Ordering Comics For Comic Shops Before The Direct Market Existed

In the last year-and-change, Diamond Comics Distributors has gone from being the monopoly exclusive distributor of almost the entire direct market of comic stores, to DC Comics and Marvel going exclusive with Lunar Distribution and Penguin Random House exclusively, with Marvel being subdistributed by Diamond, and IDW going the same way as Marvel. While Kickstarters and IndieGoGo carve out their own section of the marketplace, and more attention switches to digital and bookstore marketplaces. Oh and with shipping delays, distribution delays, and Brexit, it's tough for a comic book store to order comics these days. But it could have been a whole lot harder.

One of the earliest comic book retailers and comic historian Bob Beerbohm (author of Comic Book Store Wars) set up the Californian comic book store Comics & Comix Store #1 near UC-Berkeley campus with Bud Plant and John Barrett, which went on to host comic conventions, and become the first comic book chain store. But before then, Bob Beerbohm was buying and selling comics over fifty years ago in a fashion that, despite all the changes, seems very familiar. He posted to Facebook;

Ordering Comics For Comic Stores Before The Direct Market Existed

By 1968 I pre-ordered 200 copies of this Ditko Mysterious Suspense #1 from my local news stand who got em from distributor Omaha News. I also demanded no "tops & bottoms" from the 50 count bundles.

I love "no tops and bottoms", it does conjure up the demands for condition from a comic book specialist seller as opposed to the newsstand.

I was also buying 200 each of the Ditko Showcase Creeper and Hawk & Dove plus the Marvel doubled title expanded titles Captain America 100 Iron Man 1 SM 1 Hulk 102 Shield 1 Doctor Strange 169 Sub-Mariner 1, etc back then. By the time
Same with Charlton's earlier Blue Beetle 1-5 as well as Captain Atom in 1967 though it was just 50 of them at 12 cents each.

 

I was just turning 16 when I launched my comic book experiment in self employed capitalism. A lot of us were beginning to stir that year.
It was 1968 I went full bore buying quantity to resell in order to be able to score stuff I did not have. I was learning from the older guys placing ads in Marvel classifieds.
In 1969 began buying a couple hundred a month of Neal Adams X-Men. The House of Mystery with Adams and Wrightson caught my attention in a big way.
By 1970 Conan #1 my pre-order was hitting 600 copies. I pre-ordered just 200 of #2 and #3
Similar most of the numbers with Neal Adams Green Lantern Green Arrow. Most all of us missed scoring #76 but #77 has some speculation in it. By #78 the speculation was rampant.
As the title garnered national coverage – including 3 pages in Newsweek – the perceived sales DC NPP Independent News was receiving was the sold numbers were actually going down. GL/GA was one of the most heavily "hit" by affidavit returns fraud on that "honor" system mandated by the larger ID gigs around the country in order they would handle ANY comic books

This was a time when newsstands would tell distributors how many copies of a title they had sold. Sometimes they would have to return stripped covers of comics and magazine they hadn't sold, for refunds. Sometimes they wouldn't have to. And warehouses of so-called "returned" or even stripped cover magazines were sold, often by organised crime, and incentivised newsstands not to sell their titles. It's one of the reasons that the direct market when it began, which had no returns in exchange for a higher discount, was so appealing to publishers.

By 1970 Rip Off Press, Last Gasp Eco-Funnies, San Francisco Comic Book Company, Company & Sons, Krupp Comics Works, other independent comics publishers offering creators full copyrights on their artwork plus royalties when/if their comic books were reprinted.
A New Day was slowly dawning in the American comic book world, but few realized that as of yet. More details in CBSW.
By 1971 with books like New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle #1 I was pre-ordering similar numbers as GL/GA
By the time Swamp Thing #1 with Bernie Wrightson art debuted we were opening that first Comics & Comix store 2512 Telegraph Ave near UC-Berkeley.
We were able to score 600 copies from Gilboy Agency in Oakland, our brand new steady source for brand new Comics Code books. This was both what John Barrett and I initially got from Jack (never did learn his last name), the comics guy at Gilboy. Plus all their returns on that title.
The "Direct Market" was birthing on many fronts as Summer 1968 saw the advent of Print Mint taking Zap Comics and other alternative comix from a then newly emerging generation of creators who grew up on EC and especially Mad Comics when #1 debuted circa August 1952.
There was a slow moving convergence inside the pages of RBCC and also in similar advertising "fandom" venues later on like TBG < CBG of these non-code comix with collectors due to the advertisements. Much more detail in Comic Book Store Wars.
Today's "new" comic book market I simply do not understand any more for almost 20 years. Lessons from the past took a long time to sink in for many "speculators"

Apparently it's all about whether Knull will get a film made about him or not, Bob. On this lies so many people's fortunes…

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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