The End of Comics Buyer’s Guide

I read this morning that the owner of Krause Publications has announced that the venerable comics periodical Comics Buyer’s Guide is ending its long run.

CBG (as it’s commonly known) was a regular part of my life for a long time. I first discovered it back in the mid-80s when voting for the annual CBG awards (which, at one time, were a big thing in comics) was announced in places other than CBG. I believe everyone who voted received a free copy of CBG #600 – I did, at any rate, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay for it. This was an extra-sized issue, the cover sporting a Mike Grell illustration for the upcoming Batman/Jon Sable mini-series (which as far as I know never actually happened). CBG was published in tabloid newspaper format, which was a novel thing for a teenager like me. It contained a huge letter column and was chock-full of comics news not readily available to most teenaged fans in those pre-Internet days.

I subscribed immediately. My first regular issue was #607 (which of course triggered my collector-mania to want to find #601-606, but I never actually tried). As I recall, the front page of that featured an article on the upcoming DC series Hex, which did see print. That first issue of Hex was cover-dated September 1985, which means CBG #600 must have come out sometime in 1984.

CBG was a weekly publication, and was anchored by three things: News, that voluminous letter column, and a large ad section in the back. The letter column saw the publication of several controversial letters over the years, most memorably (for me) that by “Name Withheld” arguing that comics writers were not really needed anymore since comics artists could do the writing side of the job perfectly well. Much hilarity ensued. I believe the identity of “Name Withheld” (one of the rare times a letter-writer’s identity was not published at his request by CBG) was eventually sleuthed to be a fairly notable comics artist, though I was never certain of it myself.

I subscribed to CBG for a little over 15 years – a bit past issue #1600, I think, so over 1000 issues – and I read it promptly and regularly for almost that whole span. I had a few (astonishingly poorly written) letters published in it over the years (my comics letterhacking career is not one I look back on fondly, for the most part), but despite that I enjoyed the hell out of the paper.

One enduring contribution CBG made to my life was the discovery of amateur press associations, and I spent a good chunk of the 1990s participating in a variety of APAs. I made several enduring friends directly or indirectly through membership in APA Centauri (which I discovered directly through CBG because the central mailer of the time ran classified ads to drum up membership in 1987) and Capacity.

CBG was edited by a couple of long-time comics fans, Don and Maggie Thompson, when I first subscribed. They were level-headed and even-handed (in my opinion, anyway), and kept the paper from going off the rails through various instances of tumult in its pages. Don passed away in 1994, which was a Big Deal for readers at the time, even for someone like me who was never really involved in comics fandom. Maggie continued to edit the paper solo afterwards.

I think CBG was ultimately done in by the Internet, as news and conversations drifted off to bulletin boards. It lost me when it converted to a monthly magazine format in 2004, as it was the weekly dose of news and letters which kept me interested in it; a monthly – but larger – publication didn’t interest me, as I liked reading each issue in a single sit-down, and the letter column became much less lively. My subscription happened to run out (a coincidence because I was renewing for multiple years at a time at that point) about a year later, and I decided that 1000 issues was an adequate run.

Some CBG writers have been observed the magazine’s end online:

  • John Jackson Miller outlines the history of CBG in a meaty obituary.
  • Maggie Thompson looks back briefly, and then looks ahead at what’s next for her.
  • Heidi MacDonald of The Beat reminisces.
  • Tony Isabella calls writing for CBG “the longest and one of the most rewarding continuing relationships of my career.”

Peter David regularly runs his old CBG columns on his web site, although it may be a while before we see another one, or a reminiscence of his own, as he recently had a stroke.

Though it’s been nearly 8 years since I stopped subscribing to CBG, its cancellation after over 40 years of publication (hey, it’s almost as old as I am!) still feels like the end of an era.