Funnybook Babylon

January 19, 2009

Thirty Year Old Linkblogging

Comic Reader #162

Awhile back I came into a big pile of copies of The Comic Reader, a fanzine/comics magazine published through the 1970s into the early 1980s. I picked out an issue released during the month of my birth (#162, November 1978) to kick off the series.

The most striking thing about The Comic Reader is how much of its content strikes a modern reader as filler: out of twenty six pages of editorial content, over half of them are given over to checklists, information on upcoming issues’ creative teams and other basic release information. Each issue has literally dozens of short items like:

  • Peter Gillis and Fred Kida are doing a two-parter for CAPTAIN AMERICA. (They did!)
  • Gene Day is inking John Byrne’s first AVENGERS story. (He did!)
  • Terry Austin is inking the MARVEL TEAM-UP that features Spider-Man and Red Sonja. (He sure did!)
  • Jose Luis Garcia Lopez has done a cover for GREEN LANTERN. (Right again!)
  • Blockbuster returns in BATMAN #309. (He totally did!)

This, along with straight-up reprinting of covers and synopses I assume were part of some sort of advance solicitation, make up the bulk of each issue. This seems like a huge waste of space especially when you’re paying around 75¢ (more like $2.50 in 2009 dollars) to get this thing in the mail each month. But then again, where else were you going to get this information in 1978? Besides, these news blurbs sometimes offer a hazy window into comic history:

  • You may soon see color stripes on the edges of comics like paperbacks have. The Comics Magazine Association is investigating the feasibility of painting the edges of the printer’s level instead of having the wholesalers deface the comics at their level. (The colors tell the wholesaler when to distribute the magazines.)

I had no idea that at some point the local retailer “painted” those marks across the top of comics. I’m not even entirely sure I knew what those marks were for.

Similarly, it was a shock to discover that the iconic, frequently homaged Uncanny X-Men #136/Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 “Hero Holding Other Hero’s Corpse” cover owes it all to a Lee Elias Human Fly cover:

Human Fly #18 (February 1979)


Sure, I know that David U. and The Black Casebook would argue the REAL inspiration comes from “ROBIN DIES AT DAWN!” but while they’re similar scenes, the composition is different.


Also of interest: shaky understanding of Intellectual Property Law is a hallmark of fandom:

SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP will comes out once a year (according to THE COMICS JOURNAL, this is to retain copyright on the term “super-villain” and prevent DC from doing so).

Trademark! TRADEMARK! And the trademark is still live and jointly held, though there are lapsed trademarks on Super-Villain Team-Up and Secret Society of Super-Villains. But come on, you can’t copyright single words!

The TCR Mailboat is also pretty great, with lots of letters from young pros and would-be pros. TCR #162 features a young Kurt Busiek complaining about the low quality of comics’ letter columns, but praising the “controversy” and “brouhaha” brought about by TCR‘s letters section.

I tend to agree with the conservative fellows, and the more liberally-minded refuse to get their feathers ruffled at my kind of idea. But Roy Thomas reacts beautifully to “progressive” ideas (I put progressing in quotes because comics don’t have to be pseudo-intellectual or vaguely snotty to be progressive, but that’s what “progressive” comics are) and I like to watch pyrotechnics.

Exciting! Not to leave young Busiek wanting, Denny O’Neil contributes an open letter to Steve Skeates, responding to an earlier interview where Skeates lambastes what he perceives as O’Neil’s dishonest business practices and “lukewarm liberalism” masquerading as as “radicalism”.

So in case you were wondering everyone, politics invaded comics a long time ago. Blame Nixon.

TCR allows O’Neil to ramble for over two pages, mixing inside jokes with lengthy quotations from Camus and e.e. cummings, old convention anecdotes and critiques of specific issues of Aquaman. What’s amazing is that these are not the kneejerk slapfights we’ve grown accustomed to in the blogosphere, these are letters delivered by parcel, debates with months between retorts. But even with those hurdles, creators found time to fight!

Frank Brunner was sick of it all, and he named names, proposing a radical solution:

The world does not care that Steve Skeates has chose to live like a water rat gnawing at society’s self-inflicted problems!
The world cares even less that such self-proclaimed authors and TV gripe specialists as Harlan Ellison are shocked by the lack of career orientation!
The world does not care that Paul Gulacy took the time to complain that his covers weren’t printed big enough!
The world does not care that Roy Thomas takes valuable time to answer and justify his existence to someone who might belittle his achievements!
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Sure, in such a small industry as comic books, it takes a bunch of people who are egocentric, all with their little axe to grind, or their own little trip to promote!
There is one physical plane (reality) step that might be taken and that is to organize pros and fans into a solid force to deal with the corporations and publishers who run this business. Once that is accomplished, we can start to talk about the Brotherhood of Man, not the dilemma of a few slaves, and how WE can ALL make this art form better! Perhaps then the world will care!

Heady stuff!

Some pros had more mundane concerns. JM DeMatteis wrote in because he wanted TCR to credit him for the inventory stories he’d recently sold to DC as his break into the business. Kim “Howard” Johnson shot off a letter from the set of Monty Python’s Life of Brian and mourn the passing of Keith Moon. Tony Isabella let everyone know he was starting a comic shop in Cleveland. News came from all comers, and a web of little fanzines was the only way to be in the loop. I really can’t imagine it.

There is also art. I assumed that the art was a collection of convention sketches and promotional shots, and Terry Austin and Sergio Aragone’s covers may well be just that, but there are also spot illustrations from a varied list of artists: Eddie Eddings, Sam Kujava, Alan Hanley, Alex Toth and Fred Hembeck. There’s also a laundry list of rejected fan artists in the back that includes Larry Mahlstedt, Doug Pratt, Mitch O’Connell(!) and Rick Mayall(!!).

Keep dreaming, guys!

Those are your top news stories from November 1978! What else happened in the blogosphere thirty years ago? Stay tuned!


  1. How many presidential elections are covered in there? ’76? ’80? Is Jimmy Carter shown fist-bumping Batman in the Brave & the Bold?

    Comment by HitTheTargets — January 19, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

  2. […] look at The Comic Reader, a fanzine from the late ’70s/early ’80s, over at FBB. The inaugural edition of what I hope is going to be a series is pretty fascinating, and even explains those weird painted marks on old comics. […]Denny […]

    Pingback by 4thletter! » Blog Archive » Thirty Year Old Linkblogging @ FBB — January 20, 2009 @ 5:09 am

  3. I ran into another older instance of the “Hero Holding Other Hero’s Corpse” cover recently.

    Bet you didn’t see that match-up coming!

    Comment by Shapiro — January 25, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  4. My name is in that issue of The Comic Reader? Really? I know exactly where my copy is. I’ll go look.

    (One minute passes)

    Yup, page 33. Amazing. I have no recollection of this. Thanks for pointing it out. The cartoons had been submitted over a year prior to this issue of TCR. In late ’78 I was a radio reporter/announcer and on the side I did spot drawings and cartoons for the local daily paper. That was a long time ago! Now I run and blog.

    Comment by DOuG pRATt — January 26, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

  5. A friend has reminded me that back when the direct sale market was just getting started, TCR checklists were how we knew what was coming out, and who was doing what. So at the time it wasn’t filler material.

    Comment by DOuG pRATt — January 27, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

  6. Did we have fun back in those days, or WHAT??

    Comment by Steve Skeates — July 20, 2009 @ 12:29 am

  7. Yes indeed, it was fun! What’s amazing is that I can’t remember if certain things happened year ago or five years ago, but I clearly remember seeing a splash panel with a VW Beetle, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Dan Adkins, for a “Tower of Shadows” story written by Steve Skeates 40 years ago.

    Comment by DOuG pRATt — July 21, 2009 @ 9:59 am

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