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The Age of Innocence

 

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It is easy to think that comics are meant for children and many people do so. The truth is that comics have always appealed to millions of people – kids, young and old – because there is something magical about their innovative and original storylines, appealing characters, creative and colorful visuals, and smart dialogues. Taking an interesting comic book about a character one likes and sitting quietly in a corner and devouring it used to be one of the most innocent and enjoyable pleasures of childhood and even young adulthood. This trend became big in the 1950s with lovable characters such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Flash Gordon, and Wonder Woman becoming the favorites of millions of young and older readers. It was an innocent time and people had time to lose themselves in the adventures of superheroes who were anything but selfish and risked their lives regularly to protect America and the world from great apocalyptic dangers and evil villains. America was mostly white and the characters in the comics reflected that and almost all the superheroes were white characters. The buying public was mostly white and the country chugged along at an amiable pace and comics did great business.

Comic Creators Started Telling Personal Narratives

 

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The 1970s came along and the country started changing and this change was reflected in the comics that were churned out by the big and small comic publishing houses of the day like Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, and Comico. Some respected and veteran comic creators left established comic publishing houses and joined smaller publishing houses while some teamed up to start their comic labels. They created new characters that they had been working on and wrote comics that were more personal in narration and content. These comics creators were tired of the usual characters and wanted to explore new interesting characters that they felt better reflected what the new generation of comics readers wanted. Some of the new comics which were created were Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Warlord, Beowulf, Swamp Thing, Ghost Rider, and Howard the Duck. The comics started tackling some social issues such as drug addiction, poverty, early death, self-doubt, horror, and violence. Earlier the comics of the 1950s and 1960s studiously avoided darker and troublesome topics to give the readers a safe world that they could get lost in.

Minorities Get Their Culturally Relevant Characters

 

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In the mid-1970s it was clear that the composition of the American society was changing and minorities including African-Americans, Africans, Asians, and other cultures were beginning to have a bigger role in the doings and happenings of America. These non-white cultures were getting into influential positions in America thanks to their natural growth patterns and were now in a position to spend money on products and issues that there were earlier unable to. Comics was one of them but it was obvious that they would be interested only if the characters appealed to them in a personal and culturally familiar way. So smart comic creators started creating characters that would be liked and followed by the minorities who now had purchasing power just as the white people had in earlier times. New characters that appealed to the minorities included Luke Cage – the first black superhero to feature in his comic book, Storm of the X-Men, Blade, Monica Rambeau of the Avengers, Shang-Chi, Bronze Tiger, Vixen, Black Lightning, Misty Knight, and Cyborg of Teen Titans. Older non-white characters that were introduced in the late 1960s such as Black Panther and Falcon were revived because demand for them had gone up and the market was hungry for minority characters which captured their fans’ imagination.

The Rise of the Antiheroes Brigade

Then in 1985, there was another change in the comic universe. Some earlier characters started having increased popularity in the mid-1980s such as Daredevil, Wolverine, and Sabretooth. The rise of independent comic publishing companies gave some creators the chance to do deep personal work such as John Sable Freelance, American Flagg!, Nexus, Rocketeer, Blackhawk, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus. The world had become grim and was a darker and unsafe place where there was widespread insecurity and fear and the comics began portraying this change. The characters began pushing the boundaries of right and wrong and were often ambiguous and there was a sense that it was okay to use any means as long as the end was worthy and noble. It was the rise of the antiheroes in the comic universe as opposed to the squeaky clean superheroes of the distant past. Two influential comic books set the trend for the new darker age – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Both explored stories of deep psychological depth and featured troubled heroes.

Too Many Cooks & Dishes Spoil the Party!

 

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Soon other antiheroes began entering the fray such as the Punisher, Electra, John Constantine, Hellblazer, and the violence-loving Lobo. Even the villains were of a darker and complicated shade such as the Joker, Galactus, and Magneto. Several characters were given an image and costume makeover and reintroduced to the public such as Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Archangel, and the Invisible Woman. There was a lot of experimentation with new and young comic creators launching many new characters and teams and people were bombarded by a huge number of new comics. Many of the characters simply did not appeal to the comic buyers and died hasty deaths. Too many new, weird and unpalatable characters were being created in a race to find the next big bestseller and so many of them were just rejected by the limited number of comic book buyers. While some new minority characters were introduced only Spawn and Venom were able to make a big impression on the readers and the sales of comic books. The popularity of comic books started being affected negatively by the rise of the Internet, video games, TV series, web series, increased cost of print publishing, social media, TV, sports, and other activities that ate away at the limited spending power and time available of the usual comic book lovers.

Manga & Other Foreign Cultures Take Over America!

 

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America was now wide open to the influences of the world and the comic universe started feeling its effects. Manga comics which were a staple of Japan for many years now started appealing to the American market. Canny publishers sensed a huge opportunity and started importing and translating manga comics into English and began selling them with strong marketing support activities. Soon manga comics began making inroads into the American comic reading audience. A company called Eclipse introduced manga comics like Area 88, Mai the Psychic Girl, and Legend of Kamui and made a hell of a lot of money. Soon other titles were selling like hotcakes like the comic adaptations of the Robotech animated series, Ninja High School, Samurai, and Akira. Later alternative comic books were also released such as Dog Man and Guts. Today the comic book market is vastly different from what it was in the 1950s and the 1970s and even the 1990s. According to the tabulating agency Bookscan, the break-up of comic book sales as of today is – Child oriented comics and Graphic novels – 41%, Manga – 28%, and superhero books less than 10%. Superhero comic books are experiencing a sales drop of over 9.6% year after year.

Will America Fight Back to Regain Its Intellectual Independence?

 

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America is in a mess today. Only after the social, military, political, economic, racial, and international relations situation in America clears up and gets better can America see for itself where she stands. That might take several years considering how big and complicated the problem is. The world too is in a mess so America won’t be getting any help from the rest of the world anytime soon. America has to re-evaluate itself and rebuild itself and only then will she know the way forward. Then talented comic book creators and people with fresh and new ideas can enter the comic book universe and make a new beginning. When comic lovers have a fresh array of characters and stories to choose from the enthusiasm for comics will rise again. Then America will have a chance to publish good comics that reflect the new America and not depend on other cultures to satisfy the demands of American comic lovers. It’s an independence that America should fight for. Comics appeal to the curious and young in all of us. If America gets the comics right once again then there is still hope for this once towering country that is now reeling. Comics can put fun and happiness in American hearts once again. Great ideas are festering out there and hopefully, America will prosper once again!

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