Being Broke

Last week I was laid off from my job at one of the largest book retailers in the nation, me and a couple hundred friends across the country are filing for unemployment, applying for jobs, and hoping we can pay the rent. Once all of the "important" stuff had been taken care of, I looked at my comics and had the realization that my weekly addiction may have to be put on hold until my bank account is a little fatter.

The subscription cubby with the name "Sammy Rules" over it at Cosmic Comix rarely has more than six or seven books in it, I only spend about twenty to forty dollars a week on new issues. To those who don't buy weekly that may seem steep, but with all of the crossover events and mini series coming out on a weekly basis from artists and writers you're interested in, some comics buyers (readers and collectors alike) purchase practically every title. Secret Invasion is a perfect example of this, any missed issue across nearly the entire Marvel line could have meant a reveal you'd have to find out about after the fact.

Our little form of escapism isn't expensive if you can be frugal, it's easy enough to find three bucks in change for one more issue. The thing about "one more issue" is that it quickly becomes two or three, you just want to read Cable but have to read X-Force to get the complete story-line. Waiting for the trade paperbacks saves you a little bit of money, but by the time you've read them you're behind on the current issues and are left having to play catch up.

With other mediums there's always a way to have the experience without the actual purchase. Movies and video games can be rented, books can be borrowed from the library and music can easily be downloaded. New issues of comics can be found online, but it's not the same as going to the store and leaving with a brown paper bag filled with new books. With a lot of the older issues, the trades aren't even available, so even attempting to get some history on characters you're unfamiliar with isn't an option if you don't have a lot of cash.

Even if you're only buying one or two new issues a week and only pick up older issues at dollar sales, you end up with a lot of comics you've only bought to read. A question I am constantly asked is if I actually reread comics that I buy, and the answer is yes. I have stacks and stacks of things that I read on a monthly basis and some comics I weekly open up to take in again. Attempting to resell these older issues, no matter how lightly read, is almost impossible. Outside of the rarities and variants that people actually want, most comics aren't worth shit. Even on eBay, unless something is twenty years old, chances are your "investment" is only worth three dollars, sometimes even less.

When you get to a point that you decide to cut some comics, you start to think about why you read the titles you purchase. You have to begin considering if you care about what happens in that issue or if you only care about the outcome of the "universe" as a whole. I've found myself buying Black Panther even though I don't care about who this new female Black Panther is, I just knew it was a part of Dark Reign. I didn't want to miss what was happening, and that's what Marvel and DC want. We want it too, as fans we love these huge events, even if it's just to talk a lot of shit about how much we don't like them.

The prices of comics inevitably will all be $3.99, and that one dollar difference makes a huge impact on what you buy. New mini series that may be interesting are left on the rack, number one issues don't sell and three issues later the book is cancelled. I don't know how bad the Comics' Industry is doing right now, or with all of the movies coming out if they are doing bad at all, but flooding the market with Wolverine comics and a new series coming out each week just makes you resent the comics, and look else where for cheaper entertainment.


samuel rules said...

that being said i bought comics today, but some were free

Vee (Scratch) said...

You just explained why I never and got into any of the series, from Civil War, Secret Invasion and now Dark Reign.

I've only been loyal to 3 or 4 titles. 100 Bullets is about end. Hey you can catch some full trades in the library or read them in the bookstore on my lunch break.

3.99! I thought $2.99 was crazy. I used to be a serious X-Men, Spider-man* head but then all those re-inventing, re-imagining ultimate titles made me wish that Venom just ended Parker's life*. Besides the cost factor, the sheer number of various titles, and necessary expenses killed the thrill.

Question, did Marvel or DC ever explain or justify the ridiculous increase in prices? Don't tell me that it cost more than a dollar per issue to produce a comic.

Compared to a manga title at $9.99 you get way more for your buck even though it is in black and white. I'm not the biggest manga fan.

*There's only so many ways you can stretch a Spiderman at this point. What has not been done yet? Personally I find the Chris G-Mini Marvel Spidey adventures entertaining and refreshing.

samuel rules said...


I'm obviously this sucker for all the dumb Marvel books but am willing to admit it. Before I got laid off I was able to read any title I wanted in trade at work, AND special order in older ones.

The Top Two haven't talked about the increase at all!! There are more ads than ever, less content, and sometimes Marvel does this bullshit thing where you get a 22 page story and then a "fact file" or older story in the back to make the book a little fatter. It's hardly ever just a longer story.

Yea, the manga stuff IS worth it. We have an ok used book store around here that has tons of manga for like three bucks so I've been going there. You should try to get more into manga, it's intimidating and hard to get into, but overall worth it, even if you just pick up Dragonball or something. there's also this manga called "Spider-Man J" that is a JAPANESE KID'S SPIDER-MAN COMIC!! I haven't read it but it looks sorta awesome.

but read Dragonball, and I mean sans-Z, and see if you like it. you can get the first three volumes in one book for like fifteen bucks or something. It's like when you hit that age where you find out there are more than super hero comics and you just become completely entangled in something new.

Pedro said...

Only 4 of the marvel regular ongoing series are 3.99.

You can borrow many trades from your library. It won't replace your weekly fix, but there is a plethora of other comics you can read.

Only a fool buys every comic that ties in to an event. If you can practice self-control, you can just buy good comics of things you enjoy.

I do this on a constant basis and I read all the superhero comics I want.

samuel rules said...

There are only the few ongoing books, but most one shots and event books also are priced at the higher price point, including the Thor books which tie into the main series. Those are completely worth it though.

also, I am a fool.

Eric Garrison said...

Comics ARE a waste of money in single issue form. They're not worth any long term investment, are clutter, and take up space.

As trades though, they are cheaper, and easier to transport as BOOKS.

Most of the stuff out there now is utter crap. Vertigo and Image, (and DC with Batman) are doing some interesting things.

samuel rules said...


I've gone full circle with my comics reading, super heroes to "underground comics", from there to hard ass Vertigo titles, and no matter what i end up reading i want Sci-Fi and super heroes.

Trades are fine for most people, but I want to stay up to date. I want the experience of going into a store and talking to other nerds, I like theories and explanations. Buying a trade is fine, you lose that, and you only save an issue's worth in cash, and sometimes not even that. This is especially if you have a subscription at a decent shop that gives you a discount. It's an addiction, I admit it.

brandon said...

If you only buy trades you're not even a comics fan, really.

Eric Garrison said...


Samuel, I see what your saying. I can think of no other industry though that despises its own fans so much! Were in a recession, so they increase prices? Makes no sense.

I have a mortgage payment to pay though, so have to prioritize on budget. Comics due take quite a dent in cash flow. I can just wait and get the comic I want for 40% off amazon.com. I know it doesn't support the local store, but its an economic reality that I got bills to pay. Comics quickly become a lower priority in my monthly spend.

samuel rules said...

That's what I wrote.

What I am saying here, meaning on the actual post if read, is that I don't prefer trades, of course I can go to my local library (which carries way more comics than most) but I'll be months behind. I like to stay up to date, I like buying new issues and sticking with my addiction. It's stupid, i know, but important to me to stay up to date with what's going on.

And the Big Two LOVE their fans, it's why I was able to spend time talking to dudes like (name drop) Bendis and Slott at last year's Baltimore Con. They are just also, you know, huge corporations who want to make money. Fewer people buy comics so the price goes up so they can continue to make comics. It's simple.

and in some ways, Brandon's right. Having worked in a bookstore there are TONS of comics readers who just like the idea of a Batman here and there. To get into the good stuff sometimes you have to buy back issues because things don't always come out in trades, most nerds are known to buy issues one, three, and six and won't even read them until they have the complete series. Comics nerdery is hunting for the comics too!!

brandon said...

It's not even the fans who say they like Batman or some shit, if you wait for the trade you're doing a few things

1. You're not supporting the comic because when and if something goes to trade depends on issue sales. So yeah, if you jump onboard Fables or DMZ now, you're fine, but if you gonna wait six months for something less popular, you're not supporting the work.

2. You're probably not buying your trades at a comic store, so you're not supporting a local comics store which is also problematic.

3. It's like saying you're a Doors fan and owning the greatest hits. It just isn't the same. I can't imagine being a fan of something but being totally okay with knowing it's out there for 6-12 issues and ignoring them so you can have it in a trade for really, only like 7 bucks cheaper or something. "Riiight" me all you want, it's just kinda true.

It's the same as downloading or being a person who buys all your LPs at Urban Outfitters or something. It just makes you kinda insincere.

Vee (Scratch) said...

^Brandon, I hear you.
Greatest Hits = collection of hit singles or simply singles released.

^samuel rules,
DC as a company will probably never really feel a serious pinch because they fall under the Warner Brothers umbrella. I believe the company shares revenue from the film division with the recent success of the Dark Knight.
Marvel can not be hurting because the mega-smash Spiderman film and the insanely popular Iron-Man films. I just can't see or begin to understand why comic book prices are going up.

Are regular books going up in price? Don't tell me production prices have tremendously increased because many full-color magazines are still priced relatively the same. -So f**k 'em both, I think greed plays a huge factor in the prices. I understand that comics are competing against videogames and other entertainment vehicles but how soon before a single issue cost $5??? The big two set the industry standards and that's probably one of the main reasons readership has died down.

TokyoPop/Viz or any manga publisher ($9) titles >>> weekly issues at $3.99

Vee (Scratch) said...

CBR columnists . . .
HOW TO SAVE THE Local Comic Shops


Eric Garrison said...

Brandon-You bring up some good points, but I see thats where the overall business is headed.

I liked Augie's latest column on CBR, which suggested that Comic stores changes their model by carrying more books, and focusing on their niche status. The whole process of depending upon single pamphlet issues for your revenue base is quickly dying.

I do believe that digitization of comics is the future. Store owners will always be needed, they just need to change their business model to accommodate changing business needs.

samuel rules said...

whoa, thanks for the link Vee!

Digital comics are the answer, but let's be real, this is what people said about CDs, people have said it about books, movies, all major forms of entertainment. The reality is there are too many weirdos like me who want each and every issue, and they want the issue. I basically can't stand reading comics on my computer, it's uncomfortable, it's annoying, and it's actually a PROBLEM with comics.

If comics are all on the internet, it'll be another situation where the market is completely flooded by total shit, and you can't find anything good. Last time this happened to comics (THE NINETIES) even the Top Two lost half their fan base and people gave up on characters they loved because it wasn't worth it.

Web Comics just don't translate the same way. They are easy to make and have little production costs and it shows. I deal with digital art in my comics, but i don't like it. It's ugly for every artist who can do it well, there are a hundred who are awful at it and are putting out weird zombie titty comics.

The thing about local comics shops going under is that what's keeping them alive in a lot of cases aren't comics, it's RPGs, board games, and stuff like pokemon and War Hammer. Comics shops aren't comics shops anymore.

I think we're getting into a whole other issue, which is awesome. this dialogue rules.

Eric Garrison said...

Very good discussion! If only so many threads were this enjoyable.

Yeah, comic stores definitely need to rely on other vertical to subsidize their business. This only reinforces the fact that they CANNOT be depended upon the direct market. $3.99 for issue is insane. No doubt about it. For 4 dollars, I can get a decent meal from Burger King, who regularly adjusts prices based on consumer and market demand.

The same happens with video games! A lot of publishers are decreasing prices from $60.00 to $50.00 on select games. The same happens with the company I work for, its business. You cater to your customers. That's why I see that so many of these companies are doomed to failure (for the direct market channel at least).

Trades continue to be more profitable, as they are more affordable for the consumer.

From a digital perspective, I would agree that the current choices suck. Panel to panel on an Ipod doesn't really work. Reading a digital comic on my computer actually works pretty well.

Apple and other companies are currently working on solutions for this. I would buy a Kindle in a heartbeat if it was in color. Innovative online publishers are already taking advantage of this (I think Iverse is one of the biggest).

If I could purchase a comic for $.99 versus $4.00, I would do it. I have other bills to pay, like a mortgage and car payment!


samuel rules said...

I relate it a lot to what's going on with music, and how there are no eras where a genre is popular anymore, everything is just coming at you so fast that a lot of people don't even like bands for more than two months before they are deleted off their ipods.

Even with music that sort of works, but once comics become available in a medium outside of book form, they will become overwhelming and we'll lose finding about new artists and writers because they'll be lost in the flood. Continuity based comics would fall apart, fans would be coming on and dropping off so much that they wouldn't be able to do year long story arcs, not all of which are good, but still!

brandon said...

I think digital's the way it's going, but I feel bad about that, not sure if it's because I'm an old-man comics snob type or because on the real, it just sucks to read!

Maybe this is worthy of a post...

I think you're right that comics stores need to diversify with the comics but use that niche comics group to do so. Too many stores either just sell what sells and totally hedge their bets or they just sell what the guy in the store likes and so for some reason they don't have say, Usagi or something.

Same problem with record stores.

Comics going over the 3 dollar price point unless they're real nice or like 60-plus pages is awful. It was one of the many reasons I gave up on Final Crisis.

Of course, it if was good enough, I would've spent 4 bucks on it.

david e. ford, jr said...

so, i realize that i am, like, LATE on this discussion, but there is enough interesting shit going on that i feel it necessary to chime in. the whole issue of trades versus issues is an interesting one and it reminds me of robert kirkman's too convenient avoidance of the phenomenon of trades in his debate with bendis at the baltimore convention. for the most part, i am definitely with brandon and sammy here from the standpoint of:

a) wanting to put my support where it counts on books that i think deserve to survive

b) not wanting to wait to read those books that are doing great things

what is great about trades, particularly for someone like me who has only been reading comics for about a year, is that they have allowed me to get my comics education pretty quickly and also cheaply. it doesnt hurt that i continue to work for a major book retailer and one of the few benefits that this still affords is the opportunity to take books out on loan--allowing me to read myself up to date on current series such as DMZ or Madman, or to familiarize myself with some of the greats of the past, like loeb and sale's batman books or morrison's doom patrol or whatever, for little or no money. clearly trades are going to continue to be the format that makes the publishers profitable, but as brandon points out, if readers aren't buying issues, there are a lot of promising younger creators whose books are going to be discontinued. insofar as digital is concerned, i am a book person and i was a book person long before i was a comics person. i don't see myself getting an electronic reader like a kindle any time soon, not because i am averse to new technology, but because as expansive as the libraries for these machines are getting, they still aren't going to be offering the kinds of books i am buying for some time. reading comics on the internet is at best annoying--i will do it if i have no other choice, like with morrison and quitely's Flex Mentallo, but aside from that, i will generally avoid it insofar as it is possible.

Vee- to answer your question about the cost of regular books, book publishers are doing a number of things to address the dramatic fall in book sales, most of which do not include price increases, by which i mean the normal sort of up with inflation increase. one thing publishers are doing is dramatically reducing print runs in order to reduce the number of books they have to sell as remainders for a loss. this basically means that with unestablished writers, their advances are getting a lot smaller. also, they are lowering the quality of the books themselves. i knew something was up when i noticed that the vintage paperback of the new translation of war & peace used poor quality paper and had flimsy covers. mark, this was one of the most prestigious and highly anticipated releases by knopf in 2007 and random house is THE prestige major publisher in the u.s. thus, if they are putting out an inferior edition of such an "important" book, you can bet that this is a signal for changes industry wide. how does this relate to comics? well, only in the sense that comics and regular books are more or less part of the same industry, though their markets are not exactly identical, nor are their business models. the weird thing is, though, that even though the book retail business has been in the proverbial toilet for the better part of a decade, i can remember hearing a story on npr not six months ago on how sales at comics retailers were up and that it was a growth industry. perhaps the increase in issue prices has something to do with the struggle between the big players for top talent, what with the increase of exclusive contracts and what have you. perhaps it is the creators who are the winners in this sense, i don't really know.