American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s: 1970-1979 by Jason Sacks (book review).

November 20, 2014 | By | Reply More

The latest volume ‘American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1970s: 1970-1979’ is credited to Jason Sacks but inside the book, five writers were involved. There is special emphasis on sales figures from the start explaining their importance if not necessarily their accuracy in why so many titles were stopped throughout the 1970s. Some of this wasn’t helped by a need to raise the price from 20 cents to 25 cents, at least for a time before they went much higher. These days we might wonder what difference 5 cents made. I mean, over here that essentially switched from 10d to a shilling, a change of 2d which we were far more tolerant of over here. When you look at the current price of American comics, even allowing for inflation, you do have to wonder.


There were a lot of changes in the 1970s. Probably the biggest was a dissatisfied Jack Kirby leaving Marvel for DC Comics. Quite understandable considering how much he contributed to the House of Ideas and how little he got in return. From my perspective, even back then, Kirby sorely needed a better scripter.

Each year covered is put into context of what was happening in the world and all the various comicbook companies that were in America at the time. For those who are keen to see where various artists and writers were before moving over to the big two, this is quite insightful. There was also the change in the Comic Code Authority to allow back supernatural creatures and more importantly discuss drug issues, helped along by Stan Lee’s ‘Spider-Man’ story showing Harry Osborne being a pill-popper and after, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ ‘Green Lantern’ story where Green Arrow’s side-kick, Speedy, being a heroin addict. 1971 was also the release of the longest extended story with ‘The Avengers’ ‘Kree-Skrull War’. For DC, it was also Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter, Talia, making their first appearances in the ‘Batman’ title. Both attributed to Neal Adams who was really very active back then.

With 1972 and Stan Lee stepping away from writing comics and Roy Thomas as editor-in-chief, it’s interesting seeing how the new guard of writers and artists were making their own splash at Marvel. Although these ‘Chronicles’ don’t do depth comparisons, from what they say it is easy to see that some of DC’s policies interfered creatively. The changes in the Comic Code Authority letting the use of horror monsters also served Marvel better than others, even if not all titles were successful. Don’t expect this book to review the state of every comicbook in each year. It does pick out landmark events or significant but there is much more of an emphasis on new title releases and how they lasted. If you’re got all the books so far, then you will such information already. Occasionally, there are odd features looking at things like the Mego super-hero dolls and looking at the photo, I still puzzle over why should Aquaman get gloves but not Captain America, although I suspect it might have gotten in the way of holding his shield.

Seeing the rise of Jim Starlin with ‘Captain Marvel’ and the start of ‘Master Of Kung Fu’ mirrors a lot of what was going on at the time. Many of the creators at Marvel were enthused with doing ever more material, forgetting how many hours in the day they had, so it’s inevitable that so many had problems keeping up with the deadlines. Interestingly, I never realised just how prolific Steve Gerber was over the various titles.

I should point out as the 1970s progressed many of the other comicbook companies succumbed through lack of sales although the ‘Chronicles’ still gives in-depth as to what was happening with them and why.

The examination of the stolen comicbook pages from DC’s offices was a crucial change in their attitude to the original material in 1973 although it would be some time before they were returned to their creators.

I got back into comics back in 1974, oddly with Rick Buckler’s ‘Deathlok The Demolisher’ and then seeing what else was out there. The return of ‘The X-Men’ in 1975 kind of cemented me back in for over 20 years. Reading what was going on behind the scenes that despite the proliferation of new titles, sales weren’t as high as they should have been was quite enlightening. It’s hardly surprising that there’s a small feature about Wolverine’s creative origins and John Romita’s original designs.

With 1975, seeing the problems Marvel had with getting material in on-time for deadlines is also rather telling and cost them a couple editor-in-chiefs because failing to make them cost a lot of money to the printers. It was also the year that Neal Adams swung pension deals for Joe Schuster and Jerry Siegel so mark it well, folks. Oddly, it was the newly formed Atlas Comics from Martin Goodman that finally spurred DC to return original art to their creators.

Reading 1976-1977 was old home week for me as this was the real start of my second comicbook collection. In the UK, we went by end product then the problems the main two companies, Marvel and DC, were having with meeting deadlines. We saw the results of deadline fillers but less about the implications behind the scenes. Considering the business orientation of America, in many respects the creative staff didn’t take things that way and unlike the 60s creators who made the deadlines, I can at least understand the management problems.

It’s interesting to see just how much Marvel’s survival relied on a new film called ‘Star Wars’ and George Lucas gave them a free licence to adapt the film. At the time of its release, I don’t think anyone had realised quite what a blockbuster it was to become. There was also a matter of a certain ‘X-Men’ comic’s growing popularity. It was around that time I attended my first comic mart in London and as I’d missed the early issues, managed to get # 94 for about £1 and GS#1 for £4.50. For me, I thought that was the most I’d ever spent on back issues. Now, it’s just how lucky I was, especially as there was only one # 94 in the hall and someone had pointed me to the dealer who had it.

In many respects, the comicbook implosions of 1978 was a spur for the direct market to get its foot in the door. The assessment of the problems that new Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter had to resolve would have vexed anyone. Reading about it now, I can’t help wonder why the previous chiefs hadn’t spotted what was going on or at least resolve it. Then again, the copyright issues law was something really out of his hands and even a creators guild didn’t last through lack of commitment from its ad hoc committee. Looking objectively now, had Shooter not done anything at all, I do wonder if there would have been a Marvel Comics company today. Certainly, when you see what happed to DC where it lost a lot of titles in its implosion, things got really bad and many people, especially inside the industry, thought this was the twilight of the comicbooks, despite the ‘Superman’ film and the rise of SF films.

Seeing the rise of the independent companies and their reliance on the direct sales to comicbook shops pushed the main two in the same direcion. It’s rather interesting seeing how sales figures at the main companies distributors also showed the level of corruption that was going on. Shooter has received a lot of flak over the years but having seen the display of business practices covered in the earlier years in the Chronicles, it is a stronger reminder that decisions had to be made.

It’s rather interesting to see that DC’s ‘World Of Krypton’ was the first mini-series in 1979. Certainly, the direct sales market was a saving grace for the comicbook industry but that’s for the 1980s.

As you can tell from my enthusiasm, this is a great book and I’m only touching on some of the things I found here. I should point out that there are three columns of text per page and a lot of comicbook art making for a very long and intensive read. If you’re only picking up the decade that you caught the comicbook bug then I imagine that many of you reading here started in the 1970s so you’re going to love reliving your past so grab it quick.

GF Willmetts

November 2014

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 287 page illustrated softcover. Price: $41.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-056-4. Direct from them, you can get it for $20.98 (US))

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Category: Books, Comics

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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