From where I sit, as a professional artist, cartoonist, occasional comics journalist, and comics reader of 50+ years, I see four areas in which the comics industry has at various times gone off the rails: Format, Content, Distribution, and Marketing. Each of these areas has been affected by a number of foolish, short-sighted, fear-driven decisions over an extended period of time, the cumulative effect of which has led to the current state of the industry.
The convoluted history of the various Captains Marvel (and their knockoffs) is probably the subject of more urban legends and misunderstandings than probably any other segment of comics history. Throw in the widespread confusion over the difference between copyright and trademark, and it’s a pretty deep swamp. Let’s go wading!
When Star Wars exploded on movie screens in 1977, it elevated sci-fi out of the low-budget B-movie ghetto in a way that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes had tried to do and didn’t quite achieve. While those two films had the spectacular visuals, humanist allegories, and deep thoughts about the meaning of man, they lacked the slam-bang action of a great 1940s Flash Gordon movie. Star Wars showed that people would go for big dumb fun, and the race was on for the next one. In the years that followed, many studios attempted to join the “Me Too” Chorus, with Star Trek grabbing the high-end market and the original Battlestar Galactica locking up the TV audience. The low end was filled with cheesy movies featuring clumsy alien make-up and iffy blue-screen effects. 30-odd years later, one movie stands above them all as the greatest film in the crowded “cheap Star Wars knockoff” genre: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’
This year has seen a lot of long-overdue discussion of (and action against) sexual harassment, and with it a focus on the “toxic masculinity” that underlies it and other societal ills. In some ways, the world has almost always skewed toward the patriarchy, but there are some elements of the culture that are actually fairly recent developments, which a look back through recent history will serve to illustrate. We’ll start with my central thesis: the modern American model of masculine and feminine roles is a post-World War II invention.
It turns out that everybody has a list of truly bad movies and wants to share. Again, we’re not talking “so bad it’s good” movies; we mean movies more in the category of “drunkenly calling an ex is a better idea than watching this.” The numbingly bad movies that you can’t even laugh at. Let’s see what we’ve got this time…
Among movies that are bad, there are some that are fun-bad, the unintentional comedies that keep Rifftrax and MST3K in business. And then there are the ones that are just plain bad. Some are so bad that sitting through them becomes an endurance contest, the cinematic equivalent of a dare. I’ve seen plenty of each.
It was September of 1974, my first day at a new school. I was 15, but I looked 11. My last class of the day was Drama. I was late. I got to walk in after everyone else was in their seats, so I was completely the center of attention. I made my way awkwardly into the room, trying to look less nervous than I was. One of the girls loudly said “Oh, he’s so little! We can use him as an elf at Christmas!” A loud voice erupted from the back of the room. “I got dibs on Santa!” A big guy was sprawled on a sofa against the back wall. He had absurdly large muttonchop sideburns, and was, improbably enough, wearing a dark green choir robe over his shoulders like a cape. That was my introduction to Wally Oden.