Tom Spurgeon goes over George Khoury‘s history of the direct sales market, and disagrees on just what happened in the 90s.

While the other points are disagreements, this one is more of a strong objection. While there’s indeed plenty of blame to go around for the degree and nature of the industry’s slow period in the late ’90s and into the 2000s, to even suggest that somehow “everyone” was to blame is such even-handed for the sake of being even-handed nonsense it makes me suspect that Marvel and Ron Perelman were punked on more than DC and Image simply because they’re not around anymore to get upset about being singled out.

I have one question for Tom myself, in that he seems to use the term Marvel as synonymous with Ron Perelman-era Marvel. I don’t think think the Michael Z. Hobson era Marvel would have had much interest in owning Heroes World, Panini, Fleer , SkyBox Welsh, and Malibu; Perelman used the same junk bond mentality on Revlon, with equally disatrous results. While nearly everyone in comics was as dumb as a sack of rocks in the 90s, Perelman — still the 28th richest man in America — was a ringleader of bad business.


  1. What happened in the 90’s is very simple and true as of right now. Quebecor shares are now at .30 a share, which is good considering that is almost the price you pay to print a comic book. The transport alone is the bulk of cost, and the rest of the spoils go to the publishers. I know this for a fact, I printed 5000 comics and that was my cost. Now the two big publishers must be getting a better deal than me. They made and still make a big profit, at 3.50 and up an issue, that is pretty good chunck of change. Most likely Quebecor took the hit on the transport, so next time you buy a comic at 3.50, most likely they paid .50 or less to print that book. So spare me the sob stories how they did not make money, every millionaire will tell you they did not make a cent. Somebody was at the losing side in the 90’s, it was not the publishers.

  2. “Perelman — still the 28th richest man in America — was a ringleader of bad business.”

    As Sam Spade said … “bad for business all around” … unless you happen to be Ron Perelman. No matter how much money the companies lost, he still made money.

  3. I’m very much with Spurge on this one. Khoury’s piece seems well-intentioned but naive and/or revisionist. There was a lot of hard numbers-crunching done by TCJ in the 1990s and others (John Miller) that squarely fingered Marvel and Imagine in particular for fucking over the market. I did much of it myself and the numbers didn’t lie.

  4. I don’t get what you’re asking — Perelman bought Marvel in I think ’89 and was probably forced out in ’97, I’d guess, because the bankruptcy filing was in late ’96. I’d have to check.

    I don’t think anything in George’s essay or my response talks about industry history or actions outside of that time, except for the nod in the directions of the origin of the direct market.

    As a side point that doesn’t bear on the main one, wasn’t Hobson Publisher during the first five years that Perelman was there? Didn’t he go off and so something at an affiliate after that, maybe Panini? I’m confused.

  5. Tom, I guess I’m saying Marvel has had a pretty fluid corporate structure over the last 25 years ago — every other major comics publisher has had more or less the same brain trust. Thus when you say “Dark Horse” you mean Mike Richardson; DC means Paul Levitz; Diamond means Steve Geppi. However when you say Marvel it could be Hobson; Jim Galton; Ron Perelman, Joe Calamari; Avi Arad; Ike Perlmutter, Bill Jemas or even Dan Buckley. I’m not disagreeing with anything you wrote, I guess adding my own little footnote.

    And yeah, Marvel was the ringleader, with Image a close second. I think you could throw Valiant in there as well.

  6. I get that, I just don’t think it applies because what we were talking about was the Perlman era, so in this case it seems to me totally accurate to say Marvel and to mean Perelman and vice versa.

    I would have to be much more careful saying “Marder” and meaning “Image” because while Larry was on hand for the decision to go with Diamond, he generally wasn’t on hand for the worst abuses of late comics.

  7. That’s a weird distinction, Heidi, that also confused me, FWIW. Tom was writing about a specific period, in the 1990s. He wasn’t using the Ron Perelman-era Marvel synonymously with the past, present and future Marvel, just the 1990s Marvel, which was effectively Ron Perelman’s Marvel.

    As for what Michael Hobson would or wouldn’t have done… I never thought Larry Marder would let Image go exclusive with Diamond, so who knows.

  8. Next time I see Michael Hobson I’ll ask him if he ever wanted to buy Revlon and we’ll know for sure!

    Anyway there is no disagreement here. Just a note for those who came in late.

  9. Sandbox World,

    I don’t think anybody ever claimed that the comics publishing part of the business was losing big money. It was the rest of the dealings that did. They bought too much stuff. The Heroes World move was especially stupit. That ended up being a complete loss.

  10. As a comic fan and, briefly, a comic shop owner during the time period. I think George’s assessment of the situation was pretty spot on. Marvel under Perleman almost wrecked the market and the hobby. And Image, led I suspect by Liefeld, had a pretty good go at doing the same. But thankfully wiser heads prevailed at Image and Marvel paid the price for its bad business decisions.

  11. It all starts with Marvel, somewhere in the late 1980s. Shooter is forced out. New talent develops a following, sales increase, and these artists are given new titles which set sales records. The talent realizes the money being made, Marvel refuses to deal because they figure they can get someone else to draw the titles. The talent then forms Image with not enough planning. Meanwhile, Valiant creates another universe, and using variant covers and other gimmicks, becomes successful. Others see money to be made or power to be claimed, and so Malibu, Maverick, and others follow suit. Marvel gets greedy and decides to distribute their own titles exclusively. The scramble over distribution eventually forces the closure of TWO distributors. The Speculation Bubble bursts, resulting in a much smaller customer base and fewer stores.
    Meanwhile, two paradigms develop simultaneously: manga/anime matures into a mainstream culture with the introduction of Pokemon, and the release of the Spawn and Blade movies…

  12. … prove that lesser known characters can succeed in Hollywood. At the same time, Fantagraphics begins bookstore distribution, joining DC, Marvel, Viz, Dark Horse, WaRP, First, and Cartoon Books. As graphic novels begin to appear in bookstores, librarians are also able to order them wholesale, introducing a new generation of readers to the medium.
    Thus the Dark Age of Chronium, begun by Moore and Miller, perverted by Marvel and Image, was ended by a cute yellow rodent. Today we are in a Renaissance, as older work is rediscovered, new talent is inspired, and other cultures influence the medium.
    (sorry about the length, heidi.)

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