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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!