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Maggie’s World 073: Nearly Half a Century

The 2019 celebration of the 50th Comic-Con in San Diego led to consideration of where we were half a century ago. Comics fans were in contact primarily via the Postal Service and comic-book letters columns. But, yes, there were already a few regular meetings in communities big enough to provide venues. And a few cities had even been the sites of comics conventions. Nevertheless, it brings to mind the matter of how far we have come from that first San Diego gathering.

First, keep in mind that, while 2019 marked the 50th multi-day comics convention now known as Comic-Con International: San Diego, the 50th anniversary year will come in 2020. So this seems to be a good time to look back to that event 49 years ago and some of what led into it.

Before 1969 …

The Set-Up

Long before: Comics fans had begun to contact each other a decade earlier. Within a couple more years, comics prices went up 20% (or, to put it another way, went from a dime to 12 cents). Moreover, just about then, a few comic book editors began regularly including full addresses when they printed readers’ letters.

And that meant comics fans and researchers were provided their own social media, which led to correspondence, clubs, and (in another couple years) more formal meetings. (I’m thinking a Maggie’s World in 2020 might celebrate those developmental decades.) Anyway …

Vampirella and Jimmy Olsen

The first issue of Warren’s Vampirella (September 1969) introduced that character the year before the first San Diego multi-day event. Within the next year, it had reached #6. © 2019 Dynamite; Know the significance of this issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #132 (September 1970)? © 2019 DC Comics

The Year Before

It was 1969. From Marvel: Sub-Mariner #9 introduced the Serpent Crown; Marvel Super-Heroes #18 introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy; X-Men #54 introduced Alex Summers, who became Havok in #56 and got a costume in #58; Captain America #117 introduced Falcon; and Avengers #71 introduced the Invaders. From DC: Showcase #82 introduced Nightmaster, and Phantom Stranger #1 introduced Phantom Stranger. In addition, The East Village Other published Gothic Blimp Works #1 edited by Vaughn Bodé, and Vampirella #1 introduced Vampirella.

In other events, The 1969 World Science Fiction Convention was held in St. Louis (attendance 1,534), and comics fans and pros were visible, including the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society attending the masquerade as the Justice Society of America. Phil Seuling presided over his first New York City comics convention. Births included those of Andrew Pepoy, Alex Robinson, Brandon Peterson, James A. Owen, Jessica Abel, Greg Rucka, and Marjane Satrapi. Deaths included those of Al Taliaferro, George Klein, Frank King, Ira Schnapp, and Russell Stamm.

All In Color For A Dime and The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide

Hey, was 1970 some sort of turning point or what? Look what else fans got that year! All in Color for a Dime © 2019 Richard A. Lupoff and Don Thompson. The Comic Book Price Guide © 2019 Gemstone Publishing, Inc.

Then There Was 1970

Before folks met that year at a multi-day con at the El Cortez …

In comic strips: Jim Lawrence’s Friday Foster, James Childress’ Conchy, Russell Myers’ Broom Hilda, and Ted Shearer’s Quincy began. At DC, Detective Comics offered the first collaboration of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams and introduced Man-Bat, and Green Lantern #76 began a classic story arc. Marvel celebrated 100 issues of Fantastic Four.

In other comics developments, Ron Turner founded Last Gasp.

Deaths included those of Teenie Weenies creator William Donahey, Modesty Blaise artist Jim Holdaway, Mickey Finn artist Lank Leonard, and publisher Lloyd Jacquet.

1970 births before the August show included Kaja Foglio, Garth Ennis, Alex Ross, Nick Bertozzi, Robert Conte, and Phil Jimenez. And, hey, during that first San Diego August con, Kevin Smith was born. (Who knew?)

So what were things like at that show? American comics publishers active then (and an approximation of their monthly output) included Archie (15), Charlton (15), DC (29), Gold Key (19), Harvey (15), and Marvel (23). And Warren was producing comics magazines aiming at older readers.

In fact, that year seems to have been something of a tipping point in the industry. It was the year that found All in Color for a Dime (a collection of nostalgia tributes to Golden Age comic books) in libraries. (As Don and I noted in our Newfangles monthly newsletter at the time, “This is nostalgia, gang, not ‘the definitive history of the comics’ it is being touted as. … It is not a definitive history and is not meant to be. Entertainment has always been the editors’ goal.” And copies of an actual back-issue price guide found its way into the hands of collectors. (A Mint copy of Action Comics #1: What’s it worth? $300.)

By the way, the only report I find regarding the 1970 San Diego event in Newfangles went as follows: “Jack Kirby, at the San Diego comic con, drew a picture of Dr. Doom without his mask; most fans apparently missed the joke—Kirby drew a picture of Stan Lee.”

In fact, the Con came at something of a tipping point in the Kirbyverse in general. DC’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #132 (September 1970) featured a news item in the “Jimmy Olsen’s Pen-Pals” letters column. In brief, “Have we got changes coming up in Jimmy Olsen! You can be sure Jim will get a modernizing treatment—plus much more. Next issue, he teams up with a new version of the Newsboy Legion, which starred in Star Spangled Comics back in the ’40’s. And guess who’s doing the job? None other than the guy who originated them—one of the top men in the comic field—Jack Kirby!”

The times, they were certainly changing.

Pep Comics and Clerks

Comic-Con grew, and Archie paid tribute. Archie Giant Series Magazine #601 (October 1989) © 2019 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. And, hey, Clerks: Holiday Special (December 1998) also came a while after 1970 but definitely had a connection to something else that occurred in August 1970. © 2019 Miramax, Inc.

So …

Remembering now that 2020 will be the 60th anniversary of initial comics-fan contacts, as well as the 50th anniversary (in years) of Comic-Con International: San Diego …

Look how far we’ve traveled already.

In days of ongoing comic book pre-publication censorship, costly long-distance calls, black-and-white TV shows, audio (but not fan-accessible video) recorders, and spotty newsstand distribution, who’d have thought that we’d now have a Comic-Con Museum in San Diego? And comics collections in several historical venues and colleges? (Well, actually, many of us dreamed of just this.)

Yes, it might be fun to take a focused work in 2020 looking at all the way things have changed. Because, come to think of it, a big meme in comics has always been the hook of “What happens next?”

Hey, what did happen next? And, for that matter, what might happen in comics in 2020?

What will change? And what (on the other hand) will remain the same? People are already working on the answers.

Maggie’s World by Maggie Thompson appears the first Tuesday of each month here on Toucan!