Forgotten Comics Wars

Or: How Angry Freelancers Made It Possible for A New Mainstream Comics Era (Including Vertigo) to Exist, Part 8


And as the ‘big guns’ continued to weigh in, the controversy raged in the letters pages of The Comics Buyer’s Guide.

Here’s a taste — just a taste — of the various voices raised in the debate.

John Byrne was, at this time, working for DC Comics, writing and drawing Action Comics and Superman, and scripting Adventures of Superman. He had left Marvel Comics early in 1986 at peak sales of his work at that company; Byrne departed over reported friction with then-Marvel Vice President and Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, an animosity reflected in DC Comics‘s Legends #5 (1987), penciled by Byrne (from a John Ostrander plot scripted by Len Wein), in which a villain named Sunspot was drawn to resemble Jim Shooter (mouthing dialogue like “I will remake this sorry world in my own image!… I’m in control! I am always in control!…” etc.).

Mark Martin was already known in some circles for his 1986 The Dark Knight Returns satire GnatRat: The Dark Gnat Returns, and was dosing us weekly with the celebrated (well, by some of us!) 20 Nude Dancers 20 for The Comics Buyer’s Guide, which was a tonic in these troubled times. The following letter appeared in the January 30, 1987 “O’So?” column in TCBG:

Matthew Levin had been working behind the counter of a New England comicbook store — Moondance Comics, in fact (Matt may have been teaching by the time this letter saw print, but if memory serves he was still working with Moondance). He was in the most vulnerable position of the trench war imaginable, albeit in states (Massachusetts, Vermont) that weren’t particularly targeted in these cultural turf wars:

Mark Evanier was among the most rational and seasoned voices raised in the controversy, in that Evanier had worked in both the comics industry and television and animation industries longer than almost any of the involved debate participants.

Mark had begun in comics working as an editorial assistant to Jack Kirby in the early 1970s, and at the time of this ratings debacle was enjoying considerable success (in comics) with his ongoing collaboration with Sergio Aragones on the terrific Groo the Wanderer, among other titles. 

Mark was also one of the few participants who knew, from hard experience, what working within prescribed Standards & Practices really entailed, and he was among the most articulate and thoughtful critics of DC‘s proposed new policies:

Next: DC’s Response; Harlan’s Broadcast; DC’s Revisions…

All covers, artwork, text ©1986, 1987, 1990, 2010 their respective creators, publishers and/or copyright owners; all rights reserved to their respective owners. NOTE: All images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, under applicable US Fair Use laws.


Discussion (7) ¬

  1. Colleen

    Another fantastic post.

    All this was so early in the day for me, I can barely remember most of it. I had enough problems of my own with this sort of thing, and was too myopic too pay close attention to what was going on in the rest of the industry.

    Thank you for this archive. You’ve done the industry a great service.

  2. Dale

    Simply amazing.

    I was too young and too far away to know what was going in the American comic book market at that time, so this is a fascinating recap that I haven’t seen much of anywhere else.

    I am eagerly awaiting subsequent chapters

  3. Sam Kujava

    Agree with Colleen; it’s illuminating to revisit all this again, in one place. At the time I surmised
    that the industry and the creators were going through some huge growing pains…that’s a simple
    overview. A lot of good people (and some bad) went through much grief, strife and foolishness
    that I hoped would lead to a better and more creator-driven future. HOO Boy! Then came the
    ’90′s and tremendous greed and short-sightedness almost killed the business. Killed off a lot
    of comic books shops and sources, to be sure. I wonder (and hope) that your tour will extend
    to these times. Solid reporting and reading thus far, Steve.

  4. Strannik

    I was when the events you describe took place. Thank you for your insightful, thoroughly detailed glimpse into events that I only knew about from older fans’ recollections and various fan histories. I look forward to all the future installments (however many it would be).

  5. srbissette

    Sam, I won’t be riding this through the 1990s this time around; these essays take a lot to research, scan and write, much less post, and the end is in sight for this revery. Still, I hope you’ll agree by the end I’ve made my key points, and provided ample documentation to back them.

  6. James Robert Smith

    Good grief, documentation, yes. I don’t know anyone else on the Internet who writes as intensely and as accurately about these situations. Comic book history recorded and analyzed rationally.

    One thing that amazes me is that you have all of this documentation at hand and, apparently, well ordered.

  7. srbissette

    “Well-ordered” is a risible term, Bob, given the mad chaos of my basement office/library/writing space! That said, I was able to bring all this material to hand in short order, so maybe it’s not as horrificly messy as it seems most of the time. I ‘sorta’ know where things are 75% of the time…

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