"One good thing about inflation is that the fellow who forgets his change nowadays doesn't lose half as much as he used to."
Consider this opening item as your lovable columnist playing around with numbers, keeping in mind that his expertise in matters of economics doesn't extend much beyond being relatively sure that one shouldn't spend more money than one has. Unless one wishes to meet large men named "Crusher" or "Mangler."
THE INFLATION CALCULATOR is an online resource which adjusts any given amount of money for inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index. It covers the years 1800 through 2002.
On a whim, I asked the IC what a comic book which cost twelve cents in 1961, the year publishers raised the price for a standard 32-page issue from a dime, should cost in 2002. The IC responded: seventy cents.
Archie Comics has the lowest standard price of any modern-day comics publisher: $2.19. That's three times what the IC determined a standard comic book should cost.
How do manga albums, which generally offer about 200 pages of story for ten bucks, measure up to this index? Figuring one album is equivalent to eight standard comic books, the IC says an album should cost $5.61. At just under twice that price, the manga books are a better buy than standard comic books.
It's been an accepted given for some time now that comic books are not the best buy for one's entertainment dollars, but I wanted to test that with the IC.
The movie ticket which used to cost me a buck in 1961 should go for about $5.84 today. If I go to a supermarket where I have a customer card, I can get a ticket for most movies for five bucks. Matinees at my local multiplex run $5.50. Adult evening admission is around seven bucks.
I used to be able to buy a paperback book for half a buck way back when. The IC deduces its modern equivalent should cost $2.92, but the standard price is actually $6.99.
Back when Cleveland had a professional baseball team and I was too young to realize how offensive the team's "Chief Wahoo" symbol is, I could get a fantastic seat for three bucks. The IC computes the 2002 price of the same seat at $17.53, whereas a quick visit to the Indians website pegs it at $25 for a "regular" game and $27 if the New York Yankees are in town.
If I draw any conclusion from the above, it's that the cost of most forms of entertainment is greater than simple inflation would account for. It was easier to keep the price of comic books down when they routinely sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies per issue, but the rising cover prices alone don't explain the dramatic decreases in sales...no more than the decreases in sales adequately explain the rise in cover prices.
The standard comic book doesn't enjoy the kind of widespread distribution it enjoyed in 1961. The cost of every phase of comic-book creation has risen. The competition from other entertainments continues to grow. I didn't have cable TV in 1961. I didn't have a personal library of movies on DVD. I didn't have computer games, though, if I did, I probably would have sucked at them as much back then as I do today.
The comics industry geniuses who really know this stuff could give you a dozen additional reasons why comic books are not priced competitively with other entertainments. I'll hazard a guess that many of those reasons are utterly beyond the industry's ability to change to any significant extent.
Obviously, page counts are far from the only consideration for determining the value of a comic book. For every reader who swears the cheaper comics of the 1960s and 1970s were better than today's pricier editions, there is at least one reader who believes comics have never been better than they are now with better writing, art, and production. I'm not going to take issue here with either camp; I see merit in both sides of the argument.
That said, outside of those beloved "bargain boxes" we find at comics shops and conventions, are there any new comic books which, going by page count, are good buys in these inflationary times? I am delighted to report that there are. I'm even more delighted to report that these bargains are also great fun.
Veteran readers of "Tony's Tips" know I think Archie's digests and double digests are among the swellest of comic books. So swell that I make up words like "swellest" to describe them. The publisher's regular-sized digests deliver 96 pages of story and art for $2.39, not much more than the cost of one of their comic books. Figuring each digest is roughly the equivalent of four comics worth of 1961-era goodness, the Inflation Calculator calculates the regular-size Archie digest should cost $2.80...which even a "math is hard" guy like me realizes is more than $2.39. What a deal!
Archie's double digests offer readers 192 pages of comics and features at a cover price of $3.59. Crunching the numbers with the aid of the IC, I come up with an equivalent adjusted-for-inflation price of $5.61. That makes the double digests an even better deal than the regular-size digests.
Of course, cover prices and page counts don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing and, as I implied above, Archie's digests and double digests are great fun. If you are open to lighter fare that is clearly aimed at younger readers, you won't go wrong with these comics.
During the usual "I'm not goofing off, I'm opening myself to my Muse" stage of preparing this column, I read ARCHIE DIGEST #210 and JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #97. When I read Archie digests, I jot down the titles and page counts of any stories and features which I find particularly well-written or well-drawn.
These are the "best of show." I rarely come across an Archie comics story which fails to amuse me in some fashion. In the case of ARCHIE DIGEST #210, fully a third of its contents were notable. With JUGHEAD'S DOUBLE DIGEST #97, the percentage rose to 45% of the features. Adding to their value for me: when I'm done reading the digests, I can pass them on to local libraries or neighborhood kids with nigh-complete confidence that no one will find this material unsuitable for younger readers.
That brings us to Viz's SHONEN JUMP, arguably the best buy in comics. Each monthly issue has over 300 pages of manga and manga-related articles. The same amount of material in 1961 comic books would have cost readers about a buck-and-a-half; going by the IC, SHONEN JUMP should carry a cover price of nine dollars and change. Its actual cover price is $4.95.
I've bought SHONEN JUMP faithfully since the American edition was launched, but I just started reading the issues which have been piling up this week. At 300-plus pages per issue, that makes for a fairly impressive pile.
Taking a closer look at SHONEN JUMP #1-3, which is how far I have gotten in my reading, I absolutely love the heft of these comic books. They even feel like a great deal!
There are seven series currently running in JUMP, all of them action-adventure strips featuring young male heroes. Of these, the best known are DRAGON BALL Z and YU-GI-OH!
DRAGON BALL Z continues from DRAGON BALL. It's the ongoing saga of super-powerful warriors and the otherworldly Dragon Balls which can grant any wish. There are a lot of recurring characters in this series and their interrelationships are said to be complex. However, what comes across to me in the episodes I've read is that these characters spend their time either fighting or talking about fighting. I just can't warm up to it.
YU-GI-OH! stars a decent game-loving kid who gets possessed by the spirit of the King of Games. The done-in-one stories do have a sameness to them at this point in the series: someone, usually a student, doesn't play fair. The transformed Yugi challenges them to some one-on-one game with dire consequences for the loser...and his opponent always loses. However, despite this formula, I get a kick out of this young hero and the strip itself. The stories are well-written with expert pacing and terrific artwork.
There is also much fun to be found in the lesser-known strips. My favorites are ONE PIECE and YU YU HAKUSHU. The former is about a young man with a rubbery body and who is determined to become his world's greatest pirate. Though the action is often hilarious, the elastic lad squares across some very bad men and creatures, and the stories do not shy away from the consequences of the violence which comes with such encounters.
In YU YU HAKUSHU, Yusuke is a juvenile delinquent expected to come to a bad end and pay the appropriate penalty in the afterlife. He throws everyone a curve by dying - before his time - trying to save the life of an innocent child. That one selfless act earned him a chance to regain his own life. Yusuke is not the friendliest ghost you know, but it's easy to sympathize with him as he becomes, in death, a better person than he was in life.
Personal growth is also a theme of NARUTO. A giant fox demon attacks a village and is killed. Its soul is reborn in the form of a mischievous human boy who, though he is despised by many of those who know his origin, seeks to become the greatest ninja-warrior of that same village. Despite such a grim backstory, you'll find lots of laughs in the strip.
SHAMAN KING, which made its debut in JUMP #3, has yet another ambitious young star. Yoh is a shaman-in-training who can speak to spirits. If this were a Marvel or DC comic book, we'd probably be seeing a crossover with YU YU HAKUSHU before the end of the year. The series got off to a good start, but I'll want to see a few more chapters before I make up my mind on it.
SANDLAND is by the creator of DRAGON BALL. In the far future, Earth is in bad shape with very little water to go around. One of the surviving humans, a sheriff, teams up with a pair of demons, to find water for both groups. There are no youngsters in this strip, since even the seemingly immature Beelzebub, the son of Lucifer, is 2500 years old. The series isn't one of my favorites, but it does make for a nice change of pace from the rest of the youth-oriented SHONEN JUMP roster.
Worth noting is that, in every issue, each strip starts with a text-and-illustration page describing the strip's characters and concepts. This allows new readers to get up to speed quickly, even if they missed the previous episodes. Creatively and commercially, including these pages is a smart move.
SHONEN JUMP is mostly about the manga, but its feature pages are also a hit with me. There are regular columns on manga, anime, gaming, models, and toys, as well as articles on Japanese culture, foods, and more. Indeed, there's so much of interest in each issue of JUMP that you can spend hours enjoying the comic. It would be a good deal at twice the cover price.
While I strongly recommend SHONEN JUMP and the Archie digests to one and all, I don't want those of you who don't care for them to get depressed about paying three bucks and up for every chapter of the current JUSTICE SPUDS storyline. It's all in how you look at things.
Take ACTION COMICS #1. It cost a dime in 1938. The Inflation Calculator says it should cost $1.21 today. But try finding a near mint copy for less than $400,000.
The above column first appeared in COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE #1562 [October 24, 2003], which shipped on October 6. That issue's cover story announced the release of the STANDARD CATALOG OF COMIC BOOKS, 2ND EDITION. An alternative to the Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, the Standard is notable for including online auctions with its listings. I haven't received the new edition yet, but the price guide listings in the first edition tended were almost always lower than those in the Overstreet guide.
The secondary lead reported that Marvel Comics and Joe Simon have settled their lawsuit re: the ownership of Captain America. As is not unusual, but frustrating nonetheless, the details of the settlement are confidential. My own hope is that the terms of the settlement were favorable to Simon.
The question of the week asked CBG readers what they would do with the $64 million dollars won by some lucky California lottery players last year. Not being a big thinker, my answers might seem a little conservative...
1) I would pay off every debt I had, buy new cars and houses for my immediate family, and make sure my children...and my nieces and nephews...could go to any college they desired.
2) One way or another, I would get back Black Lightning from DC Comics. With millions in a war chest, I suspect that could be accomplished, perhaps easily.
3) I'd hire someone to organize my accumulation of stuff and then build a library...attached to my new mansion...to store it in. Following which, I would hand over a lot of money to dealers in old comics and original artwork.
4) I'd start a company to publish my own comics creations and, when possible, collections of classic comics works which deserve to be back in print.
Since I have no real concept of how much money $64 million is, I'm not sure how much would be left after the above. Assuming the vault is still full, I'd also do these things.
5) Support progressive political candidates to take the United States back from the mean-spirited wrong wing.
6) Form an organization to help comics creators go after the publishers who, historically and routinely, have screwed them out of their just rewards for their creativity.
7) Buy several dozen of the absolute cutest puppies I can find and train them to kill on my command.
How would YOU spend 64 million dollars?
My pal HOY MURPHY sent me this note shortly after reading the above column:
Thanks for the SHONEN JUMP review. I agree with almost all of your reviews of the features. YU-GI-OH is better than I thought it would be, based upon the cartoon episodes I've seen. My favorite is YU-YU HAKUSHO, with SHAMAN KING not far behind.
You're right, JUMP is a great deal for the money. It's such a good deal I buy two copies per month. I order a copy from my comics shop for my son and I to share - he's a big DRAGONBALL Z fan - and I bought my daughter her own subscription, so she gets hers in the mail a week or so before we get ours from the shop.
My reading of SHONEN JUMP is going more slowly than I'd hoped because there is just so much content in each issue. If and when sales of the English edition approach the three million plus sales of the original Japanese weekly, we could see the frequency of the English edition increase. I wonder if the American comics outfits are watching JUMP as closely as we are.
I also heard from ALAN PORTER:
I just read your column in CBG #1559 and wanted to comment on a couple of things. Like you, I was appalled by the episode of X-MEN EVOLUTION where Rogue pushed the petrified Mystique over the cliff. I thought the Brotherhood's treatment of her "statue" was in character showing their total disregard for human dignity, but that Professor Xavier's actions were decidedly out of character. That said, the scenes with Nightcrawler were very powerful.
I was watching the episode with my daughters (ages 11 and 13), who both love the show. Meggan, the eldest, has been a major X-Men nut since seeing X2, and loves Nightcrawler in particular. She had made a major emotional investment in the relationship between Kurt and Mystique on this show. Her scream of "NO" when Rogue pushed her "mother" over the cliff was heartbreaking. She looked at me shocked and said "They can't leave it like that - can they?"
What was even more disturbing was sitting down the next week; the new episode opened as if nothing had happened at all. In fact, it was never mentioned. I understand that the consequences will be dealt with in an upcoming episode. But it should have been dealt with straight away. If ever there was a cause to end an episode with the dreaded "to be continued...", this was it.
On to more lighthearted stuff. Like you, I took my family on the STAR TREK EXPERIENCE during a trip to Las Vegas. We had a great time. Well, Meggan and I did. More on that in a minute.
We also spotted the time anomaly as the shuttle returned to the Hilton and played it up for a while. We even cracked a couple of "paradox" jokes with the "Ferengi" while having lunch at Quarks. Unfortunately he just didn't get it. Ah well.
What impressed me most about the Experience wasn't just the great ride, but the ride's staff. Erin, my youngest, isn't a fan of loud noises and pyrotechnics. Going on any sort of theme park ride with her is a lottery. But she insisted she would be OK and wanted to do this ride.
However, when the transporter effect kicked in, Erin freaked. As you know, it gets pitch black during the "transport scene." I heard her scream, then suddenly stop. When the lights came on, Meggan and I found ourselves on the Enterprise, but both Erin and my wife, Gill, had disappeared.
A freak transporter accident? Nope, the ride crew monitors the transporter pad. As soon as Erin started to freak out, someone had very quietly and gently led her and her mom to an "escape" hatch. They calmed her down, gave her a quick "tour" of back stage to show her that it was all make believe and that her Dad and sister would be OK and walked them out to the gift store to wait. When I arrived on the bridge, still looking around trying to locate Gill and Erin, one of the Command Crew walked over and whispered to me what had happened. Very efficient and well handled. They turned what could have been a nightmare into an unforgettable experience. I've been a vocal supporter of the Trek Experience ever since, recommending it to everyone I know.
Thanks once again for a great column.
Thank you for sharing that story with me and my readers, Alan. Kudos to the Star Trek Experience Command Crew for their efficiency and kindness.
As for that questionable episode of X-MEN EVOLUTION, while I still have the same problems with it, it appears the show has, in some measure, addressed the situation in the final episodes of the current season. I'd say more, but that SPOILER WARNING machine has been on the fritz all week.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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