The last 20 years of comics

I just read an interesting article on Polygon about the last 20 years of comics. They interviewed a bunch of creators about the last two decades, looking at the 2000s and 2010s separately, and then summarized it all. The summary version is here, and a version with the full responses from the creators is here.

There were a lot of different perspectives, though they mostly talked to mainstream creators, so there’s a bit of a mainstream bias and not as much mention of stuff outside the usual Marvel/DC bubble. But a lot of it got me thinking. I thought I’d share some quotes here and add my own thoughts.

  • Amanda Conner, Coleen Doran, and Gail Simone all mentioned the positive changes with regard to women, among both creators and fans.
    • Conner: “Now girls read comics across the table and it’s great. It’s really good. There’s more female creators, there’s more female readers. I feel like this decade has been a very, very girl power decade, which is great.”
    • Doran: “Now, women and girls in comics are not just becoming the norm, but a major creative and financial force.”
    • Simone: “So, yeah, it’s been a couple decades of great superhero comics, but also, the rise of people like Kelly Sue DeConnick and Marjorie Liu and G. Willow Wilson.”
    • I remember how weird it was, early in the 00’s, to start seeing so much more diversity at comic book conventions. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, you’d mostly just see guys like me at cons: white, male, nerdy. Now, you see… everybody. The wide popularity of manga and anime had a lot to do with that initially, I think. At this point, it’s broadened out to include a lot of related stuff that all gets lumped into the “pop culture” category. So comics are just a part of that, but they’re an important part.
  • A number of people mentioned or alluded to 9/11, including Bryan Hill and Tom Brevoort.
    • Hill: “I think the early ’00s were about reconciling with loss, and we needed fiction to recognize it with us. You start thinking about Ultimates, and all that stuff. We needed the fiction to do that.”
    • Brevoort: “This all really started in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, when comics were among the first entertainment media (due to our speed of production) to be able to effectively and emotionally deal with the aftermath of those attacks and the psychic scars that everybody was feeling.”
    • I tend to think of J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man 36 as being a key book early in the 2000’s, dealing with 9/11 in a way that could have been a really awkward failure, but was instead a really uplifting story.
  • Jim Starlin was the only guy to mention something that’s been on my mind: “I think you’re gonna see the pamphlets slowly disappearing; the little 22-page or 20-page books. There’s just not a system anymore where those are profitable. Most of those books are losing money.” I’ve been wondering about that a lot. The comic book store here in town still seems to be doing OK, but I’m starting to wonder how much life the current system of monthly 32-page books has left in it.
  • Kieron Gillen mentions Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority as being a defining comic for the 00’s. I’d agree with that, to some extent. The Ultimates was definitely influenced by The Authority, and that comic became a major influence on how Marvel’s characters were portrayed in the movies. And of course the success of the MCU is a major factor in the place that superhero comics have in pop culture right now.
  • Scott McCloud mentions Chris Ware and Raina Telgemeier, so he was one of the few folks to mention anything outside of the Marvel/DC bubble. I have to admit that, while I’m certainly familiar with Ware and Telgemeier, I still haven’t gotten around to reading anything by either of them. I’ve probably read a few short pieces by Ware somewhere along the line, but I’ve never read any of his longer works. I need to rectify that at some point.
  • Steve Orlando mentions Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which is a series I still haven’t read, despite owning all of the TPBs. I think that may have been (arguably) his first major mainstream US superhero work. (I’m not counting his 90’s DC/Vertigo work as “mainstream.”)
  • I just read a few Fables TPBs over this past weekend. Fables ran from 2002 to 2015, so it’s solidly in the 2000-2019 time frame. I’m not too sure if I’d point to it as a hugely influential series, in the way that Sandman was in the 80s/90s, but it was a popular book that lasted for 150 issues, so that counts for something. (I’ve now read all the trades through to issue 100, so I have a few more trades to go.)
  • Hellboy has been pretty influential and popular, though it started back in the 90s. The two Guillermo del Toro movies came out in 2004 and 2008, so the peak of Hellboy’s popularity was definitely in the 2000s. I think Hellboy’s success as a creator-owned comic that went on to spawn a couple of relatively popular movies may have helped later properties like The Walking Dead. Speaking of which, TWD ran from 2003 to 2019, so that’s solidly in the 2000s also, and has been wildly successful. (I have digital copies of a few of the Walking Dead collections, but haven’t read them yet.)
  • For myself, I stopped buying monthly comics in 2009, then started up again in 2016. I’m thinking about stopping again, just due to the backlog that I’m building up. The stuff I’ve been gravitating to most over the last 20 years has been pretty diverse, though there are certain characters, and writers and artists, who I keep coming back to. For characters: Batman. I can’t seem to quit Batman. And I still love stuff like Hellboy and Usagi Yojimbo. For writers: Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Christopher Priest. (And Neil Gaiman, though he doesn’t do much comics work these days.)

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