A Marvel Zombie Hath Reasons For Reading X-Men That de Campi Knows Nothing Of

(Soundtrack: The Bobby Fuller Four — Live At PJ’s Plus!)

In the newest edition of Ninth Art, Alex de Campi declares:

I suppose it just goes to show that on a big franchise, the title is all. Unless they’re uber-stars like Joss Whedon or Jim Lee, artists and writers don’t seem to matter that much. They didn’t to me when I was a kid. When I was 11 years old and buying X-MEN, I could go into nerdy, ridiculous depths about the details of Wolverine’s back story, but I don’t think I could have told you who the writer of the series was. I hope this means I was an unusually ignorant child, but I doubt it.

Now, I didn’t read comics when I was 11, so I can’t even participate in this poll, but what I would like to know is: if you did, did you pay attention to the credits? (as a side note, I would like to know: how many 11 year olds are buying Marvel comics anyway? I thought the “problem” with tha Big Two these days was that kids don’t dig on ’em no more?)

I’ll lay my cards on the table–every superhero fan I’ve ever met seemed extremely (even pathologically) interested in the creators of the books they read. Alex sees 117 thousand sales for Grant Morrison’s X-Men and 107 for Austen and she infers that this happened because people don’t care who’s writing the book.

I disagree.

My assumption is that people who loved the Morrison run bought the next one just to see how differently Austen would handle the characters. That’s what I would have done back in 1989.

In the mid-eighties, just before I discovered Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, my favourite superhero series was Gruenwald’s Captain America (my other big favourite was Cerebus), and I became obsessed with buying up back issues of the title, even though I had problems with many of them for what they were in themselves (Cap as a hard-charging patriot, instead of the symbol of the “infinitude of the private individual”? what the hell is this?), simply in order to keep track of how drastically the author had changed the character.

The exercise was valuable to me, because I approached these texts “historiographically” (or, as I’ve put it elsewhere, I was building up my “awareness of the tradition”), and I think this practice is fairly common amongst superhero readers.

Am I off my nut?

Please do let me know!

Good Afternoon Friends!



  1. I think as I’ve aged my approach has changed. When I was a teenager, I was all about specific characters that I loved (as my Superman paean indicates): now, I’m interested much more in the creators.

  2. When I first actually started collecting I was about both the characters and creators. I never could separate Roy Thomas from Captain Carrot, or Larry Hama/Herb Trimpe from G.I. Joe. Admittedly, it helped that some of the creators worke exclusively or had a very long run on certain titles.

    re: Marvel’s “continuity revolution” in the sixties

    I agree. Stan’s early work emphasized the inter-textuality and the intra-textuality. In foregrounding “continuity” by cramming the panels with footnotes and hovering over the pictures in self-reflexive narrative captions there’s a bit of narrative flatness going on: there’s no need to have “continuity” or “psychological depth” just because that’s all presented to you at the surface of the issue in hand. And with the x-overs, the intra-textuality led to a synchronic reading of a sort of “meta-continuity”.

    I guess we could look at Lee’s early work as a successful marketing scheme. It’s easier to draw-in new readers when there’s no need for the reader to worry about the “continuity” of the characters, and even the occasional guest appearance will be referenced anyway.

  3. I don’t know anything histiographically or anything, but I know I read as many reviews as possible of that next issue out of curiosity to “what they would do with it.” A partially morbid curiosity, perhaps, but nevertheless, if Morrison didn’t get me to care about the work he’d done on the concept or the characters, he wouldn’t be Morrison; that’s his job- that’s why you become pathologically interested in creators to begin with. Its a feedback loop.

    But expecting that the sales on the company’s flagship title would fluctuate more than 10,000 copies (on something of sales in the 100,000 range) seems just … i’m no economist, but wouldn’t it be a disaster if it did fluctuate more than that? what- retailers are just going to forego making any money that month?

    moreover, there are so many unspoken assumptions that i disagree with… too many to list. a) artist on the follow-up was bad, b) chuck austen doesn’t sell, c) that this is somehow a bad thing, d) writers should be the most important , e) everyone knew morrison was gone because they’re extremely savvy, f) normal people wouldn’t care about what happened inbetween morrison and whedon…

    As for your question, yeah, I was pathologically obsessed with trying to figure out how it all fit together. Those yellow “Consult Issue #____ boxes” screw you up when you’re a kid…

    But X-Men’s an interesting example of … something BECAUSE for me, it was mostly written by Claremont- I was a dumb kid, really really dumb, but I thought “Hey, one guy wrote all this, it must all fit together in a way he understands even if that understanding is evolving.” (which… it would appear that wasn’t the case, no, but…) so i don’t quite know how that answers your question… because again, it’s all about the creator, but only because of their access to the characters and the underlying “world” so … i don’t know what the answer here is. if i understood the question. which, maybe no.


    And JJJ isn’t a “villain”- he’s a normal person, a civilian. but to Stan Lee, and moreso Ditko, there’s plenty to worry about with normal people. at the end of the lee-moebius silver surfer graphic novel, are the crowds of people who don’t get the silver surfer “bad guys?” no, galactus is the bad guy in that story. it’s just… lee has heroes stand out from ordinary people, and characterizes his ordinary people a certain more flawed, pettier, screwed-up way… Its something I like about Stan Lee.

  4. When I was 11, waaaaaaay back from January 16, 1971 till January 16, 1972, you better belive I knew who the creators were. And the funny thing was that it didn’t really matter- to the best of my recollection I didn’t really play favorites like I do now. I liked Ditko, and Kirby, and Heck and Murphy Anderson and Neal Adams and Mike Sekowsky and Jerry Grandenetti and so on and so on equally, for different reasons. In fact, the only comics I recall not really digging the art style on were the Super-titles. Curt Swan’s (and the others who did those titles in that style’s) work bored me to death. of course, being 11 I couldn’t buy everything and I was more likely in those days to buy something because it just looked interesting. Favorites in that particular year included Kirby’s Fourth World books, Barry Smith’s newish Conan, and the Dick Dillin-drawn Justice League, if memory serves. Maybe I should go try to determine my favorite comics of ’71- it really wasn’t until a couple of years later that some of my absolute favorite series, like McGregor & Russell’s War of the Worlds, came out and made me a comics geek for life…

  5. Ah, Ninth Art’s venerated tradition of trying to come up with ANYthing, doesn’t matter how insignificant or questionable the connection, to prove that Mainstream Titles Are Bad For You.
    No, 11 year olds don’t keep track of writers and artists. I sure as hell didn’t. Then again, when I was 11, there wasn’t much emphasis on writers or artists AT ALL — and now things couldn’t BE more different. Whenever a new writer/artist team is announced for ANY huge title, be it X or not, there’s an internet storm over it for MONTHS.
    I think de Campi is just forgetting annoying inconveniences like “Reality” to make strained points.

  6. Dave,

    Sadly I must admit that I was not interested in comic book artists when I started reading X-Men (age 11!). All I cared about were the X-Men and what they were up to. It was only in my late teens/twenties that I became interested in the creators of comics (though I did have a fetish for authors – this was by the time I was 15).

    I also wanted Wolerine’s claws so I could whip them out around bullies.


  7. interesting bunch of responses there! I guess folks can make what they like of the data, but I think it proves that, if you get into these works at all, you’re eventually going to notice that different approaches are being taken to the characters you like–at which point you can either flip out, screaming “No! there can be only ONE Spider-Man! Steve Ditko’s! And the FF must die with Jack Kirby!” or you can detach a bit and just enjoy the cubist narrative formed by the juxtaposition of all of these interpretations!


  8. I think I was a bit spoiled by the whole writer thing as I began reading the Swedish translations and the editors where really into telling the readers who did what in the editorial. This meant that I knew and searched for Claremont/Byrne issues of the X-men early on and knew which issues to avoid because of the worse creator-team.

    Sadly though, this applied to Marvel only. The company that published DC tended to hide all the credits as much as they could. “The Killing Joke” for instance, took me a year to find out that this was written by Alan Moore. It was a bummer as the Batman title was very uneven.

    — Nicklas

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