Right around the same time Image Comics was dominating sales in the early 90s, Valiant Comics was another independent comic company that was making it's name. They had characters like Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Ninjak, Shadowman, Magnus, Turok (character the hit Nintendo 64 game from Acclaim was based on later) and Doctor Mirage. In 1994, Valiant was sold to video game company Acclaim. Most of the titles were reworked and put out with new #1s.
In 1992 Marvel even worked on making their own futuristic universe with the 2099 books. Most of these books ended up failing in the long run but one actually stuck around for a bit and the character keeps coming back even today. That title was Spider-man 2099. This series lasted until issue 46 which came out in 1996. With the popularity of Spider-man still on the rise, Marvel decided to bring up a story from the 1970s where Spider-man was cloned. That clone was believed to be dead at the end of the story, but in 1994 he returned. Ben Reilly, the new Scarlet Spider had resurfaced with all of Peter's memories prior to his supposed death. The clone still believed in the values Uncle Ben and and May taught him and wanted to help people even though he was just a clone. Or was he? Marvel would spend the next 2 years telling this story and even bouncing around on who was the clone and who wasn't between Peter and Ben. This story was very well received at the start, but after all the back and forth and long lasting story, it has been labeled in comics history as the worst Spider-man story by some. Had Marvel not dragged this out to keep capitalizing on sales, perhaps things would be seen differently today.
In 1995, Magic the Gathering decided to make it's jump into the comic book realm with their own comics. Wizards of the Coast Partnered with Acclaim/Valiant to do this under a new banner called Armada. They had comics covering Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Dakkon Blackblade, Fallen Angel, Shandalar, Nightmare, and Jedit Ojanen. They even started a series on their own Planeswalker Jared. His story was done in a few mini series such as Shadow Mage and Wayfarer. These were probably the best of the Magic comics series.
The early to mid 90s also brought about the rise of the "Bad Girl" comics. Titles such as Lady Death, Vengeance of Vampirella, Shi, Witchblade and even Catwoman were produced. They tried to capitalize on the strong female characters while still being "sultry" The most popular of these was Lady Death. Lady Death premiered in the Evil Ernie (Chaos! Comics) series as the queen of Hell who wanted all life on Earth to end so she could return to Earth. The #1 issue of this title was done with a chromium cover (drawn by Steven Hughes) as was the way things were done back then (SHINY!). Vengeance of Vampirella (Harris) which had the "alien" Vampirella from Drakulon coming to Earth in a very 'Superman" type origin. She could only sustain her life with blood and the book was done in a horror style. William Tucci's Shi (translates to death in Japanese/by Crusade Comics) who was a Japanese warrior who used a naginata to take out her enemies. Catwoman (DC) which was drawn by Jim Balent and featured the sometimes villain on her own. She becomes an anti-hero. Witchblade (which was early Michael Turner work through Top Cow/Image) which followed police detective Sara Pezzini who found an ancient artifact "The Witchblade" that she used to make an armor and fight her enemies. Which is a spinoff of The Darkness title by Top Cow/Image.
Anti-Hero: a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. This was another very popular style in the 90s. Characters such as all the "Bad Girls' listed above and Punisher, Venom, Bloodshot, Azrael, Aquaman (after losing his hand to pirahnnas), Guy Gardner, Lobo, Deadpool, Kaine and even Wolverine to a degree. Venom had numerous mini series at this time. Lobo was the "bastich" biker bounty hunter from space. Azrael had replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman for a time and was now back to his old ways from the Order of Saint Dumas. Deadpool... ...nuff' said.
In 1994, Magic decided to try their hands in the novel business so they could flesh out their universe and back story. The first of these books was Arena. Each one of these novels had a page in the back you would mail in to get and exclusive card. For the first book it was the card Arena. Now this card wasn't crazy on power level, but it was the ONLY way to get the card and people really wanted it. They continued this trend of making novels with exclusive cards and then they had the novel final sacrifice that you could mail in to get a Mana Crypt card. This card was very powerful and was the first novel that didn't sell as well as the previous ones. This card was seeing play on the tournament level and started to really bring attention to the novels.
With this, Wizards had also started doing their own magazine called Duelist. This was a magazine that focused on Magic strategies with articles and deck lists/ideas. There were also the occasional previews of upcoming sets. There was one issue of Duelist Magazine that came with it's very own exclusive Magic card: Nalathni Dragon (previously only available at the 1994 Dragon Con). Having this card made this issue sell out very fast at Chimp's and most other stores since it was the ONLY way to get this card if you didn't go to Dragon Con.
Having been in their new location for about a year, the industry was still growing. Nick also started working at McDonald's around this time so his time at Chimp's had to dwindle. Nick was starting to work Saturdays from 11-2 and Sundays from 12-5 while Tony worked the other days with Wes working as well from time to time. People were buying sports cards in droves. Sports cards were coming our from so many companies that it's hard to keep count. Many of them had numerous sets and inserts coming out every year. The clientele were still collecting everything as much as they could for potential profit and the gaming community was getting more and more CCGs. Publishers were doing anything they could to capitalize on interest with sales of new and "shiny" product (as that was happening on comic covers and cards left and right).
With the rise of collectibles in sales they really saw all kinds of cards starting to really boom. Especially comic cards. They had already been getting a lot of attention and now they were really hitting their stride with numerous sets coming out from DC, Marvel, Chaos!, Ultraverse and more. Some of the smaller independent companies started to feel the industry decreasing. Malibu and it's Ultraverse line were starting to feel the stress of declining sales and were sold to Marvel Comics in November of 1994. Marvel was also able to keep most of it's profits in house having already purchased the Fleer trading card company in 1992. Fleer was who Marvel used to produce all of their non-sport cards. Not to mention Fleer was a huge name in sports cards as well.
This time frame (1993-1995) started to bring about lots of new art styles in the comic industry. Three of the biggest new hits in the industry were J. Scott Campbell's Gen 13, Joe Madureira's Uncanny X-Men, and Humberto Ramos on Impulse. To keep up with the industry most people were picking up the monthly Wizard Magazine. This magazine always had fun to read articles about upcoming books, interviews with creators, a monthly Top 10 writers, artists and comics section and a price guide highlighting the key issues of runs and the newer spotlight issues.
People were collecting LITERALLY everything being produced. Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues were popular and Marvel rode that popularity (along with other publishers). Marvel started doing annual swimsuit specials. These comics had male and female characters in pinup style pictures on beaches, the Savage Land and even the Moon. These sold like crazy. So this trend was followed by Image and other publishers. Including Chaos! Comics with their Lady Death in Lingerie one shot.
Card games were flooding the market with every company trying to capitalize on the success of Magic the Gathering. So much so that Wizard Magazine started it's own magazine to cover the card game market. That magazine was called InQuest and premiered in April 1995. This was not the first magazine of it's kind however. Another magazine covering the card game market was Scrye and it premiered in 1994. Scrye was more popular among the more competitive Magic players and InQuest seemed to find it's following in the comic book market with people who read comics, played Magic and enjoyed the humor of Wizard Magazine.
Wizards of the Coast had finally figured out what kind of print runs were needed and when Ice Age came out in June 1995 you could finally find enough product to meet the demand. Ice Age was the first set that you could walk into the local drug store and find Magic packs of. This set was being sold everywhere! Wizards had a hit on their hands and they knew it. Message boards were all full of spoilers for the coming set and people were all over it. They wanted anything they could get their hands on. This was the first Magic set that really felt like it was selling like comics and cards were. Ice Age brought about Snow-Covered lands and new abilities that pertained to those lands.
Marvel obviously must have seen the success of Magic and not wanting to be left behind on the craze of CCGs, they through their hat in the ring! Marvel already owned Fleer, so it only made sense to give it a try. Marvel Overpower premiered August 1995. What could be better?! This combined everything that was hot at the time: Comics, Cards, Comic Cards, and CCGs! You would put together a team of 4 characters to fight against your opponent with their own team of 4 characters. This game sold very well for Chimp's but most people were buying them to collect as cards and not playing the game. The first 3 sets sold great but when they added the Intelligence mechanic, that made all of the old characters obsolete and upset local players. Overpower never recovered for Chimp's but it did have its time to shine.
Then in 1996 the unthinkable happened. Riding the hype train, DC and Marvel actually agreed to do a 4 part limited with half being published by each company. They even let the comic stores have ballots to vote for who would win the bigger title fights. Of course Wolverine beat out Lobo which most fans felt that was more due to popularity of the character. After issue 3, they combined their universes into the Amalgam universe where 1 character from each company were merged into 1 new character. Examples of these were Dark Claw (Batman/Wolverine), Spider-Boy (Spider-man/Superboy), Speed Demon (Flash/Ghost Rider) and Super Soldier (Superman/Captain America) to name a few.
Toy collecting was even on the rise. People were buying these a lot too. They would purchase these and leave them in the package hoping for a big payday later. So much so that Wizard Magazine started publishing it's own guide to collecting them called Toyfare in 1997. This fell in similar line to their previous Wizard and InQuest titles where they used humor, articles, previews, a price guide and Top 10 Lists. Most people at the time really enjoyed their Twisted Toyfare Theatre which took Mego Figures from the 1970s and put them in a comedic comic strip. Some of the people who worked on these ended up later working on the Cartoon Network Adult Swim cartoon called Robot Chicken.
Comics, Toys, Sports cards, Non Sports Cards, Comic Cards, CCGs and practically anything perceived as "collectible" were filling up stores and peoples houses. Some of the publishers had already started to see a steady decline in sales with Valiant and Malibu being sold to other companies. People were finally starting to realize that most of these comics that were being printed in the millions were never really going to go up in value (except for a few certain ones). The old comics were so valuable because they were rare and hard to find. The new collectibles were extremely overproduced. This tactic was used by every collectible company during this time and even packaging items as "collectible" right on the packaging. Once customers of the industry realized what was going on, it was already too late for many comic stores. The steady decline in sales across the country kept on coming. Near the end of 1996, many stores were starting to feel the sting. Chimp's was also starting to notice the decline.
In 1996, Marvel struck a deal with Image Founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to come back to the company and help reinvent the Avengers and Fantastic Four. This was not seen positive by the other Image founders and many of them felt like it was a betrayal (as heard in interviews with them). These 2 creators reworked many of the characters in the "Image Way". But unfortunately, Marvel's plan was too little too late. In 1997 it got so bad that even Marvel filed for bankruptcy.
Magic the Gathering was still going strong but most of the CCGs were now defunct product lines. Cards of all types were filling cases of stores with no buyers. Toys were starting to seem like the next thing people believed were going to be the collectible to invest their retirement plans into now that new comics were proving not to be the case. The comic book collecting industry was crashing. Many places were seeing the impact for years leading up to this. Fortunately, Chimp's was staying strong during the majority of the slow crash due to not oversaturating the shelves with dead product and ordering tightly on what products they could actually move. Many stores were getting stuck with product they couldn't return to their distributors as this was the policy then. Customers weren't walking in the door like they used to and many just disappeared never to return to pay for the books they had on order. All of this (the oversaturation, greed of corporations, no real long term value, new stores popping up constantly trying to jump in on the craze and much more) caused the industry to crash.
Chimp's Comix also saw a steady decline in sales and customers as well. Things weren't looking the greatest for them either. Fortunately, Tony and Nick were doing what they could to keep everything going well. They never really talked actual sales business numbers and this was only Tony's business at the time. However, late in January of 1998 while Nick was working the shop, he saw a paper calculating the total value of the store and what appeared to be a selling price sitting out. Nick approached Tony about this and Tony admitted he was losing interest in the industry and his hobby for it. Tony said he was selling the store and had already lined up a buyer who was gonna drive in with a moving truck and pack it all up and take it away. Nick asked why he wasn't told about this sooner being an employee for him. Tony said that he didn't think Nick could come up with the money to buy the store. Now Nick was almost 19 years old and could understand why Tony would believe that. Nick asked for Tony to delay the deal he was working on and to let him figure out how he was gonna get the money to purchase the business. Nick didn't want to lose what had become a second home to him.
Nick had been climbing the ladder at his local McDonald's. Within 1 year, he was moving on to a management position there and had been taking training courses on McDonald's business practices. In his senior year of high school, he competed in the state finals of DECA for business management (a business practices course for high school students with countrywide competitions). After graduation, he kept learning more and more about business management on the job. This part of his story is very important for what came next.
After trying many different avenues to come up with the money needed to purchase the store and keep it in Warsaw, Indiana, Nick finally DID IT! (Sorry kids, we are not going to divulge how he was able to do this on such a short amount of time. All we will say is he was able to find the right people who believed in him and his business knowledge he was accumulating from his work at Chimp's, McDonald's and DECA challenges to back his plan)
On March 2, 1998: Nick Kelley officially became the sole owner/operator of Chimp's Comix!
End Part 2...
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