By Her Cathy’s Special Request.

§ November 30th, 2015 § Filed under retailing § 13 Comments

So pal Cathy (AKA the mistress of medical mini-comics Metrokitty) complained upon the Twitters the other day about how she purchased issues #1 and #2 of the new Howard the Duck and, as it turned out, due to recent rebootery, they were two issues from two different series starring said Duck.

This caused Cathy to ask me:


And yes, this can be quite the boondoggle. I remember, as the New 52 relaunch over at DC Comics was looming, having to plan for new back issue dividers for all of these series. I decided that, to differentiate between the previous iteration of titles and the new New 52 versions, I would add “[NEW 52]” to the title dividers after the series name. This is a no-brainer, surely, but necessary for organizing the backstock so that an actual human could find what s/he is looking for.

When it comes to things like the Marvel relaunches, usually adding years to the dividers does the trick (like “UNCANNY X-MEN [2011 SERIES]”). And if the series is done, maybe altering the tag to “UNCANNY X-MEN [2011-2013 SERIES].” Sometimes, if there’s a real chance of confusing the multiple series, some kind of notation on the price tag may be necessary as well, particular with titles like, as Cathy noted, Howard the Duck, which has had two series launches in the same damn year. I’ll have to mark the tags on those “1st series” and “2nd series” — and even that isn’t technically correct since there was a prior color series in the 1970s of some note, but marking the tags for the two different 2015 series “2nd series” and “3rd series” is just going to confuse and WAAAAAUGH it’s enough to make one lose his tailfeathers.

Plus, do I really want to create a separate title divider for each of the new 2015 Howard the Duck series? Should I just file them in the same slot, so long as I have the price tag clearly marked as to what series it is? Having too many title dividers in your back issue bins, while certainly keeping things organized, can turn some folks off, especially for lots of tiny sections all crammed together. And those plastic title dividers do cost money, but there’s no real alternative…cardboard title dividers can get worn out right quick and start to look really ugly really fast.

To some extent, the back issue problem is sort of becoming a moot point, as the recent spate of relaunches tends toward cutting demand for previous iterations of the said title (a phenomenon I first discussed a while back). The goal now is to have as few left over comics from the new shelf as possible, especially on Big Two titles (and especially-especially on Marvel books), as who knows when the next relaunch will come along and kill demand for that particular back issue?

Don’t get me wrong…I still do some brisk business in back issues, and in recent back issues, not just, say, the old comics people always look for. But there is a definite difference in back issue sales of a book that is currently running and one that is over, even if just recently, unless the word “Batman” or “X-Men” appear in the title somewhere…and maybe not even then.

That’s probably a real “no duh” assumption, as defunct series don’t tend to sell as well as whatever’s new. But, let’s take America’s favorite romance comic book series Unicycle Tragedy Funnies. Now, if this series started in 2010, and continued to this day, I might still be selling copies of the early issues from 2010 to people picking up the new issue off the rack. But, if Volume One of Unicycle Tragedy Funnies ran 13 issues from 2010 to 2011, and then Volume Two ran 10 issues from 2011 to 2012, Volume Three 8 issues in 2013, and Volume Four from 2014 to present…most of those back issue sales are going to just be from the couple dozen issues for the most recent volume, since those stories from waaaaaay back in 2010 don’t have any direct bearing on the stories currently being offered in new issues.

And the frustrating thing about all those relaunches of Unicycle Tragedy Funnies is that there was no real reason to keep restarting it with new first issues. For one thing, that sales bump publishers and retailers hope for on the first issues grows less and less every time, as it becomes obvious that the sales bump is primarily retailer driven and doesn’t actually reflect the customer base for Unicycle Tragedy Funnies, which at best remains steady, or slightly declining. Attempts at tying in Unicycle Tragedy Funnies with line-wide publishing strategies, such as crossing over with the big Secret Velocipede Crisis event series, only serves to alienate the casual reader and drop sales even more, causing yet another relaunch to get sales back up, if only temporarily, again.

And so on.

In reply to Cathy (remember Cathy? It’s a song about Cathy) I suggested that the one way we can get around this is just by doing away with issue numbers altogether, and going to a straight Month/Year on the cover, since first issues are less of a market force now. Okay, I don’t seriously expect that to happen, but Bully, the Little Numbering Bull, suggested the European style of year/issue number (“2015-11”) which I like a lot. I also suggested doing nothing but number ones, a new one-shot for each character/franchise every month because sometimes I delight in being of no help at all.

So anyway, that’s my post on Stocking Back Issues for Constantly Rebooted Series. I hope that helps, or at least amusingly muddied the topic.

13 Responses to “By Her Cathy’s Special Request.”

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks for taking on this question, Mike! It’s really interesting to hear about the logistical aspects – the dividers, the labels, making judgment calls about what to do, and even just the challenge of making sure you’re up on these industry relaunches/renumbers.

  • Eric L says:

    Doesn’t it seem like just making the mini series with subtitles would make sense? I like the new Ant-Man book, but rebooting it when the previous series went maybe 6 issues seems silly. I’m too old too keep this nonsense straight.

    And shouldn’t the clerk at Cathy’s store have maybe told her the Howard the Duck comics she was buying were two different series? Seems like if someone is buying issues 1 and 2 it’s fairly obvious they want the first two issues of the same series. And even if they don’t it’s still nice to ask and make sure.

  • ExistentialMan says:

    Nice! You got me with the “old comics people always look for” gag. Laughed out loud at that one.

  • Cathy says:

    Replying to Eric – the store isn’t specifically a comic shop. It’s a toys/media/pop culture shop with a healthy comics section (trades, recent releases, and a back issue bin spanning maybe the past year or two). I found these issues in that bin under the divider “Howard the Duck.”

    I wouldn’t expect *this *shop’s clerks to be comics experts and spot the mistake I was making. But man, I looked at the covers for a while and I wouldn’t be surprised if expert clerks missed it too. *Nothing* on the covers flagged the difference except maybe a little number just above the barcode, if I’m interpreting that number correctly.

  • Rob says:

    Wait, there are *two* recent HtD series? Granted, I’ve been out of the Howard loop since Gerber excused himself from this dimension (and sadly, I wasn’t a fan of his 2001 HtD series), but there was enough heat attached to him after his GotG credits cameo to fuel not one but two series?

  • Mikester says:

    Rob – there was a HTD series that launched a few months ago, which was then ended after a few issues to allow for a new series as part of the Secret Wars-inspired linewide relaunches.

  • Allan Hoffman says:

    If ASB+R had always shipped on time and continued, this December would be issue #124. And now I’ve ruined Mike’s day.

  • AbsalomDak says:

    Nice Alice’s Restaurant reference. Merci!

  • Max_Spider says:

    Kind of reminds me of the Eddie Brock Venom series from the 90’s, which was essentially a series of 3, 4 or 5 part mini-series and one-shots that lasted for about 5 years, each with their own distinctive subtitle.

    Archie’s Knuckles the Echidna series had an ongoing issue number, but also always had a subtitle for the current 3-part arc. I guess that’s not terribly different from just always saying “Story part 2 of 4” on the front cover, like the Ultimate line did.

    I remember there has been comics that had a dual numbering system. Like this: (both issue vol 1 #514 and vol 2 #43). The Hellboy comics also had an internal numbering system, which seems very helpful.

    Just throwing some ideas out there. :P

  • Eric L says:

    Cathy- Newbury Comics, right? That makes sense that they wouldn’t catch it. But certainly marvel should do something to differentiate the two HtD series that started within 6 or so months of each other featuring the exact same creative team.

  • Rich Handley says:

    I think we should do things the British way–have all comics be serialized in large-size comics named after animals or other such things.

  • Snark Shark says:

    SO RIDICULOUS, all of the relaunches! Even YOUNG ROMANCE made it to over 200 issues back in the bronze age!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “have all comics be serialized in large-size comics named after animals or other such things”

    WEASEL COMICS: Starring Donald Trump!