A Passing Thought

I’m struggling with an idea that popped into my head a few weeks back, when thinking about work stuff. Namely: did the comic industry secretly peak in the late 1980s and we didn’t notice?

There are, of course, any number of things to truly appreciate about the comics industry today that didn’t exist back then — things like webcomics, the success and scale of the manga audience and how disconnected it is from what used to be called the “mainstream” of superhero comics, crowdfunding and how creates an opportunity for work that wouldn’t otherwise be funded — and I don’t mean to discount those things fully, nor ignore the shift in publishing opportunities provided by the bookstore market. And yet…

And yet, I think about the number of independent publishers of the late ‘80s that just don’t exist anymore; I think about a breadth of subject matter that I feel isn’t really published inside the “official” publishing industry for the most part, and how the bigger publishers were ultimately more willing to experiment on a regular basis in a way that they just don’t anymore. It’s not just that no-one could really imagine DC publishing Angel Love today, it’s that there’s nothing at Marvel even approaching the attitude of Epic, no Harrier Comics or Eclipse or anything even close to it.

All of this was in my head as I saw someone on BlueSky complaining that, without that 1990s mainstay Wizard Magazine, there’s no central hub of fandom to pull readers to more obscure works, and I got to thinking, remember when there was Speakeasy magazine, or The Comics Journal covered everything and believed that readers would be as curious about Don Rosa as they were Steve Gerber?

I’m romanticizing the past, of course, ignoring the patience for mediocrity and homogeneous creative talent for the most part in doing so, but… there’s something in there that sticks around in my head as if it’s some secret truth. Did comics have their heyday decades ago, and it’s taken me this long to notice?

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