Before getting into part 3, there's a couple of things I should mention. First, Johnny Bacardi points out that he did a similar post for the 1960s a couple of years ago. I strongly recommend checking it out, especially if you've been enjoying this series. What strikes me as particularly interesting is the sheer number of outlets where one could buy comics in Horse Cave, KY, (which is half the size of my podunk home town) in the 1960s. If you prefer, compare the population of Hart County, KY (17,000+) to Spartanburg County, SC (about a quarter million). There were way more people in my neck of the woods, but way fewer places to buy comics in the 80s. And this is well before the Direct Market had completely supplanted the newsstand. In Woodruff (where I technically grew up), there were maybe five places where one could buy new comics, c. 1984--three drug stores and one or two gas stations. (At least one grocery store also sold those three packs of Whitman comics, which included such timely material as Lost In Space.) By 1990, that had dwindled to two pharmacies, one of which mysteriously carried comics which were about a month old. Of course, you could still buy Archie anywhere.
Also, ADD notes that this is threatening to become a meme. That would be great, actually; it was partly my intention to encourage people to talk more about their experiences as a reader/consumer of comics. In part one, I referred to this project as an attempt to apply the New Social History to the history of comics. I was partly joking, but I think there is some value in redefining what constitutes comics history. Most of the existing history of the industry is what historians call "top-down," focusing on the major publishers and creators. That's obviously valuable, important, and fascinating stuff, but it's not the whole story. We should also consider the industry from the perspective of the reader and the retailer. And hell, the printers too--I know I'm interested in changes to the technology of producing comics over the years.* I'm partly trying to correct this imbalance in this series of reminisces.
Having said that, the line between the New Social History of Comics and masturbatory nostalgia is finer than one might like. I've tried to limit my recollections to subjects which might be of interest to a broader audience, or which might help answer larger questions about the industry in the 1990s. I'm trying to avoid solipsism, but something of this nature will almost always involve some personal indulgences. Hopefully I've kept these to a minimum.
I mention this because, ideally, social history includes a range of experiences. What I've been doing here is sort of a microhistory (or maybe a nanohistory) of comics readership in the 90s. One of the aims of the New Social History was to take all these microhistories and synthesize them into a master narrative of the subject at hand. (For instance, one would be able to write a more complete and truthful version of the history of labor if (s)he could draw upon dozens of microhistories related to labor in the United States--or the world, I guess, if the hypothetical historian was ambitious enough.) Of course, nobody really believes this is possible anymore; in fact, synthetic histories are sort of out of vogue right now.** Truth be told, I'm really too much of a postie to expect a multitude of microhistories to cohere into a functional meta-narrative. On the other hand, I'm enough of a contrarian to think it's worth trying in this case.
So what I'm basically saying is that I'd like to see more people try writing these things, and see if we can't suss out some interesting conclusions about the nature of reading and buying comics in the 90s (or any earlier decade, for that matter). I linked to Johnny B's post above, but you might also check out similar thoughts by ADD and history buddy Todd C. Murry's comment from yesterday's post. If you make a post of this type on your blog, send the link my way. I'll try to start compiling this stuff in the next day or so.
*We need a David Montgomery for the comics industry, basically.
**In reality, the issue of synthesis in contemporary historiography is far more complicated, but I've indulged in too much shop talk here already.