Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Saga of The DC Comicmobile

In 1973, there was no internet commerce and there were almost no comic book shops.
If you wanted to buy a comic book, you likely went to a drug store, supermarket, or news stand.
Depending on where you lived, if you were a collector it was common to have difficulty finding specific comic book issues you were looking for.

During the Summer of 1973, DC Comics tried a bold marketing experiment...

Earlier in the year, DC ran a promotional blurb for the 'Comicmobile' in the 'news bulletin' column of their books with a February release date. ▼ (click to ENLARGE)

The plan was to eventually have a fleet of vans dispatched all over, targeting areas that had under-served comics distribution. The hope was that through direct contact with their consumers, the comics publishing giant would get quick and important feedback on which titles were selling, which weren't, and why.

They started with one leased van full of comics and decorated with their characters, which they sent out from their NYC offices, on a route that included parts of New Jersey and Long Island.

Predictably, with most comics priced at 20 cents each, they didn't garner enough sales to cover the running expenses of the van and the cost of gas, and when kids returned to school in the Fall, the Comicmobile venture was later retired.*

Still - - How FREAKING EXCITING would that have been as a kid (hell, an adult!) to hear the Comicmobile rolling into YOUR neighborhood?!?
Running down the street, waving your dollar, gleefully shouting - 'The comic van is coming! The comic van is coming!!'

The following year, there was a fun article about the Comicmobile printed in the second issue (Sept. '74) of DC's self-published fanzine, The Amazing World of DC Comics.
(An interesting magazine, with a title not nearly as sexy as 'FOOM'.)

That article was written by two of the van's former drivers, both of whom would go on to long careers in the comics industry, Michael Uslan and Bob Rozakis.

(Presumably, that's Bob Rozakis in the super-shirt on the right. ◥ On the left as Wonder Woman is the future Dr. Laurie Rozakis.) (click to ENLARGE)

Click on page numbers to read the article - 'It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Super-Van':

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

Via his encyclopedic knowledge, for many years Bob Rozakis has been known in the comics world as 'The Answer Man', and has had an online presence as such online in one place or another since the early 1990's.

A few years ago he revisited his memories of The Comicmobile in several entries to his column at
Silver Bullet Comics:
(click for links)
Here Comes the Comicmobile (Part 1)
The Comicmobile (Part 2)
The Comicmobile (part 3)
The Comicmobile (Part 4)
The Comicmobile (Conclusion)

(I found these links via The Comic Treadmill. Many thanks!)

Rozakis' recollections are fun, and I personally can forgive him if he gets bogged down in ranking the relative sales of the DC comics released at that time.
Judging by his list, I realize that it was probably late '72 or early '73 when my life-long interest in comic-book collecting 'officially formalized'. I'd have been around nine years old, so that sounds right.

Regardless, I remember vividly and fondly the specific issues he discusses - -
Back when The Shadow and Shazam and Swamp Thing and the Secret Origins titles were becoming popular at DC.
When their sci-fi books, 'Black Orchid' in Adventure Comics, and reprints of the Metal Men,
Boy Commandos and Legion of Super-Heroes were failing.
When 100-page Super-Spectaculars were TOTALLY kick-ass cool, and so was 'PLOP!' and Kirby's run on Kamandi.
When 'Champion Sports', 'Strange Sports' and their glut of 'Weird' titles seemed ill-advised.
When the big treasury-sized comics for $1.00 seemed like a crazy idea that just might work.

*As to the fate of The Comicmobile itself, Bob Rozakis says that after his tenure with the van, it was shipped off to Bruce Hamilton in Arizona, who drove it for a few months. A key figure in comcs fandom at that time, Hamilton would go on to become publisher of Gladstone Comics, reprinting many of the Disney comic book titles.

I'm curious how that part of the story came about, and the timeline... Any info, anybody?

The Comicmobile apparenty met its final end in Arizona, after a collision with a semi-truck.

It's a shame.
Seems like it belongs in a museum or something. The flagship of a fleet that never was, a talismanic vehicle of fantasti-graphic power, like a comic geek's version of Dr. Hofmann's bicycle.
What visions would a seeker have, sitting in the back of The Comicmobile?

IF YOU or anyone you know had the experience of purchasing from (or encountering) the Comicmobile back in the day, I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure others would too.

Drop an e-mail or comment on this post. Thanks!

1 comment:

Bob said...

It's two and a half years later, but I just came across your blog entry on the DC Comicmobile. I was one of Bob Rozakis's customers in the summer of '73. I had just turned 14, a DC fan since I was 5, and my house in Elmont, NY was right along his route. I knew Bob's name from lettercols, and we would talk comics while I picked out the issues I wanted from the covers clipped to the inner doors of the van. (My Dad liked to read Kamandi, so that was always the first thing I'd ask for.) Occasionally, he would give me a free sample of a book that wasn't selling well (like Swamp Thing or Weird Western), or a promotional item (like a Superman 35th Anniversary bumper sticker). The Comicmobile was gone after a month or two, but I still keep in touch with Bob. We're Facebook friends, and we usually run into one another at the I-Con convention (www.iconsf.org).

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