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#206464 - 10/10/99 07:07 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
Member

Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Bob Beerbohm has been threatening to publish his version, called Comics Store Wars for a couple of years. Mike Smith, from Hi-De-Ho, Bud Plant, Marvel, and Continuity talked about writing it up as far back as ten years ago. Bob Gray from Syracuse (sorry the store name escapes me at the moment) has been working on a book for almost as long. Perhaps, since his column in Comics Retailer hasn't appeared for a while, he's gotten back to it.

As to the old threads, I find myself mystified every time I go there. The old-style branching threads confuse the hell out of me. I feel like I go aroud in circles to get back to the same postings.

Any chance of translating the old stuff to the new format?
_________________________
"I love him like a brother. David Greenglass." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors

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#206465 - 10/24/99 10:56 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Stephen R Bissette Offline
Member

Registered: 11/27/98
Posts: 939
Loc: wilmington, VT USA
Jim,

Thread-killer Bissette here. Just to bring some closure to this historical thread, how about giving us your view of the chronology leading to the Diamond monopoly?

There are a few significant events I feel are relevant:
(1) The tragic death of Carol Kalish. Would Marvel have pursued the foolhardy path that has led us all to this point in time had Carol lived? I don't KNOW, I'm asking. I neither knew Carol nor was privvy to her business dealings, outside of what friends (including Larry Marder and Scott McCloud) have told me.

Seems to me (a) Image never would have happened, because there would have been a voice of sanity at the company to keep Lee, Leifeld, McFarlane, & co. satisfied, given their astronomical sales records, and (b) the decision to go exclusive with Heroes World would have never occured. Your opinion?

(2) Was Marvel's shoddy treatment of Walter Wang the warning shot fired across the bow, or what? If memory serves, that was indeed Marvel's first overt, public flexing of muscle in distribution circles. Prior to that, there was their arrogant treatment of Don Thompson at CBG for Don's daring to criticize some of their product -- in effect, pulling the last teeth the CBG ever bared.

Hope you can find the time to reply to this, and follow through. Informed postings from any and all in the community would sure be appreciated, if only to provide some proportional chronology to the insane events of the past five years.

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#206466 - 10/26/99 02:42 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
Member

Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Steve: I've been sick, so I'm just getting back to things. Time is also short, so this'll be short shrift.

Your not knowing Carol Kalish is something I'm sorry for. Her bracing intelligence and grace under fire are memories yet green (to appropriate Isaac Asimov's phrase.) She was someone whose company I always sought at the various business gatherings over the years.

This was true even when I violently disagreed with her about one thing or another. There was no dismissal quite so embarrassing or infuriating as a Carol Kalish dismissal. This only served to inspire more thoughtfulness and determination to win the next time. In truth, I never remember winning, but I sure got better at losing with dignity.

Of course, as a retailer, I recognized Carol's role as my defender and champion within Marvel and without. So, a few bruises to the ego were small sacrifice.

I spoke today with my old pal, Steve Gursky, about the current state of things with Marvel. We agreed that we were spoiled during Carol's years by her good sense and determination to make sure that the the rising tide of Marvel's success would raise all boats. (Or at least most.)

The course of the last few years would certainly have been different, had Carol lived, but my theories will have to wait a few days. See you then.

------------------
"I love him like a brother. David Greenglas." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors
_________________________
"I love him like a brother. David Greenglass." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors

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#206467 - 11/05/99 04:40 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Friel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/05/99
Posts: 454
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
With regard to Big Rapids, several historical threads cross, combine, and separate again:
Big Rapids Distribution Co. began (circa 1970, I think--at least that was the time of my first contact with them) as the Keep On Truckin' Coop, focusing on the distribution of underground newspapers, radical literature, and underground comics. They were, as far as I know, responsible for the unusually good coverage that ugs and even underground papers got in the Michigan area in the early 70s, when they could be found in most full-service newsstands there.
They eventually changed their name,but retained the coop structure. Their entry into mainstream comics distribution came in early 1975, when Donahoe Bros. of Ann Arbor (aka Comic Center Enterprises), which was the second direct distributor, pre-dating both Pacific and New Media by a month or two, went under.
The Donahoes had been in business for about a year, dealing first with Marvel, then Warren, and finally (and only for about two or three months) with DC. They sold mainstream comics to Big Rapids, which by then had conceived the notion of becoming what BR's first-among-equals, Jim Kennedy, used to describe as an "alternative ID". When the Donahoes went down, Big Rapids stepped in to purchase the comics they had on order.
I was a sub-distributor at that time, buying comics from Big Rapids (I had been a Donahoe employee, and the only way they could pay the money they owed me was to set me up with Big Rapids as an account and turn over to me their few remaining customers).
Big Rapids was aggressive, taking over the businesses of some of its customers who ran up large debts (interesting strategy for people whose delivery vehicles carried pictures of Marx on the inside doors).
Among the companies taken over were: Wisconsin Independent News Distributors (WIND)--home of Milton Griepp and John Davis;
Well News Co. of Columbus Ohio (whose personnel became the nucleus of an early Capital City branch), and (I believe) Isis News of Minneapolis and Nova of Los Angeles. And me--I called myself The Comic Distributor, a name I later gave to Mark Hylton of Comic Carnival--I think he's still using it. Big Rapids called in my debt in 1979 and I became an employee for a year.
In short, they were predatory and overly ambitious, and in 1980 they crumbled.
By then they were the largest of many distributors in the direct market. Prdictably, there was a bit of a scramble to fill the void they'd left.
Most of the pieces were picked up by the brand-new Capital City or by New Media, depending on where they were. A couple of new companies that grew briefly from the wreckage lasted only briefly--Bob Hellems' company in Detroit and Bob Beerbohm's in the San Francisco Bay Area.
By the time of BR's demise, they were actually functioning as an alternative ID in the Detroit and Central and Southern Michigan
areas, selling a full line of magazines and paperbacks, not just (or even primarily) comics.
Not having been a member of the coop, I was never privy to much in the way of business or financial detail, but that's roughly what the picture looked like when they were operating.
Big Rapids went bankrupt and their assets were liquidated in 1980.
I never heard about any relationship with Ingram--where does that come from?

[This message has been edited by Jim Friel (edited 11-05-1999).]

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#206468 - 11/06/99 02:31 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Hanley Offline
Member

Registered: 06/19/99
Posts: 1313
Loc: NYC
Wow! Jim Friel is here! Now we're cookin' with gas.

Jim: It's really great to hear from someone who was there (where ever there happened to be) for so much of this history.

In answer to your question, Charles Brown from Locus (the SF magazine) told me that he refused to sell to Ingram Periodicals because they had not honored Big Rapids debt when they took over the BR accounts. I am unsure whether that means that Ingram was an ongoing concern before BR shut down, or whether they were a start-up at that time.

Of course, Ingram operates as a national distributor without (so far as I know) their own trucks, etc. When we bought from them, a few years back, they were exclusively UPS. And, to be clear, they are a seperate company from the Ingram Book Company. Same owners, though.

The BR story is one that I've only heard piecemeal from Milton Greipp and others. While, I had heard of the Donohoe Brothers from Gary Colabuono, I didn't know much about them. Your details seem to bear out some of Steve's link of UG distributors to the early Direct Market.

By the way, thanks for your great advice when you wrote the order comments column for Bud Plant's catalogue. My favorite: "Omega Men #38. LAST ISSUE. Order low. Sell out. Forget it."

We've quoted that for the last 15 years.

------------------
"I love him like a brother. David Greenglas." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors
_________________________
"I love him like a brother. David Greenglass." -- Woody Allen - Crimes & Misdemeanors

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#206469 - 11/06/99 04:26 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Rory D. Root Offline
Member

Registered: 09/12/99
Posts: 628
Loc: Berkeley,Ca.,USA
Hey Jim get back to work,no Hanley, I meant Friel.Seriously thanks for the history lesson.The focus underground presses gave to the direct market was I believe in response to the decrease in head shops.In fact I have been told this by every UG. publisher I know.
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#206470 - 11/06/99 10:38 AM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
AndyFish Offline
Member

Registered: 01/13/99
Posts: 142
Loc: Boston, MA.
This is a great thread, Jim!
Look to the east and see how the Japanese have embraced comics as a form of (quick) entertainment.
Sounding like a broken record, comics are at an evolutionary stage, and need to do the following to grow (survive?);

1- Cater to casual readers and not collectors. This means printing on cheap paper, and making the price as low as possible. If you published a single comic book for 50c, it would sell to kids.
If you published a Manga-styled 350pg book (without superheroes) for $3 and had continuing storylines (Imagine a serial style horror comic written by Stephen King as one of the stories in the anthology!)you might just hook an adult or two.

2- Get these new breeds of comics out of the average piece of crap comic book shop that is little more than a hangout for the unwashed fanboys (wow, that was harsh!)run by unwashed fanboys.

Or, get DC or Darkhorse to hire a couple of Kalish-like advisors who could attempt to teach some of these shops how to appeal to a broader audience (And the biggest problem is that the average store owner reads that last sentence and says "Yeah, I gotta get more broads in my store! I know, a big display of Lady Death will do it!")

The biggest problem is that both Marvel and DC are in no shape to experiment right now. There is little or no support from either parent company, and the idea of going 100% reprint would get my vote if I was on the board of directors.
This is not to say comics will die if that happens. We keep worrying about that 1/2 of 1% of the population who go into comic shops everyweek, and ignore the 99 1/2% who do not.

Until we stop thinking like a small specialty market we have no where to go but down.

It's not hopeless, but it's pretty darn close to it.
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Robo Picto Books www.robopicto.com
Andy Fish Website www.hebsandfish.com

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#206471 - 11/08/99 01:44 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Friel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/05/99
Posts: 454
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
re: Big Rapids and associated subjects--
Taking over a customer list, of course, implies nothing about continuity of organization and personnel. BR was probably liquidating all possible assets at the end.
Interestingly, selling the accounts (and even sometimes the warehouse network) without the payables became pretty much the standard for a number of years. For instance, when Bud and Capital divided up Pacific's warehouses and accounts, I don't think they assumed any of their debt. The same thing happened half a dozen other times with other distributors during the great consolidation of the mid- 80s through the early 90s. I wonder if Charles maintained that policy....

Boy, I wish the industry could "hire a couple Kalish-like advisers"! Unfortunately, that's kind of like suggesting that an engineering firm in trouble should find itself a couple of Edisons. Carol was one of a kind.

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#206472 - 11/08/99 07:36 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Pat ONeill Offline
Member

Registered: 08/18/99
Posts: 3064
Loc: PA, USA
>>1- Cater to casual readers and not collectors. This means printing on cheap paper, and making the
price as low as possible. If you published a single comic book for 50c, it would sell to kids.
If you published a Manga-styled 350pg book (without superheroes) for $3 and had continuing
storylines (Imagine a serial style horror comic written by Stephen King as one of the stories in the
anthology!)you might just hook an adult or two.

2- Get these new breeds of comics out of the average piece of crap comic book shop that is little
more than a hangout for the unwashed fanboys (wow, that was harsh!)run by unwashed fanboys. <<

Neither of those possible packages--50-cent pamphlets or $3 anthologies--holds any interest for the first line of businesses you must convince to carry said products if you want to reach outside the direct market: periodical distributors and periodical retailers.

Marvel couldn't make a 99-cent pamphlet fly outside the DM; it had to combine two such into a $2 package...and it still failed to find an audience.

You're not going to convince the kind of authors you'd need--the Kings, Grishams, Clancys, Steeles of this world--to work in the graphic format. What's in it for them? Sharing their income with an artist? Why? These are already millionaires working the way they are...what incentive do they have to produce new material for a medium in which their input would be subrogated to that of an artist?

Oh--and the reader of prose fiction isn't interested in serial fiction as you propose...he's (actually more of them are shes)used to getting a complete package for about $5-$6. What incentive can you give him (her) to spend half that for a bunch of incomplete stories?

Sorry to be a spoilsport here, but I've heard this stuff a thousand times over the past four or five years and usually from people who have paid no attention whatsoever to the real market for printed fiction.

Best, Pat
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Best, Pat

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#206473 - 11/09/99 08:45 PM Re: Comics Distribution: An Historical View and Predictive Query
Jim Friel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/05/99
Posts: 454
Loc: Oakland, CA USA
Jim, to your list of people who need to be interviewed lest their information be lost, I'd add Denis Kitchen (obviously), Jonni Levas (Phil Seuling's partner), Russ Ernst, any of the Big Rapids collective who can be located (preferably Jim Kennedy, Gary O'Gorman or John Joyce), Richard Finn, Chuck Rozansky, and Ron VanLeeuwen. And the Shusters, Jack and Hal. And Bob Beerbohm.
Small publishers who could talk about their experiences and about various distributors' early practices would include Friedrich of course, but also Dave Sim and/or Deni Loubert, Richard Pini, and Steranko.
And if they could be located and induced to speak, the two I'd most like to hear from would be Tim Donahoe and John Ryan, who was the sales manager at Marvel who broke the Seuling direct-sales monopoly to let the Donahoes in (and their flood of successors), and who, I heard at the time, lost his job over it when the Donahoe account went bad.
Ed Shukin could tell us a lot, too.
Unfortunately, veracity might prove to be a concern with two or three of the people I've mentioned above...
[This message has been edited by Jim Friel (edited 11-09-1999).]

[This message has been edited by Jim Friel (edited 11-09-1999).]

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