Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Comic Book Market: Ten Minutes With Tim Broman

Over the years I have noticed the continuous rise in the quantity and varieties of comic book novels and magazines. Some are quite amazing to me. A few weeks ago I saw comic books on Barbara Walters, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among others. The magazines were not only well researched but also quite edgy, with a "no holds barred" style of journalism typical of tabloids but strangely different.

It made me curious, too, about both the range of comics themselves and the artists who create them. To learn more I spoke with Tim Broman, of Duluth's Collector's Connection.

Ennyman: I am somewhat surprised at the sophistication of the comic book scene sometimes. Do you know roughly how big the comic industry is off hand?

TB: In the USA, there are roughly 1,500 Comic-book specialty shops. I suspect that annual sales for new comic books tops out at roughly 500 Million Dollars. That might be a little high, and includes sales generated at non-comic book shops.

That number is dwarfed by the Japanese Comic Market, which is more like $1.5 Billion (as of 2007). The number also does not include sales of what are called Graphic Novels, which are how comic books get reprinted and sold in stores like Barnes and Noble, or on Amazon.com.
That number is probably higher than the sales of comic, themselves.

Comics are sold all over the world, with Japan and the US in the lead. More money is made in Video Game licensing than in the sale of Comics. One hot video title can all but eclipse the sale of all new comics in the US in any given year. Plus, Clothing, Toys, New Movies, and anything that can be licensed makes the actual sale of the Comic Books seem rather puny.

Enny: Is there a typical demographic for the comic books you sell?

TB: Typical customer is Male. Age 15-35. Younger folks normally get their comic books from grocery stores, Wal-Marts and such. When they get older, they hunt us down. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years, and now the children of the children that I used to wait on are becoming regular customers.

Enny: What do your typical buyers look like and what are the hottest selling titles, themes?

TB: Wow - what a loaded question. The cheap and easy answer is to check any episode of THE SIMPSONS or THE BIG BANG THEORY.

But the real answer is tougher to get. The average comic-book customer is, in my opinion, a little smarter than average, and a lot shyer than average. They like to read, and read lots more than just the comics. Most are also readers of fiction, and enjoy books. Economically, they’re all over the place. I have 2 lawyers, 3 entrepreneurs, a Dentist, a News Reporter, a Banker, and an Accountant. I also have a couple of pizza delivery guys, and a human slug on public assistance (it’s his “dream come true”, according to those who know him better than I.)

Hottest selling titles are almost always, in order:
Wolverine, X-Men, Amazing Spider Man, Batman, the Avengers, Superman, Star Wars, and Spawn.

Hottest Themes currently involve Zombies, like you mentioned. Trends tend to come and go.
The current trend is still making titles into Movies. A few years ago, it was Alternative Covers.
The comic industry has consistently sought out the goose that lays the golden egg, and worked
it to death. Then it goes to find another.

Enny: I assume you have an interest in the comic culture. Who are your favorite comic book artists and why?

TB: Honestly, the senior partner hired me because I had retail experience, not so much due to my passion in comics. He needed someone to trust, and I needed a job. I did collect comics when I was younger, but dumped them when I was about 14. None of my friends were still reading them, so out they went. Two bucks for a grocery bag full at a local rummage sale And I was glad be out of them. I did keep all my wrestling magazines.....which now are worth about as much as they were back then.

But, to answer your question, my current favorite Artist is Terry Moore. I also like Will Eisner, but for different reasons. Terry does a comic book called Strangers In Paradise. Two girls...one straight, one not.....one on the lamb from her past, which keeps dogging her.......lots of twists and turns. Well written, and distinctive art. Currently, Terry Moore is doing a new story called Echo. A young female photographer is caught up in a Military Experiment gone awry. The fragments of the Experiment have bonded onto her skin, causing untold mayhem. Stay tuned.....

Will Eisner is the neatest artist I’ve ever met in this business. He’s gone now, but he was a consistent presence in the history of the Comic Book business since the 1940's. His most popular work was a title called THE SPIRIT, which was just made into a movie a year or two ago. While I never cared for the Spirit, I do like his New York-based stories. Most are somewhat gloomy, but they are filled with the culture, and tell interesting stories of life in NYC in the 40's, 50's and 60's.

Enny: What percentage of the people who buy comics buy them to read and how many buy them as collectors?

TB: Nowadays, almost all buy to read. Those who buy to collect got slaughtered several years ago, before the economy went nuts.

Enny: Are old comic collections going up in value and will that trend continue?

TB: Overall, yes. There will always be a market for hot titles in better-than-average condition.
In the last 60 days, there have been 3 comic books that sold at Auction for over a Million Dollars each. Those are the first three to ever get that high a price. Currently, the reselling market is tough. That is due to high unemployment, and will change as the economy improves.... whenever that is.

Enny: You also have baseball cards and other kinds of cards. What is the current status of baseball card valuations? Warm, hot, cold?

TB: Until unemployment rates drop, I have to call the Card Market only Warm, at best.
Again, high quality stuff always sells. But the current market in ALL collectibles is still more Sellers than Buyers. Now is a good time to pick up bargains. But unless your stuff is top-notch, it’s a rough time to get anything near full value on your collectibles.

Enny: Do you see baseball cards ever coming back to a craze again?

TB: Nope. Maybe one player at a time, like Steve Strasburg (hot pitcher for the Washington Nationals). But not so much the industry.

Cards and Comics (and all collectibles) will always have an investment-based component to them.... it’s the nature of the beast. But, personally, I feel that these have to be hobbies first and foremost. A hobby is something that you do. Something that relaxes you. Like Toy Trains, or Fishing, or even Whittling. It should be fun, more than profitable. When I buy items, I buy them because I think that they’re “neat” (wow, do I feel old saying that). The last comics I bought were some graphic novels at Goodwill. They were fun to read, but there’s no long-term value to them. The last trading card I bought was a Wahoo McDaniels Rookie Card, because I remember him from local pro wrestling back in the 1970's and 80's. It cost me $12.00.

Some new item will take up the mantle of being Hot and Trendy, but just like Beanie Babies, and Pokemon Cards, it will be mostly due to hype. They get hot quick, because we all join in almost as one. Then they die out, because we each decide - on our own - that it’s no longer worth it.

There’s an old book on the subject of mass hysteria It’s called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. It’s written by Charles McKay, and deals with historical trends such as Ponzi Schemes, and the Dutch Tulip Obsession of the 1600's. It’s a dry read, but parts of the book are very interesting.

Closing Remarks
I was impressed with how articulate Tim was on this topic. He also forwarded links to the History of Comic Books and an overview of what's Hot today.

Thanks, Tim, for your contribution and insights.

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