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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #10!

This is the tenth in a series of examinations of comic book urban legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous nine.

Let’s begin!


COMIC URBAN LEGEND: DC dictated the format of Marvel comics for more than a decade.

STATUS: True

In the late 1950s, publisher Martin Goodman was expanding Atlas/Marvel’s place in the marketplace. However, they ran into a MAJOR problem in 1957.

They had signed a distribution agreement with American News Company.

However, due to some problems of their own, ANC ceased to distribute comics in Fall 1957!

Suddenly, Marvel was facing a MAJOR problem! They couldn’t publish any comics!

This was, suffice to say, a major blow.

Desperate to get the books back on to the market before too much valuable time had passed, Marvel signed a deal with Independent News, with was a part of the same company as DC Comics!!

Yes, that is right, Marvel was being distributed by the enemy!

Part of the onerous deal was that Marvel could not publish more than eight comics a month (since their comics were all bi-monthlies at the time, this worked out to sixteen titles total, but by the time the superhero boom made the amount of a titles a real problem, Marvel had already finagled themselves to the point where they could have about six monthlies, with about ten comics that they would plug into the schedule at various times).

This became a major problem when they decided to get into superheroes in the early 60s, as they had to slowly phase out their other titles and convert those titles into superhero titles.

Not an easy feat to achieve, certainly.

In addition, this was why Marvel had so many anthologies. They WANTED to have more titles, but they were not ALLOWED to!

The original deal was modified over the years to allow for more titles, and finally, in 1968, Marvel was a big enough sales success (and DC was in a major sales slump) that they were able to negotiate their way out of the deal entirely, allowing themselves to sign with Curtis Distribution.

You may have noticed that 1968 saw the end of Tales of Suspense and Tales of Astonish.

That was because finally, Marvel was completely free to make title decisions fully on their own!

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Thunderstrike was outselling Thor and Avengers combined when it was cancelled.

STATUS: As far as I can tell, False

Courtesy of the always fun to read, Life of Reilly (chronicling the Clone Saga in excrutiating detail), Tom DeFalco says,

Since I had access to the actual sales during that period, I can attest to the fact that at the time it was canceled THUNDERSTRIKE was actually selling more copies than both THOR and AVENGERS combined. Why were profitable titles like THUNDERSTRIKE, WAR MACHINE and all the 2099 books cancelled? The answer I was given was that the guy in charge of marketing had decided that these additional titles were hurting the core company franchises. He believed that the sales on THOR would go up as soon as THUNDERSTRIKE was cancelled, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN would increase with SPIDER-MAN 2099 gone. Nice theory…but I still think it was nonsense.

And this is not a one-time deal, as I have seen DeFalco make this same claim in more than one interview.

Now, is it true?

On the one hand, I totally believe DeFalco in that sales very well may not have been the reason why Thunderstrike was cancelled.

Quite often, titles are cancelled when they ARE still profitable for the company, for all sorts of various reasons (in fact, one non-sales driven cancellation in particular is going to be fodder for a future bit).

So I believe DeFalco there.

But the reader’s initial response when seeing a statement like that, “How could Thunderstrike outsell both Avengers and Thor COMBINED?” is, as far as I can tell, on the money. It does not appear as though it did sell more than those two books combined.

Now I, of course, cannot say what the official sales were. I am sure DeFalco, as Editor in Chief, was privy to many sales figures I could never see, but I COULD see the figures released by the distribution companies.

According to the sales figures of THEM, in January 1995, months before the cancellation of Thunderstrike was announced, Avengers was ranked a disappointing 74th overall.

Thor? An even worse 96th.

Thunderstrike? 144.

A few months later, Avengers was #70, Thor #98 and Thunderstrike #139.

So I just cannot see how Thunderstrike possibly, even presuming these rankings aren’t TOTALLY accurate, how could a book ranked 144 outsell two books, ranked 74 and 96?!

So I am going to have to say that I think that Mr. DeFalco’s claims are mistaken.

Although, again, clearly, DeFalco has access to figures I do not – so I am certainly open to the possibility that I am mistaken here.

COMIC URBAN LEGEND: Charlton printed its comics using a cereal box press.

STATUS: True

Charlton Comics was the home of such famous heroes as Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Nightshade and The Question (otherwords, the cast of Watchmen!).

It was also quite a unique operation, basically in how it managed to avoid spending much money on comics.

First of all, it did not pay its creators a great deal. They were generally on the low end of pay rates (but in return, their creators generally had a lot more freedom. Ditko, in particular, cited this reason as why he preferred working for Charlton over Marvel, despite being paid less).

In addition, rather than being in New York City like most publishers, they were headquartered in Derby, Connecticut.

Finally, they printed their own comics on site, and yes, the press that they used was first used to cut cereal boxes!!!

This very box press, which was used when the company formed in 1931, was used right until the company folded for good in 1986.

If you have any Charlton Comics from the late 70s or early 80s, take a look at them – the system did not hold up particularly well!!

Well, that’s it for me this week!

Feel free to tell me some urban legends you have heard, and I will try to confirm or deny them!

6 Comments

I got Charlton Bullseye as a back issue a few weeks ago. So I never really looked to see if how bad it was printing wise.

Tom DeFalco was an ok EIC. Its just that he put himself on books like Spiderman , FF and others. And its clear his talent level wasn’t where it was at to do that. Its a lot like someone backstage in wrestling who controls and books the product , then trots themselves out there in big storylines when its clear he shouldn’t be there. ( cough..Vince Russo)

I liked DeFalco’s FF run. I liked how he killed Doom and Reed Richards. How he brought Scott Lang and his daughter into that series. But the whole storyline lasted too long and had no payoff. 2 of the biggest characters in Marvel return in a ” nothing ” issue.

I can see how many didn’t buy FF for DeFalco’s work. Many call it a huge step down from Byrne. Wizard when they had balls would take shots at it on a near monthly basis.

Does anyone know where in Derby the Charlton Headquarters was? I’d like to go by the old builfing if it’s still there…

In regards to Defalco, at the time, wasn’t Marvel doing direct distribution? Meaning that while the distribution numbers may have ranked the comics at a certain level, they did not take into account the numbers that Marvel was selling through in house distribution?

Not sure how all that works, so just offering it up.

The Life of Reilly link is dead, or missing, or something. The website certainly isn’t useful any more.

Yeah, it’s dead now.

This installment of the column has the new site for the Life of Reilly.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2008/09/25/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-174/

Perhaps DeFalco is confusing the end of Thunderstrike with earlier in the run when he was still EiC?

Also if I remember the timeline correctly, the Marvel self-distribution began in about mid 1995 by which time the decision to axe Thunderstrike had already been taken and the title was serving out its final few issues.

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