COMIC PACKS
THE STORY OF THE ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK IN A BAG
THE 1960s & 1970s

 
 

They were disliked and scorned by most regular comic book readers at the time: those sealed plastic bags commonly containing three different comic books and sold as a package at a marginal discount. Even today, their nostalgic reputation is tainted. And yet these "comic packs" not only sold well for almost two decades, they also offer some interesting insight into the comic book industry's history from the 1960s through to the 1990s. Today, comic packs are comic book history time capsules.

 

1962 - A DOUBLE-EDGED YEAR FOR THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY - INTRODUCING THE "COMICPAC" - THE MAGIC WORD: PACKAGING - HEY (GRAND)PARENTS - COMICS! - A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MODEL - 1967 - ENTER WHITMAN - THE 1970s - THE SUCCESS STORY CONTINUES - THE SYSTEMATICS OF DC'S COMICPACS

 
 
1962 - A DOUBLE-EDGED YEAR FOR THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY
 
As the year 1962 rolled around, the US comic book industry found itself confronted with a true dilemma. On the one hand, it had done nothing less than re-invent itself as the superhero genre - clinically dead for most of the 1950s - had made a staggering comeback with the introduction of new and instantly successful team titles (spearheaded by DC's Justice League of America in 1960 and Marvel's Fantastic Four in 1961), modernized relaunches of Golden Age heroes (such as DC's Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman) and new superhero characters (such as Archie's Fly or Charlton's Captain Atom). There was a streak of new creativity and enthusiasm throughout the whole industry as it was poised to launch even more characters which would enter and change comic book history.

On the other hand, the entire industry was looking to 1962 with apprehension - for the simple and yet highly complex reason that for the first time in the perceived history of comic books the publishers were forced to raise their prices. Ever since the 1930s, comic books had cost 10. In order to hold that price, publishers had significantly lowered the page count of their titles over the years to finally arrive at only half of the original 64 pages comic books had in the 1930s. This time around, however, there was no way around it, as rising production costs and inflation cut too deeply into profit margins. But raising that cover price was a psychologically difficult task to perform - if too many readers would end up buying fewer comics then the industry would ultimately lose more than it stood to gain from the price increase.

Market leader Dell jumped in first and headlong with a staggering 50% increase from 10 to 15 in 1961 - only to face desastrous results. The competitors held out for a brief while, even capitalizing on the move by running "still only 10" blurbs on their covers, but eventually they all had to follow suit by early 1962 - even though they only went up to 12. But this was still a 20% price increase, and the drop in sales was brutal across the board - DC Comics alone being rumoured to have lost more than $600,000 in comparison to the previous year (Wells, 2012); the statements of ownership required by the US postal services show that the sales figures for DC flagship titles such as Superman, Action Comics and World's Finest dropped by around 25% in 1962 as compared to 1961.

At least the industry had seen it coming, and some had planned on several countermeasures. Some didn't work at all (such as a loyalty scheme introduced by Dell), but DC Comics had an idea which would prove to work out rather well: the COMICPAC.

 
INTRODUCING THE "COMICPAC"
 
The intention was straightforward and made good business sense - open up new sales opportunities and markets and thus tap into a new customer base - and the concept which followed from this was a fairly simple one: sell comic books in packaged bundles as opposed to the classic newsstand individual copy.

The original idea was to combine four different individual comic books using a sealed plastic bag carrying a folded cardboard top as container, and on November 30th 1961 National Periodical (i.e. National Comics, i.e. DC Comics) submitted the name COMICPAC for trademarking.

 
The trademark was duly registered as such by the US Patent Office on August 14th 1962 for the purpose of producing, marketing and selling "packaged comic books". Included in the trademark was a graphic branding sign reading COMICPAC in shadowed lettering which featured as the initial label and visual tag both on the plastic bags themselves as well as in in-house advertisements in DC's own line of comic books.  

     
Intially the readers' attention was drawn to the new concept with a 1/3 page full-colour ad ("HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW COMICPAC") which appeared, amongst other titles, in Blackhawk #175 and Strange Adventures #143, for the August 1962 cover date production run.

The ad is interesting because it doesn't even clearly state what a Comicpac is - this had to be deduced by the reader from the illustration of one, showing the cover of the at the time current issue of Action Comics.

Instead of actually explaining the product, DC emphasized where it could be purchased: at supermarkets.

 


In-house ad from Blackhawk #175 (August 1962) for DC's "new" COMICPAC, featuring a bag containing Action Comics #291 (August 1962)

 
A second in-house ad, which ran in a number of DC titles of the January and February 1963 cover month production (and which thus was just in time for Christmas as the cover month was usually about 3 months ahead of the actual publication date) took up a full page, was placed on the inside cover, and explained in much more detail what the Comicpac was all about.
 


In-house ad from the inside cover of Detective Comics #311 (Januuary 1963) for DC's "new" COMICPAC, featuring a bag with Superman #158 (January 1963)

  The ad featured newly introduced mascot "Johnny DC" who pointed out the Comicpac as a great Christmas gift to readers of e.g. Detective Comics #311 (January 1963), Strange Adventures #148 (January 1963), Rip Hunter - Time Master #12 (January-February 1963) Action Comics #297 (February 1963), Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #39 (February 1963), and Tales of the Unexpected #75 (February-March 1963).

This time it was explained that a Comicpac was a plastic bag holding four brand new DC comics and that they sold for 47 (which the regular comic book reader knew was one cent less than what you'd pay for four individual issues), but the emphasis once again was on their point of sale: supermarkets (and other retailers).

Today, the attention of many comic book fans seems to be drawn to the price (on those rare occasions when comic packs are discussed in online fora), and many seem to mistakingly think that what was essentially simply a price tag was a discount advertising and even the driving idea behind the Comicpac concept.

In reality, the one cent discount would obviously have been a very weak selling point. Accordingly, DC never even pointed that out (the prominent blurb on the bag simply stated the price of the Comicpac and the number of comics you got), not the least because that minimal saving would often be erased anyway by the fact that comicpacks could be subject to sales tax at the supermarket check-out (Evanier, 2007a).

 
Besides - offsetting the losses in sales caused by the 1962 price increase by trying to sell 4 comics for a discount of one cent would have been a hopeless idea. But compensating the downturn in the established customer base by tapping into a new one was most definitely something which could work and help alleviate - or even turn around - the situation.

The primary idea DC was thus pursuing with its Comicpac was to break into new sales opportunties and reach a customer base which, for one reason or another, simply didn't buy comics off the newsstand or spinner racks. And one place these individuals could be found were the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores.

 
THE MAGIC WORD: PACKAGING
 
The comic book industry was faced with a growing problem: they were offering a commodity which proved increasingly cumbersome to receive and handle - and which yielded only marginal profits with sales at a price of 12 per item. Furthermore, the comic book's traditional retail outlets - small community stores and newsagents - were increasingly giving way to larger stores which were not interested in selling comics. The number of distribution outlets was shrinking, and the distribution system per se did nothing at all to counteract this development - on the contrary.

"A few retailers actually liked carrying comics, but most were indifferent. Comics weren’t after all, an absolute necessity to most retailers who sold periodicals, in the way that Cosmopolitan, Playboy, Time and Sports Illustrated were. So, let’s say [the local distribuor] actually delivered 5,000 copies [of 10,000 received at the warehouse] to the retailers. If they bothered to deal with unwrapping and sorting, if they had room on the trucks… Most likely, they’d only actually deliver comics to retailers who would complain if they didn’t get comics and places that sold enough comics to make the driver’s effort worthwhile." (Shooter, 2011)

 
In stark contrast to the comic book's historical sales venues, supermarkets were booming. They were popular because they sold many different things under one roof - and evidently, comics were not amongst the merchandise they carried.

In order to change this, the whole concept of selling comic books had to be revised. Handling individual issues clearly was no option for these outlets, but by looking at their logistics and display characteristics DC found that the answer to breaking into this promising new market could be - a simple plastic bag.

Packaging defined the Comicpac in the first place, but it was also its magic word which opened the doors of the supermarkets to DC's comic books.

Putting four comic books into one container resulted in a higher price per unit on sale (47 rather than just 12), which made the whole business of stocking them much more worthwhile for the seller. The simple packaging was also rather nifty because it clearly showed the items were new and untouched, which in turn did away with individual comic books starting to look tatty after a dozen individuals had taken them off the rack, thumbed through them, and placed them back again, often with little to no care.

Packaged in plastic bags, DC's comic books literally blended in with a large proportion of other goods sold at supermarkets - also conveniently packaged.

 



Various unused plastic bag packaging for DC and Marvel comicpacks from the 1960s

 
Presented this way, comic books became sellable to supermarket shoppers - giving DC access not only to new market opportunities, but to a whole new customer base.
 
HEY (GRAND)PARENTS - COMICS !
 
The intention of tapping into the growing number of supermarkets and chain stores as a potential sales ground was tied to a very specific type of target customer:

"DC's focus [for the Comicpac] was on both the casual reader and the parents and grandparents who were looking for gifts." (Wells, 2012)

This becomes even clearer if you take a closer look at DC's packaging concept for the Comicpac. By putting four comics into one bag, only two covers were visible. Initially, the bags would identify which titles were enclosed (though not the issue numbers) so that buyers knew more or less what they were getting, but when the number of comic books contained in a comic pack was reduced to three at the beginning of the 1970s, this information was dropped.

 
This effectively turned the comic book in the middle into a "mystery" surprise issue - and as surprises go, they can be good or bad, and it is precisley this element which made regular comic book readers shy away from that comic book bundle in a plastic bag.

"[They] passed on the bagged comics since there was usually at least one issue that they didn't want or need." (Wells, 2012)

"I had so many comics, the odds were I'd wind up with dupes (...) that was why Comicpacs did not work for me. Insofar as I could tell, they didn't work for anyone." (Evanier, 2007a)

Evanier's concluding assumption is - as he himself was quick to point out (Evanier, 2007b) - wrong. The Comicpac actually worked just fine - for casual readers or people not buying comics for themselves (such as parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts).


The display sign mounted above the Comicpac display rack read "kids" - but really meant their parents

The fact that it didn't work that well for avid readers lies with the very principle of the Comicpac: packaging. For obvious reasons the regulars didn't want their comic books in a bag where they couldn't be 100% sure what they were buying. But the idea of the Comicpac wasn't to annoy that customer base, but rather to tap into a new one.

 


A dedicated display rack for DC Comicpacs

 
And to those individuals, the packaging actually held the added appeal of being rather neat, doing away with having to deal with a bundle of loose comics, and the sealed plastic bag made it look much more sophisticated as a gift. Specific content was of no real concern to the casual buyer as long as you had a general idea of what you were getting, and DC even provided stores with a dedicated display rack system. In addition, the Comicpacs made sure that the selection covered a wide range of genres - superheroes, funnies, romance, western.

And finally there were those comic book readers who simply did not have access to outlets who sold comics and regularly restocked. To them, the Comicpac could more or less be the only way of getting hold of comics at all.

 
 
Strategically placed close to checkouts and cash points, DC's comic packs were a success.

"The DC [comic packs] program lasted well over a decade, with pretty high distribution numbers. The Western program was enormous - even well into the '70s they were taking very large numbers of DC titles for distribution (I recall 50,000+ copies offhand). The unknowable factor on the DC program was that a certain number of distributors and retailers simply split the packs open and returned the loose comics, making an arbitrage profit, and distorting the flow of actual sales data so it looked like the packs sold near 100%. There was no clear pattern of these "arbitraged" copies depressing the sell throughs of the regular releases for most of those years, though, until towards the end of the program." (Paul Levitz, in Evanier (2007b))

Levitz is refering to the fact that comic packs, unlike comic books distributed to newsstands and other traditional outlets, were non-returnable. Bags which didn't sell were thus the seller's problem, not the publisher's.

 

DC Comics 1960s logo

 

As such the Comicpac was one of the first attempts by DC to work their way out of the traditional but increasingly unprofitable setup of reimbursing resellers for unsold items - a business model which of course did nothing whatsoever to encourage actual sales.

As an example, Detective Comics #433 (March 1973, included in DC's 1973 D-3 Super Pac) carries the required annual statement of ownership and circulation, which shows that whilst DC printed an average of 332,000 copies per issue of Detective Comics per month in 1972, only 158,638 of these (i.e. less than 50%) were, on average, actually sold.

 
And it wasn't just DC: Marvel saw 65% of all copies distributed throughout the 1970s being returned - and sometimes even reimbursed without any physical proof (Groth, 2006). But even if the traditional upper half of the cover was returned it didn't stop some resellers from making an extra profit by selling coverless comics. Just as the comic packs didn't stop anyone from ripping open the bags and returning the individual comic books which hadn't sold as Comicpacs - ultimately leading to specially marked covers as of the late 1970s to counteract this fraudulent practice. The comicpacks were thus also a first example of trying to create something akin to what would eventually become the direct market, where specialized comic book resellers would get better deals but on a base of non-returnability.
 
Regardless of these problems, Comicpacs sold well. And when ABC launched its Batman TV series in January 1966 and the show became an overnight surprise sensation - "completely burying the competition" (Gerani & Schulman, 1977) - the comic books in DC's plastic bags became even more mainstream and sellable - so much so that for a short time DC even rebranded some of its Comicpacs as BATPACs in an attempt to hook onto the 1966/67 Batmania and all of its merchandising craze. It really was the show that turned Batman into the popular culture icon he still is today, and into a mighty point-of-sale for DC at the time: the "exposure the show brought to the comics was enormous" (Dixon, 2010), and sales of Batman soared to 900,000 monthly copies in 1966. By that time, the Comicpac had already successfully achieved what DC had set out to do - to get comic books sold in supermarkets. But other than that - how successful were these plastic bags overall?

There are two highly reliable indicators for judging whether or not a business or product idea is a success or not: if it can generate and boost demand, and if it leads to others wanting to do the same thing.

The Comicpac had successfully opened the doors to supermarkets and chainstores for DC comics, and in doing so brought National Periodical into direct contact with a company which had accomplished a similiar market entry 50 years earlier: in 1918, Western Publishing persuaded the Woolworth Company to place children's books on display in its retail stores all year round, something which previously had only been done during the Christmas season (biglittlebooks.com).

 

DC's Comicpac becomes the Batpac in 1966
Batpac A9 with Batman #184 (September 1966)

 
The public’s response was so enthusiastic that Western developed a line designed for a year-round market, and its success lead Western to establish a separate book division for this market: Whitman Publishing.
 
1967 - ENTER WHITMAN
 
With established connections to chain stores, Whitman gained a strong presence in the form of large shelved display spaces. The range began to extend beyond books to boxed games and jigsaw puzzles, but the real ace product was the Big Little Book introduced in 1932.
 

Whitman takes over comic book distribution

  Whitman also pioneered the licensing of comic characters for various publications (including the Big Little Books) and entered into a successful and ultimately long-standing relationship with Walt Disney Productions. In 1933 Western/Whitman secured exclusive book rights to all the Walt Disney licensed characters, and in 1937 took over production and publication of the popular Mickey Mouse Magazine.

Opening offices in Poughkeepsie NY in 1935 entailed a close association between Western and Simon & Schuster as well as the Dell Publishing Company, the latter introducing Whitman ("kid tested") to the comic market proper (biglittlebooks.com), and it was this backing through the finely tuned distribution and display presence of Whitman which made Dell the number one comic publisher - until the 1961 cover price rise.

 
It was therefore only a question of time that National Periodical's successful strategy of introducing and selling packaged DC comic books to supermarkets would bring them into contact with Whitman - just as it was only a matter of time before other publishers would start to copy DC. It is evident that both companies could easily profit from each other, and if National Periodical could profit from Whitman's distribution and sales network then that would more than make up for the impending loss of the monopoly of the Comicpac. So in 1967 Whitman took over the distribution not only of DC's comics, but of those of a quickly growing number of additional publishers (McClure, 2010) - who wanted to have a share in DC's successful Comicpac business scheme.
 
Gold Key (Western Publishing's own comic books imprint) followed the Comicpac format using the slogan ALL NEW - WORLD FAMOUS GOLD KEY COMICS, whilst Harvey Comics went just about as far as they could go by calling their bags the HARVEY-PAX. They contained only funnies and were aimed at younger readers, and therefore labelled as a PLAYTIME TREAT - certainly not a bad selling slogan when placed close to supermarket checkout tills.  

 
 
Both products could be displayed in absolutely the same way as DC's Comicpac - not so the very austere three-pack from King, which had no product name and just carried a sticker on what was almost a shrink wrap which lacked the hanger for a rack display. But unlike the competition, King indicated the comparable value of the three individual comics (36) and offered a far "bigger" discount in comparison: 7 as opposed to the one cent of the various other publishers (although DC even put out a few comic packs in the late 1970s without any saving at all). This points to the fact that DC's Comicpac had paved the way for bagged comic books into supermarkets and chain stores, so a new publisher such as King (established in 1966) could at least try to gain a slightly bigger piece of the cake (i.e. the established new market) through pricing. It didn't work for King, the very short-lived comic book imprint of King Features Syndicate, which was set up to publish their syndicated characters in their own range of comics (rather than as licensed properties) - King Comics was shut down again by the end of 1967.
 


Packaged comics from Gold Key, Harvey, and King - all 1967

 
At around the same time in 1967, DC's Comicpac cardboard header (which, as unopened bags from that era show, could become quite tatty) was replaced by printing directly onto the bag, soon to become a general feature of all comic packs.

Successful and innovative Marvel Comics had just grabbed the market leader position from DC in early 1967, and the House of Ideas tuned in on the Whitman distribution deal to supermarkets and chain stores too, labelling its four-packs MULTI-MAGS and using the character vignette in a box (Steve Ditko's brainchild) to help buyers who were in the know identify quickly which titles they were getting.

 
Marvel Comics Multi-Mags are introduced in 1968
 
To all other buyers - the aformentioned parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts - it probably didn't matter anyway as long as they could see and understand that they were getting some Spider-Man.

Whilst basically picking up a business idea from the "distinguished competition" - as Stan Lee would call DC after Marvel overtook them in monthly sales (prior to that DC had been "Brand Ecch", i.e. Brand X) - Marvel was at the same time looking into other ways of fighting the losses incurred by the already mentioned system of returnability.

Interestingly enough, one such attempt has been preserved in the time capsule of a Multi-Mag, namely 68-A10, where the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #66 (November 1968) carries a blurb at the bottom reading "RETAILERS: See page 32 for special display allowance plan". Turning to page 32 revealed that retailers would receive a 10% payment for all Marvel comics sold (which would have been 1,2 cents per regular comic).

The scheme does not appear to have been a huge success, but it graphically illustrates how crooked and therefore both unpredictable and unprofitable the system of returnability had become for comic book publishers, who were increasingly looking for alternatives as a way out.

Unlike what many comic book fans possibly thought at the time (and even today), the comic packs were a lone success story on that playing field.

 

Marvel Comics Multi-Mags are introduced in 1968
Marvel Multi-Mags A10 with Amazing Spider-Man #66 (November 1968)

 
Marvel, rather surprisingly, dropped out of the comicpack market in mid-1969 when the sale of the company to Perfect Film resulted in a switch of both printers and distributor, the latter being Curtis Distribution (also owned by Perfect Film and hence in-house) who replaced Independent - and the Whitman distribution deal simply expired alongside (cf. THOUGHT BALLON #43).
 
THE 1970s - THE SUCCESS STORY CONTINUES
 
With the benefit of hindsight it is not difficult to see how DC's Comicpac and its close cousins were a first step in going to where the comic book industry would eventually find it's survival lifeline: the direct market.
 

  DC had other "direct market ideas" too, but most remained embryonic and didn't really work out, just like Marvel^s retailer allowance plan. One of the most amazingly fantastic attempts at tapping into the market by selling comics outside the newsstand distribution system must have been the Comicmobile.

The brainchild of DC's vice president and production manager Sol Harrison, it briefly toured the NYC suburbs during the 1973 summer school break, sporting the slogan "HERE COMES THE COMICSMAN", and stocked with surplus comic books from the DC library.

The end, however, came quickly.

 

"When school started, the Comicmobile’s hours of operation were severely reduced (...) I’m sure part of it also had to do with the fact that we were barely making enough to cover the cost of gasoline the van was guzzling… and gas was only 20c a gallon at the time! The Comicmobile was shipped off to comics dealer Bruce Hamilton out in the southwestern U.S. for continued "testing." The entire project, however, met an untimely end when the Comicmobile came out on the losing end of a collision with a semi." (Rozakis, 2010)

 
Again, this only goes to show just how successful the comic packs were in comparison, and as the decade which had seen the creation of the Comicpac gradually came to an end, more and more comic books found their way into plastic bags and then on to some supermarket or chain store.

As the 1970s rolled around, an important change took place - Whitman not only took care of the distribution and sales end of things, but also started to get involved in the packaging and publication process itself. By 1972 Whitman was selling comic book packs containing Gold Key titles which had their logo replaced by the familiar Whitman face logo.

Initially comprising of cartoon characters, the Whitman comic packs were branded as WHITMAN FUN-PAC COMICS as of 1973. Soon however the bags would also hold other Gold Key licensed property comics with a Whitman logo, although these bags would not carry a specific Whitman marking (as seen with a three pack featuring Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #70, published in September 1976). Sometimes these same bags would also be used to hold Marvel comic books - the example here comes from 1977 - even though Marvel still had its own Multi-Mags programme at the time.

 

Illustrated Classics comic packs are introduced in 1969
Classics Illustrated two-pack from 1969

 
By 1975 Marvel was back in the comicpack business, both with their own MARVEL MULTI-MAGS as well as bag packaged and distributed especially through the Whitman network - and these were actually the very first direct market editions (bought by Whitman at a more favourable price than newsagents could, but without the right to return unsold copies). They were absolutely identical to their newsstand edition cousins save for the white diamond in black box containing the issue number and price (McClure, 2010).
 
 
Then, as of 1977, Whitman would also start to sell specific comic book titles from Marvel in bags clearly marked "Whitman" after Marvel took to licensed adaptations of science fiction movies as of 1977.
 

  Spearhead by the phenomenally successful Star Wars - which Whitman sold packaged bundles of three issues with continuous numbering - these comic packs also featured Battleship Galactica or the Micronauts - and as such never contained mixed titles.

Whilst these comic packs carried the Whitman Logo and a branding "Distributed by Western Publishing Company Inc.", the inventor of the Comicpac - DC Comics - still offered its own comics in packaging clearly marked DC (alongside "themed" Whitman DC bags, e.g. 3 Superman comics in one bag, with the DC bullet logo replaced by the Whitman roundel). The name had changed from COMICPAC to SUPER PAC in 1970/71, but it was still done to the same success formula. By 1972 a DC comic pack would as a general rule (there were exceptions) contain three comic books, two of which were visible on either side of the plastic bag, and one stuck in the middle which sometimes could be glanced, and sometimes not.

 
Marvel was using different distribution channels as well - sticking to their MULTI MAGS they also saw all the major characters from the Marvel Universe sold in Whitman bags (bearing the already mention white diamond in black square).
 
Probably based on the success of the dedicated Star Wars comic packs, Whitman started to offer character themed bags which typically featured three consecutives issues of one title. These were clearly marked, as can be seen from the Thor (1978) and Conan (1979) examples below.

 



1977 "Comic Pac" with Marvels
Far left: Thor Pack from 1978
Left: Conan Pack from 1979

 
THE SYSTEMATICS OF DC's COMIC PACKS
 
When DC Comics launched the Comicpac in 1961/62 they went about setting up their new packaging and sales concept in a very methodic way - one aspect of which was that all of DC's multi-comic packs were reference numbered right from the start.
 



Comicpac B3 from 1962, with Superman #153 (May 1962) as its showcased title

  This translated into a code using a letter plus digit - for example, the Comicpac pictured here is the "B-3" pack from 1962. Rather than just filling the plastic bags at random with any four comic books (initially all placed with their cover facing the same way, so that one side of the plastic bag would only show the ad on the outside back cover), the Comicpac was thus a clearly defined commodity, and the 1962 B-3 pack would thus carry the same four issues no matter where or when it was sold.

Interestingly enough this also means that someone somewhere had to make the decision which comics went into which Comicpac. Little to no information on this seems to be publicly available, leaving open to speculation the question whether the selection was driven by surplus stock or conscious title selection. Whilst probably a mix of both, there does seem to have been a tendency to include certain popular or iconic characters and their books.

Throughout the 1960s there were a total of 24 sets of Comicpacs per year, coded A and B respectively and numbered 1 to 12. By 1964 the digit would refer to the month, i.e. A-1 and B-1 would both feature comic books with a January cover date (or January/February in the case of bi-monthly titles) - a code system which Marvel initially also adapted for its Multi-Mags, whilst other publishers would use it in a fairly on/off way for their comic packs.

It is hard to tell if the casual buyers even paid any attention to DC's neat code system, but it is an indication of how organized and structured the comic packs business at DC was. Marvel, on the other hand, dropped codes all together in the early 1970s, and as a result there is no systematic indication of how many different Multi-Mags the House of Ideas was releasing during the 1970s.

 
Just how successful the Comicpac concept really was and how well it worked for National Periodical is reflected in the fact that after around 10 years of market presence, DC doubled the number of comic packs packaged per year. By 1972, four packs were distributed each month, resulting in a total of 48 sets per year, coded A to D and 1 to 12. There even were extra runs at times, given the code EE.
 


Two sides to a Comicpac (left and center): back and front (you get to chose which is which) showcase covers of Comicpac A2 from 1967,
with Batman #189 (February 1967) and World's Finest #164 (February 1967).
And then the Comicpac became the Super Pac in 1970/71 (right), A-12 showcased Superman #246 (December 1971)

 
By 1977, the DC Super Pac briefly became DC Dynamite Comics and then DC Dynamic Comics as of 1978. The high time of the comic pack was over by the end of the decade for all publishers, but various incarnations would be seen throughout the following decade as the original comic book in a plastic bag began to trickle out. Whitman stopped distributing and selling comic packs with Marvel and DC comics in April 1980.
 
 

 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY

DIXON Chuck (2010) "Known Super-Criminals still at Large: Villainy in Batman", in Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters (Jim Beard ed.), Sequart Research & Literacy Organization

EVANIER Mark (2007a) "It's in the Bag!", published online in News From Me

EVANIER Mark (2007b) "More on Comicpacs", published online in News From Me

GERANI Gary & Paul H. Schulman (1977) Fantastic Television, Harmony Books

GROTH Gary (ed.) (2006) The Comics Journal #277 (July 2006), Fantagraphics

McCLURE Jon Martin (2010) "A History of Publisher Experimentation and Variant Comic Books", in Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 40th Edition, Gemstone Publishing

ROZAKIS Bob (2010) "The Comicmobile", published online at Anything Goes (Bob Rozakis Blog)

SHOOTER Jim (2011) "Comic Book Distribution", published online at jimshooter.com

WELLS John (2012) American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s (1960-1964), TwoMorrows Publishing

 

 

First posted to the web 19 December 2013
Revised, updated and reposted 14 April 2014
Last updated 1 June 2016


Text is (c) 2013-2016 A.T. Wymann
The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial context is considered to be fair use.