Geppi, the comics king, is buying Alliance Games

Hirsch and Tyson will keep posts after selling their company

Area mergers

September 01, 2000|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

The king of comic books has bought the largest distributor of adventure games.

Steve Geppi, founder of Timonium-based Diamond Comic Distributors, yesterday completed the purchase of Pikesville-based Alliance Games Distribution from its co-owners, Daniel Hirsch and Charles Tyson. Terms were not disclosed.

With sales of $31 million, Alliance is the largest distributor of role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, as well as collectible game cards such as Magic the Gathering and Pokemon, which proved a break-away hit in the youth market last year.

Alliance will continue to operate as an independent company with Hirsch and Tyson remaining as president and chief financial officer, respectively.

Geppi, who also owns Baltimore Magazine and has an interest in the Baltimore Orioles, said the purchase was a natural fit because the two companies cater to similar markets. His next target may be a major sports card distributor.

"All have realized we're part of one bigger enterprise called entertainment," said Geppi, who started with a lone comic book shop on Edmondson Avenue in 1974 and went on to found the world's largest distributor of English-language comic books. Today, the company has sales of $220 million and employs 550 people, including 250 in Maryland. Its products are distributed to more than 4,500 retailers worldwide.

Alliance serves more than 2,500 retailers across the nation and operates distribution centers in Baltimore; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Austin, Texas; and Visalia, Calif. The company employs 100, including 45 in Maryland. Spokesman for both companies said employees will not be affected by the sale.

Though profit is not disclosed, Alliance has enjoyed explosive growth in the past six years, said David Cooke, vice president of operations for the company. Pokemon, Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering have led the way for much of the industry.

Diamond Comic has long included games in its product mix, but until now lacked the warehouse space and other infrastructure to be a major player. When Geppi approached Alliance early this year, both sides saw an opportunity to grow the business.

"We felt there was a lot of potential to work with each other to improve our service to customers," Cooke said.

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