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John Goodman’s finest role.

§ October 20th, 2021 § Filed under cartoons, retailing, undergrounds, variant covers § 5 Comments

So in Monday’s post, where I was talking about variant covers in the “real” non-comics world, I brought up the multiple foil covers used for the Raiders of the Lost Ark novelization. I did say at the end of the post I didn’t think many people were actually buying all the different covers to be completists, but I’m sure it’s not nobody.

Well, Turan swooped in with some bookstore-sellin’ experience, to inform that book publishers weren’t producing multiple covers for their titles as a means of encouraging multiple sales. It was more for encouraging displays from sellers, or for offering more options possibly to attract different demographics by using different cover images/designs.

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and my comics retailing hammer may have been aimed at those old Raiders books. To be fair to me, I didn’t necessarily say that book publishers were doing multiple covers for the same reasons comic publishers seem to do so…at least, maybe not back then. But discussing those books in close proximity to comics probably implied as such, for which I apologize. But I’m sure there are still book collectors out there snapping up all variations of a new book’s release. C’mon, have you met book collectors?

Anyway, back to the comics…while I’ve been hitting the “variants are there to get multiple sales from the same customer” nail fairly hard around these parts, Turan does bring up other possibilities that I haven’t really considered. There is always the possibility of a comic publisher trying to attract a buyer that may not care for one cover, but definitely like another. I have over the years had customers walk up to the counter buying a comic they wouldn’t normally because of a specific image used on one of the many variants. In fact, a certain still-extant comics blogger of some note may have bought a variant cover or two simply because it had an unnamed swampy gentleman thereupon. So, basically, I should’ve pointed out this reason for variants long ago.

As for variants being issued to inspire creation of in-store displays…well, sure, comic stores could do, and have done, that. I don’t know if that was the explicit intent of comic publishers, but more a natural extrapolation by more clever shops to take advantage of the material offered. I mean, who knows. And again, this is something I’ve sort of done in the past…I mean, I try to display all covers on my racks anyway, but I haven’t gone out of the way to make a specific separate display of just variants in a long time (we did way back when with the 1990s X-Men and Spider-Man #1s). I don’t know if my racking these books like this counts:

…but boy, it almost got me to buy both covers. I do have to admit I was very tempted to display these covers on opposite sides just to annoy everyone, but cooler heads prevailed.

• • •

To follow up on some other previous posts, I received my newest shipment of weekly Marvel comics from their new distributor Penguin Random House. As I’d expected from how some replacement damages were shipped to me last week, PRH has responded to widespread criticism of their piss-poor packaging and the excessive damages of comics that resulted.

Like Lunar (DC’s distributor) PRH is now packaging their books inside a cardboard box, surrounded by bubble wrap inside another cardboard box. Frankly, the outer box isn’t quite sturdy enough (or large enough to allow for more wrap) to my tastes, but it’s definitely a step up from the last couple of weeks. I did experience some damages, but they were fairly minor dings on six comics, and to be honest I don’t know if these came from their time in transit or before (or as) they were packed in the boxes.

Also, replacements for all of my damages from last week (and there were a lot) arrived early this week. (I initially thought I was missing one, but that’s only because I didn’t recognize the variant cover as being a certain title. AGAIN WITH THE VARIANT COVERS.)

Here’s hoping things continue to improve, and that a certain other distributor who shall go unnamed here will begin to feel at least some pressure to step up their own game. To be fair, I only received two damaged books from them this week, but in the past that just meant I was due for a real problem the following week. We’ll see.

Now I hadn’t heard about this, but on this week’s episode of the Longbox Heroes podcast (being listened to even as I type this), apparently there have been other odd problems with PRH…such as filling an entire order of a book, not with the regular cover, but with the 1/25 or 1/100 ratio variants, which is pretty wild (and possibly quite the windfall for the less scrupulous retailers). I haven’t experienced that particular problem yet, thankfully.

• • •

And now, some good news…the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers is finally going to series, airing on the free TV app Tubi:

As has been noted, the styles of “Characters Created by Gilbert Shelton” and “Characters Not Created by Gilbert Shelton” do, um, clash quite a bit, but given the premise of the series (the Freak Bros. are spirited away from their ’60s/’70s stomping grounds into the world of today) that seems only fitting. I’ve seen a few of the shorts they did with this voice cast (which is great, by the way) on YouTube, so I’m looking forward to some full-length episodes.

Floors sticky with X-Men comics.

§ October 15th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, question time, retailing § 7 Comments

So in answering Alan’s question about what the comic industry might have been like with the success of superhero (read: Marvel) movies, I completely missed the forest for all them cut-down-to-print-Unstoppable Wasp trees. Chris V points out

“I’m pretty sure that if the superhero movie craze was a flop, Disney would have never bought Marvel and Marvel Comics may be on the verge of bankruptcy by 2020, if not already bankrupt before 2020.”

Er, yeah. Marvel was pretty much selling office furniture to keep the lights on in the mid-1990s. There was a very good chance they would have been dead and gone without income from films, and as has been said, “as goes Marvel, so goes the comics industry.” The comics market as we know it might have survived, but almost certainly it would have changed drastically. Well, drastic for people like me working in direct market retail, not so much for all the manga being sold through regular bookstores I’d imagine. At the very least, I wouldn’t have that giant cardboard Groot standup in my store’s front window.

There was also a lot of talk in Wednesday’s comments about what Disney could and should do in regards to helping direct people going to their Avengers movies into stores to find Avengers comics.

There are a couple of things to note about that. First, there’s the thing I said in Wednesday’s post, and that I’ve said plenty of times before: reading serialized comics is pretty much a lifestyle choice. It requires coming to a shop on a regular basis to pick up each new installment. (Or, heaven forfend, if you’re getting them digitally, it requires accessing them on your tablet/phone/whatever and keeping up with them.) That’s not necessarily a habit that comes naturally to people who aren’t already in a comic book reading mindset.

The other issue is another I’ve pointed out from time to time, that for most folks, all the superheroin’ they need is about one movie every few months. They don’t need a regular print diet of of Thor when a Thor movie every few years does ’em fine. They might enjoy paging through a single comic as a novelty, but they’re not going to set up a pull list or anything.


…there is a non-zero percentage of folks introduced to comics via the movies who do become comic fans. I know. I sell comics to some. We’re not going to get an influx of millions into comic shops because people liked Ant-Man, but we’ll get a few people. And a few is better than none. Maybe some fraction of those will become weekly regular funnybook fans. Maybe some will just pop in to try out a graphic novel or two on occasion (or maybe even once). Or maybe they’ll just become aware there is such a thing as comic book stores, and they’ll know where to go when they need comic-related stuff (for gifts or whatnot).

Disney itself doing anything to directly help comic shops beyond not shuttering Marvel’s publishing division entirely and giving the IP to the merchandising department is, well, unlikely. Like I said in a comment in Wednesday’s post, they’d be more likely to open their own Marvel-exclusive comic stores. And by “more likely” I mean “when pigs fly above a frozen-over Hell.” Any cross promotion between theaters showing superhero movies and comic shops will have to be done on their own. I’m sure some folks have had success giving away comics at theaters, but I’m just imagining that much more stuff for those poor theater employees to clean up off the floors between showings.

A couple things Marvel tried to do to get some of that Marvel movie audience to pay attention to the comics: one was a short X-Men comic in the July 2000 issue of TV Guide:

…and I gotta be honest, I don’t recall that working very well, mostly just being derided a bit. And though I know I read it, I don’t remember anything about the comic itself beyond thinking “this probably isn’t a good introduction to the X-Men.” Ah, well.

The other thing Marvel did was create the “Ultimate” line of books, basically giving fresh starts (and the occasional goatee) to their mainline characters for anyone new to the medium.

I don’t know how many new-to-comics readers they acquired, or if they just gave already-committed Marvel fans more books to read per month.

This all sounds sorta bitter and negative, and…well, okay, maybe I am being so. But all this isn’t to say outreach via movies and such does no good…just probably not as much good as you think it would.

Usually titles just come to me, but I’m stuck on this one for some reason.

§ October 8th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 2 Comments

So a bit of a follow-up on Wednesday’s post:

First, if you read it first thing Wednesday morning, and wondered why it felt like a chunk of it was missing, that’s because a chunk of it was missing. A small HTML error wiped out a paragraph or two, which is now fixed. So please, go back and read my now-unexpurgated words of unsurpassed wisdom and be enlightened.

Second, in regards to the shipping woes faced by retailers during Penguin Random House’s first week of handling Marvel’s comics: as I noted, I only had four comics damaged enough to where I didn’t feel comfortable selling them. I reported them to the distributor Monday, and received replacements on Thursday. Via Next Day Air UPS. In a box that was wrapped with bubblewrap and placed inside another box.

Needless to say, I was amazed. I’m certainly not used to receiving replacements that quickly. And I think the only reason they took as long as they did to get to me is that PRH was apparently slammed with complaints and it took them time to get everything sorted out.

The distributor also sent out an email, essentially apologizing for dropping the ball with their insufficient packaging and they they were taking steps to improve the quality of their shipments. Which is good to hear…I’m willing to give them the benefit of a doubt as they at least acknowledged this is a problem and it needs to be fixed, which is more than I get from some distributors.

(Speaking of which…said distributor shorted me my entire order of Star Wars: High Republic Adventures and about 1/6th of my order of the Bad Idea comic Pyrate Queen, in case you’re wondering how they’re putting their best foot forward the same week they lost a massive chunk of their business.)

Also, I saw that my initial tweets on the week’s shipment had been “favorited” by a certain comics columnist, which told me what I wrote there was eventually going to end up filling some column inches on another site. And yes, I predicted correctly, so if you happen to see the article while perusing the site for some reason, you don’t need to tell me you saw my name there. I already know where it is.

Lastly, nothing to do with Wednesday’s post, but I wanted to remind you I’m still taking your questions! Chime in and let me know your one question about comics! I promise to give you as good an answer as I can…or maybe just make a cheap joke. WE’LL FIND OUT!

We are the walking distributor.

§ October 6th, 2021 § Filed under retailing, this week's comics § 7 Comments

What’s great about this newest issue of Walking Dead‘s color reprints is how they just lean into the somewhat notorious “we ARE the Walking Dead!” declaration Rick makes in the issue. All but one of the variant covers features the phrase itself or a paraphrasing thereof, giving a hearty “take that, haters” to everyone who razzed the…on-the-noseness of it all.

I don’t know how the actual regular readers of The Walking Dead responded to the issue at the time. The color reprints also include the original letter columns, so I suppose I’ll find out myself in a month or two. My guess is that the fans invested in the book found it profound, while the comicsblogosphere of late 2005 probably happily snarked away at it out of its regular context. And while I don’t think I commented on it then, I would occasionally reference it for a gag, such as this recent tweet.

I’m pretty sure I’ve noted before that I am now reading The Walking Dead in its color reprint form, as I missed out on the series the first time. I mean, sure, not like there wasn’t plenty of ways to catch up on the book, what with all the trade paperback/hardcover/omnibus options, but I never seemed to get around to it. And now that it’s coming out in single issue form again every fortnight or so, it’s easy for me to just grab ‘n’ read them as they arrive.

Aaaaaaand…even in context, after having read issues #1 through #23, the “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!” exclamation at the end of #24 still comes across as perhaps just a tad overwrought. Too much Cochrane in First Contact saying “you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” level of forced, dragging what should be subtext into just straight up text. On the other hand, if I wanted subtlety, I suppose I wouldn’t be reading a comic book called “The Walking Dead.”

All that said, it does come at the end of an effective extended speech from Rick, marking a turning point for our characters in this series. It’s essentially Rick emphasizing over and over that the old world, the old ways of doing things, are over, that everything you were used to is gone, and that they were going to have to get accustomed to doing things that were previously unthinkable in order to stay alive…not that “living” really means much of anything anymore. It’s bleak, it’s hopeless, and yet you still kinda want to see where things go from here, which was probably a hard trick to pull off.

Then there’s the two-page spread of Rick capping everything off with…well, you know, and I guess if you’re determined to get the title of the comic into the actual story somewhere, this is as good a way as any. Like I said, still a bit hokey, but, you know, what the hell, worse things happen at sea.

Also, if you’re wondering, of the many variants, the one pictured above is what I picked for myself, because it made me laugh.

• • •

A brief retailing update: I received my first order of Marvel periodicals from Penguin Random House this week. For me, anyway, it was a fairly auspicious debut, as everything I was expecting was actually in the boxes, which was a nice change of pace. There were damages, with four comics having some pretty badly dinged corners, but I couldn’t tell if it happened in transit, during the packing process, or maybe they just came that way from the printers, who knew?

Now, I think I may have been lucky, as the boxes used to ship the comics didn’t seem to be as sturdy, or as sizable, as they needed to be to safely transport comics. The boxes were small, just barely large enough to surround the comics, and honestly one big bump along the way on a conveyor belt in the sorting plant, or being bounced aaround on the delivery truck, could have easily damaged whatever was inside. However, each box was packed with instructions on how to report any shortages or damages, and also had an actual packing slip with the name of the person who did that packing — certainly not anything I was used to.

By contrast, the regular distributor’s shipment…shorted me entirely on a Star Wars comic, shorted me about 1/6th my order of one of the new Bad Idea comics, and had a few plainly avoidable damages. You’d think having fewer books to sort and pack would cut down on that sort of thing, but, well, habits die hard I guess.

The shipment from my DC Comics distributor was exemplary as usual, though I keep hearing tales of other stores having immense problems with them. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far. Once I had all my copies of one title not get packed, and there’s been the very rare single copy damage or shortage, but 99% of the time, the shipment is flawless. It’s nice to not have to worry about at least one distributor…I mean, not yet.

Look, don’t bust me on the math, I’m writing this late and I’m tired.

§ August 13th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 14 Comments

So Image Comics sent out a press release ballyhooing the immense order numbers for the imminent release of King Spawn #1:

“The recent launch of Todd McFarlane’s new monthly comic book, King Spawn #1, has shattered sales records. With just under a half-million pre-orders by comic stores retailers, this marks the single largest new superhero monthly title launch in the comic book industry in the past 25 years based on the standard sales formula of the comic book industry (non-returnable, non-retailer exclusive sales).”

Hi! I’m a comics retail critter what lived through the excesses of the 1990s. I’ve got a few words to say about this event.

Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn, is quoted in the release thusly:

“‘The numbers that came in were much higher than what I had projected. With sales that now have a historical impact in our industry. It proves that the character Spawn and the world he lives in still resonates to fans almost thirty years after I first introduced him.'”

If I may offer a counter conjecture…I believe the high sales (nailed down to 497,000 elsewhere in the release) can be primarily attributed to the 1-in-250 edition of the book signed by McFarlane. In other words (for those new to this) a store has to order 250 copies of the normal covers in order to have the option to purchase the autographed copy.

Looking at recent-ish Spawn sales on Comichron, it appears sales on the title are generally in the 35,000 range, though #293 at the beginning of 2019 was about 25,000. Now, #300 topped over 260,000, driven by multiple covers and, at least in my experience, duplicate purchases of those covers. This issues also seemed to be one of those at least lightly targeted by the current and mercurial speculator market, given the number of advance orders I received from customers for specific, and multiple, covers. Plus, it was a three hundredth issue, heavily hyped, which can boost not just retailer orders, but actual customer purchases.

The following issue, #301, was also hyped as a special issue, which goosed the sales a bit as well (about 186,000). Oversized issues, multiple covers, supposedly surpassing Cerebus‘s number of issues (though technically Cerebus only had 299 individual issues in its run, with “#112/#113” being a single publication…let the nit-picking pedantry begin!). EDIT: BobH points out Cerebus had another double-issue, so that’s 298 individual publications in the main run.

Orders remain higher than normal for 302, at over 50,000, but was back down to the normal 35,000 or so range afterwards. So, under normal circumstances, that is about our normal level for orders on Spawn. I suspect most retailers are ordering just about what they can sell on each regular issue, with not much variation from month to month (outside the outliers noted above). Each issue of late has had three to four covers, and there is a non-zero percentage of fans who buy more than one cover (something I’ve been going on about in detail in my variant cover-age series of posts, starting here).

From all this we can guesstimate the number of actual readers (or at least collectors) who consistently pick up Spawn. And it ain’t a half million people.

Spawn’s Universe #1, released a couple of months ago and the first of this new line of Spawn spin-offs, also had order numbers much higher than your typical Spawn issue. The press release states that “the first issue of King Spawn beat that number [of Spawn’s Universe #1 orders] by two and a half times,” which puts Spawn Universe at just shy of 200,000.

A look at sold eBay listings shows Spawn Universe #1, which has a cover price of $5.99, regularly selling for less than that…several in the four to five dollar range, the occasional copy for $1.99, and yes, a few for about $7 or so, with the occasional outlier in either direction. That tells me this is a comic unburdened by scarcity. Retailers ordered high (given the number of variant covers, and no idea which one would be the “hot” one of choice, it’s no surprise) and likely had copies left over. Hence, you get what is effectively clearance prices online, trying to move excess stock…not premium pricing in a seller’s market, where demand drives up pricing on limited supply.

This post is basically a long, winding road to say “there’s gonna be a shitload of King Spawn #1s in the marketplace.” That’s not to say it won’t sell an enormous number to customers. There are multiple covers, many sales will involve the purchase of more than one cover, and more people will be attracted to this new first Spawn issue than normally read Spawn.

But like I said above, the main impetus for these sales is almost certainly the 1-in-250 edition signed by McFarlane. Going by the provided order numbers, that’s just under 2,000 copies to which ol’ Todd has to apply his John Hancock. And I’m sure the cost of 250 copies (or the balance of 250 copies above what a store was already ordering) is probably worth it to get their hands on that signed comic, which will be slabbed and put up for sale for thousands of dollars.

Did I take the bait, and get one o’them signed funnybooks? I wasn’t planning to, but I had a customer who had to have it, and we knocked out a deal where, without going into too much detail, the numbers and money involved worked out for everybody. Does this mean I’m going to have way more King Spawn #1s than I planned on being able to sell? Yup…look, I’m a small comic shop, surrounded on all sides by other comic shops, some of whom I’m sure also bit the bullet and got themselves a signed copy. There’s going to be no shortage of King Spawn locally. Do I have a plan to unload them anyway? Sure I do…I mean, I suppose I could have made the guy ordering the autographed copy take a bunch, but…nah, he didn’t really want them, and I can use ’em, I think.

I’m sure I’m not the only store that did this, though I’m sure there are plenty of stores in bigger cities or with more robust mail order divisions who sneer at a mere 250 copies, and can move them easily. But overall, given what we’ve seen in regards to current market tolerance for special issues of Spawn…we’re probably looking at a couple hundred thousand more copies at least than can be easily absorbed.

Do I want it to sell well? Of course I do. Maybe a half million people will suddenly decide they need to see this new Spawn comic. Or maybe ~71,000 customers will buy each of the seven standard variants (and ~10,000 people will buy the 1-in-50 variants). Or maybe not. But certainly it’s going to sell outrageous amounts to customers.

And even when sales dip back down to regular numbers, that’s still four (yes, four…there’s another Spawn spin-off coming) comics instead of one, possibly a net gain. You know, minus the people who say “look, I could follow one Spawn comic, but not four, I’m dropping everything.” Think that doesn’t happen? I’ve been in this business 33 years…I’ve seen it happen. Plenty of times. Over and over again.

Anyway, that press release of Image’s doesn’t look like the crowning achievement they seem to think it is. It looks like the 1990s, where Marvel trumpeted their X-Men #1 orders, and their X-Force #1 orders, without mentioning how many ended up being warehoused, buried in storage lockers and occasionally being dragged out into daylight and into shops like mine to unload. I am sure no one’s hoping for that fate, but…well, let’s be realistic. They claim success, but retailers can’t help but see the cloud in that silver lining.

I have a question for you, again.

§ August 6th, 2021 § Filed under reader participation, retailing § 14 Comments

…Not like this question which kicked off a still-ongoing series of posts here, but something hopefully a little simpler:

How are the new comics displayed at your comic book store?

Now at my shop, I have a long, tall wooden rack with every cover full-face on display, side by side (pictured above).

I also have a standard spinner rack that I use to display the more all-ages books right by the front door, in which the covers overlap so that only the top half is showing. Here’s a stock image from Diamond’s site to show what I’m talking about, in the off-chance you don’t know:

The reason I ask is that the other day I was sorta runnin’ off at the Twitter about corner boxes on comic books:

As I said there, the purpose of these was so that should the retail establishment in question rack the comics so that they’re side-by-side and overlapping, the corner box would still clearly identify the title even if the actual logo is obscured. I contended this was more common in newsstands and grocery stores and the like, whereas the direct market comic shops were more likely to display comics full-face (or at least on spinner or wall racks that would at least present the full logo). As such, there was not much call for the practical use of corner boxes, relegating them instead to a nostalgic symbol.

“Hold yer horses,” came the reply, however, from a Twitter pal what also sells funnybooks for a living. “Some comic shops, like ours, still do the overlap thing” (paraphrased slightly) and I’m forced to admit I occasionally do so as well even on my big ol’ rack. Ideally I don’t, as I prefer to face everything out ‘n’ unobscured, but there’s always a small percentage of them being overlapped. Thus, I am forced to admit, #notallcomicshops have entirely eschewed the overlapping strategy, for both space reasons and the simple fact there are a hell of a lot of comics coming out. I thought my giant rack would give me plenty of room, but every week I feel like I’m trying to squeeze more material on there.

So, after that long preamble, my question is this: how does your local shop display their new comics? I’m not so much concerned about the actual fixtures themselves (though I suppose it would be difficult to extract that info from the answer) but rather: are the comics primarily displayed with the full cover visible, only the top half visible (like in that spinner rack pic), or with just the sides visible (racked side by side but overlapping)? Or, God help you, are they just dumped into some short boxes for you to flip through and no covers are displayed?

I know there won’t be many either/or answers here. My store is mostly full-face display, with a single spinner rack that shows top halves, and sometimes I have to overlap things on the main shelf so only the left half of the book is showing. But, despite all that, the vast majority of the books are full-face displayed.

So what’s your local comics emporium like? Don’t need to name names (especially if their display is…well, awful) but I am curious as to what folks are doing.

And knowing is 37.5% of the battle.

§ August 4th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing, this week's comics, variant covers § 5 Comments

It’s a Special Album Issue, just like the good old days! Full-page illustrations combined with prose appearing in your otherwise regular Marvel funnybook…not a thing I’d like to see on a regular basis, but okay once in a while, especially if done well, like it is here, taking what could have been yet another Hulk-versus-heroes battle and applying some of the book’s usual levels of gravitas. One thing I liked is the opening (and continuing) comparisions between Bruce Banner and the Hulk with the Fantastic Four.

In an interesting confluence of events, Adam Warren, in his notes to Tuesday’s serialized page of Empowered, says

“…This does seem to represent a bit of a lost opportunity for superhero storytelling—that is, conveying how BLUDGEONING AND EARPIERCINGLY G-D LOUD that most cape-related conflict would be. Of course, the use of giant frickin’ sound FX and the like would burn up pagecount in a hurry, but this still seems like a narrative avenue worth exploring on occasion….”

And this issue of Immortal Hulk does just that, emphasizing the sounds of conflict, the drowned-out voices, et cetera…and given the illustrated text format of the issue, it manages to get around the sound effects problem that Warren posited. Thought that was a nice coincidence!

• • •

Joe mentions, like I probably should have in Monday’s post, that the double-covered #2s had been a prominent feature during the “Heroes Reborn” year-long experiment with the Image Comics artists. Not just on the Reborn books, but on new title launches like Thunderbolts (which I remembered) and he also mentions Deadpool, which I didn’t remember and can’t find that it had a second cover (beyond having a newsstand “variant” with the standard UPC…am I missing something? Wouldn’t surprise me! ). Anyway, I should have noted when the two covers for the second issue started, and thank you Joe for stepping in.

Matthew asks

“Years ago I remember reading that for some period of time the second issue of the GI Joe series that Marvel put out was actually more valuable than the first issue because there were so many fewer issues printed. Was that ever true? Is it still true?”

Other commenters provided their answers, but I thought I’d answer here, too. Yes, there was a time when the second issue of Marvel’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was commanding higher prices than the first.

Now I’m just working off my memories instead of, you know, doing research, but I believe the common belief was, true or not, that the second issue had a smaller print run that the first. And given that G.I. Joe was a relatively popular commodity at the time, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the first issue was in higher demand than expected, and retailers lowering the order on the second issue (without yet knowing how #1 would be received) resulted in the higher demand and comparative scarcity.

Contributing to this disparity in cover prices. Issue #1 was extra-sized and printed on nicer paper, selling at $1.50:

…and then #2 was the standard format comic at 60 cents:

If I had to hazard a guess, backed up by literally no evidence whatsoever (though maybe I can peek through my fanzines from the period and see what sales on these were actually like) beyond my own proclivities as a comics retailer…I’d say that $1.50 price tag on a cartoon ‘n’ toy tie-in, two and half times the price of a standard comic, may have kept orders lower on the first issue. I mean, no matter how popular the property may have been at the time, there was no guarantee that would translate to comic sales of any note, and that high a price tag might have made the buying decision for anyone on the fence about it. And with that seeming barrier to entry, there was no reason to expect much repeat business for the second issue, even at the lower price.

Now please note that at no time am I saying the comic wouldn’t have had strong orders, or that it didn’t…just that the cover price may have kept them from being even stronger. And as it turned out, the first issue was very popular, enough so that there wasn’t enough of the second issue to go around, therefore low supply + high demand = $$$ for somebody. As a result, the price guide regularly had #2 listed at a higher price than #1.

But enough time has passed, with most early G.I. Joes being in less reliable availability at your local comics emporium, that the whole “lower print run” thing, if it ever actually was a thing, is of negligible importance in today’s market. #1 and #2 are both equally difficult to come across, and with the back issue market becoming increasingly focused on “number ones” and “key issues,” it’s not much of a surprise that prices for that first G.I. Joe have zipped on past those for the second.

The House of Lollipops.

§ June 23rd, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing, this week's comics § 6 Comments

Thanks to reader/mad genius Paul for sending this mock-up of what could’ve been for a Sterling Silver Comics retailer exclusive variant!

Following up on my discussion about that very topic from Monday, I’d actually pulled up an email I received from A Comics Publisher in response to an inquiry I’d made along these lines. Without going into a whole lot of specific detail, let’s just say my buy-in, just for the minimum copy purchase of the exclusive variant, would have been in excess of $10,000. That doesn’t count other minimum orders for the regular cover or other variants of your retailer variant, or for paying for the actual artwork by the artist.

Basically, it’s a lotta scratch…not undoable, entirely, but certainly an investment that would require some first class hustling to make that cash back. Which could be a problem in case you got a cover that didn’t grab the attention of the sort of folks who look for exclusive variants like this. But, to be honest, the way the marketplace is right now, seems like anything that has any form of scarcity is automatically in demand.

Anyhoo, something to think about the next time the opportunity arises.

But speaking of “scarcity,” apparently the latest issue of Usagi Yojimbo, #20, is “in demand” due to it being a first appearance of a character whose name I bet most of the people looking for it couldn’t even tell you. My distributor decided, alas, that this would be one of the comics they’d be shorting from my order last week (there’s usually a few every shipment). I figured that would be that, given it’s temporary hotness and all spare copies eaten up by reorders, I’d have to wait for the second printings to come along so I can get copies for customers who actually want to read it. Somehow, though, miracle of miracles, my replacements showed up! I mean, sure, half my Fireflys are missing and several of my Marvel Voices: Pride shorted or damaged, so it’s always something.

As to the Marvel Voices: Pride comic, it surprised me a bit by including select pages from Alpha Flight #106 (1992). In case you forgot, that’s the comic where Northstar finally just straight up said, after years of subtle-ish hints, “yeah, I’m gay.” Which was, granted, a pretty big deal, and demand for the issue warranted a second printing. But this was also at the height of the whole “gotta be EXTREEEME” art thing, and…yeah, it certainly looks a bit jarring side-by-side with more current art styles. Hey, gotta start somewhere! (Also, did they ever bring back Major Mapleleaf from that story?) (Yes, I know that was a nickname of Alpha Flight’s Guardian at one point.)

I should also note that my comments sections here on Rogressive Pruin occasionally take on a life of their own. So, if you ever wanted to delve deep into the origin of the word/sound/expression “vootie,” well, your day has come.

“…With a kung-fu grip that don’t even work.”

§ May 12th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 6 Comments

Monday I started getting emails and Facebook messages and stuff from folks asking for G.I. Joe #281, releasing this Wednesday from IDW. I sighed just a little, because by now I know what this means…some member of the elite comics-noscenti somewhere on an app or on the YouTubes has singled out this issue as “a hot collectible” and here we go again.

And sure enough…checking eBay right now, Tuesday evening as I type this, the “regular” covers (the freely-orderable A & B variants) are selling for between $10 and $20 or $30 or so, and someone has the 1-in-10 variant up for a C-note. When I checked on eBay Monday, when I first started receiving the requests, the regular covers were still at cover price, so things changed fast. (The 1/10 variant was listed for high prices then, too, to be fair.)

Why is it in demand? Well, it’s the typical trigger for speculation of late: the “first appearance,” this time of a new Joe named Sherlock. Haven’t seen a picture of him yet, and flipping quickly through the book didn’t reveal anything obvious. He might even be on one of these covers, I have no idea. I’m just hoping it’s a guy in your standard military fatigues but wearing a camouflage deerstalker cap.

So here’s the thing. This is issue 281 of a regular monthly series. It’s been going on for, like, a decade, picking up from the original numbering (and continuity) of Marvel’s G.I. Joe run. Most retailers have plenty of sales history on this book.

Meaning…I suspect most retailers didn’t order too far above what they actually sell. I know that, for years, I have sold essentially the same numbers on this title month-in, month-out, with maybe a one issue variance. After pulls, I’ll have one copy left on the rack. Most of the time it goes unsold and into the back issue bins. Once in a blue moon someone will buy it. Thus, at best, I’ll have one extra copy not spoken for.

Therefore, the second trigger for speculation is in place: scarcity. Probably the big mail order houses stored up some extra stock, but plain ol’ shops like me weren’t about to load up on it. Even if you told me months ahead of time “they’re gonna introduce a new Joe!” who would have thought “oh, yeah, issue #281 of this series, that’s the one that’s gonna attract all the attention!”

Sometimes you take chances on orders, but they have to be reasoned, educated guesses, based on what you know, not based on whether or not some random issue is going to attract the attention of investors. I actually ordered a bit higher on Batman/Fortnite than I would have of a Batman mini-series, or of a video game tie-in book. I’ve had customers over the years ask for Fortnite comics, and I knew that game was popular, so I gave it a shot. Turned out, this time, I was thinking in the right direction but not nearly enough…could’ve used a lot more copies. Apparently I was better off than a lot of stores, though.

At the previous place of employment I did the same with My Little Pony #1. I figured “this is a hot property, we have lots of kid customers…I’M GOING FOR IT.” I ordered a ton, and they all sold. Then again, I thought Superman Unchained would do better than it did…lots of great variants, Jim Lee art, the whole shebang. Now, as it turned out, we didn’t lose money on the comic, but we had plenty left over.

Those were decisions based on what I thought I could realistically sell, given the nature of the comics themselves, and what I thought would be our customer base’s response to them. It’s nearly impossible to anticipate fluke demand, that suddenly everyone’s going to decide they want the same single issue of a comic they’d never wanted before.

Even if you decide “a-HAH, I’ll just order more of every first appearance!” or “I’ll just order more of what these YouTubers/apps suggest!” that’s no guarantee those sales will materialize. In fact, quite the opposite…as I said, one of the triggers is scarcity. This speculative demand isn’t going to show up for a title sitting thick on your shelves. It’s going to show up for your G.I. Joe #281s, that you barely ordered to fill your pull lists and had one left over for the shelf in the off-chance someone else wanted it.

ADDENDUM: a while back one of my regulars dropped G.I. Joe from his pull list, after having it on there for many years, even dating back to when he was my customer at the previous place of employment. Figured I’d finally have to adjust my G.I. Joe orders for the first time in forever…’til about a day later someone started a new pull with me primarily so he could start getting that G.I. Joe series.

I called this the “Law of Conservation of G.I. Joe.” Please keep an eye out for my TED talk.

[taps the “Doing this for 33 years” sign again]

§ May 7th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 5 Comments

Whenever I extol the virtues of Free Comic Book Day, I am frequently asked questions lke “what good does it do?” “Does it really help your business?” “Do you ever get regular customers out of it, or do the new faces just show up to load up on freebies?”

In the simpler, easier-to-quantify short-term benefit, a Free Comic Book Day event makes my store a great deal of money. While the “free” comics I give away cost very little per individual unit, en masse, particularly in the quantities I traditionally purpose…well, it ain’t cheap. However, it’s always a worthwhile investment in that it attracts a lot of people to my shop for that day, most of whom take advantage of the store-wide discounts on products I’m actually selling. Along with the handfuls of free comics, many also walk out with stacks of graphic novels or back issues that they’ve also purchased. As I often say, I have never lost money on a Free Comic Book Day.

Aside from the financial considerations, there are the emotional ones. Free Comic Book Day makes people happy. Yes, happy that they’re getting free stuff…but they’re happy to be getting comics, they’re happy to be at the shop, it’s a big event that’s very exciting and cheerful.

And now we get into the long-term benefits. People will remember that happiness. That there was this cool shop in town that gave away a bunch of free stuff. That the Free Comic Book Day promotion itself caused them to find out if there was a comic book store in their area, who then sought out and visited my store for the first time. And now, those first-timers now know where to go for comics should they ever need any again. Plus, they’ve got friends they can tell about their experience…a little good word-of-mouth advertising is always welcome.

I don’t think anybody expects Free Comic Book Day events to create new weekly New Comics Day regulars, snapping up a dozen or so books every Tuesday/Wednesday. That habit is…kind of a lifestyle choice more than anything. But it does generate returning customers. I have had people specifically cite Free Comic Book Day to me as their reason for returning to the store to pick up something or ‘nother. I’ve had them tell me “I was going to buy this on Amazon, but I remembered getting free comics from you, so I’d rather spend my money here.” Yes, really.

So no, Free Comic Book Day doesn’t immediately convert all new faces into weekly visitors. But it does positively promote the store, either informs or reminds people that a comic shop lurks waiting in their midst, and that my shop is a nice, clean, and friendly place to go if comics are needed. It is a long term gain.

And thus it is the same with Batman/Fortnite.

The big problem is supply. Even I, who ordered much higher numbers on this than I would have on a typical Batman mini-series, still sold out quickly. So, unlike Free Comic Book Day, where everyone who came to the store left with what they wanted — free comics and discounted goods — many B/F seekers left without the item for which they were hunting.

In that circumstance, it may seem like it’d be difficult to put a positive spin on the shop for the disappointed customer. However, friendly service, an offer to hold future issues, and just generally offering as good an experience as possible, all things considered. I can tell you I didn’t have one angry, or even all that disappointed, customer after learning I was out of B/F. Well, okay, I had a couple of folks grumble at me because I wouldn’t let them buy a half-dozen copies of it for flipping on eBay, but that’s not the sort of customer I’m worried about here. Even if I didn’t have the product, I want new customers to know that it’s a nice store with a fella behind the counter what’s trying to be as helpful as he can manage.

On the other hand, what of the people who were lucky enough to get a copy at my shop? They were certainly happy to get a copy, at cover price, and like the new faces at Free Comic Book Day, they’ve learned there’s an inviting comic book store in town.

Again, no, they’re not likely to suddenly become regular visitors to the shop outside the B/F context…but you treat them well anyway, and, whether they were able to immediately fill that B/F need or not, they are more likely to remember you when they need something comic book-y for whatever reason. Even if it just another Fortnite tie-in comic book.

And rest assured, Batman/Fortnite is essentially like printing money for DC. There will be more of this sort of thing. And when the time comes, and, I don’t know, that Superboy and the Ravers/Fortnite crossover comic is finally released, where will the customers for that be more inclined to go? The comic shop that screwed them over by jacking the price up to $30 or whatever the last time a Fortnite comic came out, taking advantage of an excited kid or a desperate parent? Or the shop that sold ’em for cover price when they had it, and offered to save future issues and reprints of issues they missed? The shop that made you feel bad about buying a comic, or the shop that made you feel good?

I don’t buy the excuse that the inflated prices on Batman/Fortnite are no big deal given the money gamers usually spend on their game-related products. So what? Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should. There’s no legal reason to not charge whatever you want on a comic book…otherwise, the back issue market would be markedly different, wouldn’t it? But a brand new comic, literally the day of release…for me, that’s an ethical consideration. It’s…well, it’s scummy, is what it is.

Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters are a couple of recent hot comics that got the speculators all hot and bothered lately. What if on the day of release I bagged ‘n’ tagged them with $25 price tags? You know what that would make me? An asshole with unsold copies of Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters on my shelf, that’s what. Would some people still buy them? Probably…$25 is probably a small investment after getting their copies in those CGC coffins and up on eBay for $200 or what have you. But the folks who just wanted to read the comic, and maybe don’t have the budget for those obviously smartly market-valued collector’s items? Well, fuck ’em, right? Gotta grab that cash while the grabbing is good!

Sorry, I want to sleep peacefully at night. And I want people who come into my store to leave with happy thoughts about their experience, making them more inclined to return, or recommend me to others. That is the long-term gain from treating people well, and not taking advantage of them when their need is great and you hold all the cards. As reader John said, “Don’t Be A Dick,” because folks will remember if you are one.

I look forward to seeing at least some of these new customers back in my store in the future, after this Fortnite comic thing is done. Because experience tells me that I will.

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