From John Byrne's 1978 Uncanny X-Men to 1995's Speculator Burn Out

X-Men time! One of the earliest comic book retailers and comic historian Bob Beerbohm (author of Comic Book Store Wars) set up the Californian comic book store Comics & Comix Store #1 near the UC-Berkeley campus with Bud Plant and John Barrett, which went on to host comic conventions and become the first comic book chain store. Best of Two Worlds was Beerbohm's first solo comic book store, opened in November 1976, and later expanded into a chain with other partners. Best of Two Worlds went out of business in 1987 due to the massive flooding of its central warehouse in Emeryville, California a year earlier. Bob Beerbohm writes, with permission to republish;

When John Byrne assumed main X-Men art chores inked by Terry Austin sales in my then Bay Area comic bookstores immediately began to jump. New copy sales on X-Men #94 revamp thru #107 were mostly still moribund. When Byrne came on to the set, sales began to noticeably climb. Each ish Best of Two Worlds began to sell out.

This was the first 1970s comic book which a very noticeable amount of "new" females began coming on seeking to score X issues.

Slightly old-fashioned language, but Bob Beerbohm is slightly old-fashioned. His experiences though make for fascinating reading and much we can learn from.

By the time X-Men #114 was being on the order forms, I was pre-ordered 10,000 copies a month by the on-wards. Sales of X-men began to explode. Other stores and dealers began contacting me to see if I had back issues, they could trade me for.
The pre-orders based on sheer demand kept creeping up from there thru Last Byrne with143, then I dropped the speculation rate big time whilst testing once again unfamiliar waters.

From John Byrne's Uncanny X-Men In 1978, To Burn Out In 1995
Uncanny X-Men #114

For a few years there having such a Byrne X stash ruled large portion of the spec universe. I began trading for AF 15, FF 1, Golden Age, EC, – as the other dealers could sell Byrne X almost same day, they could pry em out of me with proper trade bait. For some years there even Charles Rozanski traded me more than 400 Mile High Edgar Church comic books for Byrne X-men. He was getting 50 of each at a time. I loved scoring Church copies where my investment into the X Byrne was 17 cents a copy off their 35 cent cover prices. Being polite to "scoffers" I could give a rat's a$$ what they might babble in the dark. Speculating in big numbers worked when a few of us were doing it. I began larger numbers beginning back in 1968.

From summer 1977 thru Feb 1986 BTW's central warehouse flooding destruction of a million comic books (plus other related stuff), Best of Two Worlds pretty much controlled a major swath of the Bay Area back issue market.
Best of Two Worlds for a while there was a Sparta Direct sub-distributor drop point buying from Seagate, New Media Irjax, Glenwood before consolidating to just Capital City when they began free air freight.

But with #144 I chopped the order way way down to just a few thousand – and kept lowering. The "buzz" was X-Byrne. Those who were "there" in those comic bookstore trenches know of what I speak. With #165 when Paul Smith took over X-art, my spec numbers went way up. But by then there were hundreds more speculators playing this comic book game. My point of view is, was, and remains my own perspective of how the comics business grew for me since 1968 when I speculated on pre-ordering 200 each of almost every Marvel and DC #1 issues published that year.

All of the Marvel first issues and most of the DC. I was a still a sophomore in high school. By 1970 pre-ordered 600 Conan #1 from Omaha News. No "tops & bottoms" my only request. Because of the rise of the X-Men phenom once Byrne began drawing, as it grew in demand, as more & more people began opening up stores, as ALL of the promo propaganda "investment" type articles in comics fandom press were extolling the virtues of a safe bet on X-Men stocked up on, its sales simply kept climbing.

I would estimate by X-Men 108 the title was indeed in the danger zone. By the mid to late teen numbers, that was no longer the case.Not from my perspective moving tens of growing thousands of comic books in my San Fran Bay Area stores Best of Two Worlds in Berkeley, two in San Francisco, one in Santa Rosa.

By the end of 1981 when I hosted Frank Miller for his very first in-store signing at a comic bookstore Dec 1981 for DD #181, there were some 80 comic bookstores from Santa Cruz to Sacto to Santa Rosa. All these new guys running their gigs were pushing X-Men. Then all those monthly price guides for a while there began pushing all sorts of "spec" energy. This led direct line to the mid 90s speculator crash. Never to be seen in that incarnation ever again. Once there were half a dozen monthly comic book price guides, ALL 19 Marvel Direct Distributors (DC only opened direct distributors peaking at 17) began pumping flash PR aimed at spec deal in your spare time.

By 1988 I pre-order bought 7000 Bolland Killing Joke green first print. That was my "big" focused buy that year falling back in to one store post flood disaster. I kept those cover price but one per person which brought my by-then single store Best Comics on Haight at Masonic operation many, many new customers from word of mouth. In 88 coming in to the Batman movie release June 1989 I made so much new cash flow I saw coming out of the good will word of mouth being generated, I was able to move down Haight from Masonic's four corner major bus lines transfer hub. Which at times could get insanely crammed with San Fran humanity moving all at once) to the actually better cash flow spot just half a block from the fabled Ashbury corner of near-mythic legend. That last location was where Oliver Stone filmed The Doors scenes literall right out my front door. On the second day of filming he to a 45-minute "break" around 10 AM. He spent it with me building up a 4-foot stack based mostly off my "good read" recommendations in no time which came to many hundreds of dollars. A bit after that Terry Missy Zwigoff filmed Robert Crumb and his first Zap publisher Don Donahue in that same Haight final location immortalizing the place for ever when CRUMB! debuted circa 1995.

I had already vacated the spec game as it had become overly saturated. I saw the hand-writing on the wall with too many thousands of speculators mostly all thinking delusions of grandeur of getting rich quick in comic books. By 1995 "reality" set in.

Just in case anyone can see the signs again today…

 

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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