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Comic Book Distribution- Part 3

First This

One more thing about mass-market distribution….

The other day, while making a point about digital piracy, Nick Yankovec said that “…most of the stuff available is overpriced and not good enough.”

Yep.  In response, I said this:

I think I’ve been pretty clear in all my rants that “not good enough” is the main problem with comics today. Price and other concerns exacerbate the problem.


Quality is key.

November 18, 2011 6:47 PM

People in and around the comic book industry, and especially creators who aren’t knowledgeable about the business side, often blame poor sales on bad distribution.

I attended a Friends of Lulu meeting some years back at which the main thing being discussed—as is often the case—was the poor and declining sales of comic books, in that instance, especially those by, for or about women. Every one of the several dozen people in that room agreed that the problem was distribution. Except me.

Comic Book Distribution – Part 2

More on Newsstand Distribution

Mob involvement? Well….

Anytime you have businesses holding monopolies in certain territories, like the linen business south of Canal, or the poster “sniping” business (putting up advertising posters on walls and fences) in Manhattan, garbage hauling in the New York metro area, or the parking racket—did I say racket?—I meant industry, around New York…

…or the periodicals distribution business…

…the notion of mob involvement has to cross your mind.

The founder and patriarch of Hudson News, Robert “Bobby” Cohen, was famously “connected” and “involved” with organized crime. Once he copped a plea on twenty counts of bribery in exchange for being sentenced to probation instead of prison time.

Fun Fact: Bobby Cohen’s daughter Claudia was Ronald O. Perelman’s second wife. Perelman had control of Marvel for a while, of course. After I was gone, by the way.

Claudia Cohen and Ronald Perelman

During the early days of the Direct Market, Marvel’s V.P. of Circulation, Ed Shukin, a long-term veteran of the magazine distribution trade, made it very clear to me that among those we dealt with on the newsstand distribution side there were some pretty nasty characters, and he was openly concerned about the possibility of violent reprisals.

Comic Book Distribution

In the mid-1960’s, Mort Weisinger explained newsstand distribution to me. A publisher contracted with a National Distributor. DC Comics used Independent News, which was owned by the same parent company, National Periodical Publications. Through some strange circumstances I’ll explain later, Independent News also was Marvel Comics’ distributor.The National Distributor was like a bank as much as anything else. It financed the creation of the publishers’ magazines or comics by paying the publisher an advance based upon the anticipated sales of each issue.

The National Distributor arranged with local distributors to deliver to retail outlets. These local distributors, called Independent Distributor Wholesalers, or “ID’s” almost without exception had a monopoly in their city or region. Pittsburgh, for instance had Triangle News. If you bought a magazine or a comic book anywhere in the greater Pittsburgh area, Triangle News had gotten it to the point of sale. The New York area was a large enough market that it had Hudson News, Kable Media, and I don’t know, maybe more. At that time, there were, as I recall, more than 500 ID’s in the United States and Canada.

The National Distributor set “draws” for each ID, that is, how many copies of each given comic book or magazine would be shipped to them. The total of all the draws, plus copies to be sent to subscribers and office copies comprised the print run for each comic book or magazine. ID’s were seldom interested to participate in setting their own draws, and you’ll see why in a minute. Except, once in a while, an ID would decide to simply stop carrying comics, therefore making their draws zero, if you call that participating. Only very rarely did any ID’s request higher draws on any comic book, as many did with The Life of Pope John Paul II. We even got reorder requests from ID’s on that one.

Wise publishers did not accept the National Distributor’s draws and set the draws for every title for each ID themselves, based on past sell-through performance. Publishers, who were paying to print and ship those copies were a lot more careful. The idea of “order regulation” was to minimize waste—give each ID as many copies as they were likely to sell and a few besides, just in case the issue got hot for some reason.

Designing the Spider-Man Balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

I was fired by Marvel in April of 1987. Sometime in May, Marvel’s business affairs veep, Joe Calamari called me to ask for help.

Marvel’s new owners, New World Entertainment (it was New World Pictures when they acquired Marvel, but they’d changed the company name) wanted Marvel to have a balloon and a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Development of the balloon wasn’t going well. He wanted me to consult.

That sounded interesting. And, they were paying me….

I found out that Macy’s handles the construction of all balloons and floats. The sponsors contribute ideas or designs and approve the work. The balloon shop, where the prototypes were sculpted was in Jersey City, as I recall. The balloons were actually constructed in Ohio.

So Joe and I drove out to the balloon shop. On the way, Joe explained the situation. The character chosen for the balloon was Spider-Man. Marvel had provided reference to the Macy’s balloonatics, but Joe didn’t like what they’d come up with. He’d brought John Romita, Sr. in to advise them, but, he said that hadn’t helped. His assessment was that John (and comic book artists in general) were okay when it came to two-dimensional drawings, but just couldn’t deal with 3-D things, like balloons.

Joe Calamari is a very unusual person. He thinks and does some unusual things. I’ll tell you a few stories sometime.

Joe called me because, he said, I was always good with 3-D things, toys and such. All the licensees, for that matter. Okay.

Marvel Cut-Ups

JayJay here. I’m posting one of Jim’s answers to a comment as a mini-post since it’s kind of fun and about one of everybody’s favorite, but least known, Marvel Bullpenners.czeskleba commented:

A couple people have mentioned the old rumor that Ditko uses his old original art as cutting boards. Most likely that is an urban legend, based on Greg Theakston’s misunderstanding of what he saw at Ditko’s home. Here’s an insightful analysis of the claim by Bob Heer, which credibly debunks it: http://fourrealities.blogspot.com/2008/08/curious-incident-of-cut-artwork.html

The notion that Ditko would do that to his original art is not consistent with what I’ve read about him. He may not value money that much, or be motivated by it, but he certainly does not have contempt for his own past work.


I submit this to the “cut-up artwork” speculations: When I worked briefly at Marvel in 1969, I was supposed to be an assistant to Stan — assistant editor, I guess. What I actually did was anything that needed doing. It was a small group, and everybody pitched in and did whatever was necessary. Therefore, I not only proofread, checked scripts, checked artwork and did “editorial” things, but I did lettering corrections, small pencil and ink corrections (once they found out I had marginal art skills) and…PASTE-UPS.

Power Puff Girls

Ditko at VALIANT and DEFIANT – Part 2

First This

JayJay the obstreperous Blog Elf yelled at me for not including a more personal story involving Steve Ditko Monday.

You know what? That’s just what I need in my life, more people yelling at me.

Here’s a picture of JayJay. She’s the mean-looking one at the bottom:


Here’s a Ditko at Marvel story that requires a set up.

Another “First Meeting” story

Bob Kanigher. In all my visits to DC’s offices from the mid-1960’s through the mid-1980’s, I never officially met Bob Kanigher. I walked past his office once, the door was open and he was in there. Whoever was with me, probably Mort Weisinger or E. Nelson Bridwell said, “That’s Bob Kanigher,” but he never even looked up from what he was doing.

I don’t remember which year, 1986, I think, DC Comics cut Kanigher loose. Thanks for everything, now, get out.

More Tales to Astonish

Stan, Stan the Music Man

George Roussos, who was Marvel’s staff cover colorist during the time I was Editor in Chief of Marvel told me something about Stan.  I told a tale involving George a while back which can be found HERE.

George was a notable artist, and especially notable as an inker in his younger days.  He worked for several companies, among them Marvel-precursor Timely Comics.

Stanley Lieber (who then used the pseudonym “Stan Lee,” which later became his legal name), a sixteen-year-old, comics-fanatic kid hired by his “Uncle” Martin Goodman (actually his cousin’s husband) was the entire editor of Timely comics.

Stan reportedly was always the first to arrive at the office.  George was also an early bird.  George told me that, occasionally, when he’d come some mornings to deliver work to Timely in the early forties, the only one there was Stan…

“…sitting cross-legged atop a tall filing cabinet playing the recorder.”

Now, there’s an image for you.

Marvel Layoffs – 1996

JayJay here. Jim is taking care of other business today so I found another old news article for you. I thought it was an interesting aspect of Marvel history in the wake of some of Marvels’ most recent layoffs.


SUPERMAN – First Marvel Issue – Byrne’s Plot

JayJay here. Jim wrote, in a previous blog entry, about the time in 1984 when Marvel Comics was negotiating with DC to publish Superman comics among others. Read that original entry here. John Byrne had submitted a plot to Jim for the first Marvel issue of Superman. Many of our readers have been curious about that plot, so as he promised last week, here is more information.

It Isn’t Fair…

…to show the actual plot here. Sorry if you’re disappointed. Though he gave me a copy (in 1984), it’s Byrne’s story. Maybe he’ll publish it.

Doesn’t mean I can’t tell you the tale in my own words, as faithfully as possible.

The Story

The first chapter is entitled “KRYPTON.”

As in the classic origin, scientist Jor-El has discovered that his world, the planet Krypton is going to explode sometime soon.

Could be today, any day, but surely within a month.

Jor-El is a member of Krypton’s ruling “Council of Twelve.” Warning tremors shake the Council room, but the other members refuse to believe the danger is real. Jor-El is angry. Let them all die, then!

At home, Jor-El talks things over with his wife, Lara, who is six months pregnant. He has a plan to save her and their unborn child, at least, to which she tearfully agrees.

Stan Meets a Mobster and Other Tales to Astonish

Stan meets Frank Costello

Vince Colletta told me this story. Vince told me a lot of wild stories. At first, I thought he was, as my grandma Elsie might say, “full of potato soup and monkeys.” Like the time he told me he was cast for a major role in The Godfather. Long story, but ultimately the role was taken away from him and given to a big-name actor who had big-time clout with the director. Vince said that the casting director quit because of that.
Yeah, right.

1981-ish. Mike Hobson, relatively new publisher at Marvel asked me to go to lunch with him one day. No agenda, just lunch. Mike was making an effort to get to know the creative troops and told me he wouldn’t mind if I brought someone along. Vince happened to be in the office, so….

I don’t know how it came up, but at lunch, Vince told his I-was-almost-in The Godfather story. It so happened that Mike had been working at the William Morris Agency at the time, was fully aware of the casting dust-up and verified everything Vince said.

Later, Vince showed me a videotape of his screen test, in which he played a mobster being questioned by a Senate subcommittee. He was good.

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