Phil Seuling invented the direct market for comic books. From the Wikipedia: “The evolution of the comic book specialty shop (or “direct-only stores”) in the early 1970s created a whole new system for delivering comics to customers. Before the advent of the comics retailer, most comics were found in grocery, drug, and toy stores. The specialty shop presents a number of competitive advantages over those other venues.” If it weren’t for Phil, there would not have been a proliferation of comic book stores in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics, once a customer and later competitor of Phil’s, wrote a lengthy Evolution of the Direct Market. Naturally, he mentions Phil straight off:
“Phil began Seagate in 1972, long before selling to comics shops was economically viable. He was a schoolteacher at the time, and was well known in the New York area not only as a dealer in comics and original artwork, but also as the operator of the huge 4th of July convention in NYC. As I’ve heard the story told, Phil brazenly walked into DC, Marvel, Warren, Harvey, and Archie in 1972 and convinced them that their future lay in selling comics directly to comics specialty shops. He also convinced them to give him a special deal by which they would pay the costs of packaging and shipping all of the books ordered by his accounts. In exchange, he promised them that he would purchase all books from them on a non-returnable basis. Returns had become a very big deal in the early 1970’s, as comics were no longer selling in the percentages of previous decades.”
Chuck also describes Phil the person, and this I can verify from meeting the man himself: “If you ask anyone who knew him, one of the first things they will tell you is that Phil was a person who epitomized the concept of an individual being ‘larger than life.’… Chuck describes the Phil’s place quite well. I was there a couple times myself, when Phil was throwing lavish parties.
More to the point, the store I worked at, FantaCo, wouldn’t have thrived – if it would have existed at all – without Phil Seuling. Not only was Seagate FantaCo’s initial distributor, Phil bought sufficient amounts of FantaCo publications to distribute when they were unproven commodities.
Unfortunately, Phil Seuling died of liver cancer in 1984 at the age of 50. Tom Skulan, FantaCo founder, wrote a nice piece about Phil in the FantaCon 2013 program.
Enjoy this video of Phil Seuling on the Mike Douglas Show in 1977, from which the above picture was taken.