In the comics hey-day (at least for me) of the late 1980s/early 1990s there were a number of companies distributing comics. Distributing meant that these companies put out catalogs, collected orders from retailers and then shipped the new releases to the shops. As the industry grew, more and more focus was put on the “business” of the business. I’ve mentioned here before how these distributors started sponsoring get-togethers, bringing their customers and suppliers together.
One of the best … and always strangest … was the Capital City Trade Show in Madison, Wisconsin. Capital City Distribution was owned and operated by longtime comics professionals Milton Griepp and John Davis. They provided high quality service and had a well-deserved reputation for putting the interests of their customers first.
Even though I correctly claim the bragging rights for being the first publisher/editor of a comic book industry trade business publication called Comics Business, a truly terrific little magazine was delivered by Capital City to its retailers every month by the name of Internal Correspondence. It is my understanding the Internal Correspondence was produced under the direct guidance of Milton Griepp. Internal Correspondence, while clearly and obviously a “house organ” for Capital City distribution, was a smart piece of business journalism and helped retailers (and publishers) see collected industry information put into a useful context.
Internal Correspondence lives on today, at least in part, by a great website called ICv2.com (get it … Internal Corrrespondence version 2) that to this day is managed by Milton Griepp. In many ways, in my mind, Milton is one of the unsung heroes of the comic book business.
In the spring, just as the last of the snow was melting in Madison, Capital City would invite all of its retailers and all comic publishers to come together for their annual Trade Show. It may have had more than one location during its history, but the only one that I remember is a large Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Madison.
As is common with large hotels in colder climates, especially those that promote convention facilities and services, this Madison Holiday Inn was built in a large cube-ish shape. The hotel rooms formed the outside of the cube, with the windows in the rooms facing the outside and the hallways and doors to the rooms facing a large open area that would feature the hotel restaurants, shops, lounges, etc. You could walk out of the door of your room, step to the railing at the other side of the hallway and look directly across the “common” area to other rooms hundreds of feet away. Or you could look down on the people eating, drinking and shopping below.
One of the “benefits” of getting into the comic book business is the lax dress code, even among the top executives. Anyone who has been to a comics convention can tell you that comic book retailers are not big on business attire either. It was a pretty motley crew that showed up for these trade shows, but who were we trying to impress … each other?
After the day’s business was over, every kind of publisher representative and comic shop owner could be found hanging out in the big open area bar or restaurant seating, surrounded by a towering square of hotel rooms. Remember at the beginning of this missive, I mentioned that the show was strange. You see, inevitably, the Capital City Trade Show always seemed to be scheduled the same weekend as many of the high school proms in the area.
A quick look around this Madison hotel, you would see the strangest mix of young comic book turks, old school retailers, guys in oversized Hawaiian shirts or well-worn superhero t-shirts … all side-by-side with young beautiful high school kids in tuxedoes and fancy evening gowns. I wish I could write a better picture of this odd visual, but instead I’ll close with a quick story.
Having either given a sales presentation during the day or required to sit through one, having either visited publishers booths all day or manned the booth all day, nearly everyone gathered for food or drink in the Holiday Inn common area when the work day was over. One year, a bunch of us were sitting around “enjoying” the expense account of a man named Jim Prindle. For a few years, Jim was one of the most popular and influential guys in comics. Why you ask? Jim Prindle was responsible for sales and marketing for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
As the night grew late and a reasonably large volume of alcohol had been consumed, Jim Prindle suddenly became impatient with the hotel’s choice of programming on the large projection television in the bar area. Jim decided that as the common area was nearly empty, our beer-ful group was entitled to enjoy some pay-per-view soft core porn on the television in the bar. We all hooted and hollered, sure that he couldn’t do it.
Jim called over our waitress and explained to her in a most persuasive way what he wanted. He explained that he had a credit card backed by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We all watched in stunned silence as she grabbed his credit card and departed to change the channel as requested. Soon, the images on the TV were switching from channel to channel. We were amazed. Then suddenly it turned to snowy static.
Seconds later, the hotel night manager was at our table explaining that he appreciated our business, but the bar was closing in a few minutes. And then he admitted that our waitress had gotten very close to fulfilling our request to naked television programming when he figured out what was happening.
We laughed and laughed. And woke the next day quite hung over.
That’s my version of the story.
P.S. Finding illustrations for this story was extremely difficult. Sometimes what’s funnier than what IS on the internet, is what isn’t.
— David Olbrich (DWO) Wed. Jan. 14, 2009