Pondering Pull Lists, Part One: Why? What? Really?

Pull lists. What a notion! A non-binding agreement with a supplier of goods, a supplier of goods whose order from their supplier of goods–when it’s Diamond, which is usually–is binding. A simple little option, the ability to say, “Hey man, hey Valkyrie, can you make sure this book is in stock when it’s released? Can you make sure there’s one there for me?” And then later, you buy it, as they bought it. But do you have to? What is “must,” in a way. Is an obligation more or less there if it’s not mandated by law? Who owes what to whom? A bizarre practice, really, the pull list. A walk on the edge. Let’s talk about it.

When did you first hear of a pull list? Who explained it to you? And were you (did they make you) aware of it as a serious financial obligation or agreement?

Claire Napier: I don’t remember who, but I do remember knowing about pull lists before I knew that they meant actual orders. I thought they were books you’d like to have the choice of buying, when you went into the shop, a way to make sure the environment had something for you to consider. I did not know that it was a devil’s pact.

Kat Overland: I feel like I’ve always been vaguely aware of them (my dad is into comics), but since I grew up in a largely trade paperback home I never considered getting one. When I finally made enough money post-college to get seriously into comics after dabbling on and off, I figured I should get a pull-list, since the internet informed me it was the best way to support books you want to stay alive. My local shop had a ten title minimum so the financial obligation and agreement part was pretty clear.

Megan Purdy: I have never had a pull list. They’re bad.

Sergio Alexis: I’m not 100% sure where I first heard of pull lists, but I am willing to bet it was the Comic Vine podcast; when first getting into comics I was really into them. Then after being a costumer at my LCS for a while, picking up books without a pull list, the guy suggested I get one. He never once said anything about there being a commitment to buying the books, just a good way to make sure they didn’t run out of Ms. Marvel or whatever book I wanted to check out. So I made my pull, at my next LCS after moving once again I’ve never once been told there is a financial commitment to my pull other than them knowing I am interested. I put comics back on the shelf often enough with no issue. I get a discount for having my larger pull the bigger it gets the bigger discount so there is a degree of commitment, but they even let me keep canceled books on their to count towards my count so I don’t know.

Ray Sonne: I think maybe from the comic book subreddit? I definitely missed an issue of New 52 Action Comics and Batman accidentally around the 1st year mark so, man, did it take a long time for someone to tell me about them. And no one made me aware until a couple of months into my first one that I was meant to go up and ask for mine. I kind of understood from the look on the salespeople’s faces that missing it was not a good thing for the shop. Anyway, pull lists are an inherently stupid process for anything other than having your ongoings automatically collected in one place for you so you don’t forget them. The learning curve that comes when setting one up is proof of that.

Claire: When I was a student (2006-2009), there was one comic shop in the city, and it didn’t stock the books I wanted without my ordering them. So I ordered them, because there was no other way to get them. There just wasn’t a second way to access those books. But I was a student; I didn’t have the greatest budgeting skills or a lot of money. So I definitely had on-off collect/wait periods and occasionally had to spend my vegetable money on the books I owed the shop for, because otherwise, I would only owe more and, quickly, end up overdrawn and hit with bank fees AND comics I had to pick up and also, shortcuts for dinner. Obviously, there’s the option of “don’t order the comics,” but subtracting comics from my quite miserable life seemed, at the time, a very, very unappealing option. And I was quite aware (because everyone kept telling me) that without my support (pre-order or die) the book would fail. And it did, anyway, before long. Ho ho ha. So my overwhelming feeling about pull lists is a bad memory of financial and moral panic.

Wendy Browne: I learned about pull lists when I started frequenting comic stores on my own. My regular store in high school even offered a discount for signing up for their pull list. The discount certainly was nice, but when I’d come in and find a great big pile, 10% didn’t do much to ease my aching wallet. I could have refused items, but *gasp* that would have been wrong! This was back when crossovers started to be a thing and then Image Comics happened, and I was collecting far more comics than I should be because I loved comics, and because supposedly the fancy shiny issues could become collectors items, so obviously having a giant pull list was a worthy investment.

In university, when my wallet was even more achy, I made the mistake of meeting a young entrepreneur who sold comics by the food court. He ordered items directly from Preview magazine and would give me a copy of the book each month, carefully marking the pages he knew would interest me. I like to refer to him as my comics pusher, because seriously, he knew exactly what buttons to push to feed my addiction, even though I had very little money. And, since he was just a starving student like me, the guilt was 100% times worse. I wasn’t about to refuse an item he’d ordered specifically for me with his own money and would then be stuck with.

Now that I’m a responsible adult, I am more willing to refuse an item on a pull list, but the guilt is still there. I try to review my list regularly to make sure I’m not accidentally ordering or continuing to order something I no longer want or have picked up elsewhere.

Megan: Okay, so I guess I should elaborate a bit. I’ve been reading comics since I was a child. I started out buying comics wherever I could find them, mostly grocery and drug stores, but by the time I was about 11 or 12 I started buying them almost exclusively from a local comic book shop. I had a huge paper route, and I was shameless about giving my customers puppy eyes for better tips. I spent ALL of my paper route money on comics and candy. Once I’d been to the shop three or four times, the owner explained pull lists to me and asked me if I wanted to open one. Okay, so. I was reading literally every X-Men comic being published at the time, along with every two-bit knockoff from other publishers. (Ask me about all the Cyberforce comics I still have squirreled away somewhere.) But open a pull list and commit to reading every single issue, even the clearly terrible ones? No no no.

Because I grew up buying my comics from wherever and whenever, I’m not and have never been particularly precious about comics or about completism. If the issue looks like shit I’m not gonna read it, and I’m not gonna lead on a shop owner who’s on the verge of bankruptcy every other month either. Over the years I learned more about pull lists, what role they serve in the direct market and the advantages and disadvantages for shop owners, creators, and publishers. It only made me less interested in keeping up a pull list. The fate of a book I’ve never even had a chance to browse rests on MY pre-ordering shoulders? If I don’t pick up my picks the shop owner has to bear the cost? Count me the fuck out forever. It’s too much pressure and a bad consumer experience. Single issues distributed through Diamond Comics aren’t returnable so one of us, either me or the shop owner, has to eat it up if the solicit looked better than the actual comic turned out to be. And sorry, it’s not gonna be me.

Rosie: I’ve never had a pull list. I don’t really remember who exactly told me about them, but I would read a lot of books about comics and making comics and think that through those I was aware enough of some kind of financial burden that I didn’t want to take on that responsibility. Comics have always been a complete luxury to me, so I built up most of my collection through buying things second hand or just picking them up as and when I could. When I was in comics retail I learned a bit more about pull lists and realised they aren’t actually an obligation, like you can look through and put it back. It’s just when people pre-order loads of stuff then don’t pick any of it up? To be honest I find the whole thing to be a completely archaic system that will always be flawed until the direct market changes. What other business orders people (sometimes hundreds of) things without taking payment? Then essentially entrusts people to come back and buy them simply on their word? Doesn’t make for good business sense to me. But like many things in comics it’s just “the way things are,” so people are resistant to change, and whilst Diamond do things the way they do it’s still super unlikely it will change.

Melissa Brinks: To be honest, until I read everybody else’s responses to this question, I never realized there was any reason not to have a pull list. I’m blessed with a great local comic shop; after I came in week after week, staring at the shelves and trying to remember what issue I was on, which comic I even meant to pick up, and repeatedly heading to the counter with an armful of titles, the salesperson asked if I’d like to consider getting a box. There was no financial incentive, no pushing, just a question of whether they could make the comic-buying process a bit more convenient for me. Now, to be fair, my LCS has a couple of rules regarding boxes. One, you have to have at least five titles. Two, you have to clean your box out by the end of the year for inventory purposes. That’s it. I make it in every month or so, and I have seen nary a lip-wobble about how I’m hurting the store by not picking them up more frequently or how I should really pre-order more to save these comics from certain destruction, or I’d hoof it out and there and never return. At least at my shop, it really feels convenient; they just gather the comics I’d be buying anyway, and sometimes throw an extra one in there if they think I’d like it. And they did that with Giant Days! How could I be upset about that?

Cathryn Sinjin-Starr: To be honest, I learned about it from here! I don’t read physical comics much, but I wanted to support one of my favourite artists when his new series came out, so I thought I’d try it with two titles at first once I found a LCS. I used to do game pre-orders, so I had the gist of the concept already. When I was in-store, they explained that I would be paying for an issue-and-a-half to cover the next order, which I was fine with. They told me I’d be called when my titles were in and ready for collection.

Jamie Kingston: Over 30 years ago (cue harp music and wavery camera effect) was when I first heard the idea of pull lists. I’d only been reading comics for about five years; digital and trade paperbacks/collections were unheard of then. It was presented to me as a convenience, nothing more: a way to be sure I didn’t miss an issue of a favourite comic. As time went by and I switched comic shops I started running into rules: five title minimum, come every month or advise of delays/vacations. Nobody ever treated it like a financial agreement. It was more like “don’t put staff to extra work if you’re not gonna come in regularly.” A courtesy.

Jamila Rowser: I heard about pull lists almost immediately after I started going to comic book shops in NYC. I think the cashiers *had* to promote them. In the beginning of my comic reading experience, I was buying trades and not single issue comics, so I didn’t need a pull list. Once I started getting into the scary world of floppys is when I got a pull list. It was out of convenience really, I could just go into a store and go straight to the register, get my pull and leave. Sometimes comics that I’d want would sell out so that was a way to make sure I didn’t have to shop hop for an issue I really wanted. I was never explained the real way pull lists work. I thought it was as a simple as shops putting a comic aside for me that they had already planned to order. I didn’t even know that single issue comics are non-returnable until years later.

Susan Tober: The first I’d actually heard of a pull list was 2011. I was desperately into a handful of manga series and emailed my local comic shop a month before release if they’d mind getting the next volume in and putting it to one side for me. After about three months of this, the owner of the shop explained that they could set up standing orders of the titles I wanted, so I’d stop having to email them. That was the closest thing I ever got to an explanation of pull lists until I started delving into comics properly and someone (I forget who) made a big deal of how comics lived and died by pull lists! But because of the way I got into it, I understood it as a pre-ordering system rather than anything else, so the financial obligation was implied. But since I’ve had one, I’ve seen a lot more talk about the mechanics and reasoning behind it and I’ve been a lot more bewildered by how this is even sustainable as a model.

Alenka: I don’t remember when I first heard about pull lists, but I only learned that they were sort of serious recently! One of my goals upon moving to a place where I was close to a comic shop was to have a pull list, which in retrospect is silly because I read so few comics that can be put on a pull list. I think I thought of it less in financial terms and more as a sort of admittance to a club. However, I have the coolest, chillest LCS and they are currently holding like two months of crap for me, because they know I will come in and get it. Sweet Angels. (If you’re in Chicago, go to Alley Cat Comics!)

And that’s where we end the beginning of this month-long discussion of the wild world that is the pull list. We’ll we back every week for four weeks (this one included) with another round of consumer’s answers to another question on the topic of pull lists and local pre-ordering. Do you still have a pull list now; how do you feel about having to rely on solicits for pre-orders and building your pull list; would your feelings about pre-orders change if you were able to pay for the products when you ordered them; etc. Have a stake in this game? Leave a comment. Cheers!

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money

8 thoughts on “Pondering Pull Lists, Part One: Why? What? Really?

  1. I have a pull list and I love it – I’ve had it for years and, although I do have to periodically “prune” it, I don’t feel it adds any pressure to my life. I was rarely going into the city so it was easier for me to get everything posted and for them to charge my card. Now I just pop in and pick things up once or twice a month, but I think the shop owners trust me after so long that I’m not going to leave them holding the comics forever. It’s an arrangement that suits me and I hope helps them too.

  2. I learned about pull lists almost immediately after I started frequenting my local comic shop. I missed an issue of whatever I was reading at the time, and that printing was totally sold out. They expected another printing would come soon and ordered it for me, so I didn’t really miss out, but I had to WAIT. Grrr. They suggested subscribing so that wouldn’t happen again. No minimum limit, but they do require that you pick everything up at least once a month and you actually buy everything on your list. So they were very up front about the financial commitment beforehand and I’ve been careful to only add things I know for sure I’ll be buying anyway. I get a 10% discount on my list, but that’s way less important to me than just making sure I get the comics I want.

  3. Wow. I feel incredibly spoiled by my LCS right now. I’ve been going there since I moved for school over 5 years ago, and I’d be loath to switch shops now. The several previous comic shops I’d patronized required a minimum number of titles, or a monthly fee, or just didn’t do pull lists at all because there wasn’t enough room (this was a tiny shop). My current shop gives me 20% off everything in my pull list, lets me add or cancel titles via email, doesn’t have a minimum requirement, will alert me via email if something new comes out that matches my tastes and asks me if I want to add it, etc. They also bag and board all of their single issue comics every week, so that’s thrown in, too. I think they do it that way because they’re awesome people who want everyone to read comics. I certainly buy a lot more comics with them than I have in any previous store because they make it so easy. (Not great for my wallet, but hey…)

    A shout out to Vault of Midnight in Ann Arbor, MI for being so incredibly awesome. I should mention that a full half of their staff (if not more at this point) is female, as well.

  4. I first learned about pull lists when I was ten after forcing my mom to drive me to the local comic shop in town (I’m from a rural area) every week and being disappointed two weeks in a row because the comic I wanted hadn’t come in. The lady who ran the comic portion of the show, Helen, explained to me, and my mom, that I could set up a list and she would make sure to pull the comics I wanted every week and they would be waiting for me when I came in. She then told me that it was my responsibility to come in for the comics at least once a month and pick them up because the comics were ordered especially for me and were extra. Of course I had no idea what that meant, I was simply excited because I’d always get the comics I wanted. I didn’t understand the financial obligation comic shops were in until comics culture spread all over the internet in the 2000s and learned more about how Diamond worked.

    And, honestly, I was/am naive enough to think that comic fans always picked up their books. When I saw that picture from Atlas Comics for the first time, I was shocked and disgusted. I had hoped that people with pull lists were better than that.

    Since I still only pick up comics once a month, from a shop even farther away, a pull list is necessary for my regular titles, especially the ones that aren’t ordered for inventory. Without a pull list I couldn’t get LumberJanes, or Buffy, or any of Terry Moore’s work, among many others.

  5. One of my LCSs asks for a $25 deposit to open a pull list. They’re still trying to get established and are on shaky financial ground, so it’s understandable, but they’re the only one doing it around here that I’m aware of.

    When I heard that Ms. Marvel was coming out, I knew I had to support it, and people were saying the best way was to pre-order. I’d been going in and buying off the rack for a while, and I occasionally missed an issue of something and had to wait for the reprint. I wanted to make sure I got every issue of Ms. Marvel, too, so I opened a pull list. I still have one, though it’s only four titles right now. It’s really convenient to have them set aside and not worry about missing anything or keeping track of release dates.

  6. Loved this article and getting to read different perspectives/experiences with pull-lists.

    As someone who only gets to pick up comics every 3 to 5 weeks my pull-list feels essential. I have only ever had two. At my old LCS there was a $2 yearly fee for having a pull-list (though they’d frequently forget to actually charge you for it) and when you signed up for one you were also signing an agreement for giving two weeks notice for dropping it and being responsible for those last two weeks of books, but again in practice, if occasionally you said you did not want to buy something that was pulled for you they it slide as long as it was not too many or too often.

    At my present shop, which is part of a NYC chain, you pay a $20 deposit to get a pull-list, and when you cancel your pull-list in theory you get your $20 back. Since is is a chain making a ton of money from non-comics merchandise and having a huge back-issue stock I feel absolutely no guilt about putting comics I don’t want back on the shelf.

  7. I consider a pull list service absolutely essential if I want to read anything that’s not self-contained. But having to maintain a pull list rather than a convenient subscription that just sends stuff directly to my house seems like an arbitrary restriction: I think of it as something comic book shops are doing out of necessity to inconvenience me into personally visiting their shop more regularly. Because I know it’s not easy to be a comic book shop, I don’t really mind: I’d be thinking of any means I could use to bring people into my shop, too.

    So if it’s an inconvenience for shops, I think it should be acknowledged that it’s an inconvenience to customers, too.

    I would totally support being directly charged for my pull list items when they arrive so that the shop didn’t have to carry the balance of my purchases until whatever day I pick them up.

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