On History: Elson's Super Hero Comics

By | Tuesday, November 11, 2014 4 comments
In 1981, Elson's Gift and News paid DC to repackage some of their comics into Elson's Presents Super Heroes Comics. There were six issues, each featuring the same cover (with just a change in background color). The interiors were pulled from existing DC books, including the original ads. The only new material for any of the issues was the Elson's comic style ad on the back covers with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

DC had a similar deal with Lionel Playworld and produced a similar five-issue series with them. Again, using this same cover (with the Playworld logo dropped in where the Elson's one appears here). The interiors, while different, were also pulled from various DC comics from early 1981.

There's curious debate about the interiors. Because the original ads are included, and nearly all of the material comes from January 1981 issues, many people believe these were not in fact reprints at all. Rather, they were returned/remaindered copies of the originals which were literally pulled apart and glued back together with a new cover. A little while back, I talked about how Russ Cochran did something similar a few years later with his EC reprints.

In DC's case, I suspect they were looking to deal with massive overages that came from the rise of the direct market. Newsstand sales, you'll recall, were returnable whereas direct market sales were not. But since the two markets worked side by side for several years, I expect there was a point where direct market sales outstripped newsstand ones and the printing overages were no longer necessary. But in that transition period, DC could well have ended up with thousands more returned comics than they used to see. And while they used to pulp those returned issues, I don't doubt there was a clever DC executive who struck upon this repackaging idea.

That these comics were set up with a generic cover, and a small retailer logo dropped in place, I'm pretty confident it was DC who packaged these up and went to retailers with this set up. Possibly as a variation on those three-comics-in-a-sealed-bag deals you used to find at convenience stores. Given that the whole experiment with both the Elson's and Lionel versions started and ended in 1981 -- and used 1981 issues as their contents -- I suspect it didn't go over very well. Either they were far too costly for the retailers, or for DC itself.

The predominance of the direct market today almost inherently precludes an experiment like this from taking place again. Thanks to the non-returnable nature of direct market sales, publishers simply don't print the huge overruns that they used to. They print exactly what is ordered and no more, so there aren't any extra copies that need to be dealt with at all; never mind having to decide whether to pulp or repackage them.

But I think it's fascinating little nugget of comics history that essentially only could have occurred in a small window when the direct market was really starting to gain traction over newsstands.
Newer Post Older Post Home


Britt Reid said...

"But I think it's fascinating little nugget of comics history that essentially only could have occurred in a small window when the direct market was really starting to gain traction over newsstands. "

Actually, it was quite common in the 1940s-50s, especially among second-string publishers like St John, Ziff-Davis, and Fox, all of whom did 25-cent compillations of 4-6 remaindered books (depending on if they were originally 48 or 36 pages) with new generic covers.

Really? Were they sold with specific retailer logos and such, or were they just treated as reprints by the publishers?

Britt Reid said...

Just reprints.
Dell (under the March of Comics imprint) and Charlton did retailer-specific reprints of single issues of various titles.

dbutler16 said...

I have these Elston's and they are pretty awesome. Reprints or not, I love having the original ads and letter columns in there.