200703191209We’re pretty sure this is the most clueless thing we’ve read all morning, but what does the group mind say? Dick Hates Your Blog says that 70s comics weren’t as influential as some other decades:

1940s-The Golden Age of superhero comics
1950s-EC Comics; Wertham, Senate hearings, and the Code; the golden age of romance comics
1960s-Wacky Silver Age fun; birth of underground comics
1980s-Event comics/crossovers; “dark” superhero comics are born; the independent publisher explodes onto the scene; the direct market begins to overtake the newsstand
1990s-Crap-tacular comics with stupid gimmick covers; rise and fall of the major independent publisher; the big speculator bust
2000s (so far)-Manga gains major ground, overtaking Marvel/DC in several categories; graphic novels begin to supplant the pamphlet format; probably a bunch of other stuff that will seem clearer in hindsight
[snip]So basically: there were many good comics published in the 70s, especially if you’re into idiosyncratic superhero comics, Underground Comix, or horror. But I’m skeptical that the 70s will ever be considered a monumental epoch in the history of comics. Some important wheels were set in motion, but the industry didn’t undergo any of the extensive changes (on either the art or business front) seen in other decades. So maybe it’s not such a great crime that the 70s dwell in the shadow of the two decades bookending it, an island of humility between two oceans of conceit (I think that’s how that saying goes).

Come on now! Is Dick trying to be silly? As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the current comics biz is mostly run by post-boomers who all came of age reading 70s comics, and that era of “relevance” is what really kicked off the Grim’n’Gritty/Pow! Sock! Comics aren’t for kids any more era. Marvel in particular, had a great run that is still being strip-mined to death. Far from being inconsequential, it was the underground comics/”relevant comics/birth of self-publishing that planted the seeds of everything that came after.

If we were going to peg a decade as wheel spinning it would probably be the 90s. Indie comics were better than ever, but didn’t really develop beond what had already been done, and mainstream comics were irredeemably in the crapper.

Or are we full of it?


  1. The problem with today’s comics is that they try to combine ’70s relevance with ’80s Big Crossover Events. And, yes, before I even got to your last sentence, I was thinking it was in fact the ’90s that amounted to comics’ big black hole.

  2. Man, I wasn’t saying that the 90s were a better decade quality-wise. But it’s clearly a decade that saw many changes to comics as a business, for better or worse (obviously mostly the latter). And I still think the 70s will be defined as a decade of aftermath or emergence–pre-this or post-that. When viewed as history, the story of seed-planting is a component of the larger story blossoming, not vice versa.

    As far as quality goes, I’ll take the Underground Comix of the 70s over those of the 60s, and the superhero comics of the 70s over those of the 80s.

  3. Whenever I think of 1990’s comics I weep for all the trees that laid down their lives so we could have some of the worst pieces of crap to ever see print.

    I think the changes to the comic business in the 70’s (the birth and growth of the Comic Convention and Local Comic Shop and the begining of the death of the news stand sale) was more imapctful – then the varient cover, 1,000,000 Wolverine covers-spectulator decade that was the 90’s.

  4. Dick, I think there are four major things to emerge particularly from the superhero comics of the Seventies:

    (1) “Cosmic” comics, particularly from

    (2) Continuity as we now know it—that is, of the DC and Marvel Universes having a complete and coherent history from Creation to last Tuesday—emerges as a storytelling concept, and increasingly becomes an engine for storytelling, rather than a consequence of same. The idea of the superhero-as-legacy.

    (3) Related: the wholesale strip-mining of the pop-culture past begins, with the licensing and acquisition of back-catalog characters and non-comics properties. So we get World War II-set books like Marvel’s INVADERS and LIBERTY LEGION and DC’s FREEDOM FIGHTERS and ALL-STAR SQUADRON, which revive old Timely and National characters; DC picks up the rights to the Fawcett line and revives Captain Marvel; the pulps become fodder—Marvel publishes DOC SAVAGE comics, DC launches THE SHADOW; and so on.

    (4) The biggie: The rise of the fan-turned-pro. Increasingly, the field became dominated, on both the creative and editorial side, by people who had never worked in any industry other than comics—people like Paul Levitz and Jim Shooter, both of whom had broken into the business while still in their teens, and both of whom would grow to be immensely powerful figures at their respective companies. This began towards the end of the 60s, with folks like Roy Thomas, but by the end of the 70s the inmates were well and truly running the asylum—and it has affected the culture of comics profoundly, making it ever more insular and hermetic.

    You want the seeds of the medium’s commercial and artistic decline? You’ve got it right there—with the fan creators, creating for an audience of other fans.

  5. Sorry, left out the last part of item (1): “Cosmic” comics, particularly from Marvel—Jim Starlin’s WARLOCK, CAPTAIN MARVEL, Don McGregor’s KILLRAVEN, and so on.

  6. > And I still think the 70s will be defined as a decade of aftermath or
    > emergence–pre-this or post-that.

    A friend of a friend of mine refers to this at “That 70s Fallacy”–the idea that everything good about the 70s should somehow be disregarded as somehow related to the decade before or after. I don’t know what I’d consider pop culture phenomena specifically attributable to the 70s (but others have made suggestions) but I don’t think the 70s are somehow less deserving of having stuff attributed to that decade than the 50s, 60s, 80s, 90, or 00s…

  7. I think one needs to read comics from the 60s, then read comics from the 80s. When noticing the vast difference, you’ll see what the 70s did to comics.

    I think comics began to “grow up” in the 70s. Editors & Writers were now aware that ALL comic readers didn’t turn over every 5 years.

  8. They were a little vapid (though not as bad as the 80s) but they were hypnotizing. The 70s gave us Shang-Chi and Iron Fist. That’s enough for me. Give me a stack of 70s Kung Fu comics and in 20 minutes or so I won’t remember which state I’m in. I love them THAT much.

    This may not address the point he was trying to make, but I like them. I’ve got lots and lots of them if anyone wants to come over and read a few.

  9. Yeah, the 70’s were the era of the fan-turned-pro. That’s when people like Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Englehart and a bazillion others started working for Marvel and DC.

    Steve Englehart’s work on Captain America is a major influence on Ed Brubaker’s current run on Captain America. Steve Englehart also wrote the Avengers-Defenders crossover, which updated the JLA/JSA story templates used by Gardner Fox and Julie Schwartz for Marvel’s audience; that storyline then became the template for many of Marvel’s big events later on.

    The 70’s were also a time when Marvel and DC had a mini-explosion of characters based on trends and ideas of the time. The New Gods, Firestorm, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, Iron Fist, Shang-Chi, and the Eternals all came from that decade’s zeitgeist, and these properties are still being used today.

  10. If I’m not mistaken, the direct market and the comic book store was born in the 1970s as well. This would be one of the most important developments in North American comics industry history.

  11. Filipino invasion (DC, Warren, etc.), Spanish invasion (Warren), underground infiltration of the mainstream (via NATIONAL LAMPOON, Warren publications, Marvel’s COMIX BOOK, etc.), birth of feminist underground comics, first substantial crop of graphic novels, birth of the direct market and the comic book store, European invasion (via HEAVY METAL and HEAVY METAL BOOKS), etc. Yeah, there was nothin’ goin’ on in the 70s. Transitional decade. Definitely… definitely transitional.

  12. 70s brought the boom of the indie comics that the 80s exploited. Also, the 90s was the decade the quality (eventually) became the driving force of the industry. How many milestone, real milestone, books came out prior to 1990 versus 1990-2000? You only had Maus, Watchmen, DKR, and some of Sandman going into 1990, and then out of the 90s you had so, so, so much more. Vertigo, anyone?

  13. I’m surprised noone’s mentioned it yet–so I will-Kirby’s Fourth World deserves acknowledgement–its influence is still quite broad I think, both in mainstream super-hero comics and in alternative art comics. It both imagined the super-hero as a raw material for self-expression, a genre as deserving of the “auteur” treatment as the Hollywood Western– and reached for a kind of creative independence not previously available to artists/authors working in mainstream comic books.
    When I think of the 70’s- Kirby, Neal Adams and Jim Starlin are the people I think of first-no surprise there. Starlin really picked up Kirby’s baton in Warlock and elsewhere—but Adams contribution–“as corrective to Kirby” (Tom Spurgeon)–still reverbrates strongly today–for good and ill. (I love Adams–his brush and line are painterly and expressive–but so many of his descendants have ignored his expressiveness and facility in favor of some kind of “hyper-realism” that he was capable of but never succumbed to).
    Adams was important for his production skills as well –but also because of his stand for creator’s rights and his work on behalf of Siegel and Shuster. He saw comic book creators as individuals deserving of respect– not simply as a resource for exploitation– and he fought for that respect. That has had an enormous impact in the way comics creators are treated today–the way they conceive of themselves as comics creators and the work that results from that point of view.-And of course, I’m thinking of the good work that results from that conception of the self as comics creator–not the lousy stuff( however you choose to define “lousy”). Anyway–any Neal Adams comic was a cause for joy when I was a kid–they were too few and far between.