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The Real Story Of The American Superhero

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Most comic writers and artists went into the business not expecting to get rich. That changed in the 1980s through early 2000s with an explosion of superhero films, TV shows, and merchandising, coupled with creators taking more financial control by publishing outside the major comic houses, DC and Marvel.

“But that was an anomaly; it’s now going back to a place where young people come to break in,” says Conway. “The business has always tended to move in the direction of taking advantage of people’s enthusiasm and lack of foresight for their own economic interests. When it exploded in the 80s and 90s, people had this feeling that comics had become a development arm for the major students, and that’s what they’ve become now. With indie comics, the creators have a vision that they themselves might want to express, and are realistic enough to know that if they express it well and it hits, they could potentially hit a goldmine.”

The 1992 founding of Image Comics--a defection of superstar writers and artists who left DC and Marvel to create their own publishing company and retain rights to their intellectual property--created a new business model.

“Our series charts how comics reflects what’s going on in American culture, which has become more corporate in many ways,” says Kantor. “Just as you no longer go to a corner drug store, but a chain store, so too has there been a Walmartization of comic books. So the fact that DC and Marvel have strong controlling interests really reflects what’s going on in every other aspect of the culture.”

Do any other culture have superheroes?

On PBS tonight, 8/7.

Was it good? What did you learn?


There were morally ambivalent super heroes!

There were?!

Superheroes become less ambivalent as they mainstream:

“There’s an undercurrent of anger that some fans have about their special thing being taken away, but the larger issue is that they’re actually being mainstreamed,” he adds. “It’s like punk rock. It was an ideal expression against mainstream rock. But then punk rock becomes mainstream and you go out of your mind. 'Wait a minute--this is my special way of rebelling against the Man.' I think it’s the same thing with comic fans.”