Electric City Comics in Schenectady is one of the oldest comic book stores in the Capital District. They’ve been around since 1982 and still reside at 1704 Van Vranken Avenue. This was the comic book store of my youth and I have many fond memories of the place. Probably the fondest of which is the “Electric Currents Annuals” that proprietor Bill Townsend released at the end of 1991-1996.
You see, back in the early 1990s, my only source for news and commentary on comics was Wizard magazine and the Electric Current Annuals. I always found them fascinating and remarkably breezy, even though some editions were 50+ pages in length with nearly 1,000 words per page. Each annual contains a detailed recap of the major news and events in comics from its respective year. As you can see from the pictures in this blog, there’s a lot of riffing on all the major comic book publishers as well as individual writers and artists. Most of it is good-natured, but all the criticism of Marvel and of then-owner Ronald Perelman is vitriolic, scathing criticism. I also enjoyed the “Best of” and “Worst of” lists, plus all the analysis and discussion of the industry from an insider’s perspective.
For the sake of this post, I re-read all the annuals which have all held up pretty well, though there are plenty of dated references that are quite funny in retrospective. I found myself remembering a lot of major sections, as well as a few specific sentences. Just like the first time around, the annuals were both breezy and addictive, so trying to find a stopping point was a challenge. As a writer myself, I am absolutely floored that Bill was able to write these lengthy works in the relatively short time he did. It can take me hours just to write a simple 1,000-word blog. I can’t imagine how long it would take to write a 50,000 word fanzine all by myself.
Here’s a recap of the annuals by year. Click on the links to view PDFs of each issue online. You can also download them. Insert copyright disclaimer here.
1991: “A Look Back”
By far the shortest annual at only nine total pages. It reads like any year-in-review article you might see in a magazine or on someone’s blog today. At the time Marvel was an absolute behemoth and DC couldn’t do anything right. Though Image hadn’t yet been formed, Bill declared Rob Liefeld the worst artist of the year. He also awarded Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale as the worst mini-series of the year. In retrospect, this is pretty funny since Loeb and Sale have gone on to create some of the most critically-acclaimed works in comics in the last few decades (I have that book and will give it a formal review someday).
1992: “The Year of Living Weirdly”
The first annual to have a stylized cover rather than just plain text. Just about triple the size of the previous year’s annual at 24 total pages. There was a lot of major events that took place in 1992, namely: Superman “dying,” and the launch of Image Comics.
This annual contains an eight-page essay called “The Insider’s Guide to the Comic Market,” which is a great autobiographical piece on what it’s like to be a comic book retailer. While I’m obviously not a comic dealer, I’ll bet any current comic book store owner could read this today and totally sympathize with it.
There’s a short addendum written by Alan Ekblaw who owned the Excelsior Comics shop in Burnt Hills at the time (and is a frequent commenter on this blog). He does a great job of comparing 1992 to 1986 in terms of events and trends, and he also laments on “The Vanishing $10.” Today, it’d probably be “The Vanishing $20.”
1993: “The Deluge”
April 1993 was the biggest single month for comics ordered and was all due to the speculator craze that was rampant throughout the early 1990s. Superman came back from dead while Batman’s “Knightfall” story arc put him through the ringer. There was also the Image/Valiant crossover “Deathmate.”
This particular issue is a great bashing-fest of speculators, trading cards, and especially Marvel Comics. It includes the first of what would become an annual tradition of Bill pointing out all of Marvel’s blunders and flat-out atrocities that they had committed that year.
1994: “Judgment Day”
This was the year everything changed in comics on the retail side. The speculator bubble finally burst and the result was a rippling shockwave throughout the industry as plenty of publishers and retailers folded up shop. Bill’s tone to this issue is especially bitter and he even makes a point of saying “I am very, very angry. I am going to KICK ASS and NAME NAMES.”
His epic 20-page exposé on Ron Perelman and Marvel Comics isn’t some fanboy rant, it’s a piece of professional journalism that reads like something out of Time, Forbes, or Newsweek. It accounts for nearly 40% of the content of this annual!
1995: “Boom! Crash! Bang! Or: How To Make An American Quilt”
If you thought 1994 was bad, it was nothing compared to 1995. Marvel nearly single-handedly crashed the entire comic book industry by going exclusive with the small distributor Hero’s World (which they later bought outright). This sent the rest of the publishers into a frenzy and wound up creating a veritable monopoly by Diamond Comics Distributors, Inc. Bill’s anti-Marvel rant only went 14 pages this year. Though he did spend a lot more time discussing the news and trends of the year as well as delving into anime and manga.
1996: “Coming Together, Falling Apart”
By far the longest annual at a whopping 70 pages, it was bound like a magazine rather than simply stapled together. I always thought the last issue came out at the end of 1995, but when I interviewed Bill and Jevon last month, I was flabbergasted to learn there was actually a 1996 annual that wasn’t released until the spring of 1997. I missed it because I had gone off to college at that point and didn’t spend much time in Schenectady anymore. Thankfully, they were kind enough to let me borrow a copy to read and scan. It was akin to time-traveling for me since I was reading something that was 17 years old but was brand new to me.
The 1996-97 edition answered a lot of questions I had been wondering about the industry for years. It’s nice to finally get filled in on what I had missed (better late than never, eh?). It’s amazing how much the comic book industry changed in 18 months. Marvel narrowly avoided bankruptcy, plus their exclusive deal with Hero’s World crashed and burned. Though, I’m sure Diamond was happy to have become a monopoly without even trying.
While this issue does contain the usual Marvel-bashing, it also contains sections ripping on Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Beavis & Butthead, the Comics Code, the Spider-man clone saga, and the “worst of” list is even longer and more detailed than in previous years. There’s also a few paragraphs scoffing at the then-fledgling Internet. This is the only part of the annual that feels dated, otherwise it’s pretty timeless.
I highly HIGHLY recommend all comic book readers give these old “fanzines” a read. Especially if you were a reader at the time. If not, they’re still worth reading for their authentic, historic perspective. Heck, just read them for their entertainment value alone – they’re really that good!