The DC Comics Hardcover/Softcover Plan: The End of the Thrillogy.

§ March 22nd, 2017 § Filed under dc comics, publishing, retailing § 3 Comments

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 two posts. 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 Michael likened 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.

3 Responses to “The DC Comics Hardcover/Softcover Plan: The End of the Thrillogy.”

  • Thom H. says:

    I just re-read the first two issues of the Baxter Teen Titans series which were great. You can already tell by the end of issue 2 that Perez was getting rushed, though. The art got less crisp and detailed, the layouts a little more conventional, whereas the first issue was just flawless — a real masterpiece in my opinion. To be fair, the second issue included all of those pencil-only hyper-detailed scenes which probably ate up a lot of time and energy.

    I’m so glad you included the two covers in your post. They really illustrate the dip in quality from the original to the reprint. I’m sure DC didn’t want to pull Perez away from Crisis on Infinite Earths to draw a cover for a reprint issue, but they certainly could have done much better than what they ended up with.

  • Signal Watch says:

    I wouldn’t consider myself unconcerned with comics, and everything in this post about release windows and formats is news to me. I read comics for about 6 or 7 years before I figured out they came out on Wednesdays, every Wednesday, so – no, I wasn’t plugged in, I guess. And while I recall *knowing* there were fancier formats when I found my LCS circa 1986/87, and having had read comics since that era, all of this is still so weird to read. I don’t get how they expected kids or newer readers to figure all of this multi-format business without the benefit of the internet (or if they thought comic shops were really that prevalent).

  • Tenzil Kem, Esq. says:

    As a Legion fan, this stunt by DC forced me to search out my first comic store to find the Baxter series as well as Infinity, Inc., which was direct market only. Luckily a few months into the experiment, a store opened in the small town in Alabama where I lived, but it closed six months later. A few months later, my mother discover another store in the city 30 minutes away, so my weekly trips became monthly rewards after my orthodontist visits.

    I did collect Tales of the Legion after it switched to reprints around #326, even though I had the Baxter issues, for a few months, but I gave it up to buy another title. As a 13 year old, I couldn’t justify paying for a story I already had.