Baseball Cards & Advertising

This morning, I was flipping through the pages of an early-90’s X-Men comic book. While getting into the storyline I was hit with not one but two different advertisements for baseball cards. The first was a 1992 Score full page ad in the middle of the book and the final was an Upper Deck glossy ad on the back cover.

Since my return to collecting, I have not seen a single ad for baseball cards in anything other than a Beckett magazine. While Beckett is a proven method of attracting collectors, one would think that by now the practice would be discontinued with the rise of the Internet and company websites.

Doing a little research on the topic I discovered that at least one company had spent some major advertising dollars promoting their brand in both ESPN Magazine and Sports Illustrated. Upper Deck has in the past spent major advertising dollars in those publications but has seen minimal return on investment.

No wonder Beckett and the card companies are so intertwined. A back cover ad in a Sports Illustrated magazine costs nearly $400,000 thousand. Full page ads in ESPN Magazine are cheaper but not by much despite the fact that those things are practically given away these days.

You can see what Beckett charges for advertising HERE.

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Marvel Wars : Universe or Masterpieces?

As I’ve said many times, I was once a pretty big fan of comic books. As a baseball card collector in the early-90’s, it was natural for me to gravitate towards the trading card aspect of comics and no one did it better than Marvel, as is usually the case.

In 1990, Impel produced Marvel Universe Series 1 which featured many of Marvel’s biggest names with artwork done similar to what you might find in a comic book from 1990. Furthermore, Impel grabbed everyone’s attention by producing hologram cards which back then was still considered “state of the art”.

Marvel Universe made it into series four before being discontinued in 1994.

Marvel Masterpieces made its debut in 1992 and was produced by Skybox. The artwork, provided by Joe Jusko, is perhaps some of the most iconic pieces done from that era. It was a lot more realistic than Marvel Universe and what made these cards even greater was the fact that there was a picture of the comic the hero/villain first appeared in on the back of each card.

Marvel Masterpieces’ biggest flaw was that unlike Universe with its very hard to find hologram cards, they missed the boat on the first series and provided no chase cards whatsoever. They never made this mistake again as each following series had some sort of chase insert but by then it might have been too late.

Masterpieces was last seen in 2008 and was produced by Upper Deck.

Can trading cards compete with comics?

I am ashamed to admit that back in 1992 I collected comic books for one summer. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with reading comics. The reason I collected them is because every week some shiny, foil cover would show up at my shop that I loved to look at. I am ashamed because I never read a single one and dropped the collection like a bad habit by the next year.

While the comic industry seemed to have hit rock bottom in the mid-90’s, it is now a huge business. Last year alone comic book sales came close to $450 million in the United States alone. In 1991, trading card sales reached over one billion dollars in sales. By 2005, according to Tuff Stuff’s Scott Kelnhofer, they cleared just $260 million.

Clearly, memorabilia cards, certified autographs, and other gimmicks have not saved The Hobby but instead just kept it afloat for a few more years. More and more we are seeing brick and mortar card shops shutting down or moving to the Internet, the only place many collectors today buy their wax from.

I was surfing the web to get some coverage of Comic Con 2009 and was amazed at just some of the people showing up. From big (current) Hollywood stars like Johnny Depp to today’s teen heartthrobs like the cast of Twilight, Comic Con clearly knows how to bring in the crowds, comic friendly or not.

Now look through the autograph pavilion section for this year’s National Sports Collectors Convention and what do you see? A bunch of retired athletes charging ridiculous amounts of money for a quick moment and an autograph. Sorry guys, when I can buy a certified autograph of Bo Jackson for under $20 dollars, I won’t go near the $99 price tag.

What has the trading card industry done to reach mainstream headlines? Aside from the first game-used bat relic of Babe Ruth nearly a decade ago and inserting pieces of hair from dead presidents into their cards, not much. At best we had a little known movie about baseball cards in 2008 and a horrible web show called Back on Topps.

If the men & women who run The Hobby were smart they would throw down some serious money into getting baseball cards on television. Toppstown and their web cam gimmick was a good start but a segment on a popular network like Spike TV or the MLB Network could do wonders if done right.

The sad truth is that card companies just do not want to take a risk. Wax Heaven alone has reached over a million hits in traffic in less than two years with zero revenue for advertising and still companies like Donruss/Panini refuse to work with the blogosphere. While relying on Beckett Media to promote their products, all they accomplish is reaching a small group of collectors and nothing more.

We will never be able to compete with million dollar blockbusters but we have a gigantic audience of sports fans who don’t know about today’s cards or look down on collecting. The comic book industry has Wolverine and Batman but let’s not forget we have Babe freakin’ Ruth on our corner.

I’ll take The Sultan of Swat over a man in blue tights any day of the week.

10 Comic Books That Changed the Industry (Or Just Look Darn Cool

Hi everyone! This is Philipp from Cover Browser, a gallery site collecting all kinds of covers, from comics to magazines to books or cereal box covers. Thanks to Wax Heaven for inviting me to this guest post listing 10 of the most interesting, noteworthy, or cool-looking comic covers!

10. Watchmen #1

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Watchmen is currently about to hit cinemas near you. Like the movies V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it is based on a comic book written by industry legend Alan Moore. When Watchmen hit the comic book stands via publisher DC in 1986, it made quite a splash due to its intriguing vision and writing. On the surface, this was a superheroes story. But Watchmen had so many layers above, beyond and across that, expressed through things like symmetric panel layouts, near-hidden details, and cut scenes creating double meanings, that it was much more than that.

These multiple layers, expressed in ways Alan might consider unique to the comic medium, might also be why Alan doesn’t like to see his creations turned into movies. So you won’t see his name on the movie poster of Watchmen… though you may find him talking about it in interviews. Like the one with the Los Angeles Times, where part time magician Alan says he will “be spitting venom” all over the movie “for months to come.”

Who watches the Watchmen? Probably not Alan Moore.

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9. Marvel Zombies #3

CGC-wrapped Zombies

Two things are noteworthy about this cover. First, that it’s wrapped in a CGC sleeve. What’s CGC? CGC is short for Certified Guaranty Company. If you’re a comic collector or seller, their service is to grade your comic on a scale of 0.5 to 10, where 10 is the (ultra-rare) absolute perfect condition. For instance, you’d get minus points for a tear on a page, a spine split, and other signs of the comic book having suffered through — gasp! — someone actually reading it. After the grading, the book is assigned a unique verifiable number, and it’s then put in a Fort-Knoxish sealed transparent capsule… a “combination of compression and ultrasonic vibration”, as the CGC site claims! Afterwards, provided the rating is good, the price this now-sealed comic book sells for can jump upwards quite dramatically.

Another thing interesting here is that the mini-series Marvel Zombies is one of the species of comic books published outside of the universe’s main continuity. That’s why you can see Wolverine (and reflected in his Adamantium claws, the Hulk) in a walking-dead zombie state, even though they may appear quite normal, healthy and undead in other comics of the time. “Out-of-continuity stories are often using mechanisms like dream sequences or alternate dimensions to get away with telling an odd story without affecting the “real” fantasy character. This way, things can get more radical. Like with Marvel Zombies. Or *cough* Marvel Apes

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8. Dark Horse Presents #51

Frank Miller’s Sin City

Publisher Dark Horse used the anthology title Dark Horse Presents (DHP) to introduce different kinds of characters and stories. One of those was character Marv appearing in The Hard Goodbye, the first of what would become several tales of Sin City. Creator Frank Miller, who also worked on Daredevil (and later on 300), told the Sin City stories in high-contrasts of mostly just black and white. As of 2005, Sin City is also available as a film, featuring stars like Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Jessica Alba.

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7. Eightball #13

Eightball

US-based Fantagraphis is one of the most interesting comic book publishers in the world, and one of their most interesting titles is (or was, as the comic is rarely released these days) Eightball. Written and drawn by Daniel Clowes, the comic in the meantime spun off two movies; Ghost World, and the only semi-great Art School Confidential.

A character of Ghost World, Enid Coleslaw, is also shown on the cover to Eightball #13. You think Enid Coleslaw is an odd name? It’s an anagram of another name — shuffle the letters and see if you can guess it…

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6. Rai #0

Rai

Rai wasn’t an industry changing comic book, but Rai #0 from November 1992 had an incredibly iconic looking cover going for it. The publisher of this title, Valiant, was highly successful in the early 1990s, but went down in 1994 during a slump in the comic industry.

On a side-note, some people say the cover to Rai #0 was cloned from another cover — judge for yourself.

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5. The Incredible Hulk #1

Hulk Can Has Smash

If you ever feel like impressing non-comic buff friends, just tell them: Oh, I liked Hulk better when he was still gray. (Yep, that was the original color of the now-green man monster, as shown on the cover to The Incredible Hulk #1 from 1962. Extra points if you manage to sneak in the sentence “Lou Ferrigno was a much more convincing Hulk in the TV series than the 3D Hulk in the movies will ever be!”)

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4. Superboy #124

Superwhat?

In the evolution of comic book characters, the rule of nature seems to be: cancel whatever doesn’t work, and clone what does work. Due to the success of Superman, the character spun off several mutations. One of those was Superbaby — supposed to be Superman during his toddler years! In the cover shown, Superbaby knocks out a boxer in the ring and says, “Naughty Man! You hit your friend two times right after he shake hands with you, so me punch you back — twice!”

Other Superman-style characters were Superboy, Superdog Krypto, and Supergirl. And let’s not forget Comet, the Super-Horse. As Superman puts it, “A horse that can fly… and is invulnerable to Kryptonite!”

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3. Action Comics #1

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Superheroes were popular even back in the late 1930s, but there probably aren’t that many creations of the time which you might still know to this day! Superman of course was one of the more long-lived heroes, ever since his 1938 inception by Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in Action Comics.

Originally the son of planet Krypton (which was a doomed planet, so his parents sent “Kal-El” away in a space shuttle) didn’t have all the powers attributed to him now. But thanks to the competitive comic industry, he learned quickly, as his creators had high hopes to make him the ultimate super hero of all. These days, Superman can do anything from looking through walls with x-ray vision, flying, shooting blasts from his eyes, blowing superstrong winds, lifting superheavy objects, and last not least, going back in time (thanks to faster-than-light speed flying). His most surprising skill of all however might be that he’s able to go “incognito” as Clark Kent simply by putting on a pair of glasses…

If you want to buy this comic issue, please save around $470,000. Yeah, if only we could go back in time to collect that comic while it still had cost 10 cents…

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2. Amazing Fantasy #15

Spider-Man Makes His Debut

When it became clear to Stan Lee of Marvel Comics that the comic series Amazing Adult Fantasy was to be cancelled with issue 15, he knew there was nothing to lose. So Stan, with artist Steve Ditko, for that last issue in 1962 (renamed to Amazing Fantasy) decided to give a new character a chance.

I guess that would be the end of the story, if not for one little thing: Amazing Fantasy #15, with its not-so-heroic teenager facing everyday problems, happened to sell like crazy. Of all superheroes, the one that was a recreation of a little animal many of us find yucky, was an incredible success. The rest, of course, is history, and by now Spider-Man is one of Marvel’s most successful characters both in comic book form and on the big screen. And if you got around 40,000 bucks to spare, you might want to collect that particular comic issue with his first appearance yourself…

On a side-note: To this day, Stan Lee makes guest appearances in Marvel movies, like Spider-Man or X-Men. Similar to what Hitchcock did in his movies, you will briefly see Stan as a random neighbor, customer, or other citizen. In this year’s Iron Man movie, he faced Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on the red carpet playing a party guest — but Tony identified him as Playboy’s Mr. Hugh Hefner.

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1. Superman #75

The Death of Superman

In the early 1990s, comic books (or comicbooks, as industry veterans call them) were becoming very gimmick oriented. Every other week, there was a new “special first collector’s issue”, another “holo cover” or “glossy cover”, and another purportedly industry-changing story line.

One of those special story arcs was the death of Superman. Though it’s best to put “death” in quotes, because comic buffs know that nearly nothing is forever in the fantasy world of superheroes. Well, while comic buffs might have known that Superman would eventually become reanimated (and right they were), many people new to comics — with a little help from mainstream media — figured this is the big one. And so they bought the comic book. And a lot.

A day in the life of Wax Heaven

I just want to thank the Wax Heaven readers for bidding on the Hanley Ramirez auction. It’s currently up to $30 dollars and 5 bids with four days left. As you know, if you win the lot please e-mail me to add ten bonus Ramirez parallels.

For all the comic book fans, you will love Wax Heaven this weekend. A fella by the name of Phil P. who runs an amazing website has written a guest article that will run on Saturday morning titled ‘The 10 Comic Books That Changed the Industry’. It will be similar to the insanely popular (by Google only) ‘10 Greatest Garbage Pail Kids Ever‘ guest article at Wax Heaven.

IMPORTANT: If you are one of the handful of readers who is owed a package from Wax Heaven, please pay close attention to all the hockey & football box breaks as I will consider including cards to your stack if interested. I can’t make any promises but if you e-mail me your requests, I will see what I can do.

Example: John from Old School Breaks will be receiving all my New Jersey Devils & Chris V. who sent a package a month ago will receive all my Titans & Redskins.