On Business: Unloading '90s Comics

By | Monday, December 19, 2016 Leave a Comment
Pictured here is an item I came across in a Dollar Tree store recently. As you can see, it's being billed as a "Superhero Comic Book Collector Kit" with a "superhero comic book and more!" Inside this kit are E-Man #3, an unopened pack of Hyborian Gates CCG, a Grateful Nation Remembers WWII trading card, an Elvis Presley Enterprises Elvis Portraits trading card, and How to Collect Comics from Cardsone.

Aside from that last piece (which is undated, but contains a comics timeline that runs up through 2004) all of these date from between 1990 and 1995. I scanned through the small stack of other polybags when I was in the store and, while I couldn't identify the cards without opening everything, the comics on display were all from the early 1990s, mostly from Image. My initial thought was that some enterprising person came into a huge collection of comics dirt cheap, but then realized they couldn't sell them for anything because how many gazillion copies of Youngblood #1 were printed anyway? So they packaged them up as a "kit" and were selling them through places like Dollar Tree to at least make a little money off them. But in reading through that How to Collect Comics pamphlet, I don't think that's quite the case.

How to Collect Comics is sixteen pages, all newsprint (including the cover). It indeed contains some basic info about collecting: general rules about grading, "Do's & Dont's" [sic], the names of all the components on a typical comic cover, etc. But it also contains a number of ads promoting various goods and services from Cardsone. In fact, six of the pages are full page ads and three of the content pages are clearly skewed towards promoting them. The ads mostly seem to promote a variety of options for purchasing quantities of superhero comics in bulk. From "3 for a Buck!" up to "25 lbs of New Condition Major Publisher Comic Books". In a few instances, you can specify the title from a very short list, but in most cases, it's a total crapshoot. (Which isn't surprising, given their prices.)

What this suggests to me is that my initial idea about how/why they were doing this was a bit off. While they still clearly have a large stash of (probably mostly 1990s-era) comics that don't have a lot of retail value, this polybagging idea is NOT just a means to unload them. It's actually a marketing campaign! You get some budding collector to drop a dollar on a single issue, provide a little information about how to become a 'better' collector, and then throw some ads at him that promise huge volumes of comics at incredibly low prices.

I well recall my early days in comic fandom where my knowledge was still relatively superficial and not very nuanced. A #1 meant collectiblity. My eye had yet to really discern good art from bad. And, of course, the low income dictated by my age meant I was very keen on value, but owing to my lack of nuance, that basically meant more comics was better than fewer comics, regardless of quality. All of those ideas are heavily catered to in How to Collect Comics. And while I don't think many 12 year olds are going to be ordering 25 pounds of comics, they might, after pointing out the ad to their parents, find a heavy box under the Christmas tree.

While I'm obviously looking at this with a very cynical eye, I can't really fault Cardsone here. There were a shit-ton of comics produced in the 1990s and nobody wants them. Making them essentially valueless. But Cardsone has apparently found a way to take these (mostly) crap books off retailers' hands, and still make a few bucks off them. I can't complain much about that.
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