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The Great Comics Crash of 1996


(permanent link) added: 2009-12-31 18:24:01 sponsor: DoctorNemesis (last reply: 2010-01-03 17:21:41)

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This is material which is currently on the Dark Age page, but since that page is massive and contains numerous tangents from the actual Dark Age, I'm proposing that we create a new page for this material. I'm not an expert on this, and am just giving the date as a rough guesstimate based on when Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy. The material below is taken verbatim from that page, but could probably be restructured in order

Whilst the content of the Dark Age was busy generating great controversy, outside forces would also have a significant impact. The Dark Age is also notable as having semi-coincidentally occurred alongside both the rise of "direct market" comic book shops -- which which were not covered by the Comics Code and thus could sell books that did not have Code approval, and which also served as a convenient gathering place for fans of the medium to meet and discuss them -- and the age of the comic collector boom, which would have drastic impact on the industry. Over time, the earliest published comics had appreciated considerably in value, as those who had read the material disposed of the bulk of it, leaving only a few rare copies in existence. Selling rare comics to collectors had been around for decades, but suddenly, mainstream attention began to focus on the profit potential of it.

The industry soaked it up -- numerous marketing tactics designed expressly to appeal to this collector's market began to appear. Some of the most common were:

  • Series being relaunched with new #1s.
  • Issues printed with multiple variant covers so that completists would buy multiple copies of a single issue -- often, so that they had at least one to read and one to collect.
  • Issues sold pre-bagged in mylar, so that one could either read the comic or keep it pristine (or, like the above, to encourage buying one copy to read and one copy to keep pristine).
  • Trading cards and holofoil covers appearing whenever the editor thought a series needed a sales boost (indeed, the latter gimmick was so common that some refer to this as the Chrome Age).

Unfortunately, the resulting spike in sales was only a short-term benefit, as publishers ignored one basic economic fact: the old comics were only selling for such high prices in the first place because they were difficult to get a hold of, being extremely rare. Conversely, the new "collectibles" were being churned out by the truckload. Millions of people had bought comics like X-Men #1 in hopes it would become a rare collectible, but since there were millions of copies floating around, it naturally wasn't rare at all, and anyone who wanted to collect it could get it for a song. And to make matters worse, a lot of the material that was trying to become collectible using these gimmicks was the kind of poorly-written Liefeldian rubbish that few believed was worth collecting in the first place. When the public realized this, the bottom fell out, and the market collapsed. Many of the smaller publishers went bust or were bought out (including Valiant Comics), and two-thirds of all direct market comic book stores went out of business.

The clear sign that the good times were definitely over was when Marvel filed for bankruptcy; however, whilst the crash was a key factor, it wasn’t helped by the loss of many of their top creators to Valiant and Image, resulting in the ill-conceived Onslaught, Heroes Reborn, and Clone Saga storylines. The marketing department being given editorial control and the suggestions that then-owner Ron Perelman acquired the company through junk bonds and dummy corporations and then ransacked the company for the purpose of lining his pockets probably didn't help matters either.

All of this also impacted the consumer base of the medium, which moved increasingly from the mainstream public to a smaller niche market of fans and collectors. The dominant stereotypes of the readers of this Age, fair or otherwise, are of the "comic book teenager", an insecure fan who hated any hint of 'silliness' in his comics and demanded that they be "adult" and taken deathly seriously, even though the shocking content of said comics only implied immaturity; and the "collector" who obsessively and joylessly maintained his collection in pristine condition, with little or no interest in the actual content. Ultimately, the recurring theme of this Age may seem to be short-term gains that lead to long-term harm for the series, company or even industry.
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