Martin Pasko and I collaborated on a few issues of Kobra back in 1976, including one that co-starred Batman in 5 Star Super Hero Spectacular. We connected some years ago towards DC Comics’ reprinting of these issues. We’ve also exchanged a few comments on Facebook posts. The most recent was in relation to Jeanette Kahn, Paul Levitz and Jim Shooter – and their contribution to comics at the helm of DC and Marvel since the 1970’s. Below are snippets from that thread, posted here for posterity.
Martin Pasko: Not quite sure why, but sometimes I feel the need to remind my younger colleagues in the comic book business that, without the likes of Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, and Jim Shooter, today there would be no comic book business at all.
Michael Netzer: Jeanette, Paul and Jim, were the cream of the crop at the helm. Within the framework of DC and Marvel making the calls that dominate comics business evolution, they went far beyond the call of duty to ensure that corporate demands on the enterprises they represent, would not harm the integrity of the comics ethos.
Still, this evolution itself, at least on the business side, was navigated by policies and goals that originated much higher up on the corporate chain
Broadly, when considering the history of the medium; the transformation of comics from a business that profits from the sales of comics, to one that produces comics in order to profit from merchandising their intellectual properties, the sharp spike in licensing can be traced to the post WW2 era, when America turned to reshaping its economy, not only by industrial ingenuity, but also by gearing it towards the then rising star of pop culture product proliferation.
Congruently, a great danger loomed over the horizon of this business model. Comic book artists and writers, especially those whose ideas and actual creations were appearing in radio and television dramas, on lunchboxes, drinking cups, pillow cases, towels and blankets, among countless other products – comics creators began to more boldly voice their dissatisfaction with the inequity of not being fairly rewarded for their part in the success of these extracurricular trends.
This drove the corporate wheels to attempt to navigate the comics juggernaut into safer waters. So much so, that it is now understood by most everyone, that whether comics sell very well at times, or whether they suffer decades long slumps, it is of little consequence to policies by which the higher-up business model operates under. For the decision makers far above DC and Marvel’s publishers, it became obvious that too much success of the publishing arm would raise the ante for their efforts to limit the rights of creators. However, a perpetually flailing industry would help ensure that as few creators as possible would ask for more from a business that is, purportedly, always on the ropes.
It seems that this subliminal back-current was not spoken of with DC and Marvel heads, as the reason for corporate policy. Jeanette, Paul, Jim and many navigators of the comics biz, are not the type of people who would throw in the towel before such machinations. Their love for the medium and what it stood for would never allow them to willfully put the lid on its growth. The idea that in the year 2018, when comic book properties are of the global economy’s most profitable, and the publishing of comics is not able to transcend the logistical, self-imposed limitations that stunt its growth, tells volumes about how this ship has been navigated so as to deprive creators of their due for producing the raw materials from which comics merchandising thrives, while the publishing of comics itself lies upon its never-ending death bed – but cannot be allowed to die.
Martin: Indie comics will thrive, but they’ll always be a low-margin business, like selling OTR CDs or Lionel Train sets, because hi-tech has essentially obviated print comics. There is, on the one hand, a love of the comics medium; an appreciation by many of the joys of fine illustration and “graphic storytelling,” and nothing can take away from us the delights of the printed page. But if what the consumer really wants is a “superhero fix,” ink on dead trees can’t begin to compete with CGI and big feature-film and TV series budgets.
Martin: IMHO, Michael Netzer knows exactly what he’s talking about, and I’m very grateful to him for his contribution to this thread. (One of the best collaborators I ever had, too, thank you very much.)
Michael: I was young and inexperienced when we collaborated on Kobra and Batman but I loved your spirit, Martin… and still do. Though my lack of experience held me from more fully appreciating the broad talent behind the stories you wrote (as was the case with everything else I read back then), the years have made up for that lack. It is a big privilege to join a discussion like this with you, Mark [Ellis] and everyone else here. You are one of the best. Thanks for all the good.
Michael: Never say never, they say. Maybe they just talk too much or perhaps we have little reason to hope. But we do love comics and especially telling stories of hope, so we can escape into an unrealistic world where it reigns supreme. Still, the stories we love best are those where all hope is lost before the unexpected happens and saves the day.
In the summer of 77, many of the creators living in NY, gathered for a meeting to discuss establishing a guild for our profession. During the first discussion about the goals we’d set for such a union, a few very prominent creators began to argue that the effort is pointless due to the deck stacked against us – and it’s not wise to endanger the jobs we have with the publishers. A heated debate ensued where more and more creators joined the few initial dissenters. Even the towering figure of the creator who hosted the meeting at his studio did not make an effort to guide the discussion back towards the original purpose of the meeting.
For myself, the meeting began with great anticipation. Seeing many of the creators who inspired me to become part of their hopeful world, I was certain that we stood at the cusp of a creator revolution that would allow us to un-stack the deck. When I saw this hope collapsing, I burst out with a statement so optimistic and naive that people just stopped cold, some wide eyed with disbelief and others with cynical smirks. In that atmosphere of despair, I said that comics are destined to rise to the top of the entertainment media – and that we should begin preparing for it. Thinking realistically always brings me down.
I was young, optimistic and naive – relative to the more seasoned optimist naivety that’s come with the years. Everything’s going to be fine. Creators are destined to lead a brave and bold new world.