A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reflections PART THREE/ Two Industries, One Code, Same Arrested Development

"Behind every great fortune is a crime."


Prior to the arrival in 1968 of the Pinoy Bomba comic, 1962 saw the closure of Don Ramon’s ACE Publications due to a widely publicized (but now downplayed) worker’s strike. But in the next few years, new comics companies such as Atlas and Graphic Arts Services, Inc. (GASI) AND a later revived ACE Publications would come to the fore, all owned by Don Ramon and managed by his right hand man, the Father of Filipino comics, Tony Velasquez. Obviously, the strike did not affect the comics publishing operations of Don Ramon who still lorded over the industry.

True, there were other comics publishers at the time, but they were not as big as Don Ramon’s operation. Significantly, these publishers were given no choice but to join Don Ramon’s APEPCOM and be controlled/censored by its “Golden Code.” It was mandatory. These publishers also had to rely on, or contend with, Don Ramon’s humongous distribution network of dealers and sub-agents in order to sell their comics. In effect, a truly free and fair market of independent and competing comics publishing companies was non-existent. They probably got some profit for their respective operations but certainly not as big or substantial as Don Ramon’s. Because of this they continued to remain relatively small and some, not lasting long enough.

And just who were these other comics publishers that no one remembers today and not even mentioned or given proper space in Don Ramon’s “History of Komiks in the Philippines and other countries”?

In the Philippines, there are several big names associated with komiks publishing. They are: Ramon Roces (Liwayway Publications), Mrs. Beatriz Guballa (Bulaklak Publications), D. Benipayo (Benipayo Press), G. Miranda (G. Miranda & Sons), E. Enriquez (Philippine Book Company), C. Picache (Bookman), Ner Siongco (Goldstar Publications), Filemon Campaner (Pioneer Publications), Glicerio M. Ramos (G.M.R. Publications), Amado Araneta (Makabayan Publications) and J. Pinili (PR Publications).” (Source: E.P. Patane, “Komiks: A Growing, Profitable, Publishing Venture”, The Asia Magazine, October 20, 1963)

As of 1963, the above in addition to some new ones which came up later like CRAF and PSG (two companies started by comics creators themselves after the closure of ACE) comprised the mainstream comics industry in the Philippines. All were APEPCOM members, and hence, all were controlled by Don Ramon.

It is said that after the closure of ACE in 1962 due to the worker’s strike, Don Ramon wanted to “retire” from comics publishing and pass on the reins to his two daughters: Carmen and Elena by forming Atlas and GASI in the late 60s. Some however, consider this view to be unsupported by the factual milieu and circumstances obtaining during the period.

To elaborate: in order to avoid liability for the striking ACE worker’s claims (and many other possible creditors), it is a common maneuver for companies to close shop or “lock out.” Even if you win in the labor courts, it would be very difficult executing the favorable judgment. Oftimes, you could not locate anymore the now closed company much less its properties which were already presumably “transferred” to new corporate entities. It would entail additional time and money just to locate them and annul their fraudulent transfers in court; time and money which the striking workers did not have. Don Ramon after all, still had Liwayway Publishing and a host of other business interests to his name to keep him occupied.

So in all probability, Don Ramon (and Tony Velasquez) brilliantly waded it out, closed shop, laid low by “retiring”, and creating in the late 1960s not one but TWO comics publishing companies where ACE’s properties were presumably transferred and its operations continued: Atlas and GASI, comics publishing companies which were actually managed by Damian Velasquez and his brother, Tony Velasquez.

Since ownership of these two companies were given by Don Ramon to his two lovely daughters, it was consequently made to appear albeit, in name only, that these were now two distinct and independent operations from ACE. The striking workers could not therefore immediately proceed against these two companies without incurring additional cost. So much so that when these workers began to disperse and resignedly disappear at the futility of it all, Don Ramon came back with a resuscitated ACE Publications in the late 1960s. Some retirement.

Even during this so-called “retirement”, Don Ramon was believed to be working behind the scenes. He still had control of, and was making money from, the entire mainstream comics industry during ACE’S hiatus through his huge comics distribution network of loyal dealer agents and sub-agents that carried Liwayway magazine and the other comics titles of competing publishers. Also, Don Ramon still controlled comics publishing policy through the APEPCOM which was being guided by his “Golden Code”. Competing mainstream comics publishers who were APEPCOM members had no choice but to tow the line.

Don Ramon’s comics titles had a higher circulation than all the other mainstream comics combined and naturally, his titles got more public display, recognition and patronage. Remember that by this time, distribution through makeshift “comics parlours”; that is, of sidewalk dealers specializing only in the sale and rental of foreign and local comics titles, was prevalent and Don Ramon’s titles comprised almost the entire mainstream comics industry; they dominated the comics parlours. It is thus safe to say that only Don Ramon’s ACE Publications was truly booming from the 1950s onto 1968. All the other publishers who were APEPCOM members had to settle for a smaller piece of the pie. To illustrate, if the annual profit of the entire industry was one and a half million pesos as of 1963, the bulk of that went to ACE Publications.

But as reported elsewhere there were other developments going on in the comics business of the 1960s, especially from the mid to late 1960s and early 1970s when Ferdinand Marcos was elected twice as President of the Republic, first in 1965 where he defeated President Diosdado Macapagal and the second in 1969 where he ran for re-election under a controversial election campaign marred by widespread vote-buying, bribery, and overall manipulation of the vote counting process. By the early 1970s, a Marcos rigged Constitutional Convention was set up in the hopes of prolonging Marcos’ stay in power but even that fizzled out to make way for the declaration of martial law in September, 1972.


The politics and societal developments of this era (1965 to 1972) is not to be belittled either. Its impact on the collective Filipino consciousness and psyche influenced and spread even to the medium of expression/communication called Filipino comics. How did such political turmoil affect the content and editorial direction of local comics publishing at the time? Answer: Sex and Politics. Topics that were taboo to the mainstream comics industry who concentrated on sedate, watered down, and harmless “escapist” comics stories brought about by Don Ramon and his 1950s APEPCOM Code, were explored and challenged nonetheless by still unknown and now forgotten, pioneer comics publishers. Sex came into the picture because of the sexual revolution that arose during this period; a form of social protest against the prevailing status quo's conservative and puritanical notions about sex. Politics and information also entered local comics because of rising public consciousness and disenchantment with government and its leaders.

In the late 60s and early 70s, bomba komiks-magasins ruled the day. Interspersed with vividly illustrated sex stories were photo reproductions of stills from smut films. It was also about this time that the public stirred in its consciousness of the potential of komiks-magasins as an influential opinion-maker. During the election campaigns of the period, komiks-magasins became arenas of political debate as well as vehicles for partisan propaganda.” (Source: Danny Mariano, “In the Name of the Masses”, TV Times Magazine, September 10-16, 1978 issue)

There is also the view that with all the political and societal turmoil going on in the mid to late 1960s, particularly during the time Don Ramon’s ACE was conspicuously absent from the market, that most of his loyal dealer agents and sub-agents weren’t getting their usual bulk of comics titles from Don Ramon for distribution. They became antsy. Don Ramon’s comics were their main bread and butter and in its absence, they had to look for an alternative source of revenue. The output of all the other new publishers weren’t enough to sustain their operations much less give them a decent and ongoing profit base as Don's Ramon's titles did. Moreover, some of these mainstream comics publishers like CRAF were developing alternative distribution routes in the provinces. So what is a comics dealer to do?

These confluence of events, the societal/cultural turmoil and the dealer’s search for a new source of income due to the absence of Don Ramon, led to the creation of the Pinoy Bomba comic in 1968.

As mentioned, history is still vague as to who were the enterprising and alternative publishers of the Pinoy Bomba comic. But the fact remains that in 1968, the bomba or Pinoy Erotic comic debuted and thrived in the newsstands at the time. That cannot be denied. And one doesn't accomplish that amazing feat unless one has also penetrated Don Ramon’s huge network of dealer agents and sub-agents. One could thus imagine a mad scramble by Don Ramon (and other mainstream APEPCOM comics publishers) to maintain a hold on the distribution network and control the market for Bomba comics.

Other than sex and politics treading new territory in the alternative publishing front, the Filipino mainstream komiks medium meanwhile morphed into something queer during this period. It became an extension of the showbiz news and gossip columns, promoting up and coming actors and actresses such as comedian Cachupoy, movie bad guy Martin Marfil, beauteous actress Amalia Fuentes, and a host of others, by featuring their image and likenesses in comics stories that practically served as scripts and storyboards for proposed films. Examples of these comics stories would be "Amalia ng Quiapo" (Amalia Fuentes), "Magic Bilao" (Cachupoy), and "Tagisan ng Agimat" (Bernard Bonin), all from CRAF's Redondo Komix. But then when two teen singer actress sensations came into the scene and pitted against each other by a manipulative movie press, there was born the Nora Vilma war. The komiks movie magazine was born.

Like the Pinoy Bomba komik, the komiks movie magazine employed for its covers, photographs and stills from movies of Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, their then "love team" male partners: Tirso Cruz III, Edgar Mortiz, and their supporting cast of other teen actors and actresses of the period. Inside, we would be treated to entertainment news and gossip of the stars, their upcoming movies, and the black and white comics strip. Specifically, these kinds of komiks were targeted at the large lower income, tagalog movie going public: the "bakya" crowd. A niche' market if ever there was one and a coup of the mainstream Filipino comic at the time. But even this did not bode well for mainstream komiks in general:

But komiks-magasins have been most thoroughly exploited by the drumbeaters of the local movie industry. It was not too long ago when most komiks-magasins were bitterly divided into highly partisan camps (for example Noranians vs. Vilmanians) rooting for their favorite stars. A komiks-magasin served as a venue for image-building (or image-breaking). Movie scribes, who maintained gossip columns in komiks-magasins (some of them still do), got embroiled in usually petty controversies, sometimes intentionally, over their particular clients. And the moviegoing, komiks-mgasin reading public lapped it up like bees to honey. That this trend has somewhat abated may signal a growing maturity among komiks-magasin readers.” (Source: Danny Mariano, “In the Name of the Masses”, TV Times Magazine, September 10-16, 1978 issue)


Pinoy Bomba comics were the biggest threat to the puritanical mainstream comics monopoly of Don Ramon. There was even a short-lived attempt to somewhat adopt its look and style during the early 1970s prior to martial law. This is where the Roces comics monopoly tried to use live-action black and white photos in place of hand-drawn panel illustrations in their comics sometimes called “photo-comics” which was prevalent at the time in Europe. It was Don Ramon’s way of competing against the black and white nude photos of the Pinoy Bomba comic. It did not succeed. Bomba comics was so successful that some mainstream comics artists and writers worked for these publishing houses in secret using aliases. It was even rumored that mainstream comics publishers (including Don Ramon) secretly put out bomba comics of their own using front men and dummies.

The political “opinion-making” komiks-magasin on the other hand, was being widely circulated and freely distributed in the countryside. Comics writers and artists (even comics publication houses) were commissioned by various politicians and organizations to make these “Info-Komiks” and it was a good alternative source of income that actually became a business for some.

Had martial law not set in, who knows what creative directions Filipino comics would have taken and evolved into from this introduction of new genres such as erotica, politics, and information dissemination? The diversity and success of the Japanese manga and French Bande Dessinee’ in fact, includes these genres in their repertoire.

It was also around this time of the late 1960s to early 1970s that local comics artists like Tony de Zuniga, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala and Alex Niño began to work for the mainstream American comics industry, particularly with National Periodical Publications/DC. They were soon followed in later years by other local comics artists whose economic needs were not being met in the country at the time. Note that ALL of these migrating comics artists worked mainly for the local mainstream comics industry controlled by Don Ramon and at that time, Don Ramon’s comics industry was facing real competition, and losing money, from the alternative Pinoy Bomba comic in the newsstands.

On hindsight, if Don Ramon’s mainstream comics were facing stiff competition in the newsstands from the ubiquitous bomba comic, and was conversely losing money forcing his artists to do the more lucrative mainstream comics work in the U.S., it is NOT correct to say that this so-called “mass exodus” brought about the alleged death of Filipino comics in general or the conveniently vague “Golden Age of Filipino Comics” continuing to the late 60s and early 70s. Nothing could be farther than the truth.

Rather, it is more precise to say that the so-called “Golden Age” of the MAINSTREAM comics monopoly of Don Ramon was ending around this time, NOT the whole medium of Filipino comics per se. Many would like to think that Filipino comics at that time was being brought to another level by OTHER alternative publishers BEYOND the rigid strictures of the outdated APEPCOM Code. Those alternative publishers were those of the Pinoy bomba comic, Political comic, and Info-Komik.

But by some fluke accident of Philippine history, the total collapse of the Roces monopoly did not occur. It was interrupted. Not only did the monopoly survive, but the competing publishers of the Pinoy Bomba, Political, and Info comics were arrested as well. That fluke was the declaration of martial law in September, 1972, by President Ferdinand Marcos. But before we could elaborate on this further, let us look at the U.S. mainstream comics industry where similar to the Philippine scenario, American mainstream comics, also regulated by a similar Comics Code, was likewise losing ground in the newsstands. Different milieu, different players, but essentially the same story: the self-inflicted failure of dominant or monopolized mainstream comics publishers to meet ever changing societal taste and preferences that arrest their growth and development.


In America as well, there was social unrest during the late 1960s brought on by the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, the Feminist movement, and other protests that questioned the very structure of American society. The mainstream comics industry however, was still stuck with a 1954 Comics Code that did not acknowledge that the World was changing. Mainstream comic book standards still defined the target reader as a child, and there was no acknowledgment on the part of members of the CMAA (Comics Magazine Association of America, the trade organization charged with overseeing the U.S. Comics Code, and the equivalent of the Don Ramon’s APEPCOM) that the comics medium should move beyond the content suitable for an audience of ALL ages. Newsstand sales were dwindling and mainstream comics publishers, particularly National/DC and Marvel, were concerned about broadening their audience beyond children in order to improve newsstand sales.

For example, the 1954 Comics Code totally forbade any reference to drugs in a comics story. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee considered otherwise when in the late 1960s he put out three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, i.e., nos. 96-98, containing a subplot dealing with the drug addiction of Harry Osborn, a supporting cast member of the title. The issues were put out without the Comics Code Authority’s seal of approval. Instead of being chastised, Marvel got high praise from the news media for being relevant and of informing the public (teenagers especially) about the dangers of drug addiction. This was later followed by National/DC’s highly acclaimed Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics series which tackled issues such as drug addiction, over population, racial prejudice, feminism, environmentalism, and judicial due process.

Roy Thomas, then at Marvel, recalls that in 1970 the publishers were looking for new markets. “Super-heroes couldn’t do it all,” he said. And while Marvel could have published Mystery titles like those of DC under the old Code, Thomas noted: “We wanted to go further and felt the Code was holding us back.” (Source: Amy Kiste Nyberg, “Cracking the Code: The Liberalization of the Comics Code Authority”, an excerpt from her book: “Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code”, 1998 University Press of Mississippi, reprinted in “Comic Book Artist Collection, Volume 1, Two Morrows Publishing, 2000).

Code of Censorship liberalized too late with no new readers entering the market

These actions led to proposals by mainstream comics publishers National/DC and Marvel to amend or modify certain terminologies or wordings of the 1954 Comics Code. The liberalization would refer to the treatment and use of horror, crime, illicit sex, seduction, abortion, poverty, the generation gap, and political unrest as subject matters in mainstream comics. This was needed in order to attract more readers with mature tastes to U.S. mainstream comics. Unfortunately, DC and Marvel were voted down by other conservative CMMA member publishers such as Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, and Charlton Comics. The Comics Code thus remained unchanged.

But as a sort of compromise, realising that there was truth in the proposal of attracting new readers other than children in order to improve newsstand sales and save the comics market, “Guidelines” were issued by the CMAA in lieu of an amendment of the entire Code. These guidelines “interpreted” provisions of the Code which in effect allowed for the partial relaxation of old prohibitions. There were new guidelines on the use of narcotics in 1971, Guidelines allowing the use of Ghouls, vampires and werewolves in comics stories with the qualification that they should be “handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula and other high caliber literary works read in schools throughout the world.”

Roy Thomas: The fact that the moment the Code was changed, Stan told me to create a vampire super-villain, shows that we were indeed chomping at the bit. I’d had my “I, Werewolf” idea long before, too, and it soon became “Werewolf by Night”. Comics also became somewhat more graphic in their depiction of violence and sex, and occasionally the Code Authority issued memos interpreting the regulations. One such Memo was issued April 13, 1974, and clarified the definitions of “excessive bloodshed and gore” as well as warning publishers about their treatment of sex. Darvin wrote:

“Running or dripping blood, or pools of blood, are not permitted. A very small stain around a wound may be acceptable, but must be kept to a minimum. There must be no impression of gore in any areas of objection by governmental and private agencies concerned with children.” The memo also cautioned publishers that the topic of rape was forbidden, that the Code prohibited any illustration or dialogue that indicates a sexual act is actually taking place, and that homosexuality or any suggestion by illustration, dialogue or text was strictly forbidden.

Another memo, dealing with the topics of drug addiction, nudity and alcohol, was issued in 1978. The memo, written by Darvin, noted that stories showing or describing any kind of drugs, including marijuana, had to definitely state or show it being a harmful substance. Publishers were also violating Code standards of nudity by submitting art work that showed nude buttocks or “so insufficiently covered as to amount to nudity.” Darvin warned publishers that such representations were not allowed under state statutes that legally defined nudity. He also warned against showing the drinking of alcohol and instructed publishers to avoid gratuitous display of signs or scenes showing liquor, beer or
(Source: Amy Kiste Nyberg, “Cracking the Code: The Liberalization of the Comics Code Authority”, Ibid.)

But this so-called relaxation of the conservative Comics Code was illusory. Despite the efforts of DC and Marvel to uplift the medium’s content in their respective pages during the late 1960s and early 1970s, overall newsstand sales of mainstream American comics continued to decline as their young readers of the 1950s and 1960s grew older looking for new mature reading fare. Consequently, the further relaxation of the Comics Code in later years came in too late. The continuity of readership was broken. Mainstream comics sold in the newsstands were still mainly targeted for the new generation of children and teenagers.

Despite its softened stance, the 1971 Code represents a lost opportunity for the industry. The publishers were generally content with the status quo and unwilling to risk their economic health on experimentation that would challenge the public’s perception of the books. The Code’s reaffirmation of comic books as a medium intended for children effectively shut the door on the possibility of attracting a broader audience for comic books and restricted the artistic development of the medium.” (Source: Amy Kiste Nyberg, “Cracking the Code: The Liberalization of the Comics Code Authority”, Ibid.)

Dell, Gold Key/Whitman, Harvey and Charlton comics eventually closed shop in the 1970s. Of the child-friendly comics faithful to the Comics Code, only Archie remained and is operating to this day.

"Today (2000), Archie Comics' main demographic is 7 to 14-year olds, a little more than half being female, [publisher Michael] Silberkleit says. At its sales height, during WWII, Archie sold 6 million copies a month, many of them to soldiers who liked reading comics from home. Now the entire Archie line of comics - 32 titles - sells just fewer than 1 million copies a month." (From a Scripps Howard News Service story in the Denver CO Rocky Mountain News, August 2000)"(Source: http://www.christiancomicsinternational.org/quote_americas.html)

Dishonesty in the newsstands

DC and Marvel executives in the late 1960s and early 1970s wondered why their more experimental and socially relevant comics titles were not selling in the newsstands. In answer, Neal Adams advanced the view that there was some dishonesty being committed in that newsstand dealers, most of whom would become future mainstream comics collectors and comics convention organizers, would not return a significant number of certain copies back to the publisher. These dealers would just report them as unsold by way of a sworn ‘affidavit returns’ and then later sell the copies for a higher price to fellow comics enthusiasts and collectors. The comics publisher meanwhile would be given the wrong impression that its best titles weren’t selling, and then cancel them altogether. Ironically, these “dishonest” dealers would later form the “direct market” that would “save” the mainstream comics industry from the demise of newsstands. Neal Adams:

They have a concept in the comic book business called affidavit returns. If you send 50 comic books to your local distributor, and he tells you that he didn’t sell 40 of them, he doesn’t have to rip off the covers or cut the title off and return it to you like he once had to; he has to sign a piece of paper that says he DESTROYED the 40 copies. It was the beginning of comic conventions and comics dealers in those days and the question you have to ask is, where did they get the book they sold?

The place they got them was out the back door of their local comics distributors who invariably had a table in that backroom that had Playboy magazines, Marvel Comics, DC Comics and other magazines.

In light of that, Strange Adventures “didn’t sell well enough”, so they cancelled it. I did the X-Men for 10 issues and they “didn’t sell well enough to continue,” so they cancelled it. Green Lantern/Green Arrow “didn’t sell well enough,” so they cancelled it. On the other hand, I have perhaps signed tens, if not hundreds of thousands of these comic books at conventions. On the other hand, the comics that I did covers for—Superman or Superboy—would rise 10 to 15% in sales just because I did the covers. That meant that the collectors weren’t rapacious enough to collect those simply because I just did the covers but the ones which I drew the insides.

That was a very strange phenomenon. The books that were stand-out and did really well didn’t have better sales than any of the other books; sometimes less. The reason? They were disappearing out of the back of the distributors’ warehouses. Why did they cancel the book? I think we may have some dishonest people in the magazine distribution business…or not.

Remember also…when sales weren’t doing well, apparently the numbers are lowered. When numbers go down and it’s a good book, in those days fan-dealers would dive in and buy as many copies from the distributors’ “cash table” as they could.

Mysteriously, the “apparent” sales would continue to drop. DC knew they had a “hot book”, but sales continued into the dumpster. Hell, when I went over to do work at Marvel, they told me “Deadman” was the only DC book they ever read at Marvel.

Carmine was baffled and remains baffled to this day, but, remember, Carmine was publisher in name only. He apparently didn’t ever understand how sales figures worked on “newsstand sales.”

For those of you who care, it works like this: After one month you are told what percentage of your books were returned. As each succeeding month goes by, your returns increase while (obviously) your sales go down. This goes on for a final figure at six months. (Some returns trickle in even then) If returns come in after six months and they’re valid, the distributor makes an accommodation. But six months is it. Your sales NEVER rise because sales are based on returns.

Carmine never quite understood sales and “returns”, and a lot of misinformation was disseminated at DC in those days, to the detriment of editorial and creative.

Personally, I made friends with accounting, record-keeping and production departments. After a while I knew more than the editors and sometimes I shared that information with some very confused and misinformed folk.

If you doubt my information, please remember Continuity Comics were on the newsstands for about three
years and we are a “hands-on” publisher
.” (Source: Jon B. Cooke, “A Quiet Pitched Battle from Day One: Talking to Neal Adams on his Hell-raising’ DC days”, Comic Book Artist Collection, Volume 2, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2002).

Dealing with the newsstand crisis by flooding the market

Faced with a Comics Code that stunted their creative growth, development, and maturity, DC and Marvel were getting the wrong information from dishonest newsstands that their experimental and best titles were not selling. Both mainstream comics publishers looked with envy at other publications that were selling in the millions in the newsstands. Specifically, they were looking at the black and white, newsstand magazine formats of MAD Magazine, WARREN Publications, and their imitators.

MAD Magazine, published by William M. Gaines of E.C. Comics, is actually a comic book but whose appearance was altered early on in the late 1950s into magazine format in order to avoid the censorship of the Comics Code Authority. Not being tied down by the Code, MAD consequently grew and developed creatively as a successful, if not oftimes controversial, social satire comic that attracted not only children but a devout adult following as well. Because of this, it had tremendous success in the newsstands even though it was in black and white and had frequent reprint issues.

Jim Warren, owner and publisher of WARREN PUBLICATIONS on the other hand, concentrated in the horror genre. Like MAD Magazine, it too published black and white horror comics in magazine format and was consequently not under the jurisdiction of the Comics Code Authority. WARREN was doing all the prohibited restrictions of the Comics Code against the horror genre and was employing the top illustrators and artists of the 1960s, some of whom were former E.C. Comics alumni of the 1950s such as Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Johnny Craig, Reed Crandall, George Evans, John Severin, Wally Wood, new bloods Neal Adams, Archie Goodwin, Jerry Grandenetti, Gray Morrow, Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Angelo Torres, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Sanjulian, Ken Kelly, Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, and the great Alex Toth. It had a young and adult audience for its line and was selling in the millions in the newsstands. Its titles were: CREEPY, EERIE, and VAMPIRELLA. Jim Warren’s comics magazine publishing success would continue on to the 1970s with the entry of Spanish illustrators doing most of the interior black and white pages: Enrich (cover artist), Jose Gonzalez, Felix Mas, Jose Bea, Esteban Maroto, Rafael Aura Leon, Ramon Torrents, Jose Ortiz, and Luis Garcia Mozos, to name a few.

These top two black and white comics in magazine format, not constrained by a censor body, and having a huge young and adult market, and were selling in the millions in the newsstands, was the envy of Marvel and DC; especially Marvel who was exploring any and all means to increase its newsstand readership base by riding on trends such as the martial arts, underground comix, minorities, the feminist movement, social satire and the horror genre. Of the last two, Marvel produced a MAD imitation: CRAZY, and the latter, several black and white comics magazines such as Savage Sword of Conan, Savage Tales, Planet of the Apes, and others.

Marvel also looked to what was working for other publishers. The Warren Publishing Company and its iconoclastic publisher, Jim Warren, had enjoyed years of modest success with black-and-white magazine format comics such as Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Stan hired Marv Wolfman, a former Warren editor, to create a line of similar titles for Marvel. Because they were published as magazines, the books were exempt from Comics Code Authority regulations on sex and violence. Although they never descended into outright nudity, titles such as The Savage Sword of Conan and Dracula Lives! Boasted tiltillation and bloodshed that far exceeded what would have been acceptable in the company’s four-color offerings. ‘We were experimenting with comics and the so-called Marvel formula that Stan had created in the early 1960s, and we were trying to take it to the next step,” says Wolfman. “The new fans coming in wanted something stronger and better. This was a new generation and they needed their own approach while maintaining the things that worked at Marvel.” (Source: Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon, “Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book”, Ibid).

With the exception of Conan that lasted well into the 1980s, all of Marvel’s black-and-white comics magazines failed in the newsstand market. DC only produced two titles in this same arena in the early 1970s all by Jack Kirby, but they were discontinued immediately.

The main reason for the failure on these attempts was that in 1971, the new corporate owners of DC and Marvel were engaged in a newsstand war, of “flooding” the market with comics titles. They did not truly concentrate on the creative conceptualization and development of a comics title but on the all-out war for dominance of the newsstand’s limited rackspace.

The result of having too many comics titles in one newsstand ALL selling for a measly 20 to 40 cents, as against other magazines being sold in the same newsstand for more than a dollar, was that the newsdealer had little or no rack space to display and sell these REDUNDANT comic titles, i.e., The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey Super Stories, Marvel Team-up, etc. when it has several other and "different" single title magazines selling for more than a dollar and were bestsellers, i.e., TIME, Playboy, TV Guide, the National Enquirer, to name a few.

More often, boxes and bales of comics titles were sent back to the distributor unopened, undisplayed, and UNSOLD. True, both mainstream companies were experiencing problems with the Code authority, rising production costs, paper shortages, competition from other media and all that, but this was no excuse to flood the market. MAD and WARREN were ALSO experiencing the same problems and yet, they NEVER flooded the newsstand market. MAD stuck to its one magazine title and made a mint by reprinting the same black and white contents in paperback editions. WARREN on the other hand, stuck to its big three: CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA. Their "few" black and white magazine-formatted comics continued to be the displayed in the newsstands, and consequently continued to sell in the hundreds of thousands as opposed to DC and Marvel's colored 50 to 80 comicbook titles.

The comic book market was weakening due to rising production costs, paper shortages, and escalating competition from television and other media. And, despite their popularity, Marvel’s superheroes were not selling as well as they had only a few years before. The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel’s number one title sold 290,000 copies per month in 1972, compared with 370,000 monthly copies in 1968. Of the dozens of publishers who had tried to mine the comic-book business since the late 1930s, only six remained in operation. Marvel and DC, the leaders, were slugging it out for industry dominance. In a bid for the upper hand, Stan resorted to one of Martin Goodman’s classic ploys: he flooded the market. DC responded in kind. From 1975 to 1978, the two companies would release 100 new titles, more than two-thirds of which were axed within two years. They lobbed genre after genre at their ever-shrinking readership, hoping something would stick.” (Source: Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon, “Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book”, Chicago Review Press, 2003 ed.)

"CBA: So the distributor made the decision to go 48 pages at 25 cents, Marvel follows suit for only one month...

Carmine Infantino: Then, Marvel switches around and goes to 20 cents, giving the distributor 50% off. When we went to 25 cents, we gave the distributor a 40% discount. Marvel goes in and cuts the price 20% and gives the distributor 50% off. Whoa! They were throwing our books back in our face! They were pushing Marvel's books so it really became a slaughter.

CBA: Were there any controls that held you at 25 cents?

Carmine Infantino: The price structure was set up by Wendell, Ingelsias and Chamberlin. Marvel had the 20 cent books and they took the lead in sales. Why they took the lead is the 50% discount so the distributors and wholesalers made more money with Marvel. So the distributors put out Marvel and couldn't have cared less about us. Eventually, we had to give 50% off because we were getting slaughtered. We had to drop to 20 cents. " (Source: Jon B. Cooke, "Director Commentsfrom Art Director to Publisher: The Infantino Interview", Comic Book Artist, Volume 1 TwoMorrows Publishing, 2000 ed.)

Although Marvel’s overall business was growing slowly, individual title sales were slipping, meaning that the profit margin on any given book was getting slimmer. That led to cost-cutting measures, such as slashing page counts and reducing the physical size of pages commissioned from artists. At one point, Marvel instructed its artists to draw one story page per issue as a two page spread, thus lightening their paychecks by a page’s worth of compensation.” (Source: Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon, “Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book”, Ibid).

"For example, Marvel published only one comic book starring Spider-Man several years ago. It sold, let us say, X no. of copies and may Y profits for a cost of 2 dollars. By adding a second title starring Spider-Man, Marvel thought it could sell X + X copies and make Y + Y profits for a cost of 2 + 2 dollars. What happened however, was that the 2 Spider-Man titles sold only 3/4X + 1/2X copies and made a rofit of only 3/4Y + 1/2Y. The cost was the full 2 + 2, though.

That's what we call diminishing returns, folksies. Rather than get a full X worth of sales and Y worth of profits from the new investment of 2 dollars, Marvel got a diminished return on its second investment and a reduced return on its original investment.

Similarly, when Marvel then added a third Spider-Man book, it was paying 2 + 2 + 2 dollars to do so but only getting something like 5/8 X + 3/8X + 1/4 X sales and only 5/8 Y + 3/8Y + 1/4 Y profits.

Marvel actually has 3 Spidey titles now when you count Marvel Team-Up which always features the Web-Spinner and each individually sells fewer copies per issue than what the original Spider-Man title sold in a one-book market. Granted, the combined total sales of the 3 books are higher than one book's sales ever were, aggregate return less rofits now that the one Spidey book did during its heydey in the late 1960s.

All of which brings us to less is more and its eminent desire for comic-books. What has happened to Marvel's three Spider-Man titles happens to a larger sense to the comic-book macrocosm.

All titles compete against each other and take readers away from each other. Moreover, because of the vagaries of the magazine market we discussed in previous columns, there is only a limited amount of space available on retail display racks--distributors estimate there is room for only about four of every 10 comics published today.

So the question then is why produce all those additional comics in the first place, comics that will never sell because they will never be seen? The old argument that you have to over-produce to sell notwithstanding, there is no reason to be glutting the market. Distributors say they can only distribute four of every 10, so why give them 10? Give them four because that's how many you know they can distribute." (Source: Joe Brancatelli, from his colum: "The Comic Books", CREEPY, Warren Publications, No. 86, February, 1977 issue)

The downside of these deliberate and poorly thought-out shenanigans was that the publishing side of DC and Marvel suffered. By 1974, both mainstream comics companies were not anymore earning substantial income from newsstand sales. Instead, income was mostly being derived from, and all corporate efforts redirected to, the licensing of their respective comics characters to other media such as toys, television, records, clothing, snack items, etc. Comics publishing consequently took a back seat to licensing. Licensing became the apple of DC and Marvel's corporate owners' eyes. With this reversal of priorities, it soon came to a point where the comics publishing aspect of the business would be totally ignored. The corporate bigwigs who inflicted the damage in the first place would claim in nonchalance: Newsstand sales isn't doing any good so why continue publishing? Indeed, WHERE else can one sell these mainstream comic books? Is there any other distribution network besides the newsstands that could cover their voluminous output? This sad turn of events would continue on to the early 1980s where American mainstream comics publishing would be given a second lease on life by the specialized and enclosed world of the‘direct market’ initiated by comics convention "fans".

This sad experience of "flooding" the comics market was not shared in the Philippines (and Japan) mainly because it had makeshift and ambulant comics specialty STALLS situated in the sidestreets called "comics parlours". These ubiquitous stalls and kiosks (banketas) did not carry anything else besides cheap "comicbooks" that were either for sale or for rent. Because they carried nothing but comic books, there was no serious competition for valuable rack space within the comics parlours. The U.S. would experience the same thing later in the 1980s with their more classy "direct market" and "comics specialty shops". As will be shown later, the business arrangement of the U.S. direct market between publisher and dealer is practically the same as that being practiced in the Philippines since the 1950s, and that is, some comics publishers directly sell their comics titles in bulk to comics dealer/agents at a discount. The dealers in turn sell or rent out these discounted comics for a profit in banketa comics parlours.

Turning our attention now, back to the Philippine comic scene in 1972...

This is getting too long, folks. Time-out. Let's reserve the best part in the next installment: THE SECOND RISE OF THE PHILIPPINE MAINSTREAM COMICS INDUSTRY: 1974 to 1989, Media Control under Martial Law, Monopolising the newsstands, Marvel's continued aping of comics with adult markets like Heavy Metal in the 1980s, the influence of the 1960s underground comix movement, and more factual surprises unearthed by yours truly, otherwise known as the guilty pleasure of today's globalized Filipino comics "art" community. :)


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