Xtinction Agenda, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Implosion, a look at how you got your AT&T in my Warner Brothers, and an answer to “Are you guys gonna be okay?”
Listen kid, I’ve been from one end of this comic shop to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force that can end the comic industry in one swift stroke. There have been a few times “Comics as we know them shall perish!”, though as I’m at work typing this and not at home, it seems as though things are going just fine. After all, the Death Star probably floated past a whole lot of planets before it got to Alderaan, right?
Let’s revisit a few of the times our beloved hobby has Matrix Keanu’d its way out of the” Path of Sure Destruction!”, shall we?
Extinction Event Alpha-The Beginning of Future’s Ending!
The first time the comic book almost dies is, strangely, also when it shows up. In 1933, Famous Funnies arrives as the first American Comic Book. True to form, the very first issue is made up entirely of reprints. Comic book collecting almost doesn’t get past its debut, as speculators drawn to the first issue buy up as many copies as they can in hopes that they’ll be able to make a fortune once those Joe Palooka and Dixie Dugan movie serials come out. Take that, Great depression!
Extinction Event #2-The Colony Strikes Back!
1941-War! It seems like the funny book has nowhere to go but up when there’s no end to the hunger the audience has to see colorfully dressed men punch Hitler in his face. It all goes well until America sends a sizeable portion of comic readers toward Germany in an attempt to actually punch Hitler in his face. With all of those readers gone overseas, it is summarily decided that comics have much more use as repurposed paper that the boys could use in the field. If they weren’t still able to read about punching Adolf, they could wipe themselves with him in the middle of the Ardennes!
EE3-Gaines and Losses!
Johnny may have come marching home, but his love of the superheroes didn’t. The bright colors had been replaced by the dark stories of EC’s “Tales from the Crypt”. Murderers and ghouls plagued these comics, foremost among them was Fredric Wertham. In 1954 his book, ‘Seduction of the Innocent” postulated that comics caused juvenile delinquency after asking a bunch of kids in prison if they read comics. This whimsical tome caused both book burnings and senate hearings. Fearing Government censorship and seeing an opportunity to pull the rug out from under Gaines’ EC, the major publishers banded together to form the Comics Code Authority. This one-two punch of taking away an entire genre of publishing and simultaneously ensuring that the rest of the industries output was just lame, was not optimal for the hobby. We came so close to losing it all, we almost injured an eye.
Extinction 4ever! The Marvel Gambit (no, not that one)
The circulation numbers continue to drop, and the future begins to look dark for the funny books. Luckily, Stan Lee spends a bunch of 1961 on top of a table yelling things at Jack Kirby. A handful of years later, Adam West dons lycra, and a Spider-Man cartoon shows up with a catchy theme song. College kids everywhere start doing the “Batusi”, dropping acid, and reading Dr. Strange…for meaning. Comics survive again, but there is no jumping up and down. There is only down. With the average price of a comic being 20 cents, the regular magazines start to force them off of the racks. In addition, the stories are suffering under the weight of the aforementioned Comics Code Authority. Comics may be hip pop art, but they ain’t movin’ units like there’s gorillas on their covers…
5 Finger Extinction Punch-Seuling the Deal!
1972 brings both Watergate and a plan from Phil Seuling to save the comics industry. He starts a distributor that will only handle comic books and begins to get titles directly from publishers. The discounts are higher, but there is more risk as they become un-returnable. It’s a move that ensures that the brand new comic shops that have begun to spring up can get their books on a more dependable basis. It also allows the publishers to start bypassing the code and start writing directly to their aging audience. It’s awesome! It’s why we’re still here! It leads to little Spider-Man heads on covers instead of the universal Price Code, which doesn’t exist yet! Don’t worry, it’ll also help almost destroy it all in the 1990’s!
Crisistinction 6 Time Crisis!
The early nineties were again,not optimal. Marvel decides that it doesn’t require the services of Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and others. They in fact decide that they should spend all of their cash buying cardboard and a hapless distributor. Once there were as many as 8,000 comic book stores. Marvel’s bad decisions and the late shipping of the new Image titles lead to a sizeable contraction. there are now approximately 2,000 comic shops. Yet, we learn and adapt. Without all of this, we might never know that the kids love chains.
So the next time you’re worried because DC is having another one of their implosions (these happen almost as often Crisis something, somethings…), don’t. There’s better things to worry about. In fact, there’s an argument that our creaky old pamphlets are the perfect hobby in a strange time. You go to a store that never really has all that many people in it. You grab some four color fun and head home. Then you sit and read ’em all by yourself. Malls may go away, but we’re the pesky barnacle on the underbelly of the big Retail Boat. Seriously, haven’t we seen enough Death Stars to know not to worry about them by now?