Like all other sectors, the comic book industry has experienced its share of difficult times. For starters, the comics industry crashed in the 1990s. Sales fell, the market crashed, and individuals lost their jobs.
Fortunately, the comic book industry survived the 1990s and is now flourishing with new characters, stories, and reading options. But what transpired to cause such extraordinary fallout? How does a multimillion-dollar sector lose that much momentum in such a short time? It turns out that a lot of diverse aspects contribute to the solution.
Let’s look at some times the comic industry was close to implosion and how it avoided it.
Looking at the 80s…
The 1980s were arguably the most successful and popular decade for comics ever. The level of storytelling was at an all-time high, with DC Comics publishing classics like Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and The Dark Knight by Frank Miller. Marvel, its rival, was developing its own long-lasting stories with significant crossover occasions like Secret Wars.
This is also attributable to the fact that creators finally received the kind of payment they merit, which kept talented individuals employed and producing excellent work.
Comic books were also rising to the top of the collector’s market simultaneously. Comics had been around long enough by this point to have achieved some genuinely significant firsts, and those firsts had accrued sufficient value.
For instance, by 1993, Detective Comics #27, the comic in which Batman made his debut, had sold for $55,000 due to the character’s iconic status. Considering that Superman was still in charge of DC at the time, Action Comics #1 eventually sold for $82,500. For the time, these were astronomically large sums of money. The New York Times even published an article about the sale, titled “Holy Record Breaker,” after it attracted their attention.
The problem with collectors
Publishers discovered in the 1990s that collectors were a significant source of income. There were others actively looking for comics to keep for a later time; some of them even bought particular issues in quantity.
Publishers used several, at best dubious, strategies to maximize the value of these collectibles. For starters, variant covers have become the norm for any comic event of tangential significance. Publishers did this by repackaging the same narrative five or six times with new covers. Sometimes the bodies might be combined to make a single, enormous panoramic image. The plan was to persuade customers to buy the exact comic several times to complete the collection.
Polybags were used similarly. For “increasing their value,” comics were packaged in colored bags. The aim is, in theory, to preserve the comic sealed, so it stays in mint condition because the quality of the comic is crucial to maintaining the value of the artwork. However, since there was no internet back then, comics were meant to be read.
As a result, if someone wanted to read the comic they had purchased, they would need to buy two copies: one for reading and one to retain. To encourage collectors to buy every version available, comic books were occasionally produced in various polybag variants. It was clear that this situation was already beginning to escalate.
The most notorious of all the strategies was when publishers fabricated “shake-up” narratives. Many people were forced to go out and buy these stories because they were so significant and paradigm-shifting. The Death of Superman is undoubtedly the most well-known of these.
Almost everywhere championed this subject, getting it covered by mainstream media in the US and beyond. Knowing there would be a significant demand, DC printed an enormous quantity of comics, variant covers, and multiple poly bags, combining their strategies into one considerable push. Everyone hurried to acquire a copy as soon as they realized it had worked; many of them, known as speculators, bought as many as they could.
MCU bubble with the marvel movies
It’s nearly difficult to think of comics nowadays without thinking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But there was a time, not all that long ago, when it appeared like a Marvel film might never be made. Marvel Comics faced severe financial difficulties in the middle of the 1990s.
Rare comics sold for hundreds of dollars to nostalgic purchasers, and boomers were learning that their parents had mainly thrown away their comic book collections. As a result, old and young comic book enthusiasts were purchasing comics in quantities not seen since the true Golden Age of comic books.
Ron Perelman began diversifying in 1989 after purchasing Marvel Entertainment Group. In 1991, he made the company’s stock publicly traded and invested over $700 million in acquiring stock in other businesses. Seven well-known creators left Marvel to found Image Comics in 1991, signaling the beginning of difficulties for the company.
Fans were unable and unwilling to continue spending so much on comics, presumably detecting that If everyone were buying multiple copies, there would not be a market for rare titles like there had been in the 1980s. As a result, the bubble that had supported comics in the 1980s was about to burst.
However, Marvel continued to expand, and in 1994 they acquired Heroes World Distribution to serve as their only distributor. Unfortunately, this knock-on effect caused many of the lesser distributors to go out of business, pitting Heroes World against Diamond, who distributed DC Comics, in a two-way struggle. Then in 1996, two significant events occurred: the start of Heroes Reborn, a year-long crossover that Marvel outsourced to Image, run by veteran Marvel writers Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, and the bankruptcy filing of Marvel Entertainment Group in December.
Marvel was consequently in financial trouble, but Perelman had a solution: he would create Marvel Studios, bring their favorite characters to the big screen, and restore their financial stability. He intended to accomplish this by purchasing the remaining Toy Biz shares, combining the businesses, and regaining financial success. However, the board didn’t concur. As a result, Perelman declared bankruptcy, which led to a protracted legal dispute.
1998 saw the triumph of Toy Biz. Ike Perlmutter was abruptly put in command of Marvel Entertainment Group, now known as Marvel Enterprises after Perelman resigned. By then, the Marvel comics-based films Men in Black and Blade had been produced. In addition, a movie based on the X-Men would be released in 2000 by 20th Century Fox, and two years later, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man would be breaking box office records.
The coming of Covid -19
The advent of COVID-19 immediately changed the mode of operation for most businesses. They have to hang out in shops to discover new stuff, but rather a place to get in and out quickly to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. During the pandemic’s peak, stores closed due to
stay-at-home orders, and new product shipments stopped for several months due to several Distributors pausing operations. Some shops even permanently closed their doors after struggling to stay open.
But soon after the world opened, the comic industry started to restart operations. In May and June of that same year, when comic stores were allowed to open back up, comics started shipping again, and customers were slowly beginning to come back to the shop.
Unfortunately, several comic conventions were banned due to restrictions on several gatherings. In turn, comic lovers used this opportunity to organize their collections, which immediately caused sales of funny supply items to soar. New books were selling better than anticipated, graphic novel sales rocketed, and back issues skyrocketed in price and disappeared quickly.
The summer and early fall months saw simply incredible deals.
Across the nation, people noticed the pattern. In a statement to the press, Diamond Comics Distributors stated that the company had “seen a lot of stabilization in ordering patterns and, in many cases, these baseline numbers have exceeded our expectations” in the year’s final fiscal quarter. As a result, sales of new titles increased, and sales of previously published works that were still readily available from the publisher did so in the year’s second half.
Also, fans who were longing for new stories found solace in comics. Many movies that were in the works before the coming of the unprecedented covid 19 had to be paused. 2020 marked the first year without a Marvel Studios release in more than a decade. Production for Long-awaited movies such as Wonder Woman 1984 was postponed for months due to unfinished production. Comics came in to fill this void. The production of new comics didn’t cease. A lot more were churned out during the period. And accessing them was still as it were pre covid.
Additionally, in the comics industry, crowdfunding grew in significance in 2020. Forbidden Planet used funds from a campaign to raise $75,000, which helped the business survive as it adjusted to the new COVID-19 normal. Industry leaders like Jim Lee of DC Comics and writer-artist Rob Liefeld auctioned off artwork to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep the stores running.
You must understand that comic book sellers have hectic schedules just like you, but many of them will offer free counsel if you ask. Remember to respect their time and that free appraisal are provided for your benefit. If you disagree with a comic book dealer’s assessment, don’t claim that they gave you misleading information.
You must realize that these experts give you free advice without any obligations and have nothing to gain by deceiving you.
In the end, your comic books or collectibles are yours, and you are free to sell them for whatever price you choose if you have a set price in mind for your collection. You can only get unbiased advice from an appraiser based on the current comic book market.