Evolution of the
Last week, I provided you with a rationale for why I could still admire and respect DC President Paul Levitz, even though he has on occasion implemented policy on behalf of DC that I felt quite strongly was to the detriment of the growth of the Direct Market. In today's column I will provide you with details on the first actions that Paul undertook to tip the competitive scales of the comics market into DC's favor.
I'll begin by relating a brief meeting that I had with Paul at a Phil Seuling Philadelphia convention during the late-1970's. At that time, Paul was rapidly climbing the ladder within the DC editorial department, and I had just discovered Edgar Church's accumulation of high-grade Golden Age comics. Paul came up to my table at the convention, and struck up a conversation with me about the merits of DC's editorial content. He was so enthusiastic that he went so far as to brashly predict that DC would soon regain the lead in comics sales that it had lost to Marvel in the early 1970's. In a moment of remarkable stupidity, I derided Paul's prediction, and flatly stated that DC would never catch up with Marvel. In part I held this strong opinion because I was a dyed-in-the-wool Marvel fanboy, but also because my experiences as a comics seller had shown me that the current base of comics fans was much more inclined to purchase Marvel books. Suffice it to say, Paul was not pleased with my perspectives.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm now trying to convince DC management (of which Paul is now an integral part) to open up their distribution of comics in the Direct market under similar terms as those that Marvel initiated in the summer of 1979. It should come as no surprise that my suggestions were met with resistance and delay. After a couple more years, this continual delay on DC's part to establish new trade terms for distributors ultimately led to the formation of the distributors organization, IADD, in the summer of 1981.
DC finally revealed their hand on Labor Day weekend, 1981. I'll never forget that particular point in time, as the World Science Fiction Convention was being held in Denver, and fans and dealers flew in from all over the world. I was operating a block of 20 tables at the convention. In addition, DC made the convention the place where they agreed to finally tell the distributors what their new trade terms would be within the Direct Market. As a result, Nanette and I ended up hosting nearly a dozen guests at our home the evening before the convention began. Included were representatives of several of the Direct Market distributors in business at that time. Imagine a sea of sleeping bags in our living room. It was quite an evening...
We were all in for a big surprise the next day. When we all gathered to meet with DC, Paul Levitz announced that there would be no group meeting. He told us that the decision had been made by DC to only meet privately with the individual distributors to announce who had been "selected" by DC to be a part of their new distribution community. Put another way, DC made the decision to allow certain members of IADD to purchase from them, while relegating others into the status of being second-class distributors. This came as quite a shock to those of us (including my wife, Nanette) who suddenly found themselves on the outside of a locked glass door, looking in. In effect, DC passed a death sentence that day on the half of the distributors who were not allowed to purchase DC products. It took a while, but they all ultimately died.
From this point onward, my columns are going to focused on my interpretations of DC's rationale for this particular decision. To be completely forthcoming, I've gone out of my way to make clear that my relations with Paul Levitz were strained almost from the beginning. I have little doubt that this was one contributing factor for why Nanette's company was excluded from the new exclusive club of DC distributors. Personal antipathy toward me was most certainly not the only reason, however, why DC management chose to make it corporate policy to exclude certain distributors from purchasing their products. In the end, I beleive that it all came down to Paul wanting to make his prediction of regaining the market share lead from Marvel come true. Nanette's company was ultimately just a minor expendable pawn, in what turned out to be a far greater battle.
To be continued...
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