Originally written for the inaugural Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) newsletter launched at STGCC 2014.
Like Superman and Spiderman, the comic collector in Singapore can be elusive.
Some of us have wondered who is this person. Does he or she have a secret identity like the superheroes? Even for the bestselling titles, newspaper reports would only give rough estimates based on ballpark figures provided by comic shops or booksellers. A few years ago, I compiled a monthly list of bestselling graphic novels provided by the bookshops on www.singaporecomix.blogspot.com . But it was not possible to get firm figures. Less is known about the comic collector who buys the comics. This is an attempt to find out from who is the comic collector in Singapore.
A questionnaire was put up on the Singapore Comics Kaki (SCK) facebook page on 16 August and a few other sites. Replies were received till 26 August. 13 males and 1 female responded. While recent US reports claimed that there are more female readers, this may not be the case in Singapore. What is quite clear, however, is that most of the respondents are in their 30s-40s, which meant they are quite serious collectors and have the buying power to purchase collectible back issues, especially the Silver Age titles. What was surprising is that even with this small sample size, two respondents listed Incredible Hulk #181 (1974, first major appearance of Wolverine) as one of the valuable comics in their collection. My sense is that this is a group of collectors who grew up reading comics and is now able to afford to re-buy rare titles from their youth, either for pleasure or profit. A few of them hold senior positions and might be travelling for their job, giving them the opportunity to buy CGC graded comics. The internet has also made mail order and online auctions easier. A few of them sell their collectibles to other fans in Singapore. However, this does not mean an emergence of a back issue market in Singapore. One suspects such ‘big time’ collectors are still far and few in between, and most likely they would buy their expensive comics from overseas.
Respondents also confirmed what some have observed for the last few years – collectors are buying their trades from Kinokuniya (especially when there is a 20% sale) and a few of them have stopped buying single issues from the comic shops. However, there is still a handful who will make that weekly trip to the comic shops on shipment day. Their ‘strategy’ is to buy the singles from the comic shops and to buy the trades at Kinokuniya. Increasingly, there are some who buy their trades from Amazon or Bookdepository because of the deep discounts offered. There might be a need for comic shops and bookshops to organise more events (eg. signings) as incentives and outreach, and to build a community.
The good news for the shops is that the mainstream titles are still the most popular. Most respondents considered themselves as fans of DC, Marvel and Image comics. Only a few listed independents like Fantagraphics or First Second. This corresponds with their favourite comic book adaptations – recent blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers and Thor. Attempts to find out how much comic collectors spent on comics per month is not conclusive as some left it blank. Those who did answer put between 10-20% of their salary, but some are single digit %. For those who gave actual figures, some collectors spent about $100-$200 per month on comics. But most of them collect other things like Lego, toys and original art, so the amount they spent on pop culture memorabilia would be higher.
What comes across is the sense of enjoyment they receive from reading/collecting comics. Some of the anecdotes talk about how they were introduced to comics and it is a link to their childhood. “I read comics because my cousin sent me a box of Marvel comics when I was 8 years old, and I never looked back.” Another said, “I was introduced to it by my late father when I was 5 years old… I do not collect for the sake of collecting or selling. Every comic I own, I read.”
It is encouraging that as a result of FB groups like SCK, more comic collectors get to know each other to exchange information about their passion. Friends are made through comics.