User's Guide to Publishers
How to Read the GCD's Publisher Fields
The question of "who published this comic" seems simple enough, but in many cases turns out to be very complicated. The GCD's approach to recording this information continues to evolve in hopes of making it all more clear, but currently some interpreation is required. At the moment, there are three actively used fields plus one legacy field that are related to the concept of "publisher". Depending on exactly what you're trying to find out, you may need to look at any or all of these fields.
NOTE: This is an overview for folks using the site or data. It is not a guide to entering data as an indexer on the site. When in doubt, the Formatting Documentation always takes precedence over anything specified here.
Why is this so hard?
The source of the problem is that there are several ways people think about publishers. So when a visitor to the site wants to search for a publisher, or search for an issue or series by publisher, they might enter search terms based on several different concepts:
- The actual company or person that legally published the issue
- The name or logo that the publisher put on the cover of the issue or spine of the book
- The name of the parent company that uses several logos or individual publishing companies (because the parent company is often more well-known)
- A name that the user heard from another fan, historian or web site
The first three cover a lot of ground, but at least have some basis in the actual issue or existence of some company. The last item in the list, however, is sometimes only tenuously related to any concrete data. To make matters worse, fans and historians often disagree about what name should be applied to some comics. Sometimes this is because names were given decades ago that are still around, but have been proven false by more recent information. And sometimes there are just competing conventions and either no one knows which is "right" or it's clear that there's no real "right" answer.
OK, it's complicated, but why is it so hard?
Historically, the GCD began as a project focused on creator credits. It later expanded to include more information about the contents of comics. Only recently has it begun to focus more on the business aspect of comics. So originally, a fairly vague notion of "publisher" was good enough for a system focused on creators. So the database started off vague in its data collection. More recently, we've tried to refine this, but the first attempts didn't work out, and we're in the middle of another try. So a big "under construction" warning is appropriate.
So what are the fields?
Roughly in the same order as the concepts listed above, they are:
- Always an actual company or person
- Often not a name that most site users will recognize
- Set per issue
- New field, so not always set
- Might get renamed, as "Indicia" is a term somewhat specific to U.S. collectors
- Multiple indicia publishers (rare, but not unheard of) are separated by semi-colons for now (in the future, this will be a many-to-many field)
There can be a lot of these per commonly-known publisher name. For instance, Marvel has used over 60 different companies to publish its comics. In recent decades, this has just been a matter of name changes from corporate reorganizations, but in its earlier years the owner of the companies liked to maintain many companies simultaneously. While Marvel is an extreme cases, this was actually a fairly common practice at one time. During World War II, some companies that had surplus paper allotments (paper was rationed) published material on behalf of other companies, which explains one reason why some company names appear to be associated with multiple publishers.
[Sometimes just appears as "brand", but we're working on making it consistent]
- Always related to a visible marking on the outside of an issue
- When there are no such markings, a "no brand" flag should be set
- Generally a recognizable name
- Most proper "imprints" show up here, but other markings such as were used before comics had coherent branding strategies also show up
- Set per issue
- New field, so not always set
- Might get renamed, as many find the name confusing. However, all proposed replacements are equally confusing
- Multiple brands (moderately common) are separated by semi-colons for now (in the future, this will be a many-to-many field)
Modern imprints (such as DC's Vertigo imprint) are generally identified by logos, so they can most often be found here. Earlier in the history of comics, branding was much less consistent. Some publishers used clear brand markings, but others used no markings, or tried out several different logos with no discernible pattern. This field attempts to track both types of markings as they appear, to the extent that this is practical with a text field capturing image-oriented data. We plan to add image scans to this system in the future.
Publisher, a.k.a. "Master Publisher"
- The only publisher field that is always set
- Usually a simplified or "common" name. i.e. "DC" instead of "DC Comics"
- Attempts to group series / imprints / indicia publishers into some sort of overall structure
- Grouping rules are not consistent
- Sometimes based on ownership
- Sometimes based on editorial continuity
- Sometimes based on tradition / fan-historian conventions
- Often a combination of the above
- Tries to arrange things how you would "expect", but that is highly subjective
- Older publishers consisting of multiple companies are most likely to be grouped in a debatable way
- Newer publishers and publishers involving only one company or a clear succession of companies are more likely to be grouped intuitiviely. Or just have one entry corresponding directly to the actual company.
- Set per series
- Multiple publishers are separated by semi-colons (we have no idea what we will do with this in the future, possibly a many-to-many field, possibly a different approach entirely)
Master Publisher more-or-less covers both the third and fourth concepts in the list a few sections earlier in the page. When there's a parent company associated with publishing This and Imprint are the fields that are currently searched when you search for Publishers.
- Set per series (but tracks issue-level information)
- Early attempt to track indicia publishers, brands, imprints, etc.
- Any or all of the above may be found in this field
- Sub-groupings of master publishers (by equally arbitrary rules) may also appear in this field
- Multiple values, separated by semi-colons (usually) may appear
- Each value may be annotated with the issues to which it applies
- Annotations are often, but not always, in parentheses or brackets
- Sometimes annotations involve colons, other times they are just written out directly
- This field is being migrated into the Indicia Publisher and Brand fields
- If all information can be migrated, the field will be dropped
- If there proves to be a need for a real series-level imprint field, this field may eventually be re-launched with a more clear definition
- Much more likely to be set than Brand or Indicia Publisher
- Should be set to NULL if Brand (or No Brand) and Indicia Publisher have been set for all issues in the series
This and (Master) Publisher are the fields that are currently searched when you search for Publishers.
So if I dowloaded the data and want to run my own searches, what do I do?
Good question. It depends on what you and/or your target audience wants. If you want to get the maximum possible matches, you need to search all four fields. If you're using only a subset of the data, or have very targeted queries, you may be able to get away with less. But there is nothing that you can always safely skip. Some examples will clarify this:
DC's Vertigo imprint is something many folks would want to search for separate from DC. But issues on the Vertigo imprint are actually published by "DC Comics", so the indicia publisher field is useless for finding them. The brand field is useful, as it will say "Vertigo" or "Vertigo; DC" (for some time, DC dual-branded the Vertigo books). However, less than 40 series have issues attached to the "Vertigo" brand (and not all issues in each of those series are attached). However, there are over 500 series attached to the Vertigo imprint (actually, several different Vertigo imprints including typical imprint-field junk like "Vertigo for part of its run"). So while the brand field will give you more precise results (for instance, if a series was only on Vertigo for part of its run, only the issues in that part will be attached the Vertigo brand, which is why brand is better than imprint), it won't give you very many results until we've had more time to migrate to that field.
While Vertigo is an example where you generally want to ignore the master publisher field, Marvel is an example where it is essential. Of the 60+ indicia publishers associated with Marvel, only five contain the word "Marvel". Of those five, only one was used before the 1960's. That one started in 1944, but the first "Marvel" comic was published in 1939. The brand field will not help you much either. Brands involving the word "Marvel" made brief appearances in 1946-7 and 1949-50, but did not arrive to stay until 1963 (although from 1961-1963 an enigmatic "MC" appeared to foreshadow the "Marvel Comics" brand). Most 1940's Marvel issues had no branding whatsoever. The imprint field is not much better- there are over 100 of them, many with long compound names like "Atlas [Non-Pareil Publishing Corp #7 -19 / Cornell Publishing Corp. #20-23 / Marjean Magazine Corp. #24-38 / Male Publishing Corp. #39-52]". Where "Atlas" and "Timely" are names that are often applied to the publisher in the 1950's and 1940's respectively. The master publisher is really the only reliable connection.
The indicia publisher field appeared to be mostly a distraction in the past two examples, but sometimes it, too, can be critical. One interesting and eccentric publisher from the 1940's was Harry "A" Chesler, who published under several different arrangements. Many of his books are found under a master publisher that has "Chesler" in the name. But others are, for historical reasons, currently grouped under the master publisher "Centaur" (they will someday likely be moved). Currently, they have Chesler set as an imprint, but that data is being migrated into the indicia publisher ("Chesler Publications, Inc.") and when that is complete the imprint will be deleted.
Another example is Holyoke, a pubilsher with a very cloudy history. Two titles associated with it, Cat-Man Comics and Captain Aero Comics, were technically only published by Holyoke for a short time. Many folks would expect to find those titles there. However, others who know the title better may look for it under Continental, Et-Es-Go or Helnit (three other companies that, at various times, published both titles). I've seen each of the four publishers listed (with varying degrees of accuracy) as the publisher for this series on various retail sites and auction listings. And at the moment, all of those publisher names are mixed up in various fields which are in the process of being cleaned up into the indicia publisher field. As you might guess from these examples, indicia publisher is most useful when there is confusion over the proper name to use, and you want to make sure you have the most precise data possible to match against so you can catch all valid possibilities. In such a case, you might want to look at all of the indicia publishers used by any issue in a series rather than just the indicia publisher on a particular issue. It all depends on whether you're looking for a broad or narrow match.
NOTE: These examples are all focused on U.S. comics, modern and golden age. Additional examples illustrating concerns from other countries, time periods and/or artistic traditions would be most welcome.