Comics Market Mirrors 1990s Crash

Readers and collectors just have to refuse to spend hard-earned money on some of the junk that's thrown our way whether it's in the primary or the secondary market. As a reader-collector, I'm very discriminating in what I buy and collect because at $4 a pop - more for some books - reading comics is becoming a very expensive hobby; even more so for the serious collector seeking to purchase the classics. If we don't fall for the junk we can help keep some of the nonsense out of the market and ensure we get the most for our money

Some elements of today’s comics market very much mirror conditions that led to the 1990s crash.

A rush to rake in profits by publishers, distributors, dealers – and those much-maligned “speculators” – in the 90s left Marvel comics in bankruptcy, DC with heavy losses and wiped out most independent publishers and dealers leaving a depressed market that continues to struggle to this day.

Of course there are differences so there’s some hope there won’t be a repeat of the crash.

However those elements that do exist should be noted and resisted by the buyer because they will only go away only  if we refuse to go along with the junk that’s being pushed in the market.

One of those is numerous “manufactured collectibles” that are flooding the shelves now just like they did back then; most recently with DC’s Villains Month “No.1s”

Also included is a glut of variant covers; some hawked on eBay at ridiculous prices. I can’t count the number of these I see go unsold into eBay’s Twilight Zone, but it makes me very happy when they do.

A glut of “No. 1s” seems to be a standard in today’s market from DC and Marvel’s sales war, but the Independents are into it as well.

Another is switching “creative teams” with a focus on popular writers and artists to cash in. A good idea as long as it’s for reasons of good art and writing.

One of my pet peeves is the way most books are produced for the sole purpose of fitting into trade paperbacks. That’s why I’ve stopped buying some books that include a 10-page story I want to read and a four-or-five page house ad for something else in the back. Dynamite comics is really bad about that and DC and Marvel aren’t helping the situation.
Another is the proliferation of titles.

How many Batman, X-Men, Vampirella, Spiderman and Avengers books do we need?

Luckily, polybags aren’t too much of a problem- yet.

Variant Covers

All of these dark clouds have a silver lining to be sure and I’m sure there are those that like that sort of thing, but they have also been cited as leading causes of the 1990s crash and are much too prevalent today.

Of course, the sale of rights to Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and other intellectual property to Disney, Warner Brothers and other television and movie media have put Marvel and DC on better financial footing, which will work to keep comics coming off the press.

But I’m concerned about quality and price. Remembers DC’s “Holding the line at $2.99” ?

I guess the latest price hikes are part of the evil released by Pandora’s when she opened the box kicking off the “New 52.”

But there is hope.

One factor that led to the crash that I don’t see to a great extent today is poor writing and art that characterized much of the 1990s fare. Although there are certainly examples of bad art and writing, most of what I see now is pretty good to excellent.

Another key element of the 1990s crash missing is Marvel’s move to corner the market by creating their own distribution system, Heroes World. Also at the time, Capital and Diamond were accused of being partially to blame by allowing anyone with only a few hundred dollars to invest to become a “dealer.” Today, Diamond is the only game in town – for better or worse according to some of the dealers I know – with the exception of the growing digital market which seems to be boosting the publishing market a bit.

Luckily Wizard “the Speculator” magazine is gone – good riddance – and we have the conservative Overstreet Price Guide to help keep the market from going too insane.

Wizard_1

The positive and negative influences of CGC and PGX is now with us and the artificial bubble created by high-end speculation is a spectre that needs to be watched and probably tamed.

Overall, the market for good material is looking better than it has in several years and that’s good, but some of the 1990s throw-backs are very much alive.

Hopefully they won’t be harbingers of bad things to come.

Readers and collectors just have to refuse to spend hard-earned money on some of the junk that’s thrown our way whether it’s in the primary or the secondary market. As a reader-collector, I’m very discriminating in what I buy and collect because at $4 a pop – more for some books – reading comics is becoming a very expensive hobby; even more so for the serious collector seeking to purchase the classics.

If we don’t fall for the junk we can help keep some of the nonsense out of the market and ensure we get the most for our money.

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Tom Berry
I’m a career journalist with the Mayfield Messenger newspaper in Mayfield, Ky. I’ve read and collected comics since I was nine years old. I have a collection of about 1,400 books ranging from the Golden Age to some of the latest on the shelves, but primarily Silver Age because that’s the period in which I was first exposed to comics following “The Green Hornet” TV show.
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9 Comments

  1. People never learn from history. 3D covers, lineups of speculators out the door, overpriced resale market. It’s all craziness and does nothing but hurt the industry. But all people see is the short term profit, not the long term hazards.

  2. It does help. At least the companies are a little more cautious. Most likely those lower print runs are here to stay. With all the bagging and boarding going on and the kind of paper and ink used today, new comics – with few exceptions – will likely remain “worthless” for the foreseeable future. Lower print runs may help bring more demand in the future if a title becomes popular, like Walking Dead…at least short term. More needs to be done by comic companies, collectors, dealers and readers to make reading comics more popular; particularly among young people. As a reporter, I try to get comics in the news as much as possible and push their importance in getting young people to read. Hope it works.

  3. Totally agree on the need to court younger readers. Not sure I’m there on the “worthless”-ness, though. I’m not seeing levels of backstock like I did in the 90’s. I envision a sort of Silver Age nostalgia spike (like we saw in the 80’s) for the books coming out today. Of course there’s still a glut of X-titles and Avengers titles and so many crossovers and retcons that it’s hard to keep track, but given those low print runs and some excellent writing (e.g., Daredevil, Hawkeye and Deadpool), I do not fear a return of the crash.

  4. I agree. There are not as many factors in the market today to spark an implosion like the 90s, but there’s a lot of worthless stuff hitting the markets to make a fast buck for the publishers and nobody else. I do like the improved “realism” in comics today as far as the art and writing; although I don’t buy a lot of new comics. I think maybe the crash of the 90s taught so many buyers – and the public- a lesson that a 90s-style spike-and-crash won’t happen.

  5. Let’s hope polybags and “1st All-New Collector’s Item Issues” remain on the publishing house floor!

  6. When I was younger I was often at a comic book shop but that was the late 80s early 90s and betwwen the special covers collectors issues the lame killing hero stories crossovers and image comics I moved away from american comics. To this day I read Manga and I am very happy with it. Now I read somewhere that they are killing Wolverine. I guess the more things change the more they stay the same. Comic should be for people who enjoy READING them.

  7. Who didn’t see this coming? The companies – specifically DC… *SMH*

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