Ways comics history is inaccurate (according to fans who were there)
Most of history is only obvious after the fact, so it’s interesting to talk to people who were there and find out that our image of the era doesn’t match the narratives we project.
- At the time, nobody cared about Crisis on Infinite Earths because almost everyone was too busy paying attention to Secret Wars. The importance of Crisis was entirely in retrospect.
- X-Men is considered to be THE fan comic of the 70s-80s, but that isn’t completely true. X-Men only became a phenomenon after word of mouth about the Dark Phoenix Saga spread, and by that point, a large number of the crucial classic X-Storylines had already been told. Also, while X-Men was a top seller, that is not the whole story. For most of the late 1970s, Marvel’s top selling comic (and therefore the top selling comic) was Star Wars, which literally saved Marvel from bankruptcy. In the 1980s, different comics were top sellers in different ways. Amazing Spider-Man was the top seller at newsstands, X-Men was the top seller at comic stores, and GI Joe was the top seller via subscriptions.
- History has really been rewritten about Jack Kirby after he died in 1993. Jack Kirby was kind of like Michael Jackson: when Kirby died, he became a god, but before then, people felt he was a diminished has-been who hadn’t done anything good in 20 years. It makes me very curious about what will happen when (God forbid) George Lucas dies, actually. Our culture treats people terribly when alive and idolizes them when dead. Around the Marvel offices in the 70s, Jack Kirby was called “Jack the Hack” and lettercols were often just plain confused when Kirby took over titles like Captain America and Black Panther. This is a shame, as so much of what Kirby did then had creative power…but it is unquestionably true Kirby did his best work with a plotter.
- In particular, a lot of history was rewritten around Kirby’s Lord of Light inspired New Gods comics at DC. I’d compare the reaction at the time to Episode I: expectations around these books were insane, they were called, before they came out, “Marvel Killers.” Instead, most of them were canceled in the first 12 issues. At the time, they were considered a disappointment, creatively and in sales. Someone, I think it was Mark Evanier, said with a totally straight face that the DC Zelazny-inspired Space God Comics were “the great unfinished symphony of comics.” That’s even funnier when you consider that they actually were finished – not in an act of vandalism by some philistine, but by Kirby himself in the Hunger Dogs series everyone pretends didn’t happen. If it was Mark Evanier, that’d be even more amazing, because I do believe Evanier worked on Hunger Dogs.
- Who was the most
admired Marvel creator by comic fans in the early to late 1970s? Two names you seldom hear passed
around today: Don MacGregor and Barry Windsor-Smith. Don MacGregor made a name for himself on the Black Panther revival series Jungle Action, and the adventures of the Beast in Amazing Adventures. Barry Windsor-Smith was the artist on Conan the Barbarian before John Buscema. The two didn’t get as much work as fans liked, because they were in the last decade when it was possible to be a fan-favorite creator and still be low-sellers, since it was kids, not fandom, who bought most comics.