When comic books weren't the bargains they used to be

Many superheroes still wore tights and still got into fights, but their adventures were becoming more expensive to consume in 1990.

Artist Todd McFarlane's signature could boost value, said teen collector

Same readers, new prices for comic books

32 years ago
Duration 2:03
The National visited a comic book convention in Victoria in 1990 and took a look at the state of the business.

Many superheroes still wore tights and still got into fights, but their adventures were becoming more expensive to consume at the start of the '90s.

In April of 1990, The National's Bob Nixon went to a comic book convention in Victoria, to survey what the industry was like at that point.

He found a world of comic books that were more expensive than they used to be, but also a world in which the readership had remained unchanged.

At least, the footage shown on his report suggested a lot of teenage males were still reading the pen-and-ink stories.

They were reading something...

Dick Deryk believed that busy parents were willing to hand money to their kids to buy comic books, believing that at least "they're reading something." (The National/CBC Archives)

"A lot of adults collect comic books these days, but the main buyers still rely on allowances and paper-route money," Nixon told viewers.

Dirk Deryk, a comic book dealer, said he believed parents' wallets were providing a lot of the purchasing power for these young buyers. 

"There's a lot of ... guilt money out there, where parents just don't have the time for their kids to do exactly everything that they want," he told The National.

"And they say, 'Here: have $20 or $40 and go down and buy some comics. At least, you're reading.'"

The bigger picture

Savvy young collectors were trying to purchase the comics that they believed were likely to rise in value. (The National/CBC Archives)

But Nixon said the comic book industry had gradually become a bigger business, which had drawn some of these younger readers into becoming discerning buyers and even market speculators.

"You've got to pretty well guess which comics are going to go up because you don't really know until they're a few months old and by that point, they're already around $10," a teenager told Nixon.

Another young collector pointed to getting works signed by the likes of Todd McFarlane — a Canadian comic book artist who was at the convention — as one way of securing the value of a comic book purchase.

An increasingly big business

Todd McFarlane was still working for Marvel Comics when he spoke to The National in April 1990. (The National/CBC Archives)

McFarlane, who was then working for Marvel Comics and drawing Spider-Man for the comic publisher, spoke to The National about the fame he'd gained through his craft.

"That's part of the process — getting the success, getting the power base so you can deal with the companies and stuff," said McFarlane, who would go on to create the Spawn series for Image Comics, an independent company he co-founded.

Nixon noted the day-long Victoria comic-book convention would see more than $100,000 worth of deals take place.

"In a world full of computer and video distractions, the comic book has managed to hold its own and then some," he said.

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