Before comics news websites, before email, and before BBSs, when comics fans wanted information about the comic books they were reading, they went to the Comics Buyer’s Guide (CBG). Published between 1971 and 2013, the Comics Buyer’s Guide reported news about comic book publishers, artists, related media endeavors and featured robust advertising for many of the biggest sellers of comics and related items. Additionally, noted creators John Jackson Miller, Peter David and Mark Evanier contributed columns to the paper. CBG was also famous for its letters column that featured letters from many of the famous creators of the period, including John Byrne and Erik Larsen.
By Gabriel Neeb
On the fifth anniversary of the last published issue of CBG, #1699, the San Diego Comic Convention hosted a ‘Spotlight on Maggie Thompson’ panel featuring editor Maggie Thompson, Mark Evanier, R.C. Harvey and Scott Brick. Thompson was very clear that the panel would focus on Comics Buyer’s Guide and the assorted creators on the panel.
The first thing Thompson wanted to stress was that she and her husband, the late Don Thompson, did not found CBG but merely came to run it as the original publisher Alan Light was planning on ending it shortly after its start. Its continuing life came as a response to the tactic of some publishers of the era (1960s) to hype special issues, collect the resultant revenue from subscriptions and then cancel the magazine. The Thompsons decided to hype a coming issue of the (then titled) Buyer’s Guide to Comic Fandom, publish the issue and then return any leftover subscription money. The plan worked too well, as Alan Light was so impressed that he decided to continue publishing the magazine.
The CBG came out of a family of other ‘buyer’s guides’ that were circulating at the time, mainly ones dedicated to movies (this being before home video), as those magazines catered to fans that bought and traded- instead of video tapes- 8 mm and 16 mm copies of films. The fans of this subculture were… intense and ran contrary to comics fans of the time (1970) who Thompson said “…read for pleasure.”
As the early history of CBG was discussed, Thompson touched briefly upon the demise of CBG. It wasn’t necessarily the internet that killed it, but a business model that thrived on advertising revenue was soon undercut by the advertisers spending more money on Diamond Comics Previews magazine than ads in CBG. CBG was significantly cheaper to produce due to its use of newsprint as opposed to the example she used, of Wizard #1 which cost $55,000 (and the publisher heavily discounted its first issue).
As to what might have been Comic Buyer’s Guide #1700, R.C. Harvey stated that the content went on to form Alter Ego #122 (published by TwoMorrows).
The panel continued with the other guests providing insight into some of the events and fixtures of CBG. Mark Evanier had a column in the first issue (which he still has) and didn’t have another until 1994 when he began another column which lasted until 1997 (all proceeds being donated to the Comic Legal Defense Fund). The end of that column came over learning that CBG’s other columnist Peter David (But I Digress), was earning a penny more per word thanks to the contract vagaries of publisher Krause. Since it was 1997, Mark Evanier soon transferred over to the internet with his website newsfromme.com.
Panelist Scott Brick recounted his involvement at CBG by describing his first article being that of how he told artist Scott McDaniel about the history of the name Nightwing when McDaniel came to that title (McDaniel being unfamiliar with Silver Age character of the Superman comics that used the name Nightwing.) Randy Reynaldo, who was working at CBG at the time, suggested Brick write about comic book history for CBG.
This then led to Brick writing the 1997 article where he interviewed John Romita in a piece titled “Who Killed Gwen Stacey?” The answer was the late Gerry Conway who liked Mary Jane and wanted to get rid of Gwen. Brick is very proud of this article and still has the proof sheets from 20 years ago.
Maggie then began to tell stories of the ‘mortal remains’ of Comic Buyer’s Guide. When Krause moved from its home of Iola, Wisconsin to Steven’s Point, there was much discussion about what to do with the CBG archive. Krause planned to throw it out. Thompson was able to make arrangements for Columbia University to take control of the material.
But other related materials were consigned to the dump until John Jackson Miller was able to take possession of them. The last elements of CBG were 94 banker boxes of what were the forever copies of the magazine ended up in the hands of a collector in Texas.
Maggie and R.C. Harvey finished the main portion of the panel by discussing the recently passed Steve Ditko. Before even CBG, the Thompsons wrote in depth of how Ditko crafted his art of Spider-Man and the art related to the villains and the subtle contrasts between the two. Ditko read this, and in appreciation, sent the Thompsons a presentation piece drawn by him of Spider-Man. He even followed this later with a similar piece of Dr. Strange.
A brief question and answer period followed. The first question was from a gentleman that thanked Mark Evanier for helping to publicize a panel that was hosted that featured surviving Golden Age artists. Evanier wrote about the artists in his column, though he was regretful that it didn’t help since they’re all dead now.
Writer Bob Miller was wondering if the complete run of CBG that is held by Michigan State University would ever be digitized. Maggie was cautious as she stated “It would be a huge copyright question”. Harvey, having a bit of experience with the fair use doctrine, wasn’t so sure since he believed fair use would allow it.
The last question was more of a story from an audience member that his letter published in the Julie Schwartz memorial issue of CBG was right next to Harlan Ellison’s letter.
As Scott Brick said summing up the panel and the magazine, “Comic Buyer’s Guide was a gift. Spread the word.”