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Overthought Bubble #4: Plastic Prisons

Written by Gavin D. on Friday, July 31 2015 and posted in Columns

Overthought Bubble #4: Plastic Prisons

How valuable is a book you can't read?

These days the right comic can sell for thousands and if it is something such as Action Comics #1 you may be able to scrape one million dollars. With an investment price of of three to five dollars, comics are a lottery ticket with a plot. The funny thing is that lottery tickets can win you money quicker at roughly the same price nowadays. So why are collectors spec-buying? It makes little sense, because most books will never surpass their cover price, but more importantly, it is counterproductive and almost rude to merely spec-buy.

It is impossible to deny the existence of speculators buying comics. Often times these collectors do read comics, but they spend just as much time and money buying books that they do not plan to read. They take the book home, bag and board it, and place it in a box, never to be opened again until its value increases because of a movie deal or television show. The "buy and never read" is common amongst first issues and some variants. Speculation buying is rampant, but a lot of the buyers don't realize that most of the comics will never increase significantly in value.

Now you may argue that my points are based primarily on conjecture and assumptions. You would be partially right, but take a look at Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. Month's prior to its release, the title was picked up for a movie, and the book then sold roughly 61,000 copies and was sent back for reprints. The next month sales were down to approximately 44,000, and the following month they dropped to about 30,000. Now this mean that the book was over hyped and 20,000 people chose to drop the title after the first issue, or that several thousand people were never too interested in the first place.

Now, if you picked up a copy of Descender #1 and didn't actually read it, you should probably take a moment to realize that this book is not going to pay off your mortgage. Most indie titles that sell 61,000 first issues don't end up being very valuable in the long run, because comic value comes from scarcity, and if thousands of people carefully keep pristine copies of a comic, it's not going to very scarce. So I would advise you to go to your long box, pull it out, and just read it.


Dustin Nguyen goes all out on this book and creates some beautiful scenery whose size and magnitude evokes an emotional response. Nguyen must have spent hours working on this single picture. How many copies of it around the globe are filed under "D" in random long boxes, artwork unseen by many who paid for it.

That idea is kind of sad. An artist committed a significant amount of his time to creating sequential art to tell a story, and, likely, thousands of potential readers who paid for it will never even glance at it. A lot of work goes into that book artistically, and I haven't even mentioned the fact that someone also wrote an entire script which joins with the artwork to create a comic. The story can't really be appreciated even the slightest bit from the cover, unless you're really into titles... I mean reeeeeaaaallly into titles.

The book is body of work from multiple people, usually 3-5 people, each playing an important individual role which serves the greater purpose of the story and the characters, and yet the trend has increasingly become about collecting without enjoying. It only takes two people to make a baby, and we still play with those things.

I reached out to David Gallaher (High Moon, Green Lantern Corps.: Convergence, Only Living Boy) for more information about the timeline of creating a single comic book. He sent me this response:

From start to finish, it takes about 8-12 weeks to make a 20 page comic.
4-6 weeks of those weeks are pencils
1-2 weeks of writing
The rest of that time is spent inking, coloring, and lettering

This is a two and a half month process, or one quarter of a baby. Hours of work shoved into a plastic sleeve with a cardboard sheet, all in hopes that it may be worth thousands one day, presumably to recoup the thousands of dollars spent speculation buying other comics that never increased in value.

And you know what the greatest irony is? The potential success of any book has nothing to do with the title or the cover. It has nothing to do with what number in the series the book is, because those Nu 52's don't gain much from being issue ones beyond the initial speculation frenzy. The only way that book can be worth anything is if the story and the art synchronize. If the artists, letterer, and writer are working in unison on a unique and original concept with a fresh style, then the book will be worth something. If the book sucks, there will be no movie, no TV show, no long running series that becomes a staple of comics or widely respected work of literature, and, thus, there will be no desire for early issues.

The only positive to come out of spec-buying is found in cases where the creators get residuals, but that can sometimes be hard to come by.

Over a year ago I came across the story of a cartoonist who buys CGC graded and slabbed comics, just to open them up. The fact that someone would spend so much money to just devalue a comic book is ridiculous and a waste of money. That said, the concept behind it is admirable.

This man, known as Derf Backderf, wanted to set the books free because they were never intended to be cased. They were meant to be read. If they weren't meant to be read then Stan Lee would have taken credit for the covers and not the text. So next time you go through your collection and find random issues that you just bought on speculation, read them. Experience them. There's 20 pages on the inside that were meant to be experienced.

Should you stop buying books that may be worth something in the future? No, but read them first. Opening the book up once is going to ruin its value, especially if it already survived Diamond's shipping methods, and instead you may just find a new favorite series.


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About the Author - Gavin D.

Gavin Dillinger exists in a constant state of restlessness as he runs between two jobs and spends every spare moment writing articles or scripts. He has also perfected the art of being simultaneously dead tired and jacked on coffee, and is the best-selling author of When is the Right Age to Tell Your Highway It's Adopted. Gavin graduated Cum Laude from MTSU and should probably get a real job. You can follow him on Twitter or see a random thought on tumblr once every three five months.

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