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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Mostly because I'd rather have it here for my own reference than to go looking up what I said on THE BEAT:

Robert Boyd said:

“The funny thing is that back in the 1980s, I think Gary felt it was the duty of The Comics Journal to cover mainstream comics, and that put him in a very adversarial position. Now the worlds of mainstream/superhero comics and alternative/art/indy comics seem almost utterly divorced. I suspect Gary isn’t writing scathing editorials about the powers that be at Marvel and DC because that world seems kind of irrelevant to him. As someone who worked for Fantagraphics back in the 90s, I’d say Gary has mellowed a LOT, primarily by becoming more indifferent.”

Robert, without disputing your characterization of Gary as such– since I think it likely that you have known the man better than I– I find it hard to believe that “duty” *alone* motivated the JOURNAL to cover. From the late 70s to the early 80s, I can’t imagine the JOURNAL garnering any readership at all without covering the mainstream and genre-comics. I know that the sales may have been meager even then, but who would have bought the JOURNAL in that time period had it avoided genre comics? Leftover EC fans and head shop patrons?

Now, I’d certainly admit that by the late 80s the JOURNAL had started to avoid emphasizing the mainstream, even though the mainstream/indie scene had not fragmented as much as it has today. That’s the period when covers started featuring people like Ralph Steadman rather than Wolfman and Perez. But even at that time, I’m skeptical that “duty” alone informed the JOURNAL’s increasingly oppositional coverage of the comics mainstream.


One quick addition that wasn't relevant to the topic under discussion: that period of the late 80s is precisely the period where I began to lose interest in submitting to the JOURNAL, which I may chronicle for my own amusement sometime.


RAB said...

Your explanation matches what I remember from that era as a reader. Doesn't that shift in the Journal also coincide with the launch of Amazing Heroes? I don't think there was ever any impression Fantagraphics published it out of a sense of journalistic responsibility. Surely it was just a way of satisfying mainstream fans who were increasingly unhappy with TCJ and keeping them as customers?

(AH was where I had my second or third published credit as a writer, but even before that I knew people involved with it from the start.)

Gene Phillips said...

It's true that AH was conceived as a means of appealing to mainstream fans, though scuttlebutt claims that AH was created as a project for Michael Catron, who was the editor for the first half-dozen issues before Kim Thompson took over. Shortly thereafter Catron left the company. Scuttlebutt back then claimed that he wasn't on board with Gary Groth's vision for the JOURNAL.

Sidebar: I casually met Catron at a 90s Sandy Eggo con, but didn't feel the acquaintance was solid enough for me to quiz him on the wherefores of his departure. He did comment in passing that he thought Gary was a terrible writer, though.

One could certainly see AH's 1981 debut as a harbinger of things to come, but my memory is that if nothing else TCJ was still heavily cover-featuring mainstream guys. A month or so back, I got around to organizing my old copies of the JOURNAL chronologically, and was able to pin down a late 80s issue that seemed to be the snowball that started the slide into full-tilt elitism. A few years after the Time of the Big Change, Fanta dropped Amazing Heroes in 1992.

I don't have my notes in front of me now but in some future essay I'll probably expound on where I think the Big Change took place.