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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

When Watchmen hit the stands: A best guess

Having posted a piece on Watchmen's original sales rankings in 1986-87, comments on The Beat led me to do some follow-up research into when the comics actually hit the stands.

For this, I turned to Comics Buyer's Guide's "Comics in Your Future" column, beginning with issue #654 (cover dated May 30, 1986). "Future" was the equivalent of the shipping lists we see from Diamond Comic Distributors today, and ran every two weeks in the weekly newspaper. "Future" still appears today, under that name, as part of CBG's website.

Now, CBG ran two dates: The date the books were to ship to distributors, and the official on-sale date. The ship to distributors dates were almost always Tuesdays in this period; the on-sale dates were the Thursdays 16 days later. However, my belief is that in those days, the on-sale dates related to the projected newsstand availability date, and not the date that distributors could put the book on sale. In those days of warehouses near the printer and aggressive competition between distributors, the "ship to" date reads to me to be much closer to the real thing:

Ship to distributors
#1 • May 13, 1986
#2 • June 20, 1986
#3 • July 8, 1986
#4 • August 12, 1986
#5 • September 9, 1986
#6 • October 14, 1986
#7 • November 11, 1986
#8 • December 9, 1986
#9 • January 13, 1987
#10 • February 10, 1987
#11 • (First scheduling) March 17, 1987
(Second rescheduling) April 28, 1987
(Final rescheduling) May 19, 1987
#12 June 2, 1987

I also have, to backstop this, my own personal collection "accession list" records from the time. It records that on September 13, 1986, I purchased Watchmen #5 (as well as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4) at the June Rd. Memphis Comics & Records location, a store notable in comics history as perhaps the only comics shop located in a walk-up above a liquor store. That date is four days after the "ship to distributor" date, and it synchs with some of what I know of how the books were hitting shelves. With competition starting up that year (in the still-existent Comics & Collectibles, which I see now has its defunct competitor's URL), Memphis retailers were making runs to the Sparta, Ill., warehouses to pick up the shipments in person. So I would interpret those dates above as the earliest that anyone had the books; and that in one case, the book was on shelves by the next New Comics Day — which I think was Friday, for us.

(Not coincidentally, that Sept. 13 entry is the very last one in my four-year-long accession record history — the next week I moved off to college, got a girlfriend and otherwise got a life. Haven't used the life much since then — as this website clearly shows — but never mind...)

Anyway, we see from the records that as of #5, an adult warning had been added to Watchmen's reprinted solicitations. And while I initially thought from Capital's records that #12 had shipped late, it was in fact, #11 that was rescheduled twice. #12, with its extra pages, does not seem to have been rescheduled — at least, I can find no different date for its shipping anywhere. Yet Capital reported orders for it twice, in April and May, and evidently did not report taking a different round of orders for #11. (And then, of course, it looks like #12 comes out in June — but it doesn't appear in the Capital list for then. Remember, the charts rank preorders, so the rankings appeared before the issue even came out!)

It also looks, from the #11 delays, that #10 was the last issue that Glenwood Distributors got, and that #11 would not have been impacted as much by its loss, as the stores would have had more time to find alternative distributors by then. In any event, I have revised the tables on the rankings page to reflect the new (old) information.

It's interesting reading those old newspapers to recall what was going on in the industry. Watchmen was first "cover-featured" on CBG for #658, the June 27, 1986 issue -- in the form of a pictorial showing the covers from #2-4. "The covers of DC's Watchmen are actually the first panel of each issue's chapter, surely the first time an entire series of comic books has begun the story on the cover." But many more of the pages of the year were devoted to the other issues of the day: Marvel sparring over the return of Jack Kirby's art, Frank Miller denying all responsibility for the many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle clone titles, Spider-Man's wedding, the collapse of Glenwood, and so on. Watchmen had an interesting place in a very wild year.
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Joe Crawford said...

A bit of further information is when four (not sure if these were all) ads for Watchmen appeared in Comic Buyer's Guide: April 25, May 2, May 9, May 23 1986..

Here are the scanned and cleaned up ads:

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