Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Fall of the Comic Book Guy...The Eighties Bubble

The industry has three major problems in its storytelling, which each one of these works exemplifies in three ways:

A focus on realism in a medium that by definition is absurd. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is what brought this on. The whole point of the book was to show real heroes growing old, having problems, being corrupt and dealing with real world issues and relationships – and by “real world” of course we mean a debaucherous romp of sex, drugs and violence, which no one relates to. Modern writers want to switch all their characters to this realism feel, which makes no sense when you have Asgardian gods who magically transform at the picking up of a hammer, or a nerd clinging to walls and swinging from rooftops. Realism has no place in such stories, and it’s painful to read boring stories about The Visions sitting at home pretending to eat meals even though they’re robots.

An obsession with rebooting mythology. This is Neil Gaiman’s hallmark. He’s made an entire career out of rebooting. If you look at Sandman, he takes classic mythological figures, imports them into a punk rock/goth 80s world and turns it into a weird horror story. When he worked for Marvel briefly, he rebooted Marvel as if the heroes had been born in the 1600s. American Gods, his novel, is about rebooting mythology again. His formula is obvious. It’s all he does, and it’s all DC and Marvel do now. It’s not selling? Let’s reboot Superman again with an all new #1. That’ll sell for the gimmick collector for a minute, but then when you degrade into the same, tired, unoriginal realism in storytelling, the sales plummet again. No one wants to read the revamped origin story for the umpteenth time, this time it’s the definitive, real version! The original worked just fine and remain in our memories, not the reboots.

Striving to be darker for shock value. This is where Frank Miller changed the game, and for the worse. Everything is gore. Everything is awful, dark, terrible. Characters are dying, whether it be from street thugs or from AIDS, everyone’s life is in the pits and sucks. The streets of New York or Gotham are pure cesspools of no hope, and pure grit. He paved the way for writers like Garth Ennis or Mark Millar to try to one up that grittiness, or Ed Brubaker to turn an optimistic character Captain America into some depressing, dark story with his Winter Soldier storyline. Guess what? You’ve just made sure every parent in America doesn’t buy these books because they know they’re not appropriate images for their kids to see, thereby turning off an entire generation of customers from getting attached to these works.

The three points above all are dangerous paths for lesser writers to tread, and do lead to even greater problems when EVERY story becomes a combination of these tropes, which is what we have in modern comics.

Now, I like Jon and I'm honestly almost sorry I sent him those disgusting pictures from my lamb butchering class but  I can't agree with him on a lot this.  Except about Neil Gaimen, he's dead right there.  I can't believe a generation as cynical as Gen X got conned by this bullshit...

Yeah, late 80's hot chicks loved Goth crap.

Gaiman is a pretend literary auteur of comics but really he's a one trick pony who hasn't done anything of note since 2000.

No, the real problem wasn't the Big Three. It started with Dennis O'Neil's Green Arrow/Green Lantern series. Ask any Walter Breen looking asshole who reads comics and he will happily tell you how progressive, ground breaking and important the hippy babble that O'Neil injected into comics was.

This was circa 1973, the same time the very first Comic Book Guy (Phil Seuling) got DC and Marvel to agree to a system in which he would act as middleman.

Unlike the newspaper stands and grocery store turnstyles, which was a throw of the dice for the end user as to whether his favorite comic book would be there or not.  Seuling would order a certain number of comics, in theory depending on the preference of his reader, although there was no remainder system for unsold comics.

Before then the Proto-Comic Book Guy, would lug his wears from Dealer Room to Dealer Room at various conventions.  The Comics Shop was initially a big step up for him...and then they went bankrupt.  Because of Denny O'Neil's hippy babble.  The positive press for that created the illusion of a market that really wasn't there.

But the first bad comic shops in the early seventies lead to the totally awesome and gnarly early 1980s comic shops (yes, Cataline is wearing his rose colored memory blades...they're by Oakley!).  And those are what started the Indy Comics movement.  They were what made Elf Quest, Rocketeer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's even possible.  Before then there was no way for the would be comic book entrepreneur to get his books to market because there was no market.

There is no putting lipstick on this pig, it is we the super cool, hyper cynical and Boomer
loathing Gen Xers who are the ones that demanded more realistic comics.

Yep, that's Shredder dying in the TMNT #1

The truth is that Dark Knight and Watchmen (both in 1986) were pretty late to the game.  They were DC's attempt to muscle their way into the Indy Market.  Truthfully, they were both a step up from the likes of anything indy with Ninja in the title.

I first read Moore's Watchmen in a single sitting. After class I had bought a pack of all twelve issues for the hilariously low price of three bucks.    That night I had gotten off work at 1100 PM and wanted to do a little light reading before hitting the sack.  I couldn't turn in until four because I was too disturbed and revved up by the book.  I had binged all twelve issues.  I recall gasping in shock at the scene of Time's Square massacre that the slow drips of blood on the clock dial had been leading up to for eleven issues.  I remember tears welling in my eyes when I saw the newspaper vending machine in the spot where the old newsie's stand had stood before Ozymandias' attack.   I don't like Moore personally but I couldn't help but be impressed by his art.

Miller's Dark Knight was just edgy fun.  It was the Death Wish movies with Batman as Paul Kersey.  And it was a violent rebellion against the hippy nihilism of Dennis O'Neil.  So I could forgive it for anything.

These didn't destroy comics.

Mostly what they did was create the Indy Bubble.  Which destroyed the second generation of comics shops.  A lot of books got financed that really shouldn't have been and a lot of shop owners completely lost track of what their customers wanted and started ordering the stuff they thought the groundlings should be reading.  The shops were kept afloat by the stunts of the Big Two. Crisis on Infinite Earths. Marvel's Act's of Vengence.  And of course The Death of Superman.  However, these were band-aids on slashed artery.

The passion driven shop owners went out of business.  The business minded ones kept the lights on...for a while.

NEXT UP The Fall of Comic Book Guy...The Nineties Crash


Cambias said...

One thing which nobody seems to mention when talking about the rise of comic shops and indy comics is the huge Tulip Mania boom in comics collecting which really took off in the early 1980s. I was a young teen then, and every one of my friends had a copy of Overstreet's Comics Price Guide and a longbox full of comics in mylar bags with acid-free boards to protect them. They were all convinced that some random issue of X-Men would be worth as much as Action Comics #1 someday.

The comics shops did their best to encourage this, of course. So when Comics Shop Guy wasn't going on about how great Alan Moore was, he was going on about how to preserve the value of your Alan Moore comics.

Cataline Sergius said...

I remember it well.

It wasn't just the comics geeks doing it either. Whenever there was some special event going on the Mundanes would show up in droves.

And no one seemed to understand the simple marketing concept of, if there is lots of something it's worth less.

Prime example, The Death of Superman. DC ran up better than triple the usual printig. Everyone who bought one immediately poly-bagged it. Finding a copy in great condition is laughably easy. Price? Maybe five bucks.

Although you can still take the chumps to the cleaners if you time it right. The week before the Watchmen movie came out, I ebayed out the twelve issue pack I mentioned above for an absurd $250. And it wasn't in that good a condition. But they all had dollar signs in their eyes.

Limited Blogger Profile #1985 said...

I worked for a comic book store from 08-09. I had many opportunities to tell guys that their carefully bagged-and-boarded 80's and 90's comics were basically worthless. Still, they weren't as sad as the sports card collectors.

I had my own long boxes, of course. But I bagged them to protect them, mainly from water damage.