In the last installment, I discussed briefly the boom and bust of the comic industry in the 90s. It’s been far more deeply examined elsewhere, so we’ll just leave it at: some people thought they could make money off these comics that were selling millions of copies, somehow forgetting the foundation of economic theory – supply and demand. When these idiotic speculators left for some other new investment, the comics medium went into a tailspin as the bubble that had been expanding burst, leaving many retailers with no choice but to shutter their doors.
IT REALLY IS BLACK AND WHITE:
Despite the poor reputation of comics in the nineties, there were some great comics that came out during that time. Disappointingly, the collapse of the industry in this decade meant a lot of these books ended in the middle of storylines, and many have yet to be completed.
Of course, their publication might not have been possible without the boom that preceded the bust. Artists like James Owen and Colleen Doran and Don Lomax were finding an audience with their black and white books and were able to, if not make a living solely as a comic artist, at least continue publishing for quite some time. The comics Starchild, Wandering Star, A Distant Soil (the most recent and definitive edition), Thieves & Kings, Hepcats, and Bone all began in the early 90s.
All of these books hold a special place in my collection. I had been introduced to black and white comics through Don Lomax’s brilliant book, Vietnam Journal, and I’d certainly enjoyed much of Eclipse’s output, particularly Miracleman and Airboy, so independent comics weren’t alien to me. But with the critical acclaim many of these black and white books received, I jumped in head first and found most of these individual and very personal works rising to the top of my reading pile.
YOU’RE MEANT TO READ THEM:
The early 90s is certainly where my shift in collecting occurred. Sure, I was still reading a lot of books from the “big two,” particularly the Superman family of books and the Flash from DC, but I found my stack shifting more toward the back of the Previews catalog. The stories I found from these independent and self-publishers just resonated more with me. I appreciated that, because anything could happen, there was real tension. I liked that I could buy a single book and get a single story and not have to worry about whether my favorite character would be crossing over into some other title or, worse, having an event slide over into the middle of his own book.
In May, 1995, I dropped the Superman titles with issue 100 of the run begun by John Byrne. And in April, 1997, I dropped the Flash – my character – and started, almost exclusively, buying independent comics.
I wanted a story to read. I wanted that story to matter. I didn’t want an “event” or a cover that exclaimed “nothing would ever be the same!” Because I knew that it would all end up being the same, because these publishing companies can’t allow too much change, otherwise these characters would not be recognizable to the outside world and that could hurt merchandising sales.
Just take a look at Grant Morrison’s brilliant run on New X-Men and how quickly Marvel – which hired Morrison to write the damn book and knew what they were getting from him – reverted to type and disregarded everything Morrison had set up in his run. This was, to my mind, a brilliant run that reinvigorated the X-Men franchise in a way it had needed for a long time. And yet, the issue that followed Morrison’s final one, everything was back to square one.
But I digress.
We’ve all continued buying a series through inertia – wanting to keep the run complete, worried about holes in our collections – and picked up that next issue of Wonder Woman or Captain America, even though the story was forgettable and the art lackluster. It’s like going from having Todd McFarlane drawing Spider-Man (for all his faults, there was an energy and an excitement in those pages) to having Alex Saviuk drawing the book. Or having Tom DeFalco write anything. How can we tacitly support this dreck? And yet, we do, through our outmoded buying habits.
It’s our fanatical loyalty to these characters (buying that Don Heck Flash issue when we really want a Carmine Infantino one) that has proven to DC and Marvel it is the characters that matter and not the creators. We are the ones who have propagated the editorially-driven pablum that often professes to be high-quality storytelling (if you bother to believe the hype machines at the respective marketing departments).
And that’s sad.