Spider-Man #1. X-Men #1. Spawn #1. Superman #75. All were rungs on a ladder taking the comics industry to its most dizzying heights ever during the industry’s early 1990s boom. But when did the market peak? When did the bubble start to lose air?
There are several possible answers. When it comes to simple unit sales, April 1993 takes the prize. It’s estimated that in excess of 45 million comic books were shipped to comics shops in that “Superman Returns” month — the most before or since. (They weren’t all bought — and they weren’t all paid for. But they were printed and shipped.)
Another possibility could be July 27, 1993, the ad deadline for the largest issue of Comics Buyers Guide in newspaper form to that point.
As the only weekly barometer then going back 20 years of publisher, distributor, and retailer investment in promoting comics to consumers, advertising in CBG generally gave a good snapshot of the condition of the market. The high-water mark came with issue #1031, cover-dated Aug. 20, 1993 right before the San Diego Comic-Con. The single-section paper ran 176 pages, almost four times as long as average-sized issues from the early 1980s.
The pages of #1031 provide a snapshot of the commerce taking place in the field:
Kingpin Comics offered comics to consumers by the case lot. (The firm, whose later ads guided consumers to comics with speculative potential, folded in 1994.)
Lightning Comics promised to hold printings below 250,000 in order to enhance its comics collectibility.
Harvey, an ancient kiddie-comics publisher, announced Nemesis, its own action-comics line.
Special limited-edition, chromium, and/or premium-filled premiere issues were announced in full-page ads from a host of new publishers, including Majestic and GalaxiNovels; other full pages announced the launch of publishers Axis Comics and Tyranus.
The cover feature of #1031 spotlighted Knightfall, in which DC planned to take the Batman titles to the same sales success as the Superman titles a year earlier by replacing Batman. The keystone issue, Batman #500, sold amazingly well more than 1 million copies but nowhere near as well as Superman #75.
The editorial of issue #1031 provided a warning to publishers of the markets precarious position. Don and Maggie Thompson wrote that 762 titles were solicited by Capital City Distribution for July, costing anybody ordering one of everything $1928.69, then an all-time high. Warning of what happened during the black-and-white glut, they wrote:
There are more stores, more comic-book purchasers (there is a question of whether there are more readers). But the audience has not grown enough to support this much material.
And do you know what? Some comic books last heard of during the black-and-white glut are back, adding to this new, larger glut.
After every glut comes a collapse and, with every collapse, there are casualties, including a lot of good titles and a lot of good publishers.
So, if youre thinking about getting into comic-book publishing, our advice remains:
Dont do it.
Good advice, preceding a seven-year recession that took down many retailers, publishers, and distributors before ending in 2000.
But whenever the market actually peaked, it wasn’t entirely clear to many until January 1994, when, faced with the potential of staying open into another tax year, at least 1,000 shops shut their doors.