mike sterling's progressive ruin

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Didn't we just get some new comics last week? 

  • Archie #600 - This is the infamous "Archie Marries Veronica" issue that probably would have sold like gangbusters had it come out during that initial burst of publicity a few months ago, when the comic was originally solicited. But as it is, we bumped up the orders on this just a smidgen, since we do have a few people still interested in the storyline. I am interested in seeing how sales on subsequent installments fare, once people realize this is in fact a story that takes place in "the future," and not a permanent status quo change for the franchise.

  • Blackest Night: Superman #1 - Had DC gone for the $3.99 price point on these tie-in mini-series, I imagine sales wouldn't have been nearly as strong. People are really digging this event, but I'm hoping once the tie-ins and crossovers begin to pile on, interest won't wane. The most recent DC solicitations reveal "Blackest Night" tie-ins virtually across the board in DC's superhero titles, and I'd prefer that folks pick and choose the tie-ins that look interesting to them, rather than decide it's all too much and avoid the event altogether.

    Okay, I'd actually prefer our customers buy one of each -- well, two of each -- because I'm just a poor funnybook seller and would like to keep a roof over my head.

  • Hellblazer #258 - Geez, our sales on this have really bottomed out. Not really sure why...Hellblazer is one of those titles that's usually pretty good, regardless of who's working on the title (though that "Empathy Is The Enemy" story a couple of years back was rough going). Perhaps now that we're approaching 300 issues on this series, maybe people have read enough Hellblazer stories? The three-digit issue number dissuading new readers? A somewhat haphazard trade paperback program (with unnumbered volumes, and several issues as yet unreprinted)?

  • Punisher #8, Punisher: Frank Castle #73, Punisher: Noir #1 - Hey, remember just a few years ago when we had just one Punisher title on the stands, and it sold really well? Yeah, that was nice.

    Now, Marvel publishing, what, two dozen, three dozen Deadpool monthlies? I can understand that, since Deadpool comics are like money-making machines at the moment. But multiple Punisher titles? The primary reason Punisher comics sold this time around was Garth Ennis's involvement, but even sales on Ennis-written issues began to decline near the end, there. Multiple titles for a franchise in decline is just a quick way to kill it off even more quickly, it seems to me.

    Don't get me wrong...I do like the idea of having the more adult-oriented Punisher and a Marvel Universe-centric Punisher available for readers. But it doesn't seem as if the market can support them both right now.

  • Red Circle: The Web #1 - Okay, I've been liking these, even though they're selling about how I expected them to sell. Don't know that I need a bunch of regular series and mini-series dumped on me, but as one-shots, they've been fun. I realize the strategy this time around is to tie the Red Circle characters into the DC Universe, and whether that gives a sales boost to the titles, I don't know. I hope so, since I happen to like these characters, but I have a feeling that readers don't want yet another set of superheroes to follow at the moment.

  • Stand: American Nightmares #5 - Not surprisingly, sales on The Stand have remained consistent while Dark Tower comics have dropped quite a bit, given how much more accessible the former is. I will note that we've seen a small upswing in sales on the hardcover collections, since the non-comic-reading King fans who've given up on the monthly books are catching on to the hardcovers' existence.

In other news:
  • Hey, that Kevin Church cat has somehow survived for another year! Happy birthday, pal!

  • Need some more overviews of the latest Diamond Previews? Here's Dave's look at some goodies and not-so-goodies, and pal Dorian presents another Previews for Gays.

  • Speaking of Dave, you have been reading his Space Cabbie Sundays, haven't you?

  • Chris Sims isn't busy enough hoarding all the comics blog readers for himself...he's also going to steal your ears with his new, spectacularly-named podcast War Rocket Ajax, created with Eugene from People You Don't Know. Check out the first episode here, guest-starring a clearly-abducted and forced-to-participate Matt Fraction!

  • Andrew unveils another installment of "Nobody's Favorites," this time featuring a character/brand name that DC keeps throwing at the wall, but never quite gets it to stick.

  • And now...the most amazing thing you're going to see today: DC's mostly forgotten Angel Love series gets mixed with Eric Clapton...with astounding results!

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yes, only one day late does make a difference. 

A couple of conversations with customers:
  • Customer 1: "I'm looking for a certain comic. It's a really dark comic so I'm pretty sure you don't have it...."

    Me (thinking to myself): "'Yes, we have Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.'"

    Customer 1: "...But do you carry Johnny the Homicidal Maniac?"

    Come to think of it, sales on Johnny and Lenore and related titles have dipped a bit in recent months, and some attempting to follow the same darkity-dark path, like Emily the Strange, have been non-starters. A saturation of the local market, perhaps, or the fact that new material in these, or related, lines comes out so infrequently that some of the clientele looking specifically for this stuff have given up waiting for it. Or they just get it at Hot Topic.

  • Customer 2: "Hey, you want to buy this comic?"

    Me (sees it's a common issue of Wolverine, in so-so condition): "No, I'm sorry, we can't use that particular issue right now. We've got plenty in stock."

    Customer 2: "You can't give me anything for it?"

    Me: "No, sorry."

    Customer 2: "What do you sell this comic for?"

    Me: "Mint condition copies go for about three or four dollars."

    Customer 2: "Well, I paid two dollars for this at the swap meet. Could you give me two dollars for it?"

    Me: "I'm sorry, but we really don't need it."

    Customer 2: "Okay. Any other stores I can take this to?"

    Me: "Well, there's a store over in the next town, but I don't know if they'd buy it, and I don't think it'd be worth the drive for the money you'd get even if they did buy it."

    Customer 2: [pauses for a moment] "Okay, fine." [throws comic on counter] "You can have it." [walks out door]

    Me: [sighs] "Hey, [employee] Timmy, throw that in the bargain box up front, would you?"

    Okay, I wasn't deliberately trying to talk him into giving us the comic for free. Believe me, the last thing I want in the shop is yet another collection we don't need dumped on us, even if it is just one comic book. As it is, we've got too many collections we're processing at the moment, and those are books we can actually use, without having to absorb the castoffs, too.

    Ah, well...those castoffs help us feed the bargain boxes, anyway.

I received an e-mail the other day from someone whose local shop ran into a bit of an inconvenience: turned out that the shop's copies of Blackest Night #2, which came out last Wednesday, had been shorted from their New Comics Day shipment. One of the hottest comics in recent memory -- one that, if that shop's experience was anything like ours, was generating an enormous amount of interest among the customers -- and they didn't get it for what is presumably the busiest day of the week for sellers of the funnybooks.

As you might imagine, they had some disappointing, if not outright irritated, customers that day, who had been looking forward to the new installment of this series. The distributor had shipped out replacement copies via next day air, so the store would have Blackest Night #2 the next day, but that likely didn't mollify everyone who was hoping for the book right then. Sure, most folks would be understanding, but some, especially those for whom the trip to the shop was out-of-the-way or some other kind of inconvenience, might be a bit miffed.

Now, that by itself is a pain in the ass for everyone, sure. But adding to the problem was the fact that there were two other comic shops in close proximity, and they got their copies of Blackest Night #2.

The person who wrote the e-mail asked what could be done in this situation, and, unfortunately, there's not a whole lot you can do. It's not as if the distributor can magically redo the day and have those books in the retailer's hands for Wednesday sales this time. Even the most loyal clientele will have a percentage of folks who'll stop by the other shops on the way home to get, you know, just the one comic, what harm will it do to my regular store?

The end result is, of course, that first shop selling fewer copies than expected, since those sales have been lost to other shops. Maybe only a small number, but still, especially in this marketplace and in this economy, every little bit hurts or helps accordingly. My suggestion to the writer was that his shop somehow get the distributor to accept returns on this issue, due to losing its main sale day. Also, that the shop maintain a high level of customer service to encourage customer loyalty, to make your clientele not want to shop at other stores, even if the current "hot" comic is a day late. Or (and this just occurred to me now), maybe offer some kind of "paid up in advance" raincheck. That's extra paperwork, sure, but you'd have the money for certain instead of hoping everyone would come back for that one comic.

Luckily for us we've not had this problem, at least not with a title that was the big "gotta have it NOW" flavor of the moment. Closest I can think of in recent memory was an issue of Civil War that was initially only available in short supply, but everyone else, at least in our area, was hit with the same shortage. We've had other smaller titles get missed in our shipment, but those usually aren't a big deal: even if sales dip a copy or two on those, it can't easily be determined if that's just normal issue to issue variance or if it's due to a customer getting a copy of that book elsewhere.

But I just picture myself in that store's situation, having to tell the dozens and dozens of people who came in expecting Blackest Night #2 that I'm terribly sorry, it'll be here tomorrow, no, honestly. Not something I'd enjoy dealing with, that's for sure.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I think this is a really neat-looking item. 

Light-up base, removable rings, extremely nerdy...it's a wonderful thing. The description says the rings aren't meant to be worn, but you know anyone who gets their hands on this are going to try. I wonder if we'll hear about any incidents about someone who misjudged the size and ends up getting a Blue Lantern ring cut off their finger?

But at $250 I don't see myself picking up one of these just because it looks neat. Not that I'm going to be down on anyone who does -- I have two Swamp Thing statues, need I remind you -- but someone for whom Green Lantern is his or her favorite character, I can see where this might be tempting.

I believe it was Tom Spurgeon who wondered in an entry linking to an End of Civilization post of mine about the sales feasibility for high end, limited-use novelty items like this in our currently suffering economy. And that's certainly something worth considering...we've never done a whole lot of business in statues and props, but I know stores that do, and I'm wondering how their sales are on them. I wonder how orders on items like this are in general. At a time when comic readers are looking for reasons to cut their funnybook expenses, you would think that high end merchandise would take a hit, too, but I still see them on Diamond's sales charts, and they're still showing up in the catalogs.

'Course, it's not as if these were ever enormous sellers, and it's not like there are a large number of consumers buying every prop that turns up in the catalog. (I do have a fellow who orders a Marvel bust or two out of every catalog, but that's probably more the exception than the rule.) An economic downturn would cause anyone buying lots of these to cut back a bit, I imagine, but probably wouldn't affect the guy who's been saving up for that one high-end goodie he has to have.

I do know merchandise in general has slowed down some. We've cut orders on DC Direct and Marvel Select figures, and cut McFarlane Toys entirely (selling the shortpacked female figure, and that's it, time and time again was bit of a discouragement). In this case, it may be more due to overproduction ("oh, look, another Superman figure") and disinterest ("hey, look at all these Spawn characters I've never heard of") than anything relating to current economic issues.

You know, my intention for this post was just to say "look at this, I think it's neat," but I ended up running off at the mouth anyway. Sorry about that. But so long as I have your attention...how have your comics merchandise-buying habits been lately? Have you bought any real high-end statues or props recently? Have you cut down your action figure habit? Is it the economy encouraging your decisions, or have you simply had enough? Please let me know in the comments section.

(You know, doing a post on New Comics Day asking people to think about the amount of money they're spending on comics stuff isn't the smartest thing I've ever done...!)


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Naked except for the felt hat. 

Oh what in the Sam Hill is this?

This is from the Xena Warrior Princess parody in Betty and Veronica Double Digest #172, new this week. I'm assuming this story is a reprint. Surely Archie isn't doing a Xena parody NOW. (Given that this is Archie we're talking about, you can never be quite sure.)*

Anyway, drink in the Jughorse, who certainly takes his place in the ranks of Disturbing Archie Pictures, along with this.

Speaking of this week's comics, I had a couple of variations of this discussion (which ties in what I've been going on about over the last couple of days):

Customer (looks at Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #1): "So, is this a new Deadpool one-shot?"

Me: "No...."

Customer: "Oh, it's another Deadpool mini-series?"

Me: "No, it's the first issue in a new ongoing series."

Customer: "So wait...Deadpool has two ongoing series now."

Me: "Yup."

Customer: (rolls eyes)

Some people bought, some people didn't. But most people who commented on it demonstrated varying levels of disbelief.

Which, just as a tangent here, reminds me of something else that occurred to me today. our sales on the current version of the MAX-line Punisher and the sales on the created-pretty-much-just-to-tie-into-events Marvel Universe Punisher series together equal about what the MAX Punisher series on its own sold under Garth Ennis's tenure. Of course, as it was pointed out to me, this is Garth Ennis writing the Punisher we're talking about, so it may be a bit of an unfair comparison. But still, thought it was interesting to note.

Oh, and that Captain America: Reborn thing started this week, and while we did get our anticipated upsurge in interest from our regular clientele, Marvel's hoped-for repeat of high demand from the general public for Cap's death didn't materialize. Which is why we don't base our orders on the potential of media coverage, because 1) it may not happen, and 2) it may turn out nobody cares. I seem to recall talking a lot about this on the site around the time of Cap's alleged death. Don't really want to repeat myself, but I'm pretty sure you get the gist.

But our customers want it, and I got enough for them, and everyone's happy. Looks okay, too, as these things go...I'm not really a Cap fan, and I can count the number of his comics I own on the fingers of one hand, if I use the hand with the extra pinky, so it's not like I'm the target audience for this anyway. Hopefully the people who do read it enjoy it, and if it does generate some new Cap readership beyond the stunt aspects of this particular saga, even better.

Some good stuff that came out this week includes Muppet Robin Hood #2 (not the exercise in perfection that the Muppet Show comic is, but still amusing and well-drawn), Batman and Robin #2 (a streamlined machine of a comic, not a word or an image wasted and absolutely wonderful), Fantastic Four #568 (penultimate chapter of the Millar/Hitch run, with a guest-scripter over Millar's plot...the build-up of what seems to be a truly menacing villain continues, though with one issue to go, I suspect the defeat will be relatively prosaic compared to what came before), Tales Designed to Thrizzle hardcover (the first four issues, now with the black and white bits in color, but still just as fantastic and funny), Prince Valiant Volume 1 (a new and gorgeous hardcover reprinting the Hal Foster original strips from 1937 and 1938), and Solomon Grundy #5 (sorry, my "Swamp Thing in the DCU" need is still not fulfilled, though this isn't a bad read by any means).

In other news: well, I won't bother with the bullet point formatting, this time, since I'm just sending you over to Doctor Strange fan Neilalien's essay on what Marvel is doing with the character. Hint: he's not terribly happy about it, and I can't blame him.

* I suppose a quick Googling would resolve the query, but it's not like I really care all that much.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

More racial sensitivity in comic books, selling out, shameless shilling, on becoming a tool for big media, and the menace of Arcane's hair. 

From Detective Comics #355 (Sept. 1966):

Man, our Native American friends are always getting it in the shorts thanks to our old funnybooks. I'd like to think that, maybe, the comic is commenting on the short-sighted, stereotyping attitudes of some of the wrestling match's audience members, but since the story also gives the Arizona Apache an "AIEEEEE" battle cry, well....

On the other hand, maybe it's a subtle criticism of the usage of stereotypes within, not just the world of pro wrestling, but entertainment in general, which is a layer of metatext too great for some dumb mid-'60s Batman comic (which clearly just used these clich├ęs to sell the character's Indian-ness) to support without collapsing into a black hole of overanalysis.

Didn't stop me from trying, though, did it? Sigh...such is the burden of the comics blogger.

In other news:
  • I mentioned it here, and I gotta tell you, after the weekend, we're down to one copy of Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. Okay, we didn't start with too many to begin with, but that we still managed to move copies of this book is just mildly stunning.

  • Also following up on that Wednesday post of mine, we sold through all our Captain America #34s, but solely to our regular comic buyers. In our area, at least, all that real world coverage just preached to the converted, if it influenced them at all. So it did sell a little better than normal, just not "crazy better" like the "death" issue did. So, basically, it sold like we thought it would.

    I've noticed that some of the real world coverage is still rolling out, here and there, so I suppose there's still the possibility of a new customer or two curious enough about this here new Cap fella to make it to the shop and inquire after copies. 'Course, they'll have to wait until the "variant cover" 2nd printing, or the dreaded "Director's Cut," if they're still interested.

  • With that Project Superpowers #0 priced at a buck, people are a little more willing to buy two copies in order to get both halves of that Alex Ross connecting cover (pictured at the top left right here. It would have been nice to have one wraparound cover instead, however.

  • If I may direct your attention to the sidebar for a little shameless shilling, I'd like to point out that due this week is the animated Turok Son of Stone DVD...I've only seen this trailer, which makes it look like it's sticking, more or less, with the original concept of the character, and none of the sci-fi "dinos with guns" trappings tacked on later. Well, maybe with a lot more blood, but close enough. No idea if it's any good, but thought some of you would like to know that it'll be unleashed this Tuesday.

    Also, I missed that the new Ms. Tree novel Deadly Beloved and the latest Wild Cards novel Inside Straight have been released. So, I thought I'd pass that info along (as well as Amazon store sidebar links, nudge wink) in case any of you missed that, too.

  • So at the store, we regularly get free merchadise bags from a promotional company that produces said bags advertising various movies and TV shows. We've had Torchwood bags, and South Park bags, and, currently, we have a bunch of bags advertising the Terminator TV show. The box they came in was getting a little ratty, so I decided to move our stock of these things into a new container...and in the process, I found this little doodad, packed in among the plastic sacks:

    It was a little Terminator flashlight keychain, which I thought was kind of a neat thing, so I threw it in my pocket and continued the repacking of the bags.

    When I got home later that evening, the porch of my house was pretty dark, and I remembered that I had the flashlight on my person. Instead of briefly fumbling with the keys, trying to get the right one into the keyhole, I thought I'd save myself that one whole extra second and shed a little light on the matter. And I was surprised to see this:

    I though it was just a plain ol' flashlight, but it instead projects an ad for the show. That pic's a little blurry, but you can see the Terminator skull and the logo. Cool!

    I know, it doesn't take much to amuse me. Also, it hasn't inspired me to start watching the show, so I guess as a TV show promoter, it makes a good dark porch illuminator.

  • For those of you that were wondering, and I bet you were...my copy of the Swamp Thing TV show DVD set came in the mail a couple days ago, containing two full seasons of wonder and beauty. Well, okay, actually it just contains the Swamp Thing TV show. There are a couple special features, interviews with the character's co-creator Len Wein, and with the actor under the rubber swamp outfit, Dick Durock.

    I only just started watching the episodes themselves, and I'd forgotten just how...metallic and gravelly, if you get my meaning, Swamp Thing's voice sounded on this show. Also, I have lots and lots of footage of Arcane's Dennis Miller-esque hairdo to look forward to.

    I hadn't seen the show in years, and for some reason, my brief exposures to the show left me with the impression that there were lots of shots of Swampy standing in bushes, behind walls, etc., all to save the cost of having to get poor Mr. Durock in the full get-up. I guess I'll be seeing if that impression was true.

    And remember, kids...do not bring your evil here, or face...


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Monday, July 23, 2007


from Adventures into Darkness #14 (April 1954)

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

What fresh hell is this? Weekly World News...shutting down? Bat Boy...homeless? Ed Anger...even angrier?

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

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

(First spotted via Metafilter.)

A couple more follow-up questions from the '90s bust discussion:
  • Commenter Phil asks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another good sequence from Adventures into Darkness #14:

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

More racial sensitivity in comic books, plus more '90s stuff. 

I don't normally buy current publications from Archie Comics, and when I do, it's almost always books that reprint their work from the '60s and earlier. Such was the case with last week's Archie Digest #236, which reprints Archie's first appearance from Pep #22, along with a full reprinting of Archie #1 from 1942.

One of the stories from Archie #1 has Archie involved in a series of mix-ups on a train with another passenger, and the poor railroad porter gets caught in the shenanigans as well. The porter looks and talks like this:

I realize it's no shock to anyone familiar with comic book history that racist caricatures of black people (and Asians, and Native Americans, and so on) were common in early stories (and this isn't even the worst example from this particular story, with other panels including dialogue like "I done thought..." and "Mus' be dat bump on yo' had!"). Not having an original Archie #1 lying around the house, I'm going to assume the porter has been recolored slightly for the reprint, even though all his stereotypical dialogue appears to have remained intact.

I'm not saying this shouldn't have been reprinted as is. If you're going to reprint your old material for historical purposes, it should be reprinted as it was, warts and all*. And that's what folks have been doing...a glance through your Shazam Archives and your Golden Age Wonder Woman Archives, among others, will show you examples of political incorrectness similar to that bit of business with the porter. But these are high end reprints, aimed at comic collectors, who are presumably familiar with the poor way minority groups were portrayed. Disclaimers aren't uncommon, noting the usage of such caricatures were typical of the time, and left unchanged for historical reference.

This Archie digest, however, is aimed at a young, general audience. It's one of the few modern comics actually sold in places where people who aren't comic fans shop. At my grocery store, they're right up there at the checkout line, next to the TV Guide and the Weekly World News. How will kids take the porter's portrayal -- how will the parents? -- particularly since there is no disclaimer that I can find noting the historical reasons for that portrayal.

I'm very curious as to the response Archie Comics will receive.

Okay, one last round of "Mike Remembers Barely Making It Through the 1990s:"

  • Commenter Stavner asks

    "Do you think we'll ever see comic books back in supermarkets and convenience stores?"

    It'd be nice, and in some cases apparently you can find comics in some convenience stores...but a widespread revival of this manner of distribution? Not unless 1) comics get a whole lot more popular, and 2) the profit potential for them is enough for store owners to risk valuable space on them.

    "Do you think Gemstone will keep publishing Disney comics for very long?"

    Hard to say...my gut feeling says "no," since their number of publications has declined, and their prices have gone up. Their last Don Rosa reprint book has sold very well for us, though, so maybe there's some life there yet.

  • H of the Comic Treadmill doth ask

    "There are those who insist that monthly super-hero comics will be dead sooner rather than later. Do you see a trend in that department? What's your take on the viability of our beloved monthlies?"

    I think if the price point of the standard comic book goes much higher, something is going to have to give. My guess is a regular comic book will eventually undergo some form of evolution, possibly into a much thicker publication with more stories, at a slightly higher price point (but giving a higher perceived value to the reader), and just loaded with ads to help subsidize the cost of the magazine.

    There are a lot of economic factors there that I'm overlooking (such as whether or not a comic book publication could attract enough ads, and get enough money from them). At the very least, I don't think monthly books will go away, but they'll have to become something new to give readers more perceived value for their money.

  • Commenter Roel asks

    "Where the hell did all these investors come from in the first place? I mean, why did everyone suddenly get the idea that these comics would be worth a lot of money? Comics had been around for decades and decades, and then -- all of a sudden, out of nowhere -- all these non-comic book fans start investing in them? Why? Was there some sort of triggering event? I don't get it."

    Apparently there was a large crash in the sports card market just prior, and it was just a lateral shift from collecting one thing to another...I don't have exact details, but it appeared to be common knowledge at the time. I can personally testify to the number of investor-types requesting "comic book Becketts" -- Beckett being the publisher of several sports card price guides -- so that lends credence to that theory.

    Also, the greater awareness of comics among the general populace, driven by movies and media-hyped events, combined with a possible economic downturn and plenty of newspaper stories dragging out the old "did you know old comics are worth money?" thing...that made comics a large, attractive target for investing, without all that "dealing with brokers" stuff.

    "Oh, another question -- why are you so remorseful about selling pogs? How is that any worse than selling, say, a trading card or an action figure? People wanted pogs, and they wanted to give you money in order to own them. What's the big crisis of conscience there?"

    Because I can see the value of a trading card or an action figure. Though technically, I realize, there's only a slight difference between a trading card and a POG, but least trading cards were numbered, sometimes had cardback text, and could be put into sets. They had something to them. POGs (or, rather, milkcaps) were, with some exceptions, just random pictures on bits of round cardboard, and just felt to me like it was worthless junk. The alleged "game" involving milkcaps was essentially jacks or marbles, without the skill....you threw a heavy disc down onto a pile of cardboard discs. and you kept the ones that turned over, or some damned thing.

    I understand this might just be bias on my part, since there are plenty of folks who think comics are worthless junk too, but even if customers were willing to part with their money for POGs, I felt like I was giving them nothing of value in return. I was essentially turning their money into crap. I know I should feel like this when I sell someone a copy of, say, Purgatori, but I don't.

    Yeah, cheap shot at Purgatori, sorry, but I can accept that someone might find entertainment value in that comic. Somehow. I just don't see that value in milkcaps.

* As far as story content goes, anyway...I realize the comics in question have been recolored and (it seems) relettered for clarity.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

More '90s retailing , a Licensable Bear™ cartoon, and links to Punisher studies. 

Okay, I'm gonna try to go through these a little more quickly...I've given you a lot to read this week, which means a lot of typing on my part, and a man's gotta get some sleep sometime. Plus, that Doctor Who Genesis of the Daleks DVD I got from Netflix ain't gonna watch itself.

So, here are a few more answers to questions posed to me about the comics market, the '90s, and, God help us all, POGs:

Cove West asks

"Did you as a retailer see any signs that comics were recovering in the late-'90s, or was it just a long period of malaise from the Bust until Quesada/Jemas at Marvel kicked off the Media Age?"

I think the simple departure of the investors meant a stabilization/correction of the market...unfortunately, that stabilization of the market also included the departure of fans who were present prior to the fad/boom, who left for a myriad of reasons (tired of the decline in quality, disgusted by the catering to investors, distracted by other hobbies, etc.).

At that point, there was no where to go but up, really, and with the shaking out of lesser books and a general increase in quality in what was left, you got the sense that a slightly healthier market was beginning to emerge. Retailers ordering more sanely, consumers showing a bit more discretion...we all went from "wild abandon" to "cautious penny-pinchers" right quick.

The Quesada/Jemas thing, if anything, probably stirred things up a bit more than the market was really ready to deal with at the time. It's like taking someone out dancing two days after they broke both their legs...a little more recovery time is probably required. I'm thinking the whole "upping comics schedules to every three weeks instead of monthly" shenanigans they tried, briefly, before discovering everyone hated it.

Commenter Bill asks

"I was wondering if your shop saw a lot of customers who, like me, didn't even notice the boom and bust."

Probably...we had a few folks wondering where all their Punisher titles went, for example, or noting that a lot of the comics they were following suddenly dried up, or came out less frequently. Whether some of them were aware of the changing marketplace as a whole, I don't know...I imagine some never really noticed. So long as we still had our doors open, still getting new comics every week for them to buy, then it was all Business As Usual.

The mighty and fearsome Ken Lowery asks

"Rare, sought-after book = high value. Did speculators not realize that companies printing 300k-500k copies of a new book, and everyone buying five copies apiece to store away, meant that these books were by definition not rare and therefore not valuable?"

You'd think. I did a lot of explaining to people trying to sell us comics during the lean years why their stacks of Image #1s weren't worth diddly squat.

On the other hand, there's a particular phenomenon I've noticed when I see collections from people who bought multiple copies in large quantities. The vast majority of these people did not keep their comics in new condition. Of those 500,000 copy print runs, chances are the copies that actually made it into customers' hands (and not just stored away in shop's backrooms) are not longer in mint shape, if they were even kept at all and not just tossed out once the faddish fever broke.

So, maybe, just maybe, that one person who bought fifty copies of Secret Weapons #1 and managed to keep them in mint shape actually may have something, there. Still not going to buy 'em, though.

Commenter P-TOR asks

"You wouldn't happen to have any packs of GHOST RIDER hero caps (aka; pogs) left over would ya?"

Nope, no more POGs. A year or two back I found one last cardboard box filled with POGs and associated paraphernalia still gathering dust in the back room, threw it as is on the eBay, and got about thirty bucks for it. Aside from maybe a POG promo or two in our card section, and that little tiny plastic POG case with a few caps in it that I use as both a paperweight and as a constant reminder of my retailing sins, POGs are no longer welcome in the store. Phooey, sez I.

FMguru has lotsa questions, so let's see what kind of answers I can give him:

"When the boom was going on, did you believe that the market was ascending to a new plateau (i.e. that a lot of the boom was actual long-term growth in the market) or did you think it was all hot air and candyfloss and likely to end in tears (or, more positively, a nice little bump in sales and cashflow before things settled back to normal)?"

My expectations was that it was a faddish increase, and that things would eventually normalize...but I figured it would normalize with some extra folks joining the comics scene as regular readers, so that as a whole the market would be slightly larger than before. Alas, what ended up happening, as I noted earlier in this post, was that the investors went away, the fad-followers went away, and a bunch of the regular fans went away, leaving us with a shell of an industry.

"Also, what was the most traumatic event of the boom, from a retailer's POV? What one thing (corporate decision, book delay, whatever) did the most damage to your business?"

I've discussed this in past posts of mine, trying to track down the book that killed the industry. In my mind, it's still Turok Dinosaur Hunter #1 from Valiant, which every retailer overordered, and ended up not selling anywhere close to expectations. It might just be me creating connections in hindsight, but it seemed to me that this was the book that triggered the realization that investing in comics, particularly comics that had larger print runs than the Bible, was a really stupid thing to be doing.

"What was the most ludicrous waste of money that was clearly going to be an enormous failure? I'm thinking Tekno Comics, here."

Tekno Comics is a good answer, featuring a lot of Big Famous Names on titles that they were only tangentially attached to, like, say, Isaac Asimov's I-Bots. Not saying they were bad books, but having "Isaac Asimov's" and "Neil Gaiman's" and "Mickey Spillane's" across the tops of the covers, and having someone else write the insides, was bound to disappoint somebody. Yeah, I know, what were they expecting, but still.

In general, though, I think the huge amounts of money spent to try to compete with Marvel and DC at their own shared-universe superhero game was a bad idea. And the whole "collect the trading cards to assemble the first issue of our series" idea for Defiant's Warriors of Plasm and, I think, Dark Dominion, seemed like a good way to dissuade people from trying your books.

"What role did the Magic: The Gathering boom of 95-96 have in helping keep your store afloat during the comic market implosion?"

Games in general helped keep us going...half the store was devoted to role-playing and tabletop gaming, and that kept bringing in the bacon when the comic half was in the doldrums. I knew something was up with Magic almost from the start, when we'd get calls like this:

"Hi, I'm in Los Angeles. Do you have any Magic packs?"

"Uh, yeah, I have a couple left here."


So, yeah, RPGs, Magic, Warhammer...all that stuff definitely helped.

Not a question, but an observation:

"One other good side effect of the boom was that it created a huge demand for writers and artists, and a whole bunch of people who otherwise wouldn't have broken into the industry got breaks."

True enough...I was going to touch on that, but I kept wanting to phrase it as "consumer confidence was undermined by the influx of not-ready-for-prime-time artists and writers hired primarily for their ability to fill a page with something, regardless of quality, as all those books being pumped out each month couldn't go out blank."

But you're right...the side effect of this was that, just by the sheer numbers involved, some of those people would actually turn out to be pretty good, and got their breaks during this creative influx. So that's a good thing, but too bad about the trials we all had to endure for this to happen.

"Finally, of all the dumb cover enhancements that came along in the 90s, which was your favorite? I really liked a Superman cover that was just a Metropolis cityscape with a slightly waxy coating - and it came with a sheet of ColorForms(tm) you could peel off and make your own cover with. Reusable!"

That is probably one of the best ones, but I still like the firework effects on this Adventures of Superman cover, and this enhancement may be the Greatest One Ever.

I'm kinda partial to glow-in-the-dark covers, too, like the Spectre ones. Or that elaborate Mighty Magnor pop-up cover by Sergio Aragones.

All in all, I didn't hate the idea of novelty comic covers, but there were just too many, too fast.

(FMguru has many other good observations that I'll eventually get around to discussing in a future post.)

Commenter Mark dares to ask

"You know, I still can't effin' understand how POGs are played. Is player? Are played with? I can't even get the prepositions right!"

It involves throwing a heavier POG, or a Slammer, at a stack of other caps, and whatever flipped over you got to keep, or something. Either that, or the point was to accumulate as many POGs as possible, so your mom will something to complain at you about leaving all over the floor of your room.

And Pal Nat notes

"About the black-and-white boom, it should be noted that some of those 'failures' were selling in numbers which would happily get them continued by a small black-and-white publisher today."

True enough...though a portion of those b&w titles were selling to retailers, and not necessarily getting into the hands of any customers. Shadow of the Groundhog sold great to that convention guy I told you about yesterday...he just couldn't sell 'em to anybody else!

But I get your point....lots of good b&w titles sold solid numbers, to actual readers...numbers that may have been sneered at by Marvel and DC at the time, but are probably looked at now as "pie in the sky hopes" dream numbers by the Big Two.

Speaking of Pal Nat, the (sniff) last issue of Licensable Bear™, #4, is now out in stores. Read more about the cutest little licensable bear ever at Licensablebeartm.com.

And here's a Licensable Bear™ video that I seemed to have accidentally skipped featuring on my site when it was released. So, please, enjoy a lesson in branding and marketing from the only expert you can trust...a bear wearing a shirt:

Tim O'Neil continues his in-depth examination of the rise and fall and rise again of the Punisher comic book, inspired, at least in part, by a post of mine briefly discussing the character's waning and waxing popularity. (Here's part one of Tim's Punisher posts.)

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

In which Mike is all over the map. 

Pal Dorian told me about this cover for the third printing of Supergirl #1. It's an homage to the introduction of the original* Supergirl, it's charming as all get out, and it's a darn shame it's the exact opposite of the godawful mess that's actually inside the book. Ah, well.

Hey, there's some kind of giant orange lizard creature on the cover of the new Marvel Knights: 4. I hope the Thing fights it inside.

YOUR EMBARRASSING STORY OF THE DAY: Several years ago, I had a customer who, as it happened, was blind in one eye, and was wearing a patch over said eye. He asked me if we had a particular item in stock. I told him that, no, we were out of that item at the moment. He asked if we could ever get it back in stock, and if so, if I could let him know when it does show up.

I told him that I'd keep an eye out for it.

Even as I was saying it, I was thinking "maybe this isn't the best way to say this to this particular customer," but too late...it was out of my mouth.

Luckily, he wasn't offended...and maybe I was worrying just a tad too much, but boy, to this day I can't believe I said that to him.

Congratulations to Will Pfeifer on hitting his weblog's one year mark! Go visit his site, and give him some well-wishing along with the Duke!

And vaya con pollos to weblogging mainstay Franklin Harris, who's putting an end to his site, for good this time. We'll miss ya, Mr. Harris!

Someone, somewhere, at this very moment, is having a heart attack over how Batman is portrayed in All Star Batman and Robin #2. But man, I couldn't stop laughing, not so much as to the actual content of the story, but to Frank Miller's hearty "screw you" to the fans who want their Batman deadly serious. (And yeah, I know Batman's behavior was, mostly, supposed to be an act to get reactions out of Dick Grayson. Still damned funny.)

Okay, just when you've thought you've heard the last of this...so, about the early '90s comic crash....

Now stop that groaning, this'll only take a minute or two.

Anyway, we were trying to pin down if Superman #75 (the dreaded "Death of Superman" issue) came out at the same time as Turok #1 (the dreaded "Death of the Comics Market for All Time" issue). Some folks said "yay," others, like commenter Gardner said "nay," and, lacking easy access to our invoices of the time, I sought an answer elsewhere.

And that elsewhere was Comiclist, which not only has current new releases, but new release lists dating back to '91, complete with a search engine. Looking there, Superman #75 was scheduled for release in mid-November 1992, and Turok #1 was due April of '93.

Now, there were a lot of #1s coming out at the same time as that Turok, but the only really big one was Marvel's Infinity Crusade. However, with Marvel having gone to that "Infinity" well a few too many times over too short a period, it didn't do so well. So, basically, Turok wasn't facing much competition from other titles that week. However, looking at these lists, I see quite a few things that most stores (including our own...we're not innocent in this) probably way overordered. Sigh...this much "nostalgia" isn't healthy, I'm sure.

On a (mostly) non-comic-related note, pal Scott (who is also secretly pal JP's brother) has had his book turned into a movie directed by Harold Ramis and starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and freakin' Randy Quaid. Hey, pretty cool.

And in other movie news: "The Legend of Cabin Boy."

* Freudian slip alert: as I was typing this sentence, I was intending to type "original," but somehow I typed "real." I see what the deepest, darkest recesses of my fanboy brain is thinking....

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