The Comic De-SPEC-Tive v.1-5
TV or Not TV, That is the Question
A big part of the modern speculation game is being able to identify a few things: a stunning cover, a new character, a key event that will “have lasting effects” on the status quo of a title (at least until the inevitable reboot or retcon.)
The tools at the collectors’ fingertips are myriad- solicits in Previews; comic news sites; social media accounts of publishers/creators; and comic speculation sites (including this fine one you’re perusing right now.)
Yet even with all of this information, as with all things in life, there are no sure things. This all holds even more true when looking at t.v. speculation.
I was half-watching Supergirl this week and really started to wonder why the majority of spec from television shows doesn’t see the same sort of bump as movie spec. It seems like film options get an immediate buy in but in terms of television there seems to be more of a divide.
And it also seems that television doesn’t carry the same sustained value of their big screen counterparts even when dealing with A-list characters. There are obviously a few exceptions like The Walking Dead which became more of a cultural phenomenon then a pure comic to TV spec.
Just running down recent comic to TV show adaptations, we have along with the aforementioned Supergirl, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Riverdale, iZombie, Lucifer, Happy, Legion, Runaways, Krypton, Outcast, Preacher, the Netflix Marvel shows..and the list only grows longer. (I am excluding shows here that were created before the comics such as Rick and Morty and more recently Lost in Space.)
It seems the DC shows in particular don’t get any love. Going back to Supergirl, the show continues to develop the Legion of Superheroes, specifically Valor and a bastardized version of Saturn Girl (and The Flash just may be playing around with a version of either XS or Dawn Allen of the Tornado Twins).
They have made specific references to the horror of the Blight which was a major enemy of the Legion during DnA’s classic run. Signs point to the CW perhaps launching a Legion show and comic-wise the property is also rumored to be part of the revitalizing of several of the missing DC tent pole teams, Legion of Superheroes and JSA, as well as Shazam.
A property rife with potential yet knowing the history of how spec has performed, I have a hard time recommending any books. At least they finally got Valor into costume…
Similarly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (yeah, I know, I know, but this season it really HAS been good!) just dropped the introduction of Graviton on us (first appearance below even though they have amalgamated this character with another character Major Glenn Talbot who first appeared in Tales to Astonish 61.)
We got to see Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider on the show as well with some truly good GGI, but his first appearance in this fantastic Tradd Moore 1:50 variant for issue 1 still can’t hit $70 sold.
Yet, raw copies of Zeitgist’s first appearance have been selling raw for upwards of $40. Argue rarity of that issue, or that it is also the first appearance of Doop all you want, it was the confirmation of the Deadpool appearance that caused a spike on a character who won’t likely make it through the last third of the film. (Wait, projectile acidic vomit? I take it all back- I see a ‘Deadpuke’ mash-up in our future!)
Yet somehow a show like The Gifted which is dropping more first appearances on us than any current X-related show or movie -Polaris, Fenris twins, the Cuckoos, Ahab(!?)- can barely move the spec dial.
Let’s take a closer look at a book that set the world afire briefly before crashing back down to earth. Outcast 1 was a book that in 2014 when it was released and in 2016 when the show premiered saw a frenzy of sales (and listings as it had a mid-80,000 print run.)
Completed sales for 9.8 CGC slabs were topping out at $180. Reviews were good overall. It was dark, had a compelling central lead, and it stayed pretty close to the central conceits of the book. Then more 9.8’s started to appear asking for mid-$200-$300. Raw sales dried up as more and more slabbed copies showed up.
The season ended and with it, so did interest in the book and eBay purchases. A season 2 was announced. Hope. That quickly deflated as it aired outside of the United States first with Cinemax promising it would be air here this May. HBO would air the entire first season and advertise behind its biggest shows.
At this point, however, the damage was done. Two sales of 9.8 over the last three months went for an average of $25. ‘Outcast’ officially symbolized the junk bonds of TV-based spec destined to never again meet its initial value.
So,what does all of this mean for collectors and buying into television properties?
Well, one thing about television – there is just too much of it now and so many channels that niche programmers can essentially hone in on their target audience no matter how limited it may be.
Sci-fi western? Wynonna Earp. Fans of the lead singer from My Chemical Romance? Umbrella Academy. Conspiracy theorists who believe the NYPD is covering up a werewolf epidemic? Brooklyn Animal Control (Yep, it’s a real book from IDW- unfortunately, its first pass didn’t inspire confidence so it is being retooled.)
Additionally, due to the number of properties being optioned, not everything is guaranteed to go into production, and then, not everything is guaranteed to get picked up to series.
One of the most recent casualties was Locke and Key which brings me to another point- you can’t (and you shouldn’t!) trust that the book’s (or show’s) creators to deliver fair and unbiased info about their show.
Their financial well-being is directly connected to how that show could potentially perform, so you will never see the writer/artist come out and say, “Checked out the dailies today, and have to say, looks like it is turning out to be a real trainwreck.’
As hard as Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez pushed on social media that everything looked terrific, that it was amazing to see their creation brought to life, that the cast and crew should be dusting their shelves off for ensuing Emmys, for the second time in seven years, their cult favorite comic couldn’t make it past the pilot stage, this time at Hulu.
So, what’s next? As studios continue to develop their own streaming services, we are unlikely to see a decrease in the number of comic-based properties. Is there another potential TWD waiting in the wings? Probably not, but there are definitely more moderate successes in the vein of Alias/Jessica Jones which are worth monitoring.
In the Queue
With the phenomenal rate at which properties are being optioned, sellers need to strike while the iron is hot. After buyers descend like locusts on any existing cheap copies from the usual sources- eBay, MyComicShop- the adrenaline-fueled desperation of missing out kicks in. (Check out how quickly new listings make note of the fact that a book has been optioned!)
While this is a great way to cash out during the initial wave, other collectors are sending in fast track lottery tickets in hope of getting that 1st 9.8 listed and setting a precedent for that book’s value. I tend to keep all first issues of titles in separate long boxes alphabetically to ensure that I won’t have to dig around searching for a book. Once an announcement is made, if I have multiples, I will pull a few to the side, creating my ‘in the queue’ stack.
(Important aside here that I am a reader as well as collector, so if I think a property may lend itself to being a successful series based on its premise, publisher, creator’s track record, I will long hold a book. This is key with smaller print run titles as well as high ratio variants.)
The other element of this is if you are a buyer, then you should have an active newsfeed that includes all of the comic sites but also entertainment sites like The Hollywood Reporter and io9 who often break option announcements first. It seems obvious as well but secure your own high grade copies before rushing to ‘break the news’ on CBSI!
So, while we are unlikely to see any comics optioned to TV reach the rarified air of some of their movie brethren, there is still profit to be gained. Here are the books that I am currently sitting on, some in anticipation of development and casting news and others waiting for the first episode to air.
his is not an all-encompassing list which you can find easily enough with a Google search but rather titles that I think have the most potential for growth. If you’re looking for a pattern, it is that all of these books tend to have a sterling, pedigree ensuring that the source material at least is of a certain quality:
Cloak and Dagger
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
East of West
Y, the Last Man
Other shows currently in development stage with no network attached:
- Astro City
- Black Magick
- Harrow County
As always, I welcome your feedback and I’m interested to know what shows you are anticipating or ones that you think may take off.
Tune in next week- same spec time, same spec channel!