A Fatale-ly flawed speculation.A column article by: Regie Rigby
I think I must be missing something again. Something is going on that makes no sense to me/ Of course that might be down to my lack of intellect. But even accepting that, I'm still concerned - because I can see the shadow of speculation beginning to loom over the marketplace and that makes me nervous. I can't possibly be the only person who remembers what happened last time people thought a good way to make money would be to buy up first prints of popular comics and then sell them on at vastly inflated prices, can I?
Just in case I am, let me remind you. The very promising "comics renaissance" that kicked off at the end of the eighties with books like Watchmen, Batman: Year One and Sandman descended, by the mid nineties to a plethora of virtually unreadable dross dressed up in foil embossed, die-cut, bagged, limited edition variant covers created purely to cash in on the desire of fanboys to justify their collections as "investments". The speculator bubble grew and grew until it did what all bubbles must do eventually.
And an awful lot of people were left with an awful lot of unreadable shite that they could barely even give away. An awful lot of people lost an awful lot of money. I know of at least one comics store that went under as a result. It really was quite bloody. People really did get hurt.
Of course, I'm not a particularly nice guy, and there was a large part of me that witnessed all this carnage thinking "serves you right, you greedy buggers". But that doesn't mean I want to see it happen again. Perhaps that's why I've taken to repeating the mantra "The only way to make a million in comics is to start with two million and work down". Seriously. If it really was possible to make a fortune buying and selling comics, don't you think your average comics shop guy would be driving a Ferrari? And don't you think the store would be in a better location? And wouldn't everyone be doing it?
You know the truth is that local comics stores are generally in the lower rent retail areas, and they're run by people who do it because they love comics. They have to do it for the love, because there's no money in it at all!
Which brings me to Brubaker and Phillips' Fatale.
I've been meaning to review this for a while, but I'm trying to move away from the version of this column that did reviews week after week - not least because I don't read enough comics any more - and I've had other stuff to talk about. Still, I have to say, I'm loving it. It fits neatly into the noirish fayre that Brubaker has been putting out lately. Dark in both tone and pallet, Brubaker's edgy scripting meshes perfectly with Phillips' murky but expressive images - the two combining to create the sort of atmosphere that Chandler would have been proud of.
It's damn good stuff, and if you're not reading it then you really really should be. This is the kind of book I mean when I say that we, as readers should be supporting with our cash.
And that's why I'm thrilled that Fatale #1 has already been reprinted twice. That's awesome. That sends a message to publishers that this kind of quality storytelling has a huge market, which makes it more likely we'll see more of it. It also makes money for the publisher, which rewards them for their investment and commitment to such high quality story telling, and unless they signed a very bad contract, it makes money for the creators too, which rewards them for their genius. And of course, it makes the comic available to readers, who get a damn fine comic.
"So, Regie, what's your problem with that? What is it you think you're missing, and why are you banging on about comics speculators?"
The thing is that after a chat with my local comics pusher, it was pointed out to me that first print copies of Fatale #1 are going for silly money on ebay. A comic with a $3.50 cover price is going for up to £25.00 (that's something in the region of forty bucks in US dollar terms).
Now, if the comic had not been reprinted I could understand it. Then that would be the only way to get your hands on the story. But the comic has been reprinted. A trade paperback collection looks almost certain. Why on Earth would you spend that kind of money on a story you could easily get your hands on for a fraction of the price? It can't just be to read the story, because you can do that by buying a reprint.
That being the case, the only possible reason is because it's a first print. The only think that makes a first print valuable is the fact that it's a first print. And the only reason that makes it valuable is the fact that people who don't really care about the story are prepared to pay big bucks because they believe that somebody else will pay even bigger bucks at some point in the future. But the only reason somebody would pay even bigger bucks for a story they can easily obtain far cheaper elsewhere is because they believe that somebody will pay them even bigger bucks than that. And so on, and so on, and so on.
Well, I'm here to tell you - it just won't work. And at some point somebody is going to discover they've spent a massive wodge of cash on something that really isn't worth very much at all. And then the bubble will burst again, and if the consequences next time are as bad as they were last time, it's going to be very ugly indeed.
It's a question of economics I'm afraid. Goods can only command a high price if there is more demand for them than there is supply. It doesn't matter if the product is rare - it could be one of a kind, it doesn't matter - it only has value if a lot of people want it. Equally, it doesn't matter if the product is in demand, it won't command a high price if there is a plentiful supply. High demand and low supply must combine to create a high price.
Sorry to break it to you, but Fatale #1 isn't going to be rare. If people are paying the equivalent of forty bucks for a first print, then they're going to keep it. I'm not sure what the initial print run was, but it must have been reasonably large. That means that there will be literally hundreds of copies available for the forseeable future. It's true that a copy of Detective Comics #27 a couple of years ago for in excess of a million dollars, but there are very very few copies of that comic in existence. Back in 1939, it never occurred to anyone that the comic would ever be worth more than a few cents. Although supplies would have been plentiful copies weren't kept - hence the product is scarce. I can't find a record of how many copies are known to exist, but I bet it's less than ten. That's pretty damn scarce.
Not only that, but there are all sorts of reasons to want an original copy.
It was the first appearance of Batman. The introduction of one of the most iconic characters in the most important genre of American comics. The story is almost irrelevant in this case* - it's an artefact. A real piece of comics history. I can understand why you'd pay a premium for that - although however big a batfan I may be, I have to say I'd stop bidding a long long way before a million.
As a story, I have no qualms in stating, for the record that Fatale is a much better story than Batman #27. But it's never going to be as rare. And in terms of comics history it's never going to be as important.
It is a story you should read. But you can read if for three and a half bucks. If you pay more than ten times that amount for it, that's a lot of comics you won't be able to buy. To me, that doesn't make sense. You get fewer comics, the publisher gets lower sales on their re-prints, which makes them less likely to invest in reprinting again, and the creators don't make any extra income.
*Which is a good job, because it actually isn't all that good...