George Khoury understands the magic of comics.
Keep in mind, I’m not referring to just the content. What George understands (and loves) is the passion that was unique to a generation of fans that grew up in the Seventies and Eighties. Although it’s generally accepted that the Golden Age of comics began in the late Thirties and the Silver Age in the mid-Fifties, there was something unique about the “Bronze Age” that has yet to be replicated.
Comics and superheroes were slowly becoming a respectable medium, rising out of the ghettoization of the medium in it’s earliest days. You had creators who grew up absorbing pop culture, including comics, who had their first chance at bat tackling not only their childhood icons, but also developing creator owned material of their own. You had an evolution of storytelling as writers, artists and publishers were able to take a risk, something that the larger companies today can’t for risk of tarnishing their Intellectual Properties.
But for readers during this time, there’s was a certain secret language that was shared amongst one another. X-Men‘s sales might have been at their actual peek, but the characters were completely unknown to the mainstream public. If you met someone who read comics, inevitably the first question was, “Do you read X-Men?,” acknowledging a common ground.
Now, the world knows who Wolverine is from movies and Spaghetti-O cans, but there’s little to that character who still exists. He knows his real name, doesn’t smoke and hasn’t had a good old fashioned berserker rage in decades.
In Comic Book Fever, George has created a time capsule of that time period. A love letter to growing up and going to the store twice a week (remember when there used to be different delivery days?). Days when today’s iconic creators were just getting started and establishing themselves. It’s already a book that I treasure and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
If you see George don’t even bother asking him if he used to read X-Men. You already know the answer.
FOG!: What was the genesis of this book?
George Khoury: Comic Book Fever comes from many places and has many layers to it.
First, I just wanted to come back to the era that made me a comic book fan. I wanted to capture this magical era inside a book. And, I wanted to use everything I’ve learned to make this experience as authentic as possible.
And second, I wanted to make a book about comics that everyone could enjoy because Fever is written for everyone – the lifelong fans and the comic book novices alike. It’s a book meant to be shared. If you ever wanted someone to understand your affection for this medium, my book is the place to start.
Comic Book Fever focuses on the decade of 1976-1986. Why did you focus on these years specifically?
With this era, I can show readers how comics matured away from a medium for kids into something more accepted by all. The industry that we know today started in this era. The business of comics was pretty much defined in this period.
In doing research for this book, were there any discoveries that you made that surprised you?
It surprises me how many things I enjoyed as a child are still relevant today. Yes, all things may pass when we move on to wherever life takes us, but cherished stories and memories, especially the sweetest ones… Those are the ones that we take with us wherever we go.
I also think it’s interesting that during these years there was a considerable amount of classic reprint material that was available to fans; mainstream bookstores carried collections in both hardcovers, trades and pocket books and Treasury Editions, giant size issues and digests were also popular. You also had event books that attracted mainstream audiences like Superman Vs. Spider-Man and Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali. Comic books were a presence. What happened?
There was a big push in the mid-1970s to make a few collections (paperbacks and hardcovers) that collected the best of the best material at Marvel and DC. Initially, it was very successful because it took superhero comics into places it had never been like bookstores and libraries.
Gradually, it faded away until the success of Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen made collected editions into an everlasting option again.
As for all those other formats, the publishers were just desperately looking for ways to engage with their audiences. Back when newsstand distribution was the industry’s lifeline, they would do whatever it took to make their presence known on the magazine rack.
As the direct market took shape, they didn’t need to be so daring and became more complacent. The non-returnability factor of books in the direct market allowed publishers to be less daring with their formats.
Your book is a treasure trove of nostalgia, but omitted some very specific things such as the television series (The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, The Amazing Spider-Man, Super Friends, etc), the Mego toys and movies (Superman: The Movie, Superman II, etc). Was there a criteria of what you included?
My goal was to make comic books and comic book creators into the driving force of this book. It’s all about the experience of the comics themselves. By the way, I covered all of these superhero television shows in my Age of TV Heroes book.
What are you 10 favorite comic books from this era that you’d like to see reprinted?
I would love to see all the old Marvel and DC treasury editions get a second printing on their original lower quality paper. Honestly, pretty much everything I cover in Fever is available inside some collected edition.
Any plans to do a second volume? What else do you have coming up?
No. Comic Book Fever is self-contained. I gave this book everything I had. I have no other books coming after it.
By the year the book ends, comics changed considerably with the release of Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s historic relaunch of Superman. The next decade brought the speculator market, Image Comics and the Death of Superman. How do you think the next decade affected readers? What changed more the industry or the fan community?
The 1990s hurt us. We still haven’t recovered from it. Instead of focusing on the actual reading experience of their books, our industry is more concerned on creating trivialities and collectibles. It’s like we’ve learned nothing from our past. Our industry still doesn’t understand that what made Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen into successes was their originality, not their somberness.
The internet brought fans together, but in many ways eliminated much of the fever and became a center of Comic Book Furor. Do you think that the current state of the industry can reclaim fever or do you think that’s been lost in favor of other media including Comic Book Movies?
I refuse to give up hope because I love this medium. There are way too ambitious people, women and men, who will do whatever it takes to tell their story in this medium.
What are you currently geeking out over?
I just picked up a copy of The Art of Painted Comics by Chris Lawrence from Dynamite. It’s a massive book about the history of painted comic book storytelling. I can’t wait to crack it open.
This Wednesday August 24th, George will be appearing with special guest, comic legend José Luis García-López signing copies of Comic Book Fever at JHU Comic Books in New York City from 6PM to 8PM! For more details visit Facebook.com/comicbookfever!