When DC announced their move to Burbank, I was told the first name on the list of people who weren’t going was SR VP of Sales, Bob Wayne. Wayne was already near retirement age, and had been dealing with some health issues. Plus he pretty much invented everything that we know about the current direct sales market…so why add another disruptive move to his CV when he’d done it all already?
It’s being reported that Wayne confirmed his retirement following 28 years of service at DC at the recent Diamond Summit—despite the same website previously reporting he was moving. Well, this time I chose to believe the reports.
Bob is just about the last of the founding father of the comics shop era to remain in a position of power, and once he leaves everything will truly change. It was going to change no matter what, so I hope Bob enjoys his VERY well deserved retirement to Texas at long last. (I’m told Diamond retailer summits used to be held in Texas just so Wayne could visit his old haunts.)
It’s pretty impossible to overstate the importance of Bob Wayne to the direct sales market. He was the single most influential voice to comics retailers. At a previous summit, I noted that a picture of an actress in a bikini elicited tepid enthusiasm, while a photo of BOB WAYNE ON THE COVER OF MAD MAGAZINEdrew raucous cheers.
Why the mad love? Bob understood comics retailers and their issues as no one else did, and spoke their language. Perhaps it was his background as a shop owner himself in Texas, he knew the sweat of unpacking boxes and the excitement of seeing a new issue of your favorite character. Setting up an actual department to call up retailers and get them to order more copies of books? Offering returnability on risky issues? Giveaways like posters, co-ops, Green Lantern rings? All things that Wayne invented or championed. While Marvel adopted a more “tough love” approach to retailers—and remained the #1 publisher most months—Wayne and his people were always there to listen and to hold hands. It’s not a question of why they weren’t number 1 during Wayne’s tenure, but how much bigger the gap with Marvel would have been had Wayne not been there.
For conspiracy theorists, there’s also the fact that things Bob Wayne didn’t like—formats, genres—tended to be looked at as risky long after other places had proved they weren’t. Whether this was just Bob’s caution or his canny reading of retailers’ likes and dislike is up to historians to judge.
Wayne’s departure from DC when it moved as, as mentioned, pretty much a given among everyone I’ve spoken with. I’m sure DC’s Burbank managers already have a “replacement” plan although Bob is definitely irreplaceable. I know a bunch of folks from the sales department are making the move, so there will be some continuity. I understand there is a new DC exec who replaced the departing John Rood, but when I asked back in December I was told that DC’s retail operations would stay under co-publisher Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. However I was also told that “Bob Wayne isn’t going any where!” so…
I don’t get the feeling that the Burbank Warners establishment has any desire to deal with the quirks and individualized complaints of comics retailers—where every bent corner requires an apology and a pledge—and WB is ditching every other magazine department, so we’re unlikely to see anyone every develop this particular skill set again.
One thing is for sure, nothing about comics retailing will ever be the same. With Bob’s retirement, it’s like when Gandalf went to the Grey Havens. The little hobbitses will have to fend for themselves in the Age of (Studio)Men.
On a personal note, although we’ve had our testy exchanges, as did everyone who knew Bob, he’s one of my oldest friends in the business, and I’ll never forget the time he drove me and some pals to Stonehenge. Or our lunch at that dreadful restaurant in Bristol on the same trip. Or many other things, like him showing me a pile of cookies at a San Diego con. I hope he gets the relaxation and rest he deserves. And I know he’ll be watching the unfolding of comics with a wry grin and a tart observation. I hope we get to hear a few of them!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.