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When Wiley wanted to publish a history of Superman in time for this month’s Man of Steel, they contacted the right guy to write it. Glen Weldon covers comics for NPR’s Monkey See blog and is also the resident comics expert on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He’s insightful and funny, the perfect person to guide someone through the confusing, 75-year history of the Man of Tomorrow, which is what he does in Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.
Superman’s history isn’t just confusing because of the legal battle between his creators and the publisher whose marketing and licensing made the character a household name, although there is that, too. There are also the countless (well, I would have said countless; Weldon proves me wrong by counting them) retcons and reboots and reinterpretations that have affected the Last Son of Krypton and his supporting cast for three quarters of a century. Weldon navigates all of that in his book and finds the through-line that defines Superman and what he really stands for.
This is something I’ve been thinking about myself lately, so I was eager to not only read Weldon’s book, but to talk to him about it and get some more insight. I learned a lot in the process, including the true meaning of Kryptonite, the importance of Electric Superman, and the real failure of Superman Returns.
It was jarring to me. I respected and loved the work of all of them. I also liked them all on a personal but individual basis. But when I saw what the comic book industry was doing to them, I think I liked it a little less. Those men all deserved better.
– Mark Evanier, commenting on the observation by Howard Chaykin that Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino and other DC artists “regarded each other with distaste, frequently bordering on genuine loathing.”
It’s stuff like this that brings home to me how screwed up the comics industry was for so many years. I understand on an intellectual level that things were bad, but hearing how it inspired jealousy and soured relationships puts it into an emotional context that I hadn’t felt before.
I’m not saying we have a utopia today, but creators do have more options if they want more than what they’re getting from work-for-hire. Creator-owned comics are not only more welcomed than ever by readers, but they’re also proving popular with people outside of comics, which can turn into real money. Again, I’m not saying we’ve reached the Promised Land yet, but I think it’s fair to say we’ve at least left Egypt.
I’m reading Glen Weldon‘s Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and I’m still in the chapters on the Golden Age. What’s struck me was just how quickly Superman became a national phenomenon. Within a year of his first appearance in an anthology book (that he wouldn’t be on the cover of for another five issues after the first), there was a syndicated newspaper strip about him. According to Weldon, Time magazine called the character “the No. 1 juvenile vogue in the U.S.” Within two years, there was a radio show. Within three, Max Fleischer’s studio was making animated short films. And then there were all the dolls, games, puzzles, and coloring books. That was a stunning amount of success in a very short amount of time.
If the purpose of Free Comic Book Day is to raise awareness of comics, well, mission accomplished! The mass media has taken note, and newspapers large and small have been running articles about comics in general and what is going on in their communities in particular. Here’s a selection of the meatier articles; you can find out what’s going on near you at the FCBD website, and Steve Morris has compiled a list of additional lists at The Beat.
Comics | Matt Moore takes the wide view, talking to Joe Field, organizer of the first FCBD, and looking at the increase in comics sales in the past year as well as the print-digital divide. Moore talks to DC’s Dan DiDio, Marvel’s Dan Buckley, and an assortment of retailers and customers about the convenience of digital and the pleasures of brick-and-mortar comics shops. [Associated Press]
Advice | Allison Babka offers a “virgin’s guide” to making the most of FCBD. [The Riverfront Times]
Comics | Whitney Matheson lists the ten FCBD comics you won’t want to miss, as well as some tips for first-timers. [USA Today]
Publishing | DC’s 52-variant-cover gimmick with Justice League of America #1 seems to have paid off, as ICv2 estimates Diamond Comic Distributors sold more than 300,000 copies to comics shops last month. That adds up to more than $1 million in retail sales, a rare height last passed by in January by The Amazing Spider-Man #700. ICv2 also posts the Top 300 comics and graphic novels for February. [ICv2]
Kickstarter | Gary Tyrrell talks to Holly Rowland, who with husband Jeffrey has launched a business called Make That Thing to help comics creators fulfill their Kickstarter pledges. The Rowlands are also the team behind the webcomics merchandise retailer TopatoCo. [Fleen]