Friday, November 30, 2012

BobRo Archives: The DC Implosion

More than a decade ago, I wrote an online column for Silver Bullet Comic Books. In addition to trivia quizzes and answers to questions, I wrote on a variety of topics of interest to comics fans. Those columns were archived online for many years, but I recently learned that they are no longer available.
For your reading pleasure, I will re-present these musings with minimal editorial changes...


Spiraling inflation spelled doom for the 35c price of comic books in early 1978. (Yes, imagine that, a standard 32-page comic book for 35c!) Faced with having to raise the price a nickel to 40c, publisher Jenette Kahn opted instead from something much bolder: DC would add eight pages of new story material and raise the price to half a buck. It was promoted as “The DC Explosion,” though no one at the time realized just what kind of a big bang would result.

Team books like Justice League  would carry 25-page stories which “gives us something we haven’t had for the better part of a decade: the chance to do full-length stories with fully-developed sub-plots and characterization,” Kahn explained in her Publishorial “Onward and Upward.”

Other titles, rather than expanding a single story, would become the home for new back-up features as well as old favorites. As Kahn put it, “some of your favorite characters that haven’t been able to carry an entire 17-page title: Enemy Ace, The Human Target, The Atom, and OMAC.” Well, that’s almost true. After all, The Atom’s own magazine lasted six years in the previous decade… certainly impressive considering the average lifespan of a comic book today.  Even OMAC, which ran for 8 issues over a little more than a year, outshines much of the current output.

“We’re not stopping here,” Kahn promised. “We’re continuing to grow and branch out, to boldly go where no comics company has gone before.”

Actually, she was following a path similar to one chosen by her predecessor, Carmine Infantino, six years earlier. At that time, with comics set to raise prices from 15c to 20c, Infantino added sixteen pages of reprints and pushed the price to a quarter. The plan was apparently “unacceptable to retailers” and soon after, DC was back to 32-page books for 20c, like the rest of the industry. [One has to wonder why a retailer, who makes his money off a percentage of cover price, would want cheaper magazines. The owner of the mom-and-pop store where I bought my comics had been quite happy to have me handing over a few extra quarters a week. When the prices dropped by a nickel, he grumbled about “those %&#$ publishers” taking money out of his pocket.]

And where Infantino’s plan was unacceptable to retailers, Kahn’s plan was shot down by her bosses upstairs at Warner Publishing. Even as DC was launching the Explosion, horrendous sales reports for the winter months were coming in. Thanks to a series of blizzards and ice storms, hundreds of thousands of comic books never even made it out of warehouses, reducing sell-through percentages to their worst-ever levels. Taking this on a strictly dollars-and-cents level, the Warner Publishing powers-that-be told Kahn and company President Sol Harrison to cancel the plans for bigger books and cut the line to 20 32-page titles at 40c each.

Faster than The Flash could outrun a bullet, writers and artists were stopped in mid-assignment. Books were canceled, new projects were axed. Twenty-five page stories were chopped down to fit into the old 32-page format. Back-up features were tossed into filing cabinet drawers. And more than a couple of people lost their jobs. The publishing breakthrough that had been hailed as an Explosion suddenly became known as “the DC Implosion.”

From the rubble emerged Cancelled Comics Cavalcade,  two blank-covered volumes of the material consigned to the filing cabinets. Ostensibly created to protect the copyrights on all the material, CCC was also a way for the fanboys on staff to create something of a collectible for the people who worked on the axed features. Thirty-five copies were produced in the Warner Duplicating department (and “Neil of the Magic Finger” was thanked for his efforts); thirty-four went to the creative folks involved and the copyright office. The last copy went to Price Guide publisher Bob Overstreet “to show the world it actually happened.”

The contents of CCC are not exactly a tightly-guarded secret. Overstreet reports that in 1989 a set of the two volumes was sold for $1200. Through the years, duplicates have been made and circulated from either that set or one of the others. (Not surprisingly, no one has ever come forward to claim credit for “leaking” the copies.) Just last week, after I mentioned that CCC would be the subject of my column, emails circulated about the availability of “twelfth-generation copies.” With so much money to be made auctioning things off on eBay and similar sites, I suppose it’s only a matter of time before an original set turns up there.

One little-known fact about CCC: At the time we were about to hand out the 34 copies, I suggested to then-Editorial Coordinator Paul Levitz that we should mark the originals, by having some of us sign random pages in colored ink. That way, any pirated duplicates could be recognized instantly. Though he agreed with the concept, it wasn’t done, leaving the door open for someone with a bit of skill to make bogus “genuine” copies.


Next time, a look at the contents of Cancelled Comics Cavalcade.

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