How one comic collection changed the history of comics

Back in the 1970s the comic book market was slowly melding into place on both sides of the Atlantic, but it was nothing like how it is today. Dealers were still relatively few, and actual bricks and mortar shops were also thin on the ground or part of science fiction and fantasy bookshops. Problem with this is many of the owners of these shops cared little for comics but stocked them to help get people in and make a bit of extra money however one collection turned comic book retailing from a minor hobby for most and a living wage for a few into an industry. It cemented the importance of grade for collectors and made clear how rare some comics are over others.

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The Edgar Church collection was bought by Chuck Rozanski in 1977 and while there’s various versions of the story (spun mainly by fans envious of Chuck’s find) the facts are consistent as laid out by Chuck himself in a lengthy piece on his website. Purchased for around $1,800 (which works out at roughly $7,900 today), Chuck knew he had a bargain not to mention a once in a lifetime deal, Today the collection would be worth $50 million and the last few copies in the wild were auctioned off recently.

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Over the years the story has become myth & there’s many a collection that’s boasted to be Edgar Church pedigree, but in reality they were never of the same quality or number. And although big collections have hit the market in the decades since which did match the Church collection few changed the industry in the was this did.

See, without this Rozanski wouldn’t have grown as he did. Mile High wouldn’t be such an important company as it grew. The benefits of this showed a premium collectors market existed and the profits from this meant that in a few years MIle High would be pushing for what’s now called the Direct Market.  Had that collection been thrown out we’d be in a very different place in the industry.

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On this side of the Atlantic a few copies of the collection made it’s way over here. You’d see as well some American dealers show off copies at conventions back in the 90s, but the UK suffers from having less Golden Age around so prices tend to be higher than in the US so for most of us these comics will only be things we look at in awe.

DC Comics and their dismal, dark film universe

The trailer for the new Batman film starring Robert Pattinson was released. It is dark, grim and violent.

The trailer for the new Suicide Squad game was also released. It is grim, dark and violent.

Then there’s Zack Snyder’s cut of the Justice League which is grim, dark and violent.

Now there were a few shafts of light but overall the picture DC are sending out that they’re all about the grim and the dark and the violent because that’s ‘edgy’, and yes, they might be good but making superheroes relentlessly grim and overly violent power fantasies is just depressing.

Yes, the Wonder Woman film looks fun but it stands as an aberration but surely there isn’t this hunger for relentless misery? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a Batman film where he does a cheery dance instead of punching someone’s jaw out the back of their head?

How did we cope with non-distributed comics in the UK

During the ongoing Covid19 crisis comic books have suffered as much as any industry, but here in the UK there’s some worry about comics not being distributed in the UK while still being shipped across the US. This means we could end up with non-distributed comics in the UK for the first time in over 20 years which means an entire generation may have to deal with what us older fans used to deal with all the bloody time.

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What I mean by a ‘non-distributed’ (ND) is that there was no mainstream newsagent distribution, which is the definition til the late 90s when newsagent distribution of Marvel, DC and any other American publisher ended leaving comic shops in the direct market as the only way to get your comics.  Since then ND comics are now just the occasional thing, so fans in the UK haven’t had to struggle but now we’re back to a situation where comics aren’t shipping to the UK or are in such low numbers they might as well not.

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How did we cope back then, especially trying to read stories where you’d miss a part would be annoying beyond belief, especially if it was an ending. Marvel’s UK reprints helped in this regard but often you’d have to wait years to get that issue you’d been waiting to read. If you lived in a city with a comic shop you might be able to have picked up the issue you needed, or if you managed to visit a mart or a convention you’d find a dealer selling what you need. The fact is even with this safety net you’d miss issues. In fact there’s still storylines I’ve never read all of. Steve Englehart’s Celestial Madonna run in The Avengers being one that leaps instantly to mind.

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So you learned to cope. Of course companies wouljd throw problems at you like in 1981 Marvel skipped two whole months of distributing comics to the UK, so everything dated February and March of that year are ND, which is why otherwise ordinary comics are worth sometimes vastly more than the issues around them. I remember spending years filling in the issues missing, even crap like Rom: Spaceknight.

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Of course with it being 2020 and digital comics being a thing, it is exceptionally hard to miss reading an issue but for collectors it is about having the tactile joy of holding a comic in their hands, though with DC imploding that might be something harder to do in future for readers of DC. So good luck in the months, possibly years ahead. These are strange, scary and uncertain times but as comics fans we will prevail just as we did in the past.

Now off to Amazon to order that Celestial Madonna trade I’ve been meaning to read for years…

The second DC Implosion

Back in 1978 DC Comics suffered a massive implosion of titles, creators, and staff, as financial realities kicked in as DC Comics were purged to the extent where it was questionable whether DC could even exist.  Fast forward to 2020 and DC Comics are suffering a culling of staff including long-established names like Bob Harras being given their P45. Bleeding Cool have a piece on it here.

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I expected a reaction from new owners AT & T started flexing their muscles, but with Covid destroying industries everywhere, DC were going to make changes but this is harder than expected. Also titles are going to get cancelled. As the BC articles says expect the Batman, Superman and Justice League titles to be safe. I’d assume Flash, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to be safe too.  Everything else is at risk. This isn’t that bad of a thing as DC needed a clear out of titles, not to mention some new creative directions but this is a horrible way to enact anything like that.

Hopefully this isn’t the beginning of the end of DC as a comics publisher, but it certainly is a shifting in the American comics industry of the likes we’ve not seen in a few generations.

What I thought of Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics

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Comics biographies can be hit or miss as the person doing it sometimes ends up just being a cheerleader for the person they’re discussing, but in the case of Tom Scioli’s long-awaited biography of Jack Kirby it ends up being needed because if there’s one thing Kirby needs is some cheerleading to offset the decades of Kirby being ignored by the mainstream media.

Scioli does a lot here detailing Kirby’s life, and even if you’re soaked in Kirby history like myself, there’s going to be stuff you’ll read here that you don’t know. For me, it was the World War 2 section where even though I was aware of a lot of it, it really was breaking new ground. Not to mention putting it in context with Kirby’s later life gives it a resonance I’d not previously considered. As an aside I’d also recommend Kirby at War,  an excellent documentary from France which should be on streaming services.

At times the book does screen out other viewpoints of Kirby’s history to give such a one-sided view that critically, it weakens the book. For example, it’s downplayed just how awful Kirby was at business as opposed to say, his former partner Joe Simon, and drawing Kirby as a wide-eyed innocent places him as an instantly sympathetic character, however what Scioli is focusing on is telling Kirby’s story in as much of a way as Kirby would have done his autobiography while setting the world straight. And that really means his relationship with Stan Lee.

Lee is often praised as the man who created, or co-created the Marvel Universe yet comics historians have for decades fought this position, which Scioli does too by laying out a few simple facts including the main one which is what did Lee create prior and after his relationship with Jack Kirby (and Steve Ditko who is a major player here) and the blunt answer is fuck all apart from She-Hulk. Lee’s sole major creation without any aid from Kirby or Ditko was a cash-in on an existing creation.  The facts are that Lee was facing unemployment when Kirby walked through his door, and within five years Marvel had totally turned itself around with Kirby at the very least penciling and writing 8-10 titles a month plus covers, plus annuals. His body of work, and the sheer volume of it throughout the 60’s at Marvel is like no other creative period of anyone else in superhero comics. Ideas would be introduced, used and moved on from in a few pages, whereas today a creative team would milk that idea to the bitter end.

Did Lee play a major part in all this? Yes, he did. Lee’s drive and salesmanship pushed Marvel from a dying company into what it is today. If Lee had never sold comics hard in the 60’s to 80’s then you’re not going to have a cinematic universe and Disney wouldn’t have a billion-dollar money making machine sitting in its lap. But had there been no Kirby, then Lee would have tried selling weird horror tales and giant monster comics. He’d be a footnote in the history of comics so take Kirby out the equation there’s nothing to play with. We know Lee wouldn’t know anything about some of the characters Kirby would create, and we also know Lee would take Kirby’s dialogue and plot ideas and rewrite them often into something lesser than they first started out as.

You can however now make your own mind up properly without the endless pumping Marvel/Disney version of history playing in your head, and now you can get Kirby’s side of the story.  Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics, flaws aside, is widly entertaining for what is a history lesson and a much needed counterweight to the myth of Stan Lee. Now perhaps more people can treat Kirby with the respect he deserves.

Tom King and the apology to Jae Lee

When I wrote about the whole Tom King shaming Jae Lee situation I made the observation that someone in DC’s H.R department needs to get involved, and indeed it smacks as if someone has had a word.

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King has made a very public apology, as well as removing all associated Tweets.

As I have done privately, I’d like to publicly apologize to Jae Lee for my actions a few days ago. I should’ve talked with Jae before I sent a tweet about him that put his career at risk. I made a critical mistake, and I am profoundly sorry. I will do what I can to repair this with Jae, and I will do better in the future. I’m not going to offer explanations because they sound like excuses, and I’m not asking for forgiveness or understanding. I’m just saying I see what I did, and I’m going to try to make up for it. Thank you.
I have kept up the tweets up to this point in order to show that I was not hiding my actions. I will now take them down.

Bleeding Cool makes the situation clear here. Fact is King has done all of this too late, the damage has been done and all the wrong people won’t learn a lesson as if you check online there’s still people saying Lee must have known ‘something’ because they can’t believe some people don’t live their lives online.

But for now, we have a resolution of sorts. The future will tell us how badly it affects Jae Lee.

Why did Tom King shame Jae Lee?

Tom King is writing DC’s new Rorschach maxi-series which is yet another example of them milking Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen for everything it can. Of course Moore famously wants nothing to do with DC or what they’re doing to work he doesn’t fully own himself, or with co-creators, plus the idea of making Rorschach even the anti-hero of his own series would probably leave a bit of sick in his mouth.

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There is a massive issue here of the creator’s rights. Moore has been stripped bare by DC over the years, not to mention this sends out the message that if DC Comics can fuck over Alan Moore, they can fuck anyone over. Of course, they can’t do it without the aid of creators which brings us to Tom King doing this off the back of the dreadful Doomsday Clock semi-sequel. King’s participation in this has already caused controversy outwith the creator’s rights issue, and frankly, the blurb does not fill one with confidence.

“This is a very political work.” he said in a statement. “It’s an angry work. We’re so angry all the time now. We have to do something with that anger. It’s called ‘Rorschach’ not because of the character Rorschach, but because what you see in these characters tells you more about yourself than about them.”

But this is how DC and Marvel operate these days. Things won’t change, especially in a Covid world. So last weekend during the virtual San Diego Comic Con, King Tweeted this.

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The hate group King refers to is Comicsgate, who are indeed full of hateful racists and misogynists, but they run crowd-funding campaigns for their comics which end up raising their goals. They’re awful, but this is still a tiny part of comics even if they are painfully vocal, especially with their daft wee boycotts. The variant cover King is talking about is this one.

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Lee was then promptly canceled. Boycotts were organised, and fans pushed for Lee never to get work at DC, all the usual stuff you’d expect when there’s an online swirl of shaming and canceling going on. Problem is Lee wasn’t asked by King his version of the story until the damage was well and truly done, but of course this wouldn’t have attracted any attention.  Lee was busy dealing with the death of his dog and isn’t on Twitter, nor does he know what Comicsgate is. It appears he did the cover because he drew a Cyberfrog cover back in the 90s, plus as a freelance artist it was a job.

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Which has seen people further point out the fact why didn’t King do this in the first place? Was it really so urgent that it’d not have waited a couple of days til Lee had made clear his side of things. But no, people want blood, and if he’s innocent of anything then they still want blood. For example.

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Lee was not fine. Lee will probably lose work over this. He’ll forever have the labels of racist and bigot hanging over him. People will want Lee to ‘learn’ now he’s been so publicly shamed, but Lee did nothing more than do one cover for someone. He’s not a Comicsgater, nor does he seem to want to do anything but make art, but King has used his position of power to taint Lee which means people aren’t talking about King’s next project in the light of creator’s rights, or any other criticism prior to this weekend.

In most companies, King would be facing possible dismissal. At least he’d be disciplined for what he did to a colleague. I would hope DC’s H.R department move on this and bollock the living hell out of King because we live in a time where cancel culture is real, and people know they can weaponise it against someone, or use it to get likes or detract from anything rattling in their cupboard and an ex CIA operative will have many a skeleton rattling away, and one can only imagine how Alan Moore feels about a former CIA man working on his creations when Moore’s written a comic about the CIA’s bloody history.

So we have here an example of the horror of living in the 21st century. Public shaming is fine as long as you discuss facts after the shaming is done, and if the damage lives with someone for a lifetime well they’ve learned a lesson haven’t they? This is the weird bizarro world we now live in and how amazingly toxic it has become. If I were Lee I’d be crowdfunding for legal action, and I’m guessing the reason King has backed off is he’s now fully aware he’s open to be sued, and I hope Lee does because if this is the way to stop people leaping to cancel then so be it. There’s no point asking for kindness because many of the people holding up pitchforks are those who consider themselves ‘kind’ or progressive, but are happy to destroy lives for shits and giggles because it isn’t just the right doing this, but the supposed left.

And what’s going to make this worse is that the horde will move onto their next victim probably as I type this…

 

 

 

Breaking slabbed comics

The new Cartoonist Kayfabe video features a Golden Age comic being cracked from its CGC cases so the guys can read it and show it off to us as that is the point of a comic book.

There will be people outraged as after all there’s a fee to get the comic rated and slabbed, yet as discussed in the video there’s a controversy as you can resubmit a comic and it’ll come back a different rating. I know of dealers who’ve submitted comics which are mint, unread comics barely touched to get a rating back of 8.0. Then they resubmit it and get a 9.8.

Now, this is all because there’s no consistency because it depends who studies your comic on the day. Also the actual really difference between a 9.2 and a 9.8 is sweet fuck all but because of the market being as it is, that potentially will be worth hundreds. If a book is what used to be called mint, you’d expect that to be highly rated but as said, sometimes this comes back in a lower rating than it should be.

Then there’s the fact comics should be read. Had that Marvel Mystery Comics been slabbed forever we’d never get to see how amazing it is inside the book. It’d just be locked away forever just sitting in a box or maybe on a wall or some kind of display.  Comics are an art form designed to be read, so it isn’t like a painting or a baseball card. Locking them away denies what they are.

And finally there’s the fact the entire slabbed comics idea is a Ponzi scheme. People are convinced this is the best way to grade comics, and of course, for only a smallish fee they’ll grade the comic for you, which then you’ll sell to fans for potentially several thousand percent more than the ‘raw’ unslabbed version of the comic. Add into the mix speculators who can drive up the price of a book on a whim, suddenly you can have dealers who’ve overordered driving up prices, which is what happened in the 90’s and is happening today.

As a part-time dealer I won’t touch slabbed books. They’re a pain in the arse to store and to transport, plus my philosophy is people should read the comics they buy, so more slabs being cracked and more comics being read is what we need in this medium. We don’t need to be swallowed alive by pyramid schemes and speculators.

How we need Superman more than ever

There’s a push for Superman to be black to make him ‘relevant to a modern audience’ and although there’s a few good arguments out there for that, the argument hinges upon making Superman hip and relevant,  which means basically we end up moving away from the idea of Superman to something different.

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Alternate versions of Superman are fine, but they work best when they contrast with Superman himself, but the problem is people have lost just what Superman is and why he’s never stopped being relevant, and in the world we’re in today he’s even more relevant.

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Why?

He’s an alien refugee who can’t go back home as that’s destroyed, but was found by two kind, decent people who taught him how to be a good person and uphold the ideas that make the American Dream something admirable. For him, a little girls cat stuck up a tree is as important as stopping Brainiac from invading Earth. It’s all about giving something to make people’s lives better. He’s about finding people’s problems and solving them be it a lost cat or a deadly alien invasion.

And remember, when Superman started he was beating up slum landlords, speeding drivers and people who lived in the Depression-era who made readers lives more hellish than it already was. Superman’s working class, near socialist roots are perfect to update to the 2020’s, and his message of hope is what is needed in a world living with everything we are just now. In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of similarities between the 2020’s and the 1930s. We need a hero now who isn’t corruptible, and isn’t some edgelord’s idea of what he should be in 20202, so no neck-breaking, glum, grimness but someone who celebrates life and people.

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Superman right now is in a rut. The comics are poor and Henry Cavill is signing on to play Superman in cameo appearances for now as Warners have no idea how to treat the character because all superheroes have to be ‘edgy’ in some way but there’s room for honesty, decency and redefining the ‘American Way’ through the eyes of a refugee So what if he’s ‘old fashioned’. Maybe we need that in the age of Trump and Brexit?

 

 

How we used to buy comics

I’ve spoken in the past about how I used to buy comics back in the distant past of the 70s, but the thing is about that era few people walking around with a camera all the time as we all mostly do today. Today if you see something, you just pull out your phone, and if you want something then you can go online and you’re pretty much certain to get what you want.

In those days you’d be lucky to get the issue you want, but you might get something you weren’t looking for. It’s hard to describe the ragtag nature of buying comics back then this one picture helps show the chaos of the time.

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I believe this picture is from the US in the late 70s, possibly California. The Hulk magazines in the background place it no later than 1980, but there are gems in that picture such as Jack Kirby’s 2001 adaptation and the Superman versus Spider-Man crossover from 1976.  But that’s how it used to be. No bags, no boards, no comic boxes just comics stuffed in whatever boxes they can fit in.

I love this picture and although California was thousands of miles away from where I grew up, this is very similar to me as a child going to markets or second-hand bookshops raking through boxes of old comics pulling out stuff I wanted (Herb Trimpe Hulk’s, any issue of The Flash, Avengers or JLA) as well as stuff I just liked the look of. Prices were never stupid, or designed to scam you like say, slabbed comics are today.  You bought them, you read them and you loved them. Then that mutated into collecting them…

These days are long gone of course, but to have a time machine, a pocket rammed with cash and to go back to buy as much in this picture as possible.