Author/historian/statistician John Jackson Miller used his holiday very productively: to put some of the missing years of comics sales stats up at his site, including the key sales from the dark period of 1995-1996, otherwise known as “The Exclusivity Years.” While the disaster of the Wertham Years is still mentioned in hushed terms as a nadir of comics history, this more recent period has to be seen as the second great sales cataclysm of comics. The third great change was the decline of newsstand sales in the late ’70s and early ’80s which led to the creation of the direct sales market itself, but that was not a singular event that had such far-reaching changes.
The sad thing about the Distribution Wars was that it was entirely self-inflicted. Although, as Miller points out, no one acted very well, the main architect was financier Ron Perelman, Marvel’s then owner, whose aggressive acquisitions and leveraging proved no more successful at Marvel than they did at Revlon, and left a smoking crater — and Marvel’s bankruptcy — in its wake:
As to the performance of the comics industry in the period, there is not much good to say. Diamond owner Steve Geppi said in the summer of 1995 he believed there were 6,400 comics shops; that was down from 11,000 at the beginning of 1994, and it would drop closer to 4,500 by the end of 1996. Credit, easy to get in the boom days of multiple distributors, tightened considerably, as both Diamond and Capital spent 1995 shrinking their extensive warehouse and trucking networks. (Heroes World, meanwhile, was fighting to get up to speed as a national distributor for Marvel — which it never really succeeded at, hence the return to Diamond.)
While the lessons of the Wertham Era are well noted, it’s our opinion that more attention should be paid to this sad memorial to hubris and short-sightedness.
More 1995 sales charts from Miller here.
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.