So Former Employee Aaron (in that he’s no longer doing my cruel, heartless bidding…he’s still at my former place of employment) has a buttonmaker, and I’d featured some of his creations on the site before. Well, the last time I saw him, when I stopped by the old shop to do a little horse-tradin’, he had a surprise for me. Another handmade Swamp Thing pin:
Why yes, that is Swamp Thing as drawn by Steve Bissette and John Totleben from Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 (1984). Now to await a formal occasion for which I may use said pin as the perfect complement to my coat and tails.
In other news:
So Brian Cronin over at Comic Book Resources put up an article discussing the old Nickelodeon TV show Video Comics, which I talked about myself, due to the Swamp Thing connection, about four years ago. Brian was good enough to link back to my old post, since I had a few additional memories about the show not covered in his article. Thanks, Brian!
Okay, it’s the third post regarding this particular publishing plan of DC’s from waaaay back in the ancient times of the 1980s. If you’re just joining us, you can read just exactly what the hardcover/softcover thing is in these twoposts. If you’ve been here for the whole exciting saga, you’ll be glad to know that, as promised, I did ask my old boss Ralph about sales on the New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes comics during that period.
As it turns out, sales in Ralph’s shop were pretty much as you’d expect. The new printing-on-fancy-Baxter-paper direct sales only series sold great, and their newsstand counterparts still sold quite well as long as they continued presenting new stories. Once the newsstand versions started to reprint the stories from the new direct-sales series, sales on the newsstand series plummeted. They did still sell a handful of copies, so either someone was still following the series in the cheaper format, or just completing the run, or it was simply random, non-consistent purchases from walk-ins not necessarily following the comics but just wanted something to read.
Ralph didn’t recall if there were any holdouts who didn’t want to spring for the extra cost of the newer series, but instead waited for those stories to be reprinted in the less-expensive partner series. However, some readers left comments saying they did just that, based on wanting to get the maximum comics bang for their bucks with the limited amount of financial resources at hand. So, you know, I would guess that this particular buying strategy was a tad more common than I assumed.
I also asked Ralph if there was any grumbling from his regulars about now having to buy two series of, say, New Teen Titans a month, instead of the normal one. He didn’t really recall any, as it seemed to him at the time customers were excited about the new higher-quality Baxter-format comics, even at the higher price. Plus, DC picked a couple of series with strong enough fanbases that the prospect of more material available each month was generally welcome. …Man, that was a long time ago.
Personally, I dutifully bought both versions of New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes, up until the newsstand books went into reprints (except for the initial Titans one, since that reprinted the first appearance, which I didn’t have at the time, and a story from a DC digest which I did already have, but didn’t mind having in the full-sized format). I suspect, for readers who had the scratch and were within hopping, skipping and/or jumping distance of a devoted funnybook store, that was usually, but not always, the case.
Reader Michaellikened this to Marvel’s 1990s experiment with direct sales/newsstand editions of some of their books, like X-Men and Wolverine. However, the wait time between releases was only a couple of weeks or so, and the pricier, fancier version came out first, with the less expensive version on the less fancy paper coming afterwards. As I recall, the plan was to see which format would sell better in the direct market, and, as Michael notes, of course the fancier one sold better because people didn’t want to wait even that short of a time to keep up with these particular titles. My main memory of these was, when restocking the back issue bins, having to keep track which issue numbers of which titles had the two different formats, and making sure both were represented in the old comics boxes.
…This all seems so quaint, compared to the modern practice of “here’s a new number #1 for a character/franchise that’s already had multiple new #1s in recent memory, some of which are still going.” I often thought at the time that future price guides and collectors would have a hard time puzzling out the different permutations Titans, Legion and Outsiders went through trying to satisfy two different retail markets. Little did I know what was coming.
There are a lot of fantastic illustrations by Bernie Wrightson in those early Swamp Things, but this is the one I keep coming back to:
The strange perspective, the incredible detail, the full page reveal coming late in the story after we’d already seen the werewolf a couple of times…all combining to make this an image that impressed itself into my brain for all time. Funny that it’s a pic from this series that doesn’t even feature the title character, but this splash from #1 does take a close second in the “Bernie Wrightson Drawings I Think of When I Think of Swamp Thing” category.
But flip through pretty much any issue of Wrightson’s Swamp Thing and you’ll see no end of intricately-detailed illustrations, their impact diminished not at all by the cheap printing and yellowing paper. If anything, the impact is enhanced, the drawings made even more moody and mysterious by the decaying pulp on which they are presented.
Wrighton’s covers from the period are eye-grabbers as well, looking like nothing else on the shelves. This Lovecraftian critter on this House of Mystery clearly represents something that should be unnatural and repellent, but Wrightson’s linework makes it endlessly fascinating. You want to pick this comic off the rack and see just what’s going on here:
…And this cover here…where do you even begin? This was 1971, and Wrightson, in his early 20s, had only been in the comics business for a couple of years. And here he is, already creating images as perfect as this:
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the man’s work. These drawings are all from the early years of his career…his impossibly-detailed Frankenstein work was still ahead of him. His “Captain Sternn” stories, both the short in Heavy Metal and the later mini-series (plus the related back-ups in Dreadstar. The Weird. Batman: The Cult. National Lampoon strips and illustrations. Tons of horror shorts for Warren magazines. The Hulk/Thing graphic novel. Batman/Aliens. The “Howard the Duck for President” button. The Spider-Man: Hooky graphic novel. The comics adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, plus all the other illustrations he provided for King’s novels. Even Punisher comics…and much more, besides.
Saying “he was a great talent and he will be missed” doesn’t seem like enough. He embodied a particular aesthetic that took inspiration from horror comic artists and fantasy illustrators that preceded him, and formed it into something unique, something so his own that the term “Wrightson-esque” easily conveys its meaning. He didn’t just redefine the horror genre. He was his own genre.
So long, Bernie. Thanks for letting us see, for so many years, what your wonderful imagination created.
And you didn’t think I was going to let this go without at least one picture of Swamp Thing, did you?
images from Swamp Thing #4 (April-May 1973); House of Mystery #204 (July 1972); House of Mystery #195 (October 1971); Swamp Thing #6 (September-October 1973)
There were some good comments regarding DC’s “hardcover/softcover” publishing move for their comics in the 1980s. I plan on returning to the topic soon, but, like I said in that post, I still want to ask my old boss Ralph a question or two about how they sold for him/what customer reaction was like to this program, since that was just before my comics retailin’ time. What I’m really curious about is if anyone pooh-poohed that newfangled New Teen Titans comic on the fancy Baxter paper and just stuck with the regular Tales of the Teen Titans series, figuring the stories will get reprinted there eventually anyway, for a cheaper cover price. Anyway, I’ll see if I can get any more info about customer buying patterns on these books from Ralph, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t, since it’s only been a little over 30 years and surely still fresh on his mind.
In other publishing news, I’ve been emailed and tweeted at regarding the Swamp Thing Bronze Age Omnibus, with plenty of details as to what said omnibus would contain at that link. Now, I’ve discussed this forthcoming volume before, about a year ago, at which point its Amazon listing described it (and still describes it) only as containing House of Secrets #92 and Swamp Thing (first series) #1 through the unpublished #25 (which was likely a typo).
The newer content listing contains a boatload of Swampy comics, much more than that older listing. It almost seems like it’s too much for one volume, but a quick comparison to what’s in my Man-Thing Omnibus shows it’d be about the same size. I forget how huge these volumes can be. Also, given what’s in the book means there won’t be a Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age Vol. 2 since we’ll be well into the 1980s with any follow-up material, which is the Copper Age or whatever name people are trying to saddle that particular period of comics with in order to make them sound more marketable.
Anyway, this will be the first time the majority of the post-Wrightson issues of the original series will be reprinted, I believe (after getting #11 – #13 reprinted a few years back in a hardcover), and the first comprehensive reprinting of the pre-Alan Moore Saga of the Swamp Thing, though leaving out #19, the conclusion of Marty Pasko’s run on the book. Maybe it’s seen as a…transitional issue, between Pasko’s run and the beginning of Moore’s run, though traditionally Moore’s first issue on the series, #20, has been seen as the transitional issue, left out of early trade paperback reprintings of his initial storyline. And #18 seems like a weird issue to stop on, as it was a reprint of #10 from the original series, with 4 pages of new wraparound by the then-current creative team, and something of a cliffhanger-y issue to boot. Does this mean Original Series #10 will appear twice in this book? Again, like the inclusion of issue #25 in the initial Amazon listing, maybe this too is just a typo and Saga of the Swamp Thing #19 will be in here. We’ll find out soon enough, I guess.
BobH has a few things on his mind, in reaction to my oddball analogy in a recent post:
“I wonder if, in retrospect, the direct/newsstand plan DC did was considered a success or a failure? The reprints lasted about 30 issues, which isn’t too bad, but they only added one other book to the plan, OUTSIDERS, and that one only lasted 8 issues into the reprints.”
Without going back and check exact dates on various titles (well, okay, I double-checked Omega Men) DC was experimenting quite a bit with “direct sales only” (i.e. only available in comic shops and your slightly more comprehensive newsstands*) titles in the early-to-mid 1980s. This was slightly before I entered into my lifetime of comics retailing, so I don’t have specifics on sales numbers and customer reactions and what have you to this turn of events, beyond anecdotes like BobH’s own. The “hardcover/softcover” plan, which, as previously described, was DC publishing stories in the direct market first, then reprinting them in their newsstand titles a year later, was a way for DC to establish a greater foothold in comic shops, using their biggest title (New Teen Titans) and the comic with a then still-strong fandom (Legion of Super-Heroes) while hopefully not abandoning their newsstand-only fans.
Now, was it a success? In the short term, if my memory of the sales charts in the Amazing Heroes magazine was correct, the direct-only NTT and LSH did sell quite well, and each series did last a long time (over 100 issues each, back in those “we don’t have to reboot a title every dozen issues” days), and the newsstand reprintings lasted about 3 years for the Titans, a little less for the Legion. I guess that’s not too bad on the newsstand reprints, though I suspect print runs were pretty low on those later issues. I wonder how many fans of either property bought both versions, just to keep their runs going? Even so, there must have been, at least for a time, enough people just buying the newsstand versions to keep them going even that long.
Also, was reminded of one of Marvel’s attempts (or only attempt? I’m drawing a blank) to duplicate the hardcover/softcover plan, the short-lived Dreadstar and Co.. That was a weird choice (an oddball creator-owned sci-fi book, though Marvel distributed other creator-owned books to newsstands, like Groo and Elfquest) though I don’t know that Marvel had enough big name direct-sales-only titles that would really fit this particular type of publishing/reprinting program.
“I always get the feeling that it ended up disrupting the momentum of TITANS and (especially) LSH, taking them from DC’s flagships to more fringe books. But I’m not sure how much of that was the publishing plan and how much was the quick change in artists (Perez only lasting two issues as full artist, three more as penciller and then gone, Giffen only two as penciller, three more co-plotting and then gone).”
At the very least, this seemed to be the beginning, or the middle-ing, of the abandonment of newsstands, by splintering the fandoms these titles in this way (in addition to the many direct-sales-only titles both Marvel and DC were producing). The newsstand reprints, though holding on for a while, were probably doomed to eventual cancellation as sales shifted toward comic shops and the folks who could only buy comics at newsstands were left behind. Widespread casual sales and awareness of these particular characters gave way to the “preaching to the converted” sales in the specialty comic shop, where people who were already comic fans were going anyway. …That’s a huge simplification (yes, of course there were some new people going to shops and discovering titles) but I think I’m reasonably on target.
Creative team changes probably didn’t help a whole lot in the direct market end of the equation, but New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes still had some solid artwork even after the departure of the artists most associated with each title. I’m sure some people were disappointed and stopped reading, but these comics still remained quality titles for quite some time. Again, I wasn’t there at the time except as a reader/buyer of funnybooks, but my sense is that sales probably were still doing fine after losing part of the creative teams that started ’em all off.
My own memories of the time are a little hazy, what with being 48 years old now an’ all, but I suspect I can ask former boss Ralph how sales were going on these comics at the time. Lemme get back to you.
* A local newsstand I used to go to seemed to have a lot more comics than your usual supermarket and convenience store racks…I don’t know what distributor they used, but they’d often get comics earlier than your traditional outlets, and even carried ‘zines like The Comic Reader and various indie publishers, like Fantagraphics and PC Comics.
Pal Andrew has returned to his popular “Nobody’s Favorites” feature, and the character he’s focusing on this time is a real blast!
Blogging sister Tegan is an essayin’ machine over on her site, with loads of deep, thoughtful content well worth your perusal. And if you’re a Patreon backer, you’re not only getting extra essays of a more political nature on a regular basis, but Tegan just started a Patreon subscriber-only podcast as well. “Tegan Reads Wookieepedia” is exactly what it sounds like: Tegan hits the ol’ “random article” button on Wookieepedia, the online encyclopedia for all things Star Wars-ian, and lets the commentary spring forth. It’s a hoot. You can check out a free sample of the podcast right here.
Speaking of Patreon, and inspired by Tegan’s efforts, I’ve been planning a little bit of an expansion myself on what I’ll be doing with my own Patreon account. I’ve said before I was reluctant to provide “subscriber only” content, because I’d like everyone who reads my site to have access to everything I’m doing. However, my Patreon account has plateaued a little, and I’d like to give it bit of a goose, but at the same time, I don’t want to leave people out of anything I might do there.
So, here’s the plan. I’m working on an ongoing series of posts, probably two a month, that will be available exclusively to Patreon subscribers, at least at first. Each of these exclusive posts will eventually go public, but not for a few months after its initial posting. Think of it like DC’s old newsstand/direct sales plan for New Teen Titans and Legion of Super-Heroes, where, for example, the comic shop only version of New Teen Titans #1 (1984) was eventually reprinted about a year later in Tales of the Teen Titans #60 (1985) for 7-11s or whatever. Not that my posts will be drawn by George Perez or Keith Giffen.
These Patreon-only posts will be available to any supporters, so if you’re in for at least a buck a month, you’ll get them. I expect to start this series up in a few weeks, and I’ll let you know when it’s about to begin. I’m pretty sure the first installment will be posted for free here on this site right away just so you can see what you’re in for. Anyway, details forthcoming as I hammer everything out.
And speaking of Tegan, the other day she was surprised that this particular service still existed in some form, and I’ve not linked to it in quite a while (the first time being back in 2008!): the Update-A-Tron, which lets you know what comic blogs have updated recently. Yeah, I know, “but feed readers…!” But this is still a handy way to maybe learn about new comic blogs…and people are still blogging about comics, despite the constant death knells!
(Some minor SPOILERS AHEAD if you want to go into the new Action fresh.)
So we finally get some answers in Action #975 as to the nature of the Other Clark Kent, with the revelation done in such a way as to provide a nice anniversary issue-style showcase of some of Superman’s other adversaries over the years. They’ve done such a good job keeping this mystery going, and keeping in compelling, that I’m a tad a’feared that momentum will be lost once this plotline is wrapped up, much in the same way the Super-books meandered a bit after the roller coaster ride of the “Death and Return of Superman” storyline. Not that the Mystery of the Extra Clark was so overwhelming a thing that it took over the comics like Superman’s death did, but it was a great hook that kept people talking and wondering.
I’ve noted once or twice that I was hoping the resolution to the mystery did not involve the larger metaplot of the Watchmen incursion into the DC Universe…and, well, it might still, sorta, depending on who this Mr. Oz is that’s been turning up in the books. And it seems to be tied to all the multiverse-rejiggering that’s going on, but I’m glad the revelation involved the character it involved, and it wasn’t all Clark whipping off the fedora and declaring “ah HA, it is I, Dr. Manhattan!” That might have tied into the larger DC Universe activity, sure, but would have felt like a cheat.
This was an odd comic. Written by R.L. Stine, best known for the Goosebumps series of horror novels for young folks, it takes a tongue-in-cheek-ish approach to Marvel’s swamp monster as he tries in vain to get his movie career going. It’s actually a fun read, even though a talking Man-Thing, with the mind of Ted Sallis now fully functioning within, still takes me getting some used to. I know, I know, none of this is in regular Marvel continuity, I suspect, so I should just go with it, but I’m just used to there being more of a line between the kind of swamp creature Swamp Thing was (human trapped in a monstrous body trying to find a cure) and the kind Man-Thing was (mindless monster with practically no memory of the human it used to be). But that’s my problem, not yours. It’s certainly a different direction for the character, and I’m perfectly okay to see where it goes.
I haven’t even had a chance to read this yet, and I should probably be worried that the last time cross-company crossovers were so prevalent we were in the midst of an industry-wide slump and everyone was hanging together so they wouldn’t hang separately…but I gotta be honest, I love these nutty things. The first issue of Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern was mostly all set-up, so I’m looking forward to whatever weirdness awaits me in the new issue. Plus, the regular covers have been great, but the variants:
…are to die for.
Mostly, I’m just glad that we’re 56 issues into this reprint series, and it’s still going. The series is nearing the end of the Dell Comics run (with #65), and I’m hoping it continues into the Gold Key era (even though some of those are 80-pagers). Ideally, I’d love to have them reprint all the way through the 1970s Charlton Comics Popeye by George Wildman, though that’s probably unlikely. I’m guessing the emphasis is on getting all of Bud Sagendorf’s Popeye work back into print, which would include some of the Gold Key books, so maybe those will get printed after all! At the very least (and I know I’ve said this before) I’ve love to have a new printing of this cover.
Hey, I was into the End of Civilization before it was cool…and so were a lot of you, if you’ve been reading my site for any length of time. So, let us all gather together in our old school hipness and plow through the new Diamond Previews, March 2017 edition, and see what new and frightening things are coming that those poseurs just wouldn’t get, maaaaan:
p. 46 – Predator: Hunters #1:
As opposed to “Predator: Cobblers,” or “Predator: Mailmen,” or “Predator: Senior Wastewater Treatment Operators.” …I suspect infrastructure on the Predators’ homeworld is something of a mess.
p. 71 – Lobster Johnson: The Pirate’s Ghost #3:
Now that the menace of the Pirate’s Ghost has been taken care of, I know what I want Lobster Johnson to tackle next…if he can figure out what exactly it is he needs to be tackling:
p. 127 – DC Currents #2:
Finally, a comic book adaptation of “Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle!”
p. 139 – DC Horror: House of Secrets Vol. 1 HC:
Okay, soon as this comes out, someone remind me to update this post with that book and the probably half-dozen other comics/books/quilts I’ve bought with the same danged story.
p. 158 – Ghostbusters Funko Universe:
Looking forward to the Pop! figures Funko will do based on the comic based on their figures. And then the comic based on those Pop! figures, and the figures based on that comic, and on and on until the black hole opens up and swallows us all.
p. 199 – Youngblood #1:
A looooong time ago on this site I cracked wise about whatever iteration of the Youngblood comic was then being published, and the writer sent me a long email griping at me that I actually never finished reading and accidentally (yes, honestly, accidentally) deleted before I could. I won’t have this problem with Chad Bowers, who’s a Twitter pal and thus his responses to my dumb comments will be restricted to 140-character chunks that I’ll be able to more easily consume.
p. 200 – Spawn #1 25th Anniversary Director’s Cut:
Maybe we’ll finally find out why the caption “His hell-cape…ADVANTAGEOUS!” was cut.
p. 283 – Trump Vs. Time Lincoln:
Sure, you laugh now, but the way things have been, this comic could very well turn out to be a documentary.
p. 283 – Bark’s Groot Beer T-Shirt:
It seems like this is just straight-up a Marvel Comics shirt not from Marvel Comics. I mean, is it just parody enough for them to get away with it? I honestly don’t understand.
p. 307 – Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal #4:
“Look, Jim Henson’s Dinosaurs: Season Five has the Sinclair family struggling to survive in their new frozen world….”
“Mike, please stop calling our offices.”
p. 330 – Swordquest #0:
“@chadbowers @theisb: Look this comic can be about a young Spike Merling who’s upset that this new Atari game isn’t really any good….”
p. 370 – The Magical Twins HC:
Okay, I just processed a whole bunch of Catwoman comics at the shop recently, so I think I can hardly be blamed for seeing the phrase “Magical Twins” and having this come to mind: