Tagged: Phil Seuling

Mike Gold: Hot Town, Summer In The Cities

I’m going to ramble a bit about an annual phenomenon. In many important ways, New York City and San Diego are about to trade places.

Even with DC Comics having moved its flat drawers and some of its staff from the Right Coast to the Left, New York City remains inundated with comics people. Marvel, Archie, Dynamite, and Valiant remain in the Baked Apple, as does King Features Syndicate and sundry Internet outfits such as comiXology and ComicMix. We’ve still got the only weekly magazine venerable enough to publish single-panel cartoons, The New Yorker. You’d be familiar with this publication if you went to the doctor more often. Overall, the Greater Comics Racket continues to dance to the beat of east coast drummers.

Except for next week.

Next week, New York goes to San Diego to participate in the annual “how many college freshmen can you stuff in a phone booth” contest, a.k.a. the San Diego Comic-Con. They prefer to call themselves just “Comicon,” maybe with two c’s, but there are a lot of tradespeople who consider this something akin to theft of intellectual property. We’ve got a ton of ComicMixers there, including Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, Ayna Ernst, Maddy Ernst, Jen Ernst (do you detect a theme here?), Ed Catto, Emily Whitten, Bob Ingersoll, Michael Davis, Arthur Tebbel, and whomever I forgot because my memory is like a well-tuned car – as long as that car is a Stanley Steamer.

That leaves Martha Thomases, Joe Corallo and me in Manhattan watching a double-feature. I’m not sure what Denny and Molly and John and Marc will be up to, but at least I’ll be seeing Marc in Kokomo this fall. How can I pass that one up?

So, for some reason I’ll be spending time wandering the hot, summery streets of Manhattan, coping with high humidity, high temperatures, pissed-off Long Islanders and the pervasive smell of rat urine, the stench that shouts “welcome to our subways!” During SDCC week, San Diego is overcrowded, overpriced, and over-partied but with perfect weather (except, oddly, when I’m there). I’ll be happy to be here. Besides, I try not to fly anymore. In airplanes, I mean.

I’ve dedicated my current travel schedule to the “smaller” conventions (of course, by comparison to SDCC the Roman Coliseum held “smaller” conventions). You know, the shows where I can talk with the fans, find out what people like and don’t like and might like, talk with the retailers and guests, and never have to wait more than five minutes to get through the bathroom line. I’ve been doing comic book conventions for 49 years, back when our product was printed on papyrus. The late and deeply lamented Phil Seuling held his first “big” convention in New York City in 1968. There were 300 people there, and all of them were thinking the same thought: “Holy crap! There are 299 other people who are just like me.”

Well, it was 1968, so “just like me” meant possessing a Y chromosome. It also helped if you were white but, then again, it usually does.

We’ve come a long way. SDCC dumps about a quarter of a billion dollars into the San Diego economy. Comic book conventions attract several million fans and professionals. Much of Hollywood moves down to San Diego for the week, and we see equivalent attendees in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia… I think I may have received an invite from Togo last year.

And to think it all started out as a hobby. 300 geeks in a hotel ballroom who never, ever thought the word “geek” would become a badge of honor.


Mike Gold: Comic Books’ Pot Luck


One of the overlooked outcomes of last week’s election is the growth of the marijuana legalization movement. Buying, possessing and using the stuff is going to be legal for adults in Massachusetts, Nevada, California and Maine – as it is now in Colorado, Alaska, Washington State, Washington D.C., and Oregon. Over 20 percent of Americans reside in states where such use by adults is legal. In over half of these United States, weed is kosher for medicinal use.

reefer-madness-piano-sceneFirst Fun Fact: A few years ago, the Heeb Magazine website informed us that, properly handled, cannabis is indeed kosher. That should popularize the Passover herb plate.

Second Fun Fact: If not for weed, we might not have our direct sales comic book distribution system. Back in the mid-60s, we started seeing retail outlets called “head shops” pop up all over this great nation. These places were sort of like today’s vape stores but they sold snarky buttons, black light posters, incense, underground newspapers (thank you)… but, mostly, they sold supplies for cleaning, rolling and smoking marijuana cigarettes.

In addition to perpetuating the art of speed piano playing, these stores also became the initial outlets for underground comix.

r-crumbPublishers such as Rip-Off Press, Last Gasp, and Kitchen Sink brought us to the worlds of R. Crumb, Skip Williamson, Jack Jackson, Trina Robbins, the unmistakable S. Clay Wilson, and many, many others. They breathed new life into a dormant American medium and influenced a generation of new artists.

These comix were sold directly to head shops on a non-returnable basis. Several years later, Phil Seuling brought this concept of direct sales marketing to the burgeoning mass of comic book stores which, previously, existed largely to sell back issues. Seeing as how comic books were essentially unprofitable in the waning days of newsstand distribution, by providing the model for direct distribution underground comix and the head shops that sold them saved the American comic book industry.

denis-kitchenPersonally, I blame underground comix publisher turned agent, comic book and graphic novel impresario Denis Kitchen. This is because I am a trained political writer and I believe in punching up. My old friend Denis has a great deal of “up.”

So, really, the roots of contemporary comic book publishing were watered by illegally purchased marijuana… which is now increasingly legal in much of this country.

We can only hope that this new trend will have a similar impact upon comics sales. This, and of course damn near anything else.

Third Fun Fact: Next year’s San Diego convention should be real interesting. Damn, I might even go back there!

Mike Gold: Do YOU Collect Comic Books?

Phil SeulingI endured another birthday last week. This is not a big deal, I’ve had a lot of them. Of course, I never get tired of my daughter fussing over me and preparing a dinner of unimaginable excellence, but there’s a point in our lives when such an occasion prompts a review of random elements of our past. Perhaps because my birthday is smackdab in the middle of the heaviest part of convention “season,” this year my thoughts turned to the evolution of the comic book store.

The comic book store evolved from those strange stores that sold old magazines and/or were “white elephant” shops. They hardly are of recent vintage: America’s first nationally-known serial killer, H.H. Holmes, murdered dozens if not hundreds of people in his specially-built World’s Fair Hotel that had secret passageways and trap doors and sealed ersatz gas chambers. One of the few shops on the ground floor of his palace was leased to a back-issue magazine store. This happened back in 1893; the hotel was conveniently located about a mile from the blockbuster World’s Columbian Exposition. Many future shops were located in less comfortable neighborhoods.

There weren’t any comic books in 1893, but the concept of back issue comic book retailing came onto its own in the post-Wertham late 1950s. These places paved the way to what we might think of as the “comic book store.”

I say “might think” because those original comic book stores only sold back-issue comics. There were few media chachkas. After a while several cut deals with their local independent magazine distributors to get new comics in through the back door, but if a local drug or candy store complained the new comics rack in the old comics store disappeared.

New York Comic Art Convention Program 1969Then Phil Seuling happened. Phil was the lynchpin to many very important events in the evolution of comic book fandom. He started selling old comics in 1958; ten years later he hosted the first New York Comic Art Convention. In those sainted days of yore, comicons offered fans guests, panels, some movies, and a large room full of people standing behind card tables with a mass of sometimes-organized old comics, filed in all sorts of file boxes that, at the time, were not specifically manufactured for that purpose. Today, those dealers look exactly the same as they did in 1968, only older.

People came to these shows to fill in the holes in their collections while socializing with similar addicts. Eventually some of them mated, but I digress. Long-box diving became a ballet, one that also played out in those comic book shops in the low-rent neighborhoods.

Then Phil Seuling happened again. In 1972, Phil made arrangements with the comic book publishers of the time (Marvel was a bit late to commit, but only a bit) to sell brand-new comics directly to comic book shops through his East Coast Seagate Distributing company. They started out in increments of 25 and Phil said they were selling to “comic book clubs” to avoid pissing off the legitimate retailers (ha!), but the comic book medium had forever changed.

Both publishers and product grew like Topsy, and eventually some smartass revealed the “true” cost to retailers in keeping, maintaining and selling back-issues. It was a very labor-intensive vocation, at least for most retailers, and before long they needed space to sell more profitable new comics, toys, tapes, costumes, prints, cards, and, of course, POGs.

World's Fair HotelSo old comics became harder to find. No problem; the publishers were thrilled to help those who actually wanted to read their wares by reprinting those stories in books – the kind with spines. These had the added advantage of being salable in “traditional” book stores (you know, like Borders) and on that new “Amazon” thing.

Today I walk through the convention floors – they used to be called “huckster rooms” – and through comic book stores and I see a vastly diminished presence of the back issues that put fans and fandom in business. I don’t necessarily miss them, no more than I miss those great old buggy whip factories. But it makes me wonder if fans still collect old comics for the purpose of reading.

Sure, graded and entombed comic books abound, but I have no doubt that someday somebody is going to disinter one of those vacuum-sealed copies of Action Comics #3 graded at 5.8 and valued into six figures and discover the guts of Planet Terry #7.

Yep. That screaming sound you just heard came out of the guts of a couple dozen of my good friends who possess innumerable sealed rarities.

Time marches on, and I’m okay with that as long as it swiftly marches across the backside of Donald Trump. But, yeah, there’s another habit that goes as we age. It’s called “Hey, kids, get off of my lawn!”


Dennis O’Neil: The Boys Who Film Batman

Boy Who Loved BatmanMessrs. Pisani and Uslan, step into the spotlight, center stage and take a bow!

But before we deliver the plaudits, we should perhaps tell you who they are. Of course most of you already know, but there are always a few… well, I don’t want to call them “retards” because that is not politically correct and a crummy thing to say besides, so let’s just identify them as folk who choose not to mingle either physically or intellectually (by acquiring new information) and thus may not be acquainted with the existence of the gentlemen named above.

Mike Uslan is the possessor of the world’s only doctorate in comics, He is a professor at his alma mater, Indiana University, the recipient of a Daytime Emmy, a writer who once worked at DC Comics and he has a producer credit on every Batman movie released since 1989. (For more information, see Mike’s autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman, available from Amazon and other book stores.) Trust me – I could go on.

I don’t know exactly how to identify Ken Pisani. I met him a decade or so ago when Marifran, a camera guy, and sound guy and I joined him on a cavernous sound stage in lower Manhattan. The occasion was Ken’s interviewing me for a History Channel documentary on comics. The interview was extraordinarily good and Ken and his lovely wife Amanda have been friends ever since. I’d like to see Ken’s resume because I’m pretty sure he’s done a lot I’m not aware of – he does keep busy being a TV producer, a comic book writer/creator, a screenwriter, a novelist, an art director, a cartoonist…once upon a time, he even worked for Phil Seuling, the man who virtually invented the comic book direct sales market. Amanda knows the full catalog of Ken’s accomplishments. I, alas, do not.

Anyway, that’s Mike and Ken, and I hope they’re taking that bow.

The reason I mention them now is that Ken recently sent me some DVDs from a TV series that ran on Turner’s movie channel. The subject under discussion was the relationship of comic book to early movie serials. The format was the master of ceremonies talking with the comics expert who was – aw, you guessed it – our own Mike Uslan. After a few minutes informative conversation the MC screened two chapters of the serial we’d just heard Mike commenting on. The shows were educational and entertaining – more feathers for the Uslan cap – and they may have taught us comics geeks stuff that we didn’t know. This kind of historical background may not help us do stories, us creator types – I really haven’t decided about that – but it’s kind of nifty to know it.

By the way, in case you’re really out of touch… movie serials were short films shown with main features telling a story over 12 to 15 chapters, each chapter ending with the hero or other good guy in some kind in some kind of horrible quandary. The idea was, you’d return the following week to see how the hero escapes the quandary. Theoretically, you could return to see the hero squashed like a bug, but I don’t think that ever happened. At least, Mike didn’t mention it.

(Editor’s Addendum: Mr. Uslan has been back at writing comics every once in a while, and once again has given us some of the best stuff on the racks. His six-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet series will be released by Dynamite Comics in July.)