Category Archives: Miscellaneous

When TMNT Caused a Comic Book Bubble That Burst

The latest installment in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise has arrived, and it’s been met with a resounding meh, earning much less in its opening weekend than its predecessor, and receiving critical jeers. That reception is a far cry from when the Turtles were first introduced to the world, back in 1984. Years before the cartoon, toy line, and movies turned them into a pop-culture phenomenon, the heroes in a half-shell debuted in an obscure, self-published black-and-white comic book that thrilled the comics market.

The success of their adventures in print sparked the establishment of a multitude of publishers looking to cash in on the TMNT craze with an array of bizarre imitators. Then, just as quickly as it began, the revolution went awry and a wide swath of the industry was eradicated almost overnight. The Turtles were inadvertently responsible for one of the most disastrous speculation bubbles in comics history: the so-called Black-and-White Boom and Bust of the mid-1980s.

It’s often forgotten that the Turtles were a comics property well before they became ubiquitous in other mediums (including, improbably, live musical performances). The characters were the brainchildren of two underemployed, New Hampshire–based art-school grads: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. During what Eastman would later call “late-night joking around,” he for no particular reason sketched out a turtle dressed up like a ninja. Laird countered with his own version. Then they co-drew a group shot featuring four such creatures. Icons were quietly born.

The two decided to take a leap of faith and do a full comic about these little doodle-dudes. It would be called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a title intended to parody comic-book trends of the day. “Teenage mutant” was a riff on the X-Men franchise (which starred teenaged mutants), “ninja” to poke fun at the martial-arts-filled work of writer Frank Miller on Daredevil and Ronin, and “turtles” to reference indie-comics darling Cerebus (which starred a talking aardvark).

But what made the book interesting — and its eventual appeal universal — was the fact that it wasn’t just parody. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was also an action-packed, violent, and dark story, far removed from the Day-Glo silliness of later Turtles incarnations. Eastman and Laird couldn’t afford to release the comic in color, so they’d followed the lead of those other acclaimed indie comics by printing in black and white, which made it look more mature next to the childishly colorful titles from Marvel and DC Comics.

The creators pooled their cash and borrowed $1,300 from Eastman’s uncle to pay for a print run of 3,000 copies, then set up a deal with a distributor to ship them to comics shops. They also sent out about 180 press releases to niche and mainstream news outlets. There was something about the comic — perhaps its tapping of the Zeitgeist, perhaps its acrobatic action, perhaps its humor, most likely all three — that resonated with readers. Buyers scooped up the copies Eastman and Laird put out through comics shops and in individual sales at conventions. In three weeks, they were sold out. Word of mouth grew, and so did print runs and sales for subsequent issues. In that crazy whirlwind of enthusiasm for this newly arrived hit, the bubble began to form.

First came the consumers. The scarcity of that initial print run meant buyers lucky enough to have copies could sell them to collectors for as much as $100 in 1985 — a markup of more than 6,600 percent. Comics speculators seeking similar ground-floor investments started snapping up other comics that could appreciate in value, and even non-speculators became interested in reading more stuff like the adventures inTMNT.Thus, the demand for black-and-white, action-packed, somewhat-parodic series spiked.

It was a perfect recipe for quick wealth. Making something in black and white on flimsy paper was a cheap endeavor, so the potential profit margins were incredible. Publishers proliferated at a rate no one had seen in decades. According to industry trade Comic Buyer’s Guide, there were ten independent publishers in early 1984 and 170 by the end of 1987. Silverwolf Comics, Adventure Publications, Crystal Publications, ACE Comics, Solson Publications, Lodestone Comics, New Sirius Productions, the ironically titled Pied Piper Comics — the list went on and on. Naturally, retailers were happy to act as middlemen, buying up the new products from fly-by-night publishers and serving it up to the consumers who craved it.

Since TMNT had been a parody of popular comics that, itself, became popular, the new publishers often decided to make their own parodies ofthe Turtles. Just a few of the improbable rip-offs: Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants, Mildy Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Kung Fu Gophers, Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, and my personal favorite, Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos. There were more run-of-the-mill superhero and fantasy comics, too, most of them crudely drawn and poorly plotted. That low quality was to be expected, as some publishers were debuting as many as 19 titles at a time — an insane burden for a publisher with no capital to hire top talent.

“Any potential profiteer who smelled a buck in comics crawled out from under the muck and started publishing like mad,” wrote the esteemed comics columnist Gary Groth in a 1987 post-mortem about the bubble. In his estimation, these thrown-together publishers greeted the market “with all the enthusiasm and integrity of purpose as a brothel greeting the debarkation of the 5th fleet.”

Although some shops were well-intentioned in their attempts to show off work from independent writers and artists, there were plenty of bad apples. In 1986, at the height of the craze, one businessman secretly financed four competing publishers. Sales numbers from that era are hard to find, but a commonly cited statistic says a typical indie publisher before the boom would print only about 10,000 copies of a comic. During the boom, the indie market was lucrative enough that a publisher could print up 100,000 to 200,000 copies of a given issue.

Those huge print runs, of course, should have been a red flag for anyone watching the industry. After all, what made TMNT successful was its uniqueness: artistically, it stood out because there was nothing else like it in the market, and the value of issues resulted from those tiny print runs. Once consumers were faced with hundreds of titles, each of them available in abundance, the idiosyncrasy and scarcity disappeared. “Americans are nothing if not bored easily,” Groth wrote. “At some point — my guess is around September or October of ‘86 — they got bored.”

In late 1986 and 1987, the bottom fell out. Hard. Collectors stopped paying top dollar for new number-one issues. Dissatisfied readers stopped buying the new wave of black-and-white comics. Retailers, who’d over-ordered copies of the stuff, felt the financial burden of a glut of unsold comics they couldn’t return. Publishers couldn’t convince retailers to get back onboard and they started going under. The shock to the market even hit the distributors who’d been handling all this new product for the past year or so, and one — Glenwood — went out of business. According to industry analyst John Jackson Miller, sales of books from the black-and-white publishing start-ups fell by half in 1988. The era of black-and-white excitement was over.

By that point, TMNT had started printing in color, and Eastman and Laird kept interest in their comic uniquely high because they’d snagged lucrative deals to adapt the characters into toys and animation. Marvel and DC had never really invested in the Black and White Boom, so their sales remained steady. But the crash reverberated in comics shops and reader conversations. Retailers, collectors, and publishers should have learned an important lesson about frenzied comics fads.

Unfortunately for the industry, they didn’t. Though the black-and-white sector of the industry never became a phenomenon again, the world of color soon saw its own catastrophe, one of much more epic proportions. In the early 1990s, comics from big superhero publishers like Marvel, DC, Image, and Valiant went through a similar collective insanity: massive print runs for purportedly “collectible” issues followed by a mid-decade crash that bankrupted Marvel and made the superhero an endangered species.

What salvaged the comics industry after that second boom-and-bust cycle? In many ways, it was the game-changing success of superhero movies like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman Begins. The box-office receipts they raked in underwrote Marvel and DC’s publishing efforts and led to the former being snatched up into the protective arms of Disney.

Movies adapted from comics have since become the financial pillars of not just comics publishing, but modern filmmaking. There are seven superhero movies out this year and at least seven superhero TV shows, all of them trying to ride the seemingly endless spandex wave. But the laws of gravity apply today as much as they did during the Black and White Boom.That market calamity is a reminder that even the best, most lucrative entertainment ideas can get diluted and bastardized to the point of irrelevance and financial disaster. Perhaps that’s something Paramount should keep in mind as it mulls additional chapters of the new Turtles franchise.

Decision 2016

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X-Men: Apocalypse. Quicksilver is Quick!

X-Men Apocalypse gif
X-Men: Apocalypse


Apparently, he’s still alive.

Change and Opportunity

The online market has turned many collectors into dealers who prefer to focus solely on the more lucrative first appearance of popular characters, adding to the competition for “key” books. But unless you have access to a stockpile of “key” books, your inventory of resalable books will eventually run out. As such, sellers have had to utilize a variety methods to find books that they can resell. There are all kinds of methodologies, each with its own risk to reward ratio. Many of these methods require that you stay current and be tuned in to what’s happening in the market. The ability to interpret, comprehend and execute are critical, all of which requires effort. However, if you’re already immersed in comic culture, it’s a good way to leverage your passion and make some gains.

The simplest way to pick up new stock is to go out into the wild and search for it. I have observed that comic prices in a big city like Toronto tend to be higher than most smaller neighboring cities like Hamilton, Barrie or Niagara Falls. A big city like Toronto has the population and is supported by big business but all this is reflected in the high cost of living, as well as the high cost of playing, i.e. hobbies. So if you happen to be outside your big city, make an effort to pop in to a small town store. It’s not uncommon to find books that sell for $100 in Toronto for $50 or less.

This nice sharp copy of Avengers #195, the first brief appearance of the Taskmaster cost me $7. Avengers #181 has a slight spine roll but still dirt cheap at $4. Marvel Age #12 is the first introduction of Spidey’s black costume and it was a steal at $1. Action Comics #521 used to be a much hotter book when there was a possibility that Vixen could be featured in the Suicide Squad movie but at $3 I couldn’t pass it up. A mint copy of Wolverine #66 was picked up at cover price, which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time of purchase but after the Old Man Logan storyline was announced for Wolverine 3, it turned out to be a good move. All these books were picked up at two different stores just outside of Toronto. Swing by any show in a big city and you’ll see these books selling at many multiples of what I paid. If you’re going to be outside of your city anyways, do make the effort to pop in to a small town comic store. If you can’t find any books you like, stock up on supplies.

comic books find

We’ve discussed “pressing” before and I think most of us like to tap into the movie hype these days. And of course, speculators and dealers are always on the lookout for people willing to liquidate their large collection at a wholesale price. But the practice I’d like to focus on requires deep thought and the ability to see what has not happened yet. We all have some degree of intuition and being able to predict where a market is headed can really pay off.

The basic premise is this: If you know that a “key” book is worth, say $2,000, as supported by past sales, eventually the previous wave of buyers of this book will start asking for more in order to compensate for selling fees and to make some gains. People looking to resell will begin asking, say $2,500. If you begin to see that the majority of the asking price is coalescing at $2,500, it may be time to start buying up whatever is left over at $2,000. Once all the $2,000 books are gone, the next sale will most likely be one of the $2,500 books. The sale will get recorded and this reference will make it easier for the next buyer to make a purchase at $2,500 until an upward trend is formed and the cycle repeats itself.

What can I say about the greatest speculator to have ever been… except, please adopt me! Warren Buffett has amassed billions from his sense of market movement, yet he remains grounded, choosing to live a modest lifestyle.

With Change Comes Opportunity

Not too long ago, I reported that the market has been retracting since November of 2015. Many of you also noticed this and offered explanations such as holiday bills, a strong US dollar or a lack of interest from foreign buyers as the culprit for the slow down. Soon after, on February 27th, Berkshire Hathaway released their annual letter to shareholders. Warren Buffet reported that there was negative sentiment in the US due to all the presidential hopefuls painting a gloomy picture of the US economy. As part of their campaign, they’ve all been touting that the US economy was weak and in trouble and only they had the answer. Apparently, all their rhetoric has taken a toll on the American people but Warren Buffet says that America is actually in great shape:

“It’s an election year, and candidates can’t stop speaking about our country’s problems (which, of course, only they can solve)… that view is dead wrong: The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”

Warren Buffet is a very influential person to say the least, and people take what he says to heart…

I don’t know if Berkshire Hathaway’s letter was the catalyst but the comic market seems to have leveled out since it’s release and many of the books I reported as trending downward appear to be changing direction. I think it’s too soon to say that we are back in growth mode again but things do look hopeful.

Hulk #181, 8.0 is a frequently traded book. After dipping slightly, more recent sales have been level. Not all books or all grades have leveled out yet but some, like this Hulk#181, 9.0 are actually starting to trend upwards.

Due to five months of contraction, the recent comic sales figures appear low, but the asking price for many books remain high, continuing from where they left off from back in November, probably from sellers who purchased books before the market softened. However, there are still a good number of sellers who are using the recently deflated sales figures to price their books. In other words, buying at current GPA prices seems like a bargain to me right now, especially against the higher asking prices from before the pull back.

After hitting an all time high back in 2015, the Fantastic Four #52, 8.0 began sliding back down. Current value sits just above $1,000, however, it’s been difficult to find an 8.0 anywhere near GPA and with the last sale of an 8.5 at $2,150, I fear I’ve missed the boat on picking up an 8.0 at the $1,000 range.

How did I come to this conclusion? Early key issues of Fantastic Four has really appreciated over the years. I’ve been looking to pick up a nice copy of Fantastic Four #52, 8.0 at around $1,000 when I noticed that many people were asking $2,000 to $3,000 for an 8.5, a huge premium for half a point. And sure enough, one sold recently for $2,150 making the previous GPA numbers from the past 5 months seem like a real deal. The gap between 8.0 to an 8.5 has now widened, which probably means that the 8.0 will get pulled up proportionately soon enough, so I need to find my 8.0 really fast! Joking aside, I see similar patterns with other books that I’ve got my eye on. GPA numbers from the past five months still appear low but good quality books, especially those that are tied to a movie or TV show appear to be on the move again and you may be able to use the current low sales figures to negotiate a better price.

Fantastic Four #52

The record breaking sale of a Fantastic Four #52, 9.8 on Heritage, which sold for $83,650 on Feb 18, seems to have helped set a trend for another copy to sell for $90,000 on ComicLink on March 8, which should help to buoy many of the lower grades as well. With only four known copies in existence at 9.8, the first appearance of the Black Panther has blasted past the long time favorite from the series #48. Being the first African super-hero to be featured in comics and in the upcoming Civil War movie, as well as his own film scheduled for 2018, this book has exploded to say the least. Experienced buyers know not to buy books at its peak, but considering all the factors at play here, it has me thinking that there’s still room for this book to climb even higher. Seeing as how so many of the Fantastic Four books from this period has shot up in value, with the exception of #48, this has me wondering if the Silver Surfer is now undervalued. Unfortunately, Silver Surfer is owned by Fox and they don’t seem to know what to do with him.

Considering the markets shift toward “key” books, it’s very difficult to find good books at wholesale prices. Sellers know that they will end up having to pay more down the road if they ever want to get the book back. So at some point, you just have to jump in or risk missing the boat. People often ask for my opinion and I always reply that it’s better to “overpay on a quality book as opposed to underpay on a junk book”. From an investment perspective, buyers should be focused on growth potential as opposed to how cheap a book is because value is relative; $20 spent on a junk book is $20 out the window, $2,000 spent on a quality book is $2,500 down the road. Some people understand this, while others are skeptical, thinking that I’m trying to get them to overpay on a book. However, I’ve had many people approach me at shows who’ve expressed regret for not taking this advice and feel that the opportunity to jump into a quality book has past. Admittedly, the market as a whole has experienced tremendous growth during the past five years or so. However, if my observation is correct and the market is starting to shift again, we may be presented with an opportunity to buy books at last years prices. For most books, this won’t mean much but for books like Fantastic Four #52 the stimulus factors are in place for this book to take another leap forward. Things could change of course or I could be wrong about what I am seeing. But the market appears to be improving so I wanted to get the word out so that all you readers can take advantage of this current shift.



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