Posted In: News
Forgotten Comics Wars
Or: How Angry Freelancers Made It Possible for A New Mainstream Comics Era (Including Vertigo) to Exist, Part 5
“Nobody wants censorship. It is, after all, a fundamental principle upon which our country was founded that each of us has freedom of choice in where we worship, if we worship, what we think, what we say, what we write, and what we read.
This makes America a difficult place to live. It would be much easier if we had one religion, one political party, one moral and ethical point of view — in short, one set of standards by which everyone was to live. But nobody wants that.”
… The last attack on comics succeeded in decimating the industry and castrating the comics only because the comics publishers, with the exception of William Gaines, handed the victory to the enemy voluntarily. If [Buddy] Saunders, and others, have their way, and if the publishers are as cowardly as their predecessors were, recent progress in the development of the artform could well be aborted.
No, Buddy Saunders doesn’t want censorship. Nobody wants censorship.”
- Frank Miller, “Guest Editorial,” The Comics Buyer’s Guide, December 19, 1986.
“Frank Miller fires his big guns… so now it’s time for those of us who oppose his point of view to counterattack while he reloads. I’ll try a little fire for effect first.”
‘Jerry Falwell would not like it.’ It took Miller less than two sentences to inveigh against the name of Falwell, a man he clearly does not understand. Miller’s contempt of him not withstanding, Jerry Falwell is not Frank Miller’s nemesis, and Miller’s life would be better, not worse, if Jerry Falwell came to politicial power in this country. Better because Jerry Falwell understands the Constitution much better than Frank Miller does. Falwell is a free man who knows the difference between freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
‘Nobody wants censorship.’ He could not be more wrong, for I want censorship…”
- Robert E. Butts,, letter in “O’ So?,” The Comics Buyer’s Guide, January 2, 1987.
What a Christmas gift to comics creators, readers and fans all this was.
By the January 2, 1987 issue of The Comics Buyer’s Guide, the letters pages (entitled “O’ So?”) were alight with the controversy.
There were those who sided with Frank and the rest of us, and those (see quote above) absolutely aligned with pro-labeling forces and even pro-censorship sentiments — and every variation of the rainbow in between. Rationalizations, equivocations, desperately sought middle ground, polarized extremes; those early 1987 Comics Buyer’s Guides still make for fascinating reading, as timely as ever given our current political tempests. We’ve learned little or nothing, the same battle lines exist, the same extremes embraced, the same courage and cowardice when under fire demonstrated by new players.
As I’ve already made clear and documented fully (see earlier installments, including the actual arrest document from the December 10, 1986 Friendly Frank’s Comics bust), labels were not a solution.
The labels that did exist were targets, and we had testimonials from the police officers involved making that abundantly clear.
Per usual in such firestorms, the information just wasn’t getting out — or if it was, it wasn’t sinking in. “What [Buddy] Saunders is saying is true,” John Cheves wrote (in the January 2, 1987 “O’ So?” letter column), “we must protect ourselves from Meese and the other fundamentalist idiots by labeling offensive material. …As long as we have a label on the cover, it will be very difficult for a mother to sue a comics shop because her 7-year-old watched Silk Spectre and Nite-Owl take off each other’s clothes. …Yes, we have to censor ourselves. Either we do it or Meese does; which do you prefer?” Fresh political bogeyman Meese was U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, whose Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, aka the Meese Commission, convened in the spring of 1985 and published its findings in July 1986 to much controversy, establishing major firing lines in the cultural wars of the President Ronald Reagan era (an era many are nostalgic for now, save those of us who lived in them; it was not a stellar moment in American history, and Reagan was not yet a lionized US President, nor will he ever be for many of us who remember what his Presidency really was and truly represented).
But one of the highpoints in the letters exchanges was this early entry, a sadly long-forgotten letter from DC editor/writer Marv Wolfman, still at the top of his game in the market and hot as a pistol for his 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths 12-issue miniseries (among other popular creations):
The January 2, 1987 issue of The Comics Buyer’s Guide featured letters from Grimjack writer John Ostrander (unopposed to “ratings/guidelines as I understand them“ — italics John’s — while “…’unalterably opposed’ to running up the white flag due to fear and paranoia…”), Robert J. Sodaro and others, including the Robert Butts letter I’ve quoted from above. Best of all was a pointed letter from Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Claudine Giraud, Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier (“…first those who advocate rating books will strike at sex and violence, because they are easy targets. But soon, as Buddy Saunders letter amply demonstrated, they will start rating books according to their political content.”).
The January 9, 1987 issue of The Comics Buyer’s Guide featured a ‘Guest Editorial’ from the best-selling writer in comics, X-Men scribe Chris Claremont (“…out of that fear — and all the wonderful, ‘rational’ justifications put forward in a vain, desperate attempt to banish it — they may well destroy what they’re trying so hard to save…”). Better yet was a scathing response to Buddy Saunders letter from comics writer Steven Grant:
“Tell you what, Buddy; write and draw, or hire someone to write and draw, exactly the comics you want to see. Put them in your shops with the works of Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Alan Moore, Marv Wolfman, Chris Claremont — all of whose work has fit your description at one time or another — and may the best books win. That’s the way the free market system is supposed to work.
…Most creators I know are doing their best to express a vision of the world as they see it. They believe in allowing others to express differing visions. That’s what this country is supposed to be about, not the rule of fear and hysteria. If we feel that what we’re doing has value and importance, then we — publishers and retailers and creators and distributors and readers alike — should fight the good fight, like Buddy’s childhood heroes would tell us to. And if we must go down, we owe it to ourselves to go down in flames.”
And then there was this:
But this controversy — though it was just really getting started — was already clocking up a body count.
The second casualty in the crossfire (the first, for December 1986, was undoubtably Michael Correa, the man behind the counter at the Friendly Frank’s Comics bust) was none other than Marv Wolfman.
How dare Marv, an editor as well as a writer at DC Comics, sign the petition against DC Comics‘s proposed Standards and Practices. How dare he cosign a January 19, 1987 letter to Jenette Kahn (with Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin and Alan Moore) saying they would no longer “bring our idea and our efforts” to DC once they’d honored their “contractual obligations to DC….”
How dare he.
So Marv was ‘censored’ right out the company door.
The only scapegoat and handy corporate employ among the signatures on the freelancer-dominated petition and the January 19 letter, Marv got the corporate boot up the ass.
How it all went down was shameful — but the manner of its reporting was even more shameful.
The week after Marv was shown the door, the lead headline in The Comics Buyer’s Guide was:
“Captain America Fired”
It was accompanied with a generic drawing of Cap to illustrate the headline.
It was mere Marvel Comics ballyhoo for a new story arc, a fiction, a publicity gimmick to sell comics, a press release disguised as news.
The smaller headline, below and tucked in the lower right hand corner of the same cover:
“Marv Wolfman Fired.”
There was no accompanying image.
A real man, a human being, in real life suddenly without a job — and The Comics Buyer’s Guide placed that grim turning point in this concentrated series of events second fiddle to a fictional construct, to Marvel‘s publicity department press release.
That pretty much said it all.
Next: More & Moore