Sunday, November 11, 2012


 Per the suggestion of the estimable Colin Smith over at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, I recently read this rather thick tome documenting the evolution of Marvel Comics from cash-in on a trend, to distaff cousin of a line of men's magazines, to a comic company of note, to corporate entity, to junk bond write-off, to bankruptcy, to its current status as Disney's latest--er, not anymore, I guess--IP farm.

 And the (and this is a conservative estimate) 2,000 or so people who got screwed on the way there. The overriding take-away from this book is that corporate comics are everything that everyone demonizes them as, and so much worse. Time and again, people on the lowest rung of the ladder get crapped on, and then, when those who are crapped on get in positions of power, they get ground up and abandoned by the machine they'd been feeding.

 Probably the main thread through all this is the story of Stan Lee, who runs through the book being an impetus for Marvel's initial growth, a flack for the company during a multitude of lawsuits by artists and writers trying to get some financial recompense (especially once everyone twigs that the real money is when the comics characters level-up into exploitable IPs) only to be hoisted up by his own petard when he's forced out from even his figurehead position and files suit for a slice of the pie himself.

 Mind you, reading about the constant exploitation of the creative class and the circumlocutions meant to keep them from feeding at the trough can get a little draining, and dismaying if you hold creative aspirations yourself, but author Sean Howe covers quite a big swath of Marvel's history and depicts the players and positions ably.

 Well, except for that bit near the end when everyone's trying to pull Marvel out of bankruptcy and force each other out--that gets a bit tangled up in the shadow play that is corporate wheeling and dealing. You won't get a huge run-down of Marvel's creative trumps (some lip-service is paid to the big ones)  and some of the older scandals may sound like old hat if you've been reading a lot of  fanzines, but there's some fresh bits I hadn't heard before, like the exact break-point when Grant Morrison finally had enough of marvel (and a startlingly accurate diagnosis of Bill Jemas by Tom Brevoort quite germane to that) and a few others bits of interest.

 I found this to be an eminently readable book, and one I'm probably gonna re-read here soonish. If nothing else, it makes the perfect antipode for Les Daniels' Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of The World's Greatest Comics on my bookshelf. Even if you have no interest in superhero comics, or corporate comics, or Marvel comics, it's still well worth a read, as it's a blueprint of the multitude of ways that creative types can easily get ground down if they're not careful. Highly recommended.

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