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Transatlantic History Ramblings Interviews Alex Grand 2020

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

In the meantime enjoy the show:

Interview starts at 19:45.

Brian:

All right. Lauren, I got Alex Grand on the line with us from comic book historians and we are going to talk about the history of the comic book.

Lauren:

Fantastic.

Brian:

Alex, Welcome to Transatlantic History ramblings. How are you?

Alex Grand:

Good. Thanks for having me on. I’m glad to be a part of this ongoing effort to unravel what’s been going on in the history of our world. Sure.

Brian:

Yeah. And comic books have had a quite an up and down history in our culture. I don’t know what it’s like in the UK there, Lauren, but here, it definitely goes all over the board. And with the superhero movies ruling the box office the past few years, they’ve become a hot topic, again, a conversation, if not sales of comics themselves. So, Alex, you’re with Comic Book Historians, which I love the fact that it’s called historians.

Alex Grand:

Oh, good, thanks. Yeah. Comic Book Historians, well, what the ongoing effort is, is to figure out on the comic end where do a lot of these characters come from, but also, just before that the form of the comic book, the sequential narrative of the comic book, where does that stem from? Actually, there is some British ancestry to the American comic book form because in something we would call the platinum age of comics, which is pre-Superman, a lot of those early periodicals and strips and actually, some of the first American comic books were based on British comic strips and British sequential narratives. So, there is actually a bit of a British ancestry to it.

Alex Grand:

Now, of course, they diverged. The main divergence, I would say, between British and American comics is what would start off the American golden age of comics was the superhero. I think, in America, there’s more of an emphasis on the superhero than a lot of countries probably would care to emphasize. There’s something about the action, there’s a bit of escapism, maybe throw in some science fiction, and then this sense of in World War II, probably more patriotism, but in modern times more of a sense of overall just achieving justice through force, I think that becomes almost a bit of an American narrative, for better or for worse and I think that’s kind of intertwined.

Alex Grand:

That American sense of Manifest Destiny, whether it’s misplaced or not, that’s up to other people to decide, but that American sense of Manifest Destiny is mixed up with the mythology of the American superhero and with Superman. And for better, for worse, I think that’s what differentiates the American comic history is almost its emphasis on superheroes. And there are different ages of comic books and a lot of it is based on either the presence or absence of superheroes or what kind of superheroes sell, but there are other genres and I think in England, they emphasized a lot of other genres and in America, too, there’s a lot of other genres like Crime, Romance. The genres of movies, those are the genres of comics as well.

Brian:

like horror comics.

Alex Grand:

So, yeah, there’s a bit of a British. Yeah, or horror comics, exactly. Tales from the Crypt, which had a resurgence in the ’90s with that HBO show, but had a nice 1950s comic following. Yeah, horror comics has its own cool thing, for sure, absolutely.

Brian:

Yeah. The thing that just always fascinated me about comics in the U.S. was in between the Golden and Silver Age when there were all the congressional hearings and them trying to ban comic books, because they were so evil and bad for children.

Alex Grand:

Yes, yes.

Brian:

And they really went after like Vault of Fear and Tales of the Crypt…

Alex Grand:

Yeah. I love those, yeah.

Brian:

… but they went after the superheroes, too.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah. There was some element of that, yeah. I mean, there were some people that would criticize the Batman and Robin relationship as being a weird, pedophile type of fantasy, things like that. I think that, what we would call, some historians kind of debate on if there should be a separate age in between Golden and Silver, some have called it the Atomic Age, which really means from 1950 to 1955, is pretty much that, that range. And it’s because superheroes kind of went away for about for those five or six years since World War II was long gone and it was the Korean War, it was more of an emphasis on non-superhero genres.

Alex Grand:

So, you had, like you said, the horror comics, the crime comics, romance comics. The funny thing though, is the more gruesome crime got, the more they found that it’s sold. So, you have the Lev Gleason comics with Crime Does Not Pay and the EC Comics with their crime stories and shock-suspense stories. They found that if you have a narrator and make it real gruesome, start cutting off some heads at the end, have some weird justice for the bad guy, hey, you’re selling more copies. So, then crime then becomes the origin of the horror comic where they’re like, “Well, we can actually go even nuttier than the crime comic with the horror comics, and really sell some comics. And this is awesome, and there’s no age restrictions. There’s no labels on it, and so anyone could buy this stuff off the newsstand.”

Alex Grand:

And yeah, that did gather some attention, right? There were child psychiatrists, Fredric Wertham wrote his Seduction of the Innocent using panels of women getting stabbed in the eye, people getting choked to death under a lake, coming back as zombies. Now that’s where the people getting killed, that’s the crime comic. Now, they come back as a zombie or there’s a magical curse around the crime. Now suddenly, it becomes a horror comic, so there’s an overlap between crime and horror. There’s usually crime and then the horror element kicks in after.

Alex Grand:

And you’re right, suddenly, that caught the attention of some senators, Senator Estes Kefauver. They’re also going through the distribution connections to organized crime. Legitimately, they were investigating that, but there was also then this element of “Wow, these comics that maybe the mob is distributing, these are corrupting our children, too. Let’s go after now the comics.” And it’s kind of, I think that it was not the right move because Bill Gaines, who was doing a lot of horror comics, was using the horror comics to fund science fiction comics and those science fiction comics had a lot of social justice narratives in it as far as having a black astronaut, going into and connecting with other cultures, things like that.

Alex Grand:

And so, the sci-fi element had some really cool stuff, but unfortunately, the horror got all the attention and suddenly, the Comics Code Authority was made by the Comics Industry. It was a private entity to self-censor comics. Don’t let it turn into horror for kids and unfortunately, what happened is, it actually cut the heart of those non-superhero genres out of it. Now suddenly, crime, horror, romance, you couldn’t show a lot of stuff. So now, the only thing that made money was superheroes, so superheroes came back as a result of that.

Brian:

Yeah. And I’ll tell you, that whole thing about the Batman-Robin relationship kind of pisses me off because when I was a little kid, like I wanted to be Robin, like I thought Robin was like cool as shit. I don’t know why. I mean, looking back and I’m like, “What was wrong with me?” But I was a little kid and I used to dress up like Robin and think I was like beating the shit out of people…

Alex Grand:

Yes, yes, very innocent.

Brian:

… which means, I probably looked like a weird multicolored prepubescent drag queen, but I never wanted to slide down the bat pole, if you know what I mean? So, I never read that into the relationship.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s a good point. Right. Sliding down the bat pole. That’s a good… yeah, I never thought of it that way before. You speak that very well. You come from the heart with that.

Brian:

However, I do think Wonder Woman was totally created as a [inaudible 00:08:13] thing. I mean, that is so pro-bondage.

Alex Grand:

I think that’s right. I think William Moulton Marston, the professor who created Wonder Woman, he was a polyamorous. He had a wife and then also like a concubine or whatever. He had kids with both and there was bondage in the household and that was for sure in the original Wonder Woman stories. I think that he did it not from a creepy standpoint, I think it was truly from a respect for the female form, female strength. I think the women ruled the household and I think that’s how he wanted the comic to come across.

Brian:

Well, Wonder Woman was a total dominatrix.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. Oh, yeah, exactly. Right. That’s right. With the Lasso of Truth and then gag you with it until you tell the truth, right? Something like that.

Brian:

And just the way she would stand over people it was so obvious. It was like if you just put Bettie Page there, there’s no difference.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s a funny… that’s cool. That’s a cool connection. Bettie Page and Wonder Woman, absolutely. And boots, the long boots, and this kind of dominating presence with that rope? Yeah, I could see what you’re saying. I think that’s right. That’s probably right.

Brian:

And I’m okay with that, especially if it was Lynda Carter.

Alex Grand:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. In the late ’70s, the Wonder Woman TV show, which she still, I think to this day, although I do love Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but there’s something really special about that ’70s Lynda Carter and also Christopher Reeves Superman. They both kind of came around the same time and that’s a tough combo to beat. It would have been cool to actually have them on screen together, that would have been fun.

Brian:

And I’ll tell you, she still looks great.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, she does. Yeah, she was in the Supergirl show recently. Yeah, absolutely Yep. And there’s some cool pictures of her in the ’80s with her kids, but like a rocking mom. Really, I’m amazed by her. She is definitely a strong… she definitely captures Wonder Woman perfectly. Yeah.

Brian:

Now, Lauren is writing the definitive history of the women’s suffrage movement in the UK…

Alex Grand:

Oh, wow.

Brian:

… and a lot of work on feminism. And I’ve always been curious because the feminist take on Wonder Woman has been split. There are some people out there who say, “It’s total exploitation and it’s terrible,” and then there’s other women who say, “She was the first girl power.”

Alex Grand:

Yeah, right.

Brian:

I’m wondering, Lauren, what do you think it is?

Lauren:

Wonder Woman wasn’t being exploited by anybody. She’s an Amazonian. She was doing the exploiting. I absolutely agree with you.

Brian:

Yeah, so you’re pro Wonder Woman.

Lauren:

I am pro Wonder Woman. She’s amazing.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. It turns out there’s like different camps or something. I asked someone about that, who is self-labeled as a very strong historical feminist? He was about 65 and I wanted to get his outlook because Wonder Woman starts out strong, then in the late ’60s, they took her costume and powers away to make her more relatable, but then, Gloria Steinem in the early ’70s has an article of why was Wonder Woman depowered? Bring her strength back. It’s almost like, the way it was explained to me and it could be wrong and tell me if I’m wrong, Lauren, because, you’ll probably know more about the terminology better, but from what I’ve understood or what it’s explained to me as is there’s a sex positive and sex negative versions of feminism, and in the sex-

Lauren:

Yeah.

Alex Grand:

Is that correct?

Lauren:

That is correct. Yes.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. And that in the sex negative version, it’s seen as almost like an exploitive, female body for fan boys. Then, the sex positive version is that she’s really capturing her Amazonian strength and her sexuality is a part of that strength and she controls the people around her and then that’s the sex positive version. Is that, would you think that’s right?

Lauren:

I think that’s right, but if you know your classics and you know of the Amazonian women, they were hunters. This is what Wonder Woman did, they were doing in real life, so that’s why I would say it’s more of a positive version than a negative version, because it’s based on a society of strong women and a matriarchy.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. And I think from her conception, she was that. She was in that matriarchal society, so yeah. And I think even in the Vikings, there’re stories of warrior women that they were doing the hunting and all that stuff. So, it’s really not like that far off. I mean that did happen in reality, too.

Brian:

It’s funny. Me and Lauren both have strong True Crime backgrounds. That’s actually how we met. We were both researchers in True Crime fields, primarily Jack the Ripper, Victorian London crimes. The crime comic books were the most… they were just pure exploitation. It was like, “We’re going to titillate, but in the guise of telling you, we’re teaching you something.”

Alex Grand:

[crosstalk 00:13:10]

Brian:

“But really we just want to show you people getting shot and stabbed and their heads cut off.”

Alex Grand:

Yeah. That’s probably right because that sold, yeah.

Brian:

And yet, they didn’t criticize it nearly as much as the horror comics.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s true. Although crime was criticized, but you’re right, the horror comics certainly took precedence because I mean, once you have like a little kid dancing around the decapitated, de gouged eyes of their stepdad on the ground behind them at Christmastime, for sure that definitely takes priority. But yeah, those crime comics, Lev Gleason’s Crime Does Not Pay, actually, a lot of these were like this. They would say, “Crime doesn’t pay,” but then they would show crime kind of paying off for a long time until the last panel when it suddenly didn’t. So yeah, you’re right.

Brian:

Oh, I love it. And the other ones that got away with it during those senate hearings were, it just shows the double standard where the Classics Illustrated.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s interesting, right? Because Classics Illustrated was showing historical things like the fall of Rome or something like that, or even trying to redo Moby Dick or novels of the past. And it’s true, they kind of, I think because they come from… yeah, it’s interesting that you say that. It comes from almost a teaching standpoint of some kind. Yeah, there are some comics that just kind of got a free pass during that whole thing. There was this forbidding the use of monsters, so Dracula and all that kind of disappeared from comics for a while. But Dell still had a Dracula comic during the Comics Code, but they did not have to be regulated by the Comics Code because they did so much Disney stuff, that they just kind of got a free pass at little things like that. In fact, they rejected the Comics Code because they had their own code saying “Dell Comics are good comics,” but then you see a Dracula comic kind of breakthrough. It’s like, “Well, they get a free pass.”

Alex Grand:

A lot of times, it depends on who you ask. Some historians think that Bill Gaines specifically was targeted because he would have an anti-KKK message or he would have a pro-black message in some of his comics, and they feel like, some people wonder if he was picked on specifically and that they use the other stuff as an excuse. It’s hard to say, because how do you prove that? I know that you can easily prove seeing a woman getting her eyes picked out with an icepick. You can get that panel and show it off in Congress and that you can prove, so it’s tough. I mean, where there’s underlying motivations. And there’s also some political motivations to because Senator Estes Kefauver. There was some talk of him maybe running for President and he was just trying to get some attention.

Alex Grand:

Even Fredric Wertham, who wrote that psychiatry book, he didn’t really use a scientific method in proving that juvenile delinquency is related to comics, because what you do in science is you get the group that you’re looking at, that has something, you’re try to relate a cause. Then you find another group of people that don’t have that issue and see if they have that same cause and effect in it. He didn’t do that. He just kind of looked at the kids that were delinquents, saw they all read comics, and then made his assessment, just from that. He did not look at normal kids who were not juvenile delinquents, they all happen to be also reading the same comics. He never did that second part.

Brian:

Well, that doesn’t fit your narrative.

Alex Grand:

It doesn’t fit the narrative and I think the narrative he was getting a lot of publicity, he was getting a lot of press, people were talking about him as like this really smart guy. I think some people like that. Maybe some professors, they kind of like the fame a little bit and in his case, I think he sacrificed some integrity and truth for that. He wasn’t a bad guy. He did some decent things before and after Seduction of the Innocent. He wrote a book in the ’70s, celebrating comic book fanzines. And that’s actually a fun book, I’ve read it and you could tell he like loves that kids are organized and putting their passions in writing and communicating with each other.

Alex Grand:

He felt that comic book fanzines were a good thing, so he did that in the ’70s. In the ’30s, he actually wrote one of the first textbooks on medical neuroscience and neurobiology, and that’s still a celebrated book now that he wrote. So, he wasn’t a bad person, but I think the fame got to his head and he sacrificed some integrity. Just as some people would sacrifice integrity to get views, he sacrificed integrity to get the equivalent of that in the ’50s.

Brian:

And sadly, it worked all too well for him, because that’s all he’s remembered for now.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. And that is sad, you’re right. I mean, it worked almost too well, because now no one knows his medical textbooks or his book on fanzines. Most people just think of him as the boogeyman of comics, the guy that almost ruined the whole thing. I would say, though, that it was probably his book that did get the senators in line to start looking at it and then the comics industry then kind of cutting its own neck a little bit by only allowing certain genres that could really break through to make money and it almost created an overemphasis on the superhero when we were on the verge of really actually telling some really amazing stories in the comic book medium, really interesting, thought-provoking science fiction. We were exploring that. It was about to be something, which now it’s caught up, but there is almost like a 50-year delay because of it.

Brian:

Yeah, but in a way and this might be not what a lot of comic book fans want to hear, in some respects, it worked out for science fiction in general, because people like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov probably would have been doing comic books instead of their novels and radio shows.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah, that’s an interesting point. And yeah, and actually Ray Bradbury, it’s interesting. He did allow some of his stories to be adapted in the EC comics and some of those later sci-fi guys did allow their stuff to be adapted, like in the ’70s when the Comics Code started relaxing more and also they were looking at magazine format. This is another thing that gets a free pass from the Comics Code because magazines were not regulated, so you could actually make adult comic magazine, so you have Warren magazines and things like that starting to break through and the Marvel magazines of the ’70s, which you’ll see an occasional boob in there and you’re like, “Whoa, that’s a nice man story and there’s a boob? That’s interesting,” but it’s because magazines got a free pass.

Brian:

You have that issue with the boobs?

Alex Grand:

I’ll send you a scan later. No, I’m kidding.

Brian:

Lauren is just like, “Oh, God, no. Here we go.”

Alex Grand:

But that being said, yeah, it’s interesting is it almost did create, maybe it did create that sense of “Well, maybe I’ll be engaged in a more serious medium.” Maybe that did happen. I’m not sure. I haven’t read any interviews that pointed that out, but it’s possible, right? Because if you have that, that’s an interesting. And art as far as artists go, that happened.

Alex Grand:

That there are people like Mac Raboy, who was a great Golden Age artist. He did Captain Marvel, Jr. and he did Flash Gordon for a while. He actually had the skill of a fine artist, but it was just easier to do comics. And same thing with Reed Crandall, big guy, and not known in a lot of the mainstream comics, but he was so talented. He did a lot of EC comics and other things and Dell and Treasure Chest. He could have been a fine artist, but it was just easier to just maybe grab a drink and do a comic instead. And so, there is a little bit of that. What you’re saying is correct. I’ve never heard it from the writing standpoint, but I’ve definitely heard that from the artist standpoint.

Brian:

Well, there’s also people like let me think of his name, Jack Cole, who did, was it that, the original Plastic Man that he became more famous leaving the comic book industry and going to Playboy.

Alex Grand:

That’s right. Yeah, he was a real talent. Some question like maybe he was a little crazy, because if you look at some of his… Plastic Man was originating in those like police crime comics and you see a lot of interesting imagery in those where you’re like, “Wow. That’s Plastic Man?” There’s some disturbing stuff that shows up in some of those comics, but they were genius. The things that he would do with Plastic Man’s body. It was a mixture of superhero, but also like cartooning style, kind of in the same comic. And you’re right, once he went off to Playboy, he really hit it big. It’s unfortunate, he committed suicide the way he did and some people have tried to figure out why he did it.

Alex Grand:

I found he wrote two suicide notes. I think one to his wife, which I don’t think anyone’s read and one to Hugh Hefner, who he worked for. I read the one that he wrote to Hugh and it was very complimentary of Hugh, he really liked Hugh Hefner, saying that, he thought that he was great and that it wasn’t personal because of him in any way. But yeah, it is sad. His suicide was sad, but there was a raw talent. Yeah, and he could have… yeah, when he was doing what like those panels in Playboy, you could see he was a real class act artist. He was a real talented artist, for sure.

Brian:

There are a lot of people who collect vintage Playboys and one of the main reasons is for Jack Cole art.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I could see that. Yep. Yeah, that stuff is beautiful. And it’s like classy, like upper class humor, too. It’s like, I mean, it’s a little bit dirty, but it’s more in the classy sense of it. Yeah.

Brian:

Can you explain a little bit about his suicide and the reasons behind it, because he was very successful at that time?

Alex Grand:

He was, and it’s all driven to theory. Historians and fans theorized about it. I think there was some element of issues at home, maybe he wasn’t happy, something with him and his wife, something was unhappy there. I know that, I think that they couldn’t have kids, from what I heard and I don’t know if that factored in. I know that he drove somewhere with his gun, and then pulled over somewhere and shot himself, but from what I understand, he stayed alive for a few hours, like bleeding like, “Okay. That wasn’t a sudden as I thought.” And they couldn’t save him when they found him. I think that it was probably not the ending he was hoping for when he was planning it and when he executed it.

Brian:

Yeah, it’s sad and I mean, we’ve talked about on the show before. There was obviously mental illness involved, unchecked, we don’t know, but he was a very talented guy, who started in comic books. I mean, there’s a lot of people, very respected people, that started in comic books.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. Wally Wood also committed suicide. He got really famous for doing Mad Magazine, super-duper man and then in the ’50s, he was doing a lot of EC comics science-fiction stuff. He could draw anything. Jim Steranko always thought Wally Wood was one of his idols. He actually is the guy that made the red Daredevil costume, so Daredevil had a yellow costume and then he came along and in issue seven made Daredevil red, gave him a red costume, changed his costume, made him cool, right? There should be a classification for people who made a character cool now, because they don’t have that. They just say “created by,” they don’t say “made cool by,” but Daredevil was made cool by Wally wood.

Alex Grand:

His radar kind of sense all came from Wally and yeah, I think he had these migraines some depression, he had some alcoholism issues, and he ended up I think in ’81 kind of alone, no money because he was a big gun guy. He liked his guns. Trained a lot of people along the way, did some comic strips for the military, but like Howard Chaykin worked with him, Dave Cockrum, all sorts of people that worked in comics later, and then he just kind of self-inflicted gunshot wound and died alone. And you wonder about the alcoholism, the history of migraines, the depression, maybe making some wrong decisions. Yeah, some people just.

Alex Grand:

Jack Cole is different, though because everything went right for him when he did it. I think Wally, one of the things was kidney failure. He didn’t want to be on dialysis and nothing he did business-wise worked out for him, so there’s a bit of a depression. In Jack Cole’s case, it’s almost like “Why would he do that?” He was sitting on top of the world, so there’s various reasons. External is one part of it. There’s some internal things and like you said mental health is its own thing.

Brian:

Yeah. And it’s just so tragic. But I kind of want to go back. I know I’m jumping all over the place because-

Alex Grand:

I like it. It’s fun.

Brian:

Yeah. That after a certain man who was super came along, the market really got flooded with every kind of fucking superhero you can imagine and they were some dumb superheroes in the day. I remember one called The Clock.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, right.

Brian:

I mean-

Alex Grand:

Right. Exactly. Yeah. If it’s the same clock, I’m thinking about I think that’s like a pre-Batman character. And yeah, you’re right. They would have a lot of funky characters. Really before Superman, they had comic strips. They had Popeye, who some argue maybe he was a super-powered character. They had the Phantom who was a costumed hero, but he didn’t have superpowers. Although he did use superstition against his enemies, and I suppose Batman does, too, so maybe if Batman’s a superhero, maybe Phantom is.

Alex Grand:

But Superman, you’re right. He made such an impact. There’s something about the logo on his chest. There was something about that circus outfit. There’s something about the cape. There was something about lifting the car and smashing it, where it’s like, “Whoa, this is a new thing.” And what that first Action Comics sold so well, I don’t think that comics company that became DC, I think was called National Periodical Publications or Detective Comics, they had different names. But once that hit, the money that came in and the sales were huge. That it really, the whole industry was like, “Okay, we’re doing this.”

Alex Grand:

And so suddenly you have, the Shazam! – Captain Marvel coming out, who’s actually really good, I think. And then you have Wonder Man, who was only there for a year from Fox and he’s also like jumping in air and grabbing an airplane and kind of copying Superman. And so then I think there was a lawsuit against Fox and Will Eisner did that one and then they seized using that character. Captain Marvel, they had a lawsuit on him, DC did, but he was making so much money, they just kept delaying it in court until he stopped making money. But yeah, there was a lot, all sorts of funky characters.

Alex Grand:

Amazing Man is kind of funny because he has almost like this, I don’t know. It’s almost like this, looks a little S&M-y to me, but he’s in his briefs and this X thing and nothing else. And I think he was trained in the East and he was very amazing. And yeah, Bill Everett, who created the Sub-Mariner, I think created Amazing Man for Centaur Comics. But yeah, there’s all sorts of funky me-too characters, none of them really hit as well as Superman and the Shazam! – Captain Marvel, but they all tried. It is kind of funny. I think the original Flash, not the cool 1956 one that everyone knows now, but the original one. I forget. What was-

Brian:

With the guy in a raincoat, who never mind that.

Alex Grand:

But no. He had like heavy… I forgot the origin, like heavy water exposure. I mean, it was like the weirdest origins that just makes no sense, but they are fun. No, no. Yeah. There was that one guy, The Wiz! What happened? He drank mongoose blood or something. I mean, I forgot what it was or it was mongoose blood transfusion. But just the silliest, funkiest things. But you got to… I love the ground floor of anything and it’s like the internet in the late ’90s, it’s like anything was possible and it’s kind of like the comics in like 1941. Suddenly, you have every kind of weird knockoff character you can get. It’s pretty funny.

Brian:

Arms falling off boy.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I mean, anything’s possible. I mean, I think, yeah, there was what, Nightmare and Sleepy? I mean, that is just, I mean, just the weirdest hero and sidekick. For sure, Batman and Robin, Captain America and Bucky, they became popular, so you got weird people with sidekicks like Nightmare and Sleepy. Weird stuff going on.

Brian:

So, Amazing Man was just in briefs, you said, right?

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I think briefs and like an X-shirt. Well, just an X, not even a shirt. Maybe almost kind of looks like He-Man, come to think of it, but yeah.

Brian:

The whole briefs thing. All right. My favorite comic book of all time is Silver Surfer. I was always the Silver Surfer guy. Like the original Silver Surfer wore briefs?

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah. There was like a line there, right? Yeah.

Brian:

Yeah. Then he comes back and it ain’t no briefs, but there’s still no ding-ding. Why was he wearing the briefs?

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s a good point. I’m sure it was just something that Jack Kirby just kind of… I’d have to analyze the panel, look real close.

Alex Grand:

I mean we might need a urologist’s consultation on it but from what I… maybe, it was just like, “Okay, I’ll just draw a little thing here.” I don’t think they thought about that. But I think later, people start thinking about, “Where do you tuck that thing? And if it’s cosmic, do you even need one,” right? Do angels have one in general? I think that’s what the Silver Surfer is.

Brian:

I don’t know.

Alex Grand:

In the end of the day, he’s a biblical angel, right?

Brian:

My girlfriend just walked into the room. I got to ask her a question.

Speaker 4:

What’s that?

Brian:

Why does Silver Surfer not have a ding-ding when he took the Silver Surfer shorts off?

Speaker 4:

I have no idea.

Brian:

I’m sure no one, either.

Alex Grand:

Maybe something with the Power Cosmic caused it to like flat and get absorbed in, who knows?

Brian:

I’ll tell you what power he didn’t have. Lauren, can I ask you a question?

Lauren:

Why do I feel this is going to make people feeling horrible. Yes.

Brian:

When you were growing up, what comics were big in the UK?

Lauren:

Well, we had this Saturday morning show called Warner Brothers Club, which basically showed us all the American cartoons as they were coming out. So, it was Batman because of the Batman animated series.

Alex Grand:

Now, do they have, and I’d have to look because I’m not as brushed up on British history, although I’ve read a couple books on British, I mean, I’m sorry, British comic history, I’ve read a couple books on it. But did you ever see like Eagle and Lion, did those ever come up?

Lauren:

No. We had Stingray ones and Thunderbird ones, Thunderbird comic books, but those were the main, those were the ones you could go into the newsagents and buy, but if you wanted Batman, you couldn’t go into a little corner shop that sold newspapers and comic books and buy Batman and Superman, you had to go in into a specialist store for that.

Alex Grand:

And so like a specialty hobby shop or something like that?

Lauren:

Yeah. And we only have one in Swansea, so just the bookshops sell graphic novels, but if you want the comic as it’s coming out, you have to go to the comic shop, just one little tiny shop in the center, yeah.

Alex Grand:

So, they were selling specifically comics at this place?

Lauren:

Yeah.

Alex Grand:

Okay, not like records and other things.

Lauren:

No.

Alex Grand:

[crosstalk 00:33:46] things.

Lauren:

No.

Alex Grand:

Okay. It was a straight-up comic bookshop. What timeframe are we talking about with this?

Lauren:

It’s still there, so it’s from 1984 till now.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, that direct market comic shop, it really exploded in the ’80s. It’s cool to hear that that happened in England also.

Brian:

Did they show the Silver Surfer’s ding-ding in England or the UK? Yeah, she just doesn’t even want to answer that. She’s not dignified in what that is.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. I’m doubting it I’m thinking that this is the tale of the lost ding-ding. There might be a story behind this.

Brian:

I think so. Norrin Radd has no nads.

Lauren:

Stop it.

Alex Grand:

Norrin Nads, interesting.

Lauren:

Stop it, Brian.

Alex Grand:

No, that’s interesting. Norrin Radd, but if you actually take out a lot of letters in between you get the word nad, too. That’s interesting too.

Brian:

Yeah.

Alex Grand:

All right.

Brian:

We always knew Galactus was a bastard, but he took his ding-ding.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I guess, he did. I never… maybe there was like a sacrificial biblical sacrifice story there, like if you want power, you’re going to have to give up something, right? Something like that.

Brian:

And if you do a good enough job finding planets where to eat, I’ll give it back to you.

Alex Grand:

Right, right. Something, yeah, okay at the end?

Brian:

Yeah. He’s going to have it back.

Alex Grand:

After he’s fulfilled, yeah. Okay, I see. All right. Well, we’ll see.

Brian:

That’s just my theory. I’m going to run with it.

Alex Grand:

I think you should submit that to Marvel, see what cooks out.

Brian:

Yeah. Stan Lee’s dead now because that would have probably killed him, that theory, but I want to talk about that for a second because Stan Lee now gets credit for everything Marvel did and he even said one time, “The great thing about living everybody is you get credit.” Who are some of the people that really deserve the credit that Stan’s the only one who gets back in Marvel?

Alex Grand:

So, Stan certainly deserves some credit, not all of it though, like you said. I have a couple of articles, I had a couple of YouTube videos on this on one is analyzing who did what in 1960s Marvel and all these characters like the Fantastic Four, Thor, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, when all these characters being created, who did what exactly? And so, there’s one about and so there’s a really like I get a lot of quotes and really it comes down to it was all co-creatorship. And there’s another two articles and two YouTube videos one on Steve Ditko, co-creator of Marvel and Jack Kirby, co-creator of Marvel.

Alex Grand:

And I think it’s really important that people should know that Stan Lee did not create everything. He was an editor. He did plotting sessions with these artists who were also writers in their own way, but they would actually then put out the whole story and give him guides of “Okay, this guy kind of says this, this guy kind of says that,” and then Stanley would fill in the balloons. And then what would end up happening is you get this thing at the end now, Stan would say, “This doesn’t quite fit or let’s make it fit with Steve. Hey Jack, let’s make this fit with what Steve Ditko is doing over here.” And then he did actually make it a universe that way.

Alex Grand:

But jack Kirby and Steve Ditko really did The Spider-Man costume. Did Stan Lee create the Spider-Man costume? No, that was a Steve Ditko creation. The whole thing of cosmic rays and astronauts almost facing death and then getting superpowers. Now, Jack Kirby did comics before that in the ’50s of astronauts going into the space facing cosmic rays, people almost being near death, like the Challengers of the Unknown. And then although not coming out with powers, had their own adventures. He was doing all that stuff. So when he met Stan, the Fantastic Four was a lot of it was evolution of his own ideas. But Stan definitely did, they brainstormed together. They did actually have powwows over what would be cool and that’s a different thing.

Alex Grand:

And I referred to that earlier, “How do you make a comic cool?” Cool means like, people want to read it. People read it, they’re like, “I want this. I want more of this.” Stan for sure did that. But for sure, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Steve Ditko visualized and created like all these, the Vulture, Sandman, Mysterio. I mean every rogues gallery that of Spider-Man that we actually care about came from Steve Ditko just kind of putting that stuff out there yet. Yeah, it was co-creatorship with Stan as far as “Hey, let’s do kind of this. Let’s kind of do that.” But really, Stan Lee did not create all of Marvel.

Alex Grand:

Now, he did edit. He did make sure everything fit like Lego pieces together, and the Marvel Universe, he made it a cohesive, continuous Marvel Universe, and that’s for sure. And that needs to be celebrated, but when it comes to creating the whole thing, yeah, it was definitely a co-creatorship and the main three guys: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Brian:

What Stan also did, which was brilliant. I was born in the early ’70s, so I grew up with those Marvel cartoons, the Hulk cartoon and the Spider-Man cartoon and the Captain America cartoon with all those horrible theme songs that Stan wrote, which I would sing them all now because I remember them vividly, but we’d probably be sued, that was brilliant. That marketed it to us. The thing that got me interested in anything comic books, was those cartoons that I watched in the ’60s Batman series, which that’s where my obsession with wanting to be Robin came from.

Alex Grand:

Right. That’s cool. And Burt Ward did pull off that Robin costume. I mean, it could have been worse.

Brian:

No. Don’t say that. That’s just creepy.

Alex Grand:

It could have gone another way, is all I’m saying. But, yeah, no, for sure. I mean, I grew up, I was born in ’78, so my intro to Marvel was Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends cartoon and Stan Lee was narrating a lot of that stuff. For sure and there’s definitely… once Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko left Marvel, you noticed that a lot of the creators, a lot of the stuff that Stan was then co-creating suddenly goes away. He’s not co-creating much, although he did create She-Hulk as a byproduct of the Hulk TV show. But what he did do was he was able to connect with the fans in a way that no one else could. He was able to write the soapboxes.

Alex Grand:

He was able to look at what the new guys coming in submitting comics and be like, “Well, that’s not really our style or no, you need to do it more like this.” He was able to then continue to train, connect with fans, but also then expand into other media. He was like, “Let’s go for magazines. Let’s go for cartoons. Let’s go to L.A. Let’s push movies. Let’s get the Hulk TV show going. Let’s get all these stuff. Let’s make this instead of our own little cult, let’s make it mainstream.” And for sure that’s driven by Stan Lee and that’s a big deal.

Brian:

Yeah. The funny thing is people look now at the Marvel Universe and films and how it’s so immense and so crazy. That “Oh Stan Lee, everything he touched turned to gold. Well, it really didn’t. We remember those Saturday morning cartoons and we remember the Hulk TV series, which was great with Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, but it was DC that was really better at doing that. They’re the ones who did the Superman movie that was so huge. They’re the ones who did Batman. Marvel pretty much everything they attempted really kind of fell apart and turned to shit.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah, for a long time.

Brian:

I think their first successful movie was Howard the Duck.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, actually, Howard the Duck, not very successful from a financial standpoint, though, because Steve Gerber, the co-creator didn’t get very much, it was a George Lucas kind of produced thing. It probably should have been animated and actually, no money wise. I don’t think it did very well. Red Sonja is another one that I don’t think did that great. I think the first one that really made money and then they realized they could make money doing this was Blade in 1998, but I think like those early attempts that weird Doctor Strange movie from like ’78 or ’79, all that stuff, no. They didn’t make good decisions. I mean, I think at that point, Stan was just like, “Look, we’ll just take deals with whoever,” right?

Alex Grand:

I think that the difference in DC was that I think they had, you know what? I think they had backing of like Warner Brothers and things. It was a different type of outcome because now you have Mario Puzo, who did the Godfather, writing the first Superman movie. I mean, you have Marlon Brando as Jor-El and then the casting, they got Richard Donner. I know that the Salkind, were like what? They were like those, I forget, Swedes or Norwegians that produced it, but really, it came down to like the Hollywood choices were just so much better. And Richard Donner directing it wanted to put, his word was very similar to “Make it realistic. Make it cool. Don’t make it corny. Don’t repeat the campy stuff.”

Alex Grand:

And so he got someone cool like Christopher Reeves as Superman, which was brilliant. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s captured Superman quite the same. There’s something really special about those first two Superman movies and yeah, it blows away all the Marvel media. I mean, the whole TV show was probably the one success of all the things they tried. But yeah, it wasn’t the same as that, that Superman movie was, it’s now still magical. And a lot of the good comic movies still based their formula off that, off what Richard Donner did.

Brian:

Well, and it’s funny because it’s such a saturated market now with these Marvel movies. I mean, there’s one that comes out every freaking month, it seems like. I stopped watching them.

Alex Grand:

Really?

Brian:

I mean I remember being excited when they came out. Now, I’m just like, “Yeah. I don’t even care anymore. How many times have I seen this?”

Alex Grand:

Right. Well, I think we’re waiting for the Black Widow movie. I think that got delayed, but yeah, I think once the whole Thanos storyline ended, it’s like, “Well, where do we go from here?” There’s a little… I’m not sure if I feel the same enthusiasm I did before, but we’ll see.

Brian:

No. And this is your genre and you don’t have the enthusiasm anymore. I mean, think about that. It’s… but that-

Alex Grand:

I mean, it’s just because I think, “Well, where do you go from there?” I mean, Robert Downey, Jr. started that, he ended it. Where do you go after? I guess we’ll see. It just depends on what direction they go with Marvel Cosmic, right? Marvel Cosmic is a whole… Guardians of the Galaxy 3, where will the next or what’s the next… what’s in store for Thor next? This whole talk of doing Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, which was a ’70s comic. I love it. I love the Eternals, but it’s not like it had a huge presence within Marvel Comics. Every time they resurrected it, it never really did that great. So, but that’s the direction they’re going. And I hope they do Jack Kirby’s Vision Justice. We’ll see. I mean, who knows? We could be just totally blown away by what comes next. They haven’t missed a beat so far.

Brian:

I think what they should do and just to be fair, they should bring back those really bad ’70s Spider-Man and Captain America live action things they did where the stunt man was obviously a woman because you could see the hips when they were running away. They should bring those back and play those as trailers for the new movies. But speaking another thing that he did that failed, one of my passions is old-time radio. I love old radio dramas. And Stan Lee tried to do the Fantastic Four radio show.

Alex Grand:

Yes. Well, in the mid-’70s I think with… they had what the-

Brian:

Bill Murray.

Alex Grand:

Yeah. Bill Murray. They had the National Lampoon kind of people doing that stuff, yeah.

Brian:

Yeah. It was Bill Murray before he was famous as Johnny. And it’s awful. I love radio drama and it’s so terrible.

Alex Grand:

It’s hard to get into. Even coming from you loving that stuff, you actually have a hard time sinking your teeth into that stuff. Is that right?

Brian:

Yes. Even with listening to Bill Murray, you chuckle the first few times you hear Bill Murray and then you’re like, “Okay, I’m done.” But DC was all over the film stuff brilliantly like Superman alone. And I think that’s where Marvel failed, like when that tried to do the Fantastic Four film with like a Roger Corman budget…

Alex Grand:

Yea. The 1990s one? Yeah.

Brian:

… it’s not going to work.

Alex Grand:

No, no. Yeah, that’s true.

Brian:

When they did Superman, not only they got Richard Donner-

Alex Grand:

And then the Batman movies, like Batman 1 and 2 were huge with Tim Burton. Yeah.

Brian:

Yeah. And the Superman movie, the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, they paid Mario Puzo $300,000 to write it. I mean, that’s an unheard of sum for a writer. To this day, if you paid a writer $300,000, that’s insane.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, no, that’s true.

Brian:

So, if you’re talking about the writer-

Alex Grand:

Especially in ’75, in 1975, yeah, for sure.

Brian:

That’s like giving the writer millions just to write the screenplay. So, they invested in it and they said, “You want a good product? You’re going to have to pay for it.” Marvel didn’t want to do that for the longest time.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, they were like, “Well, the Godfathers got content, good content. Let’s bring some of that content to Superman.” I don’t know who thought of it, but it’s genius.

Brian:

Well, not only that, but you had, we need a really charismatic hero. Oh, this guy’s unknown, but look…

Alex Grand:

Yeah, but he was perfect.

Brian:

… he’s 6’4, 230/40 pounds solid, and he looks exactly like the all American boy.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, he does. Yeah. He had just a little bit of a tan to keep it interesting. Yeah, he was perfect for that role. And that just goes to show that Richard Donner had a vision in mind and he was a true artist when it came to implementing that. I know that there was some tension between him and the producers, the Salkinds, and they eventually fired him, but they used like 49% of Superman 2 is Richard Donner. They discarded some. Had Richard Lester film the rest, so they can technically claim that it’s a Richard Lester movie.

Alex Grand:

But those first two, here’s the thing between DC and Marvel that we haven’t talked about yet is Superman 1 and 2 were great. Superman 3 and 4 were not great. And same with the Batman. Batman 1 and 2 with Tim Burton, great. Batman 3 and 4, that got weird. And I think there was a movie fatigue that happened where they started to sacrifice quality for just getting the next blockbuster out and as often movie studios do. And I would say that once Marvel did kind of figure out the formula, and Marvel Studios comes in, they have not done that yet. They haven’t done that.

Brian:

Well, that’s the problem I have with Marvel is that their films are formula.

Alex Grand:

It is now, yeah.

Brian:

I mean, maybe if I was younger and not so jaded, not so much of a film historian. I wouldn’t mind it, but I mean, if you think about it, every one of them has pretty much the exact same plot.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah. And there’s that same kind of like that slightly humorous version of it and then they have like that same kind of special effect, the same kind of bright colors, all the different ones will have different colors emphasized, but it’s kind of the same flavor of light being used. Yeah, I mean, that’s true. A lot of that is just driven by having the same executive producer Kevin Feige, who is actually a genius in his own way for being able to do all that stuff, although they have different directors, a lot of it’s driven by the same, what Kevin Feige is doing for those movies is kind of what Stan Lee did for the comics, overseeing the whole thing, make sure it all fits. And from one sense, it’s great as far as a franchise, putting together a whole thing that people can get into the movie virgin of like a multi-crossover event and putting it all together. On the other hand, there’s a bit of a homogeny that you’re right about.

Brian:

Yeah, I mean, it is so formula that someone like me, “Okay, I’ve seen one, I’ve seen every one of them now.” On the other side, it’s a brilliant tool, because they’re popcorn films. You’re not going in to analyze something deep in anything, you’re going in there to see some explosions, to see some bad guys get their ass kicked, and to see some special effects. And if that’s what you’re into, that’s what you’re into and that’s awesome. But I know, you have a little bit of a time constraint, but I got two more things I really want to talk to you about.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, let’s do it, let’s do it. Yeah, we’ve got some time.

Lauren:

Well, can I just say, it also helps that they’re walking toy adverts as well.

Brian:

Yes.

Alex Grand:

Right. That’s a huge part of it. That actually gets solidified by all those companies Marvel, DC, Mattel with He-Man. In the ’80s, it was all about mixing it with the toy industry. I mean, Star Wars kind of did that in the late ’70s, but no, the ’80s, it was like, “No, we’re getting involved in the toy stuff and we’re going to formalize it, make it a corporate product.” And for sure that that hasn’t changed and it’s more now than ever.

Brian:

Well, it’s funny, you brought up the ’80s because that’s what I wanted to go with. I was talking to a friend of mine, who is a huge comic book guy, has been his whole life. And I said, I told him, I was going be talking to you, and he’s like, “Oh, that’s great. I can’t wait to hear the show.” And I said, “Okay, yeah, but you got to kind of educate me, so I sound more intelligent on there than I am when it comes to comic books.”

Alex Grand:

No, you sound great. It was great. It’s fun.

Brian:

I said, “What is the one thing about comics that you like that no one really seems to talk about?” And he said the 1980s being what he called the second golden age because of the rise of the independent comics.

Alex Grand:

That’s right. That’s true.

Brian:

And I was like, “Okay, dude, I don’t know what that even mean, so I’ll ask it.” But what was the rise of the independence?

Alex Grand:

Well, the rise of the independence, it all comes down to the way that comics were distributed and the way that was changed. So, in the ’70s and before that, it was all about newsstand distribution. Like I can get my comics from the local pharmacy off the newsstand, right? That’s how it was, but it was so corrupt and there was so much corruption going on in that, that it starts to erode at the comics’ industry. And so they’re like, “We don’t know how we’re going to get these comics out.” And then suddenly, there were people now starting specialty shops and they want to direct deals with Marvel, “We will buy this from you Marvel, X amount, and then we will then sell it for a cover price, but we guarantee, we’ll buy this number of comics from you.” And you need a distributor that will actually get that stuff from Marvel and get it directly to the specialty shops.

Alex Grand:

And I have people like Phil Seuling, who some credit as starting the direct market distribution, which is a different type of distribution. It’s to actually buy it from Marvel for X amount, sell it to the specialty shops for a higher amount, and then they sell it for an even higher amount. That’s a different thing. Well, once people were actually feeding into that, people were actually going to comic stores, like this one in England that Lauren was talking about in 1984, it’s the same model. Well, what happens is then is now these stores, now they can buy product from anyone. It doesn’t just have to be Marvel and DC, who had their own little monopoly on newsstand distribution. Now, these distributors could buy it from smaller companies now.

Alex Grand:

And now there’s more product for the comic stuff and for the comic shop. So you have Pacific Comics, right? You have First Comics. You know that was American Flag by Howard Chaykin, that was First Comics. Pacific Comics, I think they had Captain Victory by Jack Kirby, right? You have people coming in doing like their own little comics. They had their print run, they could sell to a distributor, distributor sell to comic shops. Suddenly now, you have small comic shops coming in with more product, not just Marvel and DC. And this is basically the golden age of the independence. Now, a lot of them started to then become distributors in their own way. They didn’t really know how to finance a lot of their stuff. And so like in 1988, a lot of that collapses, but you still have some leftovers. You have Dark Horse Comics, you have Image Comics, which comes in like ’92, I think.

Brian:

That’s McFarlane, right?

Alex Grand:

Right. Yeah, McFarlane, Liefeld and them. But if there was one legacy and this sounds corny, but it’s true. If there’s one legacy of the independence and there is one franchise that really became big and it was not Marvel or DC, and it made a lot of money and still with this pop culturally, guess what that is, from the independence?

Brian:

I would, I’m guessing it was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Alex Grand:

That’s it. That’s exactly what it is. Is that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starts out in the same model and is a huge sensation, a cartoon almost immediately. Toys, dolls. They’ve had so many renditions of this show. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are basically, from the genesis of the direct market, the independent comics companies. It’s the one thing that truly survived and just blew up pop culturally, was the Ninja Turtles.

Brian:

Now I got to bring Lauren back in for this.

Lauren:

Yes.

Brian:

Because we’re going to talk about someone who a lot of people our age, not Lauren, she’s a little younger than us, but people our age credit with saving the industry. And that would be Alan Moore who revolutionized Batman. And then went on to create the graphic novels like From Hell and Watchmen.

Alex Grand:

Right. I would say that the British invasion in general. I mean, Alan Moore for sure has maybe the pinpoint of the arrow. But Grant Morrison, a lot of those people from the… Lauren, did you ever read 2000 AD? You ever see that around?

Lauren:

Yes.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a big deal.

Lauren:

It is.

Alex Grand:

In British comics history, 2000 AD, from the ’70s and on, a lot of those British comic writers that would cut their teeth on that and make some really original crazy stuff. And then what generally would happen is they would then, like Paul Levitz over at DC and Jenette Kahn, the Vertigo comics line. They would then bring in people that were seasoned from the 2000 AD comics into DC Comics.

Alex Grand:

DC Comics was like, “Well, we’re not going to do this crazy stuff that Marvel is doing, but we will do. We’ll try to get some quality going. We’ll try to do our own thing.” So they bring in British writers from 2000 AD who then do a lot of awesome stuff. I mean, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. Like you mentioned, there was Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

Alex Grand:

What happens is that these would then, they would do so well in America, then Marvel would hire them to do some stuff. Although Alan Moore started with Marvel first with Captain Britain. And then he got pissed at Marvel for something and then went to DC. But most of them went to DC first and then Marvel later, and then became mainstream writers in American comics. And I think the British invasion, I think that saved the quality of American comics is what I think.

Alex Grand:

I mean, there’s also great quality American writers. Howard Chaykin is a genius, Walt Simonson’s a genius. So yeah, there were good. Larry Hama with G.I. Joe, that is genius in its own way. But there was something about that British invasion, it was a real shot of cultural life. And I would say Alan Moore, it’s debatable on if he saved comics. Some people now look back and think, well, comics were more innocent before him. Americans had Frank Miller, Dark Knight Returns, so it wasn’t just British that saved.

Alex Grand:

I mean, there was also good American writers, but there was something about those British writers and Alan Moore, did he save it by completely deconstructing it? Or did he lay it so bare that now it’s hard to write an innocent superhero story without it getting panned as a cheeseball thing? That’s hard. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know I love everything he’s written. I know that for sure.

Brian:

You put Watchmen on the bestseller list.

Alex Grand:

I did. Yeah, it’s like of the 100 top novels of all time. But yeah, I think that as far as Watchmen goes, it did create the sense that comics are a serious medium. It did put out there in public consumption that it’s a special medium. It’s a serious medium, it can be told for very different artistic purposes. I think that it reversed a lot of what the Comics Code did. The Comics Code juvenilized it. I don’t know the word but I think you know what I mean.

Brian:

I think juvenilized is good. Lauren, is that a good word?

Alex Grand:

Yeah.

Lauren:

I think it’s a good word.

Brian:

All right, we’re going to go with juvenilized.

Alex Grand:

If our local person from England says it’s a good English word, then I’m with it. But I think that he definitely helped reverse the tide that we can make comics as serious medium. But in a way, it left some after effects of how do we make a good superhero story because it’s almost like we won’t take it seriously unless the superheroes do bad things, right? You have The Boys, the Amazon show that came out, which again, actually has a British writer too. But the thing is, it’s like we can’t really watch a Superman movie now and wrap our heads around, “How could this alien be a good person? I don’t buy it.”

Alex Grand:

But when someone with those powers is a bad person, like in The Boys, now we can wrap our head around that now. And I think culturally, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Brian:

We still can because I think that, like you said, that original Superman film is still magical.

Alex Grand:

It is.

Brian:

I don’t care who you are or what age you are, if you watched that movie, it’s if you’ve never heard of Superman or come from comic books before, you’re going to believe that this person is that good. So it really comes down to just quality.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, casting, direction, all that matters. Yeah.

Brian:

But that’s really messed up thing about comic books that I just found when I was researching this is that I figured, what with all the Marvel movies and them leading the box office every year that the industry must be booming, yet it’s failing. I just read what? Was it just a couple days ago, DC laid off 40% of their staff?

Alex Grand:

It did. I think that, especially in a pandemic, that accelerates things, but there was definitely things going on anyway that was pointing to that direction, because I think it comes down to the medium. I think that there are some economic factors in the AT&T-Time Warner merger that Disney does not have to worry about. And Disney owns Marvel. AT&T-Time Warner, they’re not an entertainment brand like Disney is. I don’t know if they understand the value of the comics line and why that matters. They might be looking at it like shampoo, like how many units of shampoo can we sell? Maybe they’re looking at it that way? I’m not sure.

Alex Grand:

I know that kids now… What age group? What’s the age group that collects comics and reads them now?

Brian:

Forty-year-olds.

Alex Grand:

What’s that? What’d you say?

Brian:

Forty-year-olds.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, 40-year-olds, right. So if that’s the case, it’s almost like He-Man. Who’s buying a He-Man toy? It’s almost like 40-year-old collectors are collecting that, but it’s not so much a kid toy. That’s the same thing with the comics. Are the kids too invested into gaming and that sort of medium more so than comics and holding a piece of paper and reading that? It’s hard to say. I know that that might be the case. We almost seem to care more about what 40-year-old fans care about the comics now than what a 12-year-old does when they’re originally made for 12-year-olds. So, what does that mean?

Brian:

The internet came along. There’s kids who are 12-year-olds who’ve never held a book or a magazine in their life.

Alex Grand:

That’s right. That’s true.

Brian:

Their whole life’s been online. I think the comic books, the major companies missed their calling and should have gone digital long before they did. I think it would have really kept them afloat if they’d gone digital years ago.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, maybe that’s right. I mean, it’s hard to say because they have Marvel Unlimited now. They have that DC Universe app that has a lot of their old comics, but thing about that is “Does that make a difference?” I interviewed Steve Geppi with one of my Comic Book Historians Podcast colleagues. He’s my co-host. Steve Geppi, he is a distributor of Diamond Distributions. He distributes comics. He felt that digital is good, and that it’ll get kids more interested. Then they want to hold the comic later and buy it.

Alex Grand:

Some people worry of digital will replace it completely. My only concern with digital is that you can copy and paste that stuff easily. Once someone buys it, they can copy and paste it, put on a website and pirate it in two seconds. Whereas with print, that’s a lot harder to do. I think that if things go all digital, my worry is that it doesn’t support the industry.

Brian:

Well, the industry is dead and everything. Streaming destroyed the music industry. People don’t make money off albums anymore, you can’t. The only way to make money as a musician is as a touring musician. You’re not going to make money off album sales, because everything’s pirated. Movies are really going the same way. Movie studios don’t make movies for longevity anymore. Think about it. No one’s trying to make the next Casa Blanca anymore. Everyone’s trying to make a movie that has a huge opening weekend. They don’t care if it’s remembered in two years, and most of them aren’t.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, I would say there are some exceptions. I mean, Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan definitely care about making a cinematic piece. But for the most part, yeah, the emphasis is on the next superhero blockbuster that will get people to go to a movie theater.

Brian:

Yeah, because they know it’s all about the opening weekend. Because after that, it’s going to be pirated.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, yeah, it’s messed up.

Brian:

Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword. We have everything we ever wanted, but at what cost?

Alex Grand:

Right, because the concept of buying something used to be such a normal concept when I grew up in the ’80s and in the ’90s even. But now, it’s like you look at something, “Oh, I have to pay for that?”

Brian:

Yeah. When’s the last time you bought an album?

Alex Grand:

No, I haven’t. I mean, although I do go on iTunes and I’ll buy an mp3 for the 99¢ because it’s easier than doing it another way. So, I do buy an individual mp3s, but yeah, it’s an interesting thing in that the record sales… You go to Tower Records and buy a record to get that one song. That amount of money being made is much less. Now, it’s about different stuff, right? Now, it’s like you said, it’s about tours.

Alex Grand:

It’s also about YouTube hits, monetized YouTube channels, things like that that you can put a music video on. If that gets 60 million views, that’s going to generate its own income as well. Throw that stuff on some sort of streaming platform, and there are ways. I guess it’s not that hard to download YouTube videos. So, yeah, it’s an interesting thing. I think the internet has enabled communication. So, like you and I are connecting, right? We’re all connecting here. You, me and Lauren, we’re all talking. We otherwise may never have met, right, if it wasn’t for this.

Brian:

Exactly.

Alex Grand:

So, there is that.

Brian:

There’s this amazing fact that we’re in three different parts of the world. We’re all talking simultaneously, streaming. That’s amazing, and for free.

Alex Grand:

Yes, for free.

Brian:

For free.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, which a long-distance call in the ’80s used to be a heck of an expense.

Brian:

Yeah, if me and Lauren want to communicate 30 years ago, it would have been by mail.

Alex Grand:

Yeah, right.

Brian:

It’s amazing, but comic books I don’t think will ever truly die. There’s always going to be a market for them. It might not be a big market. It might be just a collectible market, but they’ll always be around because it’s tangible, something to hold in your hand. It’s colorful, and it’s memories. Kids will eventually find their fathers or mothers and get into it. It’s like how music spreads. It’s always your kid hears your Beatles albums and realizes, “Hey, The Beatles are pretty cool.”

Alex Grand:

Yeah, that’s true.

Brian:

It lives.

Alex Grand:

The smart movie studios, which Disney owns the Marvel Studios, they know that their think tank are the comics for the movies that they’re putting out. You can’t just go by some screenwriters’ submission anymore. If you actually go to the really amazing plots that the comic writers did already, you can get great ideas out of that. So, there’s a think tank factor to comics that then makes it into TV shows like Umbrella Academy, for example. That part is relevant still. The only thing is that with Time Warner laying off so many people, do they know that? Did they just trim the fat? We’ll see. I think the quality studio owners are going to keep a comics line around as a think tank.

Brian:

Absolutely. I got one more question, which is in the comic book universe, is Pluto still a planet?

Lauren:

Brian!

Brian:

I ask every guest, and Lauren gets mad.

Alex Grand:

Well, yeah, there’s that character from the ’90s and the ’70s Guardians of the Galaxy, Martinex who was from the planet Pluto, right? He’s like crystal.

Brian:

There you go.

Alex Grand:

He’s crystal. He can do heat and cold at his hands.

Brian:

To me, that means it’s a planet.

Alex Grand:

But they don’t use that character much anymore. But in the ’90s, they were saying that he’s from the planet Pluto. It was like an ice planet, but yeah, you’re right though. I think cosmologically maybe that’s changed.

Brian:

I don’t know. I don’t know. No, no, don’t know. No, no, Pluto is still a planet.

Lauren:

Brian has issues.

Brian:

I do.

Alex Grand:

There you go.

Brian:

I have some issues. However, I know you’re running late, because you are almost out of time, but I want you to plug your show-

Alex Grand:

Oh, thanks.

Brian:

… and your website. So, give all the information out there, because it’s a great show, by the way.

Alex Grand:

Oh, thanks. I appreciate that. Yeah.

Brian:

this one.

Alex Grand:

There you go, right? Yes. There’s a few venues. One is the Comic Book Historians Podcast. If you like comic history, come listen to us at the Comic Book Historians Podcast, where we kind of deep dive into various comic things. Although, recently, we’ve been doing more interviews with various comic book pro from the older comics and some from the newer comics.

Alex Grand:

Then the YouTube channel has… I have 50-docuseries episodes, that really is almost like my curriculum in a sense of going through the history of comics in a way where if you come out of those 50 episodes of docuseries, they range anywhere from 5 to 17 minutes each, you’ll really come out with being able to really understand where American comics fall culturally and what happened when in a way that I think is real critical to understanding the industry today.

Alex Grand:

And then third is the comicbookhistorians.com, where there’s a lot of articles. We do accept submissions there. We print articles there that people can read that also then talk about various things. We had one the other day, a submission that I published on there about the Conan comics of the 1970s. Comic Book Historians is all about elevating the understanding of comics, understanding that they were people behind it all, very creative people, and making sure that their history gets translated in the context of the greater history that happens in the world.

Brian:

Thank you so much. Promise us that you’ll join us again, because we’re going to do an episode in the future about comic book movies.

Alex Grand:

Let’s do it. I’m excited. I’m excited to do.

Lauren:

That’s fantastic.

Alex Grand:

Rock and roll.

Brian:

Thanks so much, Alex Grand, Comic Book Historians. Everybody, check them out, great show, great website. It was great talking to you, and I can’t wait to do it again.

 

Join us for more discussion at our Facebook group

check out our CBH documentary videos on our CBH Youtube Channel

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check out our CBH Podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Google PlayerFM and Stitcher.

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