I'm calling this a "personal chapter" because my esteemed younger colleagues can comment more effectively than I regarding comics' quality control over the last fifteen years or so since I dropped out of collecting, so I'm keeping this short. I really only want to address a couple of things.
I've been inspired to write about this since Art Brown's editorial from a few weeks' back, Brandon Jones' current issue of Splash Page, and quite a few Readers' Comments. Now's as good a time as any to get to it.
I started reading comics around late 1963/early 1964 with a predilection for DC titles, later gravitating towards Marvel as I approached middle-school. By the mid-'60s to early '70s, I was collecting damn near anything in comics form. From any publisher. DC, Marvel, Gold Key, Fawcett, Dell, Archie, Whitman, one-offs, anything. Besides the consistency of their entertainment value, the one thing I prized the most is that I could drop out for a while (due to being cash-strapped or whatever) and resume with the confidence I could take up where I left off and not feel abandoned. Some of the titles had a history going back decades, and in light of that, it's amazing there were as few continuity problems as there were. "Continuity" would be obsessed upon by later generations of readers and publishers.
My passion for comics began to wane as far back as the late '80s when I smelled a rat regarding how new comics were being marketed and how older titles were being, well, abused, and audiences abandoned.
My "conspiracy theory" of sorts starts with the unrelated release of Star Wars (or as it's called now, Episode Four: A New Hope) back in 1977. It was after that that publishers and producers became aware that fantasy/science-fiction in any format was a super-hot property. It was about this time the Overstreet Price Guide for collecting comics was coming into its own as the de facto standard for old book values.
It took a few years, but a serious contempt began to develop among older creators and publishers that they weren't seeing a dime off their decades-old work that was now turning huge profits among dealers and collectors. That realization was not lost on the new creators and editors, most of whom started as fans/collectors themselves. It is my conviction that what could be perceived as the downfall of comics in the '90s started earlier with the "instant collectible", that is, something where the creators and publishers would turn a huge profit NOW, make the big money for themselves NOW, legacy concerns be damned. There were also creative ego problems, but I'll get to that in a bit.
Not to say there weren't good books being published during this time, don't get me wrong. I generally trace the infatuation with graphic novels, for example, to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, both excellent examples of the format. Was The Killing Joke published about this time?
I think I realized it best when every month brought about, like, a dozen new "Number 1" titles. I knew from looking at them they weren't going anywhere, but I also sensed their "Number 1" status would guarantee instant knee-jerk reactions to collectors who couldn't miss out on the possiblity they'd be collectible down the road. (Generally-speaking, any title's first issue is the most valuable, though I know this isn't always the case.) Who still has their #1 issue of Dazzler? Howard the Duck?
Later -- and most insidiously -- was invented the "alternate cover" concept, arguably the most evil marketing gimmick ever. Here, to be thorough and pure, in order for your collection to be complete, you had to own several duplicates of the same comic so you'd have the different drawing or the dye-cut cover. That these were increasing in price as well was ignored as these were now seen as investments. (The Todd McFarlane Spider-Man packages still make my stomach turn.)
Thus began the era of collecting as "speculating", no longer following comics characters or stories necessarily, but worrying to death about their long-term appreciation. By the time of The Death of Superman, the last product I myself got suckered into, the handwriting was on the wall. Since most of these were worthless as anything but, ironically, "collectibles", the irony continues as closetfuls of "valuable" comics were being hoarded by untold legions of compulsive suckers. When the time came to unload them, there were no takers. Comics dealers now had backrooms overflowing and were practically giving them away.
Believe it or not, even this f*ck-over didn't completely turn me off comics quite yet. That's coming up next.
Group Alienation and Creative Ego
I mentioned before that I'd address creative ego. This is what I call the phenomenon where a creator insists on inventing or re-inventing something on an established title so he gets all the credit (and presumably, all the royalties). Parallel to this was the feeling, starting, I think as early as Crisis On Infinite Earths (itself a really good series), that baby-boomers were no longer a relevant demographic and had generally outgrown comics. To lure younger fans, it would be necessary to unload decades of continuity so they wouldn't feel all burdened by it. This is what was behind John Byrne's reinventing of Superman, Batman and The Hulk somewhere around 1990. The boomer cutoff, to me, culminated in The Death of Superman in 1992. Everything and anything that had ever been remotely important and familiar to me was being ejected and redone. They were now courting a younger crowd.
Until 2000, there was the real danger that comics would cease to exist. Of course, besides their cost/value problem, there was the factor that the age group they were trying so hard to lure was not interested in comics, but in video games and the like. That continues to this day.
With the success of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002), comic-awareness increased and was now seen as a potentially valuable genre. Many terrific comics-to-movie adaptations have been produced.
The off-the-rack sales seem to have stabilized and many interesting comics series have come out over the last decade. Kingdom Come with those great Alex Ross covers definitely got my attention. For The Ultimates and Captain America Reborn and all that, Brandon, Terence, and Christian are more qualified to comment.
Which brings me to this issue's angst-ridden Splash Page, which reminds us that comics are still a business. They will do anything, say anything, sell anything to make a buck, even continually reboot series, and make up temporary continuities that aren't realized or announced as such until it's time to, well, reboot again, and heaven help me, I think they're still screwing with alternate covers.
Pity, because I cannot see how any long-term fans can be made with this approach, to say nothing about the hope of reacquiring older fans like myself.
But, hey, we still have the movies coming out, the most successful ones mostly based on decades-old titles with the most familiar continuity. The ironies compound.
POSTED BY NOLAN B. CANOVA, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2009
I appreciate y'all's patience over the past couple of weeks while we sorted through some -- er, um...issues -- here at the PCR compound. I'm gradually re-adjusting some minor mission statement parameters between now and year's end for the 2010 version of Crazed Fanboy/PCR. (Can you believe it's been ten years since I started this nonsense? Haha.) I am grateful to have a core staff dedicated to keeping our standards high and material consistent, even when Ye Olde Editor nods off at the wheel every once in a while. And I mean ALL the writers. Despite what must look like lots of in-fighting, everyone's generally on the same page and wants to put forth their best.
OK, 'nuff of that, let's start with this week's sleaze...
I read about this just this morning and, after the initial revulsion passed, had me chuckling for no particularly good reason.
According to her new memoir, Mackenzie Phillips, who played the angst-ridden teen older sister to Valerie Bertinelli on the '70s TV sitcom One Day At A Time, has revealed she carried on an incestuous relationship with her own father that may have lasted as long as ten years.
Rock fans know -- or should know by now -- that Phillips' father was none other than John Phillips of the '60s vocal group The Mamas and the Papas (California Dreamin').
According to an interview with People Magazine, Mackenzie first became "aware"(!) of the relationship at the age of 19 after waking from a drug-induced blackout discovering she was having sex with her father the night before her own wedding. Since both of them stayed high pretty much all the time, pinning down when it all started became problematic. But according to Mackenzie, John hated the idea of her getting married and pitched the idea of the both of them running off together -- that is she and John.
She only revealed this relationship to her younger sister Chynna Phillips (of Wilson-Phillips Hold On For One More Day fame) fairly recently, telling her she felt it was something she needed to know. In retrospect, I think that might've been so she wouldn't have to get it out of a book.
Reader feedback on various news sites seem to suggest a feeling the whole story is either made up or exaggerated to sell books, but I'm skeptical of that. Besides reportedly sleeping around with rock stars, Mackenzie has had serious drug addiction issues practically her whole life, making headlines with turnstile rehab attendance even before the run of One Day At A Time ended. With the scandalous life led early on, would she really need to add fictional incest to get more attention? And why damage her own reputation even further, not to mention that of her legendary musician father? (According to the memoir, the sex was consenusal. Eeeasy, stomach.)
I didn't bother looking up her age, but I'm guessing she's at or around 50. This is generally about the time demons are exorcised for people with a disturbing past. Yep, I think she did it.
Due to my publishing/work schedule woes last week, I neglected to give just to due the passing of comedian/actor Henry Gibson, who died at the age of 73 from cancer. Please see last week's Mike's Rant for a well-written overview of Gibson's career.
Despite his earlier work, I wasn't really aware of Gibson until his stint on the '60s comedy series Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and, in my opinion, an under-rated forerunner to Saturday Night Live.
On Laugh In, the machine-gun pace of the show would stop every ten-fifteen minutes or so to establish a small set with a piano player doodling some pleasant little ditty on the keys, then Gibson would emerge from behind a backdrop while holding an oversize prop flower. He'd nervously race to his spot and recite some quirky short poem (a precursor to SNL's "Deep Thoughts" by Jack Handy, methinks), give a curt little nod, turn and exit. This became one of the show's many iconic moments.
Henry Gibson reminds me of a better time when TV was wildly more experimental and he will be sorely missed.