Return to Glastonbury 1999

The end of the millennium was a strange time. The 90’s had been relatively stable since the end of the Cold War, minus the odd bit of genocide and war and we were all looking forward to the 21st century as after all, it could only be a next stage in the evolution of humankind?

Sadly, this was not to be the case but there was a shiny new optimism in 1999, Y2K panic aside of course. That year’s Glastonbury Festival is something I’ve written in detail about previously, was a bit of a mixture as in 1999, Britpop had breathed its last though bands still vainly plugged on for that last big hit, and although Big Beat was a thing music and youth culture was a bit over the place in these pre mass internet days. So the festival’s lineup that year felt like that with no major strand of music one could pull out of it.

 

 

Also the weather played a part. 1997 was muddy but it’d remained dry most of the weekend so was hard work, but still fun. 1998 was just wet, miserable and muddy all weekend, plus the lineup was poor, or acts you looked forward to were shite. It was a terrible year so 1999 was hoped to be dry just so we could have more options than rain and mud.

 

 

Fortunately, it was dry and in fact, on the run-up to the festival it even seemed it could be a ridiculously hot year which it wasn’t. It ended up being a perfect weekend weatherwise. Warm, dry with a wee bit of rain on Saturday to keep the dust down. Getting between stages wasn’t an issue as it was busy, but not rammed as people had clearly been put off coming down without a ticket due to the weather in the previous couple of years.

 

 

I liked 1999’s festival a lot. At the time it felt like a reward for those of us who suffered especialy in 98 which overall, still stands as one of the worst festival I’ve ever been to in 30 years, and the great thing about watching this video footage is just how many great acts played that year. Hole for example were fucking brilliant, and REM still pulled off one of the best headline sets I’ve seen. Watching tens of thousands of people bouncing at the Fun Loving Criminals was awesome in the truest sense of the word, but there was so many dreadful acts milking out a last few rays in the sun.

 

 

So 1999 felt like an end. We’d survived Britpop and the 20th century with a whole fresh new one just six months away, so of course, the festival closed the final one of the millennium with the general averageness of Skunk Anansie.

 

 

Glastonbury 1999 didn’t end with a massive climax, but just sort of faded away. 1999 itself didn’t end with the apocalypse but a lot of hangovers, and maybe a few computers which glitched a bit. 2000 was going to be a great year, and the 21st century was going to be so much more different than the 20th century.

Well, that’s right for sure. I do however miss 1999’s festival. It was fun, and it was a year where the best stuff happened away from the main stages in a lovely disorganised mess and the future looked good. Fast forward two decades and we’re living with far-right lunatics in charge of the UK, and we’re in the middle of a lethal pandemic which has seen me quarantined since March.

Sigh

Bring back 1999…

 

 

RIP Denny O’Neil

When I first started reading American comics few writer’s names stuck with me. Of course there was Stan Lee, but as someone who was more into DC Comics at the time really there was Gardner Fox and Denny O’Neil. I don’t really know why O’Neil became the first writer I made an effort to follow but in thinking of it, I can trace it back to his run on the Justice League of America and this issue.Partly because I loved The Creeper but mainly because it was a great read.

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It wasn’t a massive run but it helped drag the JLA from a fun wee comic to something more aking to what Marvel were doing. Today it’d be called a reboot. Whatever, it was just a great comic, and run, which made me notice O’Neil’s name at a time when you’re more likely to notice an artists name. And it was with an artist O’Neil was to be forever linked with because of their amazing work on Gree Lantern/Green Arrow and Batman. In both cases, characters are rebooted, made gritter to reflect the times of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s.

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His and Neal Adams reboot of Batman, his cast of characters and especially The Joker, became the default depiction of Batman up til Frank Miller’s version dominated from around 1986 onwards.

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He also rebooted Superman, and Wonder Woman, effectively dragging a number of DC’s core titles out of the early 60’s pre-JFK assassination times they were trapped in. Unlike some of his peers, O’Neil’s quality of work into the 80’s didn’t drop and in fact in some cases improved, especially his work on The Question which is a title often forgotten about when discussing the revival of the medium in that time.

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I could spend weeks going through how O’Neil’s shaped my appreciation for the comics medium. As writer, then editor he’s guided a number of creators through who later became giants in the medium, which to be honest few people can claim to have ever done. The entire size of his footprint on the industry is so large we’ll never see the true scale of it because being a creator in this industry and staying relevant in some shape or form for five decades won’t be repeated. He’ll be hugely missed.

 

Milestone Comics TV item from 1993

Back in the early 90’s DC Comics reacted to the lack of black representation in their titles and their creative staff by distributing comics produced by Milestone Media which was the brainchild of the late Dwayne McDuffie.

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The idea proved to be a successful one initially as well proving that DC were willing to back such a project and indeed, characters did develop a following with Static getting his own cartoon series. It is a shame that when some today leap to dismiss or slag the 90s off, this is forgotten about 99% of the time which can be blamed upon the ignorance and stupidity of those trying to teach history with no knowledge.

When it was launched in 1993 it came with a load of publicity, much of it outwith our wee bubble which is comics. Here’s a piece from the U.S at the time which is pretty good for mainsteam television reporting upon comics back then, or indeed, even now.

Go search some of the back issues down. Barring a few issues, most will still be pretty cheap and you’ll get yourself some of the better superhero stories of the 90’s done from an angle nobody else was doing.

Return to Glastonbury 1997

What seems like a long time now back in 2013I wrote a long piece about my time at Glastonbury 1997. Well, there’s always room for more as some videos have cropped up on YouTube of the BBC’s coverage, which was their first year after picking up after Channel 4 who pissed off Michael Eavis who I seem to remember thought were not taking the festival seriously.

 

The thing about 1997 it was the start of the festival forming into what we know it as today so it was slowly becoming more corporate, and the rumours of Richard Branson buying Eavis out to run it post 2000 hung around like a bad smell. However for now it was safe with Michael and Jean Eavis running it. I have to say at this point that for the first 30 years, Jean Eavis was the heart of the festival as knowing that she’d turn a blind eye to collapsing fences or fence jumpers as she wanted the inner city kids to be there to supplement the student kids from wealthier backgrounds.

 

However, the mud which descended upon that year put off the gentrification of Glastonbury did sort the men from the boys. By Thursday afternoon it was horrendous, and to this day I still tell people of the sleet which fell that Thursday afternoon or watching people in tears looking at whatever bit of art which was falling apart or standing there wondering where their tent went. Sadly the conditions meant thieving was rife, so tents were robbed (as I mention we suffered from that) or stolen completely.

On the Friday though it did slowly improve. An early slot for Echo and the Bunnymen saw us sit on what grass there was in front of the main stage, but the Other Stage was a mess with the stage sinking into the quagmire which meant missing Kenickie, but this meant more time to drink. One of the things of this year was although by the Friday afternoon it wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t hot either so it meant your beers were cold.

 

Thing is because of the mud everyone’s thighs were like coiled steel by the Saturday afternoon so we were all bouncing along like wired kangaroos through the mud.

 

Looking back at all these videos just reminds me of how bloody good this year was, and that how through adversity, tens of thousands of us went ‘fuck it’ to make that year a special year. Of course, the TV footage sold it to tens of thousands of people who were normally outwith what was still countercultural, and in years to come this would change the festival to an establishment event.

But even now it is firmly part of the UK’s establishment there’s a part of it which retains the soul of years like 1997.  There’s still people there who are going not because it’s part of the ticksheet of things to do before university and a nice comfy job, and it’s because we can in our own wee ways recapture the great years like 1997.

Return to Glastonbury 1994

If there’s a year where Glastonbury Festival musically hit a height then a good argument can be made for the line-up in 1994.

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I’d previously skimmed over 1994 mainly because much of it was a blur to me, but over the seven years since writing that post more has returned to me, partly through conversations with people who were there with me and through watching the TV coverage that sneaks onto YouTube.

1994 was a year that fell into the badlands between the burst of Britpop just later that year and the mix of American bands like Rage Against the Machine, and British bands still riding the last wave of the ‘Second Summer of Love’ from 89/90. Contrary to modern versions of history of the time, the early 90’s were a glorious time for British bands who were diverse in genres, as well as their members. Britpop came along and crushed that with its bland white homogeny that it eventually became after the initial exciting period.

That year was a blur because of various chemical substances, but also because it was impossible not to spend that year dashing between stage and stage to see acts. It was exhausting! It also was the first year television filmed vast chunks of it with Channel 4 and MTV being everywhere, so you had to get used to boom cameras being waved in the collective faces of the audience.

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I seem to vaguely remember turning up on the Thursday, pitching in front of the Pyramid (which had burned down a fortnight before the festival to be quickly replaced by a standard big stage) before going on a big adventure. See, in those days you didn’t turn up on the Wednesday unless you were one of the hardcore, were working or you could afford that extra day. Also nothing was on, well, nothing organised but once you made your way to the Green Fields you’d find things, and on the way back home you’d try to avoid the dark, dodgy corners of the festival. Back then there was an issue with gangs fighting for their territory and that spilled over a few times that year, most notably during Elvis Costello’s set on the Saturday.

Being much younger and fitter then meant it didn’t take too long to get between stages, and as I’d basically decided to do my own thing rather than hang out with friends who were happy setting up for large chunks of the day in front of the Pyramid or NME stage. I wanted to explore the site, meet people, drink and be merry which judging by my muddled head 26 years later, I seemed to have done exceptionally well. So the Thursday night I went up to the Green Fields, sat around drinking, chatting, and all manner of things til daylight. I didn’t want to waste time sleeping but managed to grab a few hours before being woken up by the early morning soundchecks.

Friday was all about Rage Against the Machine who at this point were the band everyone wanted to see at the festival, and they turned in one of the finest performances Glastonbury ever saw. Outwith of them, everything else is a blur. I remember bits of The Pretenders, some Beastie Boys and being underwhelmed at World Party.

At some point on Saturday morning, I got some sleep somewhere in the Green Fields before waking up to be offered a cup of tea by a lovely young hippy girl. Apparently I’d ended up in one of the tea tents in the wee hours gibbering like a loon talking about comics with a Tank Girl clone. At some point I’d closed down, and they chucked a blanket over me so when I woke up a few hours later to the offer of a tea I was actually not in much of a mess as I should have been.  I must have wandered off at some point because my next clear memory is brushing my teeth back at the tent.

From what I remember, I spent most of the Saturday at the NME Stage mainly because Orbital were headlining and they could not be missed. Also I was a tad fragile plus I wanted to spend the night up at the Stone Circle, so Saturday I took it easy.

 

Again things are blurry but having enjoyed a brilliant festival so far, the Sunday looked to be a great final day but by now I don’t remember being myself as it were. I was lacking sleep (in thinking about it, I’d probably just about hit double figures. I did however want to see the sun come up and I’d arranged to meet the folk from the other night before heading to the Stone Circle. Thankfully this is 1994 and the Lord created speed so I managed to get my sunrise before getting some rest before the greatness of Johnny Cash.

From there it was a few more bands with Blur being one highlight before the now traditional final night wander around the site and the last night session which leads into an early return home, which in 1994 meant a long, sad drive back to Leicester and a vow that I’d try never to miss a Glastonbury Festival in my life, which was easy to say when you’re young and healthy.

These festivals will never return. Glastonbury has moved on to be something else which I still love, but it’s more curated, more organised and has long shed it’s major counter-cultural aspects though parts still linger on especially in the Green Fields. The more those times are documented before they get lost the more we’ll be able to appreciate what’s now gone forever.

Comic books in the 1990s were awesome

Whenever you read, or more likely see or hear a history of comics on YouTube, social media or whatever laughingly passes for comics journalism, you’ll find at some point some posting in a slightly sneering way about the 1990’s.

For example.

 

 

Now it’s easy to mock Rob Liefeld, and indeed I have many a time in the past because his work is poor (though there was worse than him back in the day, and there’s worse than him making a living even today) , but to write off a decade as the 90’s is often is the sort of lazy, sloppy commentary generally used by comics ‘journalists’, millennial YouTube commentators and people who don’t know about the history of comics.

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Truth is a bit more complex. Yes, the 90’s were a time when bad comics were around in numbers, but it also gave us comics that reached out from our wee comics ghetto and dragged in new readers by the hundreds of thousands. You might not like Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man or Jim Lee’s X Men, but they brought in a mainly younger audience, many of which did graduate to reading better comics.

But the early 90’s especially featured the peak of DC Comics as a publisher with their Vertigo line producing Sandman, Shade, Swamp Thing, and one of the most underrated 90’s comics, Pete Milligan and Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma.

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Even DC’s superhero line wasn’t bad before it too fell under the influence of early Image Comics, and while Marvel saw them take everything they’d built up since the late 70’s when they nearly went bust and waste it so they actually did go bust in the 90’s, the medium was healthy. The industry had problems but when you’ve got peak Neil Gaiman Sandman, mixed with work from Daniel Clowes, Grant Morrison’s Invisibles, Peter Bagge’s Hate, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Hellblazer then their amazing work on Preacher,  Frank Miller’s Sin City, Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh, Seth’s Palookaville, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, and many, many others.

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The Noughties were a good time too. Yes, there were skiploads of landfill superhero comics printed just as there was in the 90’s, and artists bizarrely became popular (including some who were cut out of the Image Comics stereotype)  who had as much talent as Liefeld has. It can be argued though that the latter part of that decade saw the Big Two descend into mediocrity and revamp after revamp in order to push themselves up in sales.

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In fact I’d argue the 90’s were one of those rare golden ages comics as a whole gets that we’re now overdue on. Creators were free to do what they more or less wanted. Genuine creative genius’s hit their stride, while the medium took strides forward over the burning piles of Youngblood #1.  Even Image outgrew its early years and now publishes many of the best mainstream comics out there on the market today.

This is a problem with percieved comics history, the ‘journalism’ it pretends it has, and how people take an accepted vision of the past & buy into it without actually looking into it. The 90’s was a decade of change and upheaval in comics as a whole, but there was also a creative outpouring that still bears fruit today. What the issue is we look at the current comics landscape and see it lacking. Where’s the new blood to match a Dan Clowes or a Garth Ennis coming from today? Sure, there’s some great creators out there but we’re waiting for another golden age but it isn’t coming anytime soon but that’s another blog.

So go back and give the 90’s the love it deserves. There’s probably a whole load of great comics you missed or got put off reading. Give it a try!

Relive the 1980’s on MTV

The 1980’s is when the media landscape changed across the world, with the USA especially changing into a multi-channel future before much of the rest of the world. The channel which pretty much opened this new horizon for many was MTV, a channel which (and it isn’t hyperbole to say this) changed the world.

Many of you and I will have memories of MTV based upon late-night viewing sessions, whatever faded VHS tapes you might still have but really it’ll be what’s stuck up on YouTube. Well that changes now as someone has stuck a massive chunk of the channel’s output in the 1980’s up from the very first few hours through the 80’s and into the 1990’s. 

The sheer volume of material here is extraordinary, and this archive will keep anyone going so whether you want to see the first few hours after that first video by The Buggles, or Vincent Price introduce a Halloween special, or even all of Live Aid then dive in and be prepared to be lost for hours and hours.

The curse of the modern comic book speculator

Back in the 1990’s the entire comic book industry in the US and UK imploded on a truly massive scale thanks mainly to the speculator boom of the time. In short, the industry in the late 80’s saw the start of the boom times with superstar artists and writers like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld coming to the fore selling comics by the millions.

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Things were fine for a while. Comics sold by the box-load as speculators would by double, triple even dozens of copies of a comic if they thought they’d get a return on it. Publishers brought out multiple variant covers, along with gimmicks like glow in the dark or die-cut covers.

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I was working in a comic shop in Bristol at the time and can testify seeing customers come to the till with multiple copies of a ‘hot’ comic, purely because Wizard or the likes had said it was going to be worth a fortune! Of course, this was all built on sand and by 1993 the cracks were showing. By 96 everything had collapsed around everyone with speculators being stung as those 50 copies of Secret Defenders #1 they had bought. Shops were stuck with boxes of unsold stock. The industry as a whole nearly collapsed with the weight of the idiocy of it all.

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Of course things got better and fast-forward to today and even though there’s many saying the industry is doomed (and Covid-19 will affect the industry like nothing else) it will survive because the medium will survive.  But the speculator never went away. In fact the speculator drives a large part of the industry today, especially with variant covers being a trick to drive up sales used by every publisher.

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The problem is they’re driving up prices, sometimes artificially, to the point where comics are seen mainly as an investment and not an art form. Look through comic channels on YouTube and it’s crawling with people seeing comics as a way to make money, which is basically just the 90s speculator market rebranded for the 21st century.  It’s whether that part of the industry burns out what will be an exceptionally fragile industry post Covid19 that’s the question.

And I don’t mind the usual day-to-day dealers making what they can, I’m one myself on a part-time basis, but the issue if overblowing the market which leads to the medium dumbing down (more big events! more relaunches!) even further than it is.  If Covid19 give us anything, it is a chance to reset things so that speculators don’t drive up prices to the point where the betterment of the medium comes waaay down the list to the latest ‘hot’ issue.  Separate the medium from the business and encourage people to read, even create comics rather than just see them as a way to get rich quick.

Sadly I doubt that will happen so we won’t find a good balance, but we’ll see how things turn out as it will be a very different industry after all this is over.

 

A short history of ballast comics

Comic distribution is now in the hands of Diamond Comic Distribution for a large chunk of comics, though other methods are available thanks to publishers like Self Made Hero. You want a comic or trade or graphic novel it’s pretty easy to get what you want these days, and unlike when I was young, a bloody chore. In the UK prior to the mid-80’s, you’d need to rely mainly on comics shipped via sea- freight meant for the UK market, so this is why older Marvel and DC comics have Shillings or Pence costs on the cover rather than Cents.

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British price variants made up around 5% of the total print run, which back in the day of 100k print runs, meant a decent amount of copies made their way to the UK market. There’s a good article here explaining the differences, and it’ll also explain why Cents copies of older comics are worth vastly more than their Pence variants. These copies were distributed to newsagents, so your local corner shop would have the same issues as larger shops like W.H. Smiths or John Menzies.

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There’s an entire blog to be written about the issues that system had, but this is about what still think an urban legend today, which is ballast comics.

Ships have to have ballast, and pre WW2 some of the cheapest, most disposable forms of ballasts were comics, so the first American comics brought to the UK came over in the bellies of ships. The ones not thrown overboard of course, the rest would drip into the UK, but of course by later in the war tens of thousands of American comics were coming into the UK thanks to American troops but these books were still used as ballast. In fact the late artist Jim Baikie first saw comic books in pages which would wash up on the shores near where he lived.

In the post-war years, comics would still come over this way, even when Marvel, then DC, were being distributed across the UK but again, these were Cents copies that entered the UK market.

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You’d also have comics coming over which weren’t officially distributed in the UK, which were of course, nuggets of gold as official distribution of American comics meant you’d be able to get Avengers one month, but not the next and in those days that meant relying upon dealers or fans going to America buying a load though by the start of the 80’s the likes of Titan had sprung up in the UK shipping in American newsstand comics.

So to explain what actually happened with this unofficial supply of comics. Ships would load on ballast with comics being one of the cheapest options as back in the day you’d have print runs of hundreds of thousands, so when newsstands returned unsold copies in the US, they’d be used by ships because they were so disposable. These copies would get to the UK and if not flushed into the Atlantic, they’d be kept on or dumped portside and this is where for us it gets interesting.

If you lived in a big port city (which I did having grown up in Glasgow) you’d find piles of comics, sometimes slightly water damaged, in markets or newsstands. I remember one stall in the old Barras market, plus one in St. Enoch’s Square where I’d go down and pick up imports such as Amazing Spider-Man #129.

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Sure, there’d be a bit of warping but you’d get comics now that’d you’d have to wait years for the UK reprint, plus there’d often be loads (one stall used to literally have 50-60 of each issue they had) of them so I do remember having multiple copies of what became key issues. ASM #129, for example, I had enough copies to keep me financially ok for a long time into the 90s whenever I needed an extra influx of money. My only wish is I’d kept some of those today! However people would go along dockyards buying pallets of comics to keep themselves going, and this wasn’t just Glasgow but in other port cities like Bristol and London. The further away from one of these cities, the less likely it seems you were in coming across such copies.

When I got older in the 1980s and started working in comic shops, these ballast copies starting drying up as seafreight became less used to get comics to the UK. Every now and then you’d hear of someone coming across a box or two. When I was working in Bristol and the waterfront there was being redeveloped the dream was to find a stash of Golden Age, and every now and then you would find small piles of them. A shop in London in the early 1990’s did manage to get lucky with a load which was brought into them, but once the UK’s big port cities saw their docks redeveloped into expensive flats the chances of finding these batches of comics died.

At the same time, American comics were now being airfreighted into the UK via Titan and Neptune distributors, while seafreight comics were still something shops could order, customers didn’t want to wait three to four months for the latest issues to arrive, so they were meant mainly for newsagents until that stopped in the 90s. Again, more on this another time.

These days everyone and their dog knows comics are worth money, so I never expect any collection or stash like this to turn up ever, ever again so anyone younger than 45 isn’t really going to know what it’s like to find a pile of comics on a table and find a literal goldmine. I miss picking up those slightly warped gems that’d fill holes in collections while at the same time stashing a few aside for a rainy day but the industry moved on, and now we get comics within 24 hours of our American cousins, something we could only dream of back in the olden days.

The end of the comics industry?

Diamond Comic Distributors closed a few weeks ago effectively meaning no comic shop will get any new American comic until Covid-19 is passed, which right now could be months, if not longer. This has caused a number of shops to say now they’re getting out the business while they can, while many others will struggle on but make no mistake, shops are going to close across the US and UK at an alarming rate in the weeks ahead.

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I’ve seen a number of Tweets from people saying the industry won’t die and the medium will carry on, which is sort of true but the fact is the American industry has never taken a hit like this, ever. Yes, the whole ‘the industry is collapsing’ has been a thing for 70 years since the Wertham witch hunts of the 1950s but this is something which will change it forever.

In my lifetime there’s been a number of crashes, mainly small ones but the two largest are the 90s crash caused by the speculator boom which took out hundreds of shops, and also forced a number of people out of the industry full time, myself included. Then there was the 2008 crash off the back of the financial crash which ended up being short-lived thanks to the current bubble created by things like the Marvel films and ‘geek’ culture being so dominant.

Detective+Comics+#1000painfully glib.

And now we’ve got a generation who’ve known nothing but good times with the comics they want from the Big Two plus the wider dominance in media who may well fly the flag after this crisis is over, but the truth is the American and British industries are going to be drastically changed. People are losing their jobs, and potentially homes because of this so I find some of the debate from some painfully glib. Of course the medium will carry on, and the industry will continue in some shape or form but DC and Marvel will be even less adventurous than they are now.  And yes, I fully expect a Marvel/DC crossover to have a massive cash injection into the industry at some point.

But even Image will be affected. Less cash flow means less support for new books, so again, they’ll be taking fewer risks so they’ll be a more cautious publishing side, while independent retailers could be rare as many only survive on the weekly new comics to get people in. There will be a good side as some of the shysters and conmen who’ve grown out of the ‘geek’ boom will go, so no more conventions calling themselves ‘comic cons’ that have nothing to do with comics.

Whatever comes out the other side will be a horrible period of readjustment which will lead to whatever the new normal is, but we can’t be glib or complacent or the industry won’t get back to anything like what it is now.