Hey Kids! Comics, Industry and You!

January 16, 2019 Articles, Hey!! Kids Comics

This morning Booker, the three year old question machine that basically runs my life, asked me, “Daddy, why you go to Comics?” Apparently, my career has been distilled down to one word. What struck me is that’s exactly what an intoxicated girlfriend asked me sometime in 1989. I then realized that I was living in an odd land that is, in many ways, seemingly frozen in amber.  It was like being Cable and seeing through time, but without the glowy eye, the pouches, or the techno-virus. Also with the feet.

I’m not talking about the comics themselves. There are many talented creators toiling daily to provide the illusion of change. I’m talking about the comics industry. The cogs and pulleys that get your beloved pulpy treasures into your hot little hands. Bunches of people have to go “to Comics” in order for you to get yours. After all, it takes a village to operate a system that was built sometime around 1979. If you could conceive of a supply chain that was assembled in the way a vehicle from Mad Max would be, you’d be close to the truth. In fact, the direct distribution system for comics was engineered before Mad Max even came out. The first one.

It is, in the words of Karnak, a flawed system.

For those of you blissfully unaware until now, comic distribution is archaic. Around the time that America let Skylab fall out of space, the comic retailer agreed to order  comics two months in advance,  on a non-returnable basis, mostly sight unseen. Back then, a catalog might say something like Amazing Spider-Man #197 -Spider-Man takes on Kingpin in a tale we call “Kingpin’s Midnight Massacre!”  On shelves the third week of August. With so very little to base orders on, retailers had to just  guess how many people would want copies of the whopping…39 titles that came out in October of 1979. That number even includes the magazine-sized books like Crazy and Savage Sword of Conan. Comic readers see a fair number of options in that statement , while the comic retailer sees 39 possible errors. Make the wrong call, and things can end up staring back at you from their dusty racks forever like the twins from the Shining.

It’s the same model in 2019. In fact, there are 260 decisions to be made just in the Marvel portion of this month’s Previews alone. For those interested, there are 3214 items one could order this month, in total. But wait, there’s more! There are actually mathematical formulas that you get to do for fun and variants!  Quick, what’s 300% of too many? Strangely, that’s not a trick question.  Hey, I’m not going to lose a patient on the operating table today, my job is pretty fun. I’m just commenting on the parameters within which I have to perform. For instance, here’s a real sentence…

There are 11 variations of War of the Realms #1 that will be arriving in stores sometime after you’ve seen Captain Marvel ,a whole month after you’ve seen the 2019 Superbowl, and exactly ten days after St. Patrick’s Day. If it ships on time, and we all know the old saying, “Even a broken Doomsday Clock is right twice a year.”  Still, we live in hope.

Let’s face it, it’s in every regular comic readers best interest to join the subscription club. Otherwise, you are literally taking a chance that I’ll be guessing what you want. Literally guessing.  If you need to, you can tell yourself that you’re not in a subscription club. I’ll even pretend that special comic fairies come in the night to stack your books up out of sight. I should also take the time to mention that this club is absolutely free to join.  Copies of Batman the Damned #1 are not free, but my subscribers all got it at cover price (or 10% off, depending on their pull list). It’s beginning to look like some of this may change soon, so a bolder brighter future is no doubt developing, but it’s early yet.

The whole point of this is that I need to know what cover you’d like on your copy of Detective Comics #1000 arriving on March 27th. The orders are due Friday, and you probably don’t even know where you’re going to be on St. Patrick’s Day yet.