Meet Phil Seuling

In 1977, an unsuspecting television audience got to meet a smiling comics dealer from Brooklyn. Phil Seuling was a guest on The Mike Douglas Show, joined onstage by Jamie Farr of M*A*S*H. At that time, Seuling had a growing business, acting as a middleman between publishers and a burgeoning network of comics specialty shops. In writing my book, I watched this YouTube video dozens of times, trying to get a better sense of this impetuous entrepreneur. He was in many ways the father of comics’ direct market.

The other guests included William Westmoreland, who had commanded the U.S. forces in Vietnam; and Fabian, the singer, actor, and former teen idol. It epitomized the late 1970s almost to the point of parody.

Near the end of his TV appearance, Seuling says he’s brought a special guest, a superhero. Instead of Spider-Man or Batman, this hero is Red Sonja, played by Wendy Pini, who would go on to co-create Elfquest, a self-published comic book that helped to pave the way for other creators who wanted to work outside of the major publishers.

Notice, as the show cuts to commercial, that Farr says this about Pini: “Now that’s a superhero.”

“The audience loved it,” Wendy Pini told me. “But we heard, later on, that Mike Douglas
was quite upset by my racy costume, which didn’t fit in with the tone of his show. C’est la vie.”

Her husband and business partner, Richard Pini, was in the audience, and we can see this video today because decades later he obtained a copy and uploaded it. Richard and Wendy were key players in the development of the direct market, and I am grateful for all the time and help they have given me.

WPRP early 1

Wendy and Richard Pini

Hat tip to the indispensable Mark Evanier wrote about Seuling and the Pinis in 2004, and then re-posted it in 2015 with a link to the video, which is how I found it.

Eisner-winner Comicazi

When I went to Boston last year, I had two stops on my schedule: Comicopia and The Million Year Picnic. At both places, employees spoke highly of another shop in town: Comicazi.

So I made time to visit Comicazi that day, taking the Red Line train to Davis Square in Somerville. The store was new to me, but has a much larger profile today thanks to being selected last month for the Spirit of Retailing prize at the Eisner awards.

Comicazi helped to broaden my understanding of the comics market for my book. The store has a giant selection of games and vintage toys, and it has a fun, welcoming vibe. Its co-owners (Robert Howard was the one I interviewed that day) have developed an audience with in-store clubs and events. But all of those other things rest on a foundation of selling comics and books. I had never seen this mix of products done this way.

Comicazi dukes

Dukes of Hazzard action figures exist. For reasons unclear to me, Uncle Jesse is more expensive than the rest.

local art

A bookcase for comics by local artists is right next to those by major publishers.

the ladies.jpg

This display is near the front door, with some titles marked to be noticed by women shoppers. And yes, “The ladies of Comicazi” is a weird turn of phrase.

Completely compleat: a visit to DreamHaven Books

I’ve been traveling and made a visit to to DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis, one of my favorite comic shops. Greg Ketter, the store’s owner, was one of the key sources for my book. His store has had several names and addresses, and even was closed for a while, but is very much alive today.compleat

I could spend days in a store like DreamHaven, with stacks upon stacks of great and sometimes random stuff.

I took many photos, including one of an ad from the early 1980s when the store was called the Compleat Enchanter.

Underneath the flier, you can see part of the cover for one of my purchases from that day, an old issue of the Jonny Quest series from Comico, which a cover and interior by Doug Wildey. Doug Wildey!

DreamHaven’s current address is 2301 E. 38th St., Minneapolis. And Greg is there behind the counter most days.

Greg Ketter.JPG

Greg Ketter

I have an abundance of nostalgia for the DreamHaven location that used to be in the Dinkytown neighborhood. When I was in college in the late-1990s, I would go there to stock up on all the things that weren’t available at my main shop. That is where I bought my first issues of Palookaville, Eightball and Acme Novelty Gallery.

DreamHaven was, and remains, a shop that has reason to be pretentious but is utterly unpretentious.

A few more images from my visit:

Great Red Dragon

The Great Red Dragon from Bone.

Great Gifts

Everything about this picture is great.

Tintin

In my travels, I have learned that this Tintin book display is a sign of a store that has a well-stocked children’s section, and impeccable taste.

Announcing COMIC SHOP: THE RETAIL MAVERICKS WHO GAVE US A NEW GEEK CULTURE; Coming in October from Swallow Press/Ohio University Press

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Award-winning journalist Dan Gearino takes a revealing look at comics’ direct market in COMIC SHOP: THE RETAIL MAVERICKS WHO GAVE US A NEW GEEK CULTURE, coming in October from Swallow Press, the trade imprint of Ohio University Press. The foreword is by Tom Spurgeon, editor of ComicsReporter.com and an Eisner Award winner.

Phil Seuling

Phil Seuling photo by Mike Zeck

COMIC SHOP is based on more than one hundred interviews, including innovative retailers such as Peter Birkemoe at The Beguiling in Toronto; Diamond Comic Distributors’ founder and owner Steve Geppi; and comics creators such as Richard and Wendy Pini, Mike Zeck, Jeff Smith and Bryan Lee O’Malley.

The tale begins in the 1960s, with a nascent fan culture that led to the opening of comic book specialty shops. From this start, a high school English teacher from Brooklyn named Phil Seuling came up with a new way to supply the shops with comics. His innovation in 1973 was a business model that has come to be called the direct market and survives to this day, despite long odds, booms and busts.

 

“There is no other business quite like a comic shop, with a nausea-inducing degree of difficulty and an array of colorful characters,” said Gearino. “The origin of the direct market is a story of creative people who turned passion into a business.”

Gearino, a business reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, shows how the comic shop business model turned out to be a boon for many cartoonists, helping up-and-coming creators find their audiences.

Laughing Ogre

The crew at The Laughing Ogre includes Lauren McCallister and Gib Bickel.

The book explores the present-day landscape by spending a year with some of the best comic shops in the United States and Canada, with a spotlight on The Laughing Ogre in Columbus. The year turns out to be a rough one, covering parts of 2015 and 2016, when major publishers Marvel and DC went into a sales swoon, only for DC to recover with its “Rebirth” event. While big publishers lost ground in many shops, the gap largely was filled by new readers and smaller companies, with women and younger readers rising in visibility.

Challengers small

Challengers Comics and Conversation in Chicago

Also included are profiles of 40 notable shops in the United States and Canada, showing the many flavors of an iconoclastic business.


ADVANCE PRAISE:

“Dan Gearino captures the genie in the bottle. He’s gathered together the players and the circumstances to reveal how a generation of entrepreneurs saved an entire industry and changed the very way people discover, buy, read, collect, and even think about comic books.” —Bud Plant

“If America’s castle on a hill rests on a foundation of how we buy and sell things, Dan Gearino shows us what’s in the basement.” —Tom Spurgeon, from his foreword

COMIC SHOP is ~264 pages hardcover with 75 illustrations. Retail price: $26.95
For more information, please contact Samara Rafert, rafert@ohio.edu.

CONTACT:
Samara Rafert, promotions and exhibits manager

(740) 593-1160

rafert@ohio.edu

OhioSwallow.com

Yes, Moebius trading cards exist

Among the many treasures I found at Floating World Comics in Portland was a box, right next to the cash register, with packs of Moebius trading cards. I asked owner Jason Leivian about them and he just laughed. I bought two packs.

I opened one of the foil-wrapped packs and found ten cards worth of delightful weirdness, with scans of Moebius’ artwork on one side, and a brief description of the subject on the back.

Floating World 2.jpg

Jason Leivian behind the counter at Floating World Comics. Moebius cards can be seen in the lower right corner. Photo by me.

This is all real. We live in a world in which a trading card company — Comic Images of New Jersey — released a set of about a hundred Moebius cards in 1993. And now, more than two decades later, a comic shop owner in Oregon had a box of them for sale.

Jean Giraud, the artist best known by the pen name Moebius, passed away in 2012 (Kim Thompson wrote this touching and expansive obituary for TCJ.com.).

Here’s a sample of what was in the pack I opened (I still can’t bring myself to open the second one.):

Moebius2.jpg

All images TM and copyright Moebius

Here is what was on the back of the card:

28. THE CONTROLLER

One of the directors of the ARMJOURTH secret police, he was the first to spot SAMUEL MOHAD and OKANIA on the splendid steam-powered train.

APPEARANCES: The Airtight Garage (1976-79) (in Moebius 3)

Moebius3.jpg

68: THE LIPPONS

The Lippons were small, peace-loving winged creatures who lived on Barascalpoe, and were hunted by men until they turned the tables.

APPEARANCES: Christmas on Lipponia (1977) (in Moebius 4)

The image at the top of this post is one I didn’t get in my pack, but wish I had. This is, of course, the artist himself:

Moebius

In the history of comics and trading cards, the early 1990s were a time of ridiculous excess that often was forgiven by a market overheated with collectors who saw just about every new thing as an investment opportunity. By 1993, when Moebius trading cards made their debut, the bust was just arriving.

I first encountered Moebius in Marvel’s Epic Comics reprints of The Airtight Garage. I loved the pictures, but didn’t know what to make of the meandering storytelling.

I didn’t get hooked on Moebius’ work until after college, starting with Blueberry, the Western serial he did with writer Jean-Michel Charlier, and then with The Incal, the gobsmacking sci-fi masterpiece he did with Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Dark Horse Comics has done the English-speaking world a great favor with its relatively new reprint series of Moebius’ work, saving fans from overpaying for out-of-print editions. Now, if only we can get the Blueberry material back in print in English.

Note: I got the images above from the Flickr page of jejger, where you can see scans of the whole card set.

A tale of cockroaches

In an interview for my book, Joe Field told me a version of a saying he’s had for years, that comic shops are “the cockroaches of pop culture.” Some background on Joe: He came up with the idea for Free Comic Book Day, and is one of the deans of comics retail. He owns Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, California.

IMG_1388 Flying Colors

Joe Field

His quote to me was, “We are the cockroaches of pop culture. We will survive a nuclear fallout.” I told him this week that I was planning to use this as an epigraph, and asked if he could give me some background on it.

Here’s what he said (via email):

Pretty sure the first time I was quoted as saying that cockroach line was in the San Francisco Chronicle [Free Comic Book Day] interview from three years ago, although I’m sure I was using that among peers for sometime prior to that.

The backstory to that quote is this: Over my 30 years in this business, there have been supposedly cataclysmic events that would lead to the complete shutdown of comic specialty shops. Video games, internet, iPhones, movies, the mega-corporations taking over the largest publishers — essentially the takeover of comics culture by others. But we’ve always been able to pull through and get stronger in the process. We may not be as well-heeled as other facets of this industry, but we’re nimble and can turn on a dime. That’s been an essential part of our survival in down times and our thriving in good times.

In the battle of metaphors, that’s pretty good.

The back-issue wall at Chicago Comics, filled with classics and Deadpool. I like this image so much that I’m sure I will repurpose it with a ridiculous frequency.