Philip Nicholas Seuling (January 20, 1934–August 21, 1984) was a comic book fan convention organizer and comics distributor primarily active in the 1970s. Seuling was the organizer of the annual New York Comic Art Convention, originally held in New York City every July 4 weekend throughout the 1970s. Later, with his East Coast Seagate Distribution company, Seuling developed the concept of the direct market distribution system for getting comics directly into comic book specialty shops, bypassing the then established newspaper/magazine distributor method, where no choices of title, quantity, or delivery directions were permitted.
Seuling was born in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, and spent his entire life as a resident of that borough. He had a brother 13 years younger. He graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts degree and earned several credits beyond. In 1958, he and a friend began buying and selling back-issue comic books, though his primary career was as an English teacher at Brooklyn's Lafayette High School.
Comic Art Convention
In 1968, Seuling — who as a sideline was president of the newly founded but short-lived Society for Comic Art Research and Preservation, Inc. (SCARP) — staged the First International Convention of Comic Art under that organization's auspices, holding it at the Statler Hilton Hotel. He held another comics convention at that hotel the following year, launching the New York Comic Art Convention series. Seuling continued teaching until he founded Seagate in 1974.
By 1965, he was married to Carole Seuling, with whom he had two daughters, Gwen and Heather. Carole Seuling would do a small amount of writing for comics, including co-creating, with artist George Tuska, Marvel Comics' jungle-girl heroine Shanna the She-Devil in 1972. By 1970, Seuling was also operating the After Hours Book Shop in Brooklyn.
In 1972, Seuling founded East Coast Seagate Distribution, named after the community Sea Gate, where he lived as an adult. Seuling cut deals with Archie, DC, Marvel, and Warren to ship their comic books from a new distribution center in Sparta, Illinois, thereby developing the concept of the direct market distribution system for getting comics directly into comic book specialty shops, bypassing the then established newspaper/magazine distributor method. The move from newsstand distribution to the direct market (nonreturnable, heavily discounted, direct purchasing of comics from publishers) went hand-in-hand with the growth of specialty comics shops that catered to collectors who could then buy back issues months after a newsstand issue had disappeared.
Comics historian Mark Evanier, noting the significance, wrote that
. . . it became apparent that the old method was being destroyed, with or without selling books the Seuling way, so DC, Marvel and other companies tried it. Within a year, around 25% of all comic books were being sold via 'direct' distribution, through Seuling's company and about a dozen others, with 75% still on conventional newsstands. Within ten years, those percentages were reversed. Today, the 'direct market' is the primary market.
Seuling ran Seagate with his then-girlfriend Joni Levas. A key element of Seagate's new distribution system was a prepay requirement for customers, which, given the low margins of comics retailing at the time (and the fact that many books shipped late), was onerous for many of the stores. By the late 1970s, however, thanks to Seuling's changes to distribution — and the merchandizing success of such comic-book-styled films as Star Wars and Superman — comics were selling well: in the six years between 1974 and 1980, U.S. "comic or fantasy-related specialty shops" rose from 200 or 300 to around 1500.
In late 1977 or early 1978, Seagate set up regional sub-distributors who were buying product at a 50% discount. This reduced Seuling's paperwork and enabled the sub-distributors to sell smaller orders than Seagate's minimum of five copies of each comic book title.
Seuling maintained a virtual monopoly on comics distribution, until a lawsuit brought by New Media/Irjax in 1978. Irjax sued DC, Marvel, Archie, and Warren for their anti-competitive arrangement with Seagate. As a result of the suit, Irjax eventually acquired "a sizable chunk of the direct-distribution market," and many of Seulings's sub-distributors left Seagate to become independent distributors. As well, late in life Seuling lost his teaching job following an arrest for selling underground comix to minors.
Seuling died on August 21, 1984; shortly thereafter, in 1985, Seagate closed down. Distribution competitors Bud Plant, Inc., and Capital City Distribution opened "an expanded facility in Seagate's old space in Sparta, alongside the [defunct publisher Pacific Comics'] printing plant."
In 1974, at the Brooklyn Museum's Community Gallery, he staged the exhibit "Brooklyn's Comic Book Artists", featuring artwork by 13 comics artists who were born or lived in Brooklyn. Identified by neighborhood on the poster for the show, these included Neal Adams, then living in the Coney Island neighborhood; Will Eisner; Carmine Infantino, of Greenpoint; Joe Kubert; Harvey Kurtzman, who lived along the Eastern Parkway; and Gray Morrow, formerly of East Flatbush.
Seuling was presented with an Inkpot Award at the 1974 San Diego Comic-Con. In 1985, he was posthumously named as one of the honorees by DC Comics in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great.
- Social Security Death Index, Social Security #130-26-6243.
- Schelly, Bill (2010). Founders of Comic Fandom: Profiles of 90 Publishers, Dealers, Collectors, Writers, Artists and Other Luminaries of the 1950s and 1960s. McFarland & Company. p. 6. ISBN 9780786443475.
- "An Interview with Phil Seuling". Fantastic Fanzine Special (2). February 1972. Archived from the original on February 16, 2010. Retrieved July 12, 2013. Interview conducted July 1971.
- Lichtenstein, Grace (: October 10, 1974). "Comic Books Displayed as Serious Art". The New York Times. (Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription)
- Carmody, Deirdre (July 6, 1968). "Comic Books Get Star Billing at Convention Here". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013. (Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription)
- "Old Comic Book Art is on Display Here". The New York Times. July 5, 1969. p. 16. Retrieved July 12, 2013. (Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription)
- Bails, Jerry; Ware, Hames. "Seuling, Phil". Who's Who of American Comic Books 1928-1999. Archived from the original on May 11, 2007. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- Sloane, Leonard (March 22, 1970). "Nostalgia for Extinct Pop Culture Creates Industry". The New York Times. (Abstract; full article requires fee or subscription)
- Rozanski, Chuck (December 2003). "Evolution of the Direct Market Part III". "Tales from the Database" (column), Comics Buyer's Guide #97 via MileHighComics.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. "One large California dealer, who was good friends with Phil, solved this problem by taking a vacation each year in New York. He stayed at Phil's house in the Seagate [sic]..."
- Beerbohm, Bob (March 14, 2008). "Please Consider Buying Some Comics From Industry Icon Robert Beerbohm". The Comics Reporter. Archived from the original on June 28, 2012.
- Evanier, Mark (December 31, 2004). "Around 1970, when I got into the comic book business...". P.O.V. Online: Notes from Me Archives. Retrieved April. 28, 2009.
- Rozanski, "Evolution, Part IV", Comics Buyer's Guide #98 via MileHighComics.com. "Joni Levas, Phil's girlfriend of the time and partner in Seagate Distributing." Archived from the original on July 16, 2012.
- Sanford, Jay Allen (August 19, 2004). "Two Men and their Comic Books". San Diego Reader. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011.
- "Direct Distribution" in Duin, Steve and Richardson, Mike (ed.s). Comics Between the Panels (Dark Horse Publishing, 1998), pp. 126-130.
- Rozanski, Chuck (2004, n.d.). "Chuck Goes to New York Part I". "Tales from the Database" (column), Comics Buyer's Guide #104 via MileHighComics.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011.
- Schelly, p. 108
- "Phil Seuling, father of the direct-sales Market, dies at age of 50," The Comics Journal #93 (September 1984), pp. 13-14.
- "Newswatch: Pioneering direct-sales distributor Sea Gate files for bankruptcy," The Comics Journal #101 (August 1985), pp. 17-18.
- Marx, Barry, Cavalieri, Joey and Hill, Thomas (w), Petruccio, Steven (a), Marx, Barry (ed). "Phil Seuling The Beginning of Direct Distribution" Fifty Who Made DC Great: 46 (1985), DC Comics
- Schelly, Bill. Golden Age of Comic Fandom (Hamster Press, 1995)
- Schelly, Bill, ed. Alter Ego, the Best of the Legendary Comics Fanzine (Hamster Press, 1997)