|Cerebus #84, Page 2 (March 1986)|
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Beguiling, July 2004)
This sequence goes a long way back to Jim Shooter's tenure as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, a tenure marked by an exponential increase in wordy explanation and explication about who and what everyone was in Marvel Comics stories. In retrospect being Marvel Comics editor-in-chief is an unenviable task. It isn't just a matter of making the trains run on time, it's a matter of understanding what a train is and communicating it to a huge audience composed of equal parts neophytes and long-standing experts on the super-hero subject matter and communicating the appropriate construction of trains to those charged with assembling them. Shooter treated it as a purely commercial enterprise, a variation on ad copy-writing which—given how far afield some of his scripters had been going at that point—made, again in retrospect, a certain amount of very good sense. One of his best instruction manuals was his own company-wide cross-over, Secret Wars, a multi-part epic which continued throughout the entire Marvel Comics super-hero line over a period of months and which was the best-selling pure concept of its day and which spawned many successors in the industry. The purest part of the concept was that it was a means of getting Marvel Comics readers to try titles they weren’t otherwise reading in order to get the full story. Over the long term (that is, after the storyline and its successors and imitators had run their course), I suspect that conventional wisdom came to see the process as self-defeating: for every new reader you attracted, you would repel an old reader with the intrusion of an entirely tangential (and often superfluous) storyline at an inopportune moment in a title he or she had been reading for years. Because of the preeminence of commercial application, Shooter's dialogue tended to read a lot like the Roach and Dirty Fleagle and Dirty Drew’s dialogue here - that is, like captions reworked as dialogue balloons (the reason I made the McGrew Brothers' dialogue balloons square instead of round) - which made it an easy target for parody. Another of Big Jim's hard and fast rules of storytelling was that "conflict creates character" which is why Dirty Fleagle and Dirty Drew spend most of their time as the Secret Sacred Wars Roach’s henchmen beating crap out of each other. My own view would be that conflict forces decision-making and decision-making breaks down into bad decision-making which is destructive and good decision-making which is creative. In both cases the development of character can result: in the former case because a lesson is learned from making a mistake and in the latter case because a good decision results in immediate improvement. It seems to me that believing that "conflict creates character" in and of itself explains why there was so much conflict in the editorial offices of Marvel Comics through much of the 1980s.
But there also seems to me to be no question that Secret Wars was a lot more beneficial - if not to the long-term health of the comic-book field then certainly in the short term - than all of us "independent guys" and our artsy-fartsy books rolled together.