Tagged: Wednesday Comics

Marc Alan Fishman: The Push of the Pull Box

As a rite of passage to become an official “Comic Book Nerd,” the pull box subscription is a near-impossible-to-ignore piece of the puzzle. For those playing along at home: the other parts include strong unwavering opinions you’re willing to argue over until your death, an ability to rattle off superhero minutiae without the use of Wikipedia, and typically a small collection of not-always-well-fitting graphic tee shirts. But I digress.

The pull box, for the uninitiated, is a service wherein a customer subscribes to weekly comics, and are held by their local comic book store for purchase. Every store does this a little different, but the big takeaways remain fairly standard: Pull box subscribers are offered a bit of a discount (often progressively increasing with order size) and are usually honor bound to come in and “clean out the box” as often as they’re able to.

For perspective, I asked my own local comic book retailer (Joe Bullaro of The Zone in Homewood, IL) about pull boxes, and he put it quite succinctly:

“I couldn’t imagine a store succeeding without a pull service… but I think many stores can fail because of one. “

For the store, pull boxes are mostly guaranteed sales. When customers are engaged with their store, and the current draw of monthly titles, there’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship. Back in my subscription days, a weekly trip to the comic shop was one looked forward to as seeing a good friend. Witty banter about what was occurring in the books I followed locked in step the way one might gab about their favorite TV shows. Each issue an episode. Each story arc picked apart for organic and passionate discussion. As Joe would denote to me “…it’s a community. It creates a bond between a customer and their store.” Loyalty feeding into prosperity.

But the pull box system is not always a box of roses. Joe was quick to add “…people abandon 100’s of dollars of books and don’t [always] communicate [their] reasons.” While some stores combat this by tying customers’ boxes to an on-file credit card… smaller stores know doing so limits customer’s desire to be officially subscribed to anything. Call it a fear of commitment. So it becomes a double-edged sword. Attempt to guarantee that pull boxes are clean, and potentially carve away swatches of your buying public. Even in my quaint little suburb, a comic fan is not necessarily limited to a single store to procure their fiction.

In addition to the potential fallout of customers who choose to inexplicably abandon their boxes, comes the actual work involved at the store to maintain the boxes in the first place. Every subscription to a book comes with a two-month ordering window. The book sits outside the regular order the store may keep for their off-the-shelf offerings. This means, for example, ordering 50 copies of Detective Comics to fulfill 40 different pull boxes, and keep 10 issues on the shelf for new comic book day when the issue arrives. And if the book is popular, like Detective Comics is, well, this is perfectly fine. But place your order on a more obscure title (even one from Marvel or DC) and you now place a bet: that your subscriber will buy the book, and if they don’t, placing it on your shelf isn’t taking up space a better book might inhabit.

And then, of course, there comes the issue of annuals, double-drops, mini-series, new creative teams, or the dreaded crossovers. A fan of Green Lantern may be faced with a dozen options in a given month. And they need to commit two months in advance to ensure what they want is held back for them. It’s a dangerous game when the love of a character or book begins to wane.

A few years ago, I made the choice to stop being a weekly subscriber. Faced with a less-than-enthusiastic opinion of the constant cycling of Epic Crossover, New Series Debut, Dwindling Sales, Book Cancellation, Repeat, I ultimately decided my comic purchases should be curtailed to graphic novels and indie titles procured at conventions I attended. While I have never personally abandoned a pull box before, I have been guilty of racking up massive back issues of books I slowly grew tired of. Wednesday Comics, Countdown to Final Crisis… thy name is mud.

So, where to leave the debate? Like so many things in this world, there’s a spectrum between black and white. As a necessary evil, the pull box can keep a store open perhaps almost as often it can wind up a debtor’s downfall. As a means to create a community and store culture, it can unite masses under common interests, or create the sparkling debate that ingrains a base of customers to their local store.

For me, it’s a matter of maturity and conservatism that prevents me from being a card-carrying member anymore. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss walking into a shop, to be greeted warmly with a fresh pile of books awaiting my geeky eyes.

Mike Gold: What Goes Around Inevitably Comes Around

DC Entertainment Co-Publisher and Editorial Big Kahuna Dan DiDio let the cat out of the bag on Facebook last week. In referring to Countdown To Infinite Crisis, he said “Definitely one of the highlights of my time at DC, but it gets me thinking, has it really been almost ten years since then, and maybe its time to do it one better.”

Dan, I’m sorry to say this, but your average seven year old could do it one better; two if you gave him a bigger box of Crayolas.

Look, we haven’t even finished Future’s End, a.k.a. Crisis on Infinite Angst. That means we haven’t even seen its trans-universe gangbang follow-up (pictured above, WordPress willing), Blood Moon. And now you’re “teasing” us with still another Crisis?

No, you are not. I know the difference between a tease and threat. A tease involves taking off almost all of your clothes. A threat is Vladimir Putin taking on Darkseid.

I really liked the original Crisis On Infinite Earths. It was a great series in and of itself. But immediately thereafter DC relaunched Superman and Wonder Woman, which sort of pulled the rug out from under the linear reboot. Then DC launched into a whole mess of predictable game-changers: The Death of Superman, followed by The Death or Disappearance of Almost Everybody Else One At A Time. It wasn’t too long before all the cool stuff in Crisis On Infinite Earths was invalidated or contradicted or ret-conned into oblivion. I can’t count the number of Crisis sequels that followed the one that set the DC Universe straight for the first and still-only time.

Indeed, over the past 30 years the DC fans have learned one and only one thing: we cannot trust DC to sustain a thought.

Like most of your readers and ostensibly many of your staff (hard to tell with the big move to Los Angeles), we all love and revere the DC characters. I know you share these feelings because you’ve said so yourself many times. Some of us were inspired to read because of DC’s output. Some of us got a nice slice of our morality from the doings of these characters. They may be entertainment, but entertainment can be enlightening and DC has spent the best part of 79 years doing just that.

Dan, I am not picking on you, nor am I picking on the talented writers and artists you employ, many of whom I count among my friends. If you want to do a sequel of something, base it upon one of the most innovative, daring and worthy projects in American comic book history. Maybe you can call it Thursday Comics.

You wanna do another Crisis? Do another Crisis. I can’t stop you. But, please do one thing: do not call it “Crisis.” Show some originality.

Besides, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez deserve better.