If you've read more than one of my columns, read a few of my posts on the Warren Ellis Forum, or, God forbid, actually met me, then you might be aware that I have something of a soft spot for giant robots. Obviously 'something of a soft spot for giant robots' is a euphemism for the fact that I am an unrepentant and appalling nerd for anything related to TRANSFORMERS, and at the moment I'm livid, because I didn't get to read the new comic.
Sold out, everywhere I went. Luckily, my vast network of chums and pals all over the world has netted me a copy of the comic (from Canada, apparently), but that's not what I'm going to talk about today. Nor am I talking about the quality of the comic - be it the finest piece of sequential art ever produced that will be thoughtfully analysed by intelligent men with strokeable beards for decades, or be it a load of old bollocks, thoughtfully analysed by nerds for a month or two.
Today, I'm discussing the speculator market and comic speculators and collectors, and specifically how they affect us, using my unfortunate experience with the new TRANSFORMERS comic as an example (since it's an incredibly well timed one).
Here in London, last week's comics arrived on Friday (we get our comics on Thursdays usually, but last week's shipment was a day late because of Easter). So, I sauntered in to pick up my weekly haul and meet up with some other comic reading friends down the pub, and strike me if every shop I tried hadn't sold out of TRANSFORMERS #1.
Now, why was this? Was it because retailers had under-ordered? Well, technically yes, but I think that retailers couldn't possibly have ordered enough copies of the damn thing. No retailer was unaware that this was going to be a spectacular seller. But the real reason it sold out was because dirty speculators have snapped up all the copies.
'TRANSFORMERS #1 should not be a rare collectible two days after it hits stores.' TRANSFORMERS #1 shipped with four covers. Two regular covers and two shiny chrome covers. There's nothing wrong with this, despite some people's instinctive resentful reaction to chrome and variant covers. You don't make something evil just by making it shiny. Nor do you make something evil by offering variants. There's nothing wrong with variants on their own - CDs and books often have different covers. You just get the one you like the best.
The problem, then, is this - people buying up many copies of the comic to later flog on eBay or another online sales service, with the intention of making money off the perceived rarity of the comics.
There's nothing wrong with this either, to a degree. Comics, like it or not, have been a collectible in the past, and there are still a lot of comics that I would have no problem calling collectibles, just as some people collect first edition James Bond novels or the like. The first appearances of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and so on, are absolutely collectibles. People also collect older runs on more or less every superhero titles, going back decades, and you know, that's OK too.
What is not OK is something being perceived as a rare collectible two days after it hits stores. And it is perceived as a rare collectible - full sets of all four alternate covers are going for $60 already.
People are just falling for the kind of crap propagated by what I'm going to call The Wizard Perspective. Wizard, in case you don't know, is a magazine geared mainly towards superhero fans and collectors, and is a thoroughly vile and awful thing. Aside from the sophomoric and misogynistic humour, Wizard runs a sort of stock-market for comics, telling the gullible reader that his copy of, say, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1, has risen in price a dozen-fold since it was first printed, which, frankly, is arse. It's available in a collected softcover and hardcover, you fools!
(This, of course, didn't stop me recently selling my run of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN on eBay for a tidy sum. The guilt and feelings of hypocrisy vanish miraculously when you throw money at them.)
In a healthy industry, this sort of thing would affect no one. It wouldn't even really matter - if someone wants to collect first printings of comics, then I'm not going to say he can't. I'm sure there are people who collect first edition John Grisham novels and I'm damn sure there are people who collect first edition STAR TREK and STAR WARS novels. More power to them.
'Scary Nerds drag the public image of comics into the ground.' But it's not a healthy industry. I see the industry as a rotting corpse, teeming with flies and maggots. God willing, those flies and maggots will evolve into butterflies (I know I'm stretching the analogy. I was never any good at natural history), but for the moment we're wallowing in our sequential art filth.
And the reason the industry is not evolving as fast as it should be is because Wizard and The Wizard Perspective is hurling nerdy hand grenades into the comic industry corpse, and actively working to make it more insular and geeky than it already is. By pandering to an existing mindset, they're reinforcing it, and making it grow. When people (stupid people) are told exclusively that certain comics are Hot Properties and will rise in value immensely in no time at all, they believe it.
Of course, something else this does to the industry is increase the Scary Nerd population. Now, let me qualify that. I know I'm a nerd. Everyone is a nerd for something. No exceptions. For me, it's giant robots. For some people, it's music. For some people, it's video games. Everyone's got at least one thing.
But Scary Nerds are something entirely different. Scary Nerds are the nerds that are nerds for something to the exclusion of most other things, including personal hygiene and social skills. I despise Scary Nerds. Failed human beings, all of them. They're what drag the public image of comics into the ground.
Because, really, I don't think we can expect comics to have the Sexy Image that some people talk about, the impression that if one reads comics one has to carry around a can of Underage Girl Repellent with which to liberally douse one's genitals on leaving one's house. Because books don't have that image. I read books, and I can cross London sometimes without young ladies throwing themselves upon me and licking my crotch.
However, I think a more realistic goal is the Literary Image - the one books currently have, the impression that, yes, people who read lots of books are a bit clever. And Scary Nerds go against this image because they are clearly not a bit clever. They might have some extremely in-depth knowledge of theoretical astrophysics and how to realistically construct a light-sabre, sure, but all that is useless if you can't function as a member of society.
'No comic of the last fifteen years should be worth more than cover price.' By 'function as a member of society' I mean stand a chance of one day touching a member of the preferred gender's genitals, because I know that is how I judge my own worth.
One supplement to the Scary Nerd Speculating Wizard Perspective mentality is the concept of the CGC process. The CGC process, for those of you who don't know, is when you take a comic from your collection - and the concept of comics as a 'collection' is already appalling. Does one have a 'book collection'? A 'CD collection'? - and send it off to the people at the company CGC.
These people then examine your comic in excruciating detail and encase your comic in a clear Perspex slab, marking it with a rating out of ten, from which it will in theory never deviate while it is kept in it's slab. Then, the perceived value of the comic will skyrocket, as it is guaranteed by the highly professional grading system of CGC. And the perceived value does skyrocket. Take a look on eBay for CGC'd comics, and see the absurd prices they sell for.
And these comics aren't worth anything. Worth is, of course, a relative concept. If someone's willing to pay a certain value for something, then technically it is worth that. But some values are artificial and over-inflated. No comic produced in the last fifteen years should be worth more than cover price, I don't care what it is. Obviously, this doesn't include any comics I'm currently listing for sale on eBay. Those are different, and worth millions of pounds.
The speculator market is probably the most detrimental factor in regarding comics as a genuine art form. Far worse than the tendency to feature books about men in tights. Even books about men in tights can be art. The speculator market takes focus away from the quality of the books and treats the entire artform as some sort of horrible stock market, where the very thought of reading the actual comics is unheard of.
Also, when a comic is genuinely good - for example, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, which is undeniably a great Spider-Man comic for teenagers - the speculator market can make it impossible to obtain. Luckily, Marvel put out reprints of the comic just about everywhere it could. I know TRANSFORMERS #1 may not be the best example of the medium, but I want it, and dash it all, I can't have it. Hands off, dirty speculators! Stop making it difficult for me to get my giant robot comics! Ask yourself: How long will it be before something you want is snapped up due to speculator hype?
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