A Comics Journal History of the Direct Market, Part Two

Posted by on February 16th, 2010 at 6:08 AM



Then, there is the Scott Rosenberg/Sunrise Comics and Games/Amazing/Eternity/Wonder/Imperial/Malibu axis, which is sort of the Mad, Mad, Mad. Mad World of comics publishing –cupidity and stupidity run completely amok among a cartoon cast of greed-crazed hustlers.

Apparently, sometime in 1986, Sunrise Comics and Games, a comics distribution company owned by Scott Rosenberg and specializing in hoarding hot or potentially hot books that will go up in value, decided to try to create some hot books of its own by secretly financing four comics publishers: Eternity, Wonder, Amazing and Imperial. (Secretly, one presumes, because it’s on the gauche side for a distributor to enhance his speculating possibilities by starting not one, but four different publishing companies.) These companies turned out reams of comics in ’86 (not a one of them any good, mind you). Rosenberg-Gate broke in January of ’87 when Sunrise issued a press release announcing that he was behind these companies. Simultaneously, Sunrise Distributors sent a letter to their creditors (most if not all of whom are comics publishers), informing them that Sunrise was unable to pay certain bills owed and that such bills would have to be put in abeyance until the summer of ’87 at which time Sunrise would do its best to start paying off the old invoices. Simultaneously, Sunrise Distributors — or Scott Rosenberg, if you care to make the distinction — financed yet another publishing company called Malibu Graphics. Rosenberg has claimed in recent accounts that Malibu, which has been financed continually after Rosenberg announced Sunrise’s inability to pay publishers to whom he owed money, was not financed by Sunrise but by personal funds, thus attempting to disarm potential criticism from irate publishers who weren’t keen on the idea of Sunrise/Rosenberg financing a competing publisher at the same time Sunrise couldn’t pay them the money they owed.

Morally, one would think that Rosenberg would be obligated to use whatever private funds he has at his disposal to pay publishers whose books he bought and sold rather than to put such money into a fifth publishing company that will compete with the very publishers he cannot or will not pay; you may also question the morality of creators and whatever support staff Rosenberg is shoveling money to in order to keep Malibu afloat, who would knowingly take money that should rightfully be paid to other publishers to whom it is owed.

Rosenberg and Sunrise are now embroiled in a squabble with a half-dozen or more previous accomplices (including editors, marketing engineers, production studios, creators and God only knows who or what else) over the ownership of titles Rosenberg’s companies had published. There are undoubtedly depths of Rosenberg-Gate that have not yet been plumbed, but here is an exquisite summing-up of one lunatic aspect of the Rosenberg publishing empire imbroglio as it appeared in an article from Capital City Distribution’s Comic Dealer Newsletter:

The complexity of this situation can be illustrated by looking at Ex-Mutants, one of the most successful of the properties in dispute. In the past, it had been produced by Lawrence and Lim, in association with Campiti and Associates for TriCorp Enterprises, Inc., of Brooklyn, owned by Brian Marshall and Tony Eng. Orders for the book were solicited on behalf of Eternity Publishing by Mark Hamlin of Pied Piper Press. When the book was shipped, it was invoiced by Guaranteed Services on behalf of Eternity. Campiti then broke first with TriCorp and later with Eternity. If the question of ownership of this property goes to court, just deciding which court has jurisdiction is going to require a large amount of legal work and a major court ruling, since Campiti and Associates is a West Virginia company, TriCorp is a New York corporation, Pied Piper is a Michigan company, Guaranteed Services is a California company and Eternity Publishing is based in Boulder, Colorado.

To add insult to injury, Malibu has begun to publish a trade magazine called Comics Business, the purpose of which is to advise professional publishers, retailers and distributors on how better to conduct their business. This, mind you, from a publisher who is financed by a distributor who not only cannot pay his own bills, but who channels any extra money he can scrounge together into a publishing company that competes with the very people he cannot pay! And that’s not all; the irony has another exquisite dimension. Recently, Comics Business solicited advertising and subscription dollars from the very publishers to whom its backer owes money. So that instead of Scott Rosenberg paying publishers he owes money to, the publishers he owes money to will be paying him! In short, Malibu (owned by Scott Rosenberg) is asking publishers who are owed money by Sunrise Comics and Games (owned by Scott Rosenberg) to give money to Malibu (owned by Scott Rosenberg). Is this a shell game, or what? Sunrise/Rosenberg financing a magazine that gives business advice is like Ivan Boesky offering a seminar on Ethics & Economics or Michael Cimino giving a six-week course (that takes 18 weeks to complete) on How to Bring a Motion Picture in On Time and Under Budget.



All of which goes to prove the abject and near-total failure on the part of professionals in the comics community to see the act of publishing, and specifically the act of publishing comics, as an institution of culture and not merely as another industrial process. The incandescent tragedy that has been underscored by all of this is that independent publishers (whatever that term means any more) have become indistinguishable from Marvel and DC; their commitment to comics as a potential literary form is nonexistent; and their view of comics as kitsch predominates. The corporate mentality that is endangering literary publishing nation-wide has consumed the smaller publishers, the insidious conception of comics as nothing more than units of product has become an internalized presumption by creators, publishers, retailers, distributors, not to mention speculators and collectors, and the result is the widespread whorishness we’ve witnessed over the past year, which was worse than the previously established norm and doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.

The comics culture is a living subculture unto itself, and no one, however much he tries, can entirely divorce himself from the community in which he’s most alive. I’m reminded of a recent observation by Alfred Kazin on Theodore Dreiser’s art: “Dreiser’s narrative gift was for showing the collective momentum as the very atmosphere in which we realize our individual being.” The collective momentum of the comics culture is enough to cause one’s soul to wither.


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2 Responses to “A Comics Journal History of the Direct Market, Part Two”

  1. […] Jim Lawson’s art, Eastman vs. Laird, first TMNT movie pulling from the comic and the cartoon, tcj.com rags on TMNT, Barnyard Commandos, JAWSOME!, Ross loves the Leonardo solo issue, Ross airs his 2003 TMNT 4Kids […]

  2. ralphsnart says:

    A rehash of an old article of old times gone by. I remember those “good old days” fondly. With hindsight, perhaps we all would’ve done things differently.