Ghosts of Comics’ Past: July in Comic History – the First Con, Impact, and Contracts

By | July 3rd, 2023
Posted in Columns | % Comments

Multiversity’s history column is back! Today is the first Monday of July, which means we’ll be covering events that occurred in July. We’ll start in 1964 with the first comic convention, zip to 1991 for the debut of DC’s Impact line, and finish up in the mid-2000s with DC and Marvel’s battle for talent.

July 1964
The first comic convention was held in Manhattan on Monday, July 27, 1964. It was organized by 16 year old Bernie Bubnis (pictured) and his pal Ron Fradkin. They rented a room at Workman’s Circle Building and greeted the 44 attendees, who were mostly kids. Five of the region’s dealers, including Phil Seuling and Howard Rogofsky, set up tables. Seuling also provided drinks and snacks. Professional guests from various publishers were invited, but only Marvel artist Steve Ditko, Marvel office manager Flo Steinburg, and Gold Key artist Tom Gill appeared. DC was aware of the event, but in lieu of sending staff during the workweek, they donated original art to use as door prizes.

That inaugural New York Comicon served as a proof-of-concept, but Bubnis wasn’t interested in doing more. He only arranged the first one because no one else was doing it, and he wanted to attend a comic event. Dale Kaler took over in 1965 and his refinements – better advertising, better location, better dates – saw attendance jump to about 200. It was nearing seven hundred when Seuling took over in 1968 and renamed it the Comic Art Convention. No one was prepared to replace Seuling when he died from a heart attack in 1983, so the convention died with him.

July 1991
Mike Gold, DC’s Director of Editorial Development, had been frustrated by the lack of kid-friendly superhero comics since at least 1987. He envisioned a small line built around unused characters. In late 1989, DC’s Development Group was taking the concept seriously and researching current trends to ensure the new books would be as appealing to kids as possible. At the same time, Archie Comics management canceled plans for a grim and gritty revival of their Red Circle / Mighty Crusader heroes fearing it would draw negative press. When Gold heard about that, he worked with Archie to secure a license for the group, renewable every three years

This was the cast’s fourth outing. They had been created in the 1940s and were popular enough to endure until 1948, when superheroes in general traded for other genres. When DC showed superheroes were viable again, Archie brought the characters back for an encore from 1959 to 1967. Archie let them rest during the 70s, then brought them back again in 1983 to see if the comic specialty shops would support them. Readers weren’t interested, and the line fizzled in 1985.

As the new line’s editor, Mike Gold lured creators to the project by promising them three years (36 issues) to define their direction and get the books established with readers, and minimal editorial interference. He recruited younger talent who wanted to show what they were capable of doing, including Mark Waid and William Messner-Loebs. Archie gave them leeway to modernize the characters, so naturally everyone got new costumes. Creators were encouraged to ignore prior continuity and instead create new identities, personalities, and origins. The biggest changes were to Jaguar, who was gender-flipped from a man to a woman, and the Web, which transformed from a single vigilante into an organization.

Christened ‘Impact Comics,’ the line began with “The Legend of the Shield” and “The Comet” with July 1991 cover dates. Those were followed by “The Fly” and “Jaguar” in August and “The Web” in September. The Black Hood was introduced in the October issue of “The Comet” before getting his own title in December alongside the “Impact Winter Special” one-shot. In May 1992, the characters were united as “The Crusaders.” The DC logo was completely absent from the cover, and all house ads in these books were limited to other Impact titles. The only indication to a reader that these were made by DC Comics was in the small print indicia.

Despite Gold’s best efforts, the line suffered from production issues. One issue of “Black Hood” was printed without its caption boxes, which removed some vital information and context from the story Mark Wheatley and Rick Burchett were trying to tell. As the industry geared up for a boom period, some creators were offered higher-profile projects that required them to leave their Impact work behind. When they did, their replacements lost some of the story threads and sales suffered. By the end of 1992, sales were down on everything except “Black Hood,” which was actually growing in circulation under its original creators.

Continued below

Gold was replaced as editor by Jim Owsley, who decided to cancel all the ongoing titles and reboot the line with “The Crucible.” The six-issue miniseries, co-written by Mark Waid and Bryan Augustyn with pencils by Joe Quesada, was intended to transition the stories away from all-ages excitement and toward the older audience that bought DC’s regular superhero comics. The first issue of “The Crucible” featured a new Impact logo that incorporated the DC bullet and cover credits that followed DC’s regular style (they were absent, previously). This shift coincided with the license renewal discussions with Archie, who you may remember as being opposed to a mature take on its characters. Archie opted out of the partnership and “The Crucible,” which had already started publication in February, was quickly reworked from a launch pad to a landing strip. Unhappy with the change, Quesada left after the fourth issue to be replaced by Augustyn. DC had to write off the production work already completed for the three ongoing series planned to follow “Crucible.”

July 2004

Exclusive contracts between creators and publishers date back to the formation of the comic industry – Bob Kane had one with DC when he created Batman. They were entirely for the publisher’s convenience in business continuity, since few creators were promoted to attract readers. Creators benefited from the steady paycheck, but would still moonlight with other publishers using other names. When fans replaced casual readers as the main demographic in the 1980s, profits rose, publishers relaxed, and contracts fell out of vogue, although some were signed here and there.

That was the norm until Dan Didio joined DC as a lead editor in 2001. He came from an animation and television background where contracts were standard. His vision for a cohesive universe with tight continuity during big events like “Identity Crisis” required dependable talent. His pursuit of exclusivity began quietly with people already working with DC on a regular basis. Then in July 2003, he attracted a lot of attention when he “stole” Grant Morrison from Marvel, where Morrison had been doing some critically acclaimed work with the X-Men. That announcement was quickly followed by other big names: Jeph Loeb, Greg Rucka, and Tim Sale.

Marvel, led by Joe Quesada, was at first unfazed. It was pursuing fresh talent from outside comics at the time, and soon locked in Joss Whedon to replace Morrison with an acclaimed run on “Astonishing X-Men.” Additional contracts from DC eventually made them sweat, and Marvel locked in their existing star talent by signing Brian Bendis (“Ultimate Spider-Man”), Mark Millar (“The Ultimates”), J Michael Straczynski (“Amazing Spider-Man”), and Greg Land (“Ultimate Fantastic Four”). The first real steal Marvel made was signing Warren Ellis in July 2004, six months after his contract with DC expired. At the time, Quesada said he disliked these kinds of agreements, but had no choice but to use them as long as DC was doing it. He probably found they were paying off as Marvel started its period of endless crossovers with “Civil War,” “War War Hulk,” and “Secret Invasion.”

The exclusive wars continued for the next several years before easing up during the Image renaissance in the 2010s and creators wanted the freedom to pursue their fortunes in works they owned.

//TAGS | Ghosts of Comics' Past

Drew Bradley

Drew Bradley is a long time comic reader whose past contributions to Multiversity include annotations for "MIND MGMT", the Small Press Spotlight, Lettering Week, and Variant Coverage. He currently writes about the history of comic comic industry. Feel free to email him about these things, or any other comic related topic.


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