Sunday, March 2, 2014

Anticipation, Distribution, Frustration

Doug: I'd been considering writing this post for a few days, when back on Monday in our review of Captain America #170 our buddy Tom made the following comment:
Loved this storyline and loved the cliffhangers. About six months prior to this issue, continued stories made me crazy trying to figure out when the next issue was coming. Once I figured out the distribution schedule, I was usually at the local convenience store spinner racks the same day the next issue came out. And on a good day I had to go and kindly ask the clerk if he would PLEASE come out and unbundle the comics. Great memories.
 David B. followed with:

I recall a few Tuesday mornings when the grumpy small-town, local 'gift shop' guy still had the bundled comics on his countertop.

I sheepishly asked him whether he'd go ahead and open 'em up.

And he'd always give me that snarky stare like either I was crazy, or I owed him something for doing that small favor.

You'd think this guy would gladly take regular income from a kid for these 'funny books', even it it was a dollar or two.

Incidentally, this store was a small storefront-type place, primarily dusty old glass and tacky antique art sculptures there, with dingy old toy stock on the back shevles. It pains me that there were some ultra-cool '60s GI Joe MIB sets among the cheap toys sitting there, waiting to be bought.
Doug: The cover I chose was one of only two issues of the All-New, All-Different X-Men that I missed between #100 and #130, when I quit collecting during my high school years. How about that? The debut of Alpha Flight, and I can't find the stinkin' main battle issue! Of course, my best story always remains my mom running by a porn shop where I was able to secure Avengers #161. That one saved me from the crux of today's conversation!

Doug: Today let's discuss moments like those mentioned above, when you can recall specific instances of waiting at the spinner rack for the new weeks' books. Better yet, discuss those times when your reading pleasure of a particular storyline was interrupted by the spotty distribution so many of us knew well back in the 1970s. What's a book -- title and issue number -- that you didn't get until years later? Of course in our "golden age of comics reprints" that Karen loves to praise, it's probably a non-issue. But today's the day to let that anger and bewilderment from over 30 years ago flow -- get it out!


Anonymous said...

My father was Army, Finance Corp. On many a weekend growing up, a young me would accompany him to base. Many of the GIs would give me comics to read while I was there. Mostly DC, a lot of Kamandi, the stuff I would see on Super Friends. As I got older, Spider-Man was on The Electric Company. Flash forward to eight year old me, summer of '73. The local U-Totem and a spinner rack full of comics. The first one I purchased on my own was Amazing Spider-Man 121. Took it home and read it, again and again and......again. I would go back during the summer to the comic rack. Same stuff, week after week. The next Spider-Man I found was guessed it, 123. A Man Called Cage. That was pretty typical for me. I would revisit that rack often during the next school year. I can't explain why the store did what it did. Maybe they only put out comics when they felt like it or room opened up or whatever. I have 121, 123, 125. But October meant birthday, birthday meant bike (10 speed), bike meant access to stores farther away. 7-11s and Circle Ks. And no more missed comics. No longer was I at the mercy of my local U-Totem. Was there only one U-Totem in my whole town? I honestly don't remember another one? Should I have written more of this stuff down? Kept a journal? Why am I still typing? Is any body still reading this?

I have yet to go back and purchase Amazing Spider-Man 122. I've read it in reprints. Maybe I just feel it's something I'm not supposed to own.

The Prowler (now just a collector of dust and dust by products).

Anonymous said...

I used to miss comics all the time, but I'm not sure if it was the distribution or my own buying habits. I live in a VERY small town (around 700 or 800 people) and used to buy my comics at the drugstore. I seem to remember them having a pretty good selection when I was a kid (lots of Marvel/DC and even some Gold Key and Charlton stuff, I think), so maybe the reason I missed so many was my fault.

The only issue that specifically comes to mind is Marvel Tales #116 reprinting Spidey's fight against Grizzly and the Jackal (from Amazing #139); Peter Parker is captured at the end of the issue, but I missed Marvel Tales #117, so it was years before I found out how he escaped!

Mike W.

Doc Savage said...

I never even realized comics were monthly ( or bimonthly, depending) when I was a kid getting them off spinner racks. Sometimes there'd be 3 sequential issues of the same comic buried in there, sometimes months would pass before you'd see a title again and there would be skipped issues, and sometimes I wouldn't EVER see a title a second time. I wasn't too upset when I'd get part two of a story because back then they would synopsize part one for you...but it was very frustrating to buy a comic book, sit down and read it, and discover there is no end and then never know when/if you'd ever see the second part show up at the convenience store. To this day I prefer a story be complete in one issue. I don't mind some carry-over but I still believe a good writer can wrap up the main plot in 20-odd pages. "Kids' comics" do it all the time. Of course for some reason they always seemed to have a higher level of quality control than super hero comics.

Fred W. Hill said...

In my Bronze Age collecting years I missed quite a few key issues due to spotty distribution, such as, oh, Avengers 123, after the cliffhanger in which the Avengers and renegade members of Zodiac are trapped in a warehouse which turns out to be a rocket heading for the stars! Ok, that was wildly stupid and in the next issue I found they were all back on the ground and in shock as Libra had just announced he was Mantis' father. Worse, for me, were the continuations of stories from the main mag into the Giant-Size mags -- the first time, I did find it on the spinners, but I couldn't afford it! The next two times I simply couldn't find them. Meanwhile, over in Captain America & the Falcon, I got the entire Secret Empire story and the first couple of Cap quits issues, but then I missed 178, the conclusion of the Lucifer story, as well as 181 & 182, catching Steve Rogers take on the Nomad identity, but missing his rematch with the new Viper and her crew and Nomad finding Roscoe crucified by the Red Skull. Of course, I eventually did get those and many other missed mags, about a decade later.

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, this was the whole reason I almost always sought done-in-one issues early in my comics reading career.
Anyway, Doug, I have a story similar to yours: I found a leftover copy of X-men #118 on the spinner rack at about the same time as your Holy Grail, #121 was on sale. So there was no chance of finding the concluding issue, and by the time I discovered comic book shops and back-order catalogs, back issues of X-men were way too pricey for me. So I only read that second part almost 30 years later, when I bought the first 2 volumes of X-men Essentials.

Doc Savage said...

I miss spinner racks and the wheel of fortune atmosphere of those days when you never knew what you'd find. That's how I got turned onto lesser-knowns like Dr. Solar! Still remember and have my Whitman different from Marvel and DC!

I used to buy based largely on covers...had a lot of Flash and Green Lantern that I wish I hadn't given away. Still trying to replace them one bargain bin issue at a timr!

Fred W. Hill said...

Funny, although I also hated missing the conclusion to a continued storyline, I usually got pretty bored with done-in-one comics, except by the very rare exceptionally good writers or as a once in a while interlude between longer stories. Maybe it was because too often they struck me as overly formulaic and therefore dull. Certainly, after having read reprints of most of the first 30 issues of the FF, the many repeated done-in-one appearances of Dr. Doom were becoming tiresome. Dr. Doom became much more interesting as a threat when his appearances were scarcer and in longer stories. Neil Gaimen did a great job of balancing long story arcs with done-in-ones on the Sandman.

Comicsfan said...

I have a not-so-fond memory of the clerk of a convenience store, clearly exasperated with me, who took it upon herself to walk over to the spinner rack and then impatiently remind me that "Every day, you come in here and check for new comic books..." She then proceeded to give me a rundown of the shipping schedule in order to finally be rid of my daily visits. As it turned out, she was--because without meaning to, she taught me the value of checking out other stores, where I sometimes found greater selections as well as books that this one had missed. Realizing that one store isn't the only game in town is a great lesson to learn at an early age, whatever the product you're interested in. (Though sometimes the way you're taught that lesson can chafe!)

J.A. Morris said...

I started buying comics in the early 70s,picking up the occasional random issue, didn't start collecting until the end of the decade.

The worst case of a lost issue I can think of was Rom #18. The previous issue featured a guest appearance of the X-men. The last page featured the X-men preparing to attack Rom (thinking he was a villain), and you better believe I was excited about reading that story the next month. So I went to 7-11 a few times in the next month. They didn't have it. Same thing with my neighborhood mom & pop grocer.

Of course the next issue I found was #19. When it opened, Rom was in limbo, Kitty accidentally zapped him with the neutralizer.

I visited the comics shops, didn't find it. I even went to a shop in Washington,DC that had back issues. The only copy they had looked like it had been folded into someone's back pocket & rolled & run over by a car. I should've just bought it to read, but I was a "collector" by then. Before long I just forgot about the issue.

I think it took me another 5 years to get a copy. It wasn't the best story ever, but it still felt cheated out of an X-men-Rom duel!

William Preston said...

Wow. I'd forgotten about having to ask the woman at the counter in my hometown (Newtown, Pa.) if I could please take comics from the bundle. The new ones came on Tuesday?

But that was once I was a real collector/addict.

As a kid, I was a victim of clueless and circumstance. I had the first part of the Legion story in which they fled into the past to escape Mordru. (I only read the second part years later, online . . . and it kind of sucked). In middle school, a friend gave me issue 100 of the Justice League. I never did see the conclusion in 101.

I did start following Batman, but, still, I didn't know the schedule; I would just accompany my mother to the store and buy something I liked. In this way, I bought (and still have), Batman 242, 243 and 245 . . . but missed the third part of the R'as al-Ghul epic!

As an older middle-schooler and high school collector, I had a lot of places to check for issues beyond my hometown. I used to go to Philly a lot. Even so, I missed issue 3 of Howard the Duck, which had a really low print run, and only found it later at a comic convention.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Fred on this one- one and done stories can vary greatly in quality depending on how they are plotted.

Doug, you sure know what issues to skip! The debut of John Byrne's favourite Canadian super team was a real eye opener. The best part was Nightcrawler's cheeky upside down ambush kiss on Aurora as she was chasing him. That, and Wolvie's 'miracle' escape from a supposedly escape proof van at the end of that story.

Hmm ..... down here in T & T comics were readily available; of course, being a young kid I didn't appreciate fully at that time the vagaries of comics distribution. I did realize that sometimes comics series were delivered a few months late or cancelled outright, so I never paid attention to how soon I got them.

- Mike 'my lunch is behind schedule' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

William Preston, just to save you a possible disappointment... the story in JLA 100 was the first installment of a three-part story. So if you ever do get a copy of 101, get 102 as well.

I lived in an area where distribution was so spotty, I became a DC kid out of sheer self-preservation... DC had its share of "continued next issue" stories, but not nearly as many as Marvel, where (in the early 70s, anyway) they seemed to be the norm. At least based on the issues I saw.


Humanbelly said...

Oh brother, X-Men #100 somehow didn't make it into ANY of the three places in our little town that sold comic books. I was really loving that Claremont/Cockrum re-boot, but CRIMINY, it was bi-monthly FOREVER, and I'm pretty sure fell behind schedule at that. Waited two solid months for #100 after the huge cliff-hanger of #99 w/ the re-emergence of the Sentinels. . . aaaaaand nothing. And then a veritable lifetime down the road later, up pops #101 on the spinner racks. I'd assumed the titled been cancelled and forgotten by then. . .


mr. oyola said...

Like some others, as a kid I somehow never figured out that there was a distribution schedule and that they arrived weekly throughout the month. I just figured they are monthly they must all just arrive once a month and what the store gets is random!

This feeling of randomness was reinforced by the fact that the places I got comics (drug store, the last soda fountain in my neighborhood, newsstands, a luncheonette) often had several months of comics jammed on the rack together, or sometimes with big gaps!

As it was, one of the reasons why I have a love of comics from before I was old enough to get them on the rack myself, was that the most frequent source of comics for me was yard sales and flea markets.

My biggest memory of hunting down a comic was ASM 252 and Secret Wars #1. It was the first time I can remember hype for a new issue that made it into the mainstream media and the article in the newspaper had the release date and so I HAD to get an issue of ASM it would be worth A MEE-LEE-ON dollars one day! :P

But everywhere I normally went either never had it, it was sold out or the issues were torn to hell (which also happened frequently), but I finally found copies at a luncheonette and I bought two. The dude behind the counter - this old school Brooklyn guy in a white apron and paper cap and navy tattoos, not only thought I was crazy for buying two of the same comic, but he balked when I asked for a bag. "You want a baga friggin' comic book kid? Get outta here!"

Rip Jagger said...

There are a lot of stories I only saw part of over the years, that is until access to comic shops with back issues largely solved the problem.

But the one storyline that does stick in my memory has already been mentioned. I got Justice League of America #100 and then #101 but it would be years before I got the finale in #102. I would read many many wonderful JLA-JSA crossovers before I'd get to finish this most significant one.

Rip Off

Doug said...

I can also recall along the way seeing advertisements for various Marvel Treasury Editions but never finding them at the supermarket or dime store. Most drug stores didn't carry books that big, at least not in my experience.


Murray said...

I was spoiled badly before I went to school. The neighbourhood grocery store had a spinner rack. I'd sit on the floor by the rack and study the drawings in the comic books while my mum shopped. in hindsight, I can only surmise that the owner allowed this because 1) he was a sweetheart of guy and 2) he knew I couldn't read yet, so where was the harm?

Then we moved. The local coffee shop-diner had a magnificent rack of comics. No spinner rack there! It was a flat wall display that would rival modern stores. The day we moved, we hadn't set up the kitchen yet, so we ate at this cafe. I helped myself to some reading material and sat down to wait for the lunch to arrive. "THIS AIN'T A LIBRARY, KID!"

Shocked and bewildered, I put the comics back. My mom bought one for me, explaining the laws of commerce and such. A hard moment in an innocent little dewdrop's life.

Over the years, Roy the cafe owner fell easily into the ranks of retailers who acted like they were pressganged against their will into selling comics. Grumpy and unhelpful. He was also the only source of penny candy. It was like a mild gauntlet of fire one had to endure before enjoying a new comic and some treats.

Oddly enough, when my friend and I reached high school, this changed. One might guess that Roy would be even more scornful at lads our age still buying funny books, but not so. Because we were bigger and/or had more disposable income, Roy became much more friendly and courteous. Once we walked in just as the new issues arrived and Roy laid out the titles out on one of the back tables of the diner for our perusal.

GAWD, I miss "spinner racks". No casual buying possible. Collecting comics is like collecting stamps or coins. Plan and organize a trip to one of the two specialty shops in the entire city that sell the things.

Redartz said...

I was very fortunate during our beloved "Bronze Age"; when I started actively collecting comics there was an actual comic shop in our town. We were pretty much assured of picking up every issue, unless it was a hot item that sold out fast.

However, I do have a missed issue story from several years prior. I was a young tad of about 8, having only recently discovered the fun of reading comics. My big favorite then (and now) was Spider-man, and at the time he was occupied with the Kingpin and the clay tablet story (Amazing # 68 - 75). I started with the first two issues off the spinner at the local drug store, and eagerly awaited each following issue. Number 74 came in, and the lengthy storyline looked about to come to it's climax! And then, you guessed it: no number 75. It was many years before I read that finale...

david_b said...

Heaven's Doug, thanks much for the love of adding so many of my previous comments today.

"Geez, I type a lot.."

Haphazard distro was perhaps a mixed blessing.. Some issues, like after the first dozen MTIO and some other titles, it helped me to whittle down my collecting (since they weren't all that good anyways..), ending some buying habits early. That's what happened to the Avengers. I had ish 129, then missed the Swordsman's death, missed a couple of issues, then all of a sudden, Donny Heck was drawing.. (blechhh).

Other times..? Very irritating.

Two cases come to mind..:

1) CA&F 'Secret Empire'.. I had found every ish when they came out just fine.. Until ish 175, the FINAL chapter (well, sort of). I didn't find it until 15yrs later. It was pretty good, but somehow kinda anti-climatic. The aftermath in ish 176 seemed far more chilling at the time.

2) DD&BW 108-109.. I had just thoroughly enjoyed the whole Terrax/MarVell storyline, missed two issues, then felt thrown into the Black Spectre arc (the Widow already haven been kidnapped/brainwashed..). I remember thinkin' 'What tha...'

As I mentioned a few times on previous posts, I had one of those department stores that had all the recent back issues in those '3 for 49cents' bags, so having started ASM with 125, I could spend a buck or so and pick up 122-124. It wasn't until 2yrs ago I finally forked the cash over for a VF+ ish 121. As a lesson for you reprint collectors, don't settle.

I had the Marvel Tales reprint of ish 121 and nearly a page of panels was sacrificed for another page of ads. I was surprised when I put them side-by-side.

Spend the bucks.

Graham said...

One thing I remember about DC Comics was that at the end of the last story in each issue, there was always a little box at the bottom of the page that read "Next issue on sale on or about....." with a specific date, so that was how I knew when to look for the next issue.

Another thing that I remember is that DC distribution was more reliable than Marvel distribution in my neck of the woods. What few Marvels I would try to get into would always be multi-parters and sometimes consecutive issues wouldn't show up. Plus, I never really knew when they were going to be at my local store, unlike the DC's.

That being said, I do remember during the JLA 100-102 series that I had a really hard time tracking down 101 and 102. 101 arrived about the time I knew that 102 should have been showing up and 102 never did show up at my local store....I ended up finding it in another town in a convenience, after a doctor visit. What I wrote above doesn't really reflect the amount of frustration I had trying to track those down, but when I finally saw 102 it was almost like a light from Heaven shining down and a Heavenly chorus singing in the background. :)

david_b said...

Hey, Prowler..!!

I started my military career as a 2LT in Finance Corps, then I moved over to Signal Corps.

Now, 27yrs later, I'm in DC going to Inspector General School. Ah whaaat a good life.

Doc Savage said...

Never bothered tracking down issues I missed. I was much more casual about it. I also didn't get to the convenience store that frequently. But I was never very loyal to any titles as a youngster aside from the aforementioned GL and Flash. Mainly I bought (1) what I could afford, which wasn't much, and (2) what had a really cool cover that drew me in, which was usually DC as Marvel's covers were seldom as interesting to me. Condorman and Dr. Solar and various Whitman titles tended to catch my eye. Still love 'em.

Anonymous said...

My dad was in from '54 to '75. He finished as a Master Sergeant. He was in Fort Hood for, to me seemed like forever, for the bulk of my memories. He did two tours in Vietnam and one in West Germany. Would that be 2nd Armored?

Doug, one of the great things about my bike was, 1) being able to mow lawns and make some money and 2) being able to make it to RB Dept Store. RB's had a counter and magazine rack. That's where I found Marvel and DC treasury editions and The Savage Sword of Conan. For having been such a Marvel Zombie, I only have three of the Marvel ones (Holiday Grab Bag, the 2nd Spider-Man and the Defenders) and 5 of the DC ones. I have the Super-Friends one by Alex Toth!

The Prowler (still a bit disappointed with the Lego Movie. Everything WASN'T awesome).

The Groovy Agent said...

The first two comics I ever started actually collecting were Avengers and Captain America. I was doing well with Avengers, having started collecting with #88, secured a few back issues so that my string started with #86; I missed #93 (how?) and wouldn't find it for decades. The worst was in the winter of 72 when we moved from one town to another (about 20 miles). The last Avengers I found at my "old" home was ish #99. The first I found at my "new" home was ish 101. That's right! Somehow I missed ish 100 and it was killing me! One evening (weeks after finding #101), Dear Ol' Dad and I took a rare "late" (after 8 p.m.) trip to King Kwik. There on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack (not on the comics spinner rack, mind you) sat Avengers #100 in all its glory. I had to suppress my scream of glee (I was eight, gimme a break) and grabbed that baby like a hawk plucking up its prey.

Anonymous said...

Doug, first I must say that it is a great honor to be quoted in a post on the BAB. I feel like I just won an Oscar. No...make that a NO PRIZE!!!

And I apologize for being a day late to this party but down in NOLA we have this little event called Mardi Gras going on which kept me off the Interweb yesterday. Tomorrow is actually Mardi Gras Day, BTW. But I digress..

I love everyone's stories. Can relate to Prowler's ASM #122. I have 121 but only got 122 in re-print as well. The one that jumps out for me personally is Iron Man #66. This was the concluding part of a 4 part Dr. Spectrum story where the cliffhanger in #65 has IM set to face off against Thor. Probably not coincidentally, IM went from being monthly to bi-monthly during this period. So I went for 4 months until I found #67 where IM battled ...the Freak(?). Finally got #66 years later (don't remember how) and was disappointed in the story. Not sure if it was a bad story or whether the excitement just died because it was so much later. Probably a little of both.

Yet, even with those occasional heatbreaks, put me solidly in the camp of loving continued stories.

And yes davidb, in retrospect, I loved asking the local clerk to unbundle the comics because, heck, that meant there were NEW COMICS!


Chris said...

This conversation jogged a few memories reading it today.

And I had to smile because for years I thought you Americans had it easy compared to us Brits.

Well it seems it wasn't quite so easy after all but in the UK when I started collecting comics in late 76/early 77 it was a whole different ball game in the UK.

You see we only got 15 American Marvels comics a month. Yes 15 and not the top titles like Amazing, FF, Avengers, Hulk either. We got mostly the other titles like Two-In-0ne, Team-Up, Premiere, Spotlight plus random others like Iron Man, Dracula, Uncanny but it was patchy and you never could be certain which titles would be distributed and then it was a lottery which ones you could get.

My local newsagent got 2 copies of each but I wasn't the only kid in town after them so it was a pure luck if you got two or more consecutive issues. I remember getting Iron Man 90,91, 93, 95 then 98 or Team-Up 49-51 and then 53. My god it was a long wait to find out what happened in 54!

Another frustration was Peter Parker #1 was distributed (YAY!) but none of the subsequent issues!

Comic shops and back issue dealers were a godsend when they finally arrived in the UK.

So, just remember when reminising, it could have been much worse!

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