Monday, September 12, 2005
In which Mike goes on way too long about things that happened 12 years ago.
So we purchased yet another comic collection the other day, and in this one was a copy of Adventures of Superman #500. "Oh, big deal," you're surely saying, "every comic book store has about a bazillion of those damn things." And, ordinarily, you'd be correct, but this is the platinum edition, friends. It's packaged in a black bag with a silver super-"S" on the front, and with the phrase "limited platinum edition" (or something like that) printed along the bottom.
Okay, now you can say "oh, big deal."
What amused me about this comic is that, like its non-platinum counterpart, it is sealed in the bag so that you can't see the comic inside without opening up the bag. And the comic inside is also some kind of variant as, unlike the regular edition, the letters of the Adventures of Superman logo are embossed and raised up from the cover.
Now, the sort of person who is interested in buying the limited "collector's" edition of the pre-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 wouldn't be terribly likely to open up the bag and, um, appreciate the variance of the cover inside, I'd imagine.
Maybe I'm wrong...perhaps whoever buys this will not care about maintaining full resale value, and oh so carefully trim open the top of the plastic bag in order to slip the book out. (And yeah, I believe that Overstreet Price Guide's official policy is that carefully opening a prepackaged-in-a-polybag comic doesn't affect the value, but as someone who sells these things for a living, it doesn't work like that in the wild.)
Anyway, the point of all this was that, of late, I'd been reflecting back on the big comics market crash of the early '90s. Specifically, which comic you could point at and say, "the market crash began with this very issue."
For several years, the comic I pointed at as being the turning point for the comics industry decline was Turok #1 from Valiant Comics. When Valiant first started their superhero line, their books were warming shelves coast-to-coast initially, but all of a sudden, a collector's frenzy (spurred on by the new price guide magazine Wizard, and an influx of collectors/investors from the then recently-collapsed sports card market*) sprung up around these books. Prices began to skyrocket on early Valiant issues, which were being ballyhooed as hot, rare, investable items. New #1s flew off the shelves, and sometimes we even had to tag the new books with "1 per customer" signs -- and, as I noted before, that tended to encourage further sales.
And then Turok #1 was announced for release in 1993. Comic fans (including me) had fond memories of the original Dell/Gold Key Turok Son of Stone series, and the investors who couldn't care less about comics industry were still excited about yet another Valiant Comics #1. Plus, it was going to have a shiny "chromium" cover, and people liked the chromium back in the day. Plus, Turok was introduced to the Valiant Universe in 1992's Magnus Robot Fighter #12, which was commanding some significant coin of the realm in the secondary market.
So, basically, perceived demand was high.
Retailers, who were getting the "high demand" vibes for the book, ordered massive numbers. Turok #1 was going to be like printing money, for certain!
Well, even if you weren't there for it at the time, I'm sure you see where this is going.
Since everyone ordered large numbers on Turok #1, there was plenty to be had. Racks were overflowing with Turok #1. Part of the collecting appeal of Valiant Comics was the apparent scarcity...Turok #1 was the exact opposite of "scarce." The investors who preordered dozens (or hundreds) of copies quickly realized that there was no way they were going to be able to turn them around into quick cash. And retailers realized that there was far more Turok out there than there was demand. Some people began blowing out copies of Turok for below cover, further damaging the perceived collectible value of Valiant Comics, and comics in general.
Plus, the chromium cover ended up being an embossed cover with a oversized chromium card glued to the front. It's not bad looking by any means, but people were expecting an actual full-chromium cover and not a glued-on card. It may be that's what was originally solicited, but it wasn't what people were expecting.
It's not as if the market immediately collapsed into nothingness following the release of Turok #1, but I think we all really began to realize that the glory days were over, and more and more collectors began trying to divest themselves of their investments over the following months...and years.
Another possible "death-knell" for the '90s comics boom was the aforementioned Adventures of Superman #500. If you remember the day Superman #75, the "Death of Superman" comic, came out, most comic shops were madhouses. Apparently a slow news week combined with increased media interest in comics resulted in a lot of news coverage of this particular storyline, and it seemed like everybody wanted to be in on it. On the day it came out, we had a line of people outside our store, stretched down the block waiting for us to open.
Now, keep in mind that we ordered Superman #75 a few months in advance, with absolutely no knowledge of what was to come. We did bump orders up to about four times what we normally received on our Superman books, which were okay sellers at the time, but nothing outstanding. So, seeing that line outside the store, we were forced to do the "1 per customer" thing, even posting signs in the window stating as such. Well, let me tell you, that pissed off some people something fierce, but if I had to choose between having someone mad at me because they one got one copy of Superman #75 and having everyone mad at me because they couldn't get any copies due to the first person in the door buying everything we had, well, it's not really much of a choice, is it?
And it was crazy even past that first day. I had huge waiting lists for fourth printings of Superman #75. That may seem like crazy talk, but I swear it's true.
So the "Death of Superman" story wraps up, the "Funeral for a Friend" storyline that follows wraps up, and the Superman books go on a very brief publishing hiatus.
And now, we have to order Adventures of Superman #500.
This isn't the issue where Superman comes back to life, but it is the kick-off for the long storyline that eventually would lead into the return of Big Blue. Demand is still huge for the Superman comics. People come by or call every day asking about what's up with Superman. "Is he back yet? Is he back yet?"
So, thinking about what we could have sold on the original, black-bagged, "collectors" edition of Superman #75 had we only known of the buying frenzy to follow, and considering the interest we were still getting in Superman, we place our orders for the white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500.
And so does most every other retailer.
You see where I'm going with this?
When Adventures of Superman #500 comes out, while it does sell relatively well, there's no attendant media push. The "Death of Superman" thing is old news, why should the media cover it again? Thus, there's no huge audience of "civilians" who otherwise couldn't care less about comic books lining up outside comic shops waiting to get their hands on the next new collectible. It's not a dog like Turok #1 was, but there's still plenty to be had, and for the investors that can drive collecting frenzies like the one for Superman #75, a lack of scarcity can only mean the bloom is off the investing rose (or, um, something like that). Coupled with the sudden realization that perhaps the black-bagged Superman #75 isn't worth the premium prices paid on the secondary market (at the time, I heard about someone selling them for $100!), this too surely was a contributor to the comics market crash.
Now this was just local market conditions...for all I know, someone in Wisconsin was selling Turok #1s and Adventures of Superman #500s like they had twenty-dollar bills stapled to the cover**, but it seemed to me that these two books did indeed mark the point where the comics market began its decline, as readers became disenchanted with event books and variant covers, as investors bailed out and starting buying toys and Beanie Babies instead, as comic stores started to shut down across the nation (we lost about seven or so in our tri-county area during that period)...wow, I'm bumming myself out, here. We were able to ride out that rough spot, but in some ways our store (and others, I'm sure) are still recovering from that huge crash.
It was a hard time, with some hard lessons learned regarding our own ordering habits...no one forced us to order that many Turoks, for example, but it sure seemed at the time like we wouldn't have any problem moving them! Of course, I'm moving them now...I'm blowing them out in our bargain boxes. I don't think I've had anyone pay cover price for a Turok #1 in years. Adventures of Superman #500 does still sell on occasion, but we have a pretty good clientele for Superman books, so that's not too surprising. We've still got plenty of 'em, though.
So, does anyone else have any likely culprits which, like Turok #1 or Adventures of Superman #500, seemed to trigger the '90s comic market crash?
* I could tell the new comic collectors fresh from the sports card market by the way they asked for "comic book Becketts."