By Beau Smith
Where Were You In 1995?
I know where I was. I was VP of sales and marketing for Image Comics and Todd McFarlane Productions. I was writin’ Guy Gardner: Warrior, a few other things at DC Comics, some Spawn stuff, Parts Unknown, a couple of business columns for Wizard, Hero Illustrated and a couple of other magazines. I was also right here at the ever manly Flying Fist Ranch doin’ what I do best? bein’ all I can be and getting’ away with it.
What was the comic book business doin’ ten years ago?
Well, Marvel Comics was busy tryin’ their best to shoot themselves in the foot and any other appendage that got within the pattern of buckshot they were blindly blastin’. They had just bought Heroes World Distribution. That act sped up the crater-sized hole of crummy sales that we, the comic book industry, are still tryin’ to climb out of.
Marvel was still the cock of the market share walk at this time. But like the former boxer Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, they were in the process of makin’ themselves bleed, money, talent and ideas until there would be nothin’ left but a possible husk of what they used to be. At a time when they should’ve been fightin’ until they were the last man standin’ they were lookin’ for a nice clean place on the canvas to lay down and curl up on. It doesn’t matter how fast a car can go, if there driver behind the wheel can’t steer then you’re never gonna win the race. Good thing they had a pit stop and changed drivers.
At the time here were just some of the talent swimmin’ in the Marvel talent pool: Len Kaminski, Ashley Wood, Joe Bennett, Peter David, Ron Lim, Warren Ellis, Howard Mackie, Keith Pollard, Liam Sharp, Todd DeZago, Steven Butler, Mark Bagley, J.M. DeMatteis, John Romita, Jr., Tom Lyle, Terry Austin, Scott Lobdell, Jeph Loeb, Joe Maduerira, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Smith, Steve Epting, Ian Edgington, Dan Slott, Chris Bachalo, Ian Churchill, Ken Lashely, Steve Skroce, Larry Hama, Chuck Dixon, Mike Deodato, and many more that are either still in the business or out knockin’ off liquor stores. Any names bring back fond memories?
DC Comics was doin’ business as usual. Batman was their king of sales at the time. Just ask em’, that’s what they would’ve told ya. One of those open wound suckin’ Batman movies was out or about to be. I think it was the smelly one called Batman Forever. Who can forget Sovereign Seven? DC was pushin’ that one in a BIG way. Big as in tryin’ to push a fat lady up a ladder. My very good friend Dwayne Turner was the artist on that book.
I never let him forget it.
Superman wasn’t doin’ as well as he is today. Well? his sales were better, but he just wasn’t a popular as he seems to be now. Which would you rather be rich or popular. The credit card company I owe money to says “Rich.” I gotta agree with them on this one.
Some of the creators workin’ for DC at the time were Denny O’Neil, Doug Moench, Alan Grant, Chuck Dixon, Dan Jurgens, Jim Balent, Mike Wieringo, Tony Isabella, Karl Kesel, Peter David, William Messner-Loebs, Ron Marz, Marv Wolfman, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, John Ostrander, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Gordon Purcell, and other very talented people. Some of these fine folks are still workin’at DC and in comics. Some aren’t. Any of em’ your favorites?
The industry was still in the middle of the “False Bottom” 90s. Former tradin’ card speculators were still pickin’ off meat from the body of comics. Sales for bags and boards were at an all time high as multiple copies of various Image and Acclaim/Valiant comics were bein’ bought and stored away. Those same issues have gone from bein’ stored in someone’s safety deposit box to your local comic shops’ 4-for-a-dollar box. Acclaim/Valiant had such memory lane books such as TimeWalker, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, X-O Man Of War, Visitor, and Solar, Man Of The Atom. Most of the creators for Acclaim/Valiant were former DC Comics creators. Joe Quesada was even there for a while. Everybody had a job.
The bag and board that held Acclaim/Valiant Comics soon gave away as the bottom fell out and they were out of business.
Image Comics was a whole different animal 10 years ago. I should know. I was there. Most of the original Image owners were still there? Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld , Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino. Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Shadowhawk, Savage Dragon, Cyber Force, Youngblood and many other flagship comics were still afloat. Their other titles that ya might remember? Newmen, Bloodstrike, Strykeforce, Backlash, Gen 13, Freak Force, The Regulators, Knightmare, Shaman’s Tears, other books you may or may not miss.
To this day I still say that if the Image owners could have really been compadres and learned to work together they could’ve been one of the biggest muscles to ever flex in entertainment. But, there wasn’t enough Viagra and string to keep these boys hard. I wish they could’ve. I made good money and enjoyed workin’ with so many of the people there. It was too bad that the inmates never got to run that asylum. I think with less mouth and more ears it could’ve really worked to it’s potential and beyond.
It’s pretty well publicized where everybody from Image is today as far as the owners and former owners. Some are still hangin’ in there, some are gone and some have stayed too long at the fair. Here are some of the creators that were workin’ at Image in 1995: Karl Altstaetter, Robert Napton, Tony Daniel, Steve Seagle, Roger Cruz, Marv Wolfman, Michael Turner, Brandon Choi, J. Scott Campbell, John Cleary, Ryan Benjamin, Marat Mychaaels, Todd Nauck, Danny Miki, Stephen Platt, Mike Grell, Greg Capullo, William Messner-Loebs, Kurt Busiek, Chuck Dixon, Dale Keown, Brandon Peterson, Ron Marz, Mike Heisler, Alan Moore and others that you still have a warm spot for? some where on your body.
1995 was a time when the comic book lemmings were right there at the edge of the cliff ready to begin jumpin’ off in mass. The speculation craze was getting’ ready to jump from comics to action figures. Most of the meat had been picked from the bones in comics and the collector pushers were ready to move on to toys. I gotta give Todd McFarlane credit for bein’ able to see where things were headin’. He had started up Todd Toys and was marchin’ forward to change the face of action figures forever.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not passin’ out sour grapes for 1995. I made a hell of a lot of money that year and my family ate good. I got to write a lot of fun stuff and there was no complaint there, either. But hindsight is 20/20 as they say. There were things that could’ve been done to make the future of comics a little better, more productive and safer for the future.
Back then folks used to check the Wizard Top Ten Creators List. Just for the fun of it here is who was on it:
The Top Five In Comic Book Market Share were:
1.Marvel – 34.03%
2.DC Comics – 19.20%
3 Image Comics – 10.51%
4 Dark Horse – 5.90%
5 Acclaim – 4.76%
Marvel Comics ran the top 10 of best sellin’ comics then with 10 X-Men titles locked in each spot. Spawn came in at #11 to break up the Marvel strangle hold.
These statistics were pulled from Capital City Distribution’s Internal Correspondence. It was all I could find here in my files so that’s what ya get for info. Why I still had this after ten years is beyond me. Of course? I still have all my other files, sales figures, memos and other junk from my time at Eclipse, Image, Todd McFarlane, McFarlane Toys and IDW. I really need to learn to throw things out. Help.
As you can see, there have been some major changes in the last ten years. From all sides of comics. It’s nice to see that some of the veteran creators like Jeph Loeb, Joe Quesada, Ron Marz, Peter David, John Byrne, Neil Gaiman, Jim Lee and others are still doin’ comics. There is a strong need for the older creators to be here to teach and lead the new young talent by example. It’s good to see that guys like Terry Moore and Billy Tucci that were just startin’ out ten years ago are now icons in comics. Proof that if ya work and fight hard enough you will be rewarded with a long-standing career.
Publishers, Distributors, retailers, and creators come and go. It’s you the readers that comics need the most to hang in there and support the hobby and entertainment that you love. Without readers there will be no comics.
Where were you in 1995?
Before I ever got lucky enough to bust into comics I was a reader of William Messner-Loebs’ book Journey, starrin’ the character Wolverine McAllister. Mountain man and adventure seeker. Fantagraphics published it in the early 80s. A fine book that still stands tall today with story and art.
I even had a couple of letters published in the book. I got to meet Bill at a convention. I believe it was Mid-Ohio Con. He was a great guy and always had time to answer my questions and share some of his time. That never changed even after I got into comics and he got the chance to see what a moron I really am. As a fan he even called me a couple of times and talked comics with me. I never forgot his kindness.
When I broke into comics it was Bill, and people like Mike Baron, Walter Simonson, Murray Boltinoff, Joe Kubert, Robert Kanigher, Ernie Colon and Tim Truman that held out a hand to help pull me on board. I have always swore that I would always be there to extend my hand to those tryin’ to bust into comics as well. In this case I wanna throw a hand to one of the guys that gave me a lift when I needed it most.
It’s been all over the web and the papers that Bill has tripped on some hard times. Times he does not deserve. The Terrier of comics-Clifford Meth- has started chewin’ on legs to get some help for Bill. He bit a few folks for Dave Cockrum and it is payin’ off. Now he is backin’ Bill with help and with The Three Tenors: Off Key — a new bizarre collection of heroic and tragic tales from the unorthodox trio of Dave Cockrum, Clifford Meth, and Bill Messner-Loebs. The Three Tenors is Aardwolf’s three-part effort to get Bill Messner-Loebs writing again, get Dave Cockrum drawing again, and get Clifford Meth off our backs. This signed/numbered Limited Edition of just 400 copies are guaranteed to sell out quickly, so order yours now. The project, which is being co-sponsored by Silver Bullet Comic Books, is scheduled to ship in late June. A trade paperback (unsigned) will be solicited to Diamond, but the Limited Edition is only available through Aardwolf.
I’m not gonna give ya the old “Do it because it’s a good cause line”. Do it because Bill Loebs is a very good writer and artist and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be doin’ as many books now as he was in 1995. No excuse at all.
I’m sorry to say that there is a five to three year cycle where editors get tired of creators after so many years and sometimes toss them because they are no longer shiny, sexy, hip or edgy as they once thought they were. They are used as easy scapegoats to answer for low sales or even worse, when an editor hauls in one of their buddies to do the book. Scroll back up a few paragraphs and see the names of the veteran creators I mentioned. Do you wanna see them get tossed aside like a used rubber when the editor no longer feels they are sexy enough? Sometimes in this business we wait until a person dies before we sing songs about them and give them the credit and work (trade paperbacks, etc.) that they deserve. Let’s stop that donkey dump now and start throwin’ praise at these guys now when it will do em’ good. Nobody wants to wait until their own funeral to have their friends drop by for a visit and speak well of em’. Do that stuff now when it really counts.
You’re Lucky I’m Tired. I’m Gonna Shut Up Now
That does it for this week here at the Flying Fist Ranch. I hope you enjoyed this week’s trip back to 1995 in the Flying Fist Time Machine. Anytime ya wanna borrow it just let me know. Just make sure ya ain’t drunk. I just got the dents fixed from where *** ******* borrowed it and went back in time lookin’ for his career. I’d print his name, but he doesn’t deserve the publicity.
Keep those emails and postings comin’ in. I love hearin’ from ya and always try and make the time to write back and impose my iron will on ya. Hell, sometimes I even send ya free stuff. If ya wanna be famous send in a jpeg of your own bad or babe self and I’ll put it on my website. As always, make sure ya check my site out. I’ve added all kinds of new stuff.
Enjoy youself. It’s later than ya think.
The Flying Fist Ranch
P.O. Box 706
Ceredo, WV. 25507
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