Thursday, December 29, 2005

Love Is in the Air

Recently, there have been some articles on various comic news sites about comics from the 80s: specifically, Strikeforce: Morituri and Spider-Ham. It wasn't really surprising to me that the comment sections after both articles featured scores of people proclaiming how great these were, how much they missed them, how much they'd love to see something new. The crazy thing is (well, it's not so crazy) is that these series sold terribly. As I mentioned before, I worked in a comic shop during the time these were published, and they were always at or near the worst sellers Marvel had.

I honestly don't remember either series' storyline, although I think I read both. They were not, to me, memorable in the least.

Now I'm not saying that they weren't good, but neither really made me think twice when they were cancelled.

But people are going crazy about them. (One person said he can now die happy that they had a Spider-Ham cover. Do I sound that silly when talking about my own hobby?) I wonder where were these people when it was being published 20 years ago? Were they collecting comics? And, if so, were they buying the series? Because not many people were.

I mention this because I wonder if there was any outrage when DC stopped publishing their romance books in the late 70s. Were there letters to the editor? Were there young girls weeping at the newsstand when the next Young Love failed to arrive? Even the most popular comics of the 60s and 70s only got around 50 letters to the editor each month; I can only imagine if, by the time the romance comics began to die, anyone even cared.

I think the one thing that I (and possibly you, the reader) take for granted, however, is that we've all been reading comics for a long time. In my case, more than 20 years.

Nobody who wrote, drew, or published comics in the 40s-60s ever thought that they were doing so for people who had been reading them for two decades. They didn't think they needed much continuity in their stories; they didn't think that a hero's origin or powers or sidekick need be there every month, because you probably weren't reading the title 5 years ago when these things were introduced in the first place.

Yes, there were numbers on the comics, and they certainly made it seem like they had been around for a while, but very few readers actually cared what happened before. And most didn't read them long enough for it to matter if stories were retold or reprinted. People didn't know the difference.

How times have changed. (I sound like an old man, don't I?)

If I write an article for Newsarama about romance comics, how many people do you think will write, "Oh man, romance comics! They were awesome! If they start publishing them again, I could die happy!"

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Edit This!

For the past several years, I've been a writer/editor. (Amazingly, this doesn't pay my bills. Can you believe it?) I work in the medical and pharmaceutical field, and in my job I take information that seems complicated (such as medical things are wont to do) and I try to edit and rewrite it to make it less complicated. It's all a very exciting thing.

Comic book editors, though, do something a little different. Today, editors are there to plan out the future of the titles they're given to work on, deciding such things as who will write and draw them, what the general direction of the stories may be, and controlling how those stories fit into the general "universe" in which they live (such as the DC and Marvel and Image universes). To me, this is much more exciting than doing research on cystic fibrosis.

Editors of the past, however, often did much more than just help out the storytellers. They would give the writers the story. So, Julius Schwartz would have some of his writers come in -- a John Broome or a Gardner Fox -- and he'd say, "I want a story about the Flash where he saves the world by making everything full of static electricity." The two would then hammer out a plot and Fox or Broome or whomever would go back to his house and type of the script. He'd return, and it would start all over again.

In other companies, the editor was much more hands off. Stan Lee at Timely/Atlas would gather scripts from his own group of writers, edit them as needed, and then keep them in a pile for when his artists came to the office to drop off work and pick up something new. Not so much control there. Of course, in Lee's situation, he was nearly always the only editor on staff, and he alone had to control dozens of titles.

DC (going back to Schwartz) had it much different. Editors would often control groups of titles. Mort Weisinger controlled the Superman titles in the 50s and 60s. Schwartz had his hand in all of the non Superman/Batman titles. Robert Kanigher had the war books and Wonder Woman. And so on.

The romance titles were shuttled about among different editors for a while, including Schwartz and Kanigher, until Phyllis Reed came on the scene in late 1957. There were few women in comics at the time, and even fewer working on romance comics, but Reed lasted for 5 years at DC, at a time when their line expanded with the influx of the Fawcett and Prize titles that came their way (Heart Throbs, Young Love, and Young Romance). This was also the time when, I think, the DC romance titles were at their peak. Artistically, with the likes of John Romita and John Rosenberger and Jay Scott Pike, the books looked tremendous. The stories were also really emotional -- not too cheesy or silly or immature.

I mentioned that she passed away not too long ago, and I did some research to try and see what she did before and after DC, but I couldn't come up with anything yet. While there was plenty of comics fandom going on at the time, unfortunately none had to do with romance comics, and her legacy, compared with Schwartz or Kanigher or Weisinger, seems to be lost.

A shame.