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Collective Inaction: The Comics Community Tries and Tries Again to Get It Together
Excerpted from The Comics Journal #262
By Michael Dean
Posted August 13th, 2004

In The Comics Journal #261, we looked at the newly launched International Comic Arts Association, a dazzlingly thorough invitation to comics publishers, creators, retailers and readers to join hands in accomplishing just about every goal they had ever dreamed of accomplishing as a community. As displayed across a vast website and 54-page overview manual, the ICAA looks impressive, especially when one realizes it is the work of one man, Eric Enervold, and a couple of friends. Enervold has devised a machine for the fulfillment of wishes -- promotion of the industry to the general public, insertion of comics into schools, collection of comics-consumer demographic data, establishment of a comics archive and resource library, etc. -- and all it needs for fuel is the active involvement and financial support of every segment of the comics community.

But there are a lot of reasons why Enervold's gift to the industry may be greeted with a degree of skepticism. Those reasons are the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA, 1954-), the Academy of Comic Book Arts (ACBA, 1969-1976), the Comic Book Creators Guild (1978-1979), the Comic Book Professionals Association (CBPA, 1992-1994), Comic Artists, Retailers and Publishers (CARP, 1998-1998), and the Committee to Explore an Industry Organization (which didn't progress far enough to actually name its tentative organization, 2000-2000). All of these groups were born of high aspirations (except the CMAA, which was created to counter negative publicity) and all of them apparently vanished without a trace (except the CMAA, which has persisted over the decades, though with dwindling membership).

Any association that seeks to accomplish something on behalf of the industry needs a budget, and fundraising is necessarily one of the first items on its agenda. All of the above organizations that lasted long enough to do so solicited donations and membership fees, and when those organizations gave up the ghost, they left behind bank accounts containing funds that never did anything for the industry but gather dust. To this day, that money remains untouched in long-forgotten accounts.

Now the ICAA has materialized seemingly out of nowhere, asking for donations and volunteers and promising to do what past associations have failed to accomplish. It seems like an appropriate juncture to consider the history of those associations, what they succeeded in doing for the industry, why they're no longer with us, and what happened to the money they collected. We may also hope to gain a better understanding of what there is about the comics industry that makes it so difficult for its members to come together to achieve goals as a community.

The Comic Magazine Association of America was created in 1954 as a wagon-circling maneuver in response to a public backlash against comics, which were being investigated by Congress as a contributor to juvenile delinquency. The association founded and continues to administer the Comics Code Authority, which awards its Seal of Approval to comics that meet a rigid set of guidelines designed to convince parents and large store chains that children will not be exposed to indecent images. Though the Congress gave the industry a pass and few parents are aware of what the Seal of Approval represents, the Code persists to this day. Begun by a small group of the larger publishers of the time, the CMAA has long been perceived as primarily aimed at benefiting big newsstand publishers. Beyond the widely reviled Code, the CMAA's efforts on behalf of the industry have been largely limited to promotional dumps and other display programs aimed at newsstands. As the comics industry drifted away from newsstands and toward the comics-shop direct market, the CMAA became less and less relevant to the vast majority of smaller publishers. In the late '90s, the association conducted a four-year membership drive intended to attract smaller publishers to a direct-market section. It apparently succeeded in luring only the now defunct Chaos! Comics. Last year, Marvel Comics jumped ship, leaving behind an organization that seems to be little more than a ghostly presence in the industry.

The CMAA's public-relations spokespersons are apparently not allowed to speak to the public without the OK of CMAA (and DC) President Paul Levitz, and the Journal was referred to him when it asked for such delicate trade secrets as who currently belongs to the association. Levitz referred the Journal to DC spokesperson Patty Jeres, whom the Journal caught at home as she was packing for the San Diego Comic-Con. Jeres didn't know the current membership of the CMAA and referred the Journal to CMAA spokespersons. When the Journal said CMAA spokespersons were unwilling to give that information out without authorization, Jeres said she wouldn't be able to authorize the CMAA to do that without Levitz' approval. At press time, the CMAA's membership was still a closely held secret, but by the Journal's last count, the roll consisted of Diamond Comic Distributors, Wizard magazine, DC Comics, Archie Comics and Dark Horse Comics.

[To read the rest of this article, please see The Comics Journal #262.]

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