As someone who first got hot and heavy into the collector’s end of comic books towards the peak of what is now dubbed the “speculator boom” of the 1990s, I’ve been thoroughly entertained by a regular feature at Bleeding Cool: “My Monthly Curse,” by Phil Hall, a former comic book retailer and news editor for industry publications. Hall, completely unashamed, talks about some of the gimmicks and tactics employed by speculative dealers during this time-period where certain comics were deemed “collectible” (and thereby expensive) without there really being just cause. In last week’s column, Hall talks about a comic that was near and dear to me when it first came out, Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1.
Not to confuse the lamens and non-comic-book types who visit the site, but this is not the same treasured Amazing Spider-Man #1 comic I’ve been pining for my entire life. Rather, this is a spin-off series launched by Marvel in 1990 that was Spider-Man, sans “Amazing.” Todd McFarlane, who I gushed about last week in my ASM 300 write-up, was brought in to pencil, ink and write the series, ultimately launching him into the pop cultural stratosphere.
All of these factors – a new spinoff series of a massively popular superhero, an rising star artist/writer – made the title a huge hit during the peak of the speculative boom. And like so many other “special edition” comics of the era, the debut issue featured a number of “collector’s edition” variant covers. There was a silver foil cover, a gold foil cover, a “platinum edition” and then one that seemed the most curious to me as I got older, a “blue” variant.
The “blue” variant always got to me because this was a comic that had developed a cult following from the collector’s crowd not because of a variant cover, but because of what seemed to be a printer’s error, coloring the skin of the comic’s villain, The Lizard, blue, rather than green. As Hall recalls in “My Monthly Curse,” his brother was going through boxes of comics when he stumbled upon the blue-skinned Lizard:
To the trained eye it was a simple mistake – sheets of print had been collated that had come off the presses at the end of a run and one of the ink levels – this time yellow – had run out. But to my speculator brother it was something else entirely. With the aid of his unwitting accomplice – me – he set about turning Spider-Man #1 into a really hot speculator comic.
The ‘Blue Variant’ is possibly the most ridiculous ‘rip-off’ ever to happen in comics. There were probably many thousands of misprinted comics in existence and none of them are ever worth anything. In fact, most comics fans want the perfect comic and will ignore the misprints – they are faulty goods and therefore have no value.
After Hall mentioned the blue variant in one of his newsletter columns, the issue was commanding more than $50 on the open market, despite the fact that it’s essentially a misprint.
It’s amazing how reading this column puts me into a bit of a rage as a collector. Comic books started as a joy for me as a kid, and the act of “collecting” became a passion because I loved the history and personality of these “old” books. When you read a comic book that was first published in the 1960s, they weren’t treated as collectibles, which makes them all the more special today. What the speculators pulled off during this period is downright despicable, and while I appreciate that Hall is coming clean all these years later, I still don’t get how some people can reconcile destroying a hobby. I’m also disappointed by my collecting brethren, many of whom I fear are still chasing after the “next big thing,” who bought into these gimmicks hook, line and sinker. As Hall said:
There should have been valuable lesson learnt from this ridiculous excuse for a collectible, but there wasn’t. All anyone could see was a long queue of fools and their money waiting to be parted, and just to make it worse there were more and more fools out there actually proving this.
Ah, Spider-Man #1, one of the comics that drove me out of collecting for more than 10 years. I was 15 years old when that comic came out. My local comic store at the time either didn’t have pull lists, or I didn’t know to ask about them. But I had my mom drive me every Saturday so I could pick up my comics, and I was so excited the week Spider-Man #1 was to come out, only to discover all the copies were gone.
“Sorry, kid, we sold ’em all. Should’ve been here yesterday.” All that was left was the sign saying “Limit 5 per customer.” So people who weren’t even interested in comics were buying 5 copies, and the store couldn’t have set aside a single copy for me, who’d been going there every week since I was 10?
I did pick up a second printing of the comic the following week, but still found the whole thing infuriating. I didn’t quit collecting on the spot, but that was definitely one of a series of things that let to my abandoning comics within a few months.
And as for Spider-Man #1, I received a copy free a few years ago from a mail-order company for ordering more than $100 worth of comics. Suck on that, investors!
The ‘blue lizard’ misprint was the only version of issue 1 that arrived at our comic book shop in Wrexham and everyone got very excited thinking we were lucky enough to have had a whole batch of them! Ah, the foolishness of youth!