The Secret Origin of the “Direct Market”

 

I have been writing for this site for one week, and I already detect a major problem. This site stinks of opinion. People brazenly sharing their differing views on comics. Fans are writing reviews. The writers  are interacting with the readers to discuss their different opinions. This is all very nice to read, but what if I have come to this site to find out what I should think about comics?

 

Over the past three years I have written iFanboy well over 300 letters about their lack of authoritative truth on this site. Most of them in cuneiform. I have demanded to exercise my right to have people listen to me. I have had my mother call the iFanlords and explain that I have received trophies at every single community event I have attended. My friends can testify that I have passion for telling people what they should think about comics. 

 

The fact that you are reading this means that our "comrades" at iFanboy  finally decided to read the Constitution and let me pursue my happiness. I now have an electronic megaphone, and I am turning it up to eleven. Last week was all about kindly Ol' Tom, limping around and searching for sackcloth and long boxes. Now it is time to drop some science on you. Not only am I going to jam you up with truth, but I am going to bludgeon you with it.

 

Often within the comments on this site and on many other comic book sites (they do exist, but they are in that part of the internet map where they just draw a dragon), people gnash their teeth over sales figures and the demise of the Direct Market. To truly understand either of these topics you will need a history lesson in why the "DM" exists and what these numbers mean. 

 

As with most comic book history, there is a thick coat of misunderstanding covering the topics. It seems that the common perception is that the Direct Market is a pre-order based distribution system. Look at that previous sentence. It just doesn't look true, and it sure as hell doesn't feel true. It is time to dig into those old comics and find some truth.

 

I have combed editorials and letter columns from decades worth of comics. In collecting this info I have been able to piece together some rather interesting facts. The sales numbers that everyone sweats over? They actually come from King Leopold Diamond, the man who distributes comics to all the stores. King Leopold carefully counts all the books before he places them in the ivory crates that magically appear at every store on Wednesday morning. The “DM” would be the fiefdom that toils under King Leopold's mighty and fashionable lash. 

 

Now it was not always the "DM" that dominated the world of comic books. There was a simpler time. A time where kids could go to the local corner store for the old "Comb and a Comic." Combs in those days were not made of the space age materials we use today. They were fragile things of beauty. In order to make sure they survived the shipping process, they were inserted into the middle of comic books.  It was in this Golden Age of the late 1930s to late 1940s that comics truly bloomed. The streets of the country were filled with young boys eager to spend their cash on a new comb and the newest adventures of their favorite super-heroes. The parks were filled with youngsters combing their elegant blond curls while reading  a Private Nebraska comic or a Litigious Society story.

 

While we all wish that this golden age could have continued unabated, the country changed. The war of Vietnamese aggression sapped the emotional resources of our country. Suddenly young men didn't want to comb their hair. Comics suffered. Who would want to read a comic without combing their hair, or somebody else's hair?

 

Without the mighty pack mule of the comb to deliver the comics to our young lion tamers and tameresses, a new system had to be forged. Into this uncertain era walked King Leopold Diamond. With a wave of his hand he welcomed comics to the protective and warm shelter of his thick velvet cape. The publishers rushed to him. A royal decree was written, waxed, sung, and carved as follows,  "Lo, and let the word go out that Ole King Leopold is searching for those who wish not to make much money but have a neck shaped to the Diamond yoke of Leopold." Across the land men and women (mostly men) answered the call of King Leopold. Bricks made of the finest material that bricks are made out of were sent via carrier whale. Mortar was dropped from the sky by airplanes piloted by carrier whales. The era of the brick and mortar store had begun.

 

Besides selling brick and mortar, these stores also sold comics. In the days of the "Comb and a Comic", the comb salesman could return any unsold materials. Leopold would have none of that. It was difficult enough for him to part with the comics in the first place, he couldn't handle the emotional turmoil of the books coming back. Therefore the stores had to store the unsold comics next to their bricks. (The mortar is stored offsite.) Any attempt to return unsold books would lead to a night in the "oak box." This obviously leads to some rather troubling business issues. The owners of these stores have to depend on the feckless, uncombed youth of the area to let them know what they should order. Struggling to hear their words through their tangle of "jazz hair", the shop owners often don't order the right amount of various books. Oddly enough they always have the right amount of bricks.

 

It ends up being a tangled web of lowered expectations. Leopold's second greatest passion besides the packing of comic books into crates is counting said comic books. He then runs around telling everyone what number of books have been sold. The "jazz haired" youth hear the numbers and start freaking out if their favorite books aren't selling well. Young Johnny Hip Hop hears that his favorite book, Fantasy Mouse Dating in Black/White has only sold 400 copies. Suddenly he is afraid to keep reading it. Why bother if it is is going to get cancelled? He has his WhyBox and digital records to fiddle with. Only the most well known and established books are able to stick around. Such favorites as Lazy Origin Story Men, and Technicolor Marines are able to generate sales with their crossed dovers and other such gimmicks.

 

You may let go of my hand now child, I have shown you the way through this secret origin. I know you are frightened by the truth injection I just provided for you. It seems that the "DM" is an unsustainable system. Is there is going to be a resurgence for comics? There will never be another old-fashioned comb craze, but I have heard rumbling of some sort of iComb that the kids are excited about.

 


Many Tom Katers died to bring us this information.

Comments

  1. Katers, you’ve done it again. Thanks for dropping some knowledge on us.

  2. Wow…just…Wow.

  3. Will there be a DCBS secret origin story in the offing any time in the not-so-distant future?

  4. airplanes piloted by carrier whales. nice.

  5. That was the most deliciously painful truth injection I have ever had. Thank you and damn you sir.

  6. I am not amused

  7. Bravo good Sir Katers

    Thank you for breaking it down for us

    I look forward to the next important wake up call 

     

     

  8. And here I always thought it was Lou Diamond Phillip’s evil organization of evil.

  9. Men used to comb their hair? Why wouldn’t they want it to be sharp as glass and stick straight up? Maybe comics need to come with hair product and cologne trials.

  10. Wood drops the math, Katers drops the science!

  11. Abunch of shit we already know written in a way that screams "Trying too hard."

    Go back to being a fill in for Josh on the podcast dude, you’re much better at that.

  12. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Dude, have you even read Fantasy Mouse Dating in B/W? Vince kinda spoiled it in a 37 minute review on the latest 11 o’clock, but I picked up the first 14 issues anyway and it was dope. People are reading Siege instead of this? Shit’s better than Maus and Watchmen combined. Combined! 

    😉 

  13. Someone is getting a Katers Haters t-shirt!

  14. Can I get one even though I’m a a non-Katers Hater? They’re sure to be in fashion eventually. Right?

  15. My megaphone goes to 12.

  16. My mind has been blown by megaphones and lion tamers.

  17. I don’t suppose we can get an audio clip attached to these articles?  I’d love to hear Mr. Katers (with his silky smooth voice) read this to me while I comb my golden locks.  

  18. "You may let go of my hand now child." I’m going to end every one of my lectures with this phrase from now on.  Beautiful article. I enjoyed it.  Thank you, Mr. Katers.

  19. But look out. The invaders from the north region of Hachette are taking over some of King Leopold’s territory!

  20. @stuclach. That may be one of the creepiest comments I’ve ever read on iFanboy.

  21. @diebenny – If you have something constuctive to say, please feel free, but if you just feel like being a jerk for the hell of it, take it somewhere else. Check the Terms of Service.

  22. @Anson17 – If you’d ever seen my golden locks you wouldn’t find it creepy at all.

  23. Why does that guy need an extra tiny hand on his sceptre? Is he missing a hand or does he just want to do three-handed finger guns?

  24. @Heroville – One does not discuss what King Leopold Diamond does with his "finger gun" scepter. It’s not pleasant.

  25. I miss being able to go to the local grocery or drug store and buying comics of the rack.

  26. I am glad someone noticed the scepter…I could have written an entire article about that.

  27. Anyone know how Joe Simon and the Kirby estate’s Legal battle is going against the giant corporation that stole ‘Technicolor Marines’?

    Also I’d like to thank Tom for reminding me of the Halcyon days of going to the book store and buying "RETURNED" Comics with the covers ripped off and the combs broken in half for only 5 cents. 

  28. That’s not a scepter, it’s his arm (comb related accident).

  29. Brilliant.

  30. Jonathan Hickman is gonna be PISSED!  This was the second arc of his new S.H.I.E.L.D. series.

     

     the Tiki 

  31. That was my question Professor Katers.  Does he welcome the comics into his cape with a wave of his hand, or a wave of his hand sceptre?

  32. Sometimes true, hardcore knowledge is a bitter pill to swallow…thank you sir for helping it go down a little more easily.

  33. I cut my hair with a clipper thus never comb it. I have three longboxes of mint condition combs.

  34. I dream of a day when all men, young OR old, will be able to read the latest Adventures of Private Nebraska on their iComb.

     

     

     

     

    Oh, what a glorious day that shall be.

  35. I want a carrier whale, that would make transporting things so much easier than boat and airplane (especially with volcanic ash in the air)

    Excellent article, Mr. Katers.  

  36. LOL…..Nice!

  37. Oh Tom Katers, you can’t fool me! This is a canard!

  38. The influence of fancy lads has tainted many business models.  For example, the once respected ‘Ponzi Method’ of wealth distribution has been demonized into a ‘scheme’.

  39. Mr. Katers everything from the beginning of the article through the subject line in the email link was pure unadulterated awesomeness.

     

    Thank you

  40. As the resident Scientist Supreme of the iFanCorps I wholeheartedly endorse this post. Katers has clearly done his homework.

  41. Direct Marketing (=Diamond) has been the bane of brick & mortar stores since the start ( R.I.P Wild Pig Comics II)

     

    On a tangent:  iFanLords (see paragraph #2)?  hmm.  i like it.

  42. Tom this was simply incredible.

  43. Can I get a Katers Haters shirt? I don’t really hate, I just think that sounds like a catchy shirt idea.

  44. I don’t really hate either, though I do agree the shirt idea is amazing.  I know the comment sounded spiteful, but I just didn’t like the article, which I think is fair, even though my above comment might not have been.  Sorry for all the venom.  I did mean what I said about the podcast though.  Every one I’ve caught with you filling in, you were by far the best part of it.  Sorry Josh.  Now feel free to ban me into oblivion!

  45. "Vince kinda spoiled it in a 37 minute review" 

    I thought the article was funny enough, but then Paul dropped that and I just about wet myself laughing.

     

    "It’s funny ’cause it’s true." – Homer J. Simpson. 

  46. Great article, really fun to read. Aaaaand you owe me a new Food Network magazine Mr. Katers. I sprayed my drink all over it when I saw the email link at the end, how dare you make me laugh out loud :<

  47. See, now I finally understand the direct market. Great article,Tom! Glad to have your wit on the iFanstaff!

  48. Someone needs to put this story in comic form.  Now, who draws good whales?

  49. Tom touched my sould by mentioning two of my other passions: whales and cuneiform.

  50. Nice enought article, but I was expecting real information on the comic business world.  For the most part, this is just stuff we already know. Less fluff, more filling, please.

    Sorry, but i’m left unsatisfied.

  51. Wow..

  52. Double wow.

    I’d love to see the letters they get at the Onion.

  53. From what I’ve heard, Katers never leaves someone unsatisfied.

     That’s right, I went there.

  54. I believe we call this fancyversy or larkaversial.

     

  55. Katers is like a Snickers bar, in that he’s ALWAYS satisfying.

  56. Great article man. Missed you this past weeked.

  57. Now do you take the Percocets., vicoden or oxycotin with the fifth of Jim Beam before you start writing or during?

     Just wnat to get the order right.

  58. Not only a DC bias, this writer is obviously anti-bald with all this hair talk!  But I enjoyed the picture of the dragon.   Looking forward to the secret history of the spinner rack as a torture device.

  59. I’m bitterly disappointed in almost all of you. There are not nearly enough comments dourly correcting the factual errors in the article.

  60. What’s with the iFanstaff spittin’ on the iFans lately? Is it just me or is there some hostility?

  61. @JJ: It’s just you.

  62. @JJ: it’s not just you