Wizard magazine and the 90’s speculator boom

The 1990s now seem like a Golden Age  The Cold War was over and the sheer insanity of the post 911 world was far, far away. For comics the decade started with an explosion as Marvel had found themselves a handful of creators including Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Erik Larsen who were able to draw in hundreds of thousands of sales while expanding the market. By the time these creators create Image Comics people normally making money off the stock market were buying hundreds of copies of Spawn #1 in the hope that one day they’ll make millions off them.

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Marvel and DC tried to catch up, and other new companies jumped onto the bandwagon throwing money around like water to cash in because this wasn’t going to end right? Like any bubble though, it was due to burst and when it did lots of people from publishers to retailers to speculators to ordinary fans. When the shit hit, it didn’t spare anyone. By 1995 the party was well and truely over but was there one thing that helped drive this insanity?

Sort of. Wizard Magazine certainly has some blood on its hands.

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Wizard was a mix of articles, interviews and art but really it was about the price guide it published each issues of ‘hot’ comics. From 1991 to 2011 it pushed out some, well, awful content, as well as pushing out all the ‘hot’ comics you could swallow. In reality Wizard was a sewer which helped bloat the industry to the point where certain books were selling for vastly over-inflated prices purely off the back of a Wizard mention.

Take one book, Rai #3. Today it’s a 15 buck book but realistically you’ll be lucky to get more than a few quid for it. Back in 1993 it was 50 quid plus partly because of low distribution, but mainly because Wizard told people it was a ‘hot’ book.

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In fact Valiant Comics were overall heavily pushed, but so was Image to the extent where Wizard and Image were ridicuously close in the early years and people literally were buying dozens of copies of comics hoping they’d be worth money but are now barely worth 50p.

Wizard gamed the market  which is bad enough, but people working for Wizard also advertised their comic shops in the magazine, so they’d push issues in articles with a handy ad on the facing page selling these comics for an ‘exclusive’ price. Effectively it was a con and they got away with it even after the bubble burst in the mid 90s. The damage however lasts until today, but thousands of shops went burst not including companies and even though DC made it through thanks partly to having what seems now to be an amazingly diverse series of books; Marvel were fucked. They’d went from bathing in cash in 1990 to the verge of bankruptcy in less than a decade. Everything that could be sold was trying to be sold (one of the reasons Marvel/Disney have an issue with film right lies in this time), and job losses were rife in the company. They managed to just turn things round starting in 1999 but the revious half decade was by now scattered with casualties as speculators deserted as fast as they came.

I saw dealers vanish between conventions/marts at the time. Stories of people making huge punts on runs of Valiant and Image meant when the shit hit, that they’d maybe at best get a third of their investement back. People coming to cons selling what they though was a valuble collection ended up being burned and there were piles and piles of unsold comics in warehouses everywhere.

The reason this comes to mind is because of the excellent YouTube channel Cartoonist Kayfabe (who are Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg) talking about Wizard, and this video especially where they cover their dubious business practises.

I’d recommend watching those Kayfbabe videos about WIzard as they are an amazing document of a time in comics where a new comic could literally be worth four or five times the cover price, maybe more, within days of release. I mean, we’ve learned our lesson now and we’d never do that again.

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50 years of Woodstock

Half a century ago the modern idea of a music festival was born with Woodstock. Sure, there’d been festivals before in the US, and in the UK which sort of looked like the modern festival but Woodstock wrote the book.

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No Woodstock, no Bath Blues Festival and no Glastonbury. Reading Festival wouldn’t have become what it did, and the entire free festival scene of the 70s to mid-90s wouldn’t have existed. Music over the last 50 years would have sounded very different indeed.

Of the even itself we have endless testimony from the half million or so that attended the festival, but we also have one of the best documentaries ever made with Michael Wadleigh’s extraordinary Woodstock.

Thing is I find most of the music tired and deeply, deeply of its time but then a Janis Joplin comes on, or Sly Stone or  Jimi Hendrix who did this wonderful act of subversion.

For a while it seemed the entire hippie movement got it right and the establishment lost, which of course it did. Establishments’ change and shift slowly from one generation to the next, but the hippies could only go so far, and anyhow, once Charles Manson and Altamont happened, the hippie dream was skewered not to mention by 1970 the hippie was fully absorbed into the mainstream to be marketed to like any other demographic.

Woodstock itself turned into myth but truth is it seems to have happened more by accident than plan as subsequent attempts to revive it in years since with varying results. Woodstock 99 is generally considered to be a complete disaster and is now the subject of a fascinating podcast, Break Stuff. Attempts to hold a 50th anniversary concert this weekend failed which is probably for the best.  Preserving what was done 50 years ago is more important than a cash grab featuring acts who couldn’t care less about the history or the ideology.

And it’s best it does stay wrapped in myth. The grim realities of half a million people needing a shite does not make for golden memories, so let it stay undamaged as some bit of history that helped shape the following half century ways the hippies there that weekend could never have wished for in their wildest dreams.

Unsung heroes of British comics

The history of British comics tends to follow a certain path. DC Thompson’s titles before the war, The Eagle in the 50’s with the usual references to Dan Dare as well as a quick mention of boys and girls comics in the 60’s and early 70’s.

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From the 70′, it’s a quick dive into Action before 2000AD, and  how that comic single handed changed things forever.

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Next comes the ”British invasion” of American comics lead by Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons and followed by many, many more.

sotst21A quick dive into comics like Crisis, Deadline and Toxic! back in the UK before things just dribble to an end and all the usual names (who all thoroughly deserve their place in history and in the sun)  before being wrapped up in a nice bow.toxic!1

But there’s dozens, probably hundreds, of people who’ve spent part, or much of their lives to kicking off, promoting and expanding the comics scene in the UK who are ignored or just wiped from history depending upon who is telling the story. And to make it clear everyone, myself included, who has written anything about the history of UK comics has done this at least once but there’s a way modern history is being written that’s missing out folk and considering many of these people are getting older, or dead, it’ll be hard to get them to rewrite history when most comic journalists (and often that’s a useless term) rely purely upon Wikipedia.

So think of people like Bob Napier and Steve Montgomery who helped carve out a Glasgow comics scene in the first place, or Paul Hudson who owned Comic Showcase in London and provided an alternative to the increasingly corporate Forbidden Planet, or Martin Skidmore who helped so many people break into the industry or Pete Stephenson who almost single handedly ensured DC Comics got widespread newsagent distribution in the 1980s at a time when the market exploded.

These are just people off the top of my head. There’s dozens more out there and I’ll be expanding upon them in future blogs but remember the people who fell through the cracks of history.

A small return to Glastonbury 2002

2002 is a weird year. 9/11 had happened but the aftershocks hadn’t fully kicked in, while the idea of a Tory government ever happening again was laughable due to a Labour government which was doing a job (insert how well of a job here as by 2002 I was done with them) than the Tories could though history has now shown they were writing cheques to be cashed in the present of today. The 21st century hadn’t really kicked in yet while UK culture was in a flux with the 90s still casting a shadow as there wasn’t really a developed idea of where things were going.

Which brings me back to the Glastonbury Festival of 2002. This was the first year back after the massive year which was 2000, and the first of the superfence which did its job so well that the festival felt quieter than it’s ever felt to me. Still busy and frantic but there were chunks of open space and room to move. Compared with 2019’s frenetic crowds it felt so bare but this and 2003 are the transition years of the festival as a meeting of the British alternative to something of the establishment because by the time Paul McCartney rocks up to play in 2004 you can’t really hide what you’ve become and where you’re going.

So I feel a massive fondness for 2002. It’s one of the last festivals I did myself over a beautiful weekend where it seemed the sun would always shine and things could only get better.

Imagine my joy then at YouTube’s algorithm spitting the video below at me. It really is a delight to see this raw footage to remind me of how the festival was, and how I forgot writing about previously about seeing Richie Havens being fucking brilliant or just how nice everyone was even though the lineup wasn’t one of the greatest it was one of the best years for the festival. There’s never going to be a year like it ever again so sit, watch and soak up a piece of history.

50 years of a man on the Moon

50 years ago Neil Armstrong and Buzz Adrin walked on the Moon making them the first human beings to ever set foot on a body other than the Earth. Since the end of the Apollo programme there’s been occasional teases that maybe we’ll go back and beyond but til now humanity has been having to deal with the fact manned space travel is not a politically popular thing due to the cost. But with private companies moving in, not to mention a genuine international move towards working together to push us off Earth to the Moon it looks as if this time we may actually go back.

As I grew up in the wake of the landing and pushed on by things like Booke Bond’s Race into Space card set as well as science fiction made me think that by the time I turned into a teenager in the 80’s that we’d have bases on the Moon, maybe Mars, and pushing into the solar system. We didn’t.

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So here we are looking back at what three men (Mike Collins being the man who went to the Moon but never set foot on it) and tens of thousands of scientists, astronomers, engineers, and just about every profession you can imagine did to  put man on the Moon.

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One major memory of my childhood wasn’t the landing itself as I was too young, though I do remember some other landings. No, it was 1979’s The Space Movie which I adored.

We now have YouTube and the enormous resource that it has become so we get access to glorious documentaries like this.

Or the great James Burke presenting this tenth anniversary programme.

Life and history changed then. We should have become an outward, space-faring race that cared for its home planet instead of what we did become however there’s a spark of hope with the genuine joy and awe of this 50th anniversary.

I won’t be alive by the 100th anniversary but I hope humanity looks back at this one as a turning point as we reached to the Moon and beyond.

The second greatest thing Buzz Aldrin has ever done.

Buzz Adrin is rightfully famous for being the second person to step foot on the Moon. For years though he’s had to suffer various conspiracy wankers trying to deny him, and indeed humanity, the nature of his feat.

With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing coming, here’s a reminder of the second greatest thing Buzz ever did. Confronted by yet another Moon landing denier he acts like most of us would act if we’d had most of our lives dealing with these type of people.

Good on you Buzz!

What I thought of Hey Kids! Comics!

The other day at work I was waiting to grab myself a coffee when I was standing behind someone with an Iron Man mug. I recognised the design to having being inspired by Steve Ditko’s version of the Iron Man armour. In those seconds I stood there watching my cup fill I wondered just how much income Ditko lost over the decades because he was ripped off by an industry which still sees the creator as a minor part of what is a sausage machine grinding out product and associated merchandising.

Then I got home and the last issue of Howard Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! was sitting there to be read and it ended up being just the scream of primal rage for creators shafted by the industry.

Hey Kids! Comics! draws its title from the innocent blurb American newstands used to lure children into buy in decades past.

Thing is as one gets older you hear more about how the Marvel Bullpen wasn’t making Jack jolly, or how creators would be dumped in the gutter, and that’s where the comic opens as the analogue for Jerry Siegel (who along with co-creator Joe Schuster was royally shafted by National/DC over the rights and profits from Superman) living virtually as a down and out as he joins the crowds at the opening of the Superman (called Powerhouse here) musical.  

From this grim, bleak opening Chaykin tells the history of comics through three people, Ted Whitman, Ray Clarke, and Benita Heindel who travel down the decades from the 40s til their deaths in the early years of the 21st century when comics as an industry has transformed into a billion dollar one, but has remained a breeding ground for bastards and con-artists. Though to be fair the amount of actual gangsters in the industry has fallen of late.

Using these analogues, Chaykin tells a lot of those stories you only hear in convention bars, or the occasional critical book on the industry and some of the incidents in these five issues are familiar ones to those of us who know bits of the industry’s history so things like Mort Weisinger’s legendary cruelty through to Stan Lee sitting the the office waiting for Jack Kirby’s work to turn up because his creative role was at best, minimal. This book is not for those who see the industry on a purely surface level or those who canonise the superhero as the pinnacle of the medium.

But Hey Kids! Comics! for all the cynicism, bitterness, hate and bile recounted in these stories has a love for the medium as the core of the book. It just says that people involved in the industry were crooks, racists and bastards but the industry itself is full of people who believe there’s a future for the medium beyond superhero stories. This is a book for those of us who love the medium but want to deal with the awfulness of the history of the industry at the same time so it makes an often harsh read as after all, we want to cling onto our childhood heroes. This comic will see people many see as heroes being portrayed as somewhat less than that (the fact issue five came out not long after Stan Lee’s death adds an extra thrill to it) but these stories are an essential part of the history of the industry. They need to be told because if they don’t the next Steve Ditko is going to see his work made into mugs to help make corporations money while they get fuck all.