During my tenure as driver of the DC Comicmobile back in the summer of 1973, I was able to gather a lot of information about what kinds of books sold and to whom. I had issues of more than fifty different DC titles plus a variety of other odds and ends.
After I finished my tour of duty, I prepared a title-by-title report based on what I’d learned and turned it in to DC President Carmine Infantino and Vice President (and “father” of the Comicmobile) Sol Harrison. Unfortunately, the report was glanced at and filed away, its information never utilized.
Recently, however, I discovered a copy of that report and will share excerpts from it over the next few columns. It’s amusing and enlightening to see what the “on the street” comic book readers of a generation-plus ago were buying.
DC’s books in 1973 were something of a mixed bag, all of them priced at 20c. There were war and western comics, romance titles, and science fiction and sword-and-sorcery books, along with the mainstay super-hero series. It was the year of the return of the original Captain Marvel in SHAZAM and THE SHADOW drawn by Mike Kaluta and Joe Kubert’s rendition of TARZAN.
The 100-PAGE SUPER-SPECTACULARS were gaining ground, priced at 50c. And the first of the tabloid-sized LIMITED COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS appeared, costing a dollar. There was even a single Digest book, featuring Tarzan.
There were no comic book shops, no direct market, and very few outlets for comics readers to get their books.
With this plethora of comics, I took to the streets of Long Island, sold just under 2,000 comic books, and gathered the following information…
SUPERMAN: (5th overall in sales)
The perennial favorite of many parents and kids alike, SUPERMAN sold well at almost all times. Sales fell off only when I offered ACTION COMICS instead. If I hadn’t done so, this title would be at the top of the list.
ACTION COMICS: (21st)
I had five different issues in the Comicmobile, but no one substantially outsold the others. If ACTION was displayed instead of SUPERMAN, the younger kids would buy it because the Man of Steel was on the cover. Very few had heard of ACTION COMICS or knew that Superman was in it until I showed it to them. (There were, however, a number of regular readers who were glad to see I had a variety of issues, some of which they had been unable to get.)
LOIS LANE: (31st)
Sales of this title picked up for awhile when I got the issue with the giant Lois and Superman on the cover. Once the kids bought that one, sales dropped off and later issues did not sell as well.
JIMMY OLSEN: (41st)
Jimmy is the loser of the Superman family. Whether it was the covers, the multitude of competing magazines, or just a general dislike of the character that accounted for such lousy sales, I do not know. I even gave away a number of copies, thinking that the kids might not have heard of or read any of Jimmy’s books, but that did not do a thing for sales. I had four different issues on hand, but none of them appealed to the Superman fans.
The second most popular book among girls looking for superheroes. Each of the three issues I had sold well. The “snake-head” issue sold to some of the boys too because Green Lantern, Batman and Hawkman were on the cover.
SUPERBOY & THE LEGION: (32nd)
Sales on this picked up very slowly. When I first started out, there was no interest, so I gave a few copies away to see what would happen. I picked up a few readers, and then a few more. I suspect this book will build readership over a period of issues as more and more decide to try it.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: (47th)
This reprint book never caught on. After a few early sales, it died.
MORE SALES REPORTS FROM THE COMICMOBILE…
BATMAN: (2nd in sales)
Batman was the second largest selling magazine I had. The Batman-Joker issue sold quite well, especially to the younger kids. The Batman-Shadow book fared well also. The Batman-Spook issue sold some, but not nearly as well as the other two. The giant character looming over the Caped Crusader (the Joker on one and the Shadow on the other) caught the kids’ eyes, but the Spook did not.
There were many requests for Batman and Robin, or Robin alone.
Sales were fairly constant, though they would rise in some areas and fall in others. Like most of the superhero books, they were bought almost exclusively by the younger kids and ignored by the older readers.
BRAVE & BOLD: (20th)
The Batman-Demon issue is the one I had for most of the time and it sold pretty well. Kids looking through the various Batman books would spot it and pick it from among the others. When I got the Batman-Wildcat issue, that also sold fairly well. A lot of the kids like Wildcat because he rides a motorcycle and they seem to go for that sort of thing. I had a few back issues and they sold out; Batman-Green Arrow and Batman-Metal Men went over the best.
DETECTIVE COMICS: (37th)
For a book that has Batman in it, and one that I pushed as an alternative to the Caped Crusader’s own book, sales were surprisingly poor. The “Deathmasque” issue sold better than the “1,000 Fears” one. A number of kids were caught by the former’s cover, but turned it down in favor of the Batman-Shadow or Batman-Demon issues of BATMAN and B&B.
WORLD’S FINEST: (27th)
The first half of the two-part story did not sell well at all. The cover with Superman and Batman standing in the giant footprint did not appeal to the kids. The following issue, with the monster holding Supes and Bats against the wall, was very popular and accounted for most of the sales.
THE FLASH: (22nd)
Flash sold fairly well for awhile and then, quite suddenly, died. I did not sell a single copy for about two weeks, though it was right after I had gotten the new issue. Towards the end, sales picked up, but almost all were to people looking for Green Lantern stories. I had some copies of the last Flash/GL team-up and they sold out quickly. The following issue with its three-panel cover did not appeal to the kids and sold mainly to those who wanted some comic with Flash in it.
WONDER WOMAN: (6th)
The most popular superhero book among the girls; even some of the boys bought it because they liked the covers. (One father bought an issue for his daughter and sent her out the next week for the following issue because HE wanted to read the conclusion to the story.) The issues all sold well, with the WW/Mother tied up cover the most popular.
This book was not moving well for the first few weeks and many of the kids had never heard of Captain Marvel. I decided to give away some copies to see what would happen. It worked quite well. The kids like the book, the parents like the book, everybody likes the book. Once they read an issue, they came back for another and sales picked up quickly. The mothers who were buying for littler children preferred the “Talking Tiger” issue to any of the Superman or Batman books I displayed.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: (18th)
Sales on this book were pretty good, despite the fact that not many of the readers had ever heard of it. Most of them bought an issue because it was what I offered when they wanted an issue of Hawkman or Atom or Green Lantern or Aquaman. Once they bought one, however, they came back for more. The Red Tornado “I killed everybody” issue sold best, followed by the first half of the JLA/JSA team-up. Most of the sales of the second team-up issue were to those who had bought the first, but its cover was the least popular among kids who saw all three issues.
TEEN TITANS: (41st)
Sales of back issues of this title were mostly to kids who wanted something with Robin in it. A couple of them asked for the book by name, but most of them had never heard of it.