I usually use my Classic Comics feature to review a comic book. However, I’m going to do something different and talk comic book barcodes. What are comic book barcodes for? Why do some have pictures of Spider-Man’s head instead of the barcode? How and why did they affect comic book covers of Marvel and DC from the late 70s and early 80s? Let’s delve in.
What are those? Let me show you:
For comics coming out at a time when technology didn’t move so fast, there had to be assurances for companies like Marvel and DC. But more on that soon.
Here’s my copy of X-Men #126 from October of 1979. By all means, I invite you to click on the image to see it larger. Please pardon the quality of my old camera.
Let’s take a closer look at the bottom-left corner of the comic.
I remember when I first started collecting, I had no idea why someone would put black strikes through the barcodes. Eventually, it dawned on me how the strikes only seemed to have affected a particular era of comics. Also, they weren’t drawn – but printed over. I wanted to know what it meant (and I’m sure you do too)!
Three of the following X-Men comics I have had strikes up until X-Men #130, from February of 1980.
Then issue #131 – a month later – it didn’t have a barcode at all!
Instead of a barcode, I see. . . a picture of Spider-Man? But I’ve seen issues of X-Men #131 with a barcode! What happened?!
This Can all be Explained
Firstly, a crossed out barcode means the comic is a Direct Edition. Well, what’s that?
In a nutshell, there are two “types” of editions: Direct and Newsstand. A Direct Edition is sent to the comic book store and sold there. A Newsstand Edition is something which a newsstand would carry (seems obvious, right)? However, this was not just exclusive to newsstands, as malls, convenience stores, and drugstores could also receive Newsstand Editions.
A Direct Edition comic is crossed out due to a variety of things. One is because it tracks sales for the publisher, while another reason is to stop the store owner from returning the comics they did not sell. A crossed out barcode means the barcode could not be scanned into inventory.
Obviously, that means the Newsstand Editions could be returned back to the publisher.
Arguably, Direct Edition comics are more sought-after because they would have been treated more carefully, as they wouldn’t have been placed in spinner racks. They were also bought by the dealer at a lower price presenting another reason to why dealers were unable to return them.
That being said, do you remember The Amazing Spider-Man #36? It was called the “Black Issue” as it was a tribute to the events of 9/11. I personally own a copy of that comic. Comic book dealers would have received one without a barcode on the cover at all. I bought mine at a local variety store which did have a barcode on the cover.
Believe it or not, if you have a good quality copy of that book WITH a barcode, it’s actually WORTH MORE because it is considered rare to find good-quality copies of Newsstand Edition comics.
As I said before, Direct Edition dealers/comic book store owners were not able to scan the comics. The funny thing about that is most Direct Edition carriers did not have scanners for barcodes at the time. The technology simply wasn’t there yet!
Due to the lack of technology from many of the comic dealers, Marvel replaced the Direct Edition barcodes with things like the Spider-Man head, or DC with Batman. On top of that, it was a way to promote extra little tidbits. Who doesn’t remember “50 Years of Captain America”, or “Spider-Man’s 35th Anniversary”? It was printed on every comic where the barcode should be. It made more sense to put those on Direct Edition books anyway as the readers would be more familiar with what’s happening in their comic book universe rather than a random person purchasing a book at a corner store.
Nowadays, since everyone is on par with technology, barcodes have returned and comics just state whether or not they are Direct Editions. For example, here is a picture of Uncanny X-Force #1 from October of 2010. What does it say right next to the barcode?