There’s a Market for It


While I was at Comic Con this summer, I put on my plaid deerstalker and set my sights on that most elusive game, the comic book deal. Sure, you can get a decent discount from an Amazon.com or Instocktrades.com, but in person? In the wild? In my experience, you are more likely to enter a comic book store and be greeted with a hearty “Top o’ the Wednesday marnin’ to ye!” by a leprechaun working the register in a Green Lantern t-shirt– just until Nessie can get back with the Slurpees and take over– than you are to find a sale going on inside. More to the point, one of the things I’d heard most often about conventions was that the dealers were Giving It Away; they’d lugged all these books to San Diego, and by God they would be damned if they were going to lug them all the way back to Portland again at the end of the weekend. All you had to do was wait till the last minute, drive a hard bargain, and bring extra luggage and possibly a trailer for your massive haul.

If that sounds a little on the sarcastic side, it’s because I came home from San Diego with one trade paperback. Now, granted, I did not get to the con on Sunday, when everyone’s at their most desperate and generous. Still, I had some lofty plans involving the Howard the Duck Omnibus and all these Sinestro Corps Wars everyone was talking about, only to have my dreams dashed by dealers with prices I could have handily beaten at home with PayFullRetailPlusShipping.com. Apparently the extra charge was for alphabetizing; there were dealers who were Giving It Away, but they had come with vast unmarked boxes into which trades and hardcovers had been piled or shoveled in completely random order. As I thumbed past War Machine, Power Pack and Asterix in one box, I thought, How did they even get this way? Surely they were organized at their point of origin. Did they do this on purpose? “Now, when we get to San Diego, I don’t want to see two of the same book in any one of these boxes. The buyer needs to have as hard a time as possible finding what he wants; they have to feel like they earned it. It’s not a book; it’s the prize in a game of ‘Surprise!, There’s Nothing Good In This One Either.'”

They obviously know what they’re doing, though, because the book I bought was one I’d never have glanced at if it hadn’t popped up at random amid the copies of Rising Stars and Pogo. In fact, I was surprised to discover that the book existed. I bought Spider-Man 2099 Volume 1, the collection of a series I’ve been hearing about for years but never laid eyes on because it came out after I stopped reading comics as a fickle youth. I knew next to nothing about it, except that it came out during a period when a lot of groanworthy, winceworthy things were starting to sell a million copies. Still, I knew from my degree in Hulk Studies that writer Peter David was at the height of his powers in the early nineties, and I remembered Rick Leonardi being a good artist. (I could stand to have a little more Rick Leonardi in my life. The last time I can remember seeing his name, it was in a General Grievous comic that found its way into my hands for reasons I can neither recall nor justify. Hell, it was probably because I wanted to see Rick Leonardi’s art again. But I Digress.)

What really surprised me was not the fact that the book existed, but rather how long it had existed. My copy was bent and ratty from its life at the bottom of the Box of Mystery; as I paid for it, I thought, “They must have collected this shortly after it came out in 1992, when demand was at its highest, and it’s been languishing on a shelf somewhere ever since. Lucky I got to it before this guy just went ahead and burned it for fuel.” I later discovered that the book had in fact been published eight weeks before I bought it.

It’s by no means a bad book. In fact, I’m really enjoying it (I finally got to start reading it this week). After years of reading “widescreen” and/or “decompressed” storytelling, I expect 17-year-old layouts and writing to be at least a little creaky, but this book still seems fresh to me.

It’s just… when I found out the book had just been printed, I couldn’t help thinking, “Was there really a demand for this product in 2009? Does Spider-Man 2099, a character whose book hasn’t been on the market since the Spice Girls had their first hit single, really have a big enough fanbase to start reprinting his exploits?”

Of course he does! What an absurd question. No matter how obscure– or even hated– you think a character or storyline is, it has a following that would step on your neck in the snow to get the hardcover. My God, say the word “ROM” in public some time; people start climbing in through the windows waving petitions. Even though I looked at it and moaned, “What the hell is this, now?” the day I saw it on the spinner rack at Walgreens in 1993, someone is keeping a lit candle in the window as we speak for the Absolute Edition of Batman Gets His Back Broken By a Luchador You’ve Never Heard Of.

There are a lot of comics I dismissed in that way, the Walgreens comics I thumbed through and shook my head at in high school and college while I was waiting for the movie to start across the street. The Death of Superman. The Not-Quite Death of Batman, But Someone Else Wears His Outfit For a While. Maximum Carnage, Ugh. That Villain You Remember as a Serial Killer Apparently Has His Own Book Now. The thing is, though, every one of these books was coming out at a time when an eleven year old was picking up comics for the first time. That book I’ve been dismissing for all these years is the book that got him or her into comics. There’s a thirty year old who’s buying comics today because Venom: Lethal Protector rocked his world. And who am I to make fun? The books that got me into comics were 20-page toy ads.

Even keeping that in mind, they are starting to revisit stuff I thought would never see the light of day again. Do you understand that there is a Secret Wars II Omnibus? I bought every issue of that opus as a kid, and today I couldn’t make it through ten pages to scan for good jokes. I mean, what’s next? The New Univer– oh, never mind.

More to the point, Marvel Comics is suddenly showing signs of a most bizarre outbreak of Spider-Clone fever. It has infected the current storyline, but they’re also “retelling it right” while also reprinting it “wrong.” That last one was the announcement that got me thinking about all this: “My God, Marvel is touching the third rail! They’re reprinting the ‘Clone Saga!'”

Every time I see the words “Clone Saga,” I still remember a Q&A that Marvel’s then-publisher Bill Jemas did for Ain’t It Cool News back in 2002. A reader in Mexico wrote in complaining that the end of the story was never published in his country and asking if it might one day be published in trades. Jemas’ entire answer was this:

So you missed the end of the Clone Saga? Here’s what happened.

SPOILER ALERT

Amazing Spider-Man sales dropped from 400,000 per month to 48,000.


Seven years later, that answer still makes me laugh like a Monty Python sketch. I don’t know why. It’s a character flaw. The guy had a sincere question; he really wanted to know what happened. Maybe he’s pirated it by now. Anyway, the book Jemas is mocking as a company killer there comes out in March. And why not? You should read the Spider-Man threads around here lately. Everybody in them is saying that the storyline that almost helped put Marvel out of business is the one that got them into comics. The Clone Saga is what they think of when they remember Spider-Man.



“C’est la vie,” says Jim Mroczkowski, “It goes to show you never can tell.” He demonstrates his own questionable tastes every day on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I really liked a lot of Wildstorm stuff during 2000-2001, only a little bit of it has been reprinted (sleeper, some Authority) but some of that stuff was great and got me back into comics. I loved that Stormwatch series that never finished because the writer lied about serving in the military. The book got canceled before the last issue of a storyline. What happened with Baron Chaos?!?!?

  2. this article is a damn classic.

     

  3. Im gonna have to agree with @TimmyWood, I eat up the Wildstorm stuff. Not only the 2000 stuff, but pretty much all of it, as I’m a huge fan of almost everything Wildcats, Authority, Stormwatch, etc. I know if I first discovered them today I would probably hate it for the same reason most people do, but I got into them at a very young age from the spinner racks at Walgreens, like you mentioned. I know alot of it is contrived (especially the early stuff) but I cant help loving it, as it was a factor to my love of comics so many years ago.

  4. Good article. As for con-deals. They are very real. Whether it be quarter bins or dollar bins, you can secure a whole story line for less than cover price – and less than trade. This is how I finished out my GL collection. And on a sunday, the deals come rolling in. Someone sold me a 15 year old "Samurai Armor" (Silver Centurion) Iron Man toy from the 90s cartoon for $3 because I looked it at.  He had it marked up to $15. I bought my friend an Iron Man plush for 50% off. And it’s also a good time to snag a last-minute meeting with your artist/writer of choice.

    As for comic stores having sales…. At least four of the comic stores in my area have them, usually once a year, but most often more so. 40% off trades at one (as well as their usual 20% off new books); a TPB exchange and a yearly 40% off all sale (plus 10% off backissues year round) at another; another has a 60% ff trade sale twice a year, and more recently I attended a "buy a longbox for $60" and stuff it with as many backissues as will fit sale. Even more odd was small hole in the wall store in Greenwhich Village that has a mystifying "Buy 7 trades, and only pay for 4" policy. 

  5. Yeah, I ran across a thread on a message board somewhere else recently, where someone was expressing disbelief that there could be a Howard the Duck Omnibus, a Tomb of Dracula Omnibus Vol. 2, and also an Iron Man Omnibus Vol. 2 . . . without there first being an X-Men Omnibus Vol. 2 or a Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 2. Sometimes I think obvious collections–such as those of Marvel’s biggest franchises–are bypassed because the publishers figure that it’d be better to wait for the next franchise movie before releasing potential gigantic sellers with optimum fanfare.

    Thing is, with something like Spider-Man 2099, you have to remember that the lowest selling issue of that series, fifteen years ago, still reached like twice as many readers as the best-selling comics of recent years. There are actually far more people who have bought, read and heard of Spider-Man 2099 than there are people who purchased Civil War. It’s a strange state of affairs, but when you look at things that way it’s easy to picture someone at Marvel thinking, "Hey, there’s probably a lot of people still left out there who remember Spider-Man 2099. Might as well take a shot at trading it!" Ditto for stuff like Howard the Duck. Wanna take a guess at how many copies that then-obscure title sold on a monthly basis? Those kinda numbers would probably make it one of the 5 biggest books today. So the potential audience who might want to pick up a collection of some now-obscure series, the people who bought all those hundreds of thousands of floppies in the ’80s, is actually far larger than we’d think.

    And, yeah, I find in-person store trade deals to be frustratingly few and far between. I mean, what does it matter if you spend all weekend searching and hunting and then come away with, I dunno, a $10 Omnibus or a $15 Absolute or something? When you figure in travel expenses, you really aren’t saving any money. Just like when you figure in gas money, you’re actually paying more than cover price to get your comics from a comic shop. But it’s all about the experience. To me, yeah, going to places like that is worth the extra money. Otherwise, there really is no reason not to buy pretty much ALL your comics (and books, dvds, etc) online. Amazon might have something you want at "only" 30%, but understand that you’re actually going to spend about 30% MORE than cover price if you drive to the mall and back to pick up the same item.

  6. I have similar experiences at cons.  I never, ever get the kinds of deals other people claim to get.  I’m extremely lucky if I get 40% off (which is roughly what Amazon gives you).

    I also got into comics due to toy commercials.  The old G.I. Joe and Transformers comics hooked me.  Much of it was/is awful, but I remember it fondly.

    @Prax – I assume your local stores have sales because they have competition and must compete based on price.  My shop has no competition and therefore never has anything resembling a sale and offers no discounts.  Competition is a beautiful thing. 

  7. Oops, at the end I meant "Amazon might have something you want at ‘only’ 30% OFF".

    Good article, by the way.

  8. @stuclach Of the four stores I mention, one of them is in another state and the other three are a good 20-25 miles apart.

  9. Speaking as one of the wretched…I started out with, and enjoyed, the clone saga.  I own all three volumes in trade of the Knightfall story arc.  I ever spent time at a con this summer looking for deals on death and return of Superman trades.

    For me it’s purely a nostalgia thing.  Trades are easy and accesible.  I have every issue of the Clone Saga and will still at least look into the trade.  So it can sit on my self, look pretty, and be read here and there with pulling out my long boxes and digging through amazing, spectacular, web of, sensational, unlimited and whatever other tie ins there might have been.

  10. I’ve always found a good selection of $5 trades at cons, but then I’ve also found dollar bins with the single issues in reasonable order.  It might be the difference between San Diego and the smaller shows — at the latter, there’s not a lot else to do but shop. 

    Me, I’m still waiting for ‘Search for Cyclops’ to be traded.

  11. @PraxJarvin – But do they have other local competition?  And 20-25 miles isn’t really that far.  Down here the absolute closest competition is 35ish miles away and that is just one store.  You are talking about an hour and a half drive to reach a third store. 

  12. I’m pretty sure I have that Spider-Man 2099.  Does it make me a bad person?

  13. I picked up Spider-Man 2099 because of Peter David and his work on the Dark Tower series. So it was a chance to see his earlier work.  Also, I found some great prices at Windy City Comic Con, HC for 40% – 50% off plus $5 trades at some retailers, so they do happen.  I would agree with ohcaroline that maybe San Diego is just too big to find those kind of deals because there is so much going on other then comics.  When you go to those "smaller" shows they know why your there and the shopping at discount can be a bigger draw. 

     

  14. My LCS usually has about 2-3 sales a year. One for celebrating it’s anniversary (had it’s 4th anniversary this August), one for X-mas, and another one just floating around whenever he feels like it. That’s when I usually open my coin jar and get a slew of stuff. Cause all trades are 40% and he has a ton of random trades for about $3-$5 on a table. I got ‘Doctor Strange: The Oath’, ‘Zero Hour’, and ‘Ghost Rider, Punisher, Wolverine’ trades that way. Best days of the year for me when he has those sales…

    I have a feeling that I will burn all my money at a con whenever I go to one. I’m a sucker for deals.

  15. I have the Power Pack trade, and I’m proud of it damnit!  Well, mostly proud.  Maybe a little ashamed.  Like 60/40 proud/ashamed or maybe ashamed/proud.  Or maybe 70/30 ashamed/proud.  In fact, I’ve never opened it.  It’s for my kid.  Someone else’s kid.  Power Pack trade?  I have no idea what you’re talking about.  

  16. Also, very nice article Jim.  

  17. You know, much to my shame, I saw they were putting on TPBs of the Clone Saga and thought to myself, "I kinda want to read that."  Maybe I just love a good train-wreck.  And I expect that I can just get it through my library, so the thought of actually paying for it isn’t holding me back.

  18. @OhCaroline That one has been solicited and canceled a few times. I thought when they did the "The Twelve"/"Ages of Apocalypse" matching Trades we’d finally get one. I have the single issue, though.

    @stuclach There are smaller shops, closer to them, but I can’t say I know where any of them are or their names. The main shop I’ve gone to for 8 years is about 30 minutes from me, on a major high way and is apparently the second largest (in volume of sales) in NJ. (How this is measured, I don’t know. but they travel to every NY-Philly area con and usually tuck out to SDCC). They have the least frequent and lucrative sales. Now I also used to live in NYC, where there three big comic shops (one with two locations) so it was a different story. I do realize I live in a state lousy with comic book shops, diners and malls, which makes me a bit of a special case.

  19. @Prax – I am extremely jealous of your comic book buying options.  (I never though I would tell anyone who lives in NJ that I was jealous of them.)

  20. @stuclach: Your jealous about my life in Jersey all the time….or at least that’s how I see it. 🙂

    @Prax: You should go down to my store sometime, it’s probably the smallest you’ll ever go into.

  21. How is Spider-Man 2099? Anyone have a review?  How does it hold up today?  I haven’t read it yet.

    Maximum Carnage is actually really good read in graphic novel form.

    Clone Saga is not good at all read today.

    I read both those stories recently.  I’m telling you, Maximum Carnage the graphic novel is actually good.

  22. @PraxJarvin  In my perfect world, they’d put ‘Search for Cyclops’ in a TPB together with the follow up X-Men issue where Scott and Corsair go camping.

  23. Maybe the better con deals are at the smaller shows.  I went to the Mid-Ohio Con this year, and walked out with 30 issues and 13 trades/hardcover for like $80.  It was a good haul for sure.  

    I thought the same thing of Spider-Man 2099 when I saw the trade, but I remember that it was the hot shit when I got into comics.  You’re absolutely right when you wrote that someone out there is looking for that stuff because of its value to them as a reader. 

  24. @ohcaroline, I remember that camping issue. Cosair is like, "Boy, it’s getting mighty cold…why don’t you fire up the heat vision and make us a fire." Then Cyclops (Mr. Whiney himself) is all like, "DaaaaaaaAAAAAaaaaD! They are concussive blasts, not fire! There is no heat involved! You don’t know me at all! Wah Wah Wah. Just to show you how mad I am, I will go hook up with a diamond skinned walking STD!"

    Then Havok shows up and says, "Hey guys, remember when I used to have that super awesome costume that was all black with rings on the chest and I wasn’t stuck in space?"

  25. Having missed the Clone Saga the first time around, I’m kinda liking the "new improved" story that just came out. Todd Nauck helps.

  26. I’m loving that Marvel is starting to reprint some stuff from when i was a kid. I can’t wait to get the "Mephisto VS" hardcover when that comes out. And you have NO IDEA how many times I read "X-Men vs the Fantastic Four" when i was a kid. That hardcover is going to get some serious attention from me when it comes out. I may even get the "X-Men vs the Avengers" one, even though i remember not liking it that much, just for old times sake. 

  27. Anything with the name 2099 is horrible, people. Don’t touch it with a 100 foot pole. It’s horrendous. The worst idea Marvel ever had. 

  28. @Andrew  In fairness, Cyke IS dealing with his deadbeat dad who went out to get a pack of cigarettes and spent a decade as a space pirate, hooking up with cat ladies, before running into his kids again and boldly disguising his identity.  Corsair is a magnificent bastard.  He’s like the Roger Sterling of the Marvel Universe.

  29. *pokes his head in*

    Did someone say "Rom"?

  30. *sighs* Oh Rom….

    *holds a pictured frame of Rom battling a Dire Wraith*

  31. @PraxJarvin…buy 7 tpb’s pay for 4 in the village? When?where? Damn you man, reveal your secret info!!

    @Jim, It’s funny because I sent in an email with a general question to Ron, Connor and Josh regarding this very topic. I’ve never attended any cons but wanted to go to Big Apple Con Oct.17 strictly for deals. My question was ; What was the best deal (price/value wise) you ever got @ a con?

     

  32. By the way, Jimski, you weren’t taking a shot a Asterix, were you? I hope it was more of a comment of the alphabetical organizing (or lack thereof), or I will be very sad. My memory of this was jogged by a recent article on http://www.murmur.com. Library copies of Asterix and Tintin complimented my comic book consumption when I was in elementary school. And they were free! I love Asterix.

  33. @ohcaroline, right you are. Speaking of cat ladies, was the fact that Hepzibah was basically the younger lady his dad hooked up with ever addressed when she joined the team in the late 400s? Isn’t she basically like his stepmom? My memories of 90s and 80s X-Men comics are rock solid, but for some reason I can barely recall a basic plot line Deadly Genesis. 

    Also, one of the best things about that camping issue was that it was written by Scott Lobdell, the best X-Men writer since Claremont’s first run. 

  34. @Andrew  I can’t believe I know this, but — there’s a point after Hepzibah comes back to the team where someone comments that Scott is refusing to talk to her about what happened to his dad.  And finally at the end of an issue, they have a scene together, but the actual conversation is offpanel.

    This may have become the most off-topic I’ve ever dragged a thread.  But I can’t resist the siren call of Corsair, I guess.

  35. @jimski: The 2099 comics take me back.  I read all of them back then.  The best were Spidey, Doom and X-Men 2099.  Also keep in mind that Doom 2099 was written by Warren Ellis.

  36. I love all the random things being reprinted today. Because really, something you may not think you’ll ever care about you’ll find yourself years later really wanting to read. the 2005 me couldn’t care less about The Fourth World, regardless of who wrote and drew it. Today i freaking love those books.

  37. Speaking of reprints, apparently ‘Muhammed Ali vs Superman’ is gonna get another life in today’s comic generation.

    I would love to get ahold of that.