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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...

Monday, August 29, 2011


I'm aware whenever I look at Google stats for THE ARCHIVE, those stats may not represent how many actual human eyes have perused my posts. The all-time champion, QUICK TAKE ON 'THE BEAT' BIN-LADIN POST, almost certainly received some boost simply because it had the hot topic "Bin Ladin" in the title. I imagine its stat-status has simply been the result of automatic 'net programs that pick up on anything that mentions such high-profile topics.

The second-place winner, though, is more puzzling: QUICKIE GROTH POST. I don't see why the 'net programs would pay any special attention to Gary Groth's name, much less the opinion expressed in the essay: that the COMICS JOURNAL's coverage of the mainstream probably stemmed less from duty than from expedience. I've certainly written opinions on both Groth and the JOURNAL that are more substantive. Could the high numbers have something to do with both essays being short?

In any case, by way of follow-up I want to amend some of my statements in the essay and its comments-section. I originally wrote:

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.

Richard Bensam stated that he remembered the shift in the JOURNAL's mainstream coverage as earlier, around 1981, when the company Fantagraphics began publishing AMAZING HEROES:

Doesn't that shift in the Journal also coincide with the launch of Amazing Heroes?

I reiterated my recollection that the true shift into what I termed "full-tilt elitism" was more toward the late 1980s:

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.

However, though it's true that in the late 1980s the JOURNAL became a bit more adventurous about featuring cartoonists utterly outside the domain of any comics-fandom, such as Ralph Steadman, I was wrong, and--

(cue Kermit the Frog yelling "Yaayyyy--")


Today I did a systematic examination of what images or concepts had been featured on JOURNAL covers since the magazine was formed from the ashes of its previous incarnation, THE NOSTALGIA JOURNAL. Almost without exception, up till 1983 JOURNAL covers focused on characters or imagery with a strong fantasy content (one such exception being a Kurtzman cover featuring a military battle). The flashpoint for "the Big Change" is signalled on the cover of COMICS JOURNAL #80 (March 1983), in that the main focus featured a critic's polemic rather than a character or concept.

The feature article for #80 was Carter Scholz's "Seduction of the Ignorant." It was not the first lugubrious, teeth-gnashing screed ever to appear in the JOURNAL, but if I'm not mistaken (I do have one or two gaps in my collection) it was the first to have the cover's central image built around it. Two other oddities:

(1) Though it may not have been the first time a JOURNAL-essay tossed out that witless Marxist concept "commodification," it's surely the first time the concept was featured on a cover.

(2) Oddly, given my remark above about how the early 1980s still featured interviews with mainstreamers like Wolfman and Perez, TCJ #80 contains the second part of an interview-diptych with those two stalwarts.

Why did Scholz's essay get the cover? Was it just that the JOURNAL didn't have any art relating to the mainstreamers or their titles? Or did the editors deem that Scholz's essay was of greater moment than a couple of superhero raconteurs?

Whatever the behind-the-scenes drama, 1983 supplies the ideal flashpoint, not least because immediately thereafter the magazine's covers strayed ever farther from the earlier business-model of heavy mainstream representation. Over the next ten issues, covers featured the following:

#81-- William Gaines
#82-83-- Dave and Deni Sim
#84-- Michael T. Gilbert
#85-- Robert Kanigher
#86-- Tintin
#87-- Heidi McDonald's anti-"fight-scenes" essay
#88-- "rating comics" essay
#89-- Eisner
#90-- Al Williamson

The only trend not shown in this breakdown is that over time the JOURNAL did feature mainstream talents on their covers *if* they were deemed either especially talented, especially popular, or both. Such figures included Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Mike Baron, Bill Sienkiewicz and the never-repressible Gil Kane. However, the die was cut, so to speak. From then on, the JOURNAL's covers emphasized current mainstream figures only if they possessed some particular stature in the eyes of the editors. Failing that, covers featured either the talents that one might call variously "artcomics" or "altcomics," or talents who had belonged to the mainstream of long ago, such as issue #95, with a Captain Marvel cover heralding a C.C. Beck interview.

I probably didn't note the flashpoint at the time because it seemed to me that the pages inside did feature a good amount of dialogue about the Importance of Being Genre (which unfortunately usually devolved to discussions about superheroes alone). The JOURNAL still printed a healthy number of mainstream reviews in the early to middle 1980s. The late 1980s would draw back from that practice, however, and as distant as I was from the Halls of Power, I got distinct impressions that Gary regarded even negative reviews of mainstream comics as giving too much attention to The Enemy. TCJ never completely stopped reviewing mainstream titles, but by 1989-- which was the last year in which I submitted anything-- it was evident that the editors had no sustained interest in the genre-analysis that fascinated me. Following my departure, I did notice one critic, name of Leon Hunt, who made some insightful comments in the early 1990s. Not surprisingly Hunt was attacked in the lettercol by one of the magazine's foremost "know-nothing" elitists, Harvey Pekar. I don't imagine Hunt quit contributing to the JOURNAL purely because of Pekar's needling but I assume the guy simply found better things to do with his time. Why bother talking to a brick wall?

I used to feel that the JOURNAL missed a chance to be a great uniter of fandom; a forum through which one might understand all forms of comics art. But over time I realized that was a naive projection. Groth wanted division, not unification: his aesthetic stance depended on the absolute separability of good art and bad trash.
Love it or hate it, the JOURNAL's turning toward greater elitism in the 1980s was far more representative of its true nature than the early genre-friendly years.

But the memory of the "brief shining moment" abides with me nonetheless...

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