Caleb Orecchio here, come back with me to 1979, and then back to the present with other news.
I find right now to be a purgatorial time in comics. Comic book sales have reportedly went down significantly in 2017 making retailers nervous, while superhero movies seem unable to not make money. So when I read my copy of The Comics Journal #47 from 1979, I couldn’t help seeing spooky parallels to the present. Most significantly, comic book writer Steve Skeates’ cover article, “THE DEATH OF THE SUPERHEROES.”
Skeates’ vehement essay “persuades” us on why Marvel and DC should let their superheroes go away and never return, and rather focus on other genres of comics—i.e. Howard the Duck and Plop!. He gives many reasons superheroes should die, mainly that superheroes are stupid, fascist, endlessly-recycled and not making any money on the newsstand (you’ll notice, True Believer, that this is around the time the direct market started to become more and more dominant). What Steve did not take into account is the fact that the big wigs at these companies do not actually care about the success—financial or intellectual or otherwise—of the comics themselves. The Big Two are more interested in the products that make actual money, like movies and TV.
Towards the end of the issue, Reich Benasutti and Lawrence Speerloop report on a conversation between Stan Lee and Jenette Kahn (then President of DC Comics) at Temple University (pg. 59). The article reads,
From his opening gambit, “Hello Culture Lovers,” Lee dominated the session with his customary one-liners, covering his sometime astounding ignorance of the current Marvel line with a mixture of glib repartee and a disarming bafflement.
It goes on to say,
Lee spoke with considerable candor on the subject of television shows based on Marvel characters.
And, for me, the kicker:
Lee was quite gallant toward Jenette Kahn, compelling the audience to give her a hand: ‘She could be in an ivory tower somewhere because of the Superman movie,’ said Lee, ‘but she still comes here. I think that deserves a round of applause.’ The audience agreed.
All the above made me think of last year’s announcement that Netflix had bought Mark Millar and his company, Millarworld, out to create comic books that could, or could not, be adapted into Netflix series, depending on the market. Of course, his comics have a great track record for becoming successful movies, and one could argue that his comic The Ultimates basically gave Marvel their movie mealticket. It’s marketing. Comics are disposable marketing collateral. These companies are basically glorified ad agencies keeping the pot warm and stirred for all the fans so they spend money on the products that actually make these companies real money.
So, to Steve Skeates, yes, maybe superheroes should go away and The Big Two should stop recycling the same old garbage decade after decade because they could make such better comics! But The Big Two don’t care at all if they make good comics in the end—as long as the comics bring the nerds and geeks and fans to conventions, movie theaters and the television screens, they don’t care. Period. So don’t be surprised if the executives at these companies don’t shed a tear for the comic book stores who have to close their doors permanently due to low sales of crappy comics.
if you don’t know, now you know
- Joe McCulloch talked Steve Ditko at NY Comics and Pictures Symposium at Parsons last week and he has a recording—what more could you want as far as news goes honestly.
- Alexxa Gotthardt on feminist underground comics like Wimmen’s Comix and It Ain’t Me Babe on Artsy.
- If you want, you can vote for your favorite comics people for the Eisner Awards.
- Eric Reynolds talks to Inkstuds guest host, Kit Brash about Now.
- Study Group Podcast talks to Whit Taylor and bring it back to 2014 with an Ink Panther rerun.
Suzy and Cecil – 2-12-2018 – by Sally Ingraham
Joanie and Jordie – 2-12-2018 – by Caleb Orecchio