In a brief statement, publisher F+W announced the closing of CBG, the Comics Buyer’s Guide, today. The magazine’s 42-year run will end with issue #1699, one shy of the farewell #1700 that the collectors it appealed to would have liked.
The cause of death was the usual suspects:
“cited general poor market conditions and forces working against the title’s sustainability including the downturn in print advertising and the proliferation of free content available online for this highly specialized industry.
“We continuously evaluate our portfolio and analyze our content strategy to determine how well we are meeting consumer and Company goals,” said David Blansfield, President. ”We take into consideration the marketplace we serve and the opportunities available for each of our magazine titles. After much analysis and deliberation, we have determined to cease publication of Comics Buyer’s Guide.”
Subscribers will get Antique Trader instead, and the www.cbgextra.com website and Facebook page will be archived under Antique Trader. (In other words, download anything you want stat!)
The handwriting for a print magazine aimed at 40+ comics collectors has been on the wall for a while. Former editorial director John Jackson Miller presents a MUST READ obit that’s really a history of fandom and comics publishing. Almost every major player in the direct sales market has roots in the pages of CBG.
The advertising base continued to grow — now including Steve Geppi, today of Diamond Comic Distributors, whose testimonial ad for TBG ran in #71 (Mar. 1, 1975). As a result, the newspaper continued to expand — some issues had as many as four folded over sections — with the Thompsons’ column expanding to take up nine full pages of the newspaper by 1976. (The largest issue of TBG was #190, the July 8, 1977 issue, which ran 148 pages, including a 52-page catalog from Mile High Comics.) And pure entertainment features were added, with Fred Hembeck launching his Dateline cartoon.
The industry was changing quickly, with editorial upheaval at Marvel, runaway cover price inflation, and troubles in the newsstand market filling many columns. News of layoffs at Charlton reached readers in 1976. TBG #257 (Oct. 20, 1978) reported the publication of Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, a consequence of the DC Implosion. But with its circulation topping 10,000 copies in 1977, TBG was also reporting on the nascent comics shop market, its ads connecting start-up distributors to start-up retailers. Seuling’s first ad introducing Sea Gate Distributors appeared on the back of TBG #207, the Nov. 4, 1977 issue.
CBG started as TBG, a free mailer full of ghastly hand-drawn ads that had to have every-other-week editorial to conform with mailing requirements. Don and Maggie Thompson, pioneers of SF and comics fandom via their early zine Newfangles, were brought on board for a monthly column….eventually future Eclipse Comics E-i-C Cat Yronwode was brought on for another. While the purchase by Krause neatened up the trim of the newsprint, the paper remained quaint by today’s standards, even as it achieved a level of sales success many comics would envy today:
#575, one of the theme issues CBG, meanwhile, prospered thanks to subscription efforts and direct market distribution, with circulation topping 20,000 copies by the early 1990s.
I discovered TBG, as it was known, via an ad in the back of ’70s Marvel comics. The ad featured a weird, Jeff Jones-esque odalisque of a guy who I assumed to be Alan Light. Or that’s how I remember it. As a kid I was both enthralled and appalled by the brutally ugly, often pointless newspaper that came to the house once a week, twitching with mysteries and obsessions. Wolverine Woobait. If you know what that is…you are old, like me. There was the sheep ad…the very naughty and disturbing Zap Comics ads…and Fred Hembeck. Yronwode was my first comics writing idol, mixing references to zen Buddhism and Fiesta Ware with Frank Frazetta. There was no internet to bombard you with information on every topic, so every introduction to a secret world of obsession was really an initiation. Through Don and Maggie I learned about Doctor Who and Stephen King for the first time, and probably more. (I was a very lonely, isolated home schooled kid with no friends, so this was the only way to learn of anything off the beaten path.)
When CBG cleaned up and started paying more, I became a regular contributor, the girl sidekick to such hipsters as Yronwode, Peter David and Tony Isabella. I was also writing for The Comics Journal at the same time, even though Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth and CBG’s former owner Alan Light were apparently teen-aged competitors who turned into mortal enemies. (Light was one of many who unsuccessfully sued the Journal in a nuisance suit.) TCJ was where I tried to be “serious”; CBG was where I gave in to my own nerd fascinations. My column was supposed to be weekly, I think (or bi-weekly) and although producing it soon succumbed to real-world time constraints, in scope and tone it was pretty much the ancestor of this very blog you are reading.
When I went back to freelancing after my corporate comics career screeched to a halt, CBG beckoned me once again, and I turned out another weekly column for several years, even while I was co-editing The Pulse and started the Beat. When the magazine went monthly in 2004, it was a more manageable schedule for me and I stuck around for a while until I just had nothing more to say on a monthly print schedule.
Through it all John, Maggie, and Brent Frankenhoff were all troopers and total professionals—although I’ll never forget the time they tricked me into writing 13 columns a year by springing a new deadline on me. I was so oblivious to the calendar I never even realized what had happened until months later. I’ve said it many times but Maggie is my role model—I want to be as smart and inquisitive and engaged as she is every day of my life. Now, many years later, I’m told I’m a role model for some younger women in the field. You try to pass it on.
The real impact of TBG/CBG on my life was what to do with the back issues. During my home schooled years I would dutifully go through every issue and cut out the editorial parts (or weirdly interesting parts), storing the remains in egg crates. These remains did not survive a series of family moves. I believe I have a big box of the weekly issues in my storage unit, but I think it’s more likely that my collection burnt up in a family fire more than a decade ago; as a certified pack rat I don’t have all my stuff in one place or even one state or time zone, so it’s hard to say.
CBG was meant to be a throwaway shopping guide for people looking for back issues, but I think it was much more. I pray that someone somewhere has an archive of the whole thing, because, as I said, the history of comics fandom is all right there, right as it happened, and in sociological terms, it’s the Lascaux cave art of Homo nerdus. But maybe that’s just the collector in me talking. No surprise there.
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.