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Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978

af Keith Dallas

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1411,182,350 (3.17)Ingen
Things looked bleak for comic books throughout the 1970s because of plummeting sell-through rates. With each passing year, the newsstand became less and less interested in selling comic books. The industry seemed locked in a death spiral, but the Powers That Be at DC Comics had an idea to reverse their fortunes. In 1978, they implemented a bold initiative: Provide readers with more story pages by increasing the price-point of a regular comic book to make it comparable to other magazines sold on newsstands. Billed as "The DC Explosion," this expansion saw the introduction of numerous creative new titles. But mere weeks after its launch, DC's parent company pulled the plug, demanding a drastic decrease in the number of comic books they published, and leaving stacks of completed comic book stories unpublished. The series of massive cutbacks and cancellations quickly became known as "The DC Implosion." TwoMorrows Publishing marks the 40th Anniversary of one of the most notorious events in comics with an exhaustive oral history from the creators and executives involved (Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, Len Wein, Mike Gold, and Al Milgrom, among many others), as well as detailed analysis and commentary by other top professionals, who were "just fans" in 1978 (Mark Waid, Michael T. Gilbert, Tom Brevoort, and more)--examining how it changed the landscape of comics forever! By Keith Dallas and John Wells.… (mere)
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In their introduction to Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978, Keith Dallas and John Wells write, “This book… is partly an attempt to ‘set the record straight’ by documenting not only the DC Explosion and its aftermath but also the mid-1970s comic book market conditions that prodded DC’s brain trust to attempt the bold endeavor in the first place. As this book will prove, the DC Implosion serves as a marker of the end of a particular era in the comic book industry” after which newsstand sales no longer sustained the industry (pg. 5). Dallas and Wells draw upon extensive published interviews from trade presses during the period in question as well as more recent interviews and reminiscences. When stories contradict, they offer both versions and leave it up to the reader to decide. The work itself is notable both for its place in comics scholarship and for the extensive reprint rights for DC artwork, both published and unpublished, that illustrates changes during the time period in question.

Discussing some of DC publisher Jenette Kahn’s changes in the mid-1970s, Dallas and Wells write, “May saw the release of Green Lantern/Green Arrow #90, numerically returning where it left off in 1972. At the hands of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, the feature had been a critical darling for its exploration of topical hot-button issues but the 1976 revival (now illustrated by Mike Grell rather than Adams) opted for more neutral science fiction plots. Carmine Infantino had approved the update as a three-issue miniseries that would revert to a GL solo series with issue #93. Once she saw preliminary sales figures on Green Lantern #90, though, Jenette Kahn insisted that Green Arrow stick around and he was hastily written back into the book with reader none the wiser. The alternate script for Green Lantern #94 – which introduced teenage hero Air Wave as Green Arrow’s replacement – was eventually illustrated and published in 1977’s GL #100” (pg. 28). The continue, addressing DC’s efforts to showcase more diversity in their titles, “January 1977’s premiere of Black Lighting #1 kicked off several months of appearances by new African American heroes in the DC line. Writer Bob Rozakis introduced DC’s first black costumed heroine – the Bumblebee – in March’s Teen Titans #48, subsequently unmaksing her as Karen Beecher, girlfriend of team member Mal Duncan. In May, scripter David Michelinie introduced the company’s first black war hero to star in his own series: Ulysses Hazzard a.k.a. Gravedigger in Men of War #1. Michelinie had also introduced African American villain Pulsar in Karate Kid #8 and retroactively revealed that Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta was, well… black” (pg. 38, ellipses in original).

Discussing the role of trade magazines, Dallas and Wells write, “The typical comic reader had no knowledge of… any upcoming news outside of what they read in DC’s weekly Daily Planet promo pages in the comics themselves. They’d never heard of news magazines like The Comic Reader or The Comics Journal but the success of the Direct Current Hotline [a 1-800 number DC briefly operated for updates] demonstrated that there was a huge hunger for insider information” (pg. 63). While comic readers may not have had easy access to trade presses, they must have noticed the changing content of comics magazines. Dallas and Wells write, “The body count in DC’s titles between July 1978 and July 1979 was surprisingly high. In that time, readers bore witness to the deaths of Steve Trevor (Wonder Woman #248), substitute Wonder Woman Orana (WW #251), batgirl’s brother (Detective Comics #482), the Earth-Two Batman (Adventure Comics #462), Zatanna’s mother (Justice League of America #165), Batwoman (Detective Comics #485), and Mr. Terrific (JLA #171) plus the seeming demise of Travis Morgan’s son (Warlord #21), although fans knew that wasn’t true. Most controversial of all was the murder of Iris Allen in The Flash #275, ending her 13-year marriage to the Scarlet Speedster as Cary Bates raced into Marvel-style melodrama with new editor Russ Andru” (pg. 110). This was partly attributable to the rise of Direct Sales.

Addressing the rise of the Direct Sales Market, Dallas and Wells write, “One drawback of the Direct Sales alternative was unscrupulous dealers who were profiting off returns on the supposedly unreturnable comic books. Marvel responded in 1979 by distinguishing its comics shop editions with a diamond symbol around the issue number and price, something it previously done [sic] with issues packaged by Western Publishing in 1977 and 1978” (pg. 114). Despite this drawback, “As the 1980s progressed, New Teen Titans soon had plenty of competition for DC’s fan-favorite titles. Roy Thomas’s All-Star Squadron was an early contender as was Levitz’s own Legion of Super-Heroes (with Keith Giffen). Titles became progressively more daring, whether in the adult themes of Camelot 3000 or the upending of DC’s very history in Crisis On Infinite Earths, encouraging entirely new interpretations of the publisher’s most recognizable heroes. With each passing year, the dying newsstand business model was less relevant” (pg. 124). They conclude, “Thanks to the Direct Sales comic book retailers, DC and Marvel were able to take risks in ways that never could have been done on the newsstand. As the price of the standard newsprint comic book rose to 60¢, then 75¢, and finally $1.00 over the course of the 1980s, publishers were successfully marketing select ongoing titles exclusively to comic book shops on heavy, white paper. The hypothetical $1.25 comic book on better paper that Paul Levitz described in 1977 was reality in the 1983 Direct Market” (pg. 125).

Those seeking a more traditional history may not like this collection of primary sources, but for the historian of comics or those who want to hear what people had to say in this critical period, it’s an invaluable resource. ( )
1 stem DarthDeverell | Oct 5, 2019 |
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Things looked bleak for comic books throughout the 1970s because of plummeting sell-through rates. With each passing year, the newsstand became less and less interested in selling comic books. The industry seemed locked in a death spiral, but the Powers That Be at DC Comics had an idea to reverse their fortunes. In 1978, they implemented a bold initiative: Provide readers with more story pages by increasing the price-point of a regular comic book to make it comparable to other magazines sold on newsstands. Billed as "The DC Explosion," this expansion saw the introduction of numerous creative new titles. But mere weeks after its launch, DC's parent company pulled the plug, demanding a drastic decrease in the number of comic books they published, and leaving stacks of completed comic book stories unpublished. The series of massive cutbacks and cancellations quickly became known as "The DC Implosion." TwoMorrows Publishing marks the 40th Anniversary of one of the most notorious events in comics with an exhaustive oral history from the creators and executives involved (Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, Len Wein, Mike Gold, and Al Milgrom, among many others), as well as detailed analysis and commentary by other top professionals, who were "just fans" in 1978 (Mark Waid, Michael T. Gilbert, Tom Brevoort, and more)--examining how it changed the landscape of comics forever! By Keith Dallas and John Wells.

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