How Boomers Killed Comics

From Part Five of the history of the decline of the comics industry:

“The comics business went into a steep decline in the ’50s and early ’60s. During that time a lot of companies folded, a lot of comic book professionals were unemployed, and so, if you were an editor at a surviving comic book company you never had to train anybody, you knew lots of guys who were out of work. The streets were awash with unemployed cartoonists. So what happened is we had a generation gap—relatively few new people came into this business between the mid-’50s and the early-to-mid-’60s. Around that time a few of us started to trickle in. Among the arrivals in the early to mid-‘60’s were E. Nelson Bridwell, Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Neal Adams, a few others and me. We were pretty much the last guys who got to learn our craft from the older guys–the guys who really invented and built the comic book business.
. . .
“There was a GENERATION GAP in the comic book industry. There were some people in their 50’s and 60’s, there were a lot of people in their twenties and early 30’s, but not enough in between. Because there had been an extended period of decline when relatively few new people came in, we were missing a generation. What that meant is that young guys who should have been assistant editors to a forty-something person were instead editors or editors in chief, even though their main qualification was having read 10,000 comics.”

Jim Shooter, Marvel Editor-in-Chief, 1978

Roll this bit of information back to 1968. The Marvel staff that remained through 1978 would have been in their 40s and 50s in 1968 by Shooter’s estimation. These folks would be Greatest Generation with some very early Silents. The generation gap that Shooter speaks of would be Silents who were generally unable to break into the industry in the late 50s and the 60s due to the downturn in the industry. Greatest Generation creators hung on to the majority of remaining positions. Those new staff at Marvel would have been in their late teens and early 20s in 1968. Those individuals would be Boomers...

Boomers work to undo the Greatest Generation’s efforts

We see in these two titles the distinct generational split between the unified-vision, long-term editor in Stan Lee with Jack, Steve, Don, and the Greatest Generation Bullpen members, and the multiple-editor driven Roy Thomas/Archie Goodwin/etc and Boomer Bullpen model. The Greatest Generation creators took more from the traditional Western Historical canon — focusing on romantic pairings (Reed and Sue, Ben and Alicia, Johnny and Crystal, Peter and Gwen), family formation (marriage and children), forging strong male interpersonal relationships (Reed and Ben, Ben and Johnny, Peter and Robbie, Peter and Capt Stacy, Peter and Harry, Peter and Flash), and investigating the interpersonal relationships of these smaller elements with other family, friends, co-workers, as well as antagonists and villains.

The few Silents and majority of Boomers took the lead on aligning the content of the books with the popular zeitgeist of the current day, moving the books away from aspirational themes of their Greatest Generation predecessors toward ‘realism’. That meant divorce, no marriages, no children, and few relationships outside of the ‘hook-up culture’ varieties. Traditional values highlighted by Greatest Generation creators were ignored, avoided, and eventually derided.

And while we’re on the topic of Boomers, don’t miss Boomer Patrol’s latest, FUNKY BOOMER, which chronicles much the same phenomenon across a wider strata of society.