Friday, February 4, 2011

Realizations: The (Relative) Importance of Kids’ Comics!


As our last two posts dealt with FAMILY GUY and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, let’s combine the two by asking the question…

Name an item of merchandise not bearing SpongeBob’s image?

Hmmm… It’s not Band-Aids. It’s not canned pasta. It’s not snack crackers. It’s not shampoo. It’s not a whole lotta things!

But a good answer might be COMIC BOOKS!

While not nearly as relentlessly merchandised as SpongeBob, one could say the same about FAMILY GUY.

By my unofficial count, FAMILY GUY had a three-issue mini series, and SpongeBob never had an officially licensed comic book bearing his name at all.

Contrast this with THE SIMPSONS, for whom an entire comic book publishing ENTITY was created!

The only conclusion I can draw – and it is nothing more than that… a CONCLUSION on my part – is that SIMPSONS creator Matt Groening (like myself) grew up in (…and had his sensibilities affected by) a time during which kids’ comic books were a significant form of mass entertainment. And, perhaps FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS creator Stephen Hillenburg did not.

MacFarlane freely confesses to love the Eighties; in the same way I love the Sixties. Presumably, he was of “that magical age when all is wonder” during the Eighties, as I was in the Sixties.

Not so coincidently, the Eighties was the decade where most “kids’ comics” died. Marvel and DC reinvigorated themselves from the doldrums of the Seventies with “Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars” and “DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths” respectively – and this spread throughout their entire lines, buoying them through the onset of the 21st Century.

An explosion of “Independent Comics” also occurs at the time but, alas (save for the classic Disney revivals of Gladstone Series I in 1986), kids’ comics as a whole were dead.

Therefore, again my opinion, comic books were not important enough for Seth MacFarlane to “fall in love with” – and become important enough to become a standard merchandising operation for FAMILY GUY. I know nothing about Stephen Hillenburg, but it would not surprise me to find a similar situation in his case as well.

Matt Groening, like me, DID “fall in love with” the comic book. I’ve been side-to-side with him at San Diego, as he dug through long boxes like a regular fan. And that’s why I believe there are plenty of SIMPSONS COMICS – and none for FAMILY GUY and SPONGEBOB.

What say you?

11 comments:

joecab said...

I've dug through comics with Matt too! A few years ago I turned to my right and asked, "Aren't you Matt Groening?" and he said "Why yes I am!" Very friendly, let me shake his hand, and asked me where I got the Johnny Ryan comics I was holding. Total geek heaven, to be sure.

Speaking of which, time to start trying to get SDCC tix again for the zillionth time in less than an hour ... sigh...

Joe Torcivia said...

Joe:

That exactly mirrors my own experience with Matt Groening! Can’t exactly remember the year, but we were in a small booth at the front wall of the exhibition space. Side by side. I was looking through a long box of Gold Keys, and he was looking through a long box of Harveys.

No doubt Groening’s fondness for Harvey Comics lead to that great line in THE SIMPSONS about Casper being the ghost of Richie Rich, who committed suicide over his wealth (or some such). Wish I could find the exact exchange between Bart and Lisa to quote here. It was a riot.


On San Diego, I went nearly every year 1988-2003. Not since. For a while, I went to Baltimore as a substitute – as a concentration of friends and the Gemstone offices were in the area. Now, New York Comic Con more than suffices. It’s become the Comic Con I always felt that New York deserved.

Though, now that I have achieved Professional Status – and attended Baltimore and NYCC as a Pro – it would be nice to do San Diego just once more… as a Pro!

Have LOADS of fun at SD!

Ryan Wynns said...

Joe,

I bet you're right that MacFarlane has never been much of a comics fan. On the numerous occasions that Family Guy has parodied DC superheroes, the reference points seem to be the Filmation or Hanna-Barbera cartoons (Super Friends in particular), or the live-action Christopher Reeves Superman feature films.

However, as someone who was truly a child during the '80's (MacFarlane would've spent the better part of the decade as a teenager) and fell in love with comics then, I can attest that, indeed, "all was wonder"!

Of course, I acquired my first comic in 1988, so I don't have perspective on what it was like to, as a reader, experience the changes in comics throughout the decade. I know that there were no Disney and Harvey comics at one point (respectively: 1984-86, no Disney; 1982-86, no Harvey). That definitely would've looked like a complete death, but I wouldn't say that kids' comics died for good in the '80's, but in fact were completely reborn before the decade was up.

By then, Gladstone, Harvey,and Archie allin full swing. And all newstand distribution, I think -- or, in Harvey's case, was that not until Jeff Montgomery? Newstand distribution is an important factor, because it resulted in access in "everyday" places. In addition, Now Comics was doing some licensed animated TV series comics (I remember getting The Real Ghostbusters at the drugstore). And while Star was already defunct, Marvel still kept a couple kids' titles going. And, I remember nagging my mom to buy Star back issue three-packs at the grocery store, circa 1988/89...so kids' had a definite presence in the world.

Joe Torcivia said...

Great comments, Ryan!

Enjoyed learning of your experiences. Everyone has a story, and I’d like to hear them all.

You’re absolutely right about the “rebirth” of kids’ comics… but, the fact is that they DID die, even if only briefly… and that period may have been all it took to win someone over, or lose them forever.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

You might want to look carefully through this week's PREVIEWS... there was SOME sort of SPONGEBOB offering there in the comics section.

Chris

joecab said...

Joe: I'm beginning to think that going as a pro is the only way to get a ticket. I've been trying for hours and no soap. Now they're sold out for Saturday as well as 4-day passes. Looks like NYCC is to become my new SDCC.

I still go mainly for comic books and feel like a fuddy duddy when I roll my eyes at the mediafest SDCC has evolved into and just frown when I check out how comics are selling nowadays. Ah well, that's the passage of time for ya.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:
I’m long past the days of scouring through Previews… and there are galaxies-full of Spongebob merchandise.

If there is an actual, honest-to-goodness Spongebob comic book, and not some sort of Nickelodeon kids magazine, or something similar, I’ve never seen it.

Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – but, in view of all the other Spongebob merchandise I’ve seen, and the amount of time I’ve spent in comic shops and cons, I can’t say such a thing exists.

Joe Torcivia said...

Joe C.

2003 was my last San Diego because of the expense, and that it became too large and less focused on comics.

Though I did enjoy the publisher and creator panels very much. Saturday would be almost exclusively devoted to panels, because the sales floor was impossible to navigate! I can only imagine what it is like now!

And when WB was producing those great DC Comics animated series, you’d always get exhibition hall previews of the upcoming fall episodes at SD with Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and company! I NEVER missed that!

But, like you, my main focus is the good old comic book and, at the moment, NYCC seems to be what SD was in the 90s. But, it’s growing fast – expanding to four days this year – so watch out!

I wonder… if I’d be able to get in as a Pro. Maybe there are different rules. Not going to try, though. First, I’m not THAT much of a Pro, that I’d expect any additional consideration. Also, It’s just not worth it, now that NYCC has taken its place!

shadzane said...

The first issue of the new Spongebob Comics was in the stores last week. Hope you saw it!

http://www.comics.org/series/55667/

Joe Torcivia said...

Actually, no!

Hard to believe, for those who’ve known me over the years, but I don’t go to the comic shop every week anymore! More like once a month. And, I no longer scour PREVIEWS.

The primary reason for that is that I no longer enjoy the convoluted, and constantly shifting continuity of DC Comics anymore! In the ‘80s and ‘90s they could do no wrong. Sure, they’d make MAJOR shifts in continuity… “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, “Zero Hour”, “Death of Superman”, “Kinghtfall”, “Emerald Twilight”, etc – but they’d STICK to them, and work within them for an extensive period of time.

Over the last several years, even with regular reading, I can no longer tell what’s what! The product they churn out is not worth the trouble and expense of following. Oh, I still LOVE the old stuff – from Silver Age to the onset of the 21st Century… but DC Comics and I have all but parted ways – except for some very select issues, and their product on DVD.

As of now, I pretty much only buy the Disney comics from Boom!, as they are doing a really fine job – especially these days!

I hope the Spongebob comic is a good, all-ages type of comic – not unlike the show itself, as cited in my Blog posts. If so, I’d certainly try a copy… when I go to the comic shop again next month for my accumulated Boom! Disneys.

Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, and one additional thought on the Spongebob comic…

If the show started in 1999, why did it take until 2011 to do a comic? That was pretty much the point of this post!

Still, I wish it success.