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Monday, January 02, 2017 

Forbes and the Fantagraphics history

Forbes contributor Rob Salkowitz wrote about the history of Fantagraphics and how they were founded. But, unsurprisingly, there's stuff in this piece that'l have to be taken issue with, starting with:
Today no one looks twice when graphic novels (aka "really long comic books") are best-sellers, get respectful reviews in the New York Times or are the subject of serious academic study. No one clutches their pearls when the works of comic art masters like Robert Crumb or Charles Burns are exhibited in museum shows and high-end galleries, or when librarians extol the virtue of comics in the promotion of literacy.
No, today's crowd may not have any problem with GNs getting reviewed favorably by press sources, but they may have a problem reading about them in papers as terrible as the NYT happens to be. Some GNs may have respectful stories, but that's a lot more than can be said about the NYT, which published whitewashings of terrorism, and their editors even potentially broke the law by publishing Trump's tax returns without authorization. Anybody who hopes GNs with quality scripting get favorable reviews would do well to see if they can get other, better news sources to do the handywork.
Fantagraphics Books, an independent press co-founded by Gary Groth and stewarded for many years by Groth and his late collaborator Kim Thompson, was not the only voice crying in that particular wilderness, but they were certainly among the loudest and most relentless. [...]
If only they were among the more rational minded to boot. But as I recall, Groth is the same guy who had no issues with Maurice Sendak blabbering away with his revolting political fantasies when he once interviewed him, laughed along, and I don't see what's so truly respectable about somebody who's that irresponsible.
1976 was not an auspicious time for American comics. The superheroes published by DC and Marvel had taken over the market but were at a creative and commercial nadir. Many believed the entire enterprise would be finished before long. The underground comix from the 1960s, which championed more ambitious, adult and personal storytelling, were dying. Study of comics was mostly an amateur endeavor by fans motivated more by nostalgia than academic rigor.

That was the moment that Groth, a young veteran of first-generation comics fandom, chose to leap into the fray with a publication called The Comics Journal, demanding that comics be held to higher standards of art and literature.
If only they held individual beliefs and ethics to higher standards, but even their own magazine's not always very honest, and I'd spotted their left-wing politics seeping through in several articles I read there at times. All that aside, I don't agree that the mid-70s was a nadir. Sure, there were crummy stories coming out even then, but there was still readable, engaging escapism available in the superhero comics, and the claim underground comics were wilting away isn't exactly true either: they started going more mainstream in the form of creator-owned products, as evidenced by Will Eisner's A Contract With God, and Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini in the late 70s. In the early 80s, there was Nexus, Badger, soon followed by Alien Legion and Evangelion, to name but a few more. It's ridiculous to suggest independently owned creations were wilting when they actually did get more traction as the 80s came in.

Yet the Forbes article still misses how financially speaking, sales were declining as less copies of the monthly pamphlets were actually being sold and circulated. Already in the mid to late 70s, there were titles that were falling below a million in how many copies a pamphlet series actually sold. Sure, there were still quality reads at the time, but even so, the vehement reliance on a format and marketing that was losing its longevity clearly had a negative impact on the medium in the long run. How come Salkowitz didn't consider that when he put his op-ed together?

And even Fantagraphics isn't exactly a big name today, save for their archiving the Peanuts comic strips over the past decade. If they have to bring up the positive side, that's great, but if they can't stress why comicdom's lost traction, they're not doing much to save it.

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So did you rename comic books to pamphlets all your life or was it a more recent trend?

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