Sunday, June 16, 2019

Book Review: Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978

           Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978 (affiliate link) is a thorough, detailed look at the lead-up to the DC Implosion in 1978, and its aftermath. However, at times it can be a dry read, and its appeal might be limited to die-hard comic book industry junkies or researchers. Nevertheless, I’m glad this book exists.
            The DC Implosion occurred during the summer of 1978. At the time, DC was planning a massive increase of its comic book line, billed as the DC Explosion, including increased issue sizes at an increased price. However, just as it was launching, DC was forced by Warner Bros., its parent company, to slash its lineup of comics being released by at least 40% and trim its staff. As news of the cuts spread, it gained the name the DC Implosion. 
The book compiles quotes from numerous industry journals, such as The Comics Journal, The Comics Reader, and MediaScene, of the major industry players involved in DC Comics at the time. You get article excerpts from Jeanette Kahn, publisher of DC Comics at the time, Paul Levitz, then DC Comics editorial coordinater, Mike Gold, then DC Comics public relations representative, and many others. There are also recollections pulled from articles, blogs, and biographies years later. It is an impressive piece of research and compilation to put all of these disparate quotes into a readable, valuable book. My only quibble is that it’s billed as an oral history, and from my spot check of the index, there only appeared to be 6 or 7 actual email interviews conducted, and most of them were with current industry insiders who were merely fans at the time of the Implosion. So, I don’t know if this book actually qualifies as an “oral history.”
            Particularly interesting to me were the snippets about contract negotiations, personnel moves, and creator-ownership of characters. The years leading up to the DC Implosion were when the creator-rights movement began to gain steam. Changes in the copyright law, the financial straits of Siegel & Shuster leading up to the release of Superman: The Movie, and the short-lived attempt to form a Comics Creators Guild, all contributed to the creator-rights movement gaining steam in the lead-up to the Implosion. In its aftermath, some comic books that would have been published and owned by DC ended up being published elsewhere and owned by the creators, such as Bucky O’Hare. There are also some interesting snippets about contract disputes with some of the creators, and the rights-clearance process for the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali cover.
The story behind the two Cancelled Comics Cavalcade books was also particularly interesting. The quickly produced books, consisting of only 40 copies, were made from the comics cancelled during the Implosion. It was apparently done to preserve the copyrights to these works, which is somewhat questionable reasoning. The books were primarily distributed to those involved in creating the cancelled works with a few held in the DC archives and some sent to the copyright office. 
            Another interesting piece from the book is its look at the causes leading up to the Implosion, including the massive winter blizzard that impacted sales in early ’78, and the issues with the diminishing returns of newsstand distribution. It concludes by looking at how the Implosion impacted the industry, not only in the short-term, but in the long-term evolution of how publishers did business in its aftermath. It partially attributes the rise of mini-series and the direct market as outcomes of the Implosion.
            Overall, Comic Book Implosion: An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978 is a fascinating, well-researched book. For those wanting to learn more about the business of comics, it is an essential read.

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