Forty Years and Counting

By Matt and John Yuan, Deputy Publishers,
And Ken F. Levin, Publisher

These days, depending upon how you count them, there are more than 300 North American comic book companies. When 1First Comics started forty years ago there were only two other comic book publishers, MARVEL and DC, and their bread and butter was lmost exclusively super-heroes. So with a clear field, 1First Comics chose to cede super-heroes to the two big boys (honestly, what could you come up with that was better than theirs?). And so 1First published everything else: fantasy, thriller, kids, comedy, amily, horror, sci-fi –- anything genre that looked great and did not look like what they were doing. Charlton had just bit the dust and was conducting a fire sale; that’s how we got E-MAN for us and JOHNNY DYNAMITE for our long-time friend, the brilliant riter Max Allan Collins. Two of the then fourteen (!) distributors had also started their own imprints – Capital and Pacific – but the retail stores, the distributors’ customers, were so vocal that this was a “conflict of interest” that neither imprint lasted six months, nd again, we were there to help pick up the pieces (BADGER and NEXUS from Capital, STARSLAYER from Pacific). (Yes, ARCHIE and DELL were there too, but we never saw them as comic book publishers, more as cottage industries, because with the are exceptions ARCHIE published… well… only Archie and DELL published licensed characters, principally from Disney.)

And now it’s forty years since we created the corporation and started putting everything together, and 2023 will be our Fortieth Anniversary of having begun publishing. Which makes 1First Comics the longest standing independent comic book publisher in the estern Hemisphere, with new creators and new titles and new characters on the horizon, and home to more ongoing classic independent titles than anyone else, and more of them coming too. And in that time we’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. Distribution, once handled by those fourteen companies, was cut down to two by the Perelman regime at Marvel in the late 1990’s, part of the reason Marvel had to go into bankruptcy, and when Marvel came out to land in the hands of what became the Ike erlmutter/Bill Jemas/Joe Quesada juggernaut, Steve Geppi’s Diamond Distribution was the last distributor standing. Then digital distribution became a thing and made even that monopoly a tenuous dinosaur. We’ve seen every stunt imaginable. Crossover events.” Variant covers, chromium covers, embossed covers, incentive covers… more gimmicks than you could shake a stick at came and went and came back again. Sure, they’re fun, but ultimately, they did as much to push the comics industry towards destruction as video games and cable TV did. When MARVEL’s top artists (Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Todd McFarlane et. al.) would add 500,000 in sales to a title’s monthly sales just by moving onto that book, feeding frenzied customers bought multiple copies of books, sometimes whole cases, convinced that the books would invariably have great value someday (and ignoring the fact that each title’s print run was close to 2,000,000). Instead of playing to those crowds we began a marketing campaign with the tag line Buy It to Read It. And we were right, as a few years later the speculation market on current titles crashed and burned.

Fads tend to do that.

Now before you accuse us of being dinosaurs ourselves, we know change is a constant. Today digital comics and 1 in 1000 variants are all the rage, but tomorrow it may be the return of 3D comics with those awesome red-and-blue cardboard glasses (we hope!) or stand-alone stories told in a pop-up format. We understand that.

Another thing we understand is that the industry can only trick the reader into buying a comic for so long before readers figure out that spending five, seven even ten dollars on a comic for an interesting cover with what turns out to be a lousy story, flat characters, a paper-thin plot and predictable dialogue inside is not in their financial interest, especially when video games, movies, television, and streaming are competing for those same entertainment dollars. (It’s not the economy, stupid, it’s the quality!) That’s why 1First Comics has always placed its emphasis on content. In addition to creators’ rights, 1First Comics believes strongly in offering stories that are fresh, new, and innovative. No one had adapted a stage play into a comic book before 1First did it with Peter B. Gillis’ adaptation of the Stuart Gordon and Lenny Kleinfeld play Warp! No one had seen anything like Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! Or John Ostrander and Tim Truman’s GrimJack — before 1First Comics published both of them. Shatter by Peter Gillis and Mike Saenz broke new ground by being the first comic book with completely computer-generated art and lettering. And 1First Comics was the first to get an independent comic art property to television (“SABLE,” adapting Mike Grell’s Jon Sable Freelance, Rene Russo’s first professional acting role), and the first to bring faithfully translated manga to the U.S. with Lone Wolf and Cub.

Note that we don’t call ourselves 1First Comics for our groundbreaking ethos in dealing only in creator-owned titles or the fact that we were the first to do this or print that… we call ourselves 1First because on day one we put innovation first. We put the creator first. We put characters, stories, and creativity first. We put the retailers first. And we put you, the reader, first. We always have. Without you we wouldn’t be first, second, third, or fourth. We would be nothing. With you, however, the sky’s the limit! Thank you for being there with us, and we promise to keep it up – despite all of our successes, all of our innovations, all of our awards, all of our pride at introducing the world to hall of fame talents and titles, the best is yet to come.

Here’s to another great forty years!

Sincerely yours,

Logo Signature sign-off for 1First comics.

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series 1First Editorial