Jim Shooter, Barry Kaplan, and Ed Shukin

The past dozen, or so, of my columns have related my experiences during that wonderful summer of 1979, when a congruence of auspicious circumstances allowed for the sudden blossoming of what eventually became the comics specialty market that we know today. My original intention with this series of columns was for it to quickly become a hard-hitting condemnation of certain individuals and entities for their dismal contributions to the present state of comics retailing. As I have wandered about in prose during the past few months, however, revitalizing the vibrant landscape of memories that I hold so dear from that wondrous period of time, I have come to realize that there is a far more important history to be preserved. While my ascribing my personal interpretation of praise and blame for the current state of the comics market might be somewhat emotionally cathartic for me, your feedback has made me understand that simply capturing the various perspectives of the individuals who shaped that miraculous time is actually far more important. This has led me to begin contacting the many people with whom I interacted during those heady days when all the doors of the world suddenly seemed open to us. Telling their stories, and providing their perspectives (as opposed to just mine...) will become the main focus of this column for the next few months.

I bring this change of direction in my writing to your attention because I know that many of the surviving members of the 1979-1983 Direct Distribution period sometimes read this column. For many of them, I have no current contact information. If you were involved in comics distribution during that early period, please write to me at chuck@milehighcomics.com, so that I can arrange an interview. I will work hard to incorporate at least some of your memories into this historical survey.

Returning to the subject at hand, in last week's column I wrote about the meeting I arranged at the 1979 San Diego Comics Convention at which three Marvel executives (Jim Shooter, Barry Kaplan, and Ed Shukin) met with comics retailers for the first time. If there was one success I can point to from that first meeting it was the sudden recognition by Shukin and Kaplan that all comics retailers were not just fanboys who didn't have the skills to find another job. I was especially pleased by the informed level of questioning that allowed the retailers to keep the Marvel team stepping lightly to provide reasonable answers. Marvel Marketing VP Ed Shukin warmed to the questions about Marvel's intended improvements in their services provided to comics retailers so enthusiastically that I recall Jim Shooter being quite concerned that Ed had made far too many promises that Marvel President Jim Galton would never allow him to keep.

As things turned out, however, Shooter's fears proved unnecessary. For whatever reasons, that particular historic meeting seems to have solidified the direction in which Marvel ultimately headed. While many of Shukin's promises took up to three years to materialize, Ed did eventually lead the way in building a marketing team focused on comics shops at Marvel that provided the critical publisher support for the growth of comics shops. While the Direct Market sales department was nominally under Ed Shukin's dominion, throughout this incredibly important period of time Jim Shooter was the primary catalyst for change. As I've mentioned in earlier installments of this series, Shooter was the biggest cheerleader for comics specialty retailers who has ever been in a position of significant power at any of the comics publishers. Without his foresight, and ability to sway Jim Galton, darn little of what eventually became nearly a billion-dollar business would ever have been allowed to exist.

Two other individuals at Marvel also made significant contributions to the growth of Marvel's involvement with the Direct Market during 1979. The first was Barry Kaplan, who I referred to as Marvel's financial "peckerhead" in last week's column. You may have gotten the impression from the not-so-kind implications of Barry's informal title that he could be a not-so-nice person. Duh. Have you ever met a corporate CFO who is beloved by the troops? Barry's job was to watch the pennies at Marvel, and he took his job very seriously. Because he was so good at his job, he had earned Jim Galton's complete trust. That meant he could approve or kill damn near any upcoming Marvel project or idea. Even though I had only been involved with Marvel for a few weeks in the summer of 1979, I was already aware of Barry's power. That's why I was so pleased when he arrived in Jim Galton's stead to meet with the comics retailers in San Diego. I believe that the good impression that we made at that meeting ultimately led Barry to cautiously greenlight many of Shukin and Shooter's plans for the Direct Market. Barry still shot down many other good ideas in staff meetings, but he was certainly not totally opposed to exploring what he perceived of as being auspicious opportunities for sales growth within the comics specialty market.

The other Marvel staff member present at that 1979 San Diego meeting was Mike Friedrich, the former publisher of Star*Reach. After I turned down the job that Ed Shukin offered me to set up Marvel's marketing division focused at comics retailers, Ed contacted Mike by letter, and they met for the first time at that convention. After his interview, Mike was offered the job by Ed, and he took it. That turned out to be yet another wonderful stroke of luck for the future of comics retailing.

To be continued...

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Attn: Chuck Rozanski
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Denver, CO 80221

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