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|Former type||Comics publisher, Retailer, Distributor|
|Founded||1971 (as mail order retailer)
1981 (as comics publisher)
|Founder(s)||Bill Schanes, Steve Schanes|
|Defunct||1984 (ceased publishing)
|Headquarters||San Diego, California|
|Key people||Steven E. Schanes, Christine Marra, Paul "Pablo" Schanes, Chris Schanes|
|Owner(s)||Blue Dolphin Enterprises|
Pacific Comics (PC) was an independent comic book publisher that flourished from 1981-1984. It was also a chain of comics shops and a distributor. It began out of a San Diego, California, comic book shop owned by brothers Bill and Steve Schanes. Along with competitors like First Comics and Eclipse Comics, PC took early advantage of the growing direct market, attracting a number of writers and artists from DC and Marvel to produce creator-owned titles, which were not subject to the Comics Code, and thus were free to feature more mature content.
In 1971, the Schanes brothers co-founded Pacific Comics, which started out:
. . . as a mail-order company, selling to consumers via ads in the Comics Buyer's Guide. This led to advertisements inside some Marvel comics, and ultimately to tangible retail stores. The first Pacific Comics store opened in Pacific Beach, California, in 1974, and business was soon doing so well that the brothers realized they "couldn't get merchandise" for the stores, and so set up a distribution system, which was soon supplying neighboring stores also.
The move from newsstand distribution to the "direct market" (non-returnable, heavily-discounted, direct purchasing of comics from publishers) happened in the 1970s, in large part due to the work of Phil Seuling and his East Coast Seagate Distribution company (founded in 1974), as well as a number of individuals, including the Schanes brothers and Bud Plant. The direct-market went hand-in-hand with the creation of specialist comics shops to cater to the collectors who could then buy back issues months after a newsstand issue had disappeared. By the late 1970s, thanks partly to the success of films such as Star Wars and Superman: The Movie, comics were selling well, and Pacific expanded its distribution system nationwide, "raising $200,000 by closing its four San Diego retail locations and selling off inventory," rising rapidly to the top of the new distribution system.
In the six years between 1974 and 1980, "comic or fantasy-related specialty shops" rose from numbering 200-300 to around 1500, while Pacific was "operating out of a 2,200-square-foot (200 m2) office-warehouse in Kearny Mesa," with "500 wholesale accounts." According to elder brother Steve, the company "grossed just under a million dollars that year," soon doubling its floorspace.
In 1979, Pacific dipped its feet into publishing when they released Warriors of Shadow Realm, a John Buscema portfolio of six signed, colored plates meant to accompany a Doug Moench and Buscema three-issue Weirdworld epic-fantasy tale which ran in Marvel Comics Super Special #11-13 (June-Oct. 1979).
In 1981, "rival distributor Capital City launched a black-and-white title, Nexus, a futuristic superhero series by Mike Baron and Steve Rude," and distributed it through their own system. The Schanes brothers took note, and decided to follow suit, even though they "were still paying off debt from a $300,000 bank loan taken out in 1979 at 25 percent interest." Steve — who, with a degree in sculpture had a background in art — handled negotiations with creators, while Bill "took on the nuts-and-bolts aspects of business and accounting." Deciding that they ought to make a splash, the brothers turned to a comics creator who they had befriended over the years, Jack Kirby.
Steve Schanes recalls:
|“||I figured if you want to get people's attention with a new comic book, who better to do it with than the King of Comics, Jack Kirby! We were already friends with Jack. We used to send him free copies of comics he'd drawn for other publishers because they never sent him any! So I just went ahead and called him on the phone, and he turned out to be a nice guy, completely accessible. . . . We negotiated a whole detailed publishing deal between the two of us. No middlemen.||”|
The Schaneses asked Kirby, who had effectively quit comics in 1977, for only the publishing rights, assuring him that he could keep full ownership and copyrights, and suggesting that they would "even help him license characters for use overseas or in television, film, or other media." Thus, Pacific claims to have became the first company to pay royalty payments to Kirby — who co-created many of the characters in the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee in the 1960s, as well as numerous characters before and after, including Captain America and DC's Challengers of the Unknown). Kirby provided Pacific with Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, which was finished by "Pacific staffers and freelancers inking and coloring the artwork," and published bimonthly from August 1981, selling well and helping Pacific to ever higher profits.
Kirby then let Pacific publish his Silver Star, and the brothers "... began to envision a line of comics, ... [not the] black-and-white low-print-run underground comics like those being self-published by Robert Crumb and other West Coast contemporaries in San Francisco and L.A., but full-color titles that emulated — maybe even competed with — the mainstream superhero comics from Marvel and DC."
Before long, Pacific had attracted interest from other comics professionals, including Mike Grell (who recalls that he was actually the first to sign with Pacific by a couple of weeks, but that Kirby's work was published first because he "delivered his first.") who had planned his Starslayer to appear from DC, but after it dropped from the schedule, the Schaneses approached him about publishing it.
Dave Stevens and The Rocketeer
Another invitee was then-aspiring artist Dave Stevens, who purchased comics from Pacific's shops and had met the brothers at the San Diego Comic-Con in 1981. When Mike Grell's "second issue [of Starslayer] was 'shy' a few pages . . . they had to fill those pages with something," so Stevens was asked for "two installments of six pages," and ultimately came up with The Rocketeer.
Experimentation and expansion
In 1983 Pacific upgraded to paper with higher quality ink, ultimately producing comics which "ended up looking far superior to what Marvel and DC were putting out." With the various advances in direct market comics, Marvel set up their own creator-owned line (Epic Comics) under longtime editor Archie Goodwin, and both DC and Marvel began to flood the market with ever-more glossy comics.
Pacific continued to distribute and publish comics, running both operations from a San Diego warehouse to which they'd moved in July 1982. They also purchased ". . . a firehouse in Steeleville, Illinois . . . near World Color Press in Sparta, Illinois, where the majority of U.S. comic books were printed. Pacific converted the firehouse into a distribution hub. It was also operating warehouses in L.A. and Phoenix at the time."
Printing "about 500,000 comic books" every month, the Schanses "employed around forty people at their San Diego operation alone," and were grossing over $3.5 million per annum, and fully expecting to make $5 million in 1983.
The brothers hired their father, Steven E. Schanes, as financial vice president and their mother (Christine Marra) as office manager. Elder brother Paul "Pablo" worked in the financial records department, ". . . and sister Chris, an L.A.-based attorney, provided counsel on legal affairs."
Pacific's published output contained editorials by David Scroggy, who had started as a comics retailer in 1975, and risen to general manager of Pacific's four San Diego shops by the late 1970s, proving himself as "a great go-between in working with often temperamental and almost always ego-fragile creators," and "helping to bring to Pacific one of comicdom's most reclusive artists, Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange."
Ditko's Pacific offering Missing Man was previewed in Captain Victory #6, and then featured in issues of Pacific Presents. His work was scripted by Mark Evanier. Meanwhile, Pacific was not limiting itself to publishing comics. It also "published a magazine-sized black-and-white reprint of Rog 2000 stories that superstar Marvel artist John Byrne had done in the '70s for long-gone Charlton Comics," as well as a number of titles under its parent company Blue Dolphin Enterprises. It also welcomed Bruce Jones to the company, and Sergio Aragonés and Mark Evanier's Groo the Wanderer.
3-D, Elric, and falling sales
By 1984, Steve Schanes decided to bring back 3-D to comics, a fleeting trend in the 1950s that had then been stymied by poor printing separations. Ray Zone was hired to do the production, after he had successfully converted a Kirby image for Honeycomb cereal. Steve Schanes decided the 3-D book would be Alien Worlds 3-D, featuring the first published work of Art Adams, alongside John Bolton, Bill Wray and others. Sales on the expensively-produced comic, however, were poor, and sales all round were following suit. One-shots (by Jim Starlin and Arthur Suydam among others) became more common, and tolerable sales on Elric of Melniboné (by Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert), stumbled when First Comics acquired the rights, putting Pacific in the awkward position of continuing as distributor on a comic from a rival publisher that they had helped promote.
Competition and collapse
After organizational difficulties pushed back the release of Starslayer by several months, Mike Grell decided to take his creator-owned property to First Comics, and a domino effect began to occur as "the loss of a high-profile title to a rival publisher engendered bad industry PR," leading other creators to "wonder what the problems were and whether they should also be talking to alternate indies."
More importantly, the distribution arm of Pacific was suffering serious problems, due in part to overly-generous credit extensions to retailers, which was not paid back as quickly as it ought. Thus, Steve Schanes explained, although:
|“||Most of our comic books still made money hand over fist . . . there was a big problem in distribution. We extended too much credit to retailers who didn't pay us on a timely basis, and we were already working on a minuscule profit margin, maybe five percent to eight percent. We didn't push hard enough to get the money from receivables, who owed us hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you had to boil down the single biggest reason we blew it, that would be our poor cash management on the distribution side.||”|
Pacific's publication arm was also attracting competitors, and Pacific found itself distributing competitors' (including Kitchen Sink Press, Last Gasp and Rip Off Press) titles. With this in mind, other publishers (including Capital City (whose Nexus comic outsold several Pacific titles), Comico, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Educomics, Quality, Eagle, Eclipse, First, Vortex, New Media, Fantagraphics, Mirage) "feared that having Pacific, a rival publisher, as their distributor could result in their being cut off from comic shops." This likely played a factor in the multiple alternate distributors who came into being to compete with Pacific, and by Pacific's clients, until "[n]early a quarter of Pacific's 800 or so comic-shop accounts defected to alternate distributors in 1984, skipping out on paying Pacific for upwards of three months' worth of comic books."
To make matters worse, some of these rival distributors were purchasing stock from Pacific in order to push Pacific out of the market.
At the same time, Pacific and parent company Blue Dolphin Enterprises found themselves the target of lawsuits, including some dealing with foreign rights and royalties for Pacific-published creator-owned titles. In August 1984, with the company $740,000 in debt, the Schaneses informed their staff that they would all be out of work by September.
After the 1984 collapse of Pacific, many of its creator-owned publications moved to Eclipse Comics: Bruce Jones' Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, and Somerset Holmes; Dave Stevens' Rocketeer Special and a one-shot of Mark Evanier/Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer.
As Pacific went into liquidation in September 1984, Phil Seuling's distribution company Seagate — "the distributorship that had pretty much launched the direct market" — also closed down. Pacific's distribution centers and warehouses were purchased by Bud Plant, Inc., and Capital City Distribution, who also opened "an expanded facility in Seagate's old space in Sparta, alongside the comic-book printing plant."
Writer Jay Allen Sanford:
|“||"In many ways, Pacific formed the template for Image Comics, today's most successful San Diego-based comic company. Image began in 1992 as a publishing imprint where creators could own and profit from their characters. It was founded by Todd McFarlane (who'd made his name drawing Spider-Man and the Hulk), San Diego illustrator Jim Lee (known for an acclaimed run on the Punisher comic), and several other mainstream Marvel artists. Others joined up to form a staff of creators, including Jim Valentino, who'd once worked as a shipping clerk at Pacific's San Diego warehouse. . . . Sales of Image titles, such as Spawn and Wildcats, quickly rivaled Marvel and DC in numbers that nobody before them, not even Pacific, had ever managed to pull off. Once again, the Big Two were forced to play catch-up with an upstart new indie publisher. Reportedly over a million copies of Todd McFarlane's Spawn #1 were printed and snapped up in multiples by eager comic consumers who made Image comics the best-selling independent titles of the past quarter century.||”|
Creators associated with Pacific Comics
- Sanford, Jay Allen. "Two Men and their Comic Books," San Diego Reader (Aug. 19, 2004).
- "The John Buscema Checklist", by Michel Maillot
- "Jack Kirby Returns to Comics with Cosmic Hero," The Comics Journal #65 (Aug. 1981), p. 23.
- "Newswatch: Pacific Upgrades All Titles to White paper," The Comics Journal #84 (September 1983), p. 10.
- "Comics publisher pins stellar hopes to Moonwalker." San Diego Business Journal (March 6, 1989).
- "Newswatch: Pacific Suspends Operations," The Comics Journal #93 (September 1984), pp. 8-10.
- "Newswatch: Pacific Comics liquidated," The Comics Journal #95 (February 1985), p. 10.