What is a Back Issue Comic?
Walk into any newsagent and you will see rows and rows of magazines and periodicals covering all interests and genres with a weekly, monthly or quarterly publication date.
Similarly drop into your local comic shop and you are likely to see a similar arrangement with racks of comics, sometimes arranged with the weeks release first and then by publisher or perhaps just alphabetically.
When the shelf life of these monthly comics (and the magazines/periodicals in the newsagents) has expired the accepted terminology for these old editions is ‘back issue’.
But how do you classify exactly what a back issue is and when does a new comic officially become a back issue?
When is a comic classed as a 'Back Issue'?
There’s clearly a number of differing answers to this question but in the loosest sense a back issue is anything published before the current issue that is on the shelf or stand.
How long a comic remains on the shelves before being termed a back issue is the source of much debate and also largely the choice of the individual store owner.
A recent Twitter poll on the matter and saw the results almost evenly spilt between those that think a comic becomes a back issue a month after publication and those that feel three months shelf life is the optimum exposure time.
There were some outliers to this split of opinion with one respondent commenting it’s a back issue as soon as it’s released, something akin to the value of a new car depreciating the moment it’s driven off the forecourt, whilst another felt that it was perfectly acceptable to have 4-12 issues of a title on the shelves but only if that was a mini or maxi series; essentially allowing the buyer to pick up the complete run off the shelves in one hit.
Popular Instagrammer @omegaredtimes, says “I consider everything a couple of months after the release date to be a back issue. I like the ability to go to my local comic shop and pick up a couple of issues of the same title off the shelf but realise that if I want anything before that, or something from a few decades ago I’m going to have to track it down on line as sadly back issue bins in stores have become a thing of the past. I’ve been looking at tracking down some classic Conan issues from the 1980’s and all of the ones I got recently were picked up via online stores or eBay.”
Whether it’s a month or three, what happens to these comics when they have outlived their natural shelf life and at what point does a new issue, enjoying it’s prime position front and centre on the display shelves, make the journey to the dusty old back issue bins, or heaven forbid a box in the back of the store never to see the light of day again for months or years to come?
In the 80’s & 90’s back issue sales used to be an important revenue stream of any comic book shop. Most shops would attempt to maintain a deep inventory of old comics.
Indeed being able to buy in old collections at a reasonable price and then move them on via the back issue bins with the more expensive, trophy issues adorning the walls behind the counter meant that comic shops got a much higher profit margin per issue than they were ever able to achieve via new comic sales.
As issues moved from the new comic shelves to the back issues boxes there would be the hope that most would still sell eventually for something nearing cover price when happened upon by an avid collector. And as unlikely as it may seem in the pre-internet era, even back in the years before the likes of Key Collector and sites like Comic Book Invest and Comics Heating Up there was always the hope that something might spike interest in a comic or series that had been languishing in the back issues for months leading to an uptick in value. The Overstreet Price guide, various comic magazines like Wizard and even word or mouth were instrumental in determining value trends.
But as valuable retail real estate in comic shops has been taken up by graphic novels, Manga, Funko pops and pop culture related merchandise, the humble back issue has been relegated to the darkest recesses of the the comic shop, and in a lot of cases has simply vanished. Disappearing like an endangered species.
Nevertheless comic collecting as a hobby has kept the demand for these older issues high and they have found a new lease of life via online auction sites such as eBay or dedicated online websites where collectors can search and browse back issues and fill in the gaps in their collections.
And whether it’s one month after publication or three, there are hundreds of new comics becoming back issues every month all ready to be tracked down, rediscovered and read at some point in the future.