There are numerous works which inspired me to create Armagideon Time and continue to influence it in tangible ways. Calamity Jon’s Gone & Forgotten and Ben Is Dead’s Retro Hell both loom large on that front,as do Tom Englehart’s The End of Victory Culture, Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, the Paradox Press Big Book series and a host of (mostly defunct) sites like Dave’s Long Box, Progressive Ruin, and 3B Theater.
The influence which looms largest of all — especially when it comes to this recurring feature — was a fairly forgotten funnybook picked up on a whim over a quarter-century ago….
….James Larson and James Schumeister’s World’s Worst Comics Awards, published in two installments (six months apart) by Kitchen Sink at the dawn of the 1990s. The comic was, as the title indicated, a tongue in cheek awards ceremony — hosted by a pair of Siskel and Ebert lookalikes and their curvy assistant — aimed at honoring some of the more regrettable and bizarre artifacts in funnybook history. Equal parts fanzine and MAD-style parody, it anticipate the whole snarky funnybook humor subgenre of blogs by a solid decade. I have no idea about the extent of its influence outside my own experience, but it is amazing see how far back so many of these familiar tropes and targets went.
It was something of a minor revelation to me at the time, the idea that “terrible” comics had a campy value in their own right. Like a lot of fans who came up through the era of 80s revisionism, I’d fallen into a defensive posture where “maturity” and “sophistication” were (poorly) emphasized in the face of the ol’ “BIFF! BAM! POW!” bugaboo of public perception. When the reality that, yes, most funnybooks were kind of crap began to sink in, I chose to cash out for a bit rather than doubling down (as too may of my peers did and continue to do).
Approaching the hobby as a font of gloriously entertaining trash dovetailed nicely with my embrace of punk rock’s adoration of all things lurid and disposable, and World’s Worst Comics provided a handy roadmap for the aspiring bottom-feeder. More importantly, the creators of World’s Worst Comics didn’t settle for a facile barrage of cheap shots.
They established clear guidelines for the material they mocked, while providing at least a modicum of historical context and aesthetic justification for their selections. When I started doing Nobody’s Favorites some two decades later, I made a point of striving for more than just lazy “Mort of the Month” point-and-giggle bullshit. Ditto for creator shaming, except in the most egregious/recurring cases or where it’s absolutely essential to get a handle on What Went Wrong. This approach was very much influenced by World’s Worst Comics and it has helped distinguish this feature from similar offerings elsewhere. (You know, the ones that get all the pagehits.)
Even so, there were a few cases where the World’s Worst Comics contradicted their own guidelines about creator call-outs. “Worst Dialogue” may not technically equal “Worst Writer,” but that didn’t hold them back from an extended riff on Roy Thomas’s writing tics.
Jack Kirby’s Bronze Age output also took it repeatedly on the chin, with Captain Victory popping up in multiple categories along with mockery of the King’s signature “word jazz” writing style. It may have been a bit harsh and unfair — as well as utterly unfathomable to folks who came up in the current Kirby-reverential climate — but it wasn’t off-base within the prevailing attitudes of fandom at the time, where high concept abstractions had fallen from fashion in mass market funnybooks.
Ironically enough, the rough treatment Kirby got in World’s Worst Comics caused me seek out his post-1970s work. The trippy oddness of Paranex the Fighting Fetus and excessive em-dashes begged further examination. I came to gawk at the freakshow, but ended up leaving it as a convert.
That eventually expanded to encompass my attitude towards the hobby as a whole. Seeking out issues of Mighty Crusaders and Chilling Adventures in Sorcery Starring Sabrina the Witch was fun in a way that giving a shit about Wolverine’s origin or the stick up Batman’s ass had long since ceased to be. A lapsed and tiresome habit was reborn as an entertaining hobby approached from both a critical and historical perspective.
That’s one hell of a return on my initial five-buck investment.