The Comic Bubble and the Bust.
December 9, 2004 6:13 PM   Subscribe

The Comic Bubble and the Crash: Did you buy comic books in the 90's? Did you start speculating? Did you buy issues just because they were a #1? Even though there were 12 million of them out there? Did you buy all the multiple covers? Did you buy the the holofoil covers? Chromium? Did you start buying collectable card games? Like many nerdy teenagers of this time, I got sucked into a lot of this stuff. Read how the scam worked. (Read all the posts in the thread by the poster named "noun").
posted by McBain (53 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you buy comic books in the 90's? Did you start speculating? Did you buy issues just because they were a #1? Even though there were 12 million of them out there? Did you buy all the multiple covers?

Shut up. Just shut up.

To be honest, I don't know how it happened. I was in middle school/high school and had just started reading/collecting for the first time in a number of years when all that hit, and then the quality went all to hell. But there was still this prospect that maybe ... yeah, if they're all polybagged with collectible cards featuring different characters, what if one of those characters is the one whose popularity skyrockets and wouldn't it be dumb if I coulda bought it then and ...

Anyway: Just shut up.

I'm looking forward to reading this.
posted by blueshammer at 6:28 PM on December 9, 2004

My aunt and uncle lost their lifes' savings opening a comic/card shop in Phoenix in the late 80s/early 90s. This is all very familiar (yet interesting) stuff.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:39 PM on December 9, 2004

magic is a pretty fun game, and you don't need to spend exorbitant sums just to play with your friends
posted by clockzero at 6:44 PM on December 9, 2004

[ this is good nostalgia. ]
posted by elphTeq at 6:55 PM on December 9, 2004

Good find McBain. I worked for two different comic books stores in SoCal at that time and remember when everything went totally nuts. There was a moment where customers went from being guys, mostly, who came in to buy a copy of their weekly fix, to hordes of people buying multiple issues of every book and shitloads of bags and boards. Now those two stores are long gone and I can't think of any near me that survived the crash.
posted by eyeballkid at 6:56 PM on December 9, 2004

My favorite line from this guy's story was:

"After creating countless original titles, characters and universes, Jack Kirby's final creation before his death turned out to be a cheap knockoff of his own Eternals and New Gods comics. They were poorly received and quickly forgotten (though they were polybagged with trading cards)."
posted by McBain at 7:06 PM on December 9, 2004

This was a really really interesting read, but I would suggest that anybody who doesn't want to spend the next hour reading about comics should avoid it. I don't normally get sucked into stuff like this...

good link.
posted by cmyr at 7:19 PM on December 9, 2004

There was an eBay auction a few months back where someone was auctioning off something like every single Marvel comic issue ever made. It was just incredible. Multiple Spider Man #1's, Marvel Fantasy #15's, X-Men #1's, Fantastic Four #1's... it was just astounding.

If you go to eBay right now, you'll find some people getting rid of their entire comic book store stock -- hundreds of thousands of comics. They say they haven't been picked through, but I highly, highly doubt it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 PM on December 9, 2004

One of the asides in the discussion included a slam at Rob Liefeld for ripping off other comic artists. I always hated Liefeld's art and the hype surrounding it, so I had to go track this down.

The original page seems to be down, but the Internet Archive comes to the rescue:
Rob Liefeld Comparisons

That led me to the seemingly also defunct Swipe Of The Week site.
posted by kreinsch at 7:39 PM on December 9, 2004

great stuff. timesucker? yeah, halfway through, when i should be marking final exams. my students will pay for this...
posted by louigi at 7:42 PM on December 9, 2004

Ah, comics. I'd been a reader for a long time, and became a "collector" of sorts in the early-to-mid '90s. Fortunately, through friends in the industry, I ended up with a pretty decent collection of original art, which seems to actually retain some value over time. I still have an unopened polybagged Death of Superman, though. I bet it's worth three whole dollars now.
posted by bedhead at 7:44 PM on December 9, 2004

thank goodness for ebay, and the fact that people are -still- obsessed with these 90's collectibles. i spent who knows how much allowance money on this crap, but recently i unloaded it on ebay and made about $500. not bad.
posted by GleepGlop at 7:48 PM on December 9, 2004

I had just bailed on collecting comics right before all this madness struck -- but I do confess to owning some foil covered 2099 Spiderman comics. *heh*

Mark Silvestri rules!

kreinsch, those "swipe" links are awesome, some of that is terribly blatant, you wonder how they got away with it?

Also, reminds me of Pussey.
posted by undule at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2004

I still love comics and go to the San Diego Comic-Con every year, too. But I don't invest in them anymore. I just buy stuff I like to read and harass my comic artist friends until they give me free stuff. It's much easier on the wallet.
posted by bedhead at 8:02 PM on December 9, 2004

Fascinating stuff, McBain--thanks.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:03 PM on December 9, 2004

Really nice post McBain, thank you. I quit buying comics in the late '80s because I thought they were really starting to suck. I then sat on a bunch of stuff for ten years that was considered "junk" when I bought it for 50 cents. Things like DC War and Horror comics and 80 page giants. Selling those things late helped pay expenses during a couple years of grad school. I'm glad I got out when I did. Had to save a few things by some of my favorite artists.
posted by marxchivist at 8:13 PM on December 9, 2004

I got into comics around this time--I was in sixth grade.

I discovered "Nexus" at an antique mall. For some reason, this old lady who mostly sold spoons and thimbles in a glass case also had a box of comics.

In seventh grade, I finally acquired some friends, and they were all into the X-Men. Up to then, I was only reading comics from First, Comico, and so on. I got into the X-Men, too, mainly "Excalibur" (partially for the sexy girls, partially for the--to a thirteen-year-old--"funny" stories).

I did a little of the crazy buying; I still have two of the alternate-covered versions of (BLECCHH!) MacFarlane's "Spider Man" that I bought just because it seemed like a big deal at the time. They're in a box on top of one of my bookcases. I finally got around to trying to read them a couple of months ago. They're pretty much unreadable, and the art is terrible.

Nexus still rules, though. Thanks for the post.
posted by interrobang at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2004

Thanks McBain, and kreinsch! Incredibly cool background story, and I've always heard that Liefeld was a hack, but now I have proof.
posted by graventy at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2004

Ah, the mid-90's, when I collected every X-Men spinoff title -- right up till the moment Magneto came back. Then it was Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch, which dragged itself to a hanging ending too long after Jim Starlin left writing for it. Then it was Image's The Maxx, but Sam Keith apparently got lazy. After that, I was considering Usagi Yojimbo, Bone, and a couple of anthro-furry titles, but I was out of money.
posted by brownpau at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2004

Oh, and since we're all loving on the Liefeld, you'll want to know how to draw just like Rob.
posted by brownpau at 8:34 PM on December 9, 2004

I remember back in the day when Costco used to be called Price Club, I would go there and buy comics in bulk when they had them. They would sell a whole mystery box of them so you wouldn't know what you were getting. I seem to recall some pretty weird shit in the mix.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 8:42 PM on December 9, 2004

What a great link.

Substitute e-commerce companies (or tulips, or gold, or just about any other commodity) for comic books and this could be a parable about the late 90s internet stock bubble. Required reading for anyone who wants to get into any sort of speculative venture....
posted by googly at 9:07 PM on December 9, 2004

Oh, and since we're all loving on the Liefeld, you'll want to know how to draw just like Rob.

You know, a while back I was looking at some of his New Mutants stuff and the artwork was pretty good, then it sorta devolved with Image into something some thirteen year old kid would draw.

Anyway, on the quatertothree thread they bring up manga, and some people think the "manga implosion is imminent". Which I think is not that likely we'll see an 'implosion' considering how many years the anime DVD market (and VHS before it) has been around. And manga isn't a speculation market, no one cares what printing a manga volume is or wether there's a smudge on the cover. It's strange how some comic readers seem to hate manga and want it to go away.
posted by bobo123 at 9:17 PM on December 9, 2004

kreinsch! that liefield link is in-SANE! Someone should repost that page, honestly.

posted by fake at 9:22 PM on December 9, 2004

I managed a comic book and game store for seven years. I made record profits for the store during the speculation boom and made a pretty penny on the side.

(Aside: I neither buy comics nor games anymore.)

This "noun" guy might as well be me. I did all of the stuff he did. And more. And worse. I sold hundreds of boxes of Legends (the Magic card set) via Usenet for as much as $1200 US a box. I sold hundreds of copies of Harbinger #1 (Valiant Comics) for more than a hundred bucks a pop -- and you can pick them up for near cover price these days.

I was a bastard. I knew and understood the fanboy mentality perfectly, and to this day I feel no guilt about it.
posted by solid-one-love at 9:35 PM on December 9, 2004

I knew of the craze (being that I was obsessively reading comics at the time), but since I wasn't interested in most of the hyped-up titles, I didn't bother buying them.

However, a friend of mine did the whole speculator thing, which meant that I got a very big (and very cheap) wedding present a few years down the road.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:18 AM on December 10, 2004

Great post. I worked at a comic book shop during part of the boom period noun described in his posts and remember a lot of the same things he did. There are a few omissions/factual errors, though (Fantagraphics did publish porn comics to help keep themselves afloat). Watching the speculator boom and crash was disheartening... the dealer I worked for was stuck with thousands of dollars in back issue Valiant and Image books which we ended up blowing out for 25 cents each or less.
posted by MegoSteve at 4:42 AM on December 10, 2004

brownpau, the how to draw like Rob site is very funny. Thanks!

I'll see it and raise you The Strange Case of Rob Liefeld: Fighting American vs. Captain America
posted by kreinsch at 4:44 AM on December 10, 2004

I used to know Rob Liefeld pretty well back when we were both in high school, and contributing to the same APAs.

He lived near Chicago in the summer and we shared a hotel room for the large ComicCon 2 years running. We had terrible aesthetic differences even back then, which is not to say that I hated his stuff. I started reading Love and Rockets, and wanting to do different things, he was pretty determined to melt into the Platonic ideal of what superhero comics were at their core. It is easy to knock him looking back, but he put in the work, and helped shape the look of what was popular for awhile. He was not interested in life drawing (or rather it fatigued him, which I found was not uncommon among those who drew because we loved comics), or the stuff I thought was important, it is was all surface for him, which sounds bad until you realize his desired goal was to continue the tradition of Jack Kirby.

I remember he loved Madonna and hated the Velvet Underground, which made for a nice summary once upon a time. Whatever you wanna say about him is probably valid on some level, but you have to admire what he did. He took what he knew and made the very most anyone could make of it.
posted by thirteen at 5:17 AM on December 10, 2004

Also, I am not knocking Kirby. The man had a raw foundation that allowed him to break rules and get away with it. Kirby is just not the best influence if you are looking to learn to draw is all.
posted by thirteen at 5:21 AM on December 10, 2004

That's an interesting story, thirteen. I can't stand Liefeld. Even as a kid I knew that he really couldn't draw. In a way though, it inspired me for awhile to try making comics, for if he could succeed, certainly I could when I got older and better. It was a silly view, because plenty of good artists try but never get hired as comic book artists.

I'm still baffled as to how Liefeld did get in. I can only guess that his moxie and perseverance got him so far, and perhaps because extreme art styles, a la McFarlane, were the rage at the time. Liefeld's stylistic excesses know no bounds, but whereas McFarlane's style rested on a solid base of technique and talent, Robby's 'style' was more a result of ignorance than anything else.
posted by picea at 6:11 AM on December 10, 2004

I remember telling my parents (15 years ago?) that my 1500+ comic collection was worth over $6000.

I'd be happy to get $1/comic now (and that's including some that are still valued around $20-50 each).

That said, the majority of my comics were purchased BEFORE the 90's boom. That happened during my university years, and I just didn't have the money to buy comics.
posted by grum@work at 6:34 AM on December 10, 2004

The Comic Bubble and the Crash: Did you buy comic books in the 90's? Did you start speculating? Did you buy issues just because they were a #1? Even though there were 12 million of them out there? Did you buy all the multiple covers? Did you buy the the holofoil covers? Chromium? Did you start buying collectable card games?

Um, NO. Heh! I just bought comics for the good art and good writing. Multiple, alternate covers and such made me wanna hurl at that cheap, greedy ploy.

I was a little older than most of you during the speculation craze, though.

Nothing wrong with Excalibur during its heyday, interrobang. Alan Davis is a fantastic artist, IMO he was always best with Neary inking him, and Claremont gave Davis some loose plots that really let Davis go wild with wild-looking aliens, crazy superhero alternate mash-ups (the Cross-Time Caper), and, yes, gorgeous women.
posted by Shane at 7:09 AM on December 10, 2004

Great links, McBain. I'm not done reading, but I wonder if there's much here or elsewhere concentrating on the '80s "black and white glut." Independent comics rose and were reaped like fast-motion wheat fields then, yet some actually survive to this day, like Matt Wagner's Grendel (originally a three issue B&W comic with manga-inspired art, which was ahead of its time back then; I have one issue, and last I heard Wagner refuses to reprint them, instead leaving them as collector's items for his very first fans) and, of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which started off as a parody of Frank Miller's ninja-obsessed run on Daredevil and Marvel's mutant X-Men.)
posted by Shane at 7:13 AM on December 10, 2004

Yay, ComicsFilter! This is good, thanks!

I never collected comics beyond the odd graphic novel or trade here and there, but after reading all about the suckfest of the 90s, I feel like I was there. Someone should catalog all the MeFi comic posts for the Wiki. Hurm...
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:10 AM on December 10, 2004


You're scaring me, Rorschach.
posted by COBRA! at 8:15 AM on December 10, 2004

(by which I mean you're scaring me because you're using Rorschach's vocal tics, not because enthusiasm for a comics thread is scary... awwww, fuck it, I drank way too much cough syrup this morning. shutting up now)
posted by COBRA! at 8:22 AM on December 10, 2004

...enthusiasm for a comics thread is scary...

Like robocop said:


as in, Long live ... And prosper ;-)
posted by Shane at 8:28 AM on December 10, 2004

robocop's journal.
December 10th 2004.:

Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. Metafilter is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:37 AM on December 10, 2004


Which is to say, why yes, I do know what/when you're talking about.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:43 AM on December 10, 2004

It disturbs me, too, that Marvel seems to be doing the same thing all over again, with alternate covers for a bunch of Whedon's Astonishing X-Books and that Avengers "Directer's Cut" issue, and the endless relaunches to provide another Issue #1 (ferinstance, the Ultimates).

And well played, Robocop. Well played.
posted by COBRA! at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2004

Cripes, COBRA!, less than a month after it came out, I saw the first ish of Whedon's Astonishing X-Men in a glass case at my local shop selling for $15. Somehow that sickened me. You're right, it smacks of the '90s scene and Don't-They-Ever-Learn?

I love Whedon, too, but I don't think it's his best effort at all. But it's gonna sell, ain't it?

And I think the fancy-pants coloring process they use gets in the way of Cassaday's gorgeous art; his own inking is incredible and very detailed, but I get the feeling they have to keep his art simple so that more of the shading effects can be acomplished by the colorist. Which is sad, 'cuz Cassaday is a serious talent.

Okay. /geekout.
posted by Shane at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2004

Cool post. I did some of the art production of those Marvel Universe sets he talked about. Even made a customized font for them.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:23 AM on December 10, 2004


While there is probably a lot of truth in what you say, I have been very impressed with the quality of the new "Ultimate" books, especially "Ultimates".

And I was very skeptical.
posted by Irontom at 10:33 AM on December 10, 2004

I second Irontom. The Ulimate _____ series have made me buy comic books on a regular. I was always intimidated by the huge catalog and history of some of the bigger Marvel or DC titles. I remember in grade school being lost when folks were talking about various Marvel characters and over my head at all the footnotes in the Death of Superman trade. I like the restart because it makes me feel all caught up with the series and don't have to worry about characters from 10 years ago suddenly showing up and confusing me.

The Ultimate Spider-man: Carnage trade/storyline was superdoubleplus good. As was the X-men story featuring Mr.Sinister.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:38 AM on December 10, 2004

Er, regulat basis, that is.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:39 AM on December 10, 2004

Great stuff. Thanks. And I'm still waiting for some half-bright Hollwood type to option Nexus. Given a proper CGI budget, it could be awesome. And not just in the stupid summer movie sense, either Larry.
posted by yerfatma at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2004

Ugh. When I moved last month I came across my old Magic: The Gathering collection- something like 300 cards, bought for $5-6 per pack of 15. The worst part is, given their wear and lack of any full set, I'd probably get maybe $20 for all of them on eBay if I'm lucky.

I do have all the Star Wars cards, though. Including the rare C3PO schlong.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:26 AM on December 10, 2004

I like the Ultimate books a lot, too; the specific thing I was complaining about was the fact that it only took them a year to reboot the Ultimates and give us a second issue #1. But the sales gimmickry certainly doesn't stop it from being a good book (and I feel pretty much the same way about Astonishing X-Men).

And you own the C-3PO schlong card? You're a lucky man, indeed.
posted by COBRA! at 12:01 PM on December 10, 2004

Anyone have a picture of said schlong card?
posted by Cyrano at 12:56 PM on December 10, 2004

Here you go.
posted by COBRA! at 1:03 PM on December 10, 2004

Funny. I never overpaid for my Magic cards, and I still enjoy getting together with my friends and playing with them. I paid retail price for pretty much everything and if I cannily ebayed them I could probably get almost all of my money back.

Except that I'm enjoying playing it still.

As for comics, well, the last one I bought was Fred Hembeck destroys the Marvel universe and after that I didn't think I needed any more of them. I paid about a buck for it and it's still worth every cent.
posted by codger at 11:15 PM on December 11, 2004

Ah, a reminder of why I only buy Trade Paperbacks. I buy my comics to read, and have no wish to sell them at a later date. I did the same with my magic cards. Which I will sell eventually. (When I finally get over the fact that someone stole my Ali from Cairo.)
posted by Hactar at 6:26 AM on December 12, 2004

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