The secret origin of Malibu Comics (part one)

As many of you are aware, I was the founding publisher of Malibu Comics. I was there for Day One and had every intention and desire to work there the rest of my life. Circumstances conspired against me (and mistakes were made) and now I write this fanatic blog.


Malibu Comics was born during the black-and-white bust, the comic market downturn that followed the black-and-white boom. The beginning of the black-and-white boom is usually measured (people measure these things?) from the release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 in May 1984. With an original print run of only 3,000 copies, TMNT #1 grabbed the attention and imagination of comic readers and collectors. One site I read, said the appeal to a wide range of existing comic fans was intentional: Teenage (Teen Titans), Mutant (X-men) and Ninja (Daredevil). Wikipedia claims that TMNT was a parody of Miller’s Ronin.

Turtles #1

Cover: Turtles #1

Popularity, soaring circulation and soaring back-issue prices were bound to breed imitators. All sorts of books attempting to capture the magic of TMNT flooded comic distributors and eventually the shelves of comic specialty stores. Just off the top of my head and in no particular order:

Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt HamstersBarnie the Invisible TurtleGuerrilla GroundhogEx-MutantsG.I. RambotAristocratic Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling ThievesFish PoliceTroll LordsSultry Teenage Super FoxesG.I. JackrabbitsShadow of the GroundhogReagan’s RaidersGeriatric Gangrene Jujitsu GerbilsPre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos• and many, many more.

Sultry Teenage Super Foxes by Solson

Sultry Teenage Super Foxes by Solson

My favorite, Marvel’s attempt to jump into the fray, was Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Pachyderms, which had its name changed prior to publication because Marvel jumped on the fad far too late, finally releasing Power Pachyderms in 1989. 

(This might make a nice Fanatic Poll, name your favorite preposterous and poorly executed black-and-white boom title?)

From the time that Turtles debuted in mid-1984, it took several months for everyone to realize what had happened and then it took a few more months for the publishers to gear up. It took a few additional months for new publishers to get themselves organized. We all watched. We all waited … surely this couldn’t continue. There was no way that retailers could continue to order and sell these comics at these insane levels. 

Fish Police from Fishwrap

Fish Police from Fishwrap

The feeding frenzy was amazing (there was even a Publisher named Amazing). It cost a lot less to print a black-and-white comic book than it did a color book The profitability on the enormous distributor orders from the direct market (sometimes reaching six figures) was like printing money. Title content meant almost nothing … a catchy title was all you needed.

The insanity of this time is impossible to describe accurately. Enthusiastic comic amateurs started pitching any high concept or parody that came into their brains and publishers rushed them onto already bloated release schedules with reckless abandon.

All this driven by greedy collectors, not reader collectors, but the “I’ll buy this today and sell it in a month or two at a profit” collector. My favorite story is when a small publisher was called up by a secondary dealer who offered to pay for a second printing of the publisher’s recently hot comic. The plan was to claim they were “recently discovered” first printings so they could be sold at a premium price.  

geriatricgerbilsKris Silver saw the trend and geared up to take advantage. His company Silverwolf jumped in DEEP. As an example, the company solicited 19 titles for release in January 1987 and 13 of them were first issues. Gary Brodsky was ready to take advantage as well. In December, the company called Solson, solicited the following: Dec. 1986 – 12 titles, Jan. 1987 – 16 titles, Feb. 1987 – 22 titles. (statistics and details courtesy of The Comics Journal website

The breakthrough title (TMNT) was launched in May 1984. The opportunity became clear in 1985. The frenzy took hold in 1986 and everyone was talking about the excesses that were obvious at that point. Retail sales started to head south in mid-1986. Early in 1987 the writing was on the wall and by summer 1987 the black-and-white “bust” was putting the careless and over-enthusiastic retailers out of business. Good and worthwhile titles suffered side-by-side with the opportunistic knock-offs.


A fuzzy version of Malibu's first logo

Malibu Graphics (soon to be Malibu Comics) was established in December 1986 and the first titles were scheduled for release in June 1987. Historians can make the decision if we were just late to the party or bravely bucking the trend, but by the time Malibu Graphics started releasing its first titles, there certainly was no easy money to be made in creator-owned black-and-white comics.

That’s my version of the story.

          — Dave Olbrich (DWO) Fri. Jan. 23, 2009



Filed under Behind the Scenes, Fanatical History, Malibu Comics Origins

25 responses to “The secret origin of Malibu Comics (part one)

  1. Tim Hamilton

    You mean “The Trouble with Girls” didn’t make millions? : )

  2. Dave Olbrich

    Tim —
    What a wonderful surprise to see you here.

    The point was that Malibu’s path wasn’t going to be easy. Having Trouble with Girls on the schedule was a blessing.

  3. Tim Hamilton

    I remember that first schedule.
    Strike Force
    Libby Ellis
    The Rovers
    And….that book that looked like Bill Sienkiewicz drew it. I forget the name of that book.

    I now share a studio with “Verdict” artist Dean Haspiel among others. Small world.

  4. Dave Olbrich

    Since it is only you and me here, I can reveal a few details from the upcoming stallments of the Secret Origin of Malibu Comics.

    The first three titles solicited by Malibu Graphics.
    Dark Wolf, Libby Ellis, and Stealth Force
    all for June 1987.

    July, I’m still doing my research to make sure I don’t get it wrong, but I believe for July we added Trouble with Girls and Bones.

    Past that, I’m going to have to consult an expert (or failing that actual information) :-)

    Tim … I would like to invite both you and Dean to contribute to Funny Book Fanatic with a behind-the-scenes story from the front lines of being a comic book professional. 500-600 words. I’ll post it and pull the appropriate illustrations. Whaddaya say?

  5. Tim Hamilton

    I can’t find your email on this site, but I put mine in the reply field below my name. Shoot me and email please.

  6. Cory Strode

    Oh, Solson…when I was fresh out of college, they accepted one of my submissions, and because I was hungry to work in comics, they would call me up and ask me to bang out a script in less than a week, and I’d do it. Then, when time came to see them published, the company went away.

    They were FAR from the first company to do that back in those days.

  7. Dave Olbrich

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I think there are a lot of people who can relate to your story. As I relate the origins of Malibu in the days to come, I’m sure I’ll get around to a discussion of Malibu’s competition.

  8. Tom Mason

    Hi Dave –
    You are correct – that was the June and July line-up for Malibu. The Rovers by Steve Bennett and Scott Bieser/Jeff Albrecht was, I believe, the September title.

    Of those first six titles, The Trouble With Girls had been optioned by HBO prior to publication, and both Stealth Force and Dark Wolf eventually were optioned to different Hollywood production companies. Sadly, none were turned into actual shows or movies.

    And here’s your real trivia of the day: Jim Chadwick, now the editor of the CMX books for DC, designed the original logos for Stealth Force, Bones, The Trouble With Girls, and The Rovers. I believe Norm Dwyer did the Libby Ellis one and Butch Burcham (or his wife Debbie) did the one for Dark Wolf.

  9. Dave Olbrich

    Ladies and gentlemen!

    The fountain of FANATIC trivia, Mr. Tom Mason

    Thanks Mr. Tom.

  10. Mark

    When I had my cable access show some years back, I really wanted to do a full Doc on Malibu. But, time and all that just wasn’t there as I was pretty much doing the show by myself.

  11. Dave Olbrich

    Don’t lose the dream Mark. I hear rumors that Darren Doane has become a documentarian.

  12. Hey, Dave! Enjoying the articles you have here!

  13. Dave Olbrich

    Sandy —
    How great of you to stop by and visit. Thanks for posting a comment so that I knew you were here. Got any great behind the scenes stories of your life in funny books that you’d like to pass along … I’d love to post one or two here. I’m sure everyone is getting tired of DWO 24-7.

  14. Pingback: Malibu Comics Secret Origins (part 3) « Funny Book Fanatic

  15. Actually, I remember sending off ‘The Headless Horseman’ pencils off to Tom, and the courier losing the pages! I had to contact Tom, who calmly suggested I go down to the Couriers Office, find someone there and beat the hell out of them.
    I ended up sending photocopies of the pages (which I thankfully had).
    Months later, this company actually had the NERVE to bill me… that was a fun phone call.
    All in all, in that day-and-age where there were tons of B & W’s and oodles of small publishers, I was most pleased to be working with a a company that produced interesting books AND actually paid you! I remember one convention I was at where there were tons of artists like me getting published and never getting a cent for there work… I won’t mention that company NOW, but you all remember those horror stories.

  16. Pingback: Malibu Comics Secret Origin (part 4) « Funny Book Fanatic

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  18. Matthew McLaughlin

    What a great time the b&w bust was for a 9-10 year-old kid, though. Probably because I was (and still am) so heavy in Conan, and cited The Savage Sword as my favorite comic (and still do), I was tuned in to b&w books.

    I remember the awe I felt browsing through the independants – so much to choose from, most of it garbage, but, oh, when I found a good one it was usually really good. The First Kingdom, ElfQuest, TMNT were a few of the excellent titles I discovered, but I still hold dear Adventurers, Elf Warrior, ElfLord and several others. In fact, most of my collection still consists of 80’s comics from that period of time.

    Thanks for your story, and thanks for the memories!

  19. Pingback: The ’80s Black & White Boom / Bust « Very Fine / Near Mint

  20. If Im not mistaken I started working for a printing company in Bklyn, NY on Kings Hwy and Foster Ave. (name purposely left out, I dont want to be the one to give those asswipes any free publicity) this was 1988 and they printed titles including TNMT, some manga titles but the one I remember the best was Dale Keoan’s Dragon Force. I used to love checking out the original boards in the strippers room, until then these were the best examples of first hand illustrations of full page werewolfs, etc. Damn I knew I should’ve five fingered those boards.
    Bill McGinn

  21. My bust after just a few minutes of further research I found that Dragonforce was actually published by Aircel comics and my apologies to Dale Keown for re-writing his name. But once again I was fascinated by his illustrations and knew then that he was going to have a place in comic history. I was 28 at the time and was employed as a typesetter and mechanical artist and as a kid was always drawing on the back of denim jackets of our favorite rock groups, The Who, Hot Tuna etc., remember this is Brooklyn in the 70’s for those who never even heard of Tuna. My point is that I have always had a taste for good illustration and art in general. I actually did start collecting comics 10yrs later when I came across Greg Capullo doing pencils for McFarlanes ‘Spawn’, Image comics, Spawn and the new production values that Image inspired drew me into comics and I havent stopped since. Though now I mainly purchase the trade paperbacks. Thanks Dale, Todd, Greg, Carlos Pacheco, J.G. Jones, and of course I would be a real ‘douchbag’ if I left out the amazing work of fellow boys from the hood Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. Joe you make us proud the work you have done at Marvel. Loved the whole Ultimates storyline and only because you used some of your best talents. Blah, Blah let me shut “dafuk up”.

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  24. Roblogged a portion of this regarding Silverwolf and left a link. Very intersting stuff.

  25. Pingback: Silverwolf Comics: Why Would Anyone Buy This Stuff? » Moby's!

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