So I have been reading about Marvel's "rip-off" scheme for an incentive cover of Fear Itself #6. For those who are not familiar with it, Marvel Comics is offering comic book shop owners a incentive cover of Fear Itself #6 for every 50 covers of any of DC Comics new Flashpoint series that are mailed to Marvel.
So here's my two cents on it... Keep in mind, I don't keep up with the new storylines and usually wait until events are over before even bothering to read them. I haven't even read a whole lot after Civil War if you want me to give you a point of reference (Hey man, I have all the time in the world) I also don't really care about the chest beating about which company is better -- Marvel, DC, or any of the increasingly irrelevant independents --, or even about the ethics about Marvel's offer (Which is not the first time they have done something like this), or even how backward their whole rationale is (which it is)...
My two cents is this: It's proof that Comic Books, as a print medium and especially as collectibles are dead. We are living in a digital age, and I would hope that most everyone who buys comics does so for the stories as opposed to the potential future resale value is switching to digital.
I know I have. When I first started collecting comics, I was all for the "big money" that was promised at the end of a long life of collecting. This was in the early 90's when holofoil covers were all the rage, and people were rushing out to buy latest brainless muscle bound big-titted issue #0 of whatever the hell Image, or Malibu were pumping out. Brian Pullido was somehow making a decent living writing a horror comic about teenage angst and hormones (Evil Ernie/Lady Death, blah blah blah *YAWN*)
Almost 20 years later, I've got filing boxes full of comics that I don't bother pulling out unless I'm morbidly curious and probably the most valuable one in the lot is probably work under $100 if I'm lucky.
I dropped out of comics for a bit until the late 90's early 2000's when the comic industry was going through a revitalization of sorts. Marvel was pumping out movies and their titles were making it big. It was also the time of the big 80's comeback. Dreamwave was in business cranking out Transformer comic books, He-Man, Thundercats and so on were making a come back catering to all the man-children that were the prime age category for comics at the time.
Being a huge Transformers fan (all though these days not so much anymore) I swallowed up almost the endless variant covers of Pat Lee's original run of Transformers Generation 1 by Dreamwave. I think I have all the varient covers of Issue #1.... I think... Back then that was a big effing deal. One of the rarest was worth $100 at the time it came out. Now a days, you're more likely to find these Dreamwave Transformer books ending up in a dollar bin at your local shop because... Surprise... the hype went down and nobody is going to fork out the cash on these comics anymore.
And that's the way it goes... Unless you're vacuum sealing your comics in CCG grade plastic, age and lack of interest pretty much killed your original investment.
I was 25 when the critical reality of comic book collecting hit me -- by this point I didn't care about the resale value anyway -- but it polarized my desire to only purchase graphic novels, and now recently going digital. And the whole "Rip-Off Scheme" polarizes it quite nicely:
If your buying comics thinking that they are going to be worth a large sum of money in your life time... Don't hold your breath.
The industry since the 1990's has become so over-saturated and convoluted that any sort of investments you make in comics are going to be short term investments -- at least in your life time --
I'll give you an example here... Amazing Fantasy #15... One of the most recent sales of a near mint copy of this comic went for 1.1 Million dollars in March 2011. Let's take a look at the reality here: Amazing Fantasy came out during a time when comic books were not considered collectibles, they were read -- and well read by by kids -- and usually tossed out in the trash by parents. They were considered rags much in the same way we look at tabloids in the super-market.. This was of course made worse during the comic book witch hunts of the 50's when assholes like Fredrick Werham almost had comics banned by Congress because they were "corrupting the youth" (boy does that sound familiar, but that's a rant for another day). The reason why Amazing Fantasy #15 is worth so much is because it's so damned rare.
Compare that to any comic that is released these days: Millions of copies, in various different markets in numerous languages. Not only that, what does Marvel usually do when all the copies of a particular issue sell out fast? Oh right, they do a second printing.
Now we have digital comics that are available the same day as print comics, which will never run out of supply. Plus you can find just about any back issued you want either in TPB, or digitally online (be it through the publishers themselves or other -- ahem -- less credible means)
What that means my friend, is that any money making potential is short lived. There is the initial hype, something gets big and then the market is over-saturated. Then the second printing, TPB and digital releases fill the void taking an instant profit off anyone who didn't want to rush out and buy it when it came fresh off the presses. In other words, the comic you hold in your hand is no longer rare. The only means that the industry -- and collectors... Or worse yet your comic book shop owner... Can bilk you out of a lot of hard earned money is with these ridiculous incentive covers.
Fear Itself is the big to-do over at Marvel am I right? And that "Rip-Off" incentive cover is probably sitting on a shelf at your local shop for a hefty price tag. Taunting you to buy it because it is a COLLECTIBLE.
I have one answer to this:
X-Men #1. Released in 1991. It was hot shit back then. Five different incentive covers each in their hayday were worth probably about 25-50 bucks each depending on your region (Adjusting for inflation my friend that's about $41 each in our money today) Today, each of those variant covers are worth about $5. More over, nobody is really interested. Jim Lee isn't that big a deal, and the X-Men line-up from that era was so over-used it's not of any interest to anyone.
Another example is Spawn #1. Back in 1992 when it first came out it got so popular you were lucky if you could buy it off a shop for $100 (Today that's the equivalent of $160). Today, it's only worth $10. The ultra rare black and white variant cover? $20. I remember seeing that one listed in Wizard in some god forsaken issue in 1994 going for $200.
So with that little bit of reality in mind... Why would you, in your right mind, shell out a ridiculous sum of money on a variant cover that is going to be just barely worth more than its original cover price some 10-20 years down the road? Worse off, there are people filing these suckers away in comic book carbonite and filing them away from the light of day in droves, insuring that enough copies of these comics will exist long after you are dust. I'd figure that they might be worth something (provided the human race doesn't completely annihilate itself) in another century or so. Why? Because we've gotten so good at preserving stuff.
The downside of capitalism and our materialistic society has made the notion of antiques obsolete by virtue of people hoarding everything and keeping it in cherry condition. I foresee a future when a lot of us -- some 60-70 years of age will be rushing to the Antiques Roadshow with long boxes full of comics to find out that we aren't the only ones, and have our hearts crushed when the snooty British hosts tell us that Fear Itself #6 is not as rare as it was cracked up to be.
Long story short: The print medium is being rendered irrelevant day by day. I can see a sharp decline and all those mass produced comics will be worth nearly nothing. Comics won't become rare again until the amount of printings drastically drop and people stop hoarding them.
But even then.. At the end of the day, it took me very little time to realize that hoarding and collecting for resale is absolute bullocks. You are not enjoying the stories (Be they timeless epics, or flash in the pan cash grabs that will be irrelevant in a few months time), you are enjoying a false commodity.
I'm not saying you shouldn't go out and buy comics in print -- nothing beats holding an actual book in your hands. I'm just saying, don't buy a comic for the wrong reason. Otherwise you're going to be very disappointed.