First of all let me say that I really enjoy your column! It’s an honor to be able to write in this way.
Here’s my question: In interviews with Carmine Infantino and other former DC powers that be (particularly in the publication Comic Book Artist), the success or failure of various DC titles is discussed in terms of the percentage of copies sold. It would seem to be that only the absolute number of copies sold would be relevant, with the percentage only a reflection of how judicious DC was in determining the size of the print run. What was the thinking here?
— Bryan Salvador (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Because comic books and virtually all publications sold at the newsstand are returnable, the percentage of sales in this arena is the most important number to the publisher. [A quick aside to those who might not know: “Returnable” means that if the store does not sell the book or magazine, it can return it to the publisher for a full credit. Thus, all the expense of producing it is the publisher’s responsibility.] Print runs had to be guessed at, based on how many copies would sell versus how many would be returned. It was not uncommon for a book selling “only” 70% — regardless of how many actual copies were actually being purchased, even if it was hundreds of thousands – to be cancelled back in the 50s and 60s. By the 70s, however, sell-through had dropped to around 30%, meaning that two copies of every book were returned (and destroyed) for every copy that was actually sold. It also meant that printing REALLY cost a publisher three times as much per copy sold.
The advent of comic book shops and the direct sale market changed this. Shops commit to buying their books in advance, at a steeper discount, but they are non-returnable. In this market, it is strictly the number of copies sold that determines success. Publishers base their print runs strictly on how many are ordered; there is little of any waste. The sidelight is that this allowed publishers to go upscale with the product, using better paper and printing techniques, because what they paid per copy for printing was an actual cost.
Interestingly, a savvy publisher wants to get some returns rather than none. The ideal number of copies left at any sales location is one. Having a title sell out leaves the publisher wondering if more would have sold had they been available; a single copy says that everyone who wanted one got one.
One other advantage that the direct market gives the publishers is a much quicker report on how a book is faring. With newsstand sales, it can take up to six months to get an accurate report on sell-through, so a poor seller might continue to be published. Not so in today’s direct sale market, as evidenced below…
Is the new DOOM PATROL cancelled after issue #22? Please tell me it isn’t so! But I guess I can handle the truth!
— Van Deventer (email@example.com)
Deal with it, Van; DP is gone with #22.
Was the “Keith Griffin” from Mobile, Alabama who wrote in to comics in the early 70s (same as yourself) actually Keith Giffen?
Among the notable folks who began their comics careers by appearing in the letter columns are Martin Pasko, Mike W. Barr, Tony Isabella, Jack C. Harris, Carl Gafford, Mark Gruenwald and the senior-most members of the club, Roy Thomas and E. Nelson Bridwell. What they all have in common is that they signed their real names to their missives.
I don’t know if Keith GRIFFIN is Keith Giffen; if he’s out there reading this, maybe he can let me know.
How many comic books of Hulk will be released?
— Al Hammer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As many as people will buy!
I presume you are talking about comic book adaptations of the upcoming movie, so I’d say there will be one and it will be delivered in as many different formats as Marvel thinks it can make a profit on.
Who came up for the expression “‘Nuff Said”? Is it short for enough said?
— Bob Dobalena
P.S. Yes I’m a Monkees fan; I take it you bought “Headquarters”?
It was probably Stan Lee who first used it back in the 60s and it is indeed short for “Enough said.”
And, yes, I do own a copy of The Monkees’ third album.
Who really was T. M. Maple, the 80s’ most prolific letter hack?
— Al Freeman (email@example.com)
Despite speculation that T.M. (short for “The Mad”) Maple was going to turn out to be a prominent artist or writer in the business, he was just a very prolific Canadian comic book fan. I’m pretty sure that at one point he revealed his real name, but he’ll always be remembered among readers by his sobriquet.
Why is blood so often colored pink or purple in comics? Is it a legal thing or a sales/editorial thing? Has this changed in recent years?
I’ve asked you this before, but maybe I missed your answer.
— Greg Plantamura (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It certainly isn’t a legal thing, though the Comics Code did prohibit showing blood and gore. The choice of colors in older books had a lot to do with the limited palette colorists had to choose from. These days, however, they can pick different shades of red for each person’s blood if they choose to.
By the way, all the questions I receive are kept in a file until I use them. Sometimes the answers are easy and they turn up in a column quickly; other times there is research involved and they wait till I have time to track down the answer. And sometimes I will hold a question or two till I have a number of them that fit a theme. You just have to read the column every week to see if yours gets answered.
I have something to add to Superman’s Clark Kent disguise. I remember reading in a Superboy story once that along with the glasses, the hair combed back, and the higher voice, Superboy had one more thing: Because of his powers, he could compress his spine to make Clark look much shorter than Superboy.
— Blue Burke (SCStingRays2002@yahoo.com)
Ah, yes, how could we have forgotten the super-spine-crunching power?
In response to a previous observation: Could it be that Ambush Bug recognized the Clark Kent/Superman connection because (I’m not sure this is “canon”) he is the only character to recognize that he exists in a comic and is therefore immune the artifice of “secret identities”? Interesting to read (elsewhere) that Grant Morrison wants to create a comic that brings “sentience” to the DCU. For all the weird and wonderful talent coming from across the pond, to my mind, nothing beats SON OF AMBUSH BUG for wacky deconstructionism and obliteration of the fourth wall.
— Jake (email@example.com)
As a side note, I should point out that in the Zoot Sputnik stories that ran as a back-up in ‘MAZING MAN, we had Zoot’s dog get zapped in one story and then realize in succeeding adventures that he was in a comic strip because there was no continuity among them: in one issue Zoot was a spaceman, in another he was a cowboy, and in a third he was a federal lawman.
I noticed in your “The Wonderful World of Color” column you failed to answer perhaps the most important question: “Is that because the industry has begun considering the color artists more important?” Why?
— David Scott (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Why does the industry consider colorists more important than letterers? Or why did I fail to answer the question?
Color has become more important just as the art has become more important than the story. This is due most likely to the changing tastes of the readership. And with 16 million colors (instead of the old 64) to choose from, colorists have many more decisions to make.
As to why I failed to answer the question, I was waxing nostalgic off on a tangent and forgot about it.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR DEPARTMENT:
On Saturday, May 10th I’ll be one of the MANY guests at the Mighty Mini-Con in Herkimer, NY and I will be hosting the “Trivia, Trivia, Trivia” contest. Check out the website (http://www.mightyminicon.com/) and make plans to be there.
THE “HUNH?!?” DEPARTMENT:
And then there are some questions that just leave me scratching my head…
How do comic books relate to different type of religion?
— Yana (email@example.com)
Do you know if they make a comic book from morning glory, blue bear, more precisely. Get back to me. Thanks!!
— Alice (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Have you all made any die-cast metal figures before?
— Bob (bootylicious@yahoo3827)
Is there a website that has a picture of Downwind Jaxon?
— Leslie A. Krieger (email@example.com)
How much would an ounce of silver cost?
What is your favorite pop-up ad killing software?
— Paul Ewert (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Do you have or know where I can get a Hello Kitty Window Dangler? Please let me know where I can get one and how much they are.
— Lisa (email@example.com)
In “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” a fiberglass replica of a classic Ford Fairlane is blown up. What’s the model year?
— Penny PMC1999@aol.com
Come on back again next week for more questions and answers (and maybe a few more head-scratchers). Meantime, don’t forget to check out my daily Anything Goes Trivia at www.worldfamouscomics.com/trivia.