The curse of the modern comic book speculator

Back in the 1990’s the entire comic book industry in the US and UK imploded on a truly massive scale thanks mainly to the speculator boom of the time. In short, the industry in the late 80’s saw the start of the boom times with superstar artists and writers like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld coming to the fore selling comics by the millions.

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Things were fine for a while. Comics sold by the box-load as speculators would by double, triple even dozens of copies of a comic if they thought they’d get a return on it. Publishers brought out multiple variant covers, along with gimmicks like glow in the dark or die-cut covers.

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I was working in a comic shop in Bristol at the time and can testify seeing customers come to the till with multiple copies of a ‘hot’ comic, purely because Wizard or the likes had said it was going to be worth a fortune! Of course, this was all built on sand and by 1993 the cracks were showing. By 96 everything had collapsed around everyone with speculators being stung as those 50 copies of Secret Defenders #1 they had bought. Shops were stuck with boxes of unsold stock. The industry as a whole nearly collapsed with the weight of the idiocy of it all.

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Of course things got better and fast-forward to today and even though there’s many saying the industry is doomed (and Covid-19 will affect the industry like nothing else) it will survive because the medium will survive.  But the speculator never went away. In fact the speculator drives a large part of the industry today, especially with variant covers being a trick to drive up sales used by every publisher.

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The problem is they’re driving up prices, sometimes artificially, to the point where comics are seen mainly as an investment and not an art form. Look through comic channels on YouTube and it’s crawling with people seeing comics as a way to make money, which is basically just the 90s speculator market rebranded for the 21st century.  It’s whether that part of the industry burns out what will be an exceptionally fragile industry post Covid19 that’s the question.

And I don’t mind the usual day-to-day dealers making what they can, I’m one myself on a part-time basis, but the issue if overblowing the market which leads to the medium dumbing down (more big events! more relaunches!) even further than it is.  If Covid19 give us anything, it is a chance to reset things so that speculators don’t drive up prices to the point where the betterment of the medium comes waaay down the list to the latest ‘hot’ issue.  Separate the medium from the business and encourage people to read, even create comics rather than just see them as a way to get rich quick.

Sadly I doubt that will happen so we won’t find a good balance, but we’ll see how things turn out as it will be a very different industry after all this is over.

 

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