Monday, August 7, 2017

0042: Insider Outlier

Most comics publishers who release more than two titles every month have some outlet for advertising that they return to regularly. Today, websites are ubiquitous even though 'in-house' ads (advertisements for a publisher's titles that appear in their other titles) are still around after 80 years. In the mid-60's both Marvel and DC decided to consolidate as much news about their current and imminent releases as could fit onto a single page which they would run in all their comics that month. Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins and DC's Direct Currents took on lives of their own, outliving changes in editors and even publishers. Since most larger publishers also did commissioned promotional pamphlets as a sideline, it was only a matter of time before they realized that they could present pitches to distributors and retailers in the form of comic book or magazine sized pamphlets. Eventually these would be printed in quantities that made them available to readers. Most were free, of course (Eclipse Extra, Comico Checklist, DC's Coming Attractions, etc.), but Marvel had the bright idea of selling its ads to its fans in the form of "Marvel Age". Initially half the length of a comic for less than half the price of their newsstand comics, it expanded to full length for the same reduced price after widespread criticism and ridicule, adding previews and interviews to make it more of a biased fanzine than an ad. That was all before Dark Horse Comics even existed.

Dark Horse began publishing in 1986 and right out of the gate [the first of many horse racing puns, so brace yourself] they began using plays on their name. The very first comic they published, DARK HORSE PRESENTS #1 opens with the editorial "And We're Off!" and ends with the letters' page "Winner's Circle" (starting with contributor bios for obvious reasons). With the second issue the editorial became "The Starting Gate" and as the company's roster grew, more pages were given over to in-house ads until #12 (11/87) devoted a page to blurbs for the most current issue of each of their titles. In #13, "Starting Gate" was gone and #14 contained a four page preview section. Increasingly, news became integrated into the letters' page(s). Then, DHP ran its first "Tip Sheet" page in #19 (07/88), a mostly text account of news about the company and upcoming releases. Over the years it's taken on several horse racing related titles; it currently uses "Horsepower" and I think the previous one was "Finish Line". But a year after introducing "Tip Sheet"  Dark Horse began publishing the magazine sized (8.5" X 11.0") pamphlet "Dark Horse Insider". After 28 issues, the pamphlet was discontinued and replaced with Volume 2, a full-length comic book format filled with blurbs for each comic published that month. These frequently wind up in comic book bargain bins but the pamphlets are much thinner than magazines and harder to sell, even as clearance items. Which is a shame, since each one is a cheap little nostalgia jolt for comics junkies of a certain vintage. I found this stray one, #19(02/91), among magazines from other publishers. At only eight pages, I went ahead and scanned the whole thing. Check it out.

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