Saturday, May 27, 2023


Watching television coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I thought to myself, “is crypto like tulips?” The 1634-37 speculator bubble surrounding tulip bulbs is considered the first recorded example of the value of one type of product far outstripping its usual price, relative to similar types – I don’t think sunflowers have experienced a similar boom. Likewise, as the innovation and novelty of NFTs caused their explosion in value from 2021 [link], this has largely reversed for reasons including their loss of that novelty value.

I then remembered I previously benefitted from the bust that had followed the end of a speculative boom, one that happened over a decade earlier. 

I think it was in the late 2000s, surely before 2010, that I saw piles of American comic books appearing in branches of the discount bookstore The Works. I had only been reading American comic books for a few years, but I already knew enough to know what I was looking at: the first issue of the “X-Men” (volume 2) from 1991, written by Chris Claremont, and illustrated by Jim Lee and Scott Williams. The pile contained the four different covers that made this first issue into a collector’s item at the time, and the fifth that turned them into a gatefold tetraptych. This last version sold for £2.50 in 1991, but here it was three or four copies for £1 – I got the gatefold issue and one of the others, for the story told inside was the same.

Like the value of first edition novels, the values of particular comic books had boomed by 1991, most notably the first appearances of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. This was translated special “collectors’ edition” first issues of further new series, featuring higher-quality paper stock, card covers, foil covers, glow-in-the-dark covers, die-cut covers, and so on, all at a premium price compared with a standard book, and seen as an investment by those not necessarily there to read the story inside.

“X-Men” #1 is recognised as the biggest-selling comic of all time, but the 8.1 million copies sold were pre-orders made by comic book stores and newsagents – only half of these were actually sold to customers in 1991, and what I saw must have been the remaining stock being emptied from a warehouse. This continued for some time: I bought two copies of “Superman” #75 from 1992, “The Death of Superman”, one where I opened the black and red bag containing the black armband, trading card and stickers, leaving the other unopened; many issues from the beginning of Image Comics, like “Youngblood”, “Chapel” and “Shadowhawk”, with lots of cross-hatched art and gaudy colours; and various issues of “Spider-Man 2099”, “Punisher 2099”, “Ravage 2099” and so on, more new series and more ways to grab your attention. 

The comics speculator bubble had largely burst by the mid-1990s, leaving readers to carry on as before. Even though Marvel Comics came out of this period worst, having entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1996, this also came after a stock market flotation and buying a distributor, but the bubble affected the whole industry. Of course, this was all before the true value was found, by Hollywood, in comic book characters and their stories, over the paper they were printed on.

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