Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Gordon Gecko Story

In the comic book business, there was a big boom around 1990 and a subsequent crash. And we all blamed the speculators and our pandering to this market that was all about greed.

What happened was, (to make a long story short), speculators crashed the trading card market and then flooded our market in hopes of scoring the next big craze.

See, they scan the lists of titles, then decide which one has the most potential to become a collector's market and then buy 5 cases of one issue. There were two direct results: sales numbers were artificially inflated; and publishers forgot about their core audience and paid attention to the speculators.

I remember talking to a bunch of creators who worked for DC one summer and everyone was complaining about the specialty covers and who did the publishers think they were fooling, with those panders to the speculative market.

Imagine my surprise the following year when some of those creators doing the loudest complaining ran up to me with sparkling joy as they waved their latest issue in my face. "Look at what DC did for the book! They gave it 5 different covers!" or "They put special ink on it to make it glow!" or "They have a special wraparound cover!" Outwardly I took joy with them. But inwardly....

Inwardly, I was asking how it happened. How some of the staunchest advocates against pandering to this artificial market would end up pandering.

First off, I DID understand that we were all geeks. That a specialty cover is just pure glee to the geek in us. That part I did understand. What I didn't understand was why when they could see the larger picture the previous year, why they just didn't take a stand and said no thank you but thank you for thinking of this book.

I guess part of it is being part of the "in" crowd. You were awarded a cool cover if your book was considered up and coming by the marketing folks.

But I know that most of the joy that sprang from getting this type of treatment was that your book was now given the chance to sell over 500,000 copies. Royalties kicked in well below that number.

I know what flashed through some of these people's minds were, wow, there's my kid's college right there. Or, finally I can pick up that new lightbox I've been needing.

I don't fault them, nor do I fault the publishers who saw the inflated numbers and could actually give out bonuses to their employees for the first time. I do fault the speculators tho.

They saw easy money or so they thought. Buy a few hundred issues here and there and when they start going for $50 an issue, they could rake it in. In other words, they thought collectors were stupid.

The first issue of Daredevil that Frank Miller wrote. That's worth $80 the last time I looked. Why? Because NO ONE WAS READING DAREDEVIL at the time of publishing. I was, but I was one of the few. I think Daredevil was selling around 15,000 to 20,000 at the time as opposed to X-Men whoich were selling around 75,000 back in those days, maybe a tad less.

I happened to get a copy cause I was totally into Gene Colan's artwork and didn't even notice that the writers had changed. Then a few issues later, Gene left, and the writer started drawing it and all I could think of at the time (I was around 15, gimme a break) cheap Gene Colan ripoff.

And then something magical happened. Frank started delving into Daredevil's past... and lo and behold, Elektra was born and so was a star - Frank Miller. When people started looking around for Frank's first foray into the Daredevil mythos, they realized, very few people had it. And those of us who did, either read the fuck out of them, or folded them into our backpockets, or used them as coasters.

And thus, the value of a barely-read, mint issue of Frank Miller's first writing on Daredevil became a collector's item and worth 100x what the cover price was.

So how does buying 500 copies of an issue that sold over half a million, be a collector's item? Answer, it doesn't. But the conventional wisdom is, it will.

Yet another example of truth v. perception. *sighs*

Filed under Reveries & Paranoias and Facets & Galleries of Art.


At 10:01 AM, Blogger Elayne said...

My husband Robin and I have had a running disagreement about multiple covers and how they fed into the speculeech mentality of the early '90s. His contention, as far as I've interpreted it, is that nobody was forced to buy "one of each" and the publishers shouldn't be blamed for the collector mentality - and besides, multiple covers sometimes means more work for artists, so of course that affects his livelihood. He reminds me that when multiple versions of Hulk covers were offered with different price points, everyone bought the pricier one and very few bought the regular cover, and I think that resulted in more money for the artists. So it's hard to disagree with that, but I still don't think a speculeech mentality is a good thing.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger resigned idealist said...

What I really took issue with, isn't that the publishers took advantage of the speculative mentality, but DID SO AT THE EXPENSE of the collectors/readers. For example, the biggest selling book during that time? The Death of Superman. Sure, it sold 1.5 million copies. But gimme a break, 48 pages of pinup art? Where was the story? The Superman readers felt cheated (ESPECIALLY when all the readers knew it was a matter of time before Superman came back. We didn't live through Red Kryptonite for nothing). Dan Jurgens was the one who won out. Drawing all splash pages instead of panels?

(now wonders if Mike Carlin is frowning at her)

I agree with your husband. If they're fool enough, let 'em. But don't lose sight of what got you there in the first place. As a result, there were many readers (as opposed to speculators or collectors) who left, disgusted and they're still not back.

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