Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Try to remember a slew of Septembers

Detective Comics #557

As many of you know, for almost all of my life I’ve read superhero comic books. However, a few days ago I realized I’d been reading one particular title — Detective Comics — continuously for the past twenty-five years. When I got back into comics in 1984-85, I started slowly, with only a handful of titles. Picking up ’Tec #557 all those years ago — how could I resist that Gene Colan cover? — put me on the slippery slope of what we now call “DC Universe” books.

Regardless, I don’t think my experience is that uncommon. Probably many of you can claim to have read one particular title for that long, or even longer. Still, twenty-five years is twenty-five years, especially when you’re talking about keeping up with one particular thing. In fact, in 2011 I’ll be able to mark all kinds of quarter-century anniversaries with the superhero comics I started getting in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Accordingly, because nostalgia implies a certain distance from its object, this is why I don’t think of myself as particularly nostalgic for certain aspects of superhero comics. When I first started going to my local comics shop (almost twenty-six years ago), I had all kinds of revelatory experiences hunting for back issues, discovering independent and alternative comics, and generally being introduced to the still-evolving direct-market culture. By definition, I’ll never have those kinds of experiences again; and by and large, those things — including having the time to spend a whole day with a big stack of books — aren’t related to the comics themselves.

Nevertheless, aided by data from the always-helpful DCIndexes.com, I wanted to see how my habits had changed over the past two-and-a-half decades. I looked at seven Septembers — 1985, 1986, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2010 — to see what I bought and for how much. (For simplicity’s sake I kept this confined to DC and its imprints. I’ve always bought a handful of Marvel books, but they haven’t dented my wallet like DC has.) The results surprised me, and I wonder if they’ll surprise you too.

* * *

In September 1985 I bought a total of eight DC titles: Crisis On Infinite Earths #9, Tales of the Teen Titans #60, Star Trek #21, Blue Devil #19, New Teen Titans #15, Who’s Who #10, DC Challenge #2, and Detective Comics #557. Most of these books cost 75 cents, with Who’s Who ($1.00), DC Challenge ($1.25), and New Teen Titans ($1.50) the exceptions. (Who’s Who had no ads and the other two were sold only through the direct market.) By this time I was buying at least one book per week, although Star Trek was my only purchase for ship week #2. Total for the month was $7.50.

A year later, I was buying at least two books a week, so almost twice as many titles (14): Firestorm #54, Son of Ambush Bug #6, Watchmen #4, ‘Mazing Man #12, Batman #402, Man Of Steel #5, Star Trek #33, Blue Devil #31, New Teen Titans #26, Who’s Who #22, Detective Comics #569, Legends #2, Man Of Steel #6, and Teen Titans Spotlight #5. Most of these books cost $0.75, except for Who’s Who and New Teen Titans (naturally). Watchmen cost $1.50, whereas DC Challenge had cost $1.25. Total for the month was $12.25.

Of course, the big shift in my comics-buying habits came with in the post-Legends rollout of the new Flash, Wonder Woman, and Justice League books. By September 1990 I was getting 16 titles, about the same as in 1986, but many were titles I’d stay with for a while: Action Comics #658, Captain Atom #46, Justice League Europe #19, Flash #44, Justice League America #44, Wonder Woman #48, Batman #456, Breathtaker #3, Detective Comics Annual #3, Green Lantern #6, New Titans #71, Superman #49, Adventures Of Superman #472, Doom Patrol #38, Starman #28, and Who’s Who #4. DC’s rank-and-file titles cost $1.00 each, although the almost-weekly Superman books were still only 75 cents (and the Detective Annual was $2.00). DC had also started stratifying its direct-only titles, so that the “New Format” Doom Patrol was $1.50 and the “Baxter paper” New Titans had gone up to $1.75.* Breathtaker (a Prestige Format miniseries) and Who’s Who (the updated “looseleaf binder” version) were each $4.95. They helped push the month’s total to $25.40.

Honestly, I was pretty stunned to see how much I was buying in September 1995. I was in-between jobs at the time — downsized in August, hired anew in September — so perhaps I was self-medicating with these 32 titles: Action Comics #715, Aquaman #14, Sandman #72, Superboy Annual #2, Batman #524, Batman: Brotherhood of the Bat #1, Extreme Justice #10, Flash #107, Star Trek #77, Superboy #21, Superman: The Man Of Steel #50, Wonder Woman #103, Batman: Shadow of the Bat #44, Green Lantern #68, Justice League America #105, Legion of Super-Heroes #74, Power of Shazam #9, Sovereign Seven #5, Superman #106, Superman: At Earth’s End #1, Action Comics Annual #7, Adventures of Superman #529, Batman & Robin Adventures #1, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #77, Detective Comics #691, Impulse #8, Justice League Task Force #29, Legionnaires #31, Nightwing #3, Star Trek: The Next Generation #77, STTNG: Ill Wind #1, and Static #29. Total for the month was a whopping $76.25, with a median price of $1.95.

While I don’t want to avoid responsibility for such excess, I will point out that this was just past the crest of multiple-title “franchises.” In addition to the four Superman books, there were four Bat-books, three Justice League titles, two Legion of Super-Heroes books, the two regular Star Trek books (and the Ill Wind miniseries), plus various spinoffs like Superboy, Impulse, and the Nightwing miniseries.

The franchises had faded by September 2000, but I managed to make up for their absence (plus a little more) with 35 titles: Batman: Gotham Adventures #30, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #135, Batman: Outlaws #3, Green Lantern #130, JLA: Secret Society of Super-Heroes #1, Legion Lost #7, Starman #71, Supeman #162, Young Justice #25, Adventures of Superman #584, Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood #6, Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham #1, Detective Comics #750, Green Lantern vs. Aliens #1, Hourman #20, JLA: Heaven’s Ladder, STTNG: The Killing Shadows #1, Superman 80-Page Giant #3, Batman: Dark Victory #12, Batman: Gotham Knights #9, Birds Of Prey #23, JSA #16, Legends of the DCU #34, Orion #6, Superboy #80, Superman: The Man Of Steel #106, Titans #21, Action Comics #771, Batman #583, Flash #166, JLA #47, Mann and Superman #1, Star Trek New Frontier: Double Time #1, Supergirl #50, and Wonder Woman #162. Median price was $2.50, but with pricey specials like Heaven’s Ladder ($9.95) and assorted $3.95-5.95 specials and Prestige Format issues, total cost for the month was $115.19. Some of the largesse comes from assorted Batman miniseries (Outlaws, The Doom That Came To Gotham, Cry For Blood, Dark Victory) and a handful of other specials and miniseries, but for the most part it looks like a lot of regular series.

It makes the pre-Infinite Crisis September 2005 look downright frugal, with “only” 27 titles: City of Tomorrow #6, Detective Comics #811, Gotham Central #35, Seven Soldiers: Guardian #4, Superman #221, Villains United #5, Action Comics #831, All Star Batman #2, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #195, Firestorm #17, JLA #118, Rann/Thanagar War #5, Adventures of Superman #644, Batman: Gotham Knights #69, Day Of Vengeance #6, Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1, Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1, Astro City: The Dark Age Book One #4, Batman #645, Flash #226, Green Lantern #5, JLA #119, JLA Classified #12, Legion of Super-Heroes #10, OMAC Project #6, Superman/Batman #23, and Wonder Woman #221. Median price was $2.50, but most books were either $2.50 or $2.99. Only the Green Lantern Corps miniseries was $3.50. Total for the month was $72.91.

And that brings us to September 2010. This past month** I bought a total of 32 DC issues: Astro City: Silver Agent #2, Brightest Day #9, Secret Six #25, Adventure Comics #518, American Vampire #6, Batman #703, Batman And Robin #14, Batman: Odyssey #3, Booster Gold #36, Doom Patrol #14, Green Lantern #57, Justice League: Generation Lost #9, Weird War Tales #1, Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot In The Grave #3, Batman Beyond #3, Birds Of Prey #5, Brightest Day #10, DC Universe: Legacies #5, Unwritten #17, X-Files/30 Days Of Night #3, Zatanna #5, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #16, Flash #5, Green Lantern Corps #52, Justice League of America #49, Justice League: Generation Lost #10, Supergirl #56, Action Comics #893, Detective Comics #869, First Wave #4, Time Masters: Vanishing Point #3, and Wonder Woman #603. Median price was, not surprisingly, $2.99; and the books themselves were either $2.99 or $3.99. Total for the month was $110.68, which works out to $22.14 per week for this 5-Wednesday month.

* * *

Therefore, after twenty-five years I’m buying four times as many books, each of which costs at least four times as much. For the most part I buy what interests me, and I tend to like what I buy. Still, it is rather instructive to see all those $2.99 and $3.99 issues on the same spreadsheet as their 75-cent and $1.00 predecessors. What surprised me more, though, was the steady increase of prices. Today I think nothing of a 32-page, $3.99 Welcome To Tranquility, but it’s hard to believe I paid $3.95 for a 48-page Superboy Annual fifteen years ago. Don’t get me wrong — I’d rather pay 1995′s $1.75 than today’s $2.99 — but the fact is, over the years I found my level and adjusted accordingly.

Part of that level, though, must be dictated by the time I have to enjoy the things. Reading comics has necessarily become less and less of a priority, to the point where I am actually getting to some new comics only on (gasp!) Thursday, most likely at the end of the day. Occasionally it’s even been hard to remember where the last issue of (for example) Green Lantern Corps left our heroes; which may have as much to do with my reading comprehension skills as it does with my reading habits. If (somehow) I were to cut back to about two dozen books, it would be better not only financially, but also in terms of entertainment value.

However, that may not happen for a while. The two biweekly miniseries aren’t at their halfway points and I haven’t been reading that many WildStorm books, so attrition won’t get rid of a whole lot right away. Without sounding like a DC apologist — and, I hope, without sounding like someone trapped in the velvet glove of inertia — I’m just not sufficiently disenchanted with these books to start dropping them. For various reasons, I’m also not ready to move wholesale into paperbacks.

Regardless, that’s all good, right? I’m comfortable giving DC $110.00 per month for thirty-odd comics — aren’t I? I mean, back in the day it was only a few miles — well within walking or biking range, in fact — to the LCS. Today it would hardly be worthwhile to brave Memphis traffic every week to spend less than $2.00 total on just a couple of titles. Ah, the joys of rationalization–!

The goal, as always, must be to balance quantity against quality. Again, I like what I buy and I buy what I like; but I have to recognize that mere “liking” may not be enough. I need to enjoy these single issues in a way that makes them feel more like a hobby than a habit — and that’s a concern which neither budgets nor price-points alone may solve.

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* [This list also leaves out DC’s two Star Trek books, Legends of the Dark Knight, and Legion of Super-Heroes, none of which were apparently on sale in September 1990.]

** [The 2010 list comes from my own records, so it may be more accurate in some areas and less in others.  Also, the new Madame Xanadu has been delayed until October.]

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17 Comments

Hadn’t heard of the DC Indexes time machine until now. Despite the fact I never kept any records, it was amazing how easy it was for me to remember exactly what I bought in a given month, even though years have passed. That’s a great site. Is anyone aware of a similar site that indexes Marvel books by month and year? I’d love to do another nostalgia trip …

I found this an extremely interesting read. It’s made me reflect on my own buying habits over the years. I know in terms of DC. I just went through a huge cutting of DC titles. One thing that made me do this was the shift of some books from $2.99 to $3.99. I’ll accept it some books, but not others. Right now, the only $3.99 DC books I’m buying are Time Masters and Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors. I’ll also be getting Batman Inc., but not Dark Knight since I’ve decided to really just follow Morrison’s Batman stuff. That’s caused me to drop Streets of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, Detective, Batman, and soon, Batman and Robin.

The cut that hurt the worst was JSA and JSA: All-Stars because I love the characters and have since Robinson’s The Golden Age, but I really haven’t been enjoying since Johns left.

The funniest thing was how long it takes me to cut sometimes. I finally cut Justice League of America, but I’ve really been trying to cut it since McDuffie left. That has to have been at least 6-7 months ago if not longer.

“The cut that hurt the worst was JSA and JSA: All-Stars because I love the characters and have since Robinson’s The Golden Age, but I really haven’t been enjoying since Johns left.”

Seconded. Loved Johns’ JSA — LOVED it. But the current creative teams haven’t been doing it for me, so they got chopped. Been doing a lot of chopping lately of that nature, even on some books I like but don;t love. At $3.99 per issue, I’ve got to love it.

And that DCIndexes.com site is great.

It’s fascinating to me to see just how different the buying habits of two people who both write for the same dang comics blog can be! Kudos to you for this article, Tom. I feel like it’s given me a lot of insight into a really important aspect of the marketplace.

Great article. I started reading in 1968. I spent about $3- 4 a month from my allowance (which was $5 a month) until 1978 when I started driving & had my first job. Thru the end of high school & college I spent $30 a month on comics. After college & marriage as my income went up I increased my monthly spending to $50/month from 1984 – 1994. From 1994 – 2000 there wasn’t much to hold my attention so I spent less ($30/month). In the 2000′s I have gone up to $60/month.

I spend around $120-200/ month on comics….most of which are DC. I have trimmed back over the last year and like other posters will follow a certain writer like Morrison’s Batman. Funny that two of you mentioned Johns’ run on JSA…I dropped the moment he was gone. I have noticed that I am much more inclined to drop a book as soon as my fav writer is off it and seldom will give another writer even an issue to convince me to stay.

My first comic books were the first issue of Wonder Woman by Perez and the launch of a new universe by Marvel at the same time. I was 13. And they were the only comic books for years.

There after, at 19, I found someone who imported comic books from the USA and I had my first tpb: Batman The Dark Knight Returns. A revelation. I bought all I could find made by Miller and Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin in tpb is a must to buy!!!!). And about the (the good years of) X-Men and from the launch of Image Comics (another good year).
These comic books were essentially in English language and some in French one, like the Watchmen in oversized HC tpbs. And, one time again, I dropped all of them very quickly (I only kept DKR, E:A and they are still there!!!).

When I had the opportunities to spend a lot of Euros in comics in the comic books stores in Paris (I was 30 and a very good paid job), I only just spend between 6 to 8 Euros/month for “Vampi” (with or without the special cover variant). No more.
I also have almost all the issues in their bags. (I think to find and buy the missing issues…).

In the last 2 years, I was buying my comics online with Mycomicshop (TX, USA). And I was spending around 80-100 Euros/month (expensive shipment fees included). Mostly Marvel and Radical titles. I, again, dropped all the titles.

I found a French importer and kept mostly the Radical titles for some months.

Now, that I don’t have a job and I also am ill, I spend nearly 60-80 Euros/month (with less expensive shipment fees from UK, 86thfloor online comic books store).

And this time, it’s more Indies titles from Radical (all the titles!!!), Boom! (only the Stan Lee’s titles), Titan (Torchwood), Image (Morning Days, Halcyon and Skullkickers), Dark Horse (R.E. Howard Savage word), Boundless (Lady Death)… and only 2 comics from DC (Batman: Dark Knight, DC Comics Presents: Batman), 1 from Vertigo (Resurrected) and 1 from Marvel (DeadpoolMAX).

I have a lot of expensive comic books: cost $4.00 for only 22 to 30 pages. It’s a shame to pay this sum for only 22 pages!!!! And printed on lowest quality paper and with a ton of ads…
But it’s compensated by the large other comic books of 54-96 pages at a cost between $5-8.00.

With the fact that the orders are passed 3 months in advance, I think that I will certainly drop some titles after reading them, like almost the supes and the expensive ones if they aren’t what I am waiting for to read. And so, less money spend each month.

All this long speech to say that with the years to pass, you change your interest centers. And the reading of comic books too.

But I secretly I envy these readers who kept their same titles, year after year.

I am happy to have US comic books. That’s for sure. Almost quality ones (and more made by international cooperations – Radical – than American only made).

But I am the more happiest man when I found in my mail box the new 2000AD UK weekly mag!!!
And at this time, I am like these American readers who have kept their preferred titles!!! I know that I will be a lifetime subscriber!!!!

In the months to come, new UK comic books and mags will be out, so, maybe, more US titles will be dropped… Again!!!

A great article, and thanks so much for introducing me to Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics!
Its great to look at what i was buying wayyy back in the early 80′s when I was just a wee lad in his his tweenage years.
Tween.
I can’t believe I just typed that out.
I think my brain just puked in my mouth a little…

@JH you might already have found this but Mike also runs this website:

http://www.dcindexes.com/marvel/

your nostalgia trip awaits :)

I’ve been buying comics since 1987 when i was in college. The one contsant has been Hellblazer since issue #1. I’ve also been getting all Hellboy universe books since that began. Most of my books are DC, Dark Horse, and Dynamite. While I still get some monthly books, I’ve increased my TPB/HC purchases tremendously. It’s pure economics. In a collection, the per issue cost is usually drastically lower. I dread the switch to digital.

Great article, I started reading in the late 70s when my mother would buy them for me, left for a while and then started buying my own comics in late 1982 with Detective Comics # 520, my last comic book was Detective Comics # 860. For the past 3 years I have become more uninterested of the decompressed 5 issues storytelling, overhyped art and paying so much for so little. Hearing about Batman Inc confirmed that I did the right thing.

Your article brought back many wonderful memories as I have always been a big DC fan, at least I have 25 years plus of good comics I can re-read when I feel the urge

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Comics in the 80s
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I found this listing kind of sad in terms of all the great stuff the author missed out on. I mostly read DC too, but to miss out on comics like The Authority, Powers, Fables, Preacher, Ultimates and my all-time favorite, Planetary, because of blind loyalty to DC and their superhero universe doesn’t make any sense. And believe me, anyone that read Sandman and keeps up with Astro City missed out by not branching out!

this week I am picking up around 38 titles and 2 trades. I spend between 115 and 150 a WEEK on comics. I purchase mostly Marvel but I also pick up a lot of DC(although I am slowly dropping a lot because certain things, anything that is not Batman, Green Lantern or written by Morisson or Johns is facing my chopping block), I count Vertigo as separate cause it is actually consistently produces good comics and I pick up most of the current releases. Another portion of my comic money goes to various indie titles.

Man, it boggles my mind on how many awful books Tom bought “back in the day”…I should know, I bought most of those too!!!

Great article, I loved the trip down memory lane.

These days I buy less then a dozen monthly titles and plan to drop the hobby once books hit $4 across the board…

Very interesting – I must do that myself… I already have a 2002 order sheet to hand, and the difference is kinda scary…

Sorry,but I dont buy monthlies anymore.The price explosion has made it fruitless to try and keep up with the books I’d like to read and the glut of spinoff books from the so-called event books.I look back on the list and fond memories do come to mind.I started buying comics again in 1982,Simonson Thor and Byrne FF and Love & Rockets were the monthly faves of mine.I did buy alot of books back then but they were 75cents so that was easier to deal with.Watchmen and The Dark Knight were big on my list and down the road Starman and Sandman Mystery Theatre & Sandman were my faves.Made alot of money selling Valiants to the Edgeman.Do any of you remember the “Edgeman”?Nothing since those last DC books held my heart until JSA came along.Johns left and I did to.I will buy a trade of top notch stuff,but I am afraid the monthly comics world has passed me by.

I have not had time to do this yet but my collecting does not go back that far. I just turned 25 and I did not start collecting until I was 18, with that said there was a time when I was spending $200+ a month on new comics then around a $100 on back issues and trades. Now with my third child due in a little over a month I can’t really afford that and am looking at dropping books that I don’t love. Like other folks on here I think I will be droping JSA and JSA All-Stars which is a shame because I love the cherictors just don’t love what the writers are doing with them. I stick mostly with DC for the monthly stuff and pick up the Hardbacks of most other publishers. I loved this article and it gives me something to look forward to in 10 – 20 years to look back and see what I was spending now to then. Thanks

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