Comics and the Economy

In case you ain’t noticed yet, the economy is pretty darned awful right now.

Over a half-million people lost their jobs in November, with expectations that a similar number will lose their jobs every month for a while. A few million more people are going to lose their jobs when the automakers declare bankruptcy, including car dealers, auto parts manufacturers, and, well, pretty much everyone living in Michigan and the northern midwest — and no matter how you feel about the automakers and their employees, that’s going to make things pretty awful for a huge number of people. And the government has finally decided that, despite everyone previously insisting, nope, nope, not in a recession yet, we’ve actually been officially in a recession since last December. Thanks, guys, glad you finally noticed. Hope those of us who are now job-hunting haven’t inconvenienced you too much.

So, if I may be so crude, if not shallow, where does this leave the comics industry?

Probably not anywhere good.

Book publishers are facing some pretty severe cuts, as are media companies in general. Heck, I’m even reading that there’s a chance that some large cities may actually lose their daily newspapers, thanks to hard times in the publishing biz. And if all those other companies are in trouble — many of them making way, way more than the entire comics industry makes every year — you’d be a sucker not to expect some nasty, nasty times on the way for the comics world. We’ve already seen an increase in the number of low-selling books getting cancelled, and speculation is running high that Marvel and DC will soon be raising the prices of their books up to four smackeroos each; if the economy continues to tank, how long will comics publishers be able to rely on readers continuing to spend their increasingly-tight leisure income on any comic books? Are we approaching the days when the only comics being published will be Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man? Or do even those mainstays have a future in this grim economy?

I sure don’t want to be one of those gloom-and-doom forecasters, because I’ve sure got no training in economics or finance. After all, the comic book was born during the Great Depression, and that suggests that the generally low-cost escapism offered by comics could be something that’d survive during a bad economy. Of course, paper is a lot more expensive now than it was back then…

But at any rate, if you are, for some reason, mad enough to think that investing in comics is the perfect way to get you through the economic downturn, could you please cut back on your liquor intake? Unless you already own Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel Comics #1, and two or three other extremely valuable comics, you won’t actually make much money collecting comics. It takes decades for a comic to get really valuable, and the most valuable ones are all from before the end of World War II, when all the paper drives meant that a lot of comics got pulped for the war effort, driving up the value of the ones that were left.

In other words, if you buy a copy of Action #1 today, it’ll cost you over $400,000, and it probably won’t increase in value very much over the next few years. And if you buy a new comic today, no matter who the artist or writer is, no matter what it’s about, no matter what gimmick may be decorating the cover, it may never be worth more than the cover price.

Besides, has it really been so long since the 1990s that people have forgotten the speculator boom-and-bust that almost killed off the comics biz? Let’s please not start that stuff up again, okay?

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