After lamenting the state of summer movies, we finally saw one that was just right for the season: The Guardians of the Galaxy. And finally, a comic book movie that has the feel of a comic book. It is exuberant science fiction fantasy with Marvel’s trademark witty dialogue and off-the-wall but highly individualized and engaging characters. (Here we have the 1970s-obsessed human, Star-Lord, a tree creature of few words [those being “I am Groot”], the eloquent but literal-minded Drax the Destroyer, a green girl named Gamora, and Rocket, a wise-cracking raccoon.) Yes, it has its tedious havoc and a grandiose story-line like a series in a comic book, but it also has the visual panache of comic art and the quality of comic books that I remember from my childhood as fun. [Read more…]
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.
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
Nice article about Stan Lee of Marvel Comics, now 88, whose comic book creations such as Spider Man and now Thor, have gone from cheap pulp paper to the silver screen, making him a rich man:
Stan Lee professes no deep and analytical insight into the human soul. “I’m not a psychiatrist,” he begs off. “All I know is, the good superhero movie has got action, suspense, colorful characters, new angles — that’s what people like.”
The rangy 88-year-old — sitting poised against the leopard-print pillows on the couch in his POW! Entertainment office, several days before “Thor’s” premiere — is a natural at delivering the dramatic angle. Asked to strike a towering pose, he springs to his feet and in a blink is balancing with feline ease atop a chair.
Seventy years to the month after the nom-de-toon “Stan Lee” first appeared in a comic book, “Thor” is similarly perched atop the box office. In one sense, the origin story of Stanley Martin Lieber resembles that of the Norse superhero he co-created, only told backward. Thor is to the godhead born until, because of his impudence, he’s sentenced to a mortal existence. Lee was a mere Manhattan comics-industry mortal for decades until, because of diligence and vision, he was elevated to Marvel Comics demigod, creating — alongside fellow legends Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko — the likes of Spider-Man and Iron Man, the Hulk, X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
All those characters have already appeared in feature films, and the latest wave of Hollywood superheroes is gathering force as it rolls in this summer. “Thor’s” domestic opening last Friday will be followed in short order by “X-Men: First Class,” DC’s “Green Lantern” and Marvel’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Meanwhile, casting decisions for the next Superman and Batman films — as well as the Spider-Man reboot and the cinematic assembling of the Avengers — have sparked feverish online speculation and reaction.
The superhero film is still as unstoppable and resilient and globally enduring as, well, Stan Lee himself. . . .
“My theory about why people like superheroes is that when we were kids, we all loved to read fairy tales,” says Lee, beaming behind his trademark tinted glasses. “Fairy tales are all about things bigger than life: giants, witches, trolls, dinosaurs and dragons and all sorts of imaginative things. Then you get a little bit older and you stop reading fairy tales, but you don’t ever outgrow your love of them.
“Superhero movies are like fairy tales for older people,” continues Lee, whose voice envelops the listener with a raspy, lilting warmth. “All those things you imagined — if only I could fly or be the strongest — are about wish fulfillment. . . . And because of that, I don’t think they’ll ever go out of vogue.”
When I was a kid, I was a comic book fan. Comic books taught me to love reading and sent my imagination soaring. I liked D.C. comics–Superman, Batman, also Flash and the Atom–better than Marvel, whose heroes were too angst-ridden for my taste, but Dell had some good titles too: Tarzan. Turok, Son of Stone. (Somebody should make a Turok movie! Indians and dinosaurs!) I liked Classics Illustrated too. They really did lead me into great literature. In fact, I see a direct line from my comic book phase to my literary scholarship! Comics are an interesting combination of visual art and writing.
Does anyone else have any comic book testimonials?
The L.A. Times did an interesting interview with comic book writer Grant Morrison. He points out the class distinction between the superheroes:
GM: Superman is very bright and optimistic. It’s all the simple things. He’s of the day and of the sunlight, and Batman is the creature of the night. I’m interested in the fact that they both believe in the same kind of things. But Batman is better. He’s screwed up. That what makes him cool. Even though he’s solved all his problems in his own head he is — as I see him — a man with a very dark sense of humor and a very dark view of the world. He has to overcome that constantly. He’s forever fighting to make the world better, which means it’s never good for Batman. The rest of us have good days. We don’t fight everyday. Batman fights every single day. He has that dark Plutonian side.
GB: The public personalities of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent don’t seem as polarized as their alter egos.
GM: Bruce Wayne is a rich man. He’s an artistocrat. Superman grew up as Clark Kent on a farm bailing hay, and he’s got a boss that shouts at him if he’s late to work. He’s actually more human; Batman is the fetish fantasy psyche of the aristocrat overlord who can do anything he wants, and that’s fascinating. The class difference between the two of them is important.
GB: I’ve never thought much about the class distinctions between the two.
Superman by Jim Lee GM: You’re an American; you live in Los Angeles! You don’t have to think of class distinction in the same way we Brits do. But there is very much a distinction between the two. People often forget Superman is very much a put-upon guy. Bruce has a butler, Clark has a boss …
GB: True, but Clark also owns real estate in the Arctic, flies for free and can crush coal into fist-sized diamonds. He doesn’t need to have a boss.
Batman by Jim Lee GM: Yeah, but he so wants to be like us. He pines after one girl while Batman has a whole host of fetish femmes fatale at his beck and call.
GB: The ladies love the car, I think.
GM: Of course. He’s got everything. I like that. He’s our kind of dream of the aristocrat. He’s even better than the Tony Stark/Iron Man thing; he’s got that as well as the dark side. That’s the difference between Superman and Batman. There both interesting to write, but Batman is the sexier one, definitely.
So which was or is your favorite, Batman or Superman? (Me: Superman.) D. C. or Marvel? (Me: D.C.) (Today, judging from a recent sampling of comic books today, D.C. has become Marvel! And both have become more so. Everybody in the comic book world is angst-ridden, taking little pleasure in the cool things they can do.)