Back in 1975 I attended my first con…the San Diego Comic Con. I was really excited. I got to meet Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, some martial arts actor named Chuck Norris who was just starting out, and a bunch of other professionals. Mark Evanier was showing off his ability to forge comics pro signatures flawlessly. George Pal was giving a speech about his SF movies. But something went down there that I found hard to swallow. A panel of comic book pros were talking about “The Future of Comics” and they predicted there wasn’t one. According to these naysayers, comics would no longer be published in five years.
Yes, kiddies, by 1980, there would be no more comics.
I didn’t believe them. But I stopped reading comics shortly thereafter because I was bored. The medium was in a rut and didn’t feel like buying them anymore. Six years later, I went into a 7-11 to get something and I noticed a comic on the spinner announcing the return of Jack “King” Kirby. It was called Captain Victory, and while it didn’t look like the King’s best work, I bought it out of nostalgia. Reading it made me feel like going back and reading all those Fourth World books Kirby did for DC. Unfortunately, I’d gotten rid of my collection back in ’75 and I no longer had them.
So I looked up the local comics store in the phone book and went to see if they had what I wanted. I was surprised to discover that Kirby was no longer in vogue. Neither was Neal Adams. Both were art gods when I was a kid, now people were dissing them in favor of the hot new artists making the scene. These were guys I’d never heard of: Frank Miller, John Byrne, George Perez. All the “Hot” books at this time were titles which had been cancelled or were horrible sellers in the mid-70s. Books like Daredevil, The X-Men, The Teen Titans. Yet now they were the top sellers! I had to catch up on what was going on. Before I knew it, I’d amassed a growing collection of books. I’d scored all the Claremont X-Mens. All the Miller Daredevils, all the New Teen Titans and had started reading a lot more. Comics had become exciting again and they were on their way to a revival. The naysayers were definitely wrong.
Then, around the mid 80s, as I was getting the first Espers series ready, a phenomenon hit the stands. It was a self published comic called “Teen-aged Mutant Ninja Turtles” and it spawned a whole slew of imitators. The black and white “boom” was born. For the next year, everybody and his brother with $2,000 and a half baked idea cranked out a black and white comic to make a killing. Books like “Fat Ninja”, “Space Beaver”, “Ronnie’s Raiders”, “Samurai Penguin”, “Daffy Kaddafy” were getting ordered in huge numbers. But the books didn’t actually sell after the first ones made a splash and scores of retailers and several major distributors were forced out of business.
The naysayers burst into another dirge for the comics industry. “It’s all going awaaay…”
Well, it didn’t. The late 80s, early 90s was another boom period. And only a few years after the big bust of the mid 80s. Now comics were selling in record numbers. But unfortunately, most people weren’t buying them for content, they were buying what they perceived as “hot”. Whenever this happens, people eventually catch on that “hot” does not necessarily mean “valuable” and they stop buying. Thus we come to the crash of the mid 90s. If you’ve been reading the letters pages of the CBG and editorials in a lot of comics you’ll inevitably hear the naysayers doing their pathetic song and dance. “Comics are dying. Comics are going away. The sky is falling.”
They point to Marvel’s bankruptcy and to the decline in superhero sales.
Here’s a couple facts. Marvel’s bankruptcy had more to do with mismanagment of the company and its owners desire to merge a toy company with Marvel against his stockholder’s wishes. The sales of many of their comics had actually risen in 1996.
As for the decline in superhero comics sales. Consider the fact that most of them are tired, dull, and beating the dead horse into the ground. Is it any surprise the sales on superhero comics have suffered?
This happened in the mid-70s. I was there. I saw it as a fan. I know many people who saw it as pros. But guess what? Fresh blood came along and revitalized the industry. Good comics started popping up all over and people got excited about the medium again.
What’s happened in the last four years is comic convention attendance is on the rise. Many stores are seeing improved business. While, the sales of books continues to drop in the direct market, comics are becoming more visible in book and record stores. Not to mention on the internet.
Where the books are sold may change, but comics are still marching on.
I’ve always hated naysayers. We all meet them from time to time. These people hate themselves so they have to try to bring everybody down to their level by predicting failure. “You’ll never succeed. You’ll always be a flop. Give up while you still can. Blah de blah blah.” I’ve always had a two word reply for those people. The second word is “you!” But if you’re too refined for that I recommend an alternative the next time you hear their plaintive cry.
Just say “Nay.”
(Originally written in the late 90s. I would add that digital publishing is what will save comics now.)