The great comic book bubble

Jonathan V. Last offers a fascinating mashup of two of my favorite topics:  comic books and economics.   Not only that, he draws lessons that apply to the recent popping of the housing bubble:

In 1974 you could buy an average copy of Action Comics #1—the first appearance of Superman—for about $400. By 1984, that comic cost about $5,000. This was real money, and by the end of the decade, comics sales at auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s were so impressive that the New York Times would take note when, for instance, Detective Comics #27—the first appearance of Batman—sold for a record-breaking $55,000 in December 1991. The Times was there again a few months later, when a copy of Action Comics #1 shattered that record, selling for $82,500. Comic books were as hot as a market could be. At the investment level, high-value comics were appreciating at a fantastic rate. At the retail level, comic-book stores were popping up all across the country to meet a burgeoning demand. As a result, even comics of recent vintage saw giant price gains. A comic that sold initially for 60 cents could often fetch a 1,000 percent return on the investment just a few months later.

But 1992 was the height of the comic-book bubble. Within two years, the entire industry was in danger of going belly up. The business’s biggest player, Marvel, faced bankruptcy. Even the value of blue chips, like Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, plunged. The resulting carnage devastated the lives of thousands of adolescadolescent boys. I know. As a 12-year-old I had a collection worth around $5,000. By the time I was ready to sell my comic books to buy a car—such are the long-term financial plans of teenagers—they were worthless.

The comic-book bubble was the result not of a single mania, but of a confluence of events. Speculation was part of the story. Price gains for the high-value comics throughout the 1980s attracted speculators, who pushed the prices up further. At the retail level, the possibility that each new issue might someday sell for thousands of dollars drove both the sale of new comics and the market for back-issue comics. It was not uncommon for a comic book to sell at its cover price (generally 60 cents or $1) the month it was released and then appreciate to $10 or $15 a few months later.

But the principal cause of the bubble was the industry’s distribution system.

via The Crash of 1993 | The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Last goes on to spell out how the distribution system both inflated the comic book market–not just collectibles but the whole industry–and then brought it crashing down.  Marvel Comics actually went bankrupt in 1996.

The market did recover somewhat. In 2009, thirteen years after bankruptcy, Marvel was bought out by Disney for $4 billion.  And Action Comics #1 now sells for $1.5 million.   But the money today comes not from selling magazines on woodpulp but from intellectual property:  the movies that get made from comic books–as well as the accompanying toys and merchandise–make them valuable.

I lived through what Mr. Last describes.  In my years of reading comic books as a kid, I accumulated some titles that actually became rather valuable.  In the early 1970s, as a college student perennially in need of money, I sold them.  Soon the money was gone and a few years later I was kicking myself at how those titles had skyrocketed in value.  Now I just wish I had them so that I could read them again and re-experience my childhood imagination.

HT: Tom Hering

Thoughts on the conversation with my critic

Thanks to  Trevin Wax for arranging that discussion between Ben Witherington and me.  (See the posts over the last three days.)  It’s a good use of technology to have that kind of forum.  Some thoughts:

(1)  An effective argument–that is, one whose purpose is persuasion rather than just hitting the other person over the head with your position–tends to start by finding common ground.   I did that.   (I hope I didn’t concede too much.  Perhaps I should have defended Luther more.  Or gone after Ben’s Arminianism.  But those lines of thought didn’t seem productive in this particular argument.)  In academic debate, it’s especially important to find a way to be civil.  I think we succeeded at that.

(2)  If I were to someday sit down with Dr. Witherington at a pub over a beer as he suggested–and how significant was that offer for a Wesleyan!–I’d want to ask him, What kind of good works do you think play such an important role in your understanding of salvation?  I was astonished that he doesn’t believe in the “imputed righteousness” of Christ, holding instead to an “imparted righteousness” given by the Holy Spirit, which means an actual righteousness that Christians attain.  I know about the Arminian doctrine of perfection and their belief that it is possible to lead a sinless life.   I would like to ask him what that looks like.  Is it doing some heroic and spectacular acts of goodness?  Or is it being able to avoid bad behavior?  I have noticed that the notion that our works contribute to our salvation often manifests itself in a person adopting some code of behavior that is rigid but fairly easy to follow, such as abstaining from drinking or smoking, even though the code has little actual moral content.  It also has nothing to do with what the Bible actually says.  (Another option is to come up with ritualistic observances, as in Roman Catholicism, which believes the same thing.   Repeating the Rosary a hundred times becomes a “good work” that accrues “merit,” even though the action is not particularly “good” in a moral sense.)   I would like to ask, are the godly elderly women in a Wesleyan congregation who believe in the necessity of moral perfection any different, really, in their behavior or demeanor than the godly women in a Lutheran congregation who consider themselves sinners saved only by the blood of Christ?   I’d truly like to know what this moral perfectionism is supposed to look like.  (I’d love to hear from any of you readers who believe that.)

(3)  I want to start a movement that goes by the brand and the slogan GTBL.   Not to be confused with LGBT.   My acronym stands for “Glad To Be Lutheran.”   These kinds of theological discussions and the personal stories that emerge from them always make me feel that way.

Here Dr. Witherington actually attended a Lutheran church.  But what made him indignant is service of confession and absolution in which he had to pray, “I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean.”  He resented the theology that he characterized as “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   He thinks he isn’t by nature sinful and unclean, that if he falls he can just get right back up on his own, indeed, that God requires that of him.  How different we are!  I know myself as a sinner by bitter experience.  I think that phrase from the TV commercial shows excellent theology.  I’ve fallen, along with Adam & Eve but by my own fault as well.  I can’t get up.  I need help.  I need someone to raise me up.   And that happens when I hear the words of absolution.  The Gospel is not just for back when a person first became a Christian, but it’s for every moment of the Christian life.

Dr. Witherington also has problems with the presence of God.  He doesn’t want to think that God is in vocation any more than he wants to think that God is actually present in the Sacraments.  He wants space for human beings to be autonomous.  I understand that.  But I consider it so sad!

I do respect him and agree with much of what he said in his book.  I don’t mean to vaunt my Lutheranism over those of you who don’t share my theology.   I can understand someone not believing in Lutheranism for all kinds of good reasons, including that it is too good to be true.  All that I can say personally, though, as I study other theologies, is GTBL.

Me on marriage

The latest issue of the Lutheran Witness includes an article that I wrote on marriage, addressing the question of whether or not it will become obsolete and what it means to understand marriage as vocation.  You can read it here:  The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

The War in Afghanistan

President Obama announced a time table for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.  The Washington Post, no less, which usually supports the president and all things liberal and Democratic raised some questions in an editorial: The president may be sabotaging his own Afghanistan strategy – The Washington Post

So is the president declaring victory and going home?  Are we leaving just as we are making progress?  Is announcing when we’ll be leaving just an incentive for the Taliban to hunker downuntil after we’re gone?  Is this “Mission Accomplished” or helicopters on the roof of the American embassy?

Where does this leave us?

World Swastika Rehabilitation Day

Sunday is World Swastika Rehabilitation Day, celebrated by the New Age religious cult known as the Raelians:

World Swastika Rehabilitation Day (WOSRED) will be celebrated on June 26 through marches and informative events worldwide, according to a statement released this morning by the International Raelian Movement (IRM).

WOSRED was launched last year by Rael, spiritual leader of the IRM.

“The goal is to return the swastika’s true meaning of peace and harmony to this ancient symbol regretfully hijacked by the Nazis,” said Brigitte Boisselier, Ph.D., IRM spokesperson. “I’ve been questioned often about my Raelian symbol, in which a swastika intertwines with two overlapping triangles that form a six-pointed star. People were obviously disturbed to see a swastika intertwined with a Star of David, but when they’re told it was used for millennia and is still used today by many peaceful religious groups, especially in Asia, they look at our symbol in a very different way.”

On June 26, “hundreds, or, hopefully, thousands of people” will celebrate World Swastika Rehabilitation Day in the streets of Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York in the United States; in Vancouver and Toronto in Canada; in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth in Australia; in Zacatecas, Veracruz and Mexico City in Mexico; in Milan, Italy; Lyon, France; and Rotterdam, Holland.

Boisselier pointed out that the Pro-swastika group initiated by Rael now includes Buddhists and Hindus, who have used the swastika as a symbol since the very beginning of their religions.

“No one should be surprised to see the swastika as a revered symbol in most religious groups because it’s part of the symbol given to us by the human scientists from another planet who created us, the Elohim – those who are at the origin of all religions,” Boisselier explained. “They gave the Raelian symbol to Rael when they met with him in 1973 (see rael.org), just as they gave it to all the prophets of the past. That’s why we can find traces of this symbol on every continent and in every culture, not only in Asia with the Buddhists and Hindus, but in America with the Native Americans and Aztecs; in Europe with the Celts and the Greeks; and even in Israel, where you can see it in some of the temples.”

Boisselier said it’s important for Raelians to rehabilitate this symbol given to us by our creators, since they not only brought it to us but explained what it means.

“They said it represents the infinity of time, a very important concept that is now essential to the Raelian philosophy,” she explained. “According to Rael, the universe is infinite in both space and time. It has always existed and will always exist.”

The problem, Boisselier said, is that our society wants to have a beginning and an end for everything, including the universe.

“That’s the reason for the big bang theory, which is now more and more contested by scientists,” she said. “Already in 1973, the Elohim were telling us that there is no beginning to an infinite universe, and this concept of infinity is essential to grasp before we can continue to advance scientifically from where we are now. By promoting the swastika, we’re actually helping the world scientists who have a few minutes to share with us. They need to make this major paradigm shift to progress!”

via Raelians to Celebrate ‘World Swastika Rehabilitation Day’ on June 26 – Yahoo! News.

That the Nazis did choose this figure as their symbol tells us something about them as well, their embrace of an essentially pagan worldview, one that rejects “Jewish” (a.k.a. Biblical) notions such as creation and linear time.

Anyway, so the Raelians believe that we were created by space aliens who came back to have a conversation with their founder in 1973.  Here is another new religion that tries to cast itself in scientific and materialistic terms.  Maybe the swastika could become the symbol of the Singularity.

HT: Joe Carter

A conversation with one of my critics #3

In which we conclude the “battle of the books” between my  God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Focal Point) and  Ben Witherington’s  Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor and also get into some other issues:

WITHERINGTON: Why do both Jesus and Paul talk about rewards in heaven or in the Kingdom, and the lack thereof for those who are less profitable servants, shall we say? Do you think virtue is its own reward, and how does virtue relate to your notion of vocation or calling?

VEITH: Of course we are rewarded. God awards abundantly. And I have no problem with the notion that the great saints, the true heroes of the faith, will receive a greater reward than someone like me, though we are also told that the first will be last and the last first and that there will be lots of surprises in Heaven. (Some will put forward their “mighty works” only to have the Lord say, “I never knew you” [Matthew 7:22-23].)

Virtue is to do God’s will. We are to do God’s will in every part of our lives – in our families, in the workplace, in the church, and in our culture; that is, in our vocations.

The underlying question is, how do we become virtuous; that is, how do we do God’s will? We must know God in order to know His will–which means we must know and trust His Word–and to actually do His will, we need to be saved from our sinful condition through the life-changing work of Jesus Christ. Now  we are in the realm of faith.  To say that good works are the fruit of faith, which Matthew 7 also teaches in the passage immediately before the one cited above, is a very literal truth.  Knowing what Christ has done for us and personally trusting and depending on Him makes us want to do His will.

I totally agree with you when in your book you indicate that coercing someone to do something has no moral value.  And when we do something good just to be rewarded, that also compromises the work’s moral value.  The politician who shows up at a soup kitchen for 15 minutes while the cameras roll is not necessarily showing virtue, if he feeds the hungry only to boost his image and his polling numbers.  The woman who really feels compassion for the homeless and the hungry and so gives up Thanksgiving dinner with her family to serve at the soup kitchen, she is showing virtue and she will have her reward.  She is following God’s will and thus is co-operating with God in His love and care for His children.  He uses her as His hands and feet, as you say, and He honors that.  (Now He may also have used the politician to give food to the hungry during that 15 minutes, and perhaps beyond in drawing attention and building further support for the soup kitchen.  The politician himself didn’t do anything particularly virtuous, but God did something good with him anyway, though not by any kind of coercion into virtue.)

God wants us to serve Him and our neighbors because we want to (there is your free agency!) and out of love.  And love and good works grow out of faith.  “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  The key is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  And this happens in vocation.

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