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The ’80s Black & White Boom / Bust

We’ve blogged previously about The Adventurers and Grips, two of the hottest books of the mid ’80s black & white independent deluge…

…in doing some research on the b & w boom / bust, we dug up a great piece by Dave Olbrich, the founding publisher of Malibu Comics. In it, Dave details the gold rush in the wake of the early TMNT issues (mind you, this was a few years before Turtles went mainstream huge with the animated series):

“From the time that Turtles debuted in mid-1984, it took several months for everyone to realize what had happened and then it took a few more months for the publishers to gear up. It took a few additional months for new publishers to get themselves organized. We all watched. We all waited…surely this couldn’t continue. There was no way that retailers could continue to order and sell these comics at these insane levels.

The feeding frenzy was amazing (there was even a Publisher named Amazing). It cost a lot less to print a black-and-white comic book than it did a color book The profitability on the enormous distributor orders from the direct market (sometimes reaching six figures) was like printing money. Title content meant almost nothing … a catchy title was all you needed.”

And then explains the life cycle and relatively quick bust…

“The breakthrough title (TMNT) was launched in May 1984. The opportunity became clear in 1985. The frenzy took hold in 1986 and everyone was talking about the excesses that were obvious at that point. Retail sales started to head south in mid-1986. Early in 1987 the writing was on the wall and by summer 1987 the black-and-white ‘bust’ was putting the careless and over-enthusiastic retailers out of business. Good and worthwhile titles suffered side-by-side with the opportunistic knock-offs.”

Make sure you check out the piece in its entirety here…required reading!

1 comment to The ’80s Black & White Boom / Bust

  • Tony

    I remember this well… it was great to see so many quality B&W books get published during that time period, and also good to see many small publishers taking risks, new talent getting out there, etc. With any trend comes quality books and…not so quality books. But better to have a new wave of innovation that brings some high marks and some crap than no new wave at all. One might say that we might not have had Comico and other notable 80s indie companies, like First Comics (where The Badger and Nexus came to thrive), without this ‘wave.’ (Although I think those companies debuted around the same time as Turtles #1, yes?) I fondly recall “Boris the Bear,” one of the funnier and more entertaining B&W ‘spoof animal’ comics, lettered to perfection by the ever-reliable John Workman, if memory serves… as for Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, let’s just never speak of that again, shall we?

    And it was also quite a shock to us in the comic book world to see the Turles become a success only to comic fans, and then several laters later, unleashed as a marketing bonanza on mainstream America. I wrote a fan letter to Eastman & Laird right after Turtles #1 and still have their handwritten letter in response, complete with an original sketch of Raphael. (that was at the very very beginning when they were so tickled to get any kind of fan mail that they responded with a letter & sketch to each note they got) I got a similar sketch & note from Matt Wagner when I wrote in about his wonderful MAGE series during the early issues of the first run.

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