Yearning for the Baxter Days

July 21, 2005

By Avi Green

Back in the early 1980s, when the direct sales market was becoming more common in comics specialty stores, DC and Marvel began using a form of paper called Baxter. For DC, it was for a direct sales line known as Deluxe Format, and was first seen as early as 1983.

It was a very good, sturdy form of paper, which holds up very well even today in back issues. And in contrast to the “gloss” paper that took its place in the mid-90s, it was less “shiny”, and thus more enjoyable to read without the possibility that it might reflect light if read under a bright light.

The titles to use it included, as follows:

From DC: Vigilante, The Omega Men, the second volume of The New Teen Titans, later to become The New Titans, the sans-adjective Outsiders, the post-Crisis version of The Question, and even Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, the only title since then to still be going, even though its no longer formatted that way.

From Marvel: I don’t know that much, but there most certainly are two examples: Marvel Fanfare, and possibly Doctor Strange, the second volume (not counting the time that Strange Tales originally became a full-time starring vehicle for the Sorceror Supreme in 1968).

One sure thing, Marvel Fanfare was meant to serve as a special showcase anthology in which new people to comics could show off their talents. Al Milgrom, who was editor of the title in the mid-80s, once said that:
"It was intended that [Marvel Fanfare] would appeal especially to the fans. [I] tried to get the best possible stuff (as you say--by either established pros or talented newcomers). At least part of the purpose was to use better paper, more elaborate, detailed coloring and, by charging a higher cover price, to eliminate all those unsightly ads. The creators were paid a bonus 50% rate, too. I was sometimes 'accused' of just using up inventory material--as if that was necessarily a bad thing. I did use some inventory stuff--if I thought it was of high enough quality. As with any grand vision, the results sometimes fell short of the goal. But hey, I tried. It was sometimes difficult to keep on top of the book, since I went off staff after awhile, and had to try to coordinate its publication while working at home and juggling a full-time freelance career. What finally killed it was the advent of incentive payments to freelancers--top creators could make far more than the rate-and-a-half Fanfare paid if they worked on many of the better selling regular titles. That and my workload and family obligations made it tough to keep the book going. And sales had begun to drop as well."
It's certainly a shame that Fanfare didn't prove as successful as it could have been in the end, but I must say that overall, what did get published was certainly good stuff, and I thank Milgrom and company very much for that.

As published on this very fine form of paper, all these titles were certainly very easy to read, and their artwork stood out marvelously. You got to look at the great artwork of Jose-Luis Garcia-Lopez with wonder, and even Dan Jurgens and Jim Aparo had a carnival fair on this wonderful publication. And let’s not forget George Perez, of course! His work on the revising of Donna Troy’s origin was also given the mark of excellence via Baxter paper, and it was conveyed very well indeed.

Sadly, in 1992-93, both DC and Marvel began to abandon this excellent paper, and by 1995, it was gone. Since then, what has taken its place, other than the gloss paper we see on a lot of comic books today that are intended to be high quality. (In print, at least.)

It’s a real shame that this once very enjoyable material, Baxter, has been discarded in favor of something that doesn’t leave much impact, any more than the stories published in comics today, on the reader.

Baxter paper is something that should be fondly remembered from the days gone by – when comics were often decidedly better, and is something that deserves to make a comeback.

Surely the industry could afford to bring it back? I would have to think that it would also cost less than the gloss paper, and could even help to cut back on heavy prices for at least a while longer.

I guess that’s why I’m hoping that someday, for as long as pamphlet comics are around, that Baxter will make a most welcome return to publishing. For it really was one of the best of its time, and deserves the chance anew to shine.

Something I was delighted to find

This is something I came across on the web, a page scan at that, that was a pleasure to read. It's an interview from the Straits Times of Singapore with Gail Simone, published April 23, 2005, on how she researched in advance for a story set in said country:

I'm always glad to come across articles like this one. As with Joseph Szadkowski's columns in the Washington Times, which I wrote about some time before, this too is very intelligently written, and is well above anything that Captain Comics has ever written about in his columns.

This is something US newspapers in print could learn from, if you ask me.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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