A post from my defunct Marvel blog about the 3-Bags that used to be sold in supermarkets and department stores.
April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General
It’s time for one of those periodic history lessons that makes me feel old.
Way back when I started reading the books in the ’70s, comic book stores were few and far-between. If you were on the hunt for older issues of any vintage, you would either hit up garage sales and flea markets, or wait for the yearly collectibles fair to come to the local mall.
What we did have, though, was the 3-Bag.
Pioneered in the very early ’60s, the 3-Bag was a fixture of toy stores and department stores up through the ’80s. These were, as described, a plastic bag containing three semi-recent books (typically about nine months old) at the bargain price of a penny less than you’d pay for them separately.
The 3-Bag was one of the ways that companies tried to crack additional markets in those days. The bags protected the merchandise, allowing them to remain on sale longer, and the higher aggregate price made them more worth the real estate on the showroom floor. These things used to be everywhere. There were even periods during the late ’60s when there were big old vending machines dedicated to the things.
The downside, of course, is that you often had to buy issues you didn’t really want in order to get the ones you did. And the publishers became savvy to this conundrum fairly rapidly–the center book, which couldn’t easily be seen while the pack was still unopened was very often a dog, a reprint title or a western or something. And, of course, the less scrupulous readers would tear the bags open to get at the one book they wanted, and then count on the cashier not knowing that the issues weren’t meant to be sold individually (or, more criminally, sneak the individual book out of the store under a shirt or in a back pocket or something.)
Eventually, as sales on these packs dwindled, the publishers became savvier still, grouping a number of issues of a given title in a single bag, rather than grouping them by print date. The most ubiquitous Marvel 3-Bags were the ones devoted to the earliest issues of the STAR WARS comic, which adapted the first movie. The entire adaptation could be collected in two 3-Bags, and they stayed on sale for what seemed at the time to be years.
I’m pretty sure, too, that the 3-Bags are the source of some of the strange price variants that have turned up on the back issue market–issues for which the typical price was 30 cents, but which also exist as a 35 cent variant. Because the 3-Bags were distributed later, every time there was a price increase on the new books, that price increase extended over to the titles then being bagged, even though they’d been on sale a few months earlier at the lesser price.
4 thoughts on “Blah Blah Blog: Marvel Multi-Mags”
We had terribly spotty distribution in the West of Scotland so these bags were quite exciting for me. I got two or three in 1978 containing 1976 comics like X-Men 101.
I wasn’t really scrupulous like your examples. But I remember kind of moving the plastic around until I could see what issue (or at least what title) was in the middle. But that was in the 80s so maybe the plastic was cheaper and more flexible then.
I bought my first comics this way. I got a 3 bag that contained Amazing Spider-man #s 192, 193, and 194 in one bag. I was ecstatic and devoured these books. I still have them to this day.
Yes I remember these bags in 1976-1978 when I was a collector of Marvel Comics. They were mostly in the drug stores or market basket convenience stores. I would also try to move the comic in the front to see which one was in the middle. I ended up not buying these bags because most of the time one or two titles in the bag did not interest me. I was an Avengers collector mainly but I also liked Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Great memories. There will never be another time like the late 1970s.