Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Thinking back on decades of comics reading, I realize how fondly I remember the efforts of a number of companies that were unable to find enough appreciative readers like me.

When I was a kid, I loved Tower Comics. THUNDER AGENTS, No-Man, Dynamo--these were books that rivalled (and often surpassed) anything that Marvel and DC were doing at the time, and the art was some of the industry's best. Alas, they survived only a few years, leaving behind a small but stunning body of work.

In the early days of the great independent publishing boom, First Comics enlisted talents like Howard Chaykin, Mike Grell, Jim Starlin, John Ostrander, and Tim Truman to produce some of the field's most innovative and intriguing comics. Their star shone brightly for a relatively short period of time, though, before the company fell apart.

The early 1990s saw the debut of Valiant Comics, a company whose name still elicits praise from readers who were around during their heyday. Bob Layton and Jim Shooter were the men responsible for this remarkable superhero line built around a few core concepts licensed from Gold Key. There have been few books as clever as Archer & Armstrong or Quantum & Woody. Alas, things went wrong on the business side and the personal side (dissension in the ranks led to polarization and the eventual loss of several integral creators), and the company was gone far too soon.

The early part of this decade saw the short-lived Crossgen. The company had a controversial business model, but they made it work--their books were some of the best on the stands at the time, and they produced a number of distinctive series that brought new readers to comics and established an incredibly loyal fan base. Publisher Mark Alessi's snipe-hunt pursuit of mainstream market success for his line eventually did him in, though, and the company died (even worse, no one latched on to the good things that Crossgen was doing, leaving those readers with nothing similar to move on to, so many of them eventually left comics once again).

There are a number of good publishers whose stars are shining brightly now--and I suspect that some of them will follow the same nova-like path as all these others. It's part of the cycle of publishing, I guess--being good and being successful remain two wholly different things.

1 comment:

Tredekka said...

One of my favorite comics period was early 90's Dark Horse: Star Wars Dark Empire, Hard Boiled, the first Aliens vs. Predator, Give Me Liberty--the art and stories were well above average at the time. I also enjoyed Valiant, and Shooter's later effort Defiant has one or two excellent titles as well, though it was much more uneven (and tanked even quicker than Valiant, though not so quickly as his third attempt Broadway--or was that his fifth??). But Shooter's "Defiantly Yours" Marvel-bashing editorial rants were a delightful anti-Stan's Soapbox that were a fascinating look at the legal bullying of Marvel as well as darn funny essays on their own. I think Image's continuing success--built on the cynical bedrock of mindless, lowest-common-denominator superhero fare--proves your point about publishers being good and successful are two very different things.