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 almost 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, family, 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 writer 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, and 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 rare 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 Western 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 Perlmutter/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
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!