Do you remember When Batman was one of the least expensive comics on the market? Then you’re getting old.

There’s been quite a bit of comment on the price of new comics and it seems to me that newer readers may not quite understand why readers over the age of, say, 35 are quite so flummoxed at the price of a comics.  Let me provide a little context for how DC and Marvel were not always the same price or more expensive than the independent publishers.

This is a list of publisher price levels from Comic Shop News, the week of March 15, 1989


  • Batman #433 – $0.75
  • Animal Man #11 – $1.50
  • Power of the Atom #12 – $1
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #60 – $1.75
  • Gilgamesh II #2 – $3.95


  • Thor #405 – $0.75
  • Amazing Spider-Man #317 – $1
  • Doctor Strange #5 – $1.50
  • Death’s Head #5 – $1.75 (Marvel UK)
  • Conan Saga #26 – $2 (B&W magazine)
  • Akira #10 – $3.50 (prestige format)


  • Elementals #1 – $1.95


  • Miracleman #16 – $1.95


  • Bushido #5 – $1.95


  • Nexus Legends #3 – $1.50 (reprint)
  • Grimjack #60 – $1.95


  • Faust #3 – $2.25

Summing that up, DC and Marvel had a price range of $0.75 – $1.75/issue.  Most of that was really in the $1 – $1.50 range.  The independent comics were almost uniformly $1.95.  A lot of DC and Marvel titles, especially the newsstand ones, were half price or less compared to the indies.

This was an age of different printing formats and paper stocks.  Newsstand comics and Direct Sales comics.  There isn’t much of a newsstand left, but those Direct Sales comics were still $1.50-$1.75 to the indie’s $1.95.

Flash Forward to August 2002 (stats from Comichron).  People forget the sticker shock when IDW was putting out 30 Days of Night at $3.99.


  • Thundercats #0 – $2.50
  • Detective Comics #773 – $2.75
  • Thundercats Reclaiming Thundera #1 – $2.95
  • League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. II #2 – $3.50
  • Authority Kev – $4.95


  • Ultimates #8 – $2.25
  • Spider-Man/Black Cat Evil That Men Do #3 – $2.99
  • Spider-Man Blue #4 – $3.50


  • Red Star Annual #1 – $3.50


  • Odyssey #1 – $3.50


  • Futurama Simpsons Sp Crossover Crisis #1 – $2.50


  • Purgatori Ravenous #1 – $2.99


  • Sojourn #14 – $2.95

Dark Horse

  • Kiss #2 – $2.99


  • Transformers Generation One #5 – $2.95


  • Vampirella #12 Reg Ed – $2.99


  • 30 Days Of Night #2 – $3.99


  • Spawn #125 – $2.50
  • Battle of the Planets #2 – $2.99
  • I. Joe Battle Files #3 – $5.95

Toward the end of 2002, almost all of the indie price levels are $2.95 – $2.99.  DC and Marvel’s baseline comic is $2.25, cheaper than even Spawn or the Bongo line, but with some of the DC/Marvel slate is starting to meet or exceed indie pricing – mostly for DC imprints like Wildstorm or “prestige” projects like Spider-Man Blue or Kevin Smith writing Spidey.

Today, we’re seeing more and more DC and Marvel titles moving to $3.99.  That’s the new normal, not $2.99.  The DC monthlies at the bookstore can go to $4.99 and there are many people concerned that DC and Marvel would like to raise the price to $4.99 in the DM.  At the same time you see Image selling some of their titles for $3.50 or even $2.99.

This simply did not used to be how things worked in comics.

From a practical matter, DC and Marvel don’t sell nearly as many comics as they used to and they have more or less the same corporate structure, but they’ve still got a lot more volume than anyone else does.  Even if Image is gaining on DC.

Regardless, if you see someone scratching their head about how expensive DC and Marvel comics have gotten, that’s the context they’re looking at.


  1. 2002? It was that long ago that I was having online fights with IDW staff because I feared that their $3.99 price point would set a new standard, and they were trying to justify it with saying they had better printing and reproduction?

  2. Wringing out the sponge that gets drier and drier every week. The $3.99 price point has put me off of almost every Marvel and DC book. Just this week’s release! Batman #44 is $4.99 for no reason presented in the solicit. I’m still a sucker for Star Wars but other than that, I skip the Marvel & DC solicits and head straight for Image. This is not going to last very long.

  3. In 1968, I was a 14-year-old paperboy, and made about $7-$8 a week, depending on tips. Comics were 12 cents each, so I could (and often did) easily buy 50 comics a week, and still had money left over for candy and other stuff. In fact, when new titles popped up, I frequently bought multiple copies of the first and other early issues to trade or sell to fellow collectors later.

    How much would it cost to buy 50 comics a week today? About $200 — or about $800 a month.

    Inflation, one might argue? To some degree, yes. But if you pop that 12 cents from 1968 into the Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, it equates to about 82 cents in 2015 dollars.

    Frankly, the switch to “better paper” and “better printing” was an excuse to jack up prices and eliminate the younger reader price points.

    The way I see it, since many floppies are eventually converted to graphic novels with high-end printing and paper, there is no reason to print them on high-end paper with high-end printing for floppies. Bring back cheap comics, and maybe circulations will start to grow again.

  4. And for those who may argue that increases in paper costs and other publishing realities forced comics to increase cover prices at a rate that is almost five times the rate of inflation, here’s a random sampling of slick magazines that were around in 1968 and are still being published today. Note that none of the cover prices are even double the inflation rate.

    Time —
    1968 cover price: 50 cents
    1968 cover price in 2015, adjusted for inflation: $3.43
    Actual 2015 cover price: $5.99

    Playboy —
    1968 cover price: 75 cents
    1968 cover price in 2015, adjusted for inflation: $ 5.14
    Actual 2015 cover price: $8.99

    Popular Science —
    1968 cover price: 50 cents
    1968 cover price in 2015, adjusted for inflation: $3.43
    Actual 2015 cover price: $4.99

  5. It should be noted that comics went away from subscriptions and ad sales, the bread and butter of traditional magazines, and doubled down on single copy sales. That’s part of the pricing difference when you compare them.

  6. What @R.Maheras said.

    Comics prices didn’t go up to make more money it was because sales went down so the increase was to keep the revenues the same. Look at $ size of the market then and now. Revenue is up but when you factor in how many titles from so many companies that are being published now you’re left wondering how any survives… Oh yeah, no one pays the artists anything or a full rate any more…

    As the market shrank the editorial focus went to convoluted, multi-part/cross-overs to keep the readers hooked.

    In 1984, Secret Wars was an oddity. Today every title is a ‘Secret Wars.’

  7. I once suggested that DC follow the Shonen Jump model:
    Each week, publish a big thick magazine, containing all of that week’s DC comicbooks, in black and white on pulpy newsprint, for, oh… $6 (Shonen Jump U.S.: 280 pages for $4.99 in 2011.)
    Each week, a different run of stories. Big name talent and characters sell the magazine, and readers are exposed to lesser known titles.
    13-15 comics, 330 pages, plus advertising and editorial. (Compare to the 500 pages of Shonen Jump Weekly in Japan.)
    Print a monthly for kids, and a monthly or bi-weekly for Vertigo.
    Fifth week gets a quarterly special issue, reprinting older stories.

    Then, when the run is collected, it’s colored and printed on nice paper.

  8. “Comics prices didn’t go up to make more money it was because sales went down so the increase was to keep the revenues the same. ”

    Have sales gone down?
    1973… Wonder Woman.
    Printed: 319,000
    Sold at newsstands, etc.: 121,585 (38%)
    Subscriptions: 1,009
    Free samples: 100
    Newsstand, not sold: 195,255 (cover stripped off and returned for credit, rest of comic thrown away or sold under the table)

    What was the break even point back then? Anyone got data on Ka-Zar, Micronauts, or Moon Knight before they went exclusive to the Direct Market?

    Publishers had to account for the unsold copies. Sure, it’s a wholesale cost, and I think the rule was “print three, sell one”.

    Also, what was the discount for newsstands?
    For the Direct Market, the discount can range from 50-60%, since the product is non-returnable.
    For newsstands, the discount would be smaller, since the product is returnable.

    Of course, advertising revenues are much lower. DC and Marvel bundle ALL of the monthly comics together into one big circulation figure, so that for each month, all titles would sport the same ad on the back cover, for example. (More money earned, editorial production is simplified.) Generally, the ads are either house ads, or those of licensees, with maybe the three cover ad spots being actual sales.

    HUH. If Marvel is only sold to comics shops, why run ads…

  9. Torsten: I worked in a drugstore from 1967 through 1973 and was in charge of comics and magazines. The discount on comics we received was 20%. That means we paid 12 cents for a 15-cent comic. And from what our local distributor said, THEIR discount was 40 percent, so they paid Independent News (DC’s distributor, for those that might not know) 9 cents per comic. And it was his understanding that Independent’s discount was 60 percent. That means that DC brought in a whopping 6 cents for every comic sold. Is it any wonder that comics saw their sales drop in the late ’60s, when other publications charged considerably more (such as Time, as indicated above), which generated a much bigger profit for everyone up and down the distribution chain?

  10. Torsten, I’d buy that anthology comic you propose, but I don’t think enough others would. Attempts in that direction have occasionally been tried and they’ve always faced an uphill battle. There was Action Comics Weekly that failed (certainly not hundreds of pages an issue as you suggest, but at 48 pages, it was fatter than a standard comic.) Marvel Comics Presents was an anthology that lasted for seven years, mostly at 32 pages with no ads as I remember, but that ended 20 years ago. (I can’t imagine Marvel putting the resources or time into something like that today.) And Dark Horse has been doing a thick monthly anthology for the past couple of years, but the sales figures on that keep dwindling (which is a shame, because I like the book.)

    I think the majority of U.S. comic buyers like an à la carte menu. They want just the character or story they want and don’t want the ‘clutter’ of other characters’ stories. I believe those readers perceive a package with variety as *less* value because they’re being forced to buy something they don’t want.

    And this pattern isn’t isolated to comics. More and more it’s reflected in every form of pop culture. In this digital age of hundreds of channels and thousands of options for entertainment, everyone narrowcasts their choices to get just what they want. Variety shows on TV are a thing of the past. Most people don’t buy albums filled with songs, they just download the one song they want. The internet is the new variety show — the anthology of today. Ironically, with so many choices available it seems that instead of getting more, most consumers expose themselves to even less than they have in the past.

  11. I’m familiar with pre-Direct Market comic book distribution, as I worked for Charles Levy Circulating Company from 1974-1978. I’m also familiar with the 1970s business model for comics, as I kicked around the idea of starting a small comics company circa the mid-1970s, and even went so far as to get printing quotes from World Color Press, which then printed most of the comics published in the US.

    The fact is, even when cover prices were low, comics were very profitable if the sell-through and volume were decent. In my case, because I could do much of the art, writing , lettering and other production work myself on the 2-3 titles I was considering, I could have made a strong go of it with sales of only 75,000 an issue at a time when most titles were selling between 100,000 – 350,000 copies per issue.

    But even for DC and Marvel, despite much larger overhead (albeit offset to some degree by ad revenue), the profitability cutoff back then was sales in the 100,000-copy range. Which meant that books selling 250,000 copies or more were making a great profit — even when cover prices were in the 25- to 35-cent price range.

    The main reason I shelved the idea of a comic book company was the sudden collapse of Martin Goodman’s short-lived Atlas Comics line in 1975, and the ever-increasing glut of titles DC and Marvel were flooding the market with. It was hard enough trying to get decent distribution in the days before the Direct Market (as Goodman’s Atlas failure proved), and if you add to that a comics glut as well, a small publisher with 2-3 titles didn’t stand a chance in the mid-1970s. That certainly did not mean that comics were not profitable though.

  12. So is it Diamond Distributors fault for the high prices? Because they require 60% or even 65% percent discount on cover price from Marvel and DC? I think we need to talk to Marvel or DC’s accounting department to get a real answer.

    But I do remember fondly those days of taking $20 into a shop and coming out with my money’s worth. Though now, digital comics are cheaper (not necessarily Marvel or DC) ranging in the $.99 or $1.99 range which I take full advantage of.

  13. The comic book companies have increased their prices while finding way to cut their cost. For example, comic book covers used to printed on heavier stock paper. Now comic book covers are printed the same paper as the interior pages. Comic book companies are also eliminating inkers. Now there is just a penciler and a colorists. The job of inking has now been added to the role of the colorists. I don’t think any of these changes benefits the fans. I don’t think the quality of the books are as good as they used to be. I guess it is all about cost cutting for the comic book companies.

Comments are closed.