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I learned over the weekend that Bertram A. Fitzgerald passed away on January 10. His work on the Golden Legacy series was powerful and had an impact on me personally decades after they'd been originally published.

In 1966, at the age of 34, Fitzgerald jumped in to the comic book publishing business, despite having no background in writing or publishing. He had been disillusioned with biographies of writers like Dumas and Pushkin, whose African heritage had been almost completed and deliberately eschewed. So he got an old army acquaintance, Leo Carty, to draw up a comic book biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution of the late 1700s. Though he had difficulty finding a printer and distributors for the book, he went ahead with a second issue of Golden Legacy focusing on Harriet Tubman.

Frustrated with the distribution problems, he spoke with the folks at Coca-Cola and persuaded them to help. For the price of running ads on the back cover, Coke had the subsequent volumes printed and shipped to schools and libraries free of charge. The first eleven issues were published in this manner. Fitzgerald managed to strike similar deals with the likes of Avon Cosmetics, AT&T, Woolworths, Exxon, Columbia Pictures and McDonalds for another five issues.

In 1976, Fitzgerald tried another comic that was a little more mainstream. Fast Willie Jackson was similar in style and tone to Archie but featured a predominantly African-American cast. Though it did garner standard newsstand distribution, it was discontinued after seven issues. He also produced a drug awareness comic during this time as a public service publication.

Fitzgerald ran into some legal issues in 1983 when a con artist managed to (temporarily) convince people he had acquired the rights to Golden Legacy. Fitzgerald spent several years in court to secure his books back and try to receive some monetary award. Coupled with some significant incidents of racism he experienced, he got out of publishing to work for he New York City Mayor's Office.

The Golden Legacy books are still being published to this day, although I can't say how much direct involvement Fitzgerald continued to have with them. I know they made an impact on me as a teen (which I talked a bit about way back in 2006) and I'm sure quite a few other folks as well. It's probably high time I pulled those books out again for another reading.
You may have heard this weekend that Ringling Brothers is shutting down operations later this year, just a couple years shy of their formal centennial. (The 146 year number cited in reports includes the years of performing before the original Ringling brothers purchased P.T. Barnum and James Bailey's show, merging the two into a single circus troupe with double-"and" name.) That's a long time for any business to remain in operation and that they remained viable through the advent of radio, movies, television, video games, and who knows how many other forms of entertainment is laudable. Very, very few businesses can trace their records that far back.

We've seen some impressive anniversaries in comics publishing too in recent years. DC, Marvel, and Archie have all shot past their 75th anniversaries and are working their ways towards 100. Whether they actually make to 100 remains to be seen, of course, but they seem to have weathered some harsh storms already. While I wouldn't suggest any of them can count on smooth sailing, they have shown they can adapt to changing conditions.

Interestingly the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company in 1955 was right around 75 years. I don't think any comics publishers would have qualified as Fortune 500 back then, but it's interesting that they have the longevity of them. More interestingly, though, is that the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company today is less than 15 years! Of those 1955-era companies, only 61 still show up on the Fortune 500 today. That's 12%. 88% of companies that were expected to have a 75 year lifespan didn't last 50 years.

All companies fail at some point. Just as all people die. Eventually, we'll get to a point where DC, Marvel, and Archie don't exist. Just like Fawcett, Charlton, Quality, and countless other publishers don't exist today. But, when one of those companies folds, what happens to the comics you bought from them?


You bought the comic. It's yours. You keep it as long as you like. It doesn't matter what happens to the publisher as far as that specific comic you purchased is concerned. That's why, as I'm sitting here typing, I can literally see books in my collection from First Comics, Pacific Comics, Eclipse Comics, NOW Comics, Atomeka Press, and Gold Key amid the books from Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse.

So my question today is: what happens when comiXology goes out of business? I don't wish them to, of course, but sooner or later, they will, just like Ringling Brothers. What happens to all the comics you purchased from them?

Just something to think about.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: On Business: Advance Copies

The Comics Alternative - Smart Discussions on Comic Books and Graphic Novels: Webcomics: Reviews of King of the Unknown, Cosmic Dash, and Freedman

Kleefeld on Comics: On History: Microfiche

Kleefeld on Comics: Weekly Comics Links

FreakSugar: Webcomics Wednesday: Another Biz Model?

Kleefeld on Comics: On -isms: Lessons from Memphis

Kleefeld on Comics: On Strips: Big Nate, Comics Intern

I missed this earlier, but last week, Lincoln Piece's title character from Big Nate got himself a job interning at a local comic shop...
The comic shop environment is obviously rife with comedy potential, even if you ignore the stereotypical nerd dungeon jokes that you see on, say, The Simpsons. In fact, looking over the past couple weeks, most of Pierce's jokes could be applied to any retail environment. The Wonder Woman gag is specific to comics, but the character is broadly well-known enough that, coupled with the somewhat generic nature of that particular joke, it's not too obscure that it won't go over with most readers. (Indeed, you can swap any vaguely superheroic name in for "Wonder Woman" and it works just as well.) But the Betty and Veronica joke, it seems to me, caters to a very specific audience.

The whole Archie cast of characters is reasonably well-known, I think, but uniquely in that long-running Archie house look, and in stories that always seem at least ten years out of date, even if they're brand new. That was kind of the bedrock of Archie comics for, literally, the last half century. There were some minor tweaks over the years, of course, but I doubt most people could differentiate between a Harry Lucey and a Dan Parent story, or guess within a decade when any given story was made. (To be fair, Parent made some significant progress in making the stories more inclusive, but I daresay anyone outside comics is very familiar with that. They might be able to recall something about introducing a gay character, but I doubt their knowledge goes much further than that.)

So even though the Archie line was completely revamped in 2015 and there's a new live-action TV series set to debut in a few weeks (with all the accompanying promotional hype) I don't think the vast majority of people realize Archie isn't the same Archie that he's always been. So when Nate refers to "the old Betty and Veronica", I don't think most readers would get that. Betty and Veronica haven't changed in 50 years, as far as most people are concerned, so "the old Betty and Veronica" doesn't make sense. If the character were referring to "the old Batman" or "the old X-Men", I think most people would understand that the characters have changed over time, and the gentleman prefers the version he had as a youth. But Archie was so specifically immutable for so long, I don't think the joke works for Big Nate's primary audiences: newspaper readers and kids who pick up the collections in bookstores. The comic shop audience that would get this joke likely isn't reading Big Nate. It's not that the joke isn't funny; it's just that it's for an audience that I don't think overlaps much with Big Nate's.
Christopher Noxon posted this piece yesterday over at Fusion. Frankly, I think it's more insightful/useful if you're coming to a Trump presidency/GOP Congress without a lifetime of living with racial injustices, general bigotry, and persistent inequalities that your Caucasian friends, however well-intentioned, just can't seem to see as real the barriers that just a little hard work can't overcome. For those of you who do have that background, it's probably nothing new, but there are a lot of nice pictures of individuals who were deep in the Civil Rights movement.
  • Over on Facebook, Derf provides an extensive history of the Silver Surfer Kirby/Lee graphic novel from 1977, including a piece of concept art for a sort-of associated film I'd never heard of.
  • Scott Dunbier is looking for original Jack Kirby art from Forever People to use in an upcoming IDW Artist's Edition.