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Sunday, June 14, 2020 

Image's publisher writes a foolish attack on DC's choice to leave Diamond

And CBR's given him the platform on which to make his rather tasteless statement:
Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson has responded to DC's move to cut ties with Diamond Comic Distributors, calling it "a hasty, sociopathic decision made by people who do not care about the long-term welfare of our marketplace, let alone about comics."
What about Image? Who's to say they don't suffer the same problem? Stephenson's use of "sociopathic" reeks of bad taste, and he's making a big mistake to make such a fuss over something they could do too if there's any advantage. There is one ironic truth to his words, though: if DC under Dan DiDio brought their story merit down to such dismal levels while pretending they were actually doing fandom a favor and turning out genuine masterpieces, then that should prove they never cared about comics. But then, where were Stephenson and company, and why didn't they call out the offenders of the times for the mistakes they were making?
"DC did this without any consideration for how it would affect the rest of the marketplace," Stephenson added. He then drew comparisons to Marvel Comics buying Heroes World distributor in 1994. "When Marvel bought Heroes World and pulled their business from their other distributors, they gave notice. Not in terms of days, but months," he said. "That is not what happened here."

Stephenson ended his letter by speaking on conversations he's had with Diamond founder Steve Geppi and the rest of the Diamond team, and double-downed on how "Image doesn't operate like other publishers" and isn't beholden to parent companies like AT&T and Disney.
But if these distributors aren't part of those conglomerates - precisely what's brought down Marvel and DC alike - why does Stephenson have a problem with it? Nobody smart's saying Image should be part of a corporation, but if they want to make things easier on their own distribution, why not look for distributors who aren't beholden to conglomerates either and make deals with them?

To make matters worse, the News-Tribune of Rome, Georgia ran a column by propagandist Andrew Smith, who's taking Stephenson's side, along with that of any store manager who seems to believe solely Diamond can offer all the benefits other distributors supposedly won't:
“What?” I hear you say. “I thought monopolies were bad things! Shouldn’t everyone be pleased that there will be more competition?”

Short answer: No. The comics industry operates on a shoestring, where the fall of a single domino can cause untold havoc. And its weak link has always been distribution — the very thing DC’s move subverts. Also, the two new distributors are outgrowths of retail stores with large mail-order businesses, meaning they were and are competition for all the other comic shops … who have just become their customers.

Ominous, eh? Nobody summed up this point of view better than Eric Stephenson, publisher of Image Comics, in a tweet:

“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

That famous Santayana quote is particularly apt in this situation. Because not only does the comics industry have a history of distribution catastrophes, this specific catastrophe has happened before!

Scene: early 1990s. There are a number of comics distributors, including No. 1, Diamond; No. 2, Capital City; and No. 3, Heroes World. But then, much like DC today, Marvel Comics decided to go exclusive with one of them (Heroes World).
Excuse me? I thought there were at least two of them (Lunar and UCS), and Smith just said so? All that aside, it sounds like somebody or some bunch of buffoons have a problem with a store deciding to try out expanding into the distribution business. In other words, all must operate only according to specific dictates. Diamond is the sole distributor, and that's square it; all others must be stores only and never change their approach. This reeks of jumbled logic, which continues with the following:
The result was carnage. With everybody but Heroes World losing the No. 1 publisher — roughly 30-40% of the market — the other distributors scrambled for what was left, offering sweetheart deals to other publishers (notably No. 2 DC Comics) to sign exclusive deals.

A number of distributors and even some comic shops went belly up. By 1997, the last distributor standing was Diamond. Marvel (and all the other publishers) meekly signed with them. And that’s how Diamond became a near-monopoly.

But, as noted, that’s not the only ugly distribution story in the history of comics. Especially before 1978, back when comics were distributed by the same people who distribute magazines. In those days, the distributors held veto power over the entire industry.
Wow, so there was no good source at the time? Only bad? Hey, if they'd wanted to, I'm sure the publishers could find several more distribution services of varying degrees who'd give them all the sweetheart deals without some sort of faustian exclusivity clause in the contract. But, contrary to what this column states, and as noted a few months ago, most publishers were turning to Diamond by the turn of the century, hardly an example of drafting deals with at least a few different ones. What's really annoying about the article is how it all comes down to making it sound like Diamond's the only company that should serve as a distributor, and it's impossible to modify anything for the better. Not very inspiring. Does that mean that by today's standards, it's okay if Diamond holds veto power over an entire industry? Oh wait, that's exactly what Smith's trying to lecture us with! Above all, I can't find much logic in this laughable piece. Which goes on to say the following regarding the Comics Code of the 50s:
For example, when the draconian Comics Code of 1954 was created, it would have only been words on paper without the distributors as enforcers. The national distributors refused to move any books without the Comics Code Seal of Approval (except for family-friendly Dell), which put the final nail in the coffin for EC Comics.

What was EC Comics? Only the finest collection of artists and writers ever assembled in the history of the medium. Legendary creators who were responsible for books like “Tales from the Crypt” (horror), “Frontline Combat” (war), “Shock SuspenStories” (crime), “Weird Science Fiction” (SF) and “MAD” (humor).

Some argue the Comics Code of 1954 was aimed like a gun at EC Comics (and I am among them), but it would have been a misfire without the distributors, who left the publisher’s books languishing in warehouses and on New York docks. EC even tried to rebound with a line of Code-friendly books, including “Extra!” (two-fisted reporters), “M.D.” (medical drama) and even “Psychoanalysis” (seriously). But no soap; the distributors ignored them, too. Eventually EC had only “MAD” left, which was a magazine outside the Code’s reach.

EC wasn’t the only publisher to drop dead after the Code. The Comics Code was an extinction-level event, predicated on public outrage over horror and crime books, and abetted by audience-stealing inventions like television. There were likely other factors too, but there is no doubt that the distributors were the muscle in this drama.
If the implication is that comicdom can only rely on specialty distributors within its own industry (which, if the given info is correct, they are anyway), and all this at a time when adult entertainment is no longer opposed except by modern censorship advocates - the very crowd that caused the problems back in the 50s - then that's pure comedy gold too. Besides, didn't several other publishers throw EC under the bus, if it helped oust some competition for them? Which was a mistake, of course, just like Stephenson's making now to oppose competition in the making. Let's also note Smith, despite his alleged disapproval of the CCA, has signaled support for Wertham-ish censorship in the past, and never did anything to defend Frank Miller when he crafted Holy Terror, which was rejected as a Batman story when Paul Levitz was in charge of DC.
The Code wasn’t the only body blow against the industry in the 1950s, and distribution was central to that story, too. Scene: 1957 …

Before Marvel was Marvel, it had other names, including “Atlas” for most of the ‘50s. That’s because publisher Martin Goodman launched his own distribution company in 1951, the Atlas News Company. By 1952 all of the books published by Goodman’s 59 shell companies (you read that right) bore the Atlas logo on the cover.

But in 1956 Goodman had a change of heart, dissolved Atlas and turned to the American News Company to distribute his books. Which turned out to be a really, really bad decision. The following year American lost a restraint-of-trade lawsuit brought by the Justice Department, and essentially evaporated.

With no other choice, Goodman was forced to beg Independent News to distribute his books. “Beg,” because Independent News was owned by arch-rival National Periodical Publications, known today as DC Comics. Independent said, “Sure, we’ll distribute your books. But you can only publish eight books a month, losers! Haw! Haw! Haw!”

OK, I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know what they said
. But Atlas, which had been publishing 50 or 60 books a month was restricted to eight or so until they wiggled out of their contract … in 1968.
This is disputable too, but in any event, that "joke" he's making there is disgusting. And I'm not sure Marvel in its Atlas days was publishing that many. I know there were several sci-fi anthologies mostly written by Stan Lee, but this was at a time when superhero comics had cooled in popularity after WW2 ended for a time, and during 1951-56, few were produced outside of Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman at DC. From what I know, Lee told Comics Interview's Darrel Boatz in the late 80s that in the Atlas era, though they may have had a bundle of books at one point, they didn't achieve any breakout successes until the time Journey Into Mystery came along under the Marvel banner, and Fantastic Four in 1961. So I estimate the majority of whatever had been published under the Atlas banners was cancelled by that time, as sales simply weren't delivering the goods they hoped for. The article by Smith certainly can't be taken at face value, and it's attitude, again, is insulting.
Lastly, I draw your attention to “Blazing Combat,” an awesome war magazine produced in 1965 by Warren Publishing, famous for “Creepy,” “Eerie” and “Vampirella.” The reason “Combat” was so good was that it was essentially a continuation of EC’s war comics, with many of the same creators — including Frank Frazetta, John Severin and Wally Wood — and a pronounced, realistic, war-is-hell vibe.

That latter part got them in trouble with the U.S. military, which was ramping up the Vietnam War at the time and was struggling for public support. So “Blazing Combat” was blocked from sale on military bases. But worse, the American Legion lobbied the distributors to give “Blazing Combat” the EC Comics treatment. And sure enough, the book began being left on docks and in warehouses.

“Blazing Combat” was canceled with (counts on fingers) issue #4.
What's weird about this is how any mention of a lawsuit over mishandling of property goes unmentioned. If any distributors were actually leaving products to rot at the docks, wouldn't that be illegal and grounds for action in court? Something just doesn't add up here. Also, even if unjustified steps were being taken against Warren's comic, something tells me this stance stems from an anti-war position - that is, an objection to defeating communists in Vietnam - and if it had been a comic supporting the war being oppressed, no complaints would be filed.
Fortunately, the national periodical distributors no longer have anything to do with comic books, which are handled by specialized distributors like Diamond. But as retailer reaction to DC’s decision shows, it’s still a fragile food chain.
Well gee whiz, if DC were seeking business with a distributor who'd actually leave their products to gather dust, wouldn't that be their loss, and not that of those who choose to stick with Diamond? I'm sorry, but this is, quite simply, apologia for monopolies, and opposition to competition. Besides, today, legal action can be taken against distributors for mishandling of goods, and if the distributors really had responsibility for abandoning products rather than returning them or refusing association altogether, they could be sued for damages. Above all, any industry that can't handle distribution or expand it properly is bound for collapse sooner or later, and anybody who really wants it to survive would be making the argument that something's got to be mended and business strategists have to get to work. This lazy article certainly isn't it.

The most mind-boggling part of the "argument" is that it makes it sound as though all distribution services outside comicdom proper are prone to corruption unchanged, and only distributors inside can be relied upon, even if it's just one mere company. But Diamond's halt on business a few months ago suggests otherwise. The whole muddled argument reeks of insularity, and that's just what brought down comicdom. DC's choice to change distribution to other businesses is not wrong in itself. But if they continue to rely on writers like Brian Bendis, who may be leaving Superman but not DC as a whole, that's what'll bring down their sales and marketing, not distribution choices. Similarly, if they refuse to change their publication format, that too is something bound to hurt them in the long run.

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"But Atlas, which had been publishing 50 or 60 books a month was restricted to eight or so until they wiggled out of their contract … in 1968." --- "And I'm not sure Marvel in its Atlas days was publishing that many. I know there were several sci-fi anthologies mostly written by Stan Lee,...."

Smith is right about the number of Atlas books being published. At their high point in the mid-1950s they were putting out almost a hundred regular titles, mostly on a monthly or bimonthly basis. They included over the course of the decade romance, war, crime, jungle adventures, westerns, comedies, Mad-like parody books, showgirls, bible adaptations, television show adaptations, as well as science fiction and horror, every genre under the sun and some that didn't fit under any particular genre. Smith is exaggerating the collapse though. After 1957's 'summer of death', when their distribution collapsed, the deal with the new distributor allowed them more than 8 titles, more like about 12-16 a month. Some of the 1950s or late-1940s titles, like Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Patsy Walker and Millie the Model, survived into the 1960s and 1970s; others, like Combat Kelly and Jungle Action, were revived after Marvel got its new distribution deal after 1968.

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