Sunday, March 29, 2020

What now for the comic industry?

About a month ago, I was in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and of course, I stopped at a comic shop - Comic Kings, to be specific. While I was in Virginia, the national conversation started about the coronavirus in the US (this in itself was a few months too late), and a few weeks later, much of the country is under lockdown, with businesses, sports leagues and, well, seemingly the entire comic book industry mostly closed or on hiatus.

There are many considerations more important than the shipping schedule of comic books right now, of course, but hey, this is a comic book blog and I sometimes write comic books, seems pertinent to talk about it here. This has affected me personally beyond being just a fan - Free Comic Book Day has been delayed for the foreseeable future, which means the Tick FCBD 2020 Special I wrote won't be out in May. I have a few projects that I'm working on that are now up in the air and might be cancelled outright. I'm delaying my Planet Comics Kickstarter campaign and pushing it back to some later date. I was even helping out at a local comic shop on a temporary basis, organizing stock - with shops closed, that's finished.

Wednesday, April 1st, will be the first Wednesday without new comics for non-holiday reasons for the first time that I can remember after Diamond announced that it would no longer be receiving any new shipments from publishers. Comics showed up in stores the day after 9/11, if you remember - though this is a different circumstance.

Organizers are postponing and cancelling comic conventions all over the world. Emerald City Comic Con was the first major show to be pushed back (at least) in March, followed quickly by Wondercon in Anaheim. I am, of course, closely watching for any news on Comic-Con in July. This is a gathering where over 100,000 people show up in a relatively confined space for five days in a row. Unless something changes quickly, I have to believe that this show will be delayed until late 2020 (September or November, maybe?), if it won't be cancelled altogether.

All of these precautions are, of course, good ones. Going to a Free Comic Book Day signing or a comic convention would be a terrible idea during a pandemic, and all of the current social restrictions will be worthwhile if we stick with them. But I still have some disappointment that these yearly staples are in jeopardy while we all stay home.

What does this mean for the comic book industry, though? For one, it shows the vulnerability that exists by having a single point of distribution - Diamond Comics Distributors. That's not to say that things wouldn't (or shouldn't) be shut down right now if there were a hundred different distribution channels, but it does point out how much power Diamond has. If something were to happen to the company - a natural disaster or financial issues, let's say - to the point where it couldn't ship anything, the entire industry in North America would shut down in a day. That's a scary thought.

This also shines a spotlight on digital comics. Comic fans have always resisted changes in format, and moving from a physical product to a digital one is one of the biggest changes you could have. But now, with no physical distribution for the near future, digital comics are pretty much the only way anyone can read new stories. So far, it appears the reaction has been mixed, as some companies are sticking with print-first, while others are releasing a few titles digitally this Wednesday.

As someone who spends way too much of his income on comic books, I've always been mostly ambivalent about digital copies, especially when they're stored elsewhere and you can't copy them to a hard drive. And going digital completely eliminates variant covers - which is kind of a relief, but it's hard to deny that variants are a big part of some publisher's business models.

This also means that comic shops are left in a very precarious place. A hypothetical shift to digital means that a lot of these stores would be left in the lurch and will go out of business - I can't see how that wouldn't happen. Even if graphic novels and collections would stay in print, comic stores could never compete with Amazon. There wouldn't be anything for them to sell, and that, I think, would have catastrophic impacts on the industry.

In the meantime, I'm actually kind of relieved to get a chance to catch up on some of my unread books. I know that I'll never be completely caught up - this is the curse of a comic collector - but not having a pull list that I have to keep up with, when my income is, well, down, is a small silver lining. I cleared out my folder on March 18th and placed an online order for books on the 25th, so I've got plenty to tide me over for now, and I guess we'll see if I can make a dent in my unread pile in the next few weeks. Still, it is very weird to not have any new comic books to look forward to this coming Wednesday, and if this turns out to be a long-term issue, who knows what lasting repercussions it'll have?

For now, stay safe, blog readers, and try to stay inside. The next few weeks and months are sure to be very interesting. Here's hoping that the comic industry can make it to the other side, even if it comes out looking different than before.

Oh, and Comic Kings had this great Thing/Hulk artwork hanging up inside the store. Check it out!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Every Funko Pop! Thing bobblehead

How's everyone doing? Staying safe, I hope? Here's to staying in and catching up on the mountain of comics that I'm sure everyone has waiting for them. In the meantime, let's take a look at some toys I have.

I've talked about my thoughts on Funko Pops before, but it bears a brief recap: I don't know what someone would do if THESE are what he or she decided to collect. There are literally thousands of these things, and yet I know there are some out there who try and get every single one. What kind of warehouses do these people own?

For my own part, I like to think of myself as someone who is kind of ambivalent about Funko in general. I'm not particularly taken with the molds and the whole thing has a Beanie Baby flavor to it.


And yet. With the license to almost every property ever, it's hard to avoid buying at least a few of them, right? I never thought I'd have many, but then they made Fantastic Four Pops. And Futurama Pops. And Space Ghost Pops. And Firefly Pops. And Tick Pops. And Pittsburgh Steelers Pops! Last year, they made two Weird Al Pops. It seems that they've got my number, except that they've also got almost everyone else's number, too! It really is something.

Because of Marvel's self-imposed clamping down on all things Fantastic Four, Marvel's First Family went underrepresented at Funko for several years. But now that the embargo has been lifted, they're catching up. A few months ago, the first FF Pops since 2011 showed up, and there have been quite a few. I've gotten some of them, but naturally, the first priority for me was to get the new Thing Pops. Since Target released its 10-inch Thing exclusive a few weeks ago, I've now got all of them that have been released, and I thought I'd take some pictures of them to show here on this very important blog. Let's take a look!

This is the first Thing Pop made, part of the first wave of Pops based on Marvel characters. The Thing is number nine in the set! I bought this at a comic shop when it first came out, naturally, and I'm glad I did. It soon went out of production and is hard to find (and is kind of expensive). I've got this one in one of the protective cases that Funko makes (which, I know, is another way they get you), but for years, it was just in a box with some other Thing toys. It's got a little scratch on the box, but, honestly, whatever.

Here's a look from the side.

Next is a black and white exclusive from Gemini Collectibles. I got this online and, for whatever reason, it seems like this one is the easiest to find of all the original Thing figures.

And here it is from the side. This one has the same number as the regular figure. Funko took a different tactic in later years and gave individual numbers to all different variations.

This is the metallic San Diego Comic-Con exclusive from 2011. It is, unbelievably, one of the most valuable items I own. I picked this up at a small convention in Pittsburgh sometime around 2014 or '15. It was listed at, I think, $30, and I tried to talk the seller down to $20, and at the end of the show, I succeeded. Now this thing, limited to 480 pieces, is listed at around $1000. That's ridiculous, and if I had any sense in my head, I'd sell it now because there's no way it'll retain that value. But I can't get rid of a Thing figure. You're all welcome to think of me as an idiot, because it's probably true.

There is, supposedly, a version of this figure out there with black eyes instead of blue. I've even heard that all of them got shipped to one Hot Topic store in Chicago (but who knows if that's true). I'm not sure if the black eyes were a mistake or if it was meant to be a different figure altogether. I've never seen a picture of one, so I don't even know for sure if they actually exist. But I'm not really concerned about that. Is my collection incomplete without one? I don't know - maybe, but I'm okay with not having it.

Until this year, the only Fantastic Four Pops out there were the previous Thing figures and Dr. Doom, which had a regular and metallic version (there was a Silver Surfer Pop made as well, if you count that). In January, though, Funko got the green light to start releasing FF figures again, and they went all out in doing so. There have been three new Thing figures so far, and I expect them to release more versions in the future.

The first one is the regular version. In the nine years between figures, the Thing looks a little more detailed with a longer face. This one is numbered 560, and I think that number represents all of the figures released in the Marvel line.

Here's the side view.

Barnes and Noble landed one exclusive, and went with the Thing in a trench coat, an old FF staple. This one was easy to find - I walked into a store once I knew they were on sale and picked one off the shelf.

Here's the view from the side.

This last one is the most recent, just released in February. It's a super-sized, 10-inch figure exclusive to Target. Your friend (and mine) Larry helped me out by picking one up on the day they landed in our local stores, and let me tell you...this thing is massive. Why is it so big? Where am I going to put it? It's huge. This one cost $30, as opposed to the usual $10-$15.

And here it is from the side. It has an ever-so-slightly different pose from the regular figure, and is numbered 570.

Some of the other FF members got exclusive figures made, from the Collector Corps subscription box, to GameStop, to Hot Topic...Dr. Doom just had one branded with the cancelled Emerald City Comic Con logo. Fantastic Four merchandise is quickly making its way back to stores. These are just a few Things among many.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

My copies of Famous Funnies

Famous Funnies is generally considered to be the first true comic book. While there were a few publications before the title launched in 1934, many were given away (as promotional material in, say, department stores), had different publishing formats, or were available somewhere other than a newsstand. Famous Funnies sold alongside magazines at newsstands, cost 10 cents per monthly issue, featured some original material (to go along with newspaper strip reprints), and looked like what we now think of as a comic book. It's an extremely important title in this history of the medium. Buck Rogers, for example, had his first comic book appearance in issue #3.

A few weeks ago, I was browsing eBay's category for Platinum-age comics (which generally runs until 1938 and the introduction of Superman). I'd love to one day own a book with the Yellow Kid in it, so sometimes I hopelessly search eBay to see if one shows up at an affordable price. I was surprised to see that someone had listed a near-complete run of Famous Funnies, including the first issue from 1934. Many of the books were in good shape for their age.

Any excitement at seeing a collection like this go up for sale has to be tinged with a bit of regret, right? Because it almost certainly means that the original collector - someone who amassed an historic collection - had passed away. It also means that 215 issues, which until then had sat in a box, in numerical order, were going to be broken up, probably forever. I'm sure there are complete runs of this book out there, and possibly even a few that will be kept complete forever, but it's tough to think that a lot of work and dedication on the part of one collector was being undone.

I don't have a particular affinity for the title beyond its historic significance, but I decided to place a few bids on some books in the 20-60 range, because really, how could I not? This was a comic that launched an entire medium!

I never expected to win any of the books, and I was outbid on most that I was trying for. But when you list over 200 books for sale at the same time, it limits just how much one person can spend and, I imagine, drives the price down a bit. And, honestly, Famous Funnies probably isn't a title that many people are out there searching for anymore. So maybe I got lucky, because I won issues 40, 44 and 46.

Once I got the books in, I took some pictures, mostly of #40, which is the book I wanted over all others.

As you might imagine, the reason I was trying for #40 is because WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS COVER?! I know that funny animal comics were popular in the early years, but this is downright morbid. Yes, this was a November issue and yes, I know that turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving dinners in real life, but I never really expected it to be portrayed in this manner. Is this cover supposed to be funny? Did Depression-era kids laugh when they saw it on the newsstand? Did it convince them to part with their dimes? Famous Funnies was a successful series, so I guess so.

The interiors contained mostly reprinted newspaper strips, some of them trimmed to remove recap material in an effort to make the stories flow more smoothly. Some of the humor was dated, or period specific, or, well, a bit culturally insensitive, but there were also jokes that still landed over 80 years later.

Wait. My dog has a coat for when it gets cold. Are you mocking me, pre-WWII cartoonist?

There were only a few ads in this book, most notably right at the front of the book and on the back cover.

Here's some Buck Rogers! Not much else from these books has made it into the 21st century. I suppose Buck Rogers is a bit of an anachronism himself these days.

One strip that shows up a few times in the different issues I bought is "Napoleon", about the cartoonist's Irish Wolfhound dog. It feels a lot like current and recent comic strips about dogs. I really like the art.

Ah, here's your Thanksgiving humor.

Like many Golden Age comics, Famous Funnies also employs a text piece or two in each issue. Whether the old explanation is true in this case - that comics had these to justify a space in the magazine section - I'm not sure.

Here's the inside back cover. Other than advertising a handgun (yow), it's amazing to me how you still see versions of this ad up until at least the 1980s.

And the back cover ad is for...another gun!

Here's the cover to issue 46. I like the joke. Also, is "Wahoo" the inspiration for the Cleveland Indians recently-discontinued mascot?

Is it okay that I laughed at this strip? If not, I'm deeply sorry.

Heck! I love this Buck Rogers panel. Look at this thing.

"Look, person who lost everything in the Great Depression! It's a rich, spoiled cat!"

Issue 40 was published in 1937, which, you may realize, is a year BEFORE the debut of Superman from what would become DC Comics. This blows my mind. The fact that I have a few issues from this storied run is a bit surreal...I never thought I'd get the chance. Now, whenever I die, some random person on the Super-Internet can bemoan that these issues are changing hands once again. It's fun to have 'em for a while.