Friday, March 16, 2007

Pomegranate and cranberry bran muffins might sound good, but....

-Greg Burgas suggests comics were better in the 1970s. Is there any other decade that gets shorter shrift than the 70s? Every other decade in (American) comic book history has an identity:

1940s-The Golden Age of superhero comics
1950s-EC Comics; Wertham, Senate hearings, and the Code; the golden age of romance comics
1960s-Wacky Silver Age fun; birth of underground comics
1980s-Event comics/crossovers; "dark" superhero comics are born; the independent publisher explodes onto the scene; the direct market begins to overtake the newsstand
1990s-Crap-tacular comics with stupid gimmick covers; rise and fall of the major independent publisher; the big speculator bust
2000s (so far)-Manga gains major ground, overtaking Marvel/DC in several categories; graphic novels begin to supplant the pamphlet format; probably a bunch of other stuff that will seem clearer in hindsight

The 70s, however, don't have such a clear identity. We often portray the comics industry in that decade as either an outgrowth of the 60s or a precursor to the 80s. There are some notable exceptions. Underground Comix were generally coasting along, seemingly content to nurse a hangover from the previous decade until Arcade, a wonderful anthology which reinvigorated several cartoonists, most notably Robert Crumb (and, IIRC, it's Alan Moore's favorite comic of all time). Yet it's often viewed as more of a bridge to the more important 80s anthologies RAW and Weirdo, both of which lasted longer and featured numerous young cartoonists in addition to stalwarts of the 60s Underground. Marvel and DC were likewise rehashing the previous decade until Claremont and Cockrum (with much help from Len Wein) reinvigorated the superhero team comic. But again, the new X-Men are often lumped in with the comics of the 80s, perhaps because it was so influential on the comics of that decade.

The horror comics of the 70s certainly get their due, particularly those appearing in b&w magazines. But why stop there? Mr. Burgas suggests the bizarre work of Jim Starlin as another touchstone of the 70s; I think we can give the two Steves, Gerber and Englehart, similar consideration. And yet! Can we not consider the comics produced by these men to be precursors of later trends? All three had a darker approach to superheroes than Stan Lee or Gardner Fox. And their epic, cosmic style (esp. Starlin's) might have presaged the event comics of the 80s. Okay then, what about Heavy Metal? Clearly a break from tradition, but one could argue that it set the stage for the early independent "ground level" type comic. Cerebus? Even more so. Jack Kirby's Fourth World? A continuation of the themes from his earlier work at Marvel.

So basically: there were many good comics published in the 70s, especially if you're into idiosyncratic superhero comics, Underground Comix, or horror. But I'm skeptical that the 70s will ever be considered a monumental epoch in the history of comics. Some important wheels were set in motion, but the industry didn't undergo any of the extensive changes (on either the art or business front) seen in other decades. So maybe it's not such a great crime that the 70s dwell in the shadow of the two decades bookending it, an island of humility between two oceans of conceit (I think that's how that saying goes).

-Hey Howling Curmudgeons--don't you guys have anything better to talk about? I mean, nobody else is complaining about The Confession (well, Graeme McMillan reviewed it, but at least it was a review rather than a bunch of "here's what should have happened"), perhaps because they flipped through it in the store, realized it was an extended monologue with a brief and pointless vignette appended, and decided it wasn't worth their time/money. But then again, Howling Curmudgeons reads like a typical wacky nostalgia blog, only someone took away their (communal?) scanner and it made them REALLY, REALLY ANGRY. Also, I assume "I keep getting tempted to write a fanfic version Civil War...." is a jocular rhetorical flourish, right?

-Will Joe Sacco be writing the foreword?

-Chris Allen Butcher expresses a few fears about linkblogging, a post so important I thought it deserved the widest possible circulation. (There will probably be about 20 other bloggers who beat me to this joke, but I consider it a matter of honor to run it anyway since I hadn't read any of those (hypothetical) blogs when I wrote this, plus I think I've added my own subtle twist.) Also: the stuff on Death of Superman? Newsarama message board quality, chief. (And no, I'm not referring to this.)

-I think I figured out why my blog was the top Google entry for "Asorbascon"--I'm misspelling it. And yet none of you have noticed/felt the need to comment on it. No need to break with tradition now!

-Outrage of the day: Michael Turner's cover to an upcoming issue of...Justice Society, I guess? Maybe Justice League? Anyway, outrage is expressed here and here, and probably a bunch of other places too. Well, it is a pretty crappy drawing. Does he have to draw every woman with a pointy little chin?

And I thought Turner signed an exclusive contract with Marvel during last year's convention season. Why is he still doing covers for DC? Let's try to contain him to just one company, okay?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget Don MacGregor, who also rose to prominence during that period.

What burr was in that Pedrosa guy's saddle? Was he reading too much of THE BEAT or something?

Anonymous said...

Dick, the poll is mistitled...and I would have liked to see two more options:

1) the insanity defence(how can you hate a crazy person?);

and, one that may be all too relevant for yr readers

2) Dave who?

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

I think you commented on the wrong post, Jones. I only point this out because other people might be wondering what you have against pomegranate and cranberry bran muffins (if you're like me, you're opposed to their horrible taste and texture).

MarkAndrew said...

Pomegranate's are too fleshy. I don't trust them. Every time I eat one it feels symbolic.

I can never spell BowcooKevin. Comic blogs should not make you spell in French!

Waah! Civil War! Waaah! Waaaah!

Good bloggers find original stuff to bitch about it, or bitch about it in an original way, like pretending they're Abraham Lincoln. Or, better yet, SPACE Lincoln: 2061.
I can understand fresh faced new readers being shocked to find out that crossovers are shitty, but some of these guys seem like they've been around a while, an' should know better.

Anonymous said...

"Marvel and DC were likewise rehashing the previous decade until Claremont and Cockrum (with much help from Len Wein) reinvigorated the superhero team comic."

This is precisely backwards. Take Marvel. The early-to-mid-70s is full of all sorts of new kinds of innovative, bizarre loopiness from Gerber/Englehart/MacGregor/Starlin/Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula) that deviated from the Stan Lee playbook, not to mention horror/kung fu/blaxpoitation heroes that didn't fit the tone of the 60s Marvel universe.

Then New X-Men comes along, and it's *exactly* out of the Stan Lee/Roy Thomas playbook--when you read it you can practically hear Claremont in the background mutttering, "Hey, what if I take the Hawkeye-Cap dynamic from Avengers, the bickering from FF, and the soap opera from Iron Man and Daredevil and mix them together." It was just buffed and polished to a high sheen and repackaged for a new generation.

Steve Flanagan said...

Other points in favour of the 1970s: it gave us 2000AD, the first UK-created Marvel strips (Night Raven, Black Knight) and the start of Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine.

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

Anonymous: I said "reinvigorated," not "revolutionized." And the X-Men seem to have been just the right property for this soapy approach, since the themes of anti-mutant discrimination complemented Claremont's melodramatic leanings (which, in turn, was just what the teenage boys reading it seemed to want). Also: you're completely neglecting the role of Cockrum and later Byrne in making the X-Men such a huge success. As much as I prefer Buscema's art on Avengers, I don't think Claremont's X-Men would have been the same phenomenon if he had been drawing it.

Mr. Flanagan: I made sure to qualify my generalization as American comics (broadly defined to include the translated reprints in Heavy Metal) because I knew it would fall apart once Europe or Japan were factored in.

Anonymous said...

The 1970s also gave us HEAVY METAL magazine, NATIONAL LAMPOON, Barry Windsor-Smith's RED NAILS & SONG OF RED SONJA, Frank Thorne's beautiful work on RED SONJA, tons of comics by Richard Corben (including BLOODSTAR, THE NEW TALES OF THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, and the first, classic volume of DEN), Will Eisner's CONTRACT WITH GOD, some of the best comics of John Buscema's career, tons of wacky and majestic solo work by Jack Kirby (NEW GODS, FOREVER PEOPLE, MISTER MIRACLE, OMAC, KAMANDI, THE DEMON, etc.), Jeffrey Jones's gorgeous IDYL, great comics by Bernie Wrightson, and lots more!

Anonymous said...

Looking at that list (which, I realize, overlaps with the list in Dick's original post), one might characterize the 1970s as the first flowering of the "graphic novel." Corben, Eisner, Steranko were all in on the ground floor of the movement; important publishers of graphic novels at the time included THE MORNING STAR PRESS, HEAVY METAL BOOKS, and NBM (known at the time as Flying Buttress Publications). Graphic novels didn't take off at the time, but much groundwork was done...

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

Hey anonymous (2), I mentioned Heavy Metal and Fourth World. You didn't just read McDonald's abbreviated recirculation of my post, did you? Again, this isn't about quality, but history. If people still care about comics in 100 years, I'm sure the 70s, 80s, and 90s will all be lumped together using categories unfamiliar and possibly unappealing to us. I like 70s comics just fine, I just don't think it's a decade consigned to undeserved obscurity.

I'll try to say more on this topic in a new post tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you realize how big a deal HEAVY METAL and THE NATIONAL LAMPOON were in the 1970s. Comics self-consciously reached out to ADULTS in the 1970s. The gradual emergence of the "graphic novel" in the second half of the 1970s was part and parcel of that.

Anonymous said...

Another pioneering attempt at a graphic novel in the 1970s (though unlike BLOODSTAR and CONTRACT WITH GOD, it wasn't explicitly marketed as a "graphic novel") was Jack Katz's THE FIRST KINGDOM, the first issue of which appeared in 1973. The finished story clocked in at slightly over 750 pages.

Katz was also a pioneer of self publishing. Note that Dave Sim and Wendy Pini also self-published their work in the 1970s.

Note also that Sim first announced to comicdom that CEREBUS was to be a single, unified 300-issue novel in... when? 1979!

Oh, and let's not forget George Metzger's BEYOND TIME AND AGAIN, which was subtitled "A Graphic Novel" when it was collected in 1975.


Anonymous said...


Another distinctive feature of the 1970s: the so-called Filipino Invasion, which exposed English-language comics in America to great artists/craftsmen such as Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino, and Rudy Nebres. This was part of a general trend of global cross-fertilization in comics. The Filipino artists worked for DC and Warren. Spanish artists such as Esteban Maroto, Carlos Gimenez, and Sanjulian did a ton of work for Warren. HEAVY METAL featured European artists of various nationalities--Italian, French, Spanish, and so on. It was in the pages of HEAVY METAL that most of us who lived through the decade first read work by Moebius, Crepax, Druillet, Bilal, and many others. Yes, sir, the 1970s were a great time to be reading comics!

And what about all those big Treasury Editions!? Man, I loved those things. The best version of Windsor-Smith's RED NAILS is the Marvel Treasury Edition #4 reprint, with colors by the artist himself. And if you like that, you'll love Marvel Treasury Edition #14, which features a glorious, un-Bowdlerized version of BWS's SONG OF RED SONJA.

Anonymous said...

Will Eisner makes the same point when, in a COMIC BOOK ARTIST interview, he says: "Actually, I thought highly of Jim [Warren] because he was responsible for raising the level of art in comic books by bringing a wave of Spanish artists who were brilliant illustrators. I think historians of this medium should recognize Jim for this." My point is that the Filipino and other artists mentioned in my previous message *also* raised the level of art in comic books, and I think historians of the medium should recognize that, too. And it happened... when? In the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

I see that Dirk Deppey weighed in on this issue today. Strange how he immediately boils down a discussion of 70s comics to a discussion of 70s Marvel superhero comics,and on that basis, pronounces the entire decade a transitional one, whatever that means. Talk about blinders!

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention: the 1970s also saw the birth of feminist underground comics (the first issue of WIMMIN'S COMIX appeared in 1970) and the underground infiltration of the mainstream (via NATIONAL LAMPOON, ARCADE, various Warren publications, Marvel's COMIX BOOK, the movies of Ralph Bakshi, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Of course, my point about the "underground infiltration of the mainstream" isn't new to this thread; it's a clarification of what I meant when I highlighted the importance of NATIONAL LAMPOON (which had a circulation of over a million at it's height, and published such comics luminaries as Shary Flenniken, Vaughn Bode, Bill Griffith, Justin Green, Frank Stack, Jeffrey Jones, etc., etc.).

Anonymous said...


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