PREVIEWS AT 300 - 20 YEARS AGO...
Diamond recently celebrated the 300th issue of its monthly catalog, "Previews." It's hard to remember a time before those comics solicitations became a normal part of the monthly comics routine. Before then, future looks at comics were limited to listings in "Marvel Age" and "Amazing Heroes." In today's time, it almost seems antiquated to still have a paper magazine to list all of the items up for solicitation two months hence, but "Previews" carries on. The release of the major publishers' contributions to the catalog has become an on-line staple days in advance of the dead wood edition, but there's still more in the catalog to digest.
I once had a box filled with "Previews" catalogs, but slimmed that down a few years ago, along with a stack of now historical "Comics Buyer's Guide" editions from the same '90s time period. One edition of "Previews," though, survived the purge. It came out in February 1994 and featured a Dan Jurgens cover hyping the return of Doomsday in "Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey." Mostly, I kept it because I had a letter printed in it:
Yeah. Selling comics on QVC used to be a thing. And, of course, they spelled my name wrong. There was no copy and paste back then. I was typing these letters up, printing them out, sticking them in an envelope, and mailing them over.
In my letterhacking career, this was not the only example of a misspelled name, nor the worst.
Looking back at the issue today gives us some cheap laughs, blatant nostalgia, and forgotten surprises. Let's take a random flip through these pages and see what fun we might have, nearly twenty years later.
- As always with "Previews" at the time, the solicitations ran alphabetically, except starting with Diamond jumping to the head of the line with the solicitation for that month's "Previews" catalog, which ran only $2.00. So this February catalog solicited for April shipping books, including the Previews catalog that would announce products shipping in June. In computer science, I believe this is the beginning of a recursive algorithm lacking a base case to stop at.
The tease for that catalog promised a Batman front cover for "Knightsend" and a back cover heralding the return of Rob Liefeld to "Youngblood." "Previews" also featured a few pages of original content each month. Frank Miller was serializing "Sin City: The Babe Wore Red" at the time.
- Aardvark-Vanaheim, due to Dave Sim's smarts in naming his company starting with two "A"s, always kicked off the comics section. "Cerebus" #181 is described as such:
MOTHERS & DAUGHTERS BOOK THREE: "Reads" Part 7 (of 12) -- Book Three comprises a twelve-issue (Cerebus #175-#186 Sept 1994) examination of the nature of women, creativity, business, religion, and faith, and builds upon the groundwork set in the first two volumes of Mothers & Daughters (Book 1, "Flight," being offered this month). Until the completion of this story arc, we'll be featuring only this blanket listing instead of capsulated synopses, which would only give away surprising plot elements crucial to the success of the storyline. Cerebus has been published monthly since 1980, and continues onward to its conclusion in issue #300 (in March 2004).
- So much to unpack. I haven't read all of "Cerebus," but this description alone leads me to believe that this is near where many believe the series went off the rails and became Sims' polemic on broader topics of sexual politics. Is that about right?
- The numbering and titling scheme isn't quite as crazy as what Marvel and DC pull off these days, but it does seem like a pre-cursor in some ways. Today's publishers would do their darnedest to use those separations of "books" and storylines as ways to generate additional first issues. They'd pull in new big name artists to revive interest. They'd give the numbers funny acronym-laden suffixes to better delineate the storyline the issues are a part of.
- I like how Sim circumvents "Previews." It's an on-going source of frustration for many that "Previews" so often dictates the marketing of comics because secrets can't be kept for very long. The catalog is meant to help retailers know what they're ordering and to adjust their orders appropriately when big storylines or creative team changes warrant. But it's also become a consumer item, meant to tease a near future publishing program. Sim here refuses to be a part of it. He uses a run-on sentence or two to generalize what the story is, knowing full well that his audience was pretty set at that point. "Cerebus" wasn't going to have a major creative shift. The storyline wasn't going to pique outside interest. The "Cerebus" faithful were already signed up, and new readers would be coming to the series from the popular phonebook reprints, not the monthly serialization.
- Right next to "Cerebus" on page 20 is Acid Rain Studios' "Naked Fangs: Tales of Vampiric Romance" #2. For a moment or two, I held out hope that this forgotten small press title was so small and so forgotten that it had never seen print and we were all spared a vampire whose breasts were bigger than her head. Sadly, no such luck. You can buy a back issue of it off Amazon today.
- Archie had a couple of interesting entries.
First, this cover to "Betty & Veronica Spectacular" #9 by Dan Parent is a sketch. Process junkies can enjoy looking at the sketch next to the final image to see what changed. Obviously, the lettering is the big difference. Some minor details in Veronica's pants. Veronica's left hand. Betty's eyeline base line was erased. The corner box changed. It also looked like a strip along the right side of the image was too wide for the cover dimensions.
More interesting, perhaps, was the "TMNT Special" #9, which featured a Jeff Smith cover and a backup story drawn by Stan Sakai.
- This blew my mind: A publishing entity by the name of Express Publications was handling "Zen Intergalactic Ninja" at the time. They also published a series called "Stygmata." (This was 1994. All the other variants of "Blood" were taken at Extreme Studios.) The cover image shown is typical of a new artist at the time, blending Todd McFarlane's cape work with Jim Lee costume designs and anatomy. Then I read the ad copy:
Mind-blowing art by Raff Ienco, the hottest artist to come out of Canada since Todd McFarlane and Stephen Platt!
Yes, this is the same Raff Ienco who did "Epic Kill" at Image in the last year, a series I enjoyed a lot. His art has improved greatly over the years. If you liked Aron Weisenfeld and Travis Charest's work in the '90s, you'll like Ienco today.
- Eclipse -- still a publishing concern at that point -- had a full-page ad for "Miracleman Triumphant" #1 in this catalog. You can read the full story behind this attempted series at ComicBeat.com, but I'm just impressed at how Mike Deodato Jr.'s perfecty nailed Eminem's likeness years before he became a public figure. That also beat Mark Millar to that particular trick by more than a decade. (Hello, "Wanted"...)
- Malibu had the Ultraverse and Bravura. Dark Horse had Comics' Greatest World and Legend. Jim Shooter was taking another swing with Defiant. Valiant was still hanging on. So many comics, so little time...
- I could spend this whole column analyzing Image's books for the month, but let's look at the ads, instead. Erik Larsen took out three full-page ads that still make me laugh today:
Marc Silvestri took out a full page ad to run a letter apologizing for the one-month lateness of the first three issues of "Codename: Stryke Force," pointing out that Top Cow was taking a month off from soliciting the next issue to catch up.
One of my favorite series of the time, "New Men" debuted in this catalog, complete with a two page sideways spread from series artist Jeff Matsuda. Matsuda wouldn't last long on the title, to be replaced by a new kid by the name of Todd Nauck. Later down the line, Chris Sprouse would replace Nauck. The writer was always the same: current Image publisher, Eric Stephenson.
- Here's the ultimate example of a print publication that could never survive in the Internet age: "Vantage Press Release Review." What did the 32 page black and white magazine contain? Just what the title says. Here's the solicitation copy:
Press Release Review is the monthly magazine for dealers and collectors, containing inside information about the marketplace, the comics business, and the future plans of comic and on-sports card publishers! Each issue comes jam-packed with publisher press releases on publisher letterhead, sample art pages, and special announcements -- all direct from the publishers!
You paid $2.95 for that in 1994. Today, you have a dozen sites bookmarked with all that same information on them.
The gag for this issue was that they were publishing all the press releases from 2077, about the time their 1000th issue would come out. (So, in reality, this magazine had only been around a few months, and likely didn't last much longer.) I'd love to see what their speculation for the future of comics was back then. Did they guess anything about webcomics at all? By 2077, will webcomics still be a thing?
- Wizard has a Jim Balent Catwoman cover that month, and this ad:
Dark days, indeed.
- Finally, the back page had the list of the 100 best-selling books of February 1994. #1 was "X-Men" #31. Dale Keown's "Pitt" #3 took the four spot, with Image also scoring a Top Ten book at #6 with "WildC.A.T.s" #8. DC's Superman family of titles was popular back then, capturing slots 9 - 12. Image's newcomer, "Gen13" #1, hit #13, coincidentally enough.
"Beavis and Butt-Head" #2 was the 15th most popular comic for the month.
"Spider-Man 2099" was in the top 30. The third issue of my beloved "Freak Force" came in at #61, ahead of titles like "Silver Surfer" #91, "Danger Unlimited" #1, "New Warriors" #46, and "Avengers" #373.
Meanwhile, Lobo had two books in the Top 100. "Lobo" #5 hit the 82 slot, while "Lobo A Contract on Gawd" sounds just as awful as it proved forgetful. Maybe DC can beat that record by giving all of their different relaunches of Lobo from the New 52 a title each?
The bottom of the Top 100 list came from the Ultraverse: "Wrath" #2. Not even the trading cards could push that title further up the charts.