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I first started reading the Fantastic Four during John Byrne's run. Lots of great material there, and that's what really got me hooked on the characters specifically, but comics more generally. Byrne worked on the book for a couple more years before he bowed out just before a couple of big anniversary issues. Much as I didn't want to see him leave the book, by the time he did, I understood that his long tenure as the writer/artist on a single book was unusual. So then there was a period of creative change-ups until Marvel found a regular creative team, but since John Buscema was doing most of the artwork, I didn't mind. They eventually landed on the team of Steve Englehart and Keith Pollard.

I didn't initially care for dropping two of the main characters and replacing them with love interests for the remaining two. But once some of that seemingly forced soap opera-y stuff got out of the way, there were some decent stories going. Even the "Inferno" stories weren't too bad for being part of an unnecessary crossover.

But then this John Harkness guy started writing the book. The Fantastic Four were captured, an evil clone version of the team replaced them, and readers got several months of nothing but dream sequences. I was thrilled when Walt Simonson finally took over with #334.

Of course, what I didn't know at the time was that Englehart and Harkness were the same man, and that he was using a pseudonym because he himself didn't like what he was being told to do with the stories. So what was being done?

Englehart was brought in under Jim Shooter's rein as editor-in-chief to shake things up with the book. In Englehart's words from his own site...
The FF was always the "real life" adventures of superheroes, but as the series atrophied many people forgot about the real life part; growth and change went out the window. I identified the hermetically-sealed group of Reed & Sue & Ben & Johnny as a main reason the book has grown stale - and Reed & Sue had been saying for years that they should pay more attention to their perpetually 6-year-old son Franklin - so I let 'em. Thus, Ben & Johnny had to find two new members and do new things.
A few months after Englehart began, however, Shooter was fired and Tom DeFalco was given the editor-in-chief role. Initially, he seemed to leave things alone, presumably as he was getting a handle on the new job. But when the next Annual came around -- which tied into the "Evolutionary War" story that ran through many of the 1988 Annuals -- DeFalco evidently started demanding changes that book editor Ralph Macchio put in place.

Changes were also being made on his West Coast Avengers title, and he tried to salvage some of the storyline he began there in FF #322-325. In an open letter Englehart wrote in 1990, he noted...
#322 through #325 were plotted as [West Coast Avengers] stories and shoehorned into FF when WCA was yanked from under Al [Milgrom] and me--that's why the FF is fighting [WCA] villains. #325 originally ended with the Surfer and Mantis getting together and leading into the shelved Surfer #23; in the end, I had to use it to kill Mantis with dignity, because she'd already been trashed behind my back...
That's when DeFalco demanded that Englehart bring Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman back into the book. Englehart then removed his name from the book and began using the Harkness pseudonym. Again, from that open letter...
As always, I did the best I could, because the fans ought not to suffer in these situations, but anyone reading them with the knowledge of what was going on will find them filled with cries of outrage--not the least of which was the entire plot. Alien freezes real FF, sticks 1962 FF in their place -- the man who raised stealing from Jack Kirby to Official Policy never got that, and if you understand that fact, you understand everything that's gone wrong at the House of Ideas. In fact, the 1962 FF was such a hit in the offices, they want to do a mini-series starring them. Almost all the 1962 FF's dialogue in the series was lifted verbatim from FF #1-3, by the way; it actually took a lot of extra time to make that work, but that's what their stunted characters required.
Englehart now recalls that period as "one of the most painful stretches of my career." He tried to do the stories he wanted during this period, but basically had to relegate them all to dream sequences...
Anyway, the dream stories at the end were bare bones versions of the stories I would have done for real if I'd been able to; the last one, how Frank made Alicia leave Ben for Johnny, was the plot that got me the FF in the first place (over the then-not-in-charge Tom DeFalco). In one of my early FFs, back when they had letter columns, I said I had a long term plan working for the book; that was the first half of it. But in the end, as the titles very clearly said: "Bad Dream--And You Can't Wake Up!"
I've never been able to find anything where DeFalco specifically talks to his view of what happened. The closest I've come across is an interview that he conducted with Macchio for Comic Creators on the Fantastic Four in 2005...
Why did Steve leave the book?

We had a parting of ways, creatively. I remember there was a storyline he embarked on and I knew right away that we were beginning to see the characters differently. There were stories he wanted to do that just didn't work for me. I liked a lot of his run, but I didn't like the way he wanted to go so I made a change.
It was an unfortunately inglorious end to what had been a very interesting take on the title. While I disagree with Englehart's initial premise -- that Reed and Sue were fundamentally problematic to the book moving forward -- I can respect some of the ideas that he was able to develop out of that. I didn't like that "John Harkness" period for years until I began hearing about some of the behind-the-scenes problems years later. I'll end with a small request from Englehart's 1990 letter...
Anyway, now you know, so when you think back on my work, as you will from time to time, don't damn me for the stories I wrote under duress. There's a lot of ignorance and aggression around these days... but I'll continue to bank on the understanding of an informed public (still sounds like Captain America, doesn't it?). Let me reiterate that I did write every word of the best stories I could produce under the circumstances, even if every word didn't make it into print...
Why study the business of comics? It makes sense if your goal is to make your living from webcomics, and you know you'll have to figure out Patreon and sell t-shirts and table at conventions and such. But even if your goal is just to draw Spider-Man every month, and you just want to let Marvel handle all the promotion and bean-counting and such, why does it behoove you to study the business of comics?

Let me put this out there: who is the most famous person in comics? "Most famous" is obviously a fairly qualitative, but you could make a fairly strong argument for Stan Lee pretty easily. But if you look back on Lee's career, there are a number of question marks in it. There's the perennial who-did-what debate over the comics he worked on in the '60s, not to mention the questions about the origins of those famous characters. And if you look at his work from, say, 1970 onward, it's not all that creative or, in some cases, very polished. His later ideas and scripts seem to be just imitations of what he worked on in the early 1960s.

But what Lee did have going for him was some business sense. It wasn't his forte, mind you, as proven by some of the poor business ventures that bore his name throughout the '90s and early 2000s, but he did smartly negotiate some of his contracts with Marvel over the years. The last one I'm aware of provided him with a base salary of $1 million, and $500,000 salary for his wife after he dies, and a $100,000 salary for five years for their daughter after they both pass. That doesn't include a $125,000 salary for writing the Spider-Man newspaper strip, the 150,000 shares of Marvel that he was given at the time, and the full-time assistant that Marvel pays for. That's not a bad deal for not really having to do anything else for the company. Now, sure, Lee didn't negotiate that contract himself, but he knew enough that he surely had his lawyer put in several of the benefits it has.

Bob Kane similarly had a cushy contract that paid him well for many years, despite not having to do much. And again, his actual comic book work is somewhat suspect creatively between the ghost artists he hired, deliberately obscuring Bill Finger's involvement in writing the early Batman stories, and blatantly swiping from other artists when he did draw something himself. We know Kane less for his creativity, and more for his ability to navigate and control his business opportunities.

Who else has done well for themselves? Jim Steranko. Todd McFarlane. Robert Kirkman. The level of creative talent among all these guys varies, of course, but where they did well for themselves was in their business. McFarlane wouldn't be where he is today if he dropped Spawn into a Marvel comic when he was drawing Spider-Man. These guys all had at least enough business sense to negotiate some good contracts (both in and out of comics). They knew enough of how the business operated to know what was worth how much to whom.

And that's why it's important to study the business of comics! The stories are great, and seeing someone pour their passions out onto a comic page is wonderful, but without taking the reins when it comes to how they handle their business as a business, it's unlikely to amount to much else besides an unappreciated creative exercise.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Festival vs Convention Funding
http://ift.tt/2aXHMus

FreakSugar: Fanthropology: Contextual Communication
http://ift.tt/2bjOrP6

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: The Fist of Dredd
http://ift.tt/2bke7Oz

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links
http://ift.tt/2aZr7em

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Default Genres
http://ift.tt/2aZyAtU

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Black Panther
http://ift.tt/2bAD4ml

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Funny Classics
http://ift.tt/2b2TU03


Apropos of nothing, here are several newspaper strips that made me laugh out loud when I first saw them. They made a memorable impression on me, and I recall them all to this day. And they're still funny.
You may have heard that Marvel will have a Black Panther movie coming out in early 2018. The character's debut in Captain America: Civil War was well-received (so I'm told -- I haven't actually seen it yet) and Chadwick Boseman will be returning as T'Challa. Joining Boseman will be Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Michael B. Jordan. It's also been stated that almost the entire cast will be Black.

Now, Marvel certainly isn't devoid of criticism when it comes to how race is depicted in their movies (e.g. Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One) but Black Panther seems to be shaping up to be a fair movie in that regard. With the caveat that they haven't even started filming yet, so it could still well go south. I mean, as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's presumably going to be aimed at a general audience, as the other MCU movies have been, but if it features a predominantly Black cast, that's kind of a big deal. While it certainly wouldn't be the first movie to do so, it's enough of a rarity that it's noteworthy for that alone.

And here's what I think will be interesting: that rarity is not lost on anyone in the Black community. Any success that movie has -- critical, box office, whatever -- will resonate very loudly and strongly with them. If you talk to any Black geeks or nerds about the movie, you'll see an excitement behind their eyes. Restrained, perhaps, because they know it could all go to shit between now and the movie's release but the anticipation is there.

Do you remember back in February when Beyonce released Lemonade? Followed by her Super Bowl half-time show? Followed by Kendrick Lamar's performance at the Grammys? A lot of Black people were feeling very empowered by the end of the month.

The cynic in me says that's why Marvel opted to push Black Panther from November 2017 to February (Black History Month) 2018. To play off whatever additional Black pride that might be in the air. Regardless of the reason, though, I suspect the movie will do a lot to empower people again. Seeing a block buster action movie made for everybody, but featuring almost nothing but people that look like them? That's going to get a LOT of people VERY excited.

And Marvel's publishing arm is on point, already getting some Black Panther books into the pipeline, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, no less. I'm sure they're hoping to have at least two or three books by him out in time for the movie, and I don't doubt they'll have a ready supply of Christopher Priest's run on the title with perhaps a nice single volume collection of the Jack Kirby material. I don't know that the Don McGregor/Dwayne Turner Panther's Prey has ever been collected -- that might see a nice edition as well.

I suspect the movie will be a lot of people's first real introduction to the character. And I suspect that it will also defy typical expectations in that more of those people will go on the hunt for Black Panther comics than we usually see with comic-based movies. It will be very interesting to see how the movie sales here translate into A) general excitement from the Black community, and B) sales of existing books.