Comic Book Cancellation: Not Exactly Comic Book Death, But Close

KC Carlson and his cancellin' pen.

KC Carlson and his cancellin’ pen.


a KC COLUMN by KC Carlson

Some comic book cancellations are so famous (or perhaps infamous) they are awarded “celebratory” titles. Did you love the DC Explosion in June 1978, when DC increased the number of titles in their line and added back-up series and more pages to most of their comics? How about the DC Implosion? That happened just three months later, when DC abruptly cancelled 40% of its line — including flagship title Detective Comics (until DC’s editorial staff managed to save it by merging it with the better-selling Batman Family). In addition, some of DC’s editors were let go, with both Al Milgrom and Larry Hama losing their jobs. (Both later saw more career success at Marvel.)

Cancelled Comic Cavalcade

Cancelled Comic Cavalcade


Ironically, the DC Explosion inadvertently created one of the rarest comic books of all. In the summer of 1978, a two-issue “ashcan” (which meant it was photocopied) of most of the cancelled titles appeared — supposedly solely to establish DC’s copyright to the material. However, once assembled, Cancelled Comic Cavalcade then became one of the most re-photocopied comic books ever as DC staffers made copies of the books for their friends. This is how I got my copy, and of course I made a few copies to give to my friends… and you can probably guess what happened from there…

Incidentally, both of these “publications” sported new covers, one of which depicted many of DC’s heroes being kicked out of an office by a man in a suit. Both issues had cover prices: one was 10 cents, the other $1.00 — but of course, these were never officially “on sale” anywhere. (Except maybe years later on eBay. And there was no way to determine for sure if a copy for sale was an “original” or a photocopy. Sheesh!)

Not all the stories in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade were complete — many went unfinished when the original cancellations were announced. In some cases, only covers represented unfinished (or perhaps un-started) comics. And not all of DC’s unpublished inventory at the time made it into Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. The Wikipedia page for the series includes mentions for the “legendarily” missing Deserter (a western) and intriguingly, Mike Grell’s Starslayer — which was later published by both Pacific Comics and First Comics. Technically, the first appearance of DC’s first African-American super-heroine Vixen was in CCC. (She later officially debuted in Action Comics #521 and eventually became a member of the Justice League.)

Action Comics #521, the "first" appearance of Vixen

Action Comics #521, the “first” appearance of Vixen


For more on the DC Implosion and Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, I highly recommend the very entertaining presentation over at Dial B for Blog. This whole blog is awesome, BTW!

THAT WAS THEN… CANCELLATIONS NOW ARE DIFFERENT

Because of all the (technically) illegal photocopying and informal distribution of the copies of DC’s Cancelled Comics Cavalcade, the whole exercise eventually became a sort of a lighthearted “Hey, what are you gonna do?” exercise for most of the DC staff. (Other than the executives, of course.) Most of the stories from regular, ongoing titles were eventually published officially somewhere or other — unless the host titles were also cancelled during this period. Today, the “event” is mostly remembered as a brief period of DC publishing confusion, which ultimately helped the company move forward toward better things over the next decade.

During the DC Explosion, the company tried to put out a bigger package, with an increase in page counts leading to higher prices. The audience resisted. Today, we’re in a similar situation, with $2.99 and $3.99 cover prices battling it out in a market that has much more room for alternate sizes and formats. And cancellations today, as we’re living through them, are rarely as entertaining. (Unless you’re a meanie who delights in bad news.)

Let’s look to Marvel. The company had some serious business problems in the mid-1990s which saw them go from publishing well over 200 titles a month to bankruptcy, which required seriously streamlining their comics operations. Even today, Marvel (along with everybody else) has been scrambling to stay afloat in a much smaller “comics world”. And it seems that there, “cancellation” has become a dirty word.

SO, ARE THEY OR AREN’T THEY?

In the past year or so, Marvel Comics has experienced many fluctuations in their line of comics. But don’t call them cancellations, because Marvel these days steadfastly refuses to admit that a title is actually cancelled unless they have to. In general, the only way to know for sure if a Marvel comic is cancelled is when it doesn’t show up on the racks for a month or two.

Marvel is also causing confusion in the marketplace, starting over various series with new number #1 issues literally a month or two after the last issue of the previous run. Some people I know think that if a character is continually published — despite repeat #1 issues — then those runs should not be called cancellations. I completely disagree. If a title is specifically relaunched just to get the added bonus sales that normally comes with a new #1, then yes — that is a new series. Period. What’s next — every issue being a new #1 issue?!

Howard the Duck (2015B) #1

Howard the Duck (2015B) #1


In similar cases, readers may rely on a year marker to distinguish series, because Amazin’ Potato-Man (2014) #1 had a different creative team and storyline from Amazin’ Potato-Man (2016) #1. This doesn’t even work any more, as there were once two Howard the Duck #1s published only three months apart in late 2015. No wonder no one wants to buy back issues any more — it’s too much trouble when there are collected books to handle this problem! And forget being new-reader-friendly, as these gimmicks and tricks make no sense to the uninitiated who just want to keeping reading the comic they just discovered.

But back to cancellations. Normally, a comic is labeled Final Issue in Diamond’s Previews catalog to assist retailers in knowing how to order it. Also, now that so many of them are using computerized inventory and sales systems, the data on runs and titles needs to be correct. But Marvel doesn’t want to use that label, because that tag can affect sales, and those numbers are more important to them than providing their customers accurate information.

Even the “check the racks” method isn’t infallible. Chances are there will be a new #1 of the same (or similar) title/character before you know it. How many “volumes” of popular comics series are actually sustainable to either collectors or comic book historians, before becoming unwieldy?

CANCELLATION IS LIKE A FIRE – IT MAKES ROOM FOR NEW GROWTH

I’m not sure when cancellation became a “dirty” word. Comics have been cancelled for low sales for almost eight decades now. It’s a fact of publishing life and a method of weeding out not-as-popular titles/characters to make way for (hopefully) new and better ones.

Final issues used to be celebrated or, in the case of Dazzler #42, joked about.

Final issues used to be celebrated or, in the case of Dazzler #42, joked about.


Is it that the characters themselves don’t resonate as well as they once did in reader’s eyes? Or is it the creators that fans reject for not being a great “fit” for specific characters? Obviously, this has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, because the specific reasons are probably different in each scenario. And there are numerous examples of more subtle reactions that pure sales figures can’t quantify, with fans being vocal about loving the comic’s concept but hating one of the creators, or vice versa.

Or is the entire comic book audience leaving in droves — being distracted (or having their superhero needs satisfied) by increasingly more popular movies and TV shows? Or do we blame the ever-increasing cover price of comics? It should be noted that in several cases DC’s line of $2.99 comics are doing better than many of Marvel’s $3.99 titles — and that may be currently affecting Marvel a bit.

On that note, there’s been increasingly more chatter recently that DC’s $2.99 cover price may not be sustainable for much longer. One thing that shouldn’t happen again to comics is reducing page count to less than 20 pages. Past history has shown that fewer pages severely hamper plot/story development and provide fewer opportunities for artists to shine. Comics are still a visual medium.

One final thought: Since DC Rebirth started, DC has not cancelled or renumbered any of their core series. The same can not be said for many of Marvel’s core titles, many of which seem to get yearly relaunches. (Another has been mentioned for this fall. More Marvel #1s to figure out how to order… yay?)

Once upon a time, creators and fans made the best out of losing favorite, less-popular series by creating a collection of memories. All that’s come out of Marvel’s whack-a-mole game so far is disillusioned new readers and a whole lot of confusion.

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KC CARLSON: Sorry I’m more irritated than usual this week. Apparently our air conditioner is freezing my brain. And without even a Slurpee rush…

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. . . . Did you know that there actually is a Wikipedia page called “Comic Book Death”? Who knew? It seems weird that somebody actually had to define it — it being a major comic book trope, and all… and, yes there’s a Wikipedia page covering Comic Book Tropes as well. We are slowly being taken over by questionable information…. and I’m helping! Yay?

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