Capital City Distribution
|Former type||Comic book distributor,
Comic book publisher
|Founders||Milton Griepp, John Davis|
|Key people||Griepp, Davis, Richard Bruning|
Capital City Distribution was a Madison, Wisconsin-based comic book distributor which operated from 1980 to 1996 when they were acquired by rival Diamond Comics Distributors. Under the name Capital Comics, they also published comics from 1981 to 1984.
During most of its years of operation, Capital City introduced many supply chain innovations and controlled much of the American Midwest's comics distribution market. Capital City Distribution also published over 400 pages of printed material a month, including Internal Correspondence, which provided sales figures to their clients; and Advance Comics, their monthly catalog showcasing upcoming comic books, toys, and other pop-culture related items it distributed to comic book specialty shops.
In the 1970s, Milton Griepp and John Davis had run a small Madison-based distributor called Wisconsin Independent News Distributors (WIND). Forced to sell their assets to Big Rapids Distribution, Griepp and Davis later turned the tables in 1980 when they took over much of Big Rapids' bankrupt business to form Capital City.
One of Capital City's first acts was to utilize the personnel of another former Big Rapids' acquisition, Well News Co. of Columbus, Ohio, to became the nucleus of an early distribution branch. In 1982, Capital City acquired the Berkeley, California-based Common Ground Distributors, which had been started by Bob Beerbohm in the late 1970s (and has been initially supplied by Big Rapids).
Capital City's Wisconsin location was relatively near World Color Press's main printing plant in Sparta, Illinois. (During that period World Color printed most American comic books, including those of the two industry giants Marvel and DC.) By 1982, Capital City operated out of a large warehouse in Madison that they shared with their largest account, mail-order retailer Westfield Comics.
1984 expansion and rise to prominence
Griep became Capital City's CEO in 1984. That same year, with the demise of one of the larger independent publisher/distributors, Pacific Comics, Pacific's distribution centers and warehouses were purchased by Capital City and rival distributor Bud Plant Inc. Capital City also opened an expanded facility in Sparta, Illinois, in the old space of another defunct rival, East Coast Seagate Distribution, alongside the comic-book printing plant.
By 1988, Capital City and its main surviving rival Diamond Comics Distributors had control of at least 70% of the comics distribution market between them.
In 1994, Capital created controversy by announcing penalties for publishers who didn't deliver their products within promised deadlines; this move followed an industry-wide push for 30-day returnability, a practice formerly in use when comics were primarily distributed in newsstands.
Acquisition by Diamond
1995 saw a major restructuring of the direct market distribution system, caused by Marvel Comics's late-1994 purchase of third-ranked distributor Heroes World Distribution and decision to distribute its titles in-house. Faced with the loss of one-third of its business (Marvel's market share) Diamond reacted by outbidding Capital City for exclusive deals with Marvel's main rival DC Comics; and despite intense efforts on the part of David and Griep, Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics as well.
Capital City reacted by suing Marvel for the loss of their business, resulting in a settlement allowing them to continue distributing Marvel product until October 1995 (for everyone else, Marvel went exclusive with Heroes World starting in July). In addition, Capital City was able to sign exclusive deals with Kitchen Sink Press, TSR, and Viz Comics — as well as acquiring the Gary, Indiana-based distributor Friendly Frank's. Nonetheless, by 1996 Capital faced the choice between bankruptcy and selling out.
In July 1996 Capital City was acquired by Diamond. At the time of sale, Capital had over $150 million in annual sales. The purchase price was not disclosed, but the acquisition brought an estimated $50 million in sales revenue to Diamond, and effectively awarded Diamond complete control of the comics distribution system. Most of Capital City's 100 employees in Madison and another 100 in Sparta lost their jobs in the deal, though a few key staff members, including co-founder John Davis, joined Diamond's staff.
In 1981, Capital City decided to enter the comic book publishing field as well. Under the name Capital Comics, they launched a black-and-white comics title, Nexus, a futuristic superhero series by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, and distributed it through their own system.
Richard Bruning was a key part of Capital Comics' staff, acting as Editor-In-Chief and Art Director until the company ceased operation in 1984. Besides Nexus, the other titles published by Capital were Badger and Whisper. In 1984, after publishing only a handful of issues of their three titles, Capital shut down its publishing operation. Its titles were taken over by the new independent publisher First Comics.
- Nexus — two series, 1981 and 1983, nine issues
- Badger — 1983, four issues
- Whisper — 1983, two issues
- "Who We Are: Milton Griepp," ICv2.com. Accessed October 15, 2009.
- Carlson, KC. "KC Column: Scaling Mount Baron," Westfield Comics (Nov. 16, 2009).
- Sanford, Jay Allen. "Two Men and their Comic Books," San Diego Reader (Aug. 19, 2004).
- "Newswatch: Capital Announces Controversial Penalty Fees for Publishers: Move Follows Industry-wide Push for 30-day Returnability," The Comics Journal #166 (February 1994), pp. 17–26.
- Duin, Steve and Richardson, Mike (ed.s) "Capital City" in Comics Between the Panels (Dark Horse Publishing, 1998) ISBN 1-56971-344-8, p. 69
- "Marvelutionary War Declared: Unprecedented Upheaval in Direct Market," The Comics Journal #175 (March 1995), pp. 9-10.
- Rozanski, Chuck. "Tales From the Database: Diamond Ended Up With 50% of the Comics Market," Mile High Comics (2004).
- "Marvel goes exclusive, Capital sues Marvel, Marvel settles with Capital, Marvel buys Skybox, DC/Diamond announcement expected," The Comics Journal #175 (March 1995), pp. 9-10.
- Miller, John Jackson. "1995 Comic Book Sales Figures: Comics Preordered by North American Comics Shops as Reported by Capital City Distribution and Diamond Comic Distributors," The Comics Chronicles.
- "Newswatch: Capital City Acquires Friendly Frank's," The Comics Journal #178 (July 1995), pp. 13-15.
- "Diamond Comic Distributors acquires Capital City Distribution; Comic distribution industry stabilized by purchase," bNet: Business Wire (July 26, 1996).
- Daykin, Tom. "Comic book distributor to fold: Battered by competitive forces, Capital City Distribution sells assets," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (July 27, 1996).
- "Davis and Former Capital City Employees Join Diamond," The Comics Journal #192 (Dec. 1996), pp. 13-15.
- "Capital Comics Suspends Operations," The Comics Journal #89 (May 1984), pp. 8-9.