The Schaneses told Kirby that they wanted only publishing rights to new works; he could keep ownership of anything new and copyrightable he created. They'd even help him license characters for use overseas or in television, film, or other media. Pacific was also the first company to offer Kirby royalty payments according to a comic's sales figures: 8 cents on the dollar and 10 cents for comics selling over 100,000 copies. If Marvel comics, selling around 150,000 copies on average, had offered royalties akin to Pacific's, this would have worked out to $13,000 in payments to the artist.
But this was not done in comics previous to Pacific. In the '70s, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had to sue DC Comics just to get meager financial compensation and byline credit for their billion-dollar creation (each settled for $30,000 annual lifetime payments -- Siegel and Shuster were both 17 years old in 1939, when DC paid them $200 for the rights to Superman).
Kirby had a partially drawn project called "Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers," originally the storyboard to a proposed screenplay and then planned as a book-length graphic novel with no publisher in mind. The artist was happy to let the Schaneses break up his story line into chapters -- with Pacific staffers and freelancers inking and coloring the artwork to present Captain Victory as a bimonthly comic-book serial.
The first issue of Captain Victory hit comic shops in August 1981, selling around 70,000 copies. "Those were incredible numbers, right up there with Marvel and DC," Steve Schanes informs me. Within six months, circulation was up to 85,000 per issue, and the comic had been licensed for publication in seven foreign countries. The third issue of Captain Victory netted Kirby a $6000 royalty check, and Pacific's publishing and distribution ventures together that year grossed about $1.2 million.
1981 -- The Year in Comics: Marvel takes notice of the growing direct market and produces a title specifically for comic shops -- Dazzler #1, with a roller-skating heroine, sells 400,000 copies, about twice normal for a Marvel comic. Pacific Comics Distribution circulates 28,000 copies. Artist Frank Miller (who'd go on to revolutionize the Batman character in the Dark Knight Returns series) writes Daredevil, initiating a trend toward grim, urban story lines. John "X-Men" Byrne begins writing and drawing The Fantastic Four. The Flash hits issue #300. Dean and Jan Mullaney found Eclipse Magazine, an independent black-and-white series. Midwest distributor Big Rapids goes under -- two former employees, John Davis and Milton Griepp, form Capital City Distribution, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.
Steve Schanes says it fell upon him to find and negotiate deals with creators, while brother Bill took on the nuts-and-bolts aspects of business and accounting. "I just was a little older, with a little better vocabulary, not any smarter than Bill -- he's as smart as they come -- but I was a little more comfortable on the phone. And also I have a background in art, I have a degree in sculpture...so I'm very familiar with the terms of art, its vocabulary and how art is done, and that gave me insight into artists. It was natural that I was the one to talk to the creators."
Jack Kirby agreed to let Pacific publish a second creation, Silver Star, and the Schaneses began to envision a line of comics representing a variety of genres. Not esoteric black-and-white low-print-run underground comics like those being self-published by Robert Crumb and other West Coast contemporaries in San Francisco and L.A., but full-color titles that emulated -- maybe even competed with -- the mainstream superhero comics from Marvel and DC. To that end, the Schaneses put out word that they were open to pitches, from pros and novices alike. Offered the chance to own and profit from their own creations, top-name talents from the Big Two were soon talking to Pacific.
Mike Grell was drawing the syndicated Tarzan comic strip and had written and drawn about 50 issues of the popular Warlord comic, a series he created for DC Comics under work-for-hire, when Steve Schanes first contacted him. "I was actually the first person to sign with them," says Grell. "Jack Kirby signed a couple of weeks later. But because Jack was Jack, he'd draw half a book while we were speaking! [laughter] He delivered his first, and it was printed first, but I was actually the first person to sign."
Grell recalls, "I had Starslayer originally planned as a DC project, and it was destined to be a direct counterpoint of Warlord. Instead of a modern man in a primitive society, I decided to go the other way around and take a primitive man and put him into the middle of a very futuristic society and watch what happened there. It was actually on the schedule at DC...it had been announced, but it fell by the wayside. So Steve and Bill knew about Starslayer, and they said, 'I understand you have a project, and we'd be very interested in having you come over and do it.' "
Dave Stevens received a similar invite. An aspiring comic artist who'd shopped at Pacific's retail stores, Stevens met with the Schaneses at the 1981 San Diego Comic-Con, just weeks after Captain Victory hit comic shops and as Mike Grell's Starslayer was being launched. "The only reason I was even approached," Stevens says on his website, "was because Grell's second issue was shy a few pages and they had to fill those pages with something and they knew that I drew...they made the offer, 'Do whatever you want, but we need two installments of six pages.' So I said I'd see what I could come up with and went home and started kicking around some ideas."
After doing a promotional character drawing, Stevens devised his adventure strip, The Rocketeer, around that sketch: in Los Angeles in the 1930s, pilot Cliff Secord stumbles on a futuristic rocket pack, beginning an incredible world-spanning adventure. "It was my own personal homage to Commando Cody and all the other [movie] serial heroes of that era. I'd always been a huge fan of the serials. I loved all those edge-of-your-seat, cliff-hanging chapter plays...I wanted to do a real period aviation strip but with one small element of science fiction added -- the rocket pack! So I came up with the outfit and the name. You know, a funny take on the word 'racketeer': 'The Rocketeer.' I thought it sounded catchy, and the drawing seemed to work."