Steven Grant writes today one of the finest overviews of the 1970's comics art scene that I've ever run across, and its worth your time to read it both if you were there, and if you came along later and want a little history behind the 1980's. A couple of thoughts on his post:
Steven posits that its an oddity that the early 1970's rush of talent resulted in such a meager showing of great comic art from those involved, even though they laid the groundwork for the 1980's. I think that while he talks later in the article about how this is partly because it is easier to make a living in comics by imitating another's style, it also misses the point about those involved being either driven out by the deadlines, or the editorial style or simply having already given their world the initial gift of their art.
I've made the case in an earlier post that without the '70's groundwork, there would be no '80's comics. There would be no "All New, All Different X-Men" by Cockrum to make a Billion dollars at the box office, no Englehart/Rogers Batman to rip off, without Starlin, there would be no Marvel Sci-Fi comic universe to surf outside of the one that Kirby invented. Many of the creators that Grant talks about had no other choice, business-wise, but to conform to what was being offered to them. Either make those deadlines and conform or leave. Steranko left, Gulacy stayed, Starlin kept trying to leave and coming back, Adams left and found more money in advertising while keeping a toe in comics, Weiss stayed but turned in relatively small amounts of art. Smith left, Kaluta kinda left but only somewhat.
And yet this storied group left a great mass of artwork out there. It may not seem like it given the amount of dross that those pages are surrounded by, but that doesn't take into account the selective memory of their work. I've long since forgotten the other comics that I bought the same day as the Kaluta Shadow, perhaps an Ernie Chan Batman, perhaps something by Irv Novick, but I remember almost every panel in the Shadow book. God knows what other issues I bought the day that I picked up Captain Marvel #30, but I can quote almost every panel by heart from that Starlin comic. As Lou Reed once said, only 1,000 people ever listened to the Velvet Underground, but all 1,000 of them started bands. You didn't need to have Kaluta or Smith or Steranko produce like Kirby and Kane for them to galvanize another generation of comic artists to get drawing. Those pages have been burned into the memory of every reader of that time period.
And it set the stage for Chaykin to move on and produce American Flagg! later on for First. I wouldn't have wanted to see him try that series any earlier. He wasn't ready for it, and neither was the market. Steranko had to go out and produce "Red Tide" for Preiss and fail miserably to put a crack or two in the wall. Eventually the wall would fall, but it would take repeated efforts to bring it down, and, as usual, the pioneers are the ones that suffer.
Peaks? You could argue that Adams was never better after 1971, or Starlin after 1975, but Chaykin was at his best in 1982, and Gulacy in 1976 or 1980 depending. Different artists peak at different times. And their influence will extend differently because of that. There mass of Americans in the 1970's did produce fascinating work, and did so under the guise of mainstream comics, which, in itself, is a trick.
And, since I don't believe that the decades meet perfectly on the calendar either, I say that the 1980's comics started with the first issue of John Byrne on the X-Men: #108.
I agree with Grant on the Filipino artists, whose work, while many times technically more accomplished than the Americans was also claustrophobic when printed, and more "illustrat-y" and inhibited the readability of the comic story.