Don MacPherson talks about DC’s decision to print only one price on its comics for the US and Canada. The move has made Canadian retailers unhappy.

So DC’s announcement, though incredibly late, is welcome news for retailers and customers, yes? Well, not really. The manager at my local comic shop, for example, is annoyed at the development; his preference would be that U.S. publishers leave the Canadian price off their comics and graphic novels altogether, allowing for easier adaptation to fluctuations in currency values. That’s what Dark Horse does and many others as well. Anecdotally, what I’ve been hearing is that many Canadian comics retailers have been disregarding the Canadian price for some time, even more the dollar achieved parity with the U.S. buck.

…and…Noah Berlatsky wonders why comics never got with the program:

It got me thinking a little bit about how comics have done, and continue to do, so poorly in this regard. Why wasn’t there ever a blaxploitation equivalent in comics during the seventies — a series of titles starring and aimed at black people? Why are there still so few black comics professionals, and so little black representation in the industry in general? I know it’s not because black people don’t like comics — every time I go into my local bookstore, I see black folks sitting in the comics section, reading away. So what’s the deal?

My point here isn’t that American comics aren’t racist or segregated; I mean, clearly they are in terms of who you see in their pages, who works on them, and, in general, who reads them. It’s just kind of interesting to try to figure out why comics are so much worse about race than other media (movies, television, music.) It’s also interesting to think about what the consequences have been.


  1. In my Candadan city, one LCS has been selling trades and comics at parity ( charging the US cover price) for months. The other two LCS sell the material based on US cover price, and then add any currency exchange in effect that week. IE: $10.00 cover price plus 25 cents exchange, for example.

    The local newstands and bookstores are still selling all magazines, books, comics and GNs etc for the full Canadian price as printed on the book, ignoring all currency parity.

    Any time I’ve discussed this obvious pricing imbalance with employees or managers, I get an answer that could be best described as evasive or condescending. “It costs more to ship to Canada”, “It’s not just the exchange rate. There are many costs associated with bookselling that you wouldn’t know about” are two of my favourites.

  2. But to be fair, aren’t there brokerage fees and duties to be paid on books and magazines? I thought they were treated like alcohol and tobacco and had a special tariff on them. I could be wrong of course and it still can’t be enough to justify a $4 price difference.

    My LCS has charged based on the U.S. price and the daily exchange rate for ages.

    A lot of the books are printed in Canada (Quebecor) too. We pay extra so they can go on a magical mystery tour into the U.S. and then back up I guess.

  3. Let’s not forget Black Goliath and Black Lightning.

    While there were elements of blaxploitation in all of those (plus the aforementioned Luke Cage), the difference is, once again, the audience for the medium.

    Movies were and are attended in mass quantities by every socio/political grouping that one can imagine, divide, and sub-divide. There was a ready audience for Blaxploitation films.

    Comics in the 70’s were primarily consumed by white males. Blaxploitation in comics would have had to mostly manufacture the audience for it.

    Of course, if the comics publishers had done so, and actively courted more diverse demographics at the time, we would be more likely to have a more diverse fanbase and more non- white male creators now.

  4. I think it’s likely that Marvel hoped that Luke Cage would be a “crossover” for both white and black audiences, a la SHAFT, which as you all should know was a major-studio release.

    The first black superheroine-feature was more in the nature of a feisty li’l independent. Ya’ll do know that one???

  5. Maija says: “But to be fair, aren’t there brokerage fees and duties to be paid on books and magazines?”

    Not sure about the specifics. But I now subscribe to several magazines, comic related and not.

    All of them are much less expensive by subscription than at the newsstand. Wired magazine, for example, arrives in my mailbox for $1 an issue. That would need to include production, printing, and postal mailing plus all “cross border” fees. Somehow they can still do that for a profit.

    Rolling Stone magazine offers subscriptions to Canadians at about 70% off the newsstand retail price, and obviously must still make a profit.

    Other magazines are usually discounted at a rate of about half price for Canadians. Specifically, Comic Buyers Guide is half of the cover price.

    All are certainly below the US cover price, and all are mailed to my mailbox.

    So someone in the book and magazine selling trade is not telling me the whole story about shipping, exchange, and cover prices.

    There are retailers around. Maybe they could discuss it here?

  6. DC tried a line of black characters (Statix was among them) but I find it great comics did not become this black x white medium. In fact, I don’t see why there should be “race” comics, as I can’t see “race” music. Comics should reflect diversity, sure, and most of the most successful stories do reflect it, instead of going the obvious path of WASP/Black comics. Maybe I am biased because I am Brazilian and race has become a “separate” entity just recently (in the past, without US influence, media reflected both without calling names).

  7. Luke Cage, Black Goliath, Black Lightning, The Falcon, Blade, Misty Knight, Brother Voodoo, Black Panther…

    Was there a “blaxploitation movement” in comics? Possibly.

    Was it aimed at expanding the reader base amongst minorities? Probably not.

    It was more likely a reflection of the overall culture of the time – films, music and television which was slowly becoming more diverse. I think an analogy “might” be the proliferation of martial arts comics that came after the breakout of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba movies.

  8. Don’t forget Black Canary. And the Black Knight!

    Oh, okay, you can forget them.

    And Milestone was not a “line of black characters”, it was a black-inclusive line. It also included hispanic, asian, and non-hispanic white characters. And some damn fine comics.

  9. The only brokerage fees (that I’m aware of) charged to Canadian comics retailers are those charged for Marvel’s First Look program. That revolves around a separate UPS envelope containing some of Marvel’s releases for the next week.

  10. It’s problematic to compare what blaxploitation was and did for Hollywood to what happened in comics.

    Were books and characters like Luke Cage, Black Goliath, and Black Lightning Marvel and DC’s attempts at blaxploitation? Yes, most definitely.

    Why then didn’t these books lead to a massive influx of other black books and black creators? A number of factors come into play. Whereas blaxploitation helped to save a near death Hollywood, in terms of generating massive box office numbers for low costs, the number of black comics didn’t increase black readers. Since there wasn’t an increase in black readers, there wasn’t an increase in black titles, and therefore black creators. A number of black creators did come into the industry at this point–like Billy Graham, Keith Pollard, James Owsley, and others–but never in enough numbers to do what happened in Hollywood.

    Is it part of some natural resistence to black or other voices in comics? Maybe, maybe not.

    But I do think the true story of Black Lightining sheds some light on the mindset at DC at the time. That an idea called the Black Bomber about a white racist who turned into a black man when he became angry made its way up the editorial approval process all the way to script form until Tony Isabella came along and pointed out just how racist the concept was and offered to replace it with a new idea is very telling.

    A lot of black and hispanic people do read comics. But until the Big Two and others actively reach out to that audience through advertising and promotion first, and then through characters that speak to them, that readership will remain small.

  11. Not sure it matters but…my sense of characters like Luke Cage and Black Lightning and so forth was that they were meant to be blaxploitation — and failed miserably. I mean, I liked both characters, but compared to something like “Coffy” it’s pretty clear that the creators’ grasp of/ability to convey either actual black culture or the mythologized grit of blaxploitation was pretty limited. They seem more like clueless parodies of blaxploitation than the real thing, and it’s not hard to see why they didn’t do much to expand the audience for comics among black people.

  12. “What evidence shows that the major studios were saved by blaxploitation pictures?”

    Their accounting records….

    Historically, blaxploitation films were notoriously cheap to produce and made millions for the studio who only had to foot distribution costs. Studios like AIP and others picked up these independent productions and fed an eager audience.

    It was these movies, and other exploitation cinema of the time that fed the distribution coffers of the studios allowing them to blow money on huge budgeted movies with narrower profit margins.

    It has been stated on record that AIP – back in the 50’s – saved the theatrical movie business with cheap scifi/horror movies for teens. Other audiences were at home all the time watching that newfangled device called a television.

  13. “That an idea called the Black Bomber about a white racist who turned into a black man when he became angry made its way up the editorial approval process all the way to script form until Tony Isabella came along and pointed out just how racist the concept was and offered to replace it with a new idea is very telling.”

    I’d actually love to see a comic like Black Bomber, if it were done as snarky, self-aware social commentary or complete absurdism. There wouldn’t even have to be a lesson in every story for the white guy.

    Somehow I doubt that’s what they were going for. Let me guess: when he’s angry, the white guy becomes, big, muscly, mean, brown, and violent, like a different shade of Hulk? And with a great big ‘fro?

  14. “The peak period for blaxploitation films was 1972-74, during which seventy-six blaxploitation films were released, an average of more than two per month. It was in 1972 that Variety and other publications began using the term blaxploitation to describe these new action pictures, creating the term by combining “black” with “exploitation.”

    — St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture

    “Sweetback brought the weight of the Black Power movement to the screen as a counterpoint to the depiction of white hegemony. Sweetback was nearly a complete black production. Writer, director and star Melvin Van Peebles made the film by claiming it was a porn production so as to escape hiring a union crew (Bogle 238). On a budget of $500,000 ($50,000 of which came from Bill Cosby), Van Peebles shot the film in nineteen days with Cinemation picking it up for distribution (Bogle 238). By the end of 1971, Sweetback had grossed $10 million, a huge success for the era (Guerrero 86).

    It is important to note that blaxploitation arose at a critical juncture for the Hollywood film industry. From the late 1960s, mainstream Hollywood was in financial peril. The major studios were losing between $15 and $145 million leading many studios to face the distinct prospect of bankruptcy (Guerrero, 82-3). The success of Sweetback came as Hollywood fully realized the power of the black ticket buying public which accounted for more than 30 percent of the box office in major cities (Guerrero, 83). Hollywood quickly seized onto the seeming profitability of the Sweetback formula and spawned, what Guerrero calls, “the sons of Sweetback.” For this discussion we should include the “daughters of Sweetback” as well.

    — Images Journal

    Also here:

  15. Also, Gene, courtesy of What It Is, What It Was by Gerald Martinez, Diana Martinez, and Andres Chavez.

    David Walker, film critic: “At the very least, the blaxploitation movies played a very integral role in keeping a lot of production companies afloat or solvent. When you look at how many movies were produced from 1970 to 1979 and the amount of money those movies made, there’s no denying that this was one of the bread-and-butter genres of the film industry.”

    As for some of those numbers, from the same interview with David Walker:
    Sweet Sweetback’s BaadAsssss Song, estimated production cost $150,000, box office gross $15,180,000.
    Shaft, estimated production cost $1.2 million, box office gross $23,250,000.
    Cotton Comes to Harlem, estimated production cost $2.2 million, box office gross $15,375,000.
    Superfly, estimated production cost $149,000, box office gross $18,900,000.
    Coffy, estimated production cost $600,000, box office gross $12,944,000.

  16. Thanks for the citations. I agree with Walker’s assessment, though with the qualification that the late 60s saw the blaxploitation phenom preceded by the youth phenom, like 1969’s EASY RIDER, made for $340,000 and which grossed $30,000,000.

  17. Gene –

    Not to argue, but I would categorize EASY RIDER as more “anti-establishment” than youth as a phenomenon. I would classify the “BIKINI BEACH” type pictures as more indicative of “youth pictures.”

    And to be fair all around, we can look at these pictures with the 20/20 clarity of their being our history, but there was a lot of “movements” and “genres” that overlapped one another.

  18. NoahB-

    You are quite correct in your accessment of Luke Cage and Black Lightning being Marvel and DC’s attempts to capitalize on the blaxploitation movement in film. However the reasons they failed had less to do with whether they were poor conceived or not as with the weird relationship blacks have to pop culture.

    While blaxploitations films covered most genres, two were conspicuously absent from the movies made: science fiction and fantasy. And superhero comics are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, along with wish fulfillment. From my experience of the time, any black person who was into science fiction/fantasy during the 70s–Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun Ra don’t count–was treated as som kind of crazy cuckoo. Or worse, called an oreo.

    Reading comics was the most rebellious thing I could do as a kid. Whereas going to a blaxploitation flick was a communal experience.