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10/31/04 - Marvel this week released their 3rd Quarter 2004 financial statement covering the Jul-Sep 2004 timeframe.  As expected with these statements, the numbers are spun to put the best possible light on the situation.  Same with Marvel's publishing numbers.  Marvel makes the following statement in regards to their publishing division:

In total, there was an approximate 5% increase in total circulation to 12.4 million units compared to the prior year period, reflecting success in the Company’s title management strategy. 

What's does that mean exactly?  On the surface, it sounds like circulation has increased overall from last year and the reason for this good news is a new strategy on Marvel's part.  The statement is entirely true.  Circulation is up and increased title management  is the reason.  But it's not as good as the statement would imply...

A look at year on year comparisons show a decidedly less than rosy picture...

As a comparison I used the Direct Market figures as supplied by the website ICV2.com for the following months:

July 2003 - August 2003 - September 2003

July 2004 - August 2004 - September 2004

Total comics sold to Direct Market from Jul-Sep 2003 - 8,233,037 copies

Total comics sold to Direct Market from Jul-Sep 2004 - 9,418,706 copies

A healthy 1,185,669 copy increase within the DM.  What's also notable about these numbers is, if the 12.4 million number in the statement is to be believed, a total of 3 million copies or 25% of total were either issues sold off the newsstand or trade paperbacks.  I find that a fairly optimistic number as TPBs normally sell in the lower 4 digits and we all know newsstand sales are pretty much non-existent when talking monthlies.  I have no way of refuting these numbers though so we'll have take it for granted for now.  On the surface the numbers looks pretty good but dig a little deeper and they tell the real story:

Total number of individual titles offered from Jul-Sep 2003 - 168 titles

Total number of individual titles offered from Jul-Sep 2004 - 220 titles

An increase of 52 titles or 34% more titles available than 2003.  Technically, with a 34% increase in titles we would see a comparable increase in circulation.  Marvel maintains overall circulation increased 5% over last year.  In the Direct Market,  the numbers show a 12% increase.  A pitiful number when increasing your line by a third.

So what's really going on here?  The fact is Marvel's saturating the market with titles to offset decreasing circulation numbers across their line.  Essentially hiding the fact that a steady drain is continuing by offering low selling product to counteract the losses:

Sep 2003 - Sep 2004 Monthly Sales Comparison

Number of titles still published which have increased circulation Sep 2003-Sep 2004 (19 Total) - 4

Number of titles still published which have decreased circulation Sep 2003-Sep 2004 (19 Total) - 15

To further show how the readers exodus is continuing, two of the 4 titles (Iron Man and Thor) that have shown increases in the comparison can be directly attributed to the current Avengers Disassembled crossover which has, momentarily, increased their circulation above 2003 numbers.  These two titles are destined for cancellation and being rebooted after the Disassembled arc is complete.

So essentially 75-80% of Marvel's ongoing core titles have lost readers over the last year.  The influx (glut?) of newer low selling titles are making up the difference and boosting overall circulation to hide the loss.  The introduction of newer titles wouldn't be so bad if Marvel was showing confidence in their product.  Sadly that's not happening.  Marvel looks rather quickly at initial returns on the first couple of issues.  If the circulation numbers aren't great, Marvel will say the previously announced ongoing is now a mini-series and all publicity will be pulled.  So the title is given a quick death before readers can discover the title and build good word of mouth, if applicable.  Honestly, most of the new titles are crap from the get go.  

This new strategy Marvel's employing, and hyped as successful by the 3rd quarter financial statement, is in actuality covering up losses across their whole line.  Currently, the strategy is working if the last financial statement is any indication.  Stockholders won't go to the trouble of digging in the numbers for the truth.  They are content when hearing of growth in both product and profits.  

The core readership, on the other hand, are becoming disenchanted with the influx of ever more crap product, the endless event driven storylines, and the bastardization of the characters.   An effect won't necessarily be seen in the 4th Quarter report due to the massive rebooting of the Avengers line and the associated high circulation of all the #1s that will result.  It'll be interesting though to see Marvel 1st Quarter 2005 financial statement to see where strategy takes them.  Personally, I don't think the stockholders will be amused...


10/25/04 - Found the ad above, published in late-1983, while looking through some recently received Charlton comics.  I find it noteworthy that Charlton was using one of their horror characters to hype other comic genres.  On one hand, it demonstrates how important the horror line was to Charlton's bottom line.  I'd be willing to bet if Gunfighters sold better than the horror line, we'd be seeing Jim Bowie on the ad.  On the other hand though, the ad also illustrates one of the major problem with the overall Charlton line.  They never had a readily identifiable character to serve as the company's defacto mascot.  An argument could be made for Captain Atom coming close but in reality few readers probably cared for the character by the early-80s.  It wouldn't matter who was displayed on the ad as the writing was already on the wall and the company folded less than a year later...


10/24/04 - Back in May, I shared my disgust at Marvel for teasing at Gwen Stacy's return in Amazing Spider-Man (ASM).  Warning though before I go forward.  I'll be talking explicitly about events in the current Sins Past storyline.  If you haven't read the story and don't want it spoiled, skip down to read about the marvelous Leonberg Comic Show...

Now with that said, I could see no reason for hinting at Gwen's return other than a shameless publicity stunt to get more readers to buy the title while at the same time potentially alienating long-time readers who consider her death one of Marvel's all-time classics.   Well after 4 issues into the "Sins Past" storyline, it can safely be said that Gwen did not return to the land of living.  What did happen though is much, much worse.

It's been revealed that Gwen willfully slept with Norman Osborne (Green Goblin) and produced twins in the process.  

I not sure where to start here...

First off, this whole storyline reads as wrong.  Gwen never slept with "anyone" in the stories I read.  She was devoted to Peter and vice versa.  Having her sleep with anyone, not to mention Osborne, is completely out of character.  Wouldn't happen and didn't happen in the stories I remember.  And to make sure, I've gone back and reread all ASM issues from 65-123.  Nothing in those issues even suggests this "revelation".  Hell, Gwen was never given the chance to be pregnant in those issues.  No weight gain, no pregnancy, no change, not even menstrual cramps.  Nothing.   Also, no change to her otherwise bubbly personality.  A pregnancy would weigh pretty heavily on the mind don't ya think?   Other than her trip to France where the kids were born, she was a constant presence in the title.  There isn't a break in the ASM timeline to entertain such a story.  None.  

Also, we have a storyline affecting Peter and MJ dealing with the ramifications of these kids being Norman's but no mention whatsoever of Baby May.  If you don't know who she is, don't feel bad.  Peter and MJ had a daughter that was kidnapped by Osborne just after his return.  Ever since, Marvel has slept the story under the rug and the baby is never mentioned.  You'd think if there was any storyline where Peter and MJ would discuss her it would be this one.  But so far nada...

I have to seriously wonder if the writer, J. Michael Straczynski, has even read the back issues in question.  He has responded, if you can call it responding, to the rather vocal detractors to the storyline.  His rational has been that nothing's been done with the character in the last 30 years and because of this, she was getting stale.  What?  Maybe nothing's been done because she was dead.  There is no reason to dredge up a storyline and add a layer to Gwen, especially a layer that's completely out of character, when she was doing just fine, dead and well remembered by fandom, beforehand.  Also, JMS has hinted at a 3-month gap in #116-118 which contained a reprint of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1.  The only problem is the story was rewritten and redrawn in areas to seamlessly fit into the current continuity of the title.  So only three days passed between the three issues and readers were none the wiser that the story was 5 years old.  If JMS had actually read the issues, he would have immediately known this...

This is by far the worst example of shock for shock's value we have seen coming out of the Marvel stable recently.  The current Avengers storyline is another where long-time characters are being killed off for no apparent reason other than the writers can.  These stories are a testament to the sad state of Marvel where it is deemed better to destroy what has gone before instead of embracing their heritage and building upon it.  This "event" programming is doing nothing other than alienate readers.  Sure it will boost the numbers for a short time but long term will see large drops as readers bail the titles in disgust.  The 90s Clone Saga and the resultant exodus of readers should have served as a reminder of how these stories can kill a title's circulation.  I guess not.  What's that saying?  "Those that don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it".   I can't think of a more apt quote to describe Marvel at this time...


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10/23/04 - Getting back up to speed after an extended period away from updating this site....

The semi-annual Leonberg Comic-Bourse was held 3 September.  Some long time readers may remember my last visit as I wrote a rather lengthy article earlier this year praising the show.  During that visit I was solely a buyer.  This time I experienced the show as a seller as well.  Not a lot to add that wasn't covered in my first report.  The show was well attended and I did quite well selling my wares.  

 

 

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What sold?  Again, as has been demonstrated at most all of the various shows I've attended as a dealer in the last year, DCs rule the roost.  All DCs sell.  And sell quite well.  I'd say Bronze DCs now outsell my Marvels by about 10-1.   I recently bought a couple hundred DC 20-35centers to fill out my boxes and sold over half of them.  I probably would have sold more if a couple of the bigger collectors had brought more money.  Didn't sell as much as the Mannheim show last year but came damn close.  You can see my expansive display at left.  

 

 

 

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What did I buy?  Bought some nice mid-grade Batman DC 100 Pagers, a mid-grade Superboy #112, and high grade copies of Madame Zanadu #1, Batman #400, and Invaders #22 for around 25 Euros ($33).  Also, bought some recent comics: NYX #3-4 and Astro City Local Heroes #1 for cover price plus $1.  Astro City is quite the good read.  Highly recommended.  Maybe I'll make it a COTD...

I also was able to buy another piece of original art.  If I haven't mentioned it before, I'm a huge fan of Sal Buscema.  He's the man I attribute as maintaining the Marvel "House Style" of art for the 1970s and much of the 1980s.  He has probably drawn every character in the Marvel Universe at one time or another and drawn them damn well in my opinion.  So it was a pleasure to find the piece at right.  The page comes from Rom #53 Page 19.  Bought for 30 Euros ($45).  And to add to my excitement is the art depicts a certain US President who has recently passed and is considered by me to be one of the greatest men of my generation...

 

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Overall though, like other shows, there wasn't many dealers with US comics for sale.  Other than a small box (where I obtained most of the comics I bought), I was the only dealer to have a wide array of Bronze and Silver Age in the room.  Good for me as a seller but terrible as a buyer.  Regardless, I had an extremely good time even given the fact it didn't have much to offer me as a buyer.  Just having a bunch of collectors in the same room, whether they like European or US comics, is always a thrill to experience.

 

 


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10/08/04 - In June, I decided my search for the elusive Fantastic Four #60 Newsstand Variant was taking too much of my time and I finally wanted to be done with it.  I placed a classified ad in CBG.  I spammed the Internet newsgroups and various message boards.  All met with varying results.  So after no success, I decided to offer a trade.  A VF Giant Size X-Men #1 for a copy of the FF variant.  Seemed simple enough at the time.  My thinking was if there was anyway to quickly get a copy of the variant, offering one of the Bronze Holy Grails as trade bait should be a no-brainer.  Boy, was I wrong...

I sure enough received a good number of replies specifically about the trade.  All except one couldn't come through with proof they had the issue in hand.  A dealer who I've had numerous dealings in the past found a copy at a local con.  He provided a scan of the comic.  This sounds like a simple thing but when others claimed they had a copy, all I received was excuses why they couldn't provide scans.   We agreed on the trade and everything seemed rosy.  I sent the X-Men, insured with delivery tracking, before receiving the FF in hand, a requirement I laid out beforehand when first advertising the trade, due to our good relationship in the past.  The FF was also sent my way.

I never received it.

Before I go further, I want to make one thing clear.  I believe, without a doubt,  the comic was sent.  I've dealt with the dealer in the past and always been extremely satisfied with our transactions.  He's a stand-up guy...

I stayed in contact with the dealer while waiting for the comic.  I was apprehensive due to the fact the FF wasn't insured or tracked.  I have found out since this episode that you can't buy delivery tracking for packages sent to an APO.  But you can insure packages.  And by insuring them, I have to sign for the packages upon delivery.  Insuring is as good as signature tracking when it enters the military system.  A good lesson learned to know...

After waiting two months for the comic, and bugging my post office here daily, it was clear the FF wasn't going to be delivered.  I contacted the dealer about how to go forward.  He said he would look for another at an upcoming con to replace the one lost in the mail system.  To complicate matters, the dealer had had the X-Men comic graded by CGC and slabbed (it received an 8.0 as I suspected).

He wasn't able to find one.  He offered to send me back the X-Men which frankly saved me from the awkward position of asking first.  After some complications, the now slabbed X-Men arrived yesterday.  Over three months after I originally sent it off.

In the meantime, while trying to work this out, another copy was offered to me, for cash, via the CGC Forum.  I jumped on the chance of finally getting a copy in my hands.  That's the copy linked above...

So after all this drama, I finally have a copy of my coveted comic.  I should feel thrilled but frankly I'm not.  There is never any joy in bad deals in my opinion.  I'm majorly pissed at the military postal system for putting me in this position...

As an aside...the classified ad in CBG did generate a number of e-mails after it first appeared.  None turned out to be serious.  But after the ad ran more than twice I received no response.  The ad is still running but I don't expect any e-mails.  So another lesson learned is to not buy more than one or two issues worth of ads...