September 27, 2023

Enterprise JM

Do the Business

From Mail Order to Brick and Mortar Stores to E-Commerce, Direct Market Pioneer Buddy Saunders is Still Adapting

In junior superior in Texas, Buddy Saunders almost never ate college lunch.  He desired to help you save the 35 cents his mother gave him just about every working day so he experienced extra to shell out on comics.

“I was actually a skinny kid,” he claimed.

He utilized lunch funds, an allowance and proceeds from a paper route to create a gigantic selection of comics.  Science fiction titles were his favorites, like DC’s Secret in Area and Strange Adventures.  By 1961, when he was 14, he began to provide some of his inventory as a result of mail get in early fanzines.

Saunders made his name in mail get, expanded in the 1970s to bodily shops in the Dallas-Fort Worthy of location below the identify Lone Star Comics, and in the 2010s marketed his shops to concentration on his company’s flourishing internet site,  Today, the web page is a single of the largest sellers of new and back again difficulty comics in the planet.

Saunders, 76, has shown a knack for controlling as a result of modify.  He profited from the booms and survived the busts in a job that spans the overall contemporary history of comics retail.  And, he expanded into e-commerce right before most of his peers, acknowledging how the attain of a web-site was effectively-suited to meet the requires of comics buyers.

In interviews this thirty day period, speaking by telephone from his little, windowless place of work at the warehouse in Arlington, Texas, he mirrored on the evolution of his enterprise.  He offers a lot of the credit for the latest achievement to his son, Conan, who is now president and a co-operator, and whose techniques as a personal computer programmer have been critical for making the web page.

But comics retail is only section of Saunders’ story.  While in school in the 1960s, he wrote horror and sword and sorcery comics stories for editor Archie Goodwin at Creepy and Eerie publications.  In the 1970s, he co-wrote science fiction prose stories and a novel.  He recalls that he could have concentrated on producing, but he permit it transform into more of a hobby as his business enterprise grew.

“Comic retailing took about my daily life,” he said.

He is very well-regarded to comics retail insiders and to the 30,000 or so persons who obtain his company’s weekly newsletter.

“Buddy is simply a incredibly wise guy with quite very good organization feeling,” claimed Bud Plant, owner of Bud’s Art Guides, and somebody with his individual loaded history in comics retail as a store operator and a distributor.

Plant is talking as anyone who has identified Saunders for many years as a fellow retailer but also as a client.  He purchases comics from, and, when he is providing comics from his personal assortment, he generally does so on consignment through the web page.

“He has excellent folks performing for him he plainly trains them very well,” Plant mentioned.  “And possibly just as essential, he loves what he is executing.  He is a comics lover initially and foremost.”

Saunders When Offered a Superb 4 #1 for 25 Cents
Expanding up generally in Texas, initially comic e-book he can remember getting for himself was Donald Duck #71, released in 1960, which demonstrates the sun shining by way of a telescope and burning Donald’s tail. He shortly was reading science fiction and superhero comics.

Saunders experienced a deep assortment by the time Marvel began its new super hero line with titles like Wonderful Four #1 in 1961.  By then he also experienced begun marketing and investing comics by means of the mail, promoting in fanzines like Rocket’s Blast Comicollector.  He remembers promoting a around-mint situation copy of Fantastic Four #1 for 25 cents.

“I doubled my income,” he claimed.  The include price was 10 cents.  “That was excellent at the time.”

He built mates amongst fellow comic audience at his university in Arlington and fashioned connections with friends in comics and science fiction fandom.  He and two friends in Texas, Larry Herndon and Howard Keltner, started publishing a fanzine, Star-Studded Comics, in 1963.

Now in high college, Saunders preferred to be a comedian reserve artist and his illustrations appeared in fanzines together with the work of artists who would go on to grow to be comics pros, like Dave Cockrum and Jim Starlin.

“My ambition by junior large and superior college was to develop into a comedian reserve artist, but God blessed me with not ample talent,” he said.

What he indicates is that, in hindsight, he understands that he wouldn’t have been satisfied with the life of a freelance artist, so it was fortuitous that he wasn’t excellent adequate to significantly go after art as a vocation.

He shifted to aim far more on composing, which include perform co-published with his faculty classmate Howard Waldrop.  The two of them were element of a smaller group of aspiring science fiction writers who would fulfill each individual several months to critique each individual other’s function.  Among the other customers was George R.R. Martin, now most effective acknowledged for A Music of Fire and Ice, the collection that he helped to adapt for the television show Recreation of Thrones.

Saunders graduated from high university in 1965 and bought a teaching degree from East Texas State University in 1970.

His strategy was to educate and use the summers to create, and he obtained a work training artwork at a middle faculty in close proximity to Arlington.  He turned a released novelist a several yrs later with the release of The Texas-Israeli War: 1999, co-penned with Waldrop.

But he by no means stopped looking through, purchasing and providing comics.  His mail-order business enterprise ongoing and took up a spare bed room.

Through this exact period, Phil Seuling and Jonni Levas in New York experienced started out a enterprise that would offer comics from important publishers specifically to companies like the a person Saunders was running (see “Phil Seuling: The Gentleman Who Invented the Immediate Current market”).  Before that, comics merchants needed to purchase from a network of newspaper and magazine distributors who normally had minimal appreciation for comics.  The 1973 start of Seuling and Levas’ firm, later on identified as Sea Gate Distributors, is the commencing of the Immediate Market place era in which comedian shops blossomed (see “Immediate Market 50th Anniversary”).

Saunders’ enterprise grew so substantially that he felt a require to open a actual physical retail place, which he did in 1977.  The 700-square-foot house was the initial of what would be a lot of locations of Lone Star Comics.

By this time, he was married to Judy, who didn’t to begin with perform at the organization, but would be a vital component of it in later on a long time.

He ran the retailer and ongoing to teach, but he and Judy agreed that he would leave his work as an art trainer if and when the profits from the keep grew to additional than his training wage.  It finished up going on faster than they anticipated, within one 12 months, and he became a comprehensive-time retailer.

Comic outlets went as a result of rapid development in the 1980s, and in the Dallas-Fort Worthy of area that expansion was noticeable via the growth of Lone Star Comics from a person small place to, at its peak, 8 places, alongside with a host of competing shops.

To aid regulate the progress, Judy still left her administrative career with the federal federal government and joined the loved ones organization whole time, handling human methods and accounting.  Buddy Saunders stated this was an significant moment for the company’s development for the reason that Judy was highly productive at dealing with the components of the organization that he wasn’t as at ease with, and that allowed him to emphasis on the mix of solutions the retailers ended up selling.

While some outlets were being purists in concentrating practically solely on comics, Lone Star experienced a willingness to expand into other product or service areas, like function-enjoying online games in the 1980s and Pokemon playing cards and Beanie Infants in the 1990s.

“I hated Beanie Babies, but they were hot at the time, so I uncovered as significantly as I could about Beanie Toddlers,” Saunders claimed.

Lone Star Goes On the net, and Conan Saves the Working day
All along, Saunders tried to stay in advance of the curve in employing technology in his retailers for items like tracking stock.  So, when organizations began to get sites in the 1990s, he saw an possibility.

The 1st iterations of the Lone Star web site have been crude, but in the late 90s, Saunders took one of the largest challenges of his career by putting apart about $200,000 to retain the services of an outside company to design a fully useful e-commerce internet site for the mail order part of his business.

It was a catastrophe. Though the contractors have been excellent programmers, they didn’t recognize the nuances of comics collecting, with a extensive number of things and particulars for each and every product. The end result was a website that Saunders felt was unusable and nowhere near to currently being completely ready to go stay.

“They just had been not capable of performing one thing as advanced as what we wanted,” Saunders explained.

His son, Conan, who was an undergraduate at MIT, provided to choose a glimpse at the site and see what he could do.  At this place, Saunders has retold the tale of Conan’s rescue of the web site so numerous situations that it has the truly feel of a tall tale, but he assures that it’s all true: In-in between lessons and research in Massachusetts, Conan wrote the code to develop the website just about from scratch.

Conan acted as a component-time application developer for the household business by way of college, graduate university and then years in work opportunities with other corporations.

Then, in 2010, he came to function at comprehensive time as vice president.  In 2021, after his father experienced a stroke, Conan became the company’s president.

Today, the enterprise is as large as it has at any time been, with about 130 personnel, which includes about 40 people who do absolutely nothing but quality the issue of again situation comics, and 5 programmers who preserve the web site.  The company’s most important challenge is keeping up with progress, said Buddy Saunders, who has recovered from his stroke and back again at perform.

Conan grew up in the enterprise.  He applied to bag and board comics and do odd careers at the stores as a boy or girl. He remembers that the comics he read as a child tended to be decades old since they have been ones all over the dwelling.

His upbringing organized him to operate the business, both from currently being close to the firm and observing his father in motion.

“He is very structured,” Conan claimed.  “He’s great at developing systems and documenting factors and developing points.”

Conan explained a area where by factors operate effortlessly and exactly where folks are expected to act with integrity.

“He’s set a excellent illustration for me in my total lifestyle,” he mentioned.

Part of that case in point is a perception of joy about carrying out the do the job of comics retail.  When questioned how prolonged he strategies to preserve performing, Buddy Saunders stated this:

“If I retire, it’s likely to be to a cemetery.”

This post is remaining introduced as portion of ICv2’s Immediate Current market 50th Anniversary celebration for additional, see “Comics Direct Marketplace 50th Anniversary.”