A Lesson from Comics History

It’s always a good idea to learn from the successes and failures of the past:

1960s Marvel provided verisimilitude and continuity to characters, allowing characters to experience consequences that mattered to the story, and thus to the readers. When Sue and Johnny’s father died in Fantastic Four Issue 32, it was a permanent change for them and the rest of the team. When the Thing crushed Doctor Doom’s hands in Issue 40, it was a driver for Doom’s revenge twenty issues later in Issue 60 — there was memory of the insult and damage, the thirst for Doom’s revenge upon the Thing, creating an element of verisimilitude for the readers. This is how readers expected the arrogant Victor von Doom would behave–it made sense and it felt “real” to them.

Chris’ page on “How to Make Great Comics” highlights this formula, but I believe that Chris, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby were on the wrong track by calling it “Realism”. I believe the word they wanted was “Verisimilitude”–it needs to feel or appear real enough to generate belief. It does not necessarily need to be “real”, but rather “real enough”. The scientific jargon Reed Richards uses doesn’t have to come from a real-world physics text, but it needs to be believable enough to the reader to give that impression to the story. The verisimilitude benefits from continuity and is reinforced by it. Discontinuity tends to pull the reader out of the story.

What is clear is that when Marvel was sold in 1968, the bonds of continuity and verisimilitude were being damaged and ultimately removed. With that removal, the quality of the books began to suffer. Under the sale, Marvel was no longer under the agreement with National Periodicals to limit the number of its titles, and that number almost doubled in two years. But, the creative engines that built the 1967 Marvel were leaving or had left. Working within those externally imposed limits may have also contributed to the 1960s Marvel’s sharp writing, tight pacing, and innovative art. The quality of the books declined rapidly with the onset of the 1970s, and this was quickly seen in the sales.

I re-created the graph that is on Chris’s page discussing the Marvel Universe and how it lost its way. My version removes some of the sharp peaks and adds a few real-world events against the sales curve. Note that the Marvel upward peak in 1977 is likely from Roy Thomas convincing Marvel senior leadership to allow him to create a 6-issue mini-series of the new movie Star Wars, which is credited with saving the company from bankruptcy.

That 1968 sale and the change in the fortunes of Marvel are well-aligned, though not causally linked via this data. So we have correlation vs causation event here — but correlation is strongly predictive. Stan brought over 35 years of experience managing creative teams and writing dialog for comics to the fore for Marvel’s success. Notice how many people attempted to assume the Editor-in-Chief role after Stan left it, and were only in the job a year or two. It was not until Jim Shooter took the Editor-in-Chief position that Marvel’s sales fortunes began to turn around. Shooter demanded hewing to a universal continuity for Marvel. Though the creative talent chafed against it, sales improved throughout Shooter’s tenure, and declined after his departure.

It is worth observing that the two Editors-in-Chief who practiced or demanded continuity were the most successful in financial benefit to the company.

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Thursday Arktoons

ALT★HERO: Q Episode 32: Conspiracy Theories

STONETOSS Episode 40: Fit For Consumption

A THRONE OF BONES Episode 26: Bring Me Their Heads

HOW TO SUCCEED LIKE A DARK LORD Episode 2: I, Davos

CHUCK DIXON PRESENTS: ADVENTURE Prison Break 1: Guilty!

CLASSIC BIBLE TALES Episode 2: Parables By the Sea 1

VEGFOLK FABLES Episode 14: Town Pass

We’d originally planned to run HOW TO SUCCEED LIKE A DARK LORD on a weekly basis, but the level of interest was such that, at least for the time being, we cancelled plans for a different series in favor of running it twice per week. So the travails of the Doom Lord Davos, the dark lord known as The Sum of All Terror on Metal Earth, will be featured Mondays and Thursdays on Arktoons.

A THRONE OF BONES Episode 26

Wednesday Arktoons

ALT★HERO Episode 32: Welcome to the NXA

SOMETHING BIG Episode 21: Faith and Skill, and…

SAVAGE MEMES Episode 50: Fear

CLASSIC BIBLE TALES Episode 1: The Two Builders

THE HAMMER OF FREEDOM Episode 33: Stalinist Freak

TITAN MOUSE Episode 2: I Am Titan

PAKKIN’S LAND Episode 2: I Am Paul

CHATEAU GRIEF Episode 23: No Liber-Tea

We’ve added a new series, CLASSIC BIBLE TALES, today, and we’re also very pleased to announce that Gary Shipman has brought TITAN MOUSE and PAKKIN’S LAND to Arktoons.

ALT★HERO Episode 32



Monday Arktoons

SAVAGE MEMES Episode 49: Turkey

CHUCK DIXON PRESENTS: WAR Old Leatherneck 3: War in the Atomic Age

HOW TO SUCCEED LIKE A DARK LORD Episode 1: All Hail!

Today Arkhaven is introducing a new Arktoons series from Anthony Gonzales Clark and me; the introductory trailer is here. The series tells of trials and travails of Davos the Doom Lord, a dark lord who faces the daunting challenge of how to keep himself occupied after successfully conquering the whole of Metal Earth, subjugating all his enemies, and establishing himself as The Sum of All Terror.

HOW TO SUCCEED LIKE A DARK LORD Episode 1