|Founder||Steve Schanes, Ann Fera|
|Headquarters||El Cajon, California|
|John Stephenson, editor-in-chief|
Blackthorne Publishing, Inc. was a comic book publisher that flourished from 1986-1989. They were notable for the Blackthorne 3-D Series, their reprint titles of classic comic strips like Dick Tracy, and their licensed products. Blackthorne achieved its greatest sales and financial success with their licensed 3-D comics adaptations of the California Raisins, but the financial loss suffered by the failure of their 3-D adaptation of the Michael Jackson film Moonwalker was a major contributor to the publisher's downfall.
Blackthorne was established in 1985 by husband-and-wife team Steve Schanes and Ann Fera, formerly associated with Pacific Comics (which had gone out of business in 1984). Schanes explained, "My abilities have always been to sell and promote, and I needed to have a job to pay my debts and to maintain a minimum life-style with my family. Since I could not locate enough work where I was living, I decided to start up another company, so I borrowed on my credit cards and started Blackthorne." Schanes and Fera raised $16,000 to start Blackthorne (naming the company after the street on which they lived), mostly using their credit cards.
Blackthorne's first title was Jerry Iger's Classic Sheena, with a cover date of April 1985, featuring Sheena, Queen of the Jungle reprints and a new Dave Stevens cover. (The book had originally been slated as a Pacific Comics release.) Despite early struggles due to their limited funds, Blackthorne steadily expanded during its first years. To increase their profitability and visibility, the company employed sales representatives which sold their comics to retail stores not covered by any comic book distributors, such as Hallmark Cards, Spencer Gifts, and 7-Elevens nationwide. By the end of 1987, according to Schanes, the company was publishing 22 comic books a month and was distributing to 900-1,200 gift stores not covered by comics distributors. Meanwhile, Blackthorne earned praise from critics and hobbyists for its reprints of classic newspaper comic strips. Schanes chose to do newspaper strip reprints because they required less financial investment and because there was little competition in the field at the time. Blackthorne immediately bought the rights for 60 different newspaper strips, even though they knew they wouldn't be able to produce most of them for years at best, to lock out any competition in the field.
In addition to their comic book line, Blackthorne published paperback books and created faux books for movie props; for instance, the comic books and technical manuals seen in the movie Russkies are all props crafted by Blackthorne Publishing.
In 1987, however, with the company losing money on its color line, it cancelled those titles to focus on their 3-D books and black-and-white licensed products. Blackthorne also suffered from the contemporaneous financial troubles of the Los Angeles-based distributor Sunrise Distributors. Sunrise went bankrupt in 1988, and although Blackthorne (along with fellow West Coast publisher Fantagraphics) sued the distributor, they were never able to recoup their losses. This in turn led to Blackthorne being audited by the federal government in 1988.
In early 1989, the company was still the fifth-largest U.S. comics publisher, bringing in about $1 million in sales and boasting a staff of eight full-time editorial and production employees. They published about 240 different titles a year, with an average print run of about 10,000 copies each. The company made a fatal error, however, when they signed on to adapt the Michael Jackson film Moonwalker to a 3-D comic book. The publisher paid a large licensing fee for the property and when the Moonwalker comic flopped later that year, they experienced a large financial loss.
By mid-1989 the company was outsourcing its operations, and in November the company laid off eight of its nine employees, including editor-in-chief John Stephenson. $180,000 in debt, Blackthorne limped into 1990 before it finally folded.
Blackthorne 3-D Series
Licensed and reprint titles
- Borax, Mark (January 1988). "Steve Schanes (part 1)". Comics Interview (54) (Fictioneer Books). pp. 33–39.
- Sanford, Jay Allen. "The History Of Comic Books In San Diego: The '80s," San Diego Reader blog (September 14, 2008).
- "Comics publisher pins stellar hopes to Moonwalker." San Diego Business Journal (March 6, 1989).
- "Blackthorne in 7-11s," The Comics Journal #108 (May 1986), p. 19.
- Harvey, R.C. "Bringing Back the Reprints" The Comics Journal #111 (September 1986), pp. 56-61: Reviews of reprints of newspaper comic strips by Blackthorne Publishing.
- "Blackthorne Cancels Color Comics Line, Will Refocus on Licensed Product," The Comics Journal #117 (September 1987), p. 15.
- "Sunrise announces it may not pay some publishers until July," The Comics Journal #115 (April 1987), p. 24.
- "Two Publishers Sue Sunrise Distributors," The Comics Journal #120 (March 1988), p. 8.
- "Sunrise Creditors Meet," The Comics Journal #122 (June 1988), p. 22.
- "Blackthorne Audited," The Comics Journal #124 (August 1988), pp. 12-13.
- "IRS Pursues Blackthorne," The Comics Journal #125 (October 1988), p. 13.
- Hudson, Laura. "The 5 Greatest Michael Jackson Moments in Comics," Comics Alliance (June 26, 2009).
- "Blackthorne Temporarily Contracts Operations," The Comics Journal #130 (July 1989), pp. 27-28.
- Hardie, Mary. "Cash-strapped comic book maker hits hard times again," San Diego Business Journal (January 22, 1990).
- "Blackthorne Struggles to Stay Afloat," The Comics Journal #134 (February 1990), pp. 7-8.