Boom and Bust

PostAvatar_EugeBecause it goes like this.

At one point before the 90s comics boom, Marvel Comics was a mess. And it spent years, hell, DECADES, floundering, trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle that it had since the beginning of the Silver age. And then, the boom happened. And X-Men #1 sold 8 million comics. And then variant covers, hologram covers, crossover event tie-ins, trading cards, bagged issues. It became a game of how much product could you force the retailers to buy. Because the more you sold, the more money you made, and the more the stock price went up, and the more shareholders got rich. It didn’t matter that people weren’t reading them. It didn’t matter that maybe they weren’t good, or they made any sense. Because when you get a ball rolling, you make that snow boulder as big as you can before the ride is over. Because it can do more damage that way.

And then fans started complaining. Retailers stopped buying as many issues. Because variant covers. Because crossover event tie-ins. Because trading cards and bagged issues. Because Clone Saga. Sure, X-Men and The Avengers would always sell. Sure, people would always buy comics. But the sales dipped. Hell, they didn’t dip. They plummeted. Marvel got close to bankruptcy. It took over a decade, the creation of a whole new universe, an almost complete editorial and creative overhaul, a major unloading of corprate assets, and the lightning in a bottle of Spider-Man and X-Men movies, but things turned up. They righted the ship. Because once again, they focused on the quality of the product.

You can trace that same parabolic curve in any industry that has a boom like comics did in the 90s. Bars that put in stages and PA systems to have stand up comedy in the 80s. The housing crisis. And like everything that’s fueled by greed (whether malicious or coincidental), bubbles burst. Because if there’s one thing history has taught us, statistically, no variance ever sustains. Everything goes back to zero at some point. That’s whether it soars, or whether it plummets. Things get better. The best will always go back to normal. Nothing lasts forever. The best you can ever hope to do is survive.

And honestly, that’s how it should be. All you can hope to do is put out the best thing you can. No, it won’t always be rewarded. Yes, greed wins a lot of the times. But in the end, fairness and justice win. And in the end, we’ll all have to answer for our legacy. At some point, money won’t matter.

I’ve reread a lot of 90s Marvel comics, post the boom. And I have to say, almost 20 years later, it’s no contest. Today’s comics on the whole are better drawn, better written, more fun and more wonderful than most, if not almost all of them. This is no slight to any of the creators making stuff back then, and if you dig into the history (and most notably, read Sean Howe’s incredible Marvel Comics: The Untold Story), you realize it wasn’t really… anyone’s fault. It was greed, it was sustaining a ridiculous boom that was in no way sustainable without the years, the decades of learning from mistakes. Developing organic talent. Understanding why people loved what you did, and once in a while, a gimmick like putting an issue in a sealed bag.

If you’re ever lucky to have something become a big thing. Whatever “big” means to you. Do yourself a favor and understand that it most likely took you years, if not your whole life to make that big thing. And the actions you make over the next few months, weeks, years, while the pendulum might keep swinging towards success, in no way can sustain it. Enjoy the ride. And just keep making good shit.

Hopefully when it inevitably swings back, you won’t be making a third year of Clone Saga. Because then? It’s going to swing back hard.

^ 3 Comments...

  1. Travis Meidell

    Grant Morrison’s SuperGods book is another interesting looking inside that boom and bust. Considering Grant was one of those creators who shot to fame and fortune in the 90′s it’s interesting to hear his story about how he partied hard and crashed hard but ultimately made his way back to continue being one of the bigger creators of this current decade.

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  2. Discord_Inc

    I actually missed out most of those comics since I was young and didn’t have much money. Most of my memories of 90′s comics actually comes from the X-Men TV show. For the longest time those Jim Lee costumes were the ones I always imagined the X-Men in and I was confused when I saw them in something different.

    I do want to revisit some of those comics just to get some firsthand experience though.

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    Mrs. Nesbitt of Star Command Reply:

    My best friend watched X-Men: The Animated Series religiously as a kid (as well as the one from the early 2000s that was basically a 3 season long high school AU fanfiction that somehow wasn’t horrible) and she recently decided to read X-Men comics, starting with the 90s. She was dissappointed. I told her to try the recent stuff because, and i quote, “these 2 guys who do a podcast I like said they are good”. She read the recent stuff. She texted me every 3 minutes telling me how good they are.

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