Comics are back. Yes, you heard me correctly. Comics are back and they're back big. After the gloom and doom of the last 10 years; Marvel bankruptcy, Valiant collapse, aging readers and the like, I've seen news story after news story about "Is it really over for comics?". Telling stories with words and pictures (or traditional comic book story telling) has been having it's ups and downs over the last 70 years.
In the 50's parents rebelled against the comic book because it contained graphic violence and/or suggestive imagery. They put forth the idea that comic books are root of all evil that causes young people to have loose morals, bad manners, disrespect for authority, violent behavior, chronic halitosis and whatever else they could pile on for all of society's woes. This led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. Publishers created this to appease parents. To promise them that they will play nice and try not to inspire the imaginations of the youth of today. This led to publishers to redirect their efforts in what stories they wanted to tell. Good versus Evil (with Good always triumphant), misunderstood teens that only want to do good, teaching alien invaders that no one messes with the good ol' US of A. Or in other words, the creation (re-creation) of the Super-Hero.
For the next 10 years we had spandex laden super person after super person (always white, mostly male) fighting the good fight. Attempts were made to increase ethnic readership in the late 60's to early 70's by creating ethnic heroes and making sure everyone knew they were ethnic with names like BLACK Panther, BLACK Lightning, BLACK Goliath etc. Readership steadily grew but they were never to see the numbers of books sold like they did in the 40's.
The late 70's early 80's saw interest growing in comics and the start of gimmicks. Die cut covers, alternate covers, comics with a little plastic jewel glued to the outside (worst comic book gimmick idea EVER), holofoil cards on covers, foil covers, comics with holes drilled through the entire book, and prestige covers all guaranteed to catch your eye but delivered less inside the book than outside. This led to the speculator boom of the late 80's into the early 90's. Everyone had to have multiple variant covers because comic books started to explode in value. Baby boomers wanting to relive their childhood were buying up back issues faster than stores could have them available. The market grew with leaps and bounds. Comic book stores opened up all over the country with promises of vast wealth "The new comic book will someday be worth millions!". New comics just out were getting multiples of cover days after their release.
The retailers begged for better product and to stop the gimmicks. Retailers with vision knew this boom could not last.
The retailers were told to blow it out their tailpipe. The publishers had the insight to what the public wanted: "GIMMICKS" and they had sales figure to back it up. Every speculator that ever walked, crawled, or slithered bought multiple copies of McFarlane's Spider-man #1 and Spawn.
But then something happened.
Then people woke up. Boxes and boxes of comics that speculators hoped would be their retirement were being unloaded for 5 cents apiece. The more people who got burned, the worse it got. Shops closed in record numbers. Those that survived had to rethink how they did business. Shops that recommended that you buy what you like to read not what currently HOT was the answer. The retailers and customers told the publishers that they could sell/buy a quality product forever, but would not sell/buy a poor quality product. Publishers began to actively pursue good writers and artists. MARVEL/DC/CROSSGEN/IMAGE are all producing a better product.
This is the renaissance we are now in. Big budget movies are being made from comic book stories. X-Men hit it big last summer and this years SPIDER-MAN movie will give STAR WARS a run for it's money. Comics are cool again. I'm proud of what I do and I hope you do too. I read comic books!
...and if you're not reading ULTIMATES from Marvel you're really missing the boat.