask them something along the lines of “Are you sure you want this many?” Even if they had just two copies of a book, I’d say “Hey, you had two copies of this comic in your pile…did you mean to do that?” But, if they were adults, and they wanted to have multiple copies…hey, it’s their money.

Also, keep in mind we had ginormous distributor bills…we were raking in a ton of cash, but we were also doling out a lot of coin of the realm at the same time. If someone wanted to buy thirty copies of a book that otherwise was kind of sitting there, we weren’t in a position to say “no,” really. Multiple copy sales of that magnitude (or more, like full cases of books) rarely happened anyway, and it was usually as special-ordered wholesale items to people selling at swap meets, or via mail order, or what have you.

On the other hand, when customers asked me which comics would be a good investment, that’s where I drew the line. Depending on my mood (and how well I knew the customer) I’d say “If I could tell the future, I’d be at the racetrack,” or I’d just respond with a “Who can tell?” Or, more likely, I’d say “Buy something you’d like to read, that way it’ll always be worth something to you.” That particular mantra was repeated many a time.

At no time did I ever, ever, recommend a comic book as an investment. Aside from the fact that I’d prefer people read the books, the danger of that was, of course, recommending a book that turned out to be a turkey, and having the customer chase after me with a rusty clawhammer because I sold him four hundred copies of Team Youngblood #1.

Another thing that, hopefully, makes me look a little less bad was, at the time, I had set up a “RECOMMENDED READING” rack of good comics that I wanted to encourage people to actually read, as opposed to just dropping into a Mylar and waiting for the price to skyrocket. (That’s how we ended up regularly selling about 5% of the print run of a Pirate Corp$ issue, to bring up one fond memory.)

Commenter Scratchie asks

“I’ve often wondered if Overstreet and the other pricing guides acknowledged the crash, or whether their ‘market prices’ for various issues just kept going up, and up…”

You know, that’s a good question, and I think I probably have the magazines and guides at the shop to research it. But just as a hunch, I imagine it’s like this:

Overstreet, on the whole, is pretty conservative with pricing, so aside from some fluctuation on, say, Valiant titles, it probably didn’t alter its pricing too much, since they probably never acknowledged too much of the “hot title” pricing to begin with.

Wizard probably just dropped “hot” comics out of their price guide entirely as prices dropped, with “not enough interest in the title to justify using the space” as a reason.

And the other fly-by-night price guides all dried up before they could start running post-crash pricing.

I need to dig out some of the guides and take a look to see what they actually did. Watch this space!

Commenter Thelonious_Nick asks

“…Do you think there will ever be another time when comics are a mass medium, as they were from the 1940s-1990s? And if so, what changes in the comics industry and/or society will be necessary for that to happen?”

I think it was Dave Sim, of all people, who said that television is the only real mass medium, and everything else is a distant second. But, for a while there, comics were enormously popular, but I think the ’90s may have been the last hurrah of that particular market situation (no matter how hard the publishers are trying to revive it with all their variant covers).

1. We had an enormously popular Batman movie that created a faddish interest in comics.

2. The sports card market collapsed, driving investor types into the comic market looking for more collectibles (a drive pushed by the Batman-created fad, most likely).

3. This may just be crazy talk, but I’ve had a half-baked opinion that comic sales seem to bump upward during times of economic depression, and maybe someday I’ll get around to researching that a little more fully.

And I’m sure there are other reasons, but I think the main reason for the ’90s market being the way it was could be attributed to the faddish nature of comics’ popularity. There’s no real telling what will create a fad like this, how big it’ll get, or how long it’ll last…and now that comics have had their big fad moment, it’s unlikely it’ll happen again in the near future. (How many big “pet rock” revivals have there been since the ’70s, for example?*)

As it is, the comics market is improving slightly, as the focus moves ever so surely towards a trade paperback-based system. As awareness of comics increases, more people find things they like, and readership increases…and so long as the market grows naturally, and healthily, I don’t care if it does reach the heights of the ’90s. And frankly, the only way that would happen at this point is for another comics fad to hit, which I don’t know any of us really want to see.

By the way, in some instances, comics are doing enormously well. How many best seller lists is the Naruto manga on, for example?

Commenter Matt asks

“…Was there one “eureka” moment for you when you knew the crash was coming? When you knew things were falling apart, or about to fall apart?

“For that matter, did you smell the crash at all?”

I think I’ve noted before that the crash was pretty sudden. We had a few weeks when sales dipped a bit, and we thought it was just one of those periodic sales adjustments, and things would be back up to normal shortly.

And then things just kept dipping, and we thought “Well, this is going on a little longer than normal, surely those customers will be back. We’d better keep ordering our regular numbers so that we’ll have the back issues for them when they return.”

And then the sales continued dipping, and then we, along with every retailer in America and abroad, went “Oh, shit.”

The one thing that really made me think “Oh, this can’t be good” was a certain issue of the Diamond Previews catalog. For one, it was much thicker than previous issues. I think it was even thicker than the current Previews. And two, it contained the debut of (or at least special-featured solicitations for) at least three different superhero shared universes from three different publishers (one may have been Dark Horse’s Comics’ Greatest World). I remember looking at that and thinking “We don’t have the rack space to support this” and “How do they expect customers to afford to follow all these books?” I can still recall my very strong feeling of dread.

Commenter jimbo asks:

“I guess like Larry E, I’m interested in, for lack of a better word, the ‘ethics’ of the 90’s speculator boom. Did you feel a certain responsibility to dissuade folks from being a bit too silly with their money (multiple issues, ‘investing,’ etc.), or is this sort of like asking a liquor store owner if he feels bad about taking money off a guy who buys a 30 pack?

“I know you to be a generally swell and ethical guy, but were there ever any moments in the 90’s where you felt tested, or even points where you were like ‘No, this is not why I got into this business at. all.’?”

I addressed this at least partially with my response to Larry E…I think my responsibility was in telling people who asked about comic book investing was that it wasn’t a good idea. But, if people wanted to spend money on multiple issues, even after I asked them if they were sure…well, I’m not their mom, I’m not going to tell them what they can or can’t spend their money on. And like I’d said…most of the time, it was just people buying doubles, which was no big deal.

Was that healthy for the comics industry in the long run? Probably not. But not even a Mikester in his early 20s’ fightin’ prime could save the industry by himself, refusing to sell multiple copies and extolling his customers to turn away, turn away I say, from those five different X-Men #1s, stop rubbing the blood on Bloodstrike #1, and buy only comics you’ll enjoy reading! I did what I could to encourage reading and discourage investing, but the economic reality of it was that I had to accept the investors are part of the deal. Besides, if they didn’t buy ’em here, they’d go to one of the other half-dozen stores that popped up in our immediate area and buy ’em there. (‘Course, most of those stores dried up years ago.)

On the other hand, the kind of person who’d buy a case of any given issue at a time wasn’t someone who was going to stick around as a reader anyway. He was in it for short term profit, not long term entertainment.

As far as the “not why I got into this business” part…it wasn’t comics, but POGs what did the deed. I’ve written about this before, but POGs and their ilk are really the only thing I hated, hated selling. It honestly made me feel like a crook taking money from kids for POGs and POG supplies and POG sheets and slammers and what have you. I would have probably felt better about selling cigarettes to them, because then at least the kids would get cool menthol flavor, which is far more than they’d be getting from these stupid milkcaps. This was pretty much post-crash, however, and we were doing everything we could to get cash in the door and keeping the doors open. And, kids wanted POGs, we had no shortage of people wanting to wholesale POGs to us, and our will was weak.

When my time comes, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do to God.

Commenter David C asks

“Were you around for the ’80s ‘Black and White’ boom? If so, how was it similar and different?”

I was around as a reader and a fan for the black and white boom, but I wasn’t on the retail end of things until shortly afterward. Our shop didn’t fall for the b&w boom like some folks did…we may have carried Solson titles and assorted other small press titles cranked out to take advantage of the investors market created by the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but never more copies than we thought we could sell. There was no investing in these b&w #1s in quantity, in the hopes a financial killing could be made (like the poor bastard I saw at a convention circa ’91, with a whole long box of the notoriously terrible Shadow of the Groundhog).

I would say, in general terms, that the primary difference between the black and white boom and the late ’80s/early ’90s boom was that the former was more publisher driven, while the latter was consumer driven. When TMNT came out, it was a huge hit, with early issues commanding enormous prices. Suddenly everyone was a comic book publisher, cranking out their own black and white titles hoping for that same success. Not saying there weren’t any good publishers that came out of that (like Slave Labor and Dark Horse), and that some titles didn’t sell well, but there was a metric assload of terrible, terrible comics, number ones pumped out one after another, in the hopes that if you threw enough crap at a wall, some of it would stick…and very, very little of it did. (And then there are the tales of some publishers holding back cases of their own titles, attempting to manipulate the market and create their own “hot” books….)

And Comic Bob wants a more detailed timeline of the ’90s, in regards to the rise and fall of the industry. I’ve sort of noted some of the things he mentions in past posts linked in yesterday’s post, but perhaps a more thorough timeline would be in order. I’ll see what I can cook up.

Related: Dick has been relating his history as a kid reading comics in the ’90s beginning with this post, which may be of interest to people curious about what the market was like from a reader’s point of view.

* A TRUE MIKESTER STORY: In grade school, we were given a project to create some kind of marketable product, along with its packaging, for…well, for some reason, I’m sure. Hey, it’s been 30 years, give me a break. Anyway, the product I created was a Pet Rock knockoff called the “Pet Stick,” a wooden stick packaged in a triangular tube I constructed (kind of like the priority mail tubes you get from the USPS). It came with a set of instructions that included games you could play with your Pet Stick, including “Fetch the Dog” — you throw the stick, it’ll attract a nearby dog, which will pick the stick up and bring it back to you. I’ll still defend that as being a pretty good joke.