Comic Store In Your Future – Is There a Comic Back-Issue Boom?

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

Are back issues for comics booming? I would say they are on the rise. As someone that was around (as a comic collector) for the 1990s comic speculation bust, I would also say we are nowhere near the level of the 1990s boom or amount of speculation. Which is a good thing. I remember reading reports at the time about a large amount of people who were not reading comics, just buying them as an investment. There were red flags raised about what would happen if the speculators suddenly left. That happened. The market took one heck of a hit and took a long time to recover.

Now decades later, comic publishers are trying to court speculators with variant covers. At times comic stores order far more of a title than they can possibly sell just to get that one variant cover that they hope they can sell for far more than cover price to cover the cost of ordering so many. I’ve also done this. It leads to a glut of unsold comics. I still have tons of copies of Amazing Spider-man 1 from Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos from years ago. I ordered a lot to get all the possible variants. We made money off of the issue though still have too many leftover copies. Recently, I ordered a ton of the 25 cent DC’s Year of the Villain one shot to get the variants. I sold these and covered the cost of getting the comic. Though once again I have tons of unsold comics. Same with Image’s 25 cent Walking Dead issue, Dynamite’s Red Sonja 25 cent issue, Vampirella 25 cent issue and Sheena Queen of the Jungle 25 cent issue. We bought more than we could sell so we could get variants that would cover the cost of ordering them.

I believe this over ordering that many comic stores have done has helped make comics look cheap and not worth money. Thus, combating a comic boom and pushing back on speculation. Meaning if stores have a ton of unsold copies of a title it does not look that in demand or popular. Rarely does a speculator come in to a store and sees a stack of forty copies of the same title which is months old and buys the title. That Tom Sawyer quote “in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” That is human nature which feeds into the collector mentality. Make variant covers hard to get and people will want them is what the publishers are thinking. Then the flip side happens with too much of the regular cover in a store making people think no one wants the comic. That Amazing Spider-man 1 I brought up? I have given copies to the movie theater to give away to try to just get rid of the comic and even for a dollar in the dollar bin people are not interested.

When Walmart first came out with their, at the time exclusive, Giant-Sized comics from DC Comics the original first issues were in demand. I stopped at some of our Walmart’s in the area and bought some and sold them online and even wrote a previous article about it. A quick check online now shows some of the issues going for slightly above their original $4.99 cover price. The original first issue of the Walmart Giant-Sized Teen Titans was briefly going for over $20. Now I see unsold issues online not even going for $8.00. As I’ve stated in previous columns about back issues, hot back issues can quickly change in price. People were excited because they were hard to get if you did not live by a Walmart store and people got even more excited when they were going for more than double cover price online. Most of the people that were upset about the higher cover prices online do not even pick up the issues now for cover price at their local Walmart. Why? Because they are not going for more than double cover price anymore. That is human nature.

After I typed the last paragraph, Bleedingcool ran an article about how the Walmart DC Giant exclusives are no longer exclusives and Walmart now has the giant issues packed with other comics for ten copies for $10. A buck a piece. Superman: Up in the Sky was released in comic stores. It is a collection of the Walmart DC Superman Giant stories that comic stores are now able to sell. Which after being sold months ago in Walmart makes it a cheap reprint of something that is not even that old. Demand died hard for the original Walmart DC Giants and people complaining how they could not get them are still not getting them because now they are too easy to get.

What other factors are feeding into the increase in demand for back issues? Low print runs. Making some comics hard to get. Even big publishers are putting out comics with really low print runs. DC’s Naomi, we had the first issue on the self along with the second issue. Then the comics started being worth more than double its cover price and it caused a feeding frenzy. Of course, people want to buy something and flip it for more than they paid for it. Right now, as I type this the first issue of Naomi is still clearing $40. Who could blame someone for spending $3.99 and then flipping it for $40? Naomi fever even had people picking up issue 7 of Blackest Night in hopes it tied into Naomi.

Marvel puts out a lot of variants. Even “secret variants”. Last month Marvel had blood covered logos as their secret variant. Meaning stores could not order them they were just a part of the regular shipment and stores were not told about them beforehand. I had the first two that arrived sitting on the shelf with the rest of the new releases at the time and no one picked them up because no one knew about them. Weeks later people wanted the variants. Recent issues of Venom, Deadpool, Symbiote Spider-man and more have had the secret variants.

I started learning more about current back issue prices after I bought a large collection. I needed to. I learned I was stuck in my 1990s mentality. I thought comics from then to now for the most part would not be worth much. The 90s are now decades ago. Venom was popular in the early 90s and has become popular again. Ghost Rider who was also popular decades ago might even be making a comeback. I learned I sold some back-issue comics for $3.99 that I should not have. Meaning I foolishly sold comics without checking their current market value. That is on me. The comic back issue market is a tricky market, the Internet has made it so a comic may be red hot today and ice-cold tomorrow. Or the opposite, a comic no one wants that sits in the dollar bin suddenly becomes worth money and is hard to get. When I first opened eight years ago, we had a near mint copy of New Mutants 98 (Deadpool’s first appearance) for twenty some dollars. Now the issue would go for hundreds of dollars.

Many new comic titles come out each year. It is a challenge keeping up on what is hot and what is not. Lady Killer 1 from Dark Horse comics came out in 2015. I was worried the copies I ordered at the time would not sell. Currently the first issue clears for over $40. I had no idea.

Decades ago, the comic price guide Wizards was a big guiding force for back issues prices. Their top ten hottest back issues section for years set up the comics that many people went hunting for. Wizards pushed Valiant back in the day and really helped their sales. Wizard itself would even get into the speculation market by having cards that could only be attained by buying their magazine. Now there are multiple web sites reporting on what is hot or what they think will be hot.

Back issue pricing is tough. Mark something for $50 and it might be back to cover price months later. Same with a new comic, it might be worth a lot more than its original price.

Here in store there has been a rise in back issue sales. Iron Man comics from his first run are more popular than Iron Man’s current series Tony Stark, Iron Man. We are running low on issues from the first run of Amazing Spider. Venom is currently hot. Both current and back issues.

I believe part of the reason back issues are seeing an increase in interest is due to first runs are easier to collect. As I have stated before the renumbering makes current collecting confusing. The multiple covers for new issues confuse people. Old first runs mostly had one cover and were easier to follow. If someone wants Amazing Spider-man 300 I know it is the first appearance of Venom and there is only one original Amazing Spider-man 300 1st printing cover. If someone wants Amazing Spider-man 1 then I get to ask from which run? Which usually blows new customers minds. There are many first issues of Avengers, Captain America, Spider-man, Thor, X Men and so on. Ironically saying first issues are a jumping on point for new readers then having so many first issues defeats the purpose over the long run.

Back issues are gaining in popularity. Maybe not a big boom yet though they are back. I enjoy it due to being a collector for decades and owning the store for over eight years. It gives me a chance to talk about older comics. I miss going to B Pop comics in Missouri once a year when I went to visit family there and dropping around a $100 on a back issue for my personal collection. Sadly, I have not added to my own personal collection for quite a while. My main focus is on the store. Though going through old comics does bring back the memories.

Will there be a next generation of comic collectors? We have a few though with the younger generation often more into “experiences” and online aps than actual ownership of physical things it will be interesting to see what happens. With the massive debt a lot of the younger generation has, buying things to actually collect makes it a tougher challenge. I am still amazed when younger people tell me they wish they had been taught better basic personal financing. As a business owner I have to make sure there is cash flow to keep the store open. Even before I opened the store balancing my income with expenses was not an issue. Though somehow this is becoming more and more challenging for many in the younger generation. These are some of the things I believe is holding back a full comic back issue boom.

For me when I started as a comic collector I started off with inexpensive comics because I was young. I was entertained by comics and that is why I was buying them. Then Marvel had various anniversary issues in 1989. I was in high school and mowing yards for money. $10 a yard. I did not have the money for the price increases on all the anniversary issues coming out that year and had to skip over comics I had been collecting for a while. Captain America 350 went up to $1.75 when normally it was just 75 cents. I had to skip that issue. Of course, it was a very important issue and I missed out on a lot and ended up dropping Captain America after picking up issue 351. I would end up dropping many Marvel titles, though not all for just money reasons. Avengers 300 released in 1989 was also $1.75. I did pick up the issue and felt it was not worth the higher price. Avengers with Orphan Maker as a villain and the Forgotten One in the Avengers pushed me out of the Avengers at the time. The Avengers Undersiege storyline, where the Masters of Evil took control of Avengers Mansion from just a few years before dropping the title is still my favorite Avengers storyline. Maybe had I picked up Captain America 350 instead I would have kept collecting both titles. Silver Surfer issue 50 that came out in 1991 sold out everywhere and I never even saw a physical copy of it that year would cause me to drop Silver Surfer. Years would go by; I would get an actual full-time job and start buying more comics. I would start selling comics that I had bought. The original Gen 13 limited series from 1994 did not hold my interest. I bought them for cover price and ended up making over $50 selling them at the time. The extra money went to buying more comics along with providing positive cash flow. It was great, buying comics I enjoyed and selling some to buy more and have more money on hand. This would also go on into action figure collecting. Oh, Star Wars figures after a long hiatus how fun it was hunting figures down along with G.I. Joe 25th anniversary figures and various comic book-based action figures. Transformers classic action figures are currently back, where is the 80s G.I. Joe updates? Star Wars repackages the same figures so often I lost interest.

The collecting was fun and actual exercise for me. Walking through a mall searching for the newest G.I. Joe action figure release. Trading with others. Going to actual comic conventions that had actual comic vendors (gasp!). Not just a few comic vendors, it was nothing but comics. No wresting, no “famous” person that had nothing to do with comics, nothing but comics. I enjoyed the conventions so much I would even end up getting a sales license and set a table up to sell at conventions. It was fun to meet people and sell comics. This is all before the Internet really took off. I actually miss hunting down a comic that took years to finally get. I waited many years to get the Justice League 3 variant cover with Batman and Shazam on the cover from 1987. “Test logo” cover. What the heck is a test logo? I would find the comic at times though did not want to pay over $100 for it. I was never mad at the person or store that owned it, I just could not part with $100 for a comic back then. I ended up buying it years later for a much lower price. Often as a store owner I get to deal with people who feel entitled about a comic price and demand a discount. Two lines usually come out of their months. I can get it cheaper elsewhere. Which then I usually say I just had a customer spend $100 dollars here and they look back with a puzzled look. Or this comic is not worth that much. Which I will say it is to someone else. A comic book could be worth more or less. It all depends how much a person is willing to spend. Many people want to buy something worth money for less than they think it is worth so they can flip it for a quick buck. If I had the original Action Comics 1 in store it may be worth a lot though I will not be able to sell it through the store. I do not have millionaires for costumers. I would have people hoping I would be stupid enough to sell it to them dirt cheap though.

As I have gotten older, I do keep thinking I would like to get more comics that I read from when I was younger, I just have not had the time. I bring up my past collecting because that is my thought process on collecting. As with most people our past is the prism to which we view things.

Will back issues keep gaining in popularity? Will there be a full out boom? Marvel and DC puzzle me by their until recently ignoring their past for the most part. I understand they make no money on back issues though by ignoring their past they hurt their trade paperback sales. Marvel trades here are a mess. No one read those freebies in the past about what order to read their trades in. DC trades? New 52 trades are for the most part dead weight now. Batman New 52 vol 1 and 2 sell. People still want to check out the Court of the Owls. Aquaman new 52 trades of the first few vols people seek out because they hear they are good and actually have material that the movie used. If the publishers would hype their past storylines more it would help their trade paperback sales.

Will back issues keep gaining in popularity? Will there be a full out boom? Time will tell.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.