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Do they even still buy physical textbooks in college, or is it all digital?

§ January 3rd, 2022 § Filed under collecting, death of superman, retailing, variant covers § 4 Comments

So I recently found out that the Roku Channel, which is a free streaming service available on, of all things, the Roku streaming device, features a series called Slugfest. It’s a number of short episodes devoted to the back-and-forth between DC and Marvel Comics over the last eight decades or so. (Yes, I know it wasn’t technically “Marvel Comics” early on, nor was DC technically “DC,” but you know what I mean.) Each episode is only a few minutes long, with a mix of vintage video/images and actor reenactments. (Most interesting is Brandon Routh playing a young Jack Kirby…I mean, he’s got the eyebrows, but he’s gotta be at least a foot taller than Kirby ever was; and Ray Wise as older Jack Kirby is about as perfect a casting as you can imagine.)

I bring it up because Episode 8 of the series, “World Without a Superman,” brings us back to our old friend, Superman #75:

Yes, longtime readers of this site have heard me go on and on about this particular event, from my experiencing the madness from behind the counter at the comic shop I worked at back then, to the aftermarket life the book enjoyed (for varying values of “enjoyed”) in the decades since. Well, if you’re new around here, this here link will catch you up on all those ramblings.

And of course I have touched upon the Death of Superman madness in this very series of Variant Cover-age posts, mostly just talking about the “platinum editions.” But it occurs to me, I haven’t really talked much about the more common black-bagged version in this context. Not that I haven’t spoken about it at length in the past, but I feel like it should at least be brought up, especially in reference to that Slugfest episode.

To give you a little context, the Superman family of books (Action, Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel) were selling relatively well, at least for us, at the time. They effectively functioned as a weekly Superman comic, with each issue of each series coming out on separate weeks, storylines and subplots flowing from one to the other. It was very effective serialized storytelling. Also, keep in mind we were still riding the wave of the comics book of the late 1980s/early 1990s, so lots of comics were selling very well.

When it came time to order Superman #75, the actual Death of Superman issue, we ordered high. We’d already bumped up numbers on the preceding issues featuring the story leading up to the Big One, but on #75 itself, we ordered something like ten times what we’d normally order on the Superman comic. We were, we thought, taking something of a chance on this event book. It would do well, surely, but well enough to sell us out of 10x normal Superman orders? We’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, when I’m saying “we ordered” and “we thought,” I mean “Ralph ordered,” as my former boss was placing all the numbers, and I was but a lowly employee.

Anyway, as you all know, it came out, lines around the block, stores could’ve sold lots more than they ordered, et cetera et cetera so on and so forth. And the variant sealed in the black bag with all the goodies, the one we ordered the heaviest numbers, was the one in primary demand. Not to say the “standard” edition:

…didn’t also sell, because it sure did. And when the reprints hit, we sold lots of those, too. Needless to say, there were tons of copies of this sold. About 3 million copies altogether, according to the Slugfest episode.

And yes, here we come to the reason for this post. There’s a scene, a reenactment with actors portraying Superman writer Louise Simonson and a friend of hers, just hanging out at home. It had been noted that the Superman creative team were under a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding the eventual resolution of the Death of Superman storyline (spoiler: he comes back). The scene, going entirely from my memory, was something like this:

FRIEND: “My son is buying lots of copies of this comic. When he gets more money, he’s going to buy more. These are going to put him through college someday.”


And the narrator (Kevin Smith, naturally) makes sure to tell us “the comic only goes for about five bucks now.”

Mmmmm…I beg to differ.

A while back I wrote about the fact that most people who bought the Death of Superman books were not comic collectors, were mostly folks from outside the hobby who picked up an issue out of curiosity or “investment,” who had literally no idea how to properly store or care for a comic book. The vast majority of comic collections I see from around this period, even from folks who bought the bags and boards and Mylar™ and such, are not in Near Mint, or even Fine or better, condition.

In the nearly 30 years since Superman #75 came out, I’d imagine most copies held by non-collectors were not stored well, or even just straight-up discarded once their passing interest in the comic faded. Plus, I suspect attempts to sell the book later to recoup on their investment resulted in some disappointing offers. “Wait, it’s not worth thousands?” It’s probably even worse for the folks who bought copies from opportunistic scalpers, selling them for a hundred dollars a pop the weekend after release (as I heard about locally, and probably wasn’t uncommon elsewhere).

End result: probably not as many minty-mint copies of any version of Superman #75 out there as you may think. It’s not uncommon, but it’s less likely now that you’ll walk into a store with a ready stack of them for sale.

I only ever see one or two at a time of the black-bagged version, and almost never see copies of the standard #75, or even its many reprints. And while I’ll buy the mint copies (or at least cleanly-opened copies with the extras perserved) from collections, I have seen plenty of copies that are just trashed and that I’ve passed on purchasing. As such, it is my belief that a nice copy can still fetch a premium price…and actually does, as I’ve sold more than a few in my shop. And by “premium” I definitely mean more than five bucks.

A quick look at the eBays shows copies of the black-bagged edition selling for, on average, between $10 and $30. Yes, to be fair, I did see a sealed copy sell for $5, but that seemed like an outlier. A couple of the standard editions did sell for about $6 to $8, so that’s a little closer to the show’s assertion. A check of currently-offered copies at Hipcomic don’t show much variation, though they do seem to have a lot more of the reprints than eBay did. (I’m not bringing up “professionally graded” sales, as that’s its own super-distorted marketplace.)

I also did a quick search of a couple of the larger online stores and didn’t even spot any (except for one store that had it for over $150, which is probably why they still have it). Hardly a scientifically thorough search, and for all I know they just had it and sold it before I looked.

The end result is…no, Superman #75, in either its black-bagged or standard edition, isn’t going to pay for anyone’s college. Even the platinum edition might only net you enough to pay for a couple of textbooks. But, I think the “five bucks” descriptor was bit of an underestimation. There’s still a market for these, just that the market value has normalized to meet actual demand, long after that initial rush and immediate scarcity drove some panic buying.

Now that white covered Adventures of Superman #500…if I got five bucks a pop on those, I’d be ecstatic.

Let me know if you’d seen any of those Superman #75s out for sale in your area. Are they going for premium pricing? Are stores stuck with a bunch and trying to unload them? (I’d rather you didn’t mention store names, in case they take offense to being held up as an example of “charging too much” or something.) I’d be interested to hear what’s going on with these across the marketplace now.

Nothing more than feelings.

§ December 31st, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing § 1 Comment

Thelonious_Nick asked, in reference to Wednesday’s post

“How do you go about determining if these signature are authentic? Do you up the price for a signature? How much would you bump up Roy Thomas vs. Jack Kirby?”

Another reader, Chris V, gave his answer and I don’t think there’s anything there I’d disagree with. In this particular case, with this collection, my personal answer as to whether or not these autographs are real is “context.”

This was a largish collection, held by a private collector for many decades, kept in some pretty crummy plastic bags but were in consecutive order and very clearly part of an acquired run of books. It looked like a collection where someone bought each issue as it came out (or filled holes in their runs with back issue purchases), read ’em, bagged them up, then kept them in boxes. And that’s where they stayed until they were brought to me.

As such, finding the occasional issue with a signature inside very likely had that signature in it for many, many years. Could someone in the 1970s been going around forging signatures of comic book professionals? Sure, but it seemed like a pretty low-stakes crime for someone to have been pursuing. And nothing about these comics really seemed to make them stand out from the rest of the collection…they were just in there numerically with the other issues in whatever series from which the signed comic hailed. It just looks like a fan took a comic or two to a signing, had it signed, then dropped it back in the collection.

In short, it just feels like the signatures are authentic. Nothing about the collection or how the comics were kept make me suspect otherwise. I realize that when removed from this context, it may be harder to convince buyers of their authenticity, but I’m sure they’re exactly what they appear to be.

Like, I’m totally sure that’s Steve Ditko’s signature on this issue of Speedball. “Hang loose, and have a crazy summer!” it reads. Boy, if anything ever sounds like Ditko….

As for pricing them? Eh, maybe I’ll bump up the price half again, maybe twice. There’s no hard and fast rule on what to price these. Bigger the name, bigger the jump in cost, I guess? Just kinda winging it.

Okay, that’s it for 2021! Come back to my site in 2022 where I’ll ask the quesion “boy, remember how good we had it last year?” And speaking of next year, don’t forget to contribute to the 2022 comic industry predictions post! I’ll be starting to look back at the 2021 predictions in a week or so, so get ready for that!

Happy New Year, pals, and thanks for reading! Stay safe, and we’ll all meet back here on Monday!

Wanted: more collections like this.

§ December 27th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 6 Comments

Okay, sorry, the Variant Cover-Age post you’ve come to expect purt’near every Monday ain’t happening today, as I was surprised Sunday afternoon at the shop with quite the sizeable collection of 1960s/1970s comics…heavy on the Marvels.

After shucking the yellowing plastic cling-wrap bags that surrounded each comic (terrible, but better than no bags) and getting them halfway organized, the collection looked a little something…like this:

Two and a half short boxes of comics may not seem like a lot of work to buy or process, but when they’re all older comics, and many of them are specifically premium comics with quite a bit of demand, well, the processing time increases a bit. More thorough checking of conditions, more researching prices beyond just using the price guide, etc.

Anyway, the need to get these processed relatively quickly had me actually bring the boxes home with me to start that particular job, even if it’s just to get comic bags and price stickers on everything. Which, okay, I mostly did but at least it’s a head start. And it definitely bit into my writing/research time for another variant cover post. Hence, what you’re reading now.

I did already sell a couple items, which I’ll show you here and will give you an idea of what I’ve working with. Like, for example, a Giant-Size X-Men #1:

…in a pic that’s a tad glare-y on purpose, as to show that long crease down the right hand side of the front cover. Thus continues my streak of not having a copy of this comic available for sale longer than about a few hours.

The other surprise was a beat-to-the-dickens copy of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1:

…that still has an amazing cover image, despite the wear. And alas, the centerspread of the comic is missing, but I still managed to find a buyer for the comic anyway!

The dominant feature of the rest of the collection is the majority of Amazing Spider-Man issues from 10 to about 160 or around there. Missing issues around the 100 mark, but still has the first Punisher, the whole original Spider-Clone thing, first appearances of many of the Spider-Man rogues gallery (Green Goblin, Rhino, Kingpin, Scorpion, like that) and, of course, the first Spider-Mobile.

Other highlights of the collection include more ’60s X-Men, a bunch of late ’60s/early ’70s Avengers (including a #100 signed by Roy Thomas!), a bunch of ’70s Captain America (with what seems to be almost all the Cap/Falcon stories, including the first Falcon), about 2/3rds of the Silver Surfer run, and other scattered books (such as the Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow with the first John Stewart and, yes, that one).

I already have a buyer interested in most of this stuff, so we’ll see what’s left over. But I gotta get the darned things priced first. One thing I’ll say is that this is the most I’ve ever paid for a collection, and I was willing to pay that price because I knew nearly everything here would sell quickly. I mean, ’60s Spider-Man, duh. This was not a risky purchase.

I’ll try to get more pictures taken of what’s come in as I find the time, even if just for posterity and not, like, a “for sale” listing as the time could very well already be spoken for.

And here’s the thing: the fella that sold me the comics says he still needs to bring in the really good stuff. Egads. I’ll let you know if that happens.

In the meantime, don’t forget to give me your 2022 comic industry predictions! Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll try to be back on schedule next week with another variant cover we can gaze upon.

What? Throw something away? BITE YOUR TONGUE.

§ November 12th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 5 Comments

So I’ll hopefully be back to business as usual on the site next week, when I will have a new variant cover-age post and get back to answering more of your questions. In the meantime, though, lookit this thing I found in my stack of old CD-ROMs:

This is a disc, provided by Diamond Comic Distributors in 1999, featuring thousands of images of products then in their Star System reorder catalog.

I don’t recall why I have it in my evil clutches specifically, other than perhaps to use some of the pics on the website for my previous place of employment. Which is, I think, one of the reasons why the disc was made in the first place. Also, I think it was to provide easy reference to the items available back in those pre-broadband days for anyone not wanting to dial up their internets and wait for the pixels to gradually load.

Some of the files are pretty good size…this is the actual size of the largest file on the disc (324kb):

And this is the smallest-sized file of an actual product, at 14kb (there is one smaller file at 13kb, but it’s for retailer cycle sheets):

While probably fine for whatever purposes they were put to at the time, most of the images on the disc are too small for modern purposes, beyond perhaps just providing tiny thumbnail pics for an online catalogue or some such.

It is kinda neat just to open some of the images at random to see what products they reveal. I remember most of what I’ve found, even some of the old gaming and anime stuff, but I’ll occasionally come across some item forgotten in the mists of time:

Or some book I wish was still in print:

Or some book I really wish was still in print:

Anyway, I’ll poke through it some more and see if I can find any surprises. Like this Sandman statue:

Boy, I bet I could still sell those.

You know what the Diamond Comics BBS needed? “Tradewars 2002.”

§ November 10th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 1 Comment

As you probably heard, the computer system for Diamond Comic Distributors was taken down by a ransomware attack over the weekend. Diamond’s various online presences started popping back up in various levels of capacity Sunday and Monday, though I was having a problem accessing the retailer site.

Basically, after I heard it was supposed back up, I’d click my menu bar bookmark for the retailer site, only to have the browser think for a bit before sending back this message:

I’d confer with other retailers, in state and out, asking them if the website was coming up for them. “Oh sure,” they said. Confounding me further was that I could call up the site on my phone, which is how I ended up doing the weekly final order adjustments before the deadline. And believe me, filling out the online order forms on the phone was no fun…and with the monthly order due in a couple of weeks, there’s no way I wanted to have to repeat the process with that.

So I tried multiple browsers, clearing caches again and again. I tried multiple operating systems, Windows at work, Mac at home. No dice. I fiddled with DNS settings, and no go. I was beginning to wonder if my internet provided (the same in both locations) had noticed something fishy was going on at Diamond and just shut off access to them completely as a safety measure.

It wasn’t until Monday morning, when I called the Diamond service number to find out if there was any way to fix my lack of access, when I heard something the recorded message said. It told me their retailer website “” was back up.

Wait, hold on. “Retailerservices?”

For…well, I don’t know how long it’s been, a couple of decades at least. Sometime after we stopped calling into the Diamond Comics BBS to download order forms and stuff. (Remember the Diamond BBS? You do? Hello fellow olds.) The address I always accessed was “” That was the address I’d been trying to log into for a couple of days now. Always getting that message in the pic I posted above.

Well, Diamond’s phone message said the “retailerservices” site…and lo and behold, I logged in there just fine. And when I double-checked my phone…yes, sure enough, that was the site I was accessing there.

In conclusion, I felt pretty stupid. Apparently Diamond set up “retailerservices.etc” somewhere along the line, but still supported the “retailer.etc” domain. At least, until this ransomware attack hit, and “retailerservices” was restored and the other wasn’t. Sigh.

Poking around the retailer site…some functionality has been restored. I was able to do my final order adjustments as I’d said, and the damge/shortage report form was working as well (y’know, good thing, considering). I placed a reorder, which seemed to have been confirmed (though may take a little longer to ship, more on that in a second). I saw that UPS tracking numbers for shipments hadn’t been updated, and that some data files were unavailable, like the list of the week’s new releases.

But, that’s better than nothing. Plus, Diamond’s “back up” website is up, specifically for news about their operations post-computer disaster. Noted there is that delays have struck shipping to a number of areas due to the hack…my area was not one of them, so all my boxes showed up on time.

I am expecting, though, that without computers and access to invoices and such, next week’s shipment may be an entirely different issue. Since I get my Marvels and DCs from other distributors now, I’ll at least have them on time, but I expect everything else to be late. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Diamond just skipped a week to get everything back in order. Says on that backup site we’ll find out “later in the week,” so I’ll keep my eyes peeled. I’m also sort of wondering if the invoices for next week will be automatically generated sometime thjs Wednesday morning…probably not is my guess.

It’s a good thing we have multiple distributors now, as this could have easily taken down the industry for a while if everyone’s eggs were in the same basket. We’ll just see how things go next week…may just have to settle for a new DC Tuesday, new Marvel Wednesday, and a new Everything Else…whenever they can get it to me.

John Goodman’s finest role.

§ October 20th, 2021 § Filed under cartoons, retailing, undergrounds, variant covers § 6 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.

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