This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on November 3, 2016.
Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
What would you say has been the most important – defined however you want – year for comics in your lifetime?
Well, I suppose this means I’ll have to let people know about how old I am. It’s that or have a whole lot of people complaining about my not mentioning a year like 1986, which I think you purposefully excluded with the words “in your lifetime”. So we are stuck looking between the years 1990 and 2016 because I am 26 years old.
I know that may seem old to you “King Baby”, but I still feel pretty young. However, the amount that occurs in a single lifetime and in an entire industry varies wildly. A quarter century in and I feel as if I’m just getting started. That same period for comics has been absolutely wild with some incredible highs and lows, both for the business and the art.
As soon as you asked this question, a pair of years immediately leapt to mind. They bookend nicely as one of the worst years for American comics and one of its best.
The year 1994 was probably the lowest point for the American comics market since the publication of Seduction of the Innocent and all of the consequences that spiralled from that line of thought (like the loss of EC Comics). While we tend to talk about the 90s as though they were dominated by the speculation market, it collapsed in 1994 and had an enormous impact. Say what you will about comics speculators (and I say plenty of nasty things about them), but this collapse was bad for comics.
Almost 20 publishers shuttered their doors along with more than 100 retailers. Jobs, comics, and fortunes were all lost. It’s arguable that the shockwaves of this bubble collapse are still being felt today. The market has remained centered on superheroes and have never fully recovered in terms of readers or dollars. It helped to secure Diamond’s monopoly on the direct market and transform the public image of the medium. The effects of this year were devastating.
What makes this year the inarguable low point for comics in my lifetime was the loss of one individual: Jack “The King” Kirby. He was still a working artist in his final years, primarily working outside of comics though. His voice was at San Diego every year providing advice and wisdom to young creators. Even in the face of some incredible new launches like Starman and Marvels, 1994 was the year the comics died.
There were a couple of key years that bookend 1994, the years 1992 and 1996. 1992 marked the publication of “The Death of Superman”. It was a peak moment in the speculation market garnering coverage all over mainstream media. That was also a publication that led to the last 25 years of headline grabs and character deaths as sales events. Then in 1996 the fallout of 1994 threatened to sink one of comics largest publishers ever: Marvel Comics. It was the moment in which the company declared bankruptcy and almost collapsed altogether, which might have led to an even more implosive year than 1994.
It’s difficult to dispute there being a worse time for comics in my lifetime than those coming out when I was almost too young to read them in 1994. That also means I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my life reading better and better comics. In terms of dollars, the market hasn’t altogether recovered and may never. Yet creativity seems to have only surged in the time since.
No year better symbolizes the growth in creativity to me than 2013. While Saga and Fatale landed in 2012, that was a forebear to the real launching point of the modern Image Revolution. Lazarus, East of West, Pretty Deadly, Deadly Class, Sex Criminals, Black Science, and Rat Queens were all launched in 2013. For better or worse, these comics and their creators have come to define comics in the current decade and explode the boundaries of comics in the direct market.
The fallout of this success at Image Comics has led to a reinvigoration of the publisher under Eric Stephenson that has driven both their own books and other publishers forward. They offer one of (if not the) best creator ownership deals in the industry. It provided a place for big name creators at Marvel and DC to support their own ideas while owning their own ideas. Image has led the industry with concepts like the launch of a European style magazine inIsland, launch shows like Image Expo, and one of my absolute favorite bits of comics coverage every month: Image+. Comics is undoubtedly a better place today due to their success in this year.
It wasn’t just Image Comics firing on all cylinders in 2013. This is the year Archie Comics began their radical reinvention with Afterlife with Archie. Marvel Comics offered some of their best comics ever in the forms of Hawkeyeand Daredevil. Dark Horse transformed Matt Kindt into a standard with Mind MGMT. It was a spectacularly good year for comics, and one I would argue we’re still benefitting from. The #ArtCred movement can trace its roots here with a greater emphasis on visual storytelling and market diversity began to grow with so many popular titles veering away from the superhero genre.
I’m not picking 1994 or 2013 or any of the other years I’ve mentioned as my answer to this question though. I’m not picking any year between them either. I’m not even going to pick a year that is complete.
My pick for the most important year in comics since I was born is 2016.
This is the year where we continued to move the needle forward on diversity and inclusion in comics.
This is the year where indy shows like SPX, CXC, and CAB continued to expand and explore the comics medium.
This is the year where readership grew both in the direct market and from outsiders discovering wonderful comics like Ghosts and March.
This is the year where you took over as Publisher of Comics Bulletin, and Christian Hoffer and I became Co-Managing Editors.
This is the year where so many great things happened, all of which built on a century of great comics that came before.
There is a quote from Transmetropolitan that I am incredibly fond of, and I think it sums up my point here rather nicely: “The future is an inherently good thing, and we move into it one winter at a time. Things get better one winter at a time.”
We’re quickly approaching winter now, so I’d like to propose a toast based on this sentiment. For all of the struggles and ills that we are aware of in comics, I think we can look at 2016 and remain confident and strong that comics are getting better. That applies to the industry, the market, and the year itself. As much as we may love to reminisce about the glories of 1986 or any goddamn year when Jack Kirby was alive, we are already standing on the shoulders of giants. This year we were able to build on what came before, and we’ll do the same in 2017. Together.
So here’s to comics, the best is yet to come.