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John Byrne
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Imaginary X-Man

Joined: 11 May 2005
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 11:11am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

I just asked IDW to change the copy on their ad for the upcoming ARTIFACT EDITION. The first few lines are all about what a huge HIT the book was under Dace Cockrum, and how it became even bigger when I started.

This is a popular misconception that has vexed me for too long. It is, I suspect, the origin of the "Byrne's stuff doesn't sell anymore" self-fulfilling prophecy, as dealers and retailers looked at the sales during my tenure on FANTASTIC FOUR (averaging over 250,000 per issue), compared them to the X-MEN at the time (around 400,000), and, assuming X-MEN had "always" sold that well, further assumed my star had gone out.

In fact, when I was doing UNCANNY, we were lucky to get above 130,000. The big sales on X-MEN were generated by the Speculator Boom, which was itself based on a false perception of how comics sold.

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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 11:51am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

I am glad you have asked IDW to change the copy on their ad.

An anecdote like this reminds me to take some things with a pinch of salt - and either research or go to the source.
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Michael Sommerville
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 1:17pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Those issues seem to me to be a hit because of the interest in them a few years after they came out. I remember, when I was young, that all the Byrne X-men comics where very expensive to buy and were always on the walls of any shop I saw. It was not one or two special issues in the run but all of them.  This was a time before reprints, trades and fewer speculators. The only others that were comparable seemed to be FM Daredevil. 
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Karl Wiebe
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 1:34pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Ha ha Michael we must be the same age, I had the EXACT same experience in comic book stores when I was young.  Every JB comic for X-Men was on the wall, and every JB Fantastic Four book was in the regular back issue bin.  Lucky me, I got to grab all the FF and read them within 2 years of being published, and it was only many years later (through reprints) that I ever got to read the X-Men JB run.  
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John Byrne
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 1:52pm | IP Logged | 5 post reply

That's a lot of what's wrong with the DSM right there. Too many retailers still sunk in dealer mentality, wanting the books to sell themselves.
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Adam Schulman
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 4:03pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

I guess I was fool enough to think that in the 1980s, when UNCANNY X-MEN sold 400,000 copies a month (right?), that meant 400,000 readers.
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Kevin Sharp
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Posted: 12 July 2018 at 5:23pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

I remember, when I was young, that all the Byrne X-men comics where very expensive to buy and were always on the walls of any shop I saw.

***

I was just writing on my blog about how hard it was to find a copy of #133 ("the Wolverine issue"). I came to the title at the time of Cockrum 2.0 but had been able to track down copies of the rest of JB's run... except that one damn issue. 

I literally would've had an easier time getting my hands on an X-M #1 during this period!
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Mal Gardiner
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 1:25am | IP Logged | 8 post reply


I was just writing on my blog about how hard it was to find a copy of #133 ("the Wolverine issue"). I came to the title at the time of Cockrum 2.0 but had been able to track down copies of the rest of JB's run... except that one damn issue.
覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Kevin, that was the first comic I tracked down in a comic store and was happy to pay whatever to get a copy. It was the only one of JB痴 run after 122 that I missed on the newsstand; I managed to find a copy in a Sydney comic shop in 1986 for the princely sum of $14, and I had trouble explaining why I spent that much to the minister of home finance... The rest of his run I managed to get hold of before they became the most popular books on the planet - even so, average prices around $4 or $5 per issue seemed steep then but absurd now...

*edited spelling*


Edited by Mal Gardiner on 13 July 2018 at 1:28am
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 4:09am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

I guess I was fool enough to think that in the 1980s, when UNCANNY X-MEN sold 400,000 copies a month (right?), that meant 400,000 readers.

That waa something noted at the time. Back when Stan and Jack were selling 400,000 units per month of FANTASTIC FOUR they were reasonably sure it meant 400,000 readers, so losing even 100,000 would not have been devastating.

But when X-MEN was selling 400,000 and more, it likely meant around 100,000 customers doing the buying. To lose even 50,000 would have been catastrophic.

How well I remember Rob Liefeld quantifying the "correct" way to buy a title: one to read, one to save, one as an investment.

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Dale E Ingram
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 7:15am | IP Logged | 10 post reply

Rob's quote would explain the early 1990s.

I've seen several articles online recently about the sales dominance of the X-Men in the 80s and 90s, and what a "runaway monster hit" the book was. And that's not what I remember it being at all. I remembered gradual growing interest in the book over several years.

Out of curiosity, I've recently started plotting the actual sales numbers, compiled from the Statements of Ownership in the books in the 70s and 80s, and the data available from the Comichron website, in an Excel spreadsheet and then charting that out in a graph form.

It's incomplete and probably slightly inaccurate in places, but the remarkable thing that sticks out to me is how gradual the increase in sales was over time. The biggest single "jumps" were around the time the book went monthly, and then towards the end of JB's run there's a bit of a noticeable increase. 

This is ignoring the ridiculous unrealistic spikes in the early 1990s.

It would make sense that the book gained readers over time, but not of the magnitude that is reflected in these numbers. Makes more sense that for every one new reader, a retailer ordered 2-3 extra copies for the back issue market, thinking they'd go up in value and they could sell 'em later.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 7:26am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Yes, it is necessary to factor the shops into this. The DSM was itself a buyer, and those comics were non-returnable. Fine for the companies, but still very much artificially inflating the numbers.

It was around this time we began hearing the phrase "sell-thru", which was a more accurate gauge of the sales. (Here, too, we see something that had a huge negative impact on my own career, when shops refused to order those books that "didn't sell anymore.")

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Dale E Ingram
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 7:38am | IP Logged | 12 post reply

Yeah, and at some point around 1995, they realized that the X-Men "didn't sell anymore" and the sales contracted back to where they were near the beginning of your run, eventually contracting further til now, when the total number of buyers is somewhere only slightly higher than what Subscriptions were during the 80s.


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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 7:55am | IP Logged | 13 post reply

The Crash happened when the speculators grew a single brain cell each, and with that massive new processing power realized that if they ALL had 100 copies of CAPTAIN COVETED #1 stuffed in mylar bags in their mom's basement, those 100 copies would never be "worth" anything. So they all walked away, causing the artificially inflated industry to implode.

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Tim O'Neill
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 8:32am | IP Logged | 14 post reply


I remember trying to buy the JB X-Men back issues that led up to the death of Phoenix, and they were mostly too much for my non-existent budget.  I still managed to buy a few.

I think JB痴 run on X-Men is perceived as successful because those issues were so sought after, as evidenced by the success of the Dark Phoenix trade - a book that I always kept handy and revisited often after I stopped buying comic books in middle school.  That trade played a big part in my continuing to read my comic book collection even after I stopped buying new material.





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Andrew Bitner
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 2:05pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

Many people, so many years later, probably have a hard time believing that stories as influential as "Days of Future Past" and "Dark Phoenix" weren't monumental bestsellers. Their impact and legacy is immense and yet, at the time--if I remember correctly--they weren't blowing the top-selling books out of the water.

And what WERE the bestselling titles when those books came out? Does anyone remember?
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Petter Myhr Ness
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 2:53pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

Back in the 80ies we had plenty of superhero titles over here, and X-Men was introduced in '84 (as "Project X"). It lasted only a year before it was cancelled due to lack of sales, and consisted of the Claremont/Byrne run, ending with Days of Future Past. I remember the editors lamented the cancellation at the time, as they felt the book deserved a bigger audience. 

(they reappeared a few years later, though, in an anthology series). 
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Adam Schulman
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 4:56pm | IP Logged | 17 post reply

JB -- how well did your FANTASTIC FOUR usually sell, per month? My guess is that everyone who bought your FF actually read it, that few of them were speculators.
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Rebecca Jansen
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 9:00pm | IP Logged | 18 post reply

I remmeber seeing some of the first distributor ads (possibly from from Capital) aimed at comic fans and not stores promoting that they/you could buy a case wholesale of one hundred (or exponential quantities of that number) for X-Men #143, Daredevil #169 and Dazzler #1. I remember those particular issue numbers and titles being promoted. Must've been in that Buyer's Guide newspaper, and to me that is when the speculation thing really got going! Not so long later I remember an ad with a price for 1,000 of Alpha Flight #1.
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Steve Adelson
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Posted: 13 July 2018 at 9:26pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

And just to remember "back in the day"... X-Men #66, the final issue of the original run, reported paid circulation of just under 200,000 as it went into bi-monthly reprints.

....also, almost exactly as many printed, but unsold.

OTOH, Fantastic Four of the same era reported 330K sold and 198K additional printed.  Amazing to me that the print runs could have been THAT far off from sales, month after month.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 July 2018 at 8:51am | IP Logged | 20 post reply

Amazing to me that the print runs could have been THAT far off from sales, month after month.

Today, we look at "print run" and think "That's how many were ordered, with a few extras for spoilage."

In the Before Time, it was much more complex than that, with the publishers required to produce a large overage to cover not only spoilage, but outside interference, such as bundles leaving the printers and never being seen again. Or arriving at the distribution point, and getting no further.

CRIME! GRAFT! CORRUPTION!!!

It was a messy business.

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Rebecca Jansen
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Posted: 14 July 2018 at 12:28pm | IP Logged | 21 post reply

The bales of comics era. "Hey Chawlie, throw me a bale of those funny books". "Shure. I think a couple musta gone missing, dropped off the back if ya know what I mean, haw."

Even if your local spinner-rack retailer actually did follow what titles were popular (hard to imagine many cared over such a low profit item) they couldn't specifically order more of them and less of what sold none at all. It was a terrible system full of wastage the green thinkers of today would be astonished by. Good for kids who got something with their nickels and dimes, so long as they'd take what they found, but that was about all I can say for it.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 14 July 2018 at 1:25pm | IP Logged | 22 post reply

 John Byrne wrote:
CRIME! GRAFT! CORRUPTION!!!

If you ever write your memoirs, Mr Byrne, particularly if they focus on your comic career, make that the title of your book, PLEASE!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 July 2018 at 1:59pm | IP Logged | 23 post reply

The title of my memoirs (Vol 1) is SHADOWS DON'T HAVE SPEED LINES!
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Darin Henry
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Posted: 14 July 2018 at 6:39pm | IP Logged | 24 post reply

I loved the bales of comics!  I can recall one or two occasions when the 10 or 11 year old me got to the drug store to find a bale of brand new comics resting on the floor beside the spinner rack, still tied tightly with those flat, skinny plastic bands that cut into your hands when you pulled on them. I remember surreptitiously flicking through the exposed corners of every comic to see if any of the titles I read were included and if they were, the challenge was seeing how far you could separate it from the book on top of it to peek at more of the cover image.  I can also remember occasionally seeing the unsold comics on a return pile, sprawled out looking exhausted at best or like accident victims at worst.   Thank goodness the direct market came along and rescued comics from readers like me.
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Andrew Bitner
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Posted: 15 July 2018 at 8:16am | IP Logged | 25 post reply

JB: The title of my memoirs (Vol 1) is SHADOWS DON'T HAVE SPEED LINES!

***

LMAO!!
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