The 1990s now seem like a Golden Age The Cold War was over and the sheer insanity of the post 911 world was far, far away. For comics the decade started with an explosion as Marvel had found themselves a handful of creators including Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Erik Larsen who were able to draw in hundreds of thousands of sales while expanding the market. By the time these creators create Image Comics people normally making money off the stock market were buying hundreds of copies of Spawn #1 in the hope that one day they’ll make millions off them.
Marvel and DC tried to catch up, and other new companies jumped onto the bandwagon throwing money around like water to cash in because this wasn’t going to end right? Like any bubble though, it was due to burst and when it did lots of people from publishers to retailers to speculators to ordinary fans. When the shit hit, it didn’t spare anyone. By 1995 the party was well and truely over but was there one thing that helped drive this insanity?
Sort of. Wizard Magazine certainly has some blood on its hands.
Wizard was a mix of articles, interviews and art but really it was about the price guide it published each issues of ‘hot’ comics. From 1991 to 2011 it pushed out some, well, awful content, as well as pushing out all the ‘hot’ comics you could swallow. In reality Wizard was a sewer which helped bloat the industry to the point where certain books were selling for vastly over-inflated prices purely off the back of a Wizard mention.
Take one book, Rai #3. Today it’s a 15 buck book but realistically you’ll be lucky to get more than a few quid for it. Back in 1993 it was 50 quid plus partly because of low distribution, but mainly because Wizard told people it was a ‘hot’ book.
In fact Valiant Comics were overall heavily pushed, but so was Image to the extent where Wizard and Image were ridicuously close in the early years and people literally were buying dozens of copies of comics hoping they’d be worth money but are now barely worth 50p.
Wizard gamed the market which is bad enough, but people working for Wizard also advertised their comic shops in the magazine, so they’d push issues in articles with a handy ad on the facing page selling these comics for an ‘exclusive’ price. Effectively it was a con and they got away with it even after the bubble burst in the mid 90s. The damage however lasts until today, but thousands of shops went burst not including companies and even though DC made it through thanks partly to having what seems now to be an amazingly diverse series of books; Marvel were fucked. They’d went from bathing in cash in 1990 to the verge of bankruptcy in less than a decade. Everything that could be sold was trying to be sold (one of the reasons Marvel/Disney have an issue with film right lies in this time), and job losses were rife in the company. They managed to just turn things round starting in 1999 but the revious half decade was by now scattered with casualties as speculators deserted as fast as they came.
I saw dealers vanish between conventions/marts at the time. Stories of people making huge punts on runs of Valiant and Image meant when the shit hit, that they’d maybe at best get a third of their investement back. People coming to cons selling what they though was a valuble collection ended up being burned and there were piles and piles of unsold comics in warehouses everywhere.
The reason this comes to mind is because of the excellent YouTube channel Cartoonist Kayfabe (who are Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg) talking about Wizard, and this video especially where they cover their dubious business practises.
I’d recommend watching those Kayfbabe videos about WIzard as they are an amazing document of a time in comics where a new comic could literally be worth four or five times the cover price, maybe more, within days of release. I mean, we’ve learned our lesson now and we’d never do that again.