Why Comic Books Have Trouble With Innovation and Inclusion

It’s this crazy retail-distribution system.  I remember how shocked and befuddled I was when I first discovered the setup. So that’s why there were heaps of comics in the garbage pile behind the store alla time — can’t send back unsold copies! The late, great Jeep Holland, who worked for Diamond Distributors (when it actually had some competition), told me that, rightly or wrongly, comic-book publishers decided that dealing with unsold copies would be a crucial difference between making money and going broke. Jeep thought this was increasingly misguided since it was based on the assumption that nobody but nobody would be interested in a comic book a month after it came out, let alone years later. (Been great for the collectors’ market of course — it’s why really old comics are really rare.) This also explains why Marvel’s huge outburst of innovation came as they were going down the tubes and had nothing to lose. But also a strong component of why I dropped out of mainstream-comic reading. The rehash mode was impossible to stomach.

R.I.P.: Adam West

Never really escaped the Bat Prison. I sure went through a bunch of cycles about the TV show and the Batman character. I was amused by it until it became a hit. I didn’t like the “campy” comics at all — they took off as I was transitioning to Marvel for good. And though Batman and Robin were everywhere, I felt too much of the time it was merely a new way to say “comic books are junk.” West had a good sense of humor about it all because on some level he was aware he simply couldn’t come up with a second act.

And after time, I agreed there was something damned weird about Batman in general. The science and gadgets were window dressing — Frank Miller was on to something. Batman was, at bottom, a vigilante who had always had a vengeful and cruel streak. I suspected the police department he could work with also included Dick Tracey. So, valuable as they might be, I don’t have a lot of Batman in the back-room boxes. I’m more of a Plastic Man man.

Cosmik Loop Closed By GET OUT

Hmmmmm. Writer/director/producer Jordan Peele got his breakout on MADtv. MAD magazine took off when the line of EC horror comics was effectively censored. Get Out is perfect as a no-holds-barred current combo of EC and MAD on screen. Something has come full circle. Whoo-hooo-haa-HAAAH!

The ghost of William Gains has opened one of the most expensive bottles in his otherworldly wine cellar.

R. Sikoryak’s “Terms and Conditions”

My graphic hoot of the week — here’s the scoop on what it is. I must underscore that there is one game with the book that is irresistible to comic crazies: You go through all 102 pages and see how many artists (or at least characters) you can identify (and how much fun it is to have Apple logos (as well as actual apples) and iPhones scattered everywhere). Then you check the complete list of sources in the back and see how you did. (Yeah, I wasn’t surprised I didn’t recognize Rex Morgan, M.D.) And how apt Sikoryak’s Steve Jobs features were on certain characters — Sarge from Beetle Baily was perfect and Pogo hardly had to be changed at all. Snoopy was marvelously weird. A few of the characters looked quite “off” to me — like the Richie Rich example in the link. Then I realized they were simply from time periods well after I stopped looking at the comics.

I will re-re-read to get a take on the relation to the “Terms and Conditions” text itself, though the largest point, that it’s everywhere and nowhere, is quite on-target.

R.I.P.: Skip Williamson

Ace obit that includes lots of information new to me. I knew nothing about his personal life other than his political activism and he fell off my sightlines after the ’80s. His bizarre cause of death could be taken from a comic he drew. Snappy Sammy Smoot was one of the unforgettable clueless characters or Holy Innocent or what have you. His hair trip was a graphic triumph. And the obit ends with a quip from Williamson that is about the most rat-on exhortation from the ’60s demonstrations.

Guess Williamson and Jay Lynch had to leave about the same time so they could start up Celestial Bijou Funnies. Bet it’s better than ever.



“El Deafo” — Everybody Listen Up!

I just finished this glorious graphic work by Cece Bell. Here’s her introduction to it. 

And here is her website.

Nobody needs me to promote this book. It was a bestseller and won a “Newbery Honor Award.”

But it gives me hope and that’s what I’d like to post about. There were no “handicapped” (ugh word) kids when I was growing through grade school in the late ’50s and early ’60s. They were kept invisible (or, more precisely, were invisible even when they were present) and it was a source of enormous shame. Just as kids who committed suicide were called “crazy,” any mental or physical divergence was the fault of not only the individual, but the whole family.

Shame ruled the world to an unbearable degree. Now we’ve eliminated it in all the wrong ways.

Anyway, El Deafo could not have been written when I was there to read it as kid/young adult lit. But I am proud and grateful that it can be now. I have to add:

I hated the squawk box in classrooms even though I could understand what it was saying. There was something “Students AA BB CC and DD line up for the firing squad outside” about it.

Most P.E. teachers stunk even more than average at what they did. Instead of encouraging the inept and shy into getting more into physical activity, they basically wrote off everybody who wasn’t a natural jock.

The true friends, hard to find, are those with whom you share your fantasies and they know innately what the dreams mean and where they are going. It’s a warm-up for grown-up love.