Why Did Everyone Buy Comics in the 1990s?
Updated: May 19
If you're new to comics, then you might be wondering why everyone bought comic books in the 1980s and 1990s. Well, the answer is very simple. It was money. Comic books started to become hot during these periods because the books published in the 1930s-1960s had started to gain a good amount of value.
This led many to believe that the comics published in the 80s and 90s would do the same, so they all flocked to their local stores to buy the latest issues of the most popular superheroes. In some cases, they would buy comics featuring unknown characters, because it would be their first appearances. This sounds like logical speaking since those issues had the most potential to go up in value and would be a first issue (sometimes it would also be a special, foil cover). This all sounds like a good plan, however, the issue lies in quantities.
Comics published in the 1930s thru the 1960s were not meant to be collected. The print runs were lower. They were also published to be read by kids and young adults. No one thought they would be valuable in the future, so many people did not save them. Or if people did save them, then the books would be in bad condition.
When comics started to be published in the 1980s, a collectors market began and many would save them with the hopes that the value would go up. This led to much higher quantities being available in the aftermarket. An example of this would be the first issue of Spawn from Image Comics and Todd McFarlane. The book was printed in 1992 and is considered to be the end of the copper age of comics. This first issue had over a million copies printed.
The reason the print run was so high was that people bought more thinking this would be a valuable comic in the future. This led to a major problem in the comic book industry. There were no collectors; only speculators. This led to the values of comics from the 1980s and 1990s to rapidly decline. It was because the quantities were so high and the people who were collectors/readers, were extremely low.
All of these factors bubbled and led to the crash of the comic book market at the end of the 1990s, with a few companies going out of business and Marvel and DC barely holding on. To keep in business, Marvel sold the movie rights to many of their characters to Sony and Fox.
While the market was hurt, quite badly, comics survived and eventually recovered. The people who were left holding the bag were the investors who purchased boxes of the 80s and 90s comics for cover price. Most of them had to sell those books for pennies on the dollar, just to get rid of them. The interesting fact is that in the 1990s, many comics from the 1930s-1960s were still extremely cheap when compared to prices today.
An example of this is Action Comics 1. This book was only $20-30k in the 1990s, which may sound like a good amount, but if you compare it to the prices today ($600k minimum), then it was very cheap. This is also interesting, because the people who spent scores of money on Spawn 1 and other overprinted books may have spent over 20k on those books which turned out to be nearly complete losses. This goes to show that sometimes it is better to stick with the sure thing.