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Retailing update: the danger of pull lists, “Team Comics My Ass” and best seller lists



Yesterday this tweet from Spirit of Retailing award winner Packrat Comics was going around:

with a cosign from Atlas comics

“Pull lists” are really a symptom of the Diamond Previews system though. as customers who fear they won’t get in on Wednesday in time for the scrum, reserve books on a monthly basis, which retail shops keep on reserve for them until…some day. It is a hallowed tradition of the comic shops system.

But the threat of customers not picking up the comics they signed on to order is a very real one, as I learned at my very first comic s shop back in the day during a Black September (there were many – when kids went back to school comics sales dipped in the pre DM days) – a price increase left me unable to pick up all my comics and all the other customers doing the same thing left the store reeling.

Since Packrat called out another website (no love for the Beat *sob*) there was a lively discussion there  in the comments about how shops deal with this. Certainly sometimes customers have life crises and the books the ask the shop to order then set aside shouldn’t be tossed back on the shelves if they’re left for a week. Various 2 week warnings and 4 week terminations are discussed. What do you say Beat readers? Is the pull list system the true cancer in the comics shop ecosystem?


• The pull list tweets came out of the current #boostyourlcs hashtag and movement coined by Boom! head Ross Richie as a way to help stores get through the low January retail period. The idea is for everyone to go buy a trade paperback to give a little boost to store sales. While this grassroots activism/consumerism was met with enthusiasm by some, it was also criticized as part of the “readers have to save comics” system that absolves publishers and creators of blame in problems.

The idea was criticized by a creator no less, namely PvP’s Scott Kurtz, someone we haven’t linked to in a while, maybe because the blunt flame wars that webcomics creators were once known for have become the way everyone on the internet converses. Anyway Kurtz’s piece was called, in typically reserved fashion, “Team Comics My Ass

For years publishers have been pushing this whole “team comics” concept. We all have to do whatever we can to support the retailers because they keep our industry afloat. When I was publishing PvP through Image, Eric Stephenson warned me about debuting a new book at San Diego Comicon before it could be in stores. Retailers would get pissed. That’s right. My publisher was pushing me to put the wellbeing of retailers ahead of my own ability to cover costs and make a living. Because team comics.

Diamond is a virtual monopoly and Marvel and DC are owned by conglomerates who view comic books as a necessary evil to keep their IP current. Meanwhile my facebook and twitter feeds are full of creators working all day and night with little to no sleep to keep up with their schedules and I’m seeing a lot of sickness, strokes, heart attacks, you name it.

I follow a lot of creators on social media and most of the ones who work at the big two publishers are tweeting about starting a pot of coffee at 10pm to start “the night shift.” No wonder everyone is getting sick. And there’s no union, benefits or decent pay for the creators making all this stuff. None of these companies are ever going to worry about your health. They’re just going to expect 22 pages a month no matter what. Because that’s what keeps the industry alive. Because Team Comics.

Kurtz endorses the “creator owned/publish on the web” model at the end – but you know this isn’t a one size fits all business. Some people need a page rate; not everyone who needs one is going to get one though.

Anyway, although relying on readers to “save comics” may seem like denying market forces their due – if you publish shitty books or run a shitty store you pay the price – the Pull List Menace is also worth pointing out as something that readers do have control over.


§ Speaking of readers, a couple of shops have published their 2016 best sellers lists. We should be getting Diamond’s list this Friday, but here’s Challengers Comics in Chicago’s periodical top ten:

1.Black Panther #1
2.DC Universe Rebirth #1
3.Black Panther #2
4.Civil War II #1
5.Batman Rebirth #1
6.Batman #1
7.Saga #33
8.Saga #35
9.Saga #34
10.Saga #36

And the GN top ten. Both lists go down to 100 so please check out the links for all the information.

1.Paper Girls TP VOL 01
2.Saga TP VOL 06
3.Saga TP VOL 01
4.Bitch Planet TP VOL 01
5.Wonder Woman the True Amazon HC
6.Saga TP VOL 05
7.Kaijumax TP VOL 01
8.Vision TP VOL 01
9.Monstress TP VOL 01
10.Batman the Killing Joke Special Edition HC

Challengers is a modern, influential indie friendly store and they have a podcast about all of this and more.  I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet but I will.

§ Our own Brian Hibbs at the Comix Experience chain in SF also has his traditional bestsellers list. (For those asking, he’s taking January off from his column to work on his annual Bookscan report.)  Brian also has some comment on the year overall:

2016 was another fine year for Comix Experience – sales were up by 1.7% in the main store, and by an excellent 11.7% at Outpost.  I attribute our growth mostly to my superlative staff (Douglas, Emma, Sienna and Asia at the main store, and Nathan, Cameron, and Julie at Outpost) – and we’ve had our best year ever at both locations.

 However, the year pretty much died in the last quarter – a lot of the drop coming from much weaker periodical sales.

 The two stores are VERY different from one another with different tones and tenors. The main store is very much a book store that specializes in comics material: 57% of our sales came from book-format comics this year, while 39% came from new periodical comics (usually stapled, usually 32 pages). 1.5% of sales are back issues, 1.5% is supplies, and the last 1% is everything else: Magazines, Toys, Apparel, Buttons, whatever. Comix Experience is less about the characters (Batman and Spider-Man, et al.) and much more focused on the creators that bring those characters to life. As a creator-driven store, our sales reflect that passion, as you will see below.

Once again the lists go down to 100, but here’s the GN top ten for the main store:


And the periodicals

3 DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH #1 first print
4 SAGA #33
6 SAGA #36
SAGA #35
9 SAGA #34
10 SAGA #37

 It’s BKV’s world, we just make pull lists in it.


  1. In smaller markets, the only way you can get most anything new, interesting or creator owned is to preorder it, Which totally sucks, because i just want to check the first issue out. What if i don’t like it? Now this prehistoric system has me locked in for several issues. I go in with a list of books i just heard about on twitter or a website like this and i was told i should have ordered it 2 months ago. I leave empty handed and less likely to come back. We both lose.

    So this creates this hostile relationship. I want to be able to discover new things, the retailer won’t take any risks ordering said books, and if i pre order then i’m married to it regardless of whether or not i like it. Part of the fun of going to a comic shop was browsing the racks, and that’s kinda going away unless its a big mega store which most us don’t shop at. The fun of going to a comic shop and browsing got replaced with order forms and catalogs and picking up a shipment and lectures whenever you ask about a book.

    I got frustrated and stopped going to my shop. When i moved from my small town to a bigger city, i never looked for a new comic shop. I just switched to digital and trades because it was easier and worked around my work schedule and lifestyle better. I like comic shops, but the current system pushes people like me away.

  2. “Eric Stephenson warned me about debuting a new book at San Diego Comicon before it could be in stores. Retailers would get pissed. That’s right. My publisher was pushing me to put the wellbeing of retailers ahead of my own ability to cover costs and make a living. Because team comics.”

    Not because of team comics. There was a bad pattern of publishers having books solicited in previews to come out in August, where retailers would place their non-returnable orders. Then said publisher would (surprise!) have the book out in sale in July at San Diego. Customers would go there and pick up said books. Come August when the books arrived via Diamond they would tell their LCS they already bought the book at San Diego. Retailers would end up stuck with the books. It was a dick move by publishers and stores that were closer to San Diego would wind up with a stack of unsold books (not unlike the picture in this article) that they’d have to eat every year. IIRC Brian Hibbs called it a “death of a thousand cuts” and would cost him a utility bill’s worth of income.

    Had Kurtz book came out in June, then had it for sale in July at San Diego, that wouldn’t have been a problem.

  3. Try putting out books I like and then I might start buying again.

    Pull orders are nesscary evil because stores only order what they sell so those of us who can only visit a store on Weekends will often find the comics we want unavailable.

  4. When you pre-order a $10 comic and it ships at $18 (this means you too, Aftershock!), retailers gets a POS warning about the bait-and-switch. But because they’re going to make 50% off $18 instead $10, most retailers won’t warn customers.

    Many retailers fill pull lists on Wednesday noon or afternoon, after the speculators and “Wednesday warriors” have helped themselves. Hot comics that sold out thus get missing for the customers who actually pre-ordered them. It’s not entirely unfair if some defecting customers don’t warn retailers.

    They made their deathbed, they can die in it. #BOOTyourLCS

    – “And there’s no union, benefits or decent pay for the creators making all this stuff.”

    Sad and true. But despite all the pushes from such as Steve Ditko, Bernard Krigstein, Neal Adams, Dave Sim, Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Frank Miller, Scott McCloud, Todd McFarlane, etc., these idiots never got organized or unionized. Divided, they fall prey to exploitation. United, Marvel and DC stand to profit.

    They too, made their sickbed.

  5. My store in DC, Big Planet Comics, was very gracious to. me.
    I pulled my monthly titles from the wall, and submitted a monthly special order list from Diamond Previews, which didn’t require a deposit. (That list included many independents which weren’t periodical.)
    Joel was very gracious when I moved in 1997. I asked him how I should handle the items I had ordered, and he waved it off. (Probably because I had a weekly budget of $100, and cleaned out my box every week.)

    Were I a retailer, I’d require a credit card and address on file.
    I’d encourage the customers to visit monthly, to pick up the comics, but also to browse the store for other stuff.
    If a month passes without pickup, they get a call. Another at six weeks. After two months, charge the comics, cancel the subscription, and mail the comics to the individual with an explanation.

    I’d also encourage special orders with a 20% discount for prepaying.

  6. Pull lists need to die. It’s another way the huge companies put all the risk onto the retailers. Just make every book available to order whenever and have full returnabikity, People can still pre-order and pre-pay for the small print indie books.

    Comics acts like it’s still the 80s in almost every way.

  7. I would think things like pre-ordering and such would be a necessary evil of a niche product. But I would certainly support a store having a deadline on picking up the books, at the very least.

  8. I’m a bit shocked this has happened to the store, as I thought all stores would do what the shops I’ve had pull lists with – you want a pull list you give them your credit or bank card number. Books not picked up within a fortnight are charged to your card and kept at store for you.
    That way you get your books and the store isn’t left hanging.
    In some ways getting into this situation is like Scott Kurtz says – poor business practise on behalf of stores.

  9. @Chris Hero – so the publishers/distributors have to lose whatever quantity printing discounts they might get, only able to print in small quantities? That’s going to send the cover prices up.

  10. Retailers who charge credit cards without direct permission (signature, or some kind of authorization form) from the cardholder run really big financial risks. If you get too many chargebacks from customers disputing unauthorized charges, they can take away the ability to process all credit card payments.

    I think this is the problem with Pre-Ordering. Retailers want it to be a prepaid special order while singing about “We need YOUR help to let us know what kinds of books you want to see in the shop to ensure you don’t miss out!!!” A hobby should never be turned into a job or obligation, but that’s what it is a lot of the time.

  11. Technically, this article isn’t about pre-ordering. You don’t pre-pay for a pull list. And if you want a hobby where you aren’t obligated to help out in some way, you probably need to find a more popular hobby.

  12. If comic publishers allowed stores to return their books like real publishers allow, this wouldn’t be a problem. Comic publishers sure do seem to hate the handful of stores that cater to the niche market they rely on.

  13. I’ll quit now, but I still say that allowing publishers to print in bulk (but with fairly accurate amounts) and not have to necessarily take returns, etc., keeps the prices lower and that’s what I like.

  14. Glenn – DC and Marvel make money hand over fist. I don’t care about them making a bit less. I do think it’s ridiculous to put all the stress of the market on tiny businesses with no money.

    Diamond should order x number of books from Image, Dark Horse, anyone else who’s exclusive.

    Indie books have never gotten discounts on publishing because the print runs are so small.

    Let the millionaires and billionaires take the risks.

    Fuck Team Comics.

  15. Joe – The shops I’ve used that need card info for pullists get you to fill out a form with card details and sign saying you understand and give permission to be charged. You don’t do that you don’t get a pull list and if you dispute the charge they’ve got your signature saying you authorised it.
    We can shoot the shit about how things should be, but in this world I think it’s a pretty solid system that gets he consumer there books and doesn’t leave the shop owner hanging.

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