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© Tom Zjaba 1997 - 2015      

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A Newsletter for the Comic Collector


Welcome to the second issue of Just Newsprint, the simple newsletter about comics. Not the values of comics, we have Wizard for that. Not about the latest news, we have CBG, among others to cover that. It is just about comics and reading them. More specifically, it is about older comics. By older I mean books that are from the 1960-1980's. I will deal with some that are older and a few that are newer, but generally I will stick in this era. This is when I read comics and most of comics I read were from these three decades. I will tell stories that relate to buying, reading and collecting comics and talk about some known series and some not so known. Simply put, it is just a newsletter talking about the joy of reading comics. If you want a better idea, check out the other monthly newsletter on this web page, Retro Times. It is the same format, only it is about classic video games. I liked the way it has developed and the readers also enjoy it, so I incorporated the same style for comics. Feedback is always appreciated.

Two Guns and alot of Character
While reading through the western books that I recently purchased (they will be up on the web page soon, honest), I came across a stack of Jonah Hex. Let me say these were among some of the best comics I have read in a long time. At first glance they seem to be a story of a disfigured and violent gunfighter. One scene that especially showed his violent side is when he made two guys fight over a cliff to see who would live. After one of them threw the other off and was hanging off himself, Jonah came by and kicked him off. One very tough customer! But as I read more issues, a more gentle and kind side showed through. In another story, a lady finds out that Jonah takes his reward money and donates it to an orphanage. In a day and age of one dimensional heroes, it is good to see such contrast.

Not only was Jonah Hex a multidimensional character, he also had a past, one that would come back occasionally to haunt him. He was in the civil war and the ugly side of the war soon reared its head. He was forced to make decisions, soul searching ones and he didn't always make the right ones. Unlike many stories, the problems weren't so cut and dried. Instead of being simple black and white, good and evil, there were many shades of grey. This helps to add even more character to him.

His comics, both the regular series and his earlier run in Weird Western Tales are both highly enjoyable and quite affordable. Most can be had for a buck or less an issue and well worth every penny. My only regret is it took this long for me to discover such a wonderful book.

What Happened to the Self Contained Story?
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One trend that has gone on too long in comics is the inability to tell a short story. The majority of comics cannot tell a story without it dragging on for two, three or more books. What happened to the self contained story? This was a staple of the industry for almost 50 years. Personally, I miss the days of picking up a comic and being able to read it without any prior commitment or having to commit myself for the next four issues. Are the writers of today unable to write a single issue story? Do the companies demand this to try and keep the readers for as long as possible? Or is is that the artists are more interested in drawing pinups and with all these huge panels of artwork, there is little room left for a story?

Don't get me wrong, there are still some writers who can do a single issue story. Frank Miller has done it with Sin City and Kurt Busiek has done it with Astro City, just to name two. So it isn't a lost art, just a dying one. I just hope that it isn't lost forever as I feel this is as much a reason why comic sales are slipping as any other reason they can come up with. People want to be able to choose what they read and for how long. They don't want to be forced to have to keep buying a book just to finish a story, that generally could have been done in a single issue. Also, new readers want to buy a comic and be able to generally understand the story. They don't want to have to go and find the last six issues of a book, or worse six issues of different titles to know what is going on. As a former comic store owner, I saw more than one mother leave in disgust when I tried to explain to her how all the Superman titles run together and how to follow the little triangle. Needless to say, the industry lost a potential reader. Not because of my salesmanship, I did everything I could to explain this as simply as possible. It was because DC made it too difficult for her to buy comics for her son. They pretty much said without having to actually say it that she obviously wasn't dedicated enough or smart enough to read comics. This elitist attitude, whether it is intended or not, is the stone around the comic industry's neck. Comics need to quit catering to the people who read them now and instead borrow from the past and try to open up the market to the 98% of people who don't read comics in this country.

Sorry for getting on a soap box, but this is an area that has disturbed me in the past. I have discussed this with representatives from DC, Marvel and others with no luck. As nice as they were, they could care less about my opinions. Oh well, hopefully they will learn a lesson before it is too late.

Commercial of the Month
This month's commercial is for the ever famous Grit newspapers. These ads appeared for years in comics encouraging kids to sell them to the friends, family and neighbors. You could earn money or valuable prizes. Sounds like a sure fire winner to me except one little thing. What the heck is Grit? I have never seen or read a copy of this supposedly popular newspaper. Neither did anyone I asked about it. Tough to sell something that people know nothing about.

If the lack of recognition wasn't enough, how about that great name. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, even USA Today are good names. They attract attention and create some interest. But Grit? Who in their right mind would want to read something called Grit? This is what you do with your teeth when you are tense. It is also the name for some really awful looking food that I doubt tastes all that good either. Doesn't convey much interest, does it? Might as well call it "fishwrap" or "the rag". At least these would make people laugh and the curiosity may get them to try it. But Grit just makes you want to say "Thanks, but no thanks".

Has anyone out there ever sold Grit or even read it? I would really like to see what this paper was all about. I doubt they are still in business. If anyone has a copy of Grit they would like to send me, I would be appreciative. Any stories you may have about selling Grit when you were young would also be appreciated.

The Fashion that Never Caught On
herc.jpg (4625 bytes)Comics may have started a few fashion trends like the Batman symbol on shirts and the Punisher skulls, but there was one popular fashion that never caught on. For awhile during the 70's and even into the 80's it was the rage in a handful of books, but for some reason it just didn't catch the eye of the fashion world. What fashion am I speaking of? The loin cloth! Conan, Kazar, Tarzan, the Warlord and even Kamandi were all sporting this truly macho outfit. But the bodybuilders in the real world were too fearful to jump on the bandwagon. Why is this? Was it a fear of not having the right equipment? The dreadful breeze? Or that they just looked silly without a long sword or dagger to put a stop to the laughter? One will probably never know what kept this from taking over from the even more dreaded spandex. Yuck, cannot believe I was once prey to that ghastly trend. Maybe I would have done better in a loin cloth, at least I would have been original.

Comic Cliché of the Month
This month's cliché is the much dreaded first battle of a new superhero. Why is it when a superhero first starts his career, does he always seem to fight it in an alley against some common thieves? Why can't it be something more glamorous like a big brawl in daylight? You would think that the villains would hear of a new hero and just avoid the alleys for a week while he got his training in. Then after that, unless another new hero came, they should be safe.

It reminds me of big time wrestling where a new wrestler always starts off fighting a few bums before he gets a real opponent. Scary thought that either comics is stealing from wrestling or vice versa. Either way it doesn't say much for that plotline does it? Maybe Bobby the Brain is actually Stan "The Man" Lee or the other way around. This would explain alot about the wild plotlines and overindulgence of muscles in comics. Maybe we have a plot for a future X-Files episode, or at least a Saturday Night Live skit.

Bargain Bin Bonanza
This is a new feature where we pick a comic series that is a good read and can usually be found in the bargain bins. This month's bargain pick is the Defenders. While some of the earlier issues will set you back a few bucks, the issues from #100-150 are both a good read and quite affordable. I have, with a little persistence, been able to find them in quarter boxes.

This run of comics has a very good writer to start off with. J.M. Dematties was handling the chores before anyone knew who he was. While most stories can be read individually, a regular reader would get even more out of it. There were relationships and events that would affect the later stories. Not enough to discourage new readers, just enough to reward the faithful. The team was different from the earlier teams. The characters who would make up the team were not so prominent figures. Characters like the Valkyrie, Son of Satan, Gargoyle, Hellcat and others. By not having the popular members like the Hulk and Silver Surfer, J.M Dematties was given more freedom and didn't have to worry about being dragged into the continuity of their regular series.
While this may not be for everyone, it is a great book for people who really like super hero teams, like myself. If you like to see the evolution of both individual characters and the development of the team as a whole, this is a fine example. So next time you are looking for a cheap and enjoyable series to read, keep the Defenders in mind.

Final Words
Hoped you enjoyed the second issue of "Just Newsprint". While its length is still short, it is slowly growing. I hope to keep expanding it each month until it reaches a comfortable size. Please email and let me know which features you want to see stay and which you would like to see be removed. I do listen and do my best to respond to every email I get. Tune back here in a month to see another copy of the free and fun newsletter.

-Tom Zjaba

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Copyright 1998 Tomorrow's Heroes