Sunday, December 10, 2006

It Was Almost 20 Years Ago Today...

Today, a friend asked me how long I had been doing Comic Shop News. That's really a pretty easy calculation; take the number of issues, divide by 52, and there you go!

Well, I'm putting together material for CSN #1019 right now; quick math revealed that we were past the 19 1/2 year mark and closing in on 20 years in late spring of 2007. That's a long time to do any one thing--and a long time to enjoy doing it.

I began doing fanzine work in 1965, at the age of 11 (shortly before my 12th birthday). More specifically, I began submitting work to fanzines at that time; none of it was published right away, so I did what any good fan does: I figured out how to do my own fanzines. Then, in 1968, a correspondent/friend named Stven Carlberg (he was still spelling it Steven back then) launched an amateur press alliance called Myriad for fans who wanted to talk about topics that didn't necessarily fit into the pages of CAPA-Alpha, the premiere comics apa of the time. Suddenly I was a part of the world of fandom, doing fanzines of all sorts on a regular basis; I did reviews, commentary, fan-fiction, artwork, poetry, comics... heck, I tried my hand at everything! I became accustomed to working on deadlines; I began to work on improving my wordsmith skills; and I had fun all the while.

Fanzines led to some pro work in the early 70s, doing some reviews and a couple of article for Jim Steranko's ComixScene (the name of which was later changed to Mediascene as Steranko expanded the focus of the publication), and a short-lived paperback anthology series called Quark. That led to some other reviews for fanzines, and eventually a short-lived SF and comics review magazine called Future Retrospective, put together by Susan and me for about four years. FR got some good press, Susan and I won a Rebel Award for our work in Southern SF fandom, and then I turned my attention to a club newsletter for the fledgling Atlanta Science Fiction Club. That newsletter, Atarantes, brought me in contact with a talented but quirky artist named Jerry Collins, and he in turn introduced me to an enthusiastic fan named Ward Batty.

Ward and I ended up working together on Atarantes for a while, and we enjoyed the partnership enough that we became partners in Dr. No's as well. We transformed the used bookstore/used record store into a full-line comic shop, and that led to our doing a newsletter for our own customers. A couple of other shops asked if we would be willing to sell our blank newsletter to them so that they could put their store name on it. From there, we came up with the idea of a comic shop newsletter that shops all over the country could offer to their customers for about a dime a copy... and thus Comic Shop News was born in 1987.

Did we make money from the start? Heck, no! In fact, we lost money for a while... and then, we hit the break-even point and hung there for a good while (it seemed quite long, but I don't believe it was much more than two years...). Quite literally, CSN was a labor of love. I had plenty of training for it; I had done fanzines for more than two decades by that time, and none of those fanzines had been moneymakers (that's the nature of fanzines, in fact; they're means of expression and communication, not commerce). Even so, I'll admit that I was more than a little pleased when CSN began generating paychecks for me and for Ward. (I suspect Ward was even more pleased; while I was still teaching at the time, Ward's sole sources of income were the store and CSN).

Every week since then, we've put together an issue of Comic Shop News--first, they were four-page black and white issues, then four pages with a color cover and centerspread, then eight pages with color cover and centerspread, finally moving to eight full-color pages. For years, CSN was printed at Star Printing in Acworth, Georgia; issues were delivered to distributors via truck line and then shipped to comic shops all over America and beyond. From there, we moved to Anderson Printing in Sylacauga, Alabama (now American Printing, I believe, although I may have the name wrong), because Marvel was printing there and thus they were already having regular pickups by distributors, so we could get into the system quickly and painlessly. (We didn't leave Star due to dissatisfaction, but due to the fact that they simply didn't have a press that could do full color; a color cover and centerspread was the best they could give us at the time.)

A lot of people don't believe that Ward and I have done pretty much every issue, but it's true. Ward has taken a couple of issues off, having Brett Brooks step in to handle layout and production; I took part of one issue off when I had a heart attack and open-heart surgery, imposing on Brett and Mike Doran to take what I'd begun and finish it out for Ward (the files were on my computer, and Susan had to help them to get the raw material I had in the works and finish it up). But that was only one issue, and then I was back at it... and even then, a significant portion of the issue was my work, since I tend to work ahead on several pieces.

Have we really done 1019 issues? No. We've actually done a little over 1100 issues, since we've done four seasonal specials each year for 18 years, plus a Christmas Special, plus a collector's guide for several years. It's well over 10 million words of work to date, and I'm still plugging away at it.

I don't have illusions that Comic Shop News will continue forever... but I have to admit that I never thought, back in 1987, that we'd be doing it a thousand issues later. I'd like to do enough issues to surpass Comics Buyer's Guide in numbering; they were weekly for many years before going monthly, so we're slowly catching up on 'em, but I figured it out once and I'd have to keep doing this until I'm 75 before we actually passed them...

I'm not ruling it out, though! I'm not planning on it, either; I'm just doing a week at a time, having fun with it, and seeing what happens next.


Charles said...

And the scary thing is, I've read almost every issue, even back to 'The Doctor Knows' news letter.

Tredekka said...

And I used to read "Frank" by Brett, for the five weeks that was out. Many kudos on producing the periodical I've read more than any other...and I'm hoping will be around for quite a while longer! By the way, I've lost count of how many tiny off-season gifts I've given that were wrapped in one of your eye-catching color covers...I even started cutting out the blank local comic stamp bit to write the to:/from: info there.

Anonymous said...

I love CSN...even with all the Internet hoopla that has surrounded comics, CSN has standards of journalism and propriety that DO count. I always enjoy the creator interviews, checklists, and previews of upcoming comics!