Issue #23 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Cartoon and Fantasy Comics

Any regular reader of this column has doubtlessly noticed that my columns about comic books have dealt almost exclusively with superheroes.

The short answer for this is that superhero comics dominate the market, my collection, and thus my source material for these columns.

But let's go back a bit. During the Golden Age (1938-1945) of comics, superheroes formed only a small segment of the total comic book market, other genres included: crime, western, romance, war, horror, and funny animals. The Silver Age (1956-69) was primarily a resurgence of superhero comic books. Various and contradictory reasons have been put forth to explain this resurgence: nostalgia, cold war feelings, atomic age fears, counter-culture malaise towards WW II mores. Most importantly, superhero comics were easily adaptable to the new and then stringent Comics Code Authority.

So... Why are superheroes so dominant today? Certainly, they carry a significant mass, as millions of issues are published every year, or are easily obtainable in back issue bins at comic shops. The universe concept definitely helps, as it gives a common playing field for the characters involved. In some sense there is character growth. Conversely, the characters remain familiar, even after you havn't read "Superman" for years.

All are good reasons, but is there more to this? Let's look at two less popular comic book genres: cartoons and fantasy.

Established cartoon material has been moderately successful. "The Simpsons" and other Simpsons- related comic books have done okay, but they fail to capture the kinetic manicness of the TV show. Similarly, "Ren & Stimpy", "Beavis & Butthead" and "Aladdin" were all moderate hits, but failed to capture the necessary qualities of the characters' voices. All of these examples are from the 90's, but a look at any of the cartoon based comic books of the past reveals a more important factor. The intrinsic problem is that when people lose interest in the cartoon, cancellation of the comic is sure to follow. Only such stalwarts as "Mickey Mouse", "Donald Duck" and "Archie" can lay claim to lengthy runs.

Fantasty comics based on previously established material have maintained a mediocre presence in the market. Marvel's "Conan the Barbarian" lasted for 23 years. But the various Conan spin-offs of the 1980's were pretty dismal. All of the TSR property Dungeons and Dragons comics were short-lived.

Conversely, fantasy comics based on original material have done quite well, particularly by independent companies. Dave Sim's Cerebus (Aardvark-Vanaheim) has completed a 25 year run. Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest (WaRP Graphics) has been chugging along for twenty years now. Most recently, Jeff Smith's Bone (Cartoon Books, 1991- ?) has made its mark in comic shops. I would posit that original fantasy comics have garnered more success as the authors actively promote their materials and are more responsive to their fans.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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