Thursday, September 02, 2004


First thing's first: this is the funniest link I've come across in quite some time. There is something so perfect about it - I doff my imaginary bowler to the genius who thunk it up.

Since it finished up a while back, I've been turning Seaguy over and over in my head, trying to figure the damn thing out. I actually even re-read the series last night, trying to get my thoughts on the book to cohere in a rational manner. But I do not need to write a review of Seaguy, because the perfect Seaguy review has been written already. I didn't even notice it until someone else pointed it out, but Popmatters (for which I am an associate editor, you may recall) snuck the review out right under my nose. You can read it here.

Now, as much as I like to think I'm a pretty swift fellow, I must say I totally missed the forest for the trees on this one. There is just so much weirdness afoot in Seaguy that I was off in the back-nine hunting for some deep formalistic explanation of the series. Well, Jesse Hicks hit the nail on the head better than anyone else I've seen so far. It's a lot more simple than most people probably thought, but the simplicity of the overarching metaphor hardly subtracts from my appreciation of the series. Rather, now that I think I have a handle on it, I am doubly eager to see where Morrison wants to go. The first three issues were basically exposition - I imagine that if we ever get to see the second and third minis, everything is going to go up and out from here.

In my recent wanderings across this wide web of ours, I came across this site.

I have to say that this is one of the most well-designed and informative fan sites of its type that I have ever seen. It's not merely a fan site, they've also done a great deal of work in order to track the initial print runs and subsequent values of the Valiant books over the last decade. It might seem slightly mercenary, but it is also a rather fascinating look at the stark numbers behind the meteoric rise and depressing fall of one of the most successful publishers of the 1990s.

The Valiant story is perhaps the most fascinating success story of the decade. Sure, Image had the sex factor, with all the young artists and their reams of money and clashing egos. But the reasons for Image's incredible success and steady decline were and are fairly obvious. The gradual erosion of excitement around a brand of comics that just weren't that good (in most cases) and didn't ship on time was predictable. The loss of two of Image's most popular creators (Lee and Leifeld) was also a blow. The fact that Marc Silvestri and Todd MacFarlane were, for the most part, content to step behind the scenes and extricate themselves from the day-to-day workings of the industry they once dominated did a lot to lower Image's profile as well. As much as some of us may find it inexplicable, I don't think there is any real doubt that if Todd MacFarlane were still drawing Spawn it would still be at least a top-10 book - and probably a top-5 book. From a purely monetary perspective, its easy to see why MacFarlane makes the decisions he makes, but the fact that Image has been overtaken by Tokyopop in terms of direct market share points to the fact that this was a disastrous decision in terms of Image's market presence. So, regardless of your opinion on Image, their rise and their fall are fairly straightforward propositions.

Not so with Valiant. Looking back on the early 90s, the sudden and undeniable popularity of Valiant can be seen as an inexplicable - if temporary - triumph of substance over style. I am not making any aesthetic judgement here, merely pointing out a fact: in the beginning, Valiant didn't have a single superstar artist in their stable. They had Barry Windsor-Smith, a handful of tested industry veterans and a stable of hungry young apprentices. They had a small roster of mostly-forgotten adventure properties licensed from the Western Publishing company - the company who had produced the Gold Key books and who continues to publish the perennially populat Little Golden Books. They had the framework for an internally consistent fictional universe whose properties more closely resembled traditional science-fiction than super-heroes.

But most importantly, the company had a man named Jim Shooter. Hated and revield by a wide segment of the comics-reading population, reeling from the years of struggle that had finally ended his association with Marvel Comics, he fought back from seeming exile and created an industry powerhouse with little more than his bare hands. If it sounds like I admire the man, well, you can't help but admire this kind of tenacity and skill. The fact that he was eventually thrown out of his own company in a bloodless coup de tat is probably karma at work, but it should be noted that as soon as Shooter was ousted, the company began the drift which would eventually result in its demise and eventual acquisition by Acclaim.

It's a fascinating story, don't you think?

Why did Valiant fail?

  • In May of 1991, the first Valiant adventure book, Magnus Robot Fighter #1, shipped with a print run of approximately 90,000 copies. (Imagine an untested indie book shipping that many copies today!)
  • In July of 1993, the first issue of the highly anticipated Turok Dinosaur Hunter shipped with an estimated print run of 1,750,000 copies.
  • In September of 1996, the original Valiant universe was brought to a summary end with the publication of X-O Manowar #68, with an estimated print run of 14,000 copies.

There are any number of lessons to be learned here, and most of them are depressing.

The early, pre-Unity crossover Valiant books were rare and in demand. After people got wind of the fact that Valiant was becoming a hot commodity, the orders increased dramatically. If all the people who bought copies of Turok #1 had bought the book to read, then there wouldn't have been any problems. The problem is, they thought that their ten (out of almost 2 million) copies of Turok #1 would be worth as much as their early issues of Rai, which had print runs under 40,000 (a respectable number now, but positively invisible for the early 90s). You don't have to have a PHD to see the problem here. In order for the Turok #1s to become as valuable as the early, pre-Unity Valiant issues were, there would have to have been a corresponding growth in the customer base similar to the boom of the early 90s. But there were as many people buying comics in 1993 as there were ever going to be, so everyone who wanted the book already had it. Simple supply and demand. Unfortunately, it wasn't just a matter of people buying more books than they needed, it was a matter of stores going out of business by the droves and millions of customers disappearing once the opportunity to make a fast buck disappeared.

It's a shame, too, because for anyone who liked reading fairly well constructed and endearingly non-condescending adventure comics, Valiant was a pretty good company.

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