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Chris Sims takes a look at the 90’s

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.

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Posted on July 27, 2012, in comics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Please DO write that article about TMNT some day. I’m one of those guys who, as a kid, jumped on the Turtle wagon when the cartoon was made, and the comics were always elusive and out of my reach. But I’ve always wanted to know more about the pre-animated TMNT.

  2. It’s funny, but not being into superhero comics at the time, most of the vitriol which was later spit about the nineties was completely lost on me. It was an absolute golden age for alternative comics (particularly the former half). Which, looking back on it, may have had something to do with the fact that mainstream comics had begun pandering almost exclusively to pubescent suburbanites and indifferent collectors.

    From my perspective – even back then, no less – it seemed the sharp rise in popularity and exposure of alternative comics was not at all proportional to how long the scene had been operating on a serious commercial level. I mean, a lot of the big names (Bagge, Los Bros Hernandez, Sakai, etc.) were publishing works in the eighties that were only a notch or two above zines as far as output and print quality went. Yet the nineties saw a lot of these works getting roughly equal mindshare from shop owners, creators, and so on. It appeared that the underground movement owed a majority of its increased exposure to growing fatigue with the mainstream press of the time.

    But the long and short of it is – for me, at any rate – the nineties were a time of very fond nostalgia (and virtually unparalleled creative output), not the cesspit of cynicism it apparently was for many others.

  3. The first thing that jumped out at me about TMNT when I first discovered the comic was the title. It’s such a household brand today that people forget what a wild title that was in the late 80’s. Right off the bat you knew it was something different because the big publishers would’ve never put out anything with a name like that. It sounded like a punk band. I was actually very surprised when it became a kid-friendly property because it’s roots seemed so edgy (at least to me at the time)

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