What Is a Back Issue Comic Book?

Row Upon Row of Back Issues
Aaron Albert

Since comic books come out on a monthly basis, there is only one time in a comic book's life that it is considered a new issue, and that is the month that it is released. The term "Back Issue" refers to those comic books that have come before the current issue on the stands. As soon as the latest issue arrives, the previous month's issue is considered to be a back issue.

Why Back Issues Matter

For comic books, back issues are as important a thing as in the magazine industry, those back issues are destroyed, their covers ripped off and the covers are sent back to the publisher for a credit. This enables magazine sellers to recoup some of their losses on issues and not be overburdened by back issues.

Not so in the comic book world. The concept of nonreturnable back issues became known as the Direct Market and has since been the standard of business for comic book retailers. A comic book store cannot return what it does not sell which therefore eats into their profit margin. The store must also pay to warehouse merchandise that isn't being sold, while comics seem small they can take up a lot of retail space month after month. 

Industries Created From Back Issues

Many retailers have worked together to help create a whole different sub-industry in the comic book market with those back issues. Some retailers will bag, board, and store those comic books for future sales, with rows and rows of back issues for fans to peruse. Sometimes these issues will go up in value, but the store is stuck with that money invested into the comic until it sells. Lack of proper ordering has sunk more than one store who was left with stacks upon stacks of unsold back issues.

Other stores look for other ways to offload their wares with yearly sales where back issues are discounted. This enables them to clear out inventory and still recoup some of their investment. Others turn to eBay or other online sale sites and try to flip them there. Some stores have gotten out of the back issue business altogether and try to order the minimum needed for an issue. Some back issues can stay on the shelves or in the box for years before it is purchased if it's ever purchased at all. There are some mail order services where readers can order back issues they've missed through the mail. As more comics are collected and released in book formats called "trades" the market for monthly back issues has shrunk. However, there will always be readers looking to add to their collection or pick up a missed issues.

The great thing about back issues is that if you get into a certain comic book, you can be sure that there are some of the previous issues out there and be able to complete that run of comic books. Love them or leave them, back issues will continue to be a part of collecting as long as we have the direct market.