Remember that trend of naming characters “[Something] The [Something Else] Man?” They should bring that back.

§ May 26th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, employee aaron, firestorm § 14 Comments

Jay from Tennessee volunteers the following

“What was it that you liked most about Firestorm?”

Let’s borrow Mr. Peabody’s WayBack Machine and travel back to the joyous, nigh-utopian days of 2007 when I wrote a bit about my Firestorm fandom:

Me: “You know what I like about Firestorm?”

Employee Aaron: “No, what?”

Me: “Well, Ron Raymond [Firestorm’s secret identity — well, one of them] is on the school’s basketball team, and he’s always getting picked on by the school brain, Cliff Carmichael. It’s some kind of weird parallel universe high school where the jocks get bullied by the smart guys.”

Aaron: “So what parallel Earth would that be?”

Me: “I’d call it ‘Earth-Remarkably-Improbable.’”

Okay, that’s a little facetious (what, on this blog? NOOOOO) but…you know, I was trying to think if I’d encountered Firestorm much prior to the launch of the 1982 series. I’ve read some Justice League of America before that, so I definitely c him there, and there were a handful of back-ups in Flash that I know I read. But at this point in time, I can’t recall if the character really grabbed my attention or if he just happened to be a dude in a comic I was reading for other reasons.

I suppose I must have liked him well enough to drop my two quarters and a dime on the first issue when it was released. I think a lot of it had to do with being an excited 11 to 13-year-old getting in on the ground floor of all these new comics that were popping up (like Saga of the Swamp Thing, natch, and All-Star Squadron, just to name a couple).

And like I said in my 2007 excerpt up there, I liked the weird premise of Firestorm actually being two people who would merge together into one shared-body superhero, with the impulsive teen (Ronnie) controlling the body and the older scientist (Martin) as the voice in his head. The additional twist of that “voice” being represented by Martin’s ghostly “head” that only we, the readers, and Ronnie could see was a clever one.

Another plus was the artwork, which remains my favorite example of Pat Broderick’s work to this day:

Even after doing this blog for nearly two decades I’m still not any better at describing art much beyond “pictures good,” but, hey, you know, pictures good. There was a detail, a graininess, to his work that felt…unusual to me at the time, which you didn’t see much in the usually much slicker superhero comics. Even when Broderick left regular penciling duties and was replaced by Rafael Kayanan:

…the artwork was still somewhat Of A Kind with what had come before. A little slicker, maybe, but still evoked Broderick’s influence in a way that later artists on the title would leave behind.

I enjoyed the stories as well, particularly the difficulties superhero-ing placed on Ronnie and Martin’s personal lives (especially Martin, who initially didn’t retain memory of his time as half of Firestorm). And of course the whole business with Ronnie’s rivalry with Cliff Carmichael, as mentioned above. It was all presented with just the right mix of humor, melodrama, and action, and always felt like I got my money’s worth out of each issue. I realize in hindsight it’s all very Spider-Man, almost certainly intentionally, but for a kid who hadn’t read many of those Spideys, and certainly not from the beginning, this all seemed fresh and enthralling to me.

Okay, with all this “from the beginning” talk I should note that I was aware at the time there was a previous Firestorm series in the ’70s. Certainly that they named the title Fury of Firestorm to differentiate itself from the previous Firestorm I do remember noting back then (in the same way Saga of the Swamp Thing was so named as to avoid confusion with Swamp Thing.) This, amongst other quests, is what would eventually lead me to comic shops looking for back issues. I eventually got that first series, though oddly I never sought out the Flash back-ups I didn’t have. Ah well, I eventually bought the book, so that’s moot now.

Once or twice on this site I believe I’ve mentioned that I really enjoyed the beginning of Fury of Firestorm and the end of it, while kinda coasting along through the middle which wasn’t…well, let’s say it was a little more inconsistent. Not necessarily bad, but not always to my taste either. However, I was still invested in the characters and wanted to see what happened with them. Yes, even Cliff Carmichael.

This is, unsurprisingly, going on forever, so let me try to wrap things up a bit. I did like how they changed things up and did things like replace Martin with another guy in the Firestorm merger, and went through a period where Firestorm himself had his own personality separate from the two men who’d form him.

Most notably, there was that business where, “inspired” by Swamp Thing’s journey into discovering he was a Plant Elemental, formed by Earth to be its champion, so was Firestorm sent on his own journey to become a Fire Elemental in much the same way. Oh, and said journey came with his own knock-off of John Constantine. Yeah, I know. But this all brought us to a new, relatively short-lived redesign for the character and some dynamic artwork from Tom Mandrake:

And then after this there were additional revivals/revamps of the character, specifically with new kid Jason taking over the role:

…in a fun series that provided a new take on the premise, while still following up on characters and events from the previous series. Of note: the end of DC’s Brightest Day event included an epilogue that threatened a dire fate for Firestorm that clearly was going to lead into…something, but that (and other set-ups from the end of this series) were cut down a’bornin’ with the advent of the New 52 publishing initiative. That to me was a major clue (along with what appeared to be poor, rushed planning overall) the New 52 was as much a surprise to DC as it was to the rest of us.

Anyway, Jay, I realize a lot of that was more “here’s a history of Firestorm” more than “what I liked about Firestorm,” but all these twists and turns in the character’s timeline always kept me interested. Until the cut-off and relaunch with the New 52, you could drawn a line from those beginnings as a 1970s series canceled early due to the DC Implosion, to all those Brightest Day shenanigans. I enjoyed being able to follow the lives of these characters for so long, and though their original story didn’t end so much as stop, as is often the case in superhero comics, the ride was of course all the fun.

I will say that the reveal of Martin Stein as a bad guy in Doomsday Clock was not my favorite thing. Who knows if DC’s “Infinite Frontier” initiative takes care of that or not. IT BETTER.

Able to leap tall variants in a single bound.

§ May 24th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 10 Comments

So I bought that Fury of Firestorm series all the way through, beginning with #1 in 1982, and then every month (more or less…there was a bit of an extra gap between 18 and 19) ’til the end at #100 in 1990. But one day in March 1987, right around my birthday in fact, I went into the local newsstand in Oxnard where I’d buy my comics when I couldn’t make it up to the shop in Ventura (said shop becoming my place of employment the following year) and saw this on the spinner rack:

“Huh, that looks different,” thinks I, and I picked it up along with whatever else I was buying at the time and didn’t think much of it…

…until sometime later in the month I spotted this on a shelf:

I almost picked it up to buy, as I didn’t recognize the cover, but a quick glance within revealed I had already read this comic.

At that point I was aware that variant covers could be a thing, since we just went through the whole Man of Steel event and its different covers the previous year. Plus I was familiar with DC’s “hardcover/softcover” plan, which isn’t quite the same as the idea of “variants,” but it did represent the strategy of differing editions for the direct comic shop market and the regular newsstand market.

But this was different. We heard all about the different covers for Man of Steel, but I don’t recall any hype at all for this different Firestorm cover. Maybe there was a blurb somewhere, possibly a news item in Amazing Heroes or The Comics Journal that I missed, but variants like this were still unusual enough that one would have expected some major advance warning that these were happening. In addition, I never saw these on the shelves at the comic shop. Given that the store carried both the direct and newsstand versions of Man of Steel #1, I figured the same would have occurred for this Firestorm issue.

As I would eventually find out (and how I found out I’m not sure…a notation in the price guide, maybe, or an inquiry at the comic shop, or just general knowledge I picked up off the mean comic streets) that this weird Firestorm cover was part of some test marketing on DC’s part. Some simplified imagery, a company logo emphasizing Superman (I mean, literally “Superman Comics”), and the use of word balloons (even then becoming increasingly scarce on your standard superhero funnybook), all designed hopefully to appeal to younger readers who might encounter the comic in their local Stop ‘n’ Eleven convenience store, or wherever.

And by “test marketing,” I mean just released to certain areas. Not every newsstand outlet received copies of these, making them somewhat rare-ish and, naturally, acquiring bit of a premium price in the secondary back issue market. (And a quick glance at the eBays shows this to still be the case.)

Some time later, after getting my job at the Ventura comic shop, I would learn a little something more about the Firestorm variant, and the similar variant for Justice League #3.

Oh, did I not mention that Justice League #3 variant? The one that looks like this?

And here’s the regular version for comparison:

Now, this far removed I don’t remember if I learned about this other instance while working at the shop, or sometime prior. But I did learn that of the two, the Justice League #3 was far more common in our area. I personally never saw it in the wild, though in ’87 I was no longer making the rounds of all the various outlets that carried comics and just buying mainly from the two mentioned sources, and thus could easily have missed it. Anyway, we would eventually acquire quite the stack of Justice League #3s in our back issue bins, as they slowly accumulated from multiple collections.

On the other hand, Firestorm #61 we never saw. Maybe one or two would creep in here and there, but we never had it in any sort of quantity. I even sold my copy to the store and picked up a regular copy for cheap, since I neither cared which cover I had nor realized that 30 years on I’d wish I still had it for blogging material. At any rate, via purely anecdotal evidence, I concluded that the Firestorm 61 variant had very limited circulation in my area, versus the more readily-available Justice League #3 variant.

The reason is obvious…Justice League was the better seller of the two, so of course more copies would be out there for the taking. Meanwhile, poor Firestorm was getting a bit long in the tooth, still some months away from some creative rejiggering to boost sales, and was probably only still being read by the diehard weirdo fans like me. Plus, which was more likely to be picked up off a newsstand rack by a casual reader? Something with Batman on the cover, or that comic where the guy’s head is on fire? …Well, actually, that might be too close to call when I put it like that.

Looking at Comichron‘s June 1987 sales through Diamond (no March sales info, but close enough for horseshoes), Justice League clocks in a #6, while Firestorm is at #83. That’s probably explanation enough for why we were swimming in the Justice League variant and didn’t even have enough Firestorm variants to get our tootsies wet.

In the end, however, I think the test results were ultimately “this didn’t help sales,” given that no more of these ever turned up, and we didn’t see that “Superman Comics” logo at the beginning of the Zack Snyder Justice League cut. They are kind of neat covers, looking back on them now. A little…plain, maybe (Firestorm and Typhoon apparently fighting in that one all-white “Duck Amuck” background) but at least you can tell what’s going on quickly and easily and they actually represent what’s happening in the comic. (That regular Firestorm cover requires a tiny bit of concentration, frankly.) Oh, if only some comics did that today. Plus, I loves me a good word balloon on a cover. C’MON BABY GIVE ME MORE OF THESE:

If you want to Read More About It, here’s an informative and much more concise article on the topic over at CBR. And if you have more information, or if you have to take issue with any of my drawn conclusions (as someone almost inevitably does) just leave it in the comments and I’ll run a later update/correction as necessary.

What’s up next in the variant cover-age? I don’t know, I haven’t decided! You’ll find out when I do next week! Thanks for reading, pals! Exclamation point!

P.S. Oh hey, I just noticed they used “Captain Marvel” on the cover of that Justice League! I don’t think it was explicitly verboten on DC’s covers (so long as it wasn’t, you know, the actual name of the magazine) but it’s still weird to see it there.

Oddly, no Amazing Spider-Man covers featuring photos of Steve Ditko.

§ May 21st, 2021 § Filed under obituary, publishing § 1 Comment

So y’all had some good suggestions for nice photo covers in the comments for Wednesday’s post, which I appreciate. I especially appreciate Rob Staeger’s reminder that Sandman Mystery Theatre had photo covers for its entire long-ish run, certainly an unusual accomplishment in modern comics. Or this cover noted by BobH with Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

But here comes customer Sean with a comic I wasn’t aware of…Stan Lee cosplaying as the Black Rider on issue #8 of that title from 1950:

You can Read More About It here on this Stan Lee site.

I mean, just gaze helplessly into the steely stare of Stan the Man, all masked up before it was cool:

Speaking of ol’ Stan, Eric brings up the Marvel Fumetti Book from 1984 that has him on the cover:

Thanks to the Bullpen Bulletins in every Marvel mag, plus stuff like the in-house news/previews ‘zine Marvel Age, and just the general editorial shenanigans at Marvel since the get-go, the staff and creators at Marvel were more or less known personalities by the readers. Thus, a collection of photo gags starring the folks behind the comics was something they could probably pull off. I wonder if DC could have done something similar at the time? Maybe a bunch of photo-gags starring Wolfman and Perez, or Curt Swan hanging out with Superman (I mean, in “real life,” not in the story in that last panel here), or Alan Moore terrifying the suits around the DC offices…that sort of thing.

Of course prior to that was Fandom Confidential, a photo strip that ran in The Comic Reader and Comic Buyer’s Guide. But perhaps we’re going a little astray from the simple pleasures of just plain ol’ comic book photo covers. Like this one, which isn’t weird at all.

• • •

Also wanted to note the passing of David Anthony Kraft, publisher of the wonderful Comics Interview magazine, as well as the writer of several swell comics (including, very briefly, some of the original ’70s Swamp Thing). Mark Evanier has some nice words to say here. My condolences, of course, to his family, friends, and fans.

This is all somehow Nicéphore Niépce’s fault.

§ May 19th, 2021 § Filed under publishing § 16 Comments

So in the comments section for my Gen 13 post, folks started talking about photo covers on comics. I don’t have anything in particular to say about photo covers, though I suppose I could note how of all the too-many variants for Dynamite Entertainment’s Vampirella, Bettie Page, and Red Sonja, it’s the “cosplay” photo covers that move the most for me. (And no, not just for prurient reasons, I promise.)

I can’t think of a whole lot of other photo covers of late, but I have the memory of a goldfish who has pretty bad memory even for a goldfish, so don’t depend on me. I can think of some of Marvel’s movie tie-ins and variants with movie stills.

Oh, wait, I forgot about IDW, which uses photo covers all the time, especially for Doctor Who and Star Trek. Why, way back in 2007 I complained about making the photo cover the ratio variant instead of the regular cover. Why use a drawing of Young William Shatner when you can slap that handsome mug on all your covers and make a mint. Ah well, What Can You Do? In later years a lot of those photo covers from IDW have been freely orderable, some nice, some, um, a little awkward:

Now there’s no way I’m going to do a comprehensive history of photo covers just off the cuff right this moment…I mean, Turan says this is (maybe) the first superhero photo cover:

…and sure, I don’t doubt it. Looks like they did a good job on the costume. But I was trying to picture DC doing photo covers from, like, the Batman movie serial and how amazing that would’ve been.

But there were plenty of photo covers to be had in the 1940s and 1950s,especially when celebrities were involved:

I think my favorites, though, and I don’t see enough of them passing through my store, are the romance comics with photo covers:

I would love (appropriately enough) to be able to put together a collection of these for myself. Especially Young Brides…there’s Jack Kirby in them there hills, friends!

I’m sure the photo covers (particularly for the romance comics) were there to make the comics look like their slightly more respectable magazine cousins. And the ones with celebrity photos would of course attract fans. Plus there’s the simple matter of photo covers just standing out on the rack…when you’re looking at that beautiful gory layout and see line drawing after line drawing, the sudden appearance of an actual picture of a real human is going to grab your eye. Photo covers were the foil/foldout/hologram gimmick variants of the mid-20th century. Why, if Death’s Head II & The Origin of Die-Cut came out in 1951, I’m sure the cover would featured models in some elaborate costuming!

Anyway, I should note the one cover that seems to come up a lot, one that seems to be fairly common and that even some of you cited at me: 1985’s Amazing Spider-Man #262:

I always thought the cover design was funny, in that it’s got that “SPECIAL ISSUE” blurb across the top, and literally the only thing “special” about this comic was the cover itself. Not slamming the comic or anything (I mean, it’s Bob Layton, it’s fine), but as I recall (and yes, I bought this off the stands at the time because of that cover) it was just a typical Spider-Man story. Not like Aunt May joined with the Venom symbiote, or that Mary Jane pulled off her red wig and revealed she was Gwen Stacy. That cover did its job…it got you to pick up that comic. It sounds like it worked on a lot of you out there as well. Marvel did several photo covers in the ’70s and ’80s (the Dazzler and Spider-Woman are stand-outs, but I have a personal favorite).

Let me wrap this up with possibly the greatest photo cover of all time:

Just your reminder that DC’s Vertigo imprint at least partially owes its existence to Wes Craven and that movie. Far as I’m concerned, that’s a celebrity photo cover for all us Dick Durock fans.

So let me ask you…what are your favorite photo covers?


§ May 17th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 8 Comments

So Gen 13, when it made its debut in 1994, seemed like a younger, hipper take on the teen superteam formula that did so well for Marvel and DC. But Gen 13 was Young Comics by Young People for Young People, as compared to the relatively staid X-Men and New Teen Titans. That’s basically Image as a whole: “here are comics by the hep and with-it and not by those squares at the Big Two.”

Anyway, that first mini did well, and so in 1995 an ongoing Gen 13 series was launched, and lo, if you thought the whole Robin II thing was too much, look out because here come thirteen variant covers!

Okay, it’s closer to, like, 14 different images (once you include the chromium cover, more on that in a second) and 15 different variants (when you count in the chromium cover and the “main” cover, pictured above, had a newsstand edition with a UPC code). I’m not putting every cover in this post, but you can see them all here.

I like how this cover references the Spider-Man #1 (which in turn referenced the Legends of the Dark Knight #1…it’s variants all the way down).

The one thing I’m wondering about, and just can’t remember for the life of me, was how the variants were ordered. Looking at this sales chart which just has “Gen 13 #1″ all lumped together as the #5 top seller. That implies to me that the comic was simply ordered as a single line item and the variants were distributed (more or less) equally. That is my vague recollection, and as I’ve said before, had I known I’d be writing a blog post about this a quarter of a century later, I’d have kept better notes. Also, I would have wondered what a “blog” was.

I also would have kept better notes as to which one sold better, though my gut instinct is that the “sexier” ones were preferred by the consumer. Like this take-off on the Janet Jackson Rolling Stone cover.

Many of the variants did quite well in the secondary back issue market for a time…the ones that were pop culture parodies attracted the most accrued value, and I recall having several of these in our glass cases. The main two covers (the one pictured above and a second one, both just featuring the team posing an’ such) were in somewhat lesser demand, and did not command as large a price. But, y’know, still sold fine.

Looking now, just peeking on the eBays, that there haven’t been a lot of sales of this issue in any variation over the last few months. Plus, the ones that do sell are for comparatively slighter prices. The Heavy Metal parody, pictured above, had sold for a significant amount (about $30), which have more to do with the Simon Bisley art and the cover’s Heavy Metal-ish subject matter. And I did find at least one copy of the Janet Jackson cover sold for $40 a couple of days ago.

Of course, the reason is that Gen 13 is currently a moribund property. Even during the run of this first ongoing the series took some hits, particularly after the popular artist J. Scott Campbell left the book early on. There were some attempted relaunches, but ultimately the last issue of a comic called Gen 13 came out a little over a decade ago. The characters themselves have popped up here and there since, including a cameo appearance of the team in the New 52’s Supergirl #33. And apparently some reissuing of old material is planned eventually.

This cover, inspired by the film Pulp Fiction, was another of the more popular variants. Don’t have a lot to say about it, aside from that it’s the one cover to not feature hand-drawn artwork, but instead, a photo. I seem to remember that one not staying in stock long whenever we got it back in.

And I had several folks on the Twitters single out this comic as a precursor to the “blank sketch variants” that are so prevalent today. The big difference is that this is a standard slick cover, and not the “art board” covers of the later blanks that would seem to me be easier to draw on. I wonder if anyone actually did take a pen or pencil to this cover. Surely fans brought up copies of this to Campbell (or whoever) to draw upon at some convention.

Oh, and here’s that chromium cover. Not part of the regular distribution, but rather only found in a boxed set of all the variants, featuring a signature of one of the creative team. As you might imagine, it sold quite well when we could get our hand son one. Was it…$100, maybe? Again, too long ago, no notes, but that feels like the right price point.

So Gen 13…paving the way for Marvel to put out too many variant covers on too many of their books. (Hello like 30+ covers on Eternals #1)

Oh, and did I mention all the variants had cute names (like “GEN-et Jackson” and “Picto-Fiction”) Don’t recall anyone using these “official” names in the wild…but then, I heard someone ask for “copper age X-Men” the other day, so I guess anything’s possible.

Clearly I held the camera with my third hand.

§ May 14th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 3 Comments

A little follow-up on the Robin discussion from Monday…turns out I did have a copy of #2 floating around the shop, still sealed in its original bag. Wasn’t the greatest shape, so I performed the not-quite-ultimate sacrifice by popping the bag to present all the goodies within right here! I’M OUT LIKE A BUCK FIFTY FOR THIS POST, PEOPLE.

You saw what the front of the bag looked like last time, so here’s the back with all the poop on properly operating your Special Technology Cover™:

What they don’t tell you is that the insert you’re supposed to be pulling through the cover is…a bit flimsy and can be tricky to push back in after pulling it through. It’s definitely a two-hand operation.

And once again, like last time, I made a GIF so you can get an idea of what’s going on here:

If it’s hard to tell, it’s a pic of Robin that changes into the Huntress, or vice versa.

This is what that insert looks like removed from the cover:

And here’s side two:

And BEHOLD, the jaggiest of Robins (with the Huntress Professor X-ing it out of his forehead):

And just for the sake of completeness, here’s the included poster featuring the image from the “regular” version of this issue:

And there you go, friends…the 1990s. You never knew what wild cover gimmick was coming next, and this one was definitely in the upper echelon of “…what?”

More variant cover discussion coming Monday! And remember, if you have any suggestions as to where this terrible path should lead us, feel free to let me know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sensational Variant Find of the 1990s!

§ May 10th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 14 Comments

So, Robin #1. No, not the one that was released a week or so ago and had its speculation-fueled sell-out. I mean the now (urgh) 30+ year old mini-series that was absolutely red-hot. You know, this one:

I can still remember trying to smooth out the creases in the door-sized promo poster they sent out for this thing while trying to display it in the shop. But anyway, as I was saying, this was a big seller, and demand was so high it went into second and even third printings. And they way you can tell these printings? By the little Roman numerals in the corner box there:

…which, I guess, makes those reprintings variants, thus fitting into the topic at hand. I kind of preferred this to DC’s later practice of changing cover colors or images to identify new printings, frankly, though I can understand the logic behind it. What’s gonna convince someone to double or triple dip on a comic they already bought? A little “III” or a whole new design? [EDIT: pal Nat reminds me that the contemporaneous Killing Joke also used colors to distinguish printings.]

At any rate, this is really as close as the first Robin series came to having variant covers. But don’t worry, dear reader, as they made up for it with 1991’s Robin II series.

This four issue mini-series had a decreasing number of variants as the series went on, starting with five variants for the first issue (not counting the “newsstand variant” with the UPC code, because c’mon), then four for the second, three for the third, and two for the fourth. Got that? Good.

For each issue there was one cover that was “normal,” and then the variant(s) would each feature different cover images and a hologram slapped on there, thusly:

And look, here’s the hologram IN ACTION, as filmed-and-GIFfed by my own self:

Exciting, right? How could you not want a full set of all those variant covers for each issue? Well, hang onto to your little green shorts, friend, because DC’s got you covered (get it?):

Yes, DC also marketed complete sets of all variants issue-by-issue in this polybagged packages, Plus a hologram trading card!

If this seems…somewhat excessive, you’re not wrong. It’s like Robin II somehow managed to take the multiple covers of X-Men #1 and the polybagged editions of Spider-Man #1 and formed them into this unholy collectible amalgam. By the way, when DC says “newsstand,” they just mean the regular non-hologram cover (which was offered both in a UPC-less direct sales version and a UPC-ed version you’d find at 7-11 or whathaveyou.)

Now, as far as the variants themselves…while not the first comic to have a hologram affixed to the cover (that would be Boffo Laffs #1 from 1986, I believe), the holograms do feature nicely iconic images of Robin, Batman, the Joker, and the Bat-signal on each succeeding installment (and the same hologram appears on all the variants for that particular ish). They’re also usually well-incorporated into the covers, though I kinda wonder about this Matt Wagner one:

Is the Joker, like, thinking about Robin or something? Is that what that’s representing? Or did the asylum put up a framed hologram in his cell just to rub it in? Great drawing of the Joker, though.

Okay, in case DC wasn’t reaching into your pocket enough, they also had this $30 mega-collector’s slipcase set, for which I totally stole images from eBay auctions so I could illustrate it here:

And in case you didn’t have enough holographic technology from the comics themselves, get ready for this thing on the slipcase:

Now, it’s been a while since I handled one of these. I know at the previous place of employment we kind of had one kicking around the backroom for a while that I’d continually put on the eBays ’til it finally sold (I think). And the contents are…just what they say there on the label. I seem to remember the “two custom backing boards” being not really anything you’d want to use in your comic bags…kinda flimsy, and I’m pretty sure they had holographic stickers on those, too, because why not.

Speaking of holograms, since “hologram” was pretty much every other word in the last paragraph, if I recall correctly one of the promo items for this series was a little holographic sticker with Robin’s “R” printed on it. I can literally still see the small bundles of these we got from DC, unless of course I’m imagining these and they never existed. Which, you know, I wouldn’t put past my brain at this point.

So that series sells well, as you might have imagined, and you know what that means. That’s right, Robin III in 1993, which scaled back the variant-ism to just two covers per each issue of this six-issue run. You had your standard, regular, boring static image cover printed on regular paper that Grandma prefers, and then you had…SPECIAL MOTION COVERS:

Alas, I didn’t have any of these in the shop right right now, otherwise I would have made an awesome GIF of this too. But trust me, you pulled the little tab on that cover and you cold make that image change. And it was a two-sided thingie too, so you could pull that insert entirely out, flip it over, and have a brand new image moving back-and-forth on that cover. I’m pretty sure that’s what they mean by “reversible cover” on the polybag that each of these “special moving covers” came in:

The poster noted at the bottom, kinda obscured by the folding of the bag’s bottom, was a poster of the comic’s regular cover. I thought that was a good touch and a solid bonus for fans.

One of my favorite things about the Robin III mini-series was that a demonstration copy of the special cover was sent to retailers. It looked like just another copy of the comic, but the pages inside were all blank. Honestly, I wish publishers would offer “blank” versions of some of those more speculated comics coming out now…would save them some money and they’re just gonna end up unreadable in CGC slabs anyway so they might as well be blank. Anyway, we had a lot of fun showing that Advanced Cover Technology to the customers, and that certainly moved some copies for us.

Following that in 1993 was the first issue of the ongoing Robin series, which ran quite a while and, oh yes, had variant covers for the first issue. You had your standard flat cover, and then you had this embossed beauty:

…with the figure featuring raised “3-D” puffy bits so you could examine Robin’s contours with your fingertips to your heart’s content.

Now, that aftermarket for these is a little hard to judge personally, in that I have copies of the first mini, one or two of the second, and none of the third currently in stock. I know while that original Robin ongoing was, well, going, the back issue sales on the various minis were very strong…especially for that original #1. I know at the previous place of employment we had a couple of those Robin II polybagged bundles still kicking around, and I noted how hard it was for me to move that slipcased set. A look at eBay shows at least the slipcased books are doing well now, so I guess I was just a decade or so early in trying to list the thing.

In collections I’d take in at my own shop, the most common of the Robin #1s I’d find would be that embossed cover for the ongoing series. I suppose a lot of people wanted to feel their Robins.

What’s next? I don’t know! The thirteen Gen13 covers? The trend of retailer-exclusive “platinum” editions for certain Big Comics? Or something else entirely? If you have a preference, you know how to tell me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And thus it is the same with Batman/Fortnite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only been doing this for 33 years, what do I know.

§ May 5th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 13 Comments

Well, I was going to answer a question about variants someone left in the comments to Monday’s post that I thought would be simple, but it started turning into a book and I’m not even sure I was close to being done, so…let’s put that on hold ’til Friday, after I’ve thought about it for a bit.

As for your latest Batman/Fortnite comic book news: yes, #2 is out this week, Yes it’s still in demand. Yes, still don’t have enough to go around, though from the sounds of it I was one of the few stores around here to actually have any kind of significant quantity of them ordered. Not nearly as many as it turns out I could have used, but I guess I was better off than most. Adding more customers to preorder lists, and will need to start calling a few folks to remind them that, yes, I am holding copies of #2 for them and they should come pick them up.

What’s nice is that at least a few of the Fortnite customers are buying other comics, so it’s not just kids ripping open their copies to get the codes and then setting fire to what remains. I mean, sure, most of them are doing that, which, y’know, fine, but if even a couple of new readers result, I ain’t gonna say “no.”

I was recently turned off of a podcast from a noted professional sporadic comics generator, which I’d been enjoying despite (or maybe because of) the not-always-justified self-aggrandizement and some…glossing over of certain points of the ’90s comics industry. But his enthusiasm was entertaining, and hearing his side of what was happening was educational…and, y’know, fans have been shitting on the guy for decades, if he wants to put out a podcast talking about how great he is, hey, more power to him.

But a recent episode discussing the Batman/Fortnite phenomenon and how some of his retailer buddies were dealing with it really left an unpleasant taste. While talking about all the new customers coming in the doors, he’s also saying how these retailers are charging $20, $30 or whatever a pop and essentially giving his approval of this.

I get that everyone was caught short on this comic, and that sellers are making a killing on eBay with these, but…the one thing the industry has desperately wanted is kids putting down Those Darn Vidya Gabes and buying comics again, and when they do…we start gouging them for as much cash as we can grab? Or, rather, their parents? What’s that going to leave them thinking about comic stores? Or with the comics industry in general? It’s…well, it’s gross, is what it is. I know, “supply and demand” an’ all that, but maybe a little long term planning over short term profits would be the preferable strategy.

I limited copies to one per customer, and took down lots of names for future issues. Or for reprints of already released issues if the first prints weren’t available, because the best part about all the Fortnite kids is that they don’t care what printing they get. The codes are the same in all of them. And I will sell them all these issues at cover price. End result: happy customers who’ll come back. Haven’t had a single person mad at me about the whole Fortnite situation. Maybe I’m just in a laid-back part of the country, but talking to folks who come in looking for the comic, explaining the situation, and offering to save issues as they come in seems to have a mollifying effect.

Anyway, I know this has all turned into something of a mess, but starting within an issue or two, once we start getting in the installments we were able to order once we realized how much demand existed for the book, there should be plenty to go around. In fact, I’m expecting a glut, as retailers probably went to far in the other direction ordering more than they could possibly sell. In addition, the buyers who are picking copies up out of pure speculation right now will drop off then, as only the relative scarcity drove those purchases.

So I always hear about it when I criticize retailer behavior (remember “not buy?” Sheesh, that was stupid) but since nobody reads blogs anymore, I guess, maybe I can get away with it this time. But honestly, the next time we get a huge influx of new potential customers, hopefully we can all put our best foot forward, y’know?

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