Wednesday, December 12, 2007



I got nothing. Today.

Well, OK, I'm endlessly transcribing the interview with Neil Gaiman, which is a slog despite his lilting voice (even going two+ days with no sleep, Neil's voice is pleasurable listening -- I mean, with him going two+ days with no sleep...). In fact, that's part of the problem: like most Americans, English accents carry a strange hypnotic quality, and I find myself having to back up time and again because I stop typing and start listening again, a problem I don't have when transcribing silly, shallow Americans, even when they're being deep, profound and articulate. I still think the bedrock of Vertigo was DC and Karen Berger being so thoroughly seduced by British accents that almost anything was acceptable if it was pitched with a UK accent of one kind or another, and this transcribing process has only reinforced that conviction.

This morning started with my hope of laying uselessly in bed and a fetid pool of my own snot for at least an hour past my usual waking time pounded soundly into the dirt with Marge being unable to get her car out of our ice-rink driveway. Well, she almost got it off by plowing into a snowbank, but still, that wasn't getting her to work, was it? I was up, dressed, and spreading 25 pounds of rock salt merrily within minutes. I let the salt do its work as I scarfed down breakfast, then hustled back out to add a few flourishes of sodium chloride to the remaining patches inhibiting vehicular movement, then I backed Marge's car out of the snowbank, up our driveway and into our garage for the morn. She's home working as I type this, and the driveway is already clear enough to ensure we'll both be at our respective dayjobs by after lunch, as we should be. Lucky us.

The other highlight of the week thus far has been prepping a crash-course, for both the Center for Cartoon Studies freshmen and seniors (each in different contexts), on what happened to the Direct Sales market in the 1990s. Here's the timeline I prepared, and riffed off of (with many personal anecdotes in the classroom delivery):

The Mid-’90s Comics Crash! A Time Line...

January 1989:
Billionaire, chairman of MacAndrews & Forbes and notorious Wall Street junkbond king Ronald O. Perelman buys Marvel Entertainment Group.

[Note: billionaire rival Carl C. Icahn fought Perelman’s reign throughout, repeatedly trying to acquire Marvel and/or organize shareholder revolts until he succeeded in June, 1997.]

Marvel Entertainment stock shares go public, yielding Perelman a $36 million cash dividend.

* March 1993:
Marvel’s “first junk bonds issued” (Comic Wars, pg. 242), yielding $288 million for Perelman; a second “tranche of junk bonds” yield $145 million in October 1993, a third set net $121 million in February 1994 (Ibid., pp. 241-243).

* Perelman’s restructuring of Marvel includes acquisition of Toy Biz (controlling shareholder: Isaac ‘Ike’ Perlmutter) via “shares-for-licensing rights deal” that makes Toy Biz a subsidiary of Marvel; Marvel also purchases trading card companies Fleer and SkyBox, Italian sticker manufacturer Panini, more.

* Marvel Entertainment stock reaches highest value since going public.

[Note: Kitchen Sink Press, founded in 1969, “merges” with Tundra Publishing, moves offices from Wisconsin to Northampton, MA., with Tundra founder Kevin Eastman reportedly holding majority share of 51%.]

“Pearl Harbor”
Marvel Comics pulls out of all Direct Market distribution to purchase NJ-based Heroes World Distribution, thus instituting/owning its own exclusive Direct Market distributor.

* Success of the feature film adaptation of James O’Barr’s The Crow-- earning $50 million in theatrical release alone -- creates a windfall for Kitchen Sink sales of Crow comics, graphic novels, merchandizing, exceeding all expectations.
* May 1994, Los Angeles-based investment banker group Ocean Capital Corporation acquire Kitchen Sink Press]


* DC Comics, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics and others sign exclusive distribution contracts with Diamond Distribution, the Direct Market’s largest distributor.

* DC Comics, Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics report drops in sales “as much as 15%” after signing with Diamond, though the three Diamond major exclusive publishers combined still constitute about 75 percent of the market, sans Marvel.

* Kitchen Sink Press is the only publisher to sign a similar exclusive with Capital City Distribution. Initially, this boosts KSP sales, but this boost doesn’t last into 1996.

* Marvel Entertainment suffers major losses, stocks value begin freefall.

Spring 1996:
Final Diamond Comics and Capital City Distribution trade shows. Capital City co-founders John Davis and Milton Griepp appeal to retail community; reportedly, Capital’s 1996 revenue was already half of 1995’s revenue.

July 26, 1996:
Capital City Distribution -- the second largest Direct Market distributor -- sells its assets to Diamond Comics to avoid bankruptcy. This provides Capital with a means of paying the approx. $7.4 million due to suppliers over a two-year period of incremental payments.

* The Direct Market shrank by at least 50% in the wake of the events of 1996. According to Capital City co-founder John Davis (subsequently employed by Diamond), “about half of the approximately 4500 retailers in business during 1996 dealt only with Diamond in the wake of the ‘distributor wars’...”

* Marvel Entertainment suffers further losses and stock collapse -- from $13.25 early in ‘96 to $4.50 per share and less -- down 85 percent from their high in 1993.

* Marvel fans launch a “reader rebellion,” boycotting Marvel product for almost a full year. Note that Marvel’s market share had slid throughout their ill-fated exclusivity upset: “from around 70 percent of American sales [in 1990-92] to 35 percent in 1995, then 25 percent to 1996” (Comic Wars, pg. 71).

* Kitchen Sink Press returns to Diamond, suffering many lost orders, revenues, etc. in the transition.
* Labor Day 1996 opening of The Crow movie sequel The Crow: City of Angels enjoys $9 million opening weekend boxoffice, then fades; Kitchen Sink merchandizing fails, a fiscal disaster for KSP on heels of Capital City’s demise and delayed payments.]


January, 1997:
Marvel Comics files for Chapter 11 corporate bankruptcy

February, 1997:
Marvel and Acclaim (a former indy publisher purchased by Marvel) sign exclusivity contract with Diamond as its sole distributor to the Direct Market.

June, 1997:
Ronald O. Perelman departs ownership of Marvel Entertainment Group; it is estimated that “Perelman’s net gain from eight years of running Marvel could be put at $280 million -- plus the tax advantages for his wider empire” (Comic Wars, pg. 243).
Rival billionaire and corporate-raider Carl C. Icahn, purchasing Marvel bonds throughout the 1996 company crisis, becomes Marvel’s chairman June 1997, appoints former Marvel executive Joseph Calamari the new CEO of Marvel.

[Note: Due to Marvel’s bankruptcy filing, prospective Kitchen Sink investors withdraw, deciding the comics business as a whole is too risky. Kevin Eastman and others had already departed KSP’s board; Denis Kitchen is fired by board of directors; Kitchen Sink closes shop later in 1997.]

Marvel Comics emerges from corporate Chapter 11 bankruptcy (and a period of time “for sale”) with Peter Cuneo, “a turnaround specialist, at the helm” (Fortune magazine; see sources, below) via aggressive licensing of Marvel characters and concepts to movies, TV, videogame and toy manufacturers, reversing Perelman strategies of 1989-1997.

October 1998:
Marvel Entertainment is restructered by bankruptcy court order with Toy Biz partners Isaac ‘Ike’ Perlmutter and Avi Arad at the helm. Carl Icahn departs “with a relatively paltry $3.5 million” (Comic Wars, pg. 252); Marvel stock ceases to exist, replaced by Toy Biz shares, which start at $7 per share. Note Icahn continued to fight, but soon abandoned the struggle.

[Note: By 2005, Marvel Enterprises was producing its own films with great initial success.]

Sources: The Comics Journal, various issues, 1993-97; Comic Wars by Dan Raviv (2002, Broadway Books, NY); Fortune, June 27, 2005, pg. 194.

And it was fun, fun, fun till Daddy took the T-Bird awaaaaaaaaay ---

Anyone still wondering why SpiderBaby Comix & Publications quietly folded up its tents in 1997, reread the above five times.

Have a whacked Wednesday!

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