29 January 2013

Comic Books: Not for Kids Anymore?

My self-study course in All Things Comic Books has included some comics-related podcasts, including the 2010-to-present libraries of "Comic Geek Speak," "iFanboy," and "House to Astonish." I've also been visiting comic book stores, both locally and during my travels, in an attempt to observe what makes this business tick. I feel like I've learned a new language, one based on a similar dialect I once spoke in my youth, but not the same.

If memory serves, this was one of my
first comics purchases, circa 1980
I used to buy comics at a 7-Eleven convenience store a few miles' bike ride from my house. The route was fraught with danger: It was a straight shot downhill, on a neighborhood road inexplicably expanded to four lanes and 45 miles per hour. Having made my purchases, I had to ride my 10-speed uphill and one-handed.

Finding the issues and titles I wanted was always a problem. So was finding them relatively undamaged. The convenience store's upright "spinner" rack would bend, rip, and chew comics up, even before they were bought.

I subscribed to a Spider-Man title once--an act which seemed to require a sacrifice of one comic in order to purchase more: "Cut out this coupon and send it in." I found a photocopier instead, but the U.S. Postal Service mangled more superheroes than the spinner rack ever could. Covers were ripped, or torn off completely.

Fast-forward to today: The comics business has changed considerably. Having left the hobby in the early 1980s, I missed out on the comics boom in the 1990s, and then a business implosion. The two big publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics, have played so many games regarding how issues are titled, numbered, and written, that there's little continuity between the characters I knew and the characters of today. Issue No. 57 of "Uncanny X-men" may have nothing to do with issue No. 1 (?!) of a new "Uncanny X-men," which launches next month. That disconnect translates into a poor secondary market, too. Old comics don't increase in value if nobody feels the need to read them.

The new-release racks are also stacked full of seemingly duplicate titles. How many "Avengers" titles can the market support? There's "Avengers,"New Avengers," "Secret Avengers," "Young Avengers," and "Avengers Arena." How can a consumer tell each title apart?

Outside of an toy store, book store, or supermarket newsstands, there are few places to purchase individual comics. (Some collectors call these "floppies.") Serious collectors seek out local comic book retailers, or mail-order in advance through discount distributors. The paper quality has improved considerably from the yellow newsprint I remember, but the price-tag on an individual comic is now $2.99, $3.50, or even $3.99! Do the math: If you want to buy 10 ("Avengers"?) titles a month, that's going to set you back up to $40 plus tax. That's $360 a year!

Even at today's prices, that's a lot of gas.

Face it, comic books just aren't for kids anymore.

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