If you’re interested in the “Know Thy History” series and comic history in general, Chris Sims at Comics Alliance just put an great answer to the question, “What’s up with the 90’s?” The 90’s had gotten a reputation these days of being an era where terrible comics were published. That assessment is not incorrect. However, Sims puts that idea into context, showing the framework that brought forth some of the most positive movements in comics: the independent, creator-owned movement, the trend to re-contextualize old characters in a modern light, and the influence of the black and white movement of the 80’s.
Readers of this site know that I kinda like Rob Liefeld. Sims takes a similar stance: the art may not be great, but the rise of Liefeld as a prominent creator was actually a consequence of many positive movements in the comic world… not the least of which were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
As I understand it, TMNT was originally the product of Eastman and Laird making fun of all the goofy stuff that was popular in comics at the time — teenage mutants in X-Men and ninjas in Daredevil — and man. Watching their joke about what it took to be popular in mainstream comics grow to become an omnipresent multinational mass-media powerhouse that eclipsed the stuff it was parodying, and spawned its own legion of imitators? That had to be pretty weird.
But weird or not, it was a huge deal. Within five years, Eastman and Laird had achieved commercial success on a level that the creators they grew up idolizing never had, and they did it with a property they owned. They weren’t just making some massive corporation rich off their work (though they were definitely doing that), they were making themselves rich with it, too.
Can you imagine being a young creator coming up in the late ’80s, knowing you want to work in comics and suddenly seeing these two dudes making millions off a comic they created with no publisher, no editors and no company? Seeing two guys who owned their creation after hearing horror stories about Bill Finger, who died in 1974 without ever getting to put his name on Batman, a character he co-created? Can you imagine what an influence that would have on how you’d decide to pursue your career?
TMNT was one of the comics I’d considered covering for Know Thy History, mainly because it was a hugely influential comic whose rise I got to witness in my own lifetime. I may still write that piece. Sims’ analysis, though, is pretty spot on, and a great look at why the 90’s comic culture are more than just the mocking shorthand that internet memes make it out to be.