Comic Books: That mid-80s “Baxter” B.S.

I was a teenage boy during a majority of the 1980s, and, outside of a few incidents I’m reluctant to get into here, they were the best years of my life. The best part of those best years? Comic books.

I wasn’t any different from your usual 80s nerdy teenager in that respect; I was all about comics. I bought and read as many as my allowance would permit. I was particularly fond of the super teams of DC comics: The Justice League, All-Star Squadron, The Outsiders, and of course, The New Teen Titans and The Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Teen Titans and the Legion may have appealed to me mostly because of the word “teen” in the former, and the many variations of “boy,” “lad,” “kid,” “lass,” and “girl” in the names of characters in the latter. They may have presented themselves as young heroes, but they mostly conducted themselves the same ways the adults of those other super-teams did. Anyway, I very impatiently awaited each and every issue of Titans and LSH, so you can understand my dismay when teen-aged me first learned that both titles would soon be coming to an end.

Well, not exactly an end, but it might as well have been. Ya see, I was an inner-city kid, and my access to comic books was slim pickin’s, indeed. I pretty much did all my comics shopping at local supermarkets, drug stores and (sigh) 7-Elevens, and these places only sold what they called “newsstand” versions of comics. For most of my teenage years, newsstand comics were all I’d ever known. I soon discovered that there was another version of the same issues known as “direct sales,” which were only sold at comic book shops. The only difference between newsstand and direct sales that I knew of, was that newsstand covers had a box with a UPC barcode on them, and direct sales didn’t. Direct sales covers usually still had the box, but it often contained stuff other than a barcode in it. Direct sales comics also had Canadian and UK prices in the price box. I think maybe the direct editions also came out a bit earlier than the newsstands.

Anyway, there were no comic shops anywhere near where I lived, and getting my mom to drive me out to one in the suburbs wasn’t gonna happen. Which wasn’t a problem, until both the Titans and Legion series were gonna stop printing original stories in their newsstand editions. Both series would continue, but only in newly-numbered series printed on something called “Baxter” paper, and sold only at comic shops. The Baxter paper was a higher-grade stock that printed more vibrant and vivid colors and, as a result was about fifty cents per issue more expensive.

The Baxter-printed stories would then be reprinted, a whole 12 months later, on crappy newsprint, to be distributed to the peasants who bought their comics from non-comics shop-shops. The names of the books were also changed to “Tales of The Teen Titans” and “Tales of The Legion of Super-Heroes.” Quite a mouthful, ain’t it?

Now, I was gonna have to wait a whole YEAR to read new Titans and Legion stories? Nuts to that noise. I managed to figure out how to get out to the suburbs using public transportation, so I could go to a comics shop and continue collecting The New Teen Titans, at least. (Shout-out to Geppi’s Comic World in Silver Spring, Maryland.) It wasn’t in the budget for me to continue collecting Legion of Super-Heroes, so I had to say goodbye to that series at the time.

That “reprinting 12 months later” nonsense didn’t last very long, so evidently, I wasn’t the only one who said goodbye to newsstand-edition comics. I guess, in that respect, it was a good marketing ploy for the comics companies. Many other titles soon followed suit, and started printing on the fancy new paper, jacking up the prices, and alienating a whole section of readers (Marvel even got in on the action, creating, among many others, a whole new Spider-Man series that was titled, well, Spider-Man, and sold only at comics shops).

I ended up dropping The New Teen Titans after about 25 issues or so, once George Perez stopped drawing it, and Marv Wolfman’s writing started getting a little too full of itself. It was fun while it lasted.

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