Ron Edwards su Champions Now e la storia del fumetto

Bazzicavo sul Discord di Adept Press (Ron Edwards) per chiaccherare del suo nuovo gioco Champions Now. Per chi non lo sapesse, si tratta di una specie di retroclone ufficiale delle vecchie edizioni di Champions, con modifiche di Ron, e inframmezzato da commenti di Ron sulla storia del fumetto e sul suo ruolo culturale.

Gli ho fatto una domanda che mi sono posto da quando ho letto il manuale. Nell’introduzione fa riferimento al fatto che i fumetti erano originariamente stampati su carta di scarto (pulp), e fa riferimento a operazioni di riciclaggio di denaro e contrabbando associate alla loro vendita. Gli ho chiesto se poteva citarmi qualche fonte e ha scritto una risposta molto interessante. Da qui emergono un sacco di informazioni estremamente dettagliate sulla storia del fumetto, di cui Ron è un evidente appassionato.

Perdonate la lingua inglese, varrebbe la pena tradurre quello che ha scritto perché sono davvero informazioni molto interessanti, ma è davvero molto lungo.
Non ho riportato i messaggi non rilevanti della chat.

Discussione con Ron

@ranocchio: Hey Ron, I have a question about an excerpt from the manual – from the first chapter in fact. Forgive the excerpt (if it bothers you, I’ll remove it or abridge it)

Face it: superhero comics are junk. They were born in black market paper racketeering, to dispose of the excess as literal “pulp,” in stapled reprints of newspaper adventure strips, even cheaper than the throwaway paperbacks and soft porn mags.

I was born in the '90s, so my understanding of old-style comics is limited to wikipedia, and tales told by ones such as yourself.

I’m aware of pulp magazines being called like that because of the low quality of the paper, but I never read anything about black market paper racketeering . Is this hyperbole or is this something that really happened? I tried searching the web for information on this but couldn’t find it. Could you elaborate on this?

Ron: I don’t mind the excerpt! The account of the paper industry’s relationship to the black market, bootlegging, and sex-items industry of the 1920s and 1930s - or rather, how they relate to the origin of newsstand comics - is found in Gerard Jones’ book Men of Tomorrow, the acknowledged best reference for the history of National Comics (what most people call “DC”). You can also find accounts of the paper industry which are more concerned with, for example, political activism (e.g. the history of American socialism, also, Margaret Sanger and birth control) or mob history (especially Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano), but are not concerned with comics. I especially recommend reading Jones’ book alongside Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, keeping a careful timeline. Together, these books show very well how comics are a sideline to the turnover of paper, and that the pulps and associated products (any cheap paper product really) have been laundry machines from the start.

Jack (utente discord): Are you saying comics started as a money laundering operation? Damn that makes so much sense. Oh shit.

Ron: The money & paper story is a little more complex than just “it’s laundering,” and newsstand comics’ origin is more like a side-effect than an end in itself. Paper is huge, it’s like plastic before there was plastic: anonymous, bulk, use it for anything, brand it with anything, reusable but why bother because it literally grows on trees; also, subject to complicated and easily-corrupted rationing laws during both World Wars, and the perfect physical mask for shipping contraband during Prohibition. “Pulp” paper is basically a way to make money out of the leftover scraps, and since it’s leftover, you don’t really have to make much money (any will do), and whenever you have a “don’t have to make much” situation going on, then laundering is the obvious next step. The paper as such is already doing its job, so now, in a subset of it, why not get a little useful service from a whole universe of this or that, fly by night, untrackable, oh look it’s almost bankrupt pleeeease don’t tax me businesses?

OK so that’s concept 1. Concept 2 is that comics as medium already existed, mostly as newspaper strips, and they were huge. Those, and their prose counterparts (magazines and “pocket books”), already had tons of adventure and superheroes, with masks, powers, secret identities, the works. But most importantly, you had radio, and that’s where the money was. So if you had a radio hit, you got a little extra by licensing the dude out to some paper mill. And if you had an unexpected hit in the otherwise throwaway who-cares paper mill, then you could strive to turn it into a real Thing of its own on the radio. The point is that no one gave a shit, least of all the publishers, if a comics or paper product “sold.” What matters is that you can use the paper thing as a subset and very importantly, as a way to maintain IP while negotiating contracts, just like radio was a great way to maintain IP between movie contracts for the really big properties.

Continuing with concept 2: Critically from there: Harry Donenfeld and Jack Leibowitz did not make money from Superman comics - they gave no shits about that at all, and indeed, poormouthed and cooked the books if the comics ever did make money, because that way they could screw all the creators out of contracted royalties or claim the creators had no case if they sued for ownership based on the shittiness and strongarmed contracts. D & L made their money instead from their shadow-owned parallel company, Superman Inc, which handled the properties and received the funds for radio, films, newspapers, and soon, TV. Remember, this started right away, like immediately, upon the launch of Superman, Batman, etc, and it didn’t invent it, it just hopped onto the model for what newspaper and pulp properties were already doing. This fake split between the comics publishing and the marketing-money-maker companies persisted until the 1960s, when the merged company went public for a planned buy-up by a (get this) “parking garage” millionaire that maintained D & L as the primary beneficiaries.

Concept 3: It’s really shocking how hard comics fandom buys into Capitalism 101. “Obviously,” comics are pure product subject to the pure market of loving grassroots readers; “obviously,” a title will sell big if it’s good, i.e., due to raw quality; “obviously,” this cream-rises effect is reflected in the secondary market of collecting, investing, and speculating, with very little actual re-selling (think hedge funds); “obviously,” the swelling success of the physical comics sales is what drives decisions to take the property into real/big media, which is practically worshipped as a god (“the movie! the movie!”). None of that is true. The movies et cetera are going to be made, like clockwork, already. Superman’s immediate rival, Captain Marvel, got into movies first and featured in film serials throughout the 1940s, and National Comics only managed to topple him through lawfare (after Superman had counter-stolen all his powers, I might add). The comics are a meandering nothingburger in comparison - just advertising and IP maintenance for the other, more profitable media. And imagine, it’s advertising that its very targets actually pay money for! Fuckin’ awesome, that people can be so stupid, let’s see which actor the studio says they want to play whatsisname next.

So what does all this have to do with playing Champions? A lot!

@ranocchio: I really resonate with the concept that you express in the book, that old comics are something you enjoy in private, and through which you can take part in “guilty pleasures”, which is stories and themes that are naturally countercultural in the context of the times. Your point that roleplaying games share this attribute is nail on. (Forgive me if I slightly misrepresented your take on it, but I tried to re-interpret it according to my own thoughts and perception). I also really appreciate that you managed to put it into words in an apolitical manner. Well, it’s at least philosophically anarchist, but with “apolitical” I mean that it’s not particularly taking sides on who is the culture and who is the counterculture, as that’s really up to the perceptions of the players.

Looking forward to experiencing some actual play of Champions Now.

Ron: I better pace myself. […] The one thing I’ll say here, though, is that the relevant comics when Champions was created were from a very special period: 1966-1980. National Allied Publications (with National Comics as a small thing inside it) underwent its merger, as a small part of it actually, into Warner Communications. Goodman Publications, a much smaller entity which included an imprint called Marvel Comics Group, was bought by a Jersey company called Perfect Film & Chemical Company. These events marked big editorial and professional shakeups in the corresponding comics and for that period, they were SERIOUSLY off the leash, functioning essentially in accord or overlap with underground comix, black-and-white magazines, the exploding rock/etc music industry,and the outrageous and equally unleashed SF-fantasy-horror book publishing. This is the period (with a great prequel that started around 1960, true) that produced nearly all the superhero content which has been gnawed and repeated and rebooted ever since, and it’s exactly when the game’s original creators (and those of V&V and other early superhero RPGs) soaked it up, not just as content to imitate, but as the professional model (do it! do it yourself! create it! write what comes next!) that was scrubbed out of the industry in stages after that. The few great superhero works since then were callbacks by people who remembered it (Watchmen is an example! so is Strong Female Protagonist).

In 1977, Warner fired Carmine Infantino from editor-in-chief and replaced him with the more sensible but much more management-obedient Jenette Kahn; in 1978-ish, Cadence Industries (the new name for PFCC) instated the very young and not-very-Marvel Jim Shooter as editor-in-chief. Both of these moves were good business sense and both included a serious editorial shift toward standardization, toy tie-ins, and constant oversight and planning for the comics content; the elevated fan Paul Levitz was the key player at DC (which was now actually named “DC Comics”), and the elevated fan Mark Gruenwald was the key player at Cadence (where Marvel Comics Group was still just an imprint). Not everything that came after that was bad - not at all - but I stand by my point that the good stuff typically reached right back into the 70s and was done by people who’d experienced it, and very often, they engaged in fierce fights with the editorship in order to do it.

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Io sono un gran stimatore di Ron, per Trollbabe, ma sopratutto perché mi ero appassionato del suo blog di fumetti Comic madness. Credo di averlo letto tutto, pure la sezione commenti, potrei aver saltato un articolo o due, e quindi ho già letto quella storia; non so quanto possa essere interessante mettere i link qui perché gli articoli sui gdr sono molto pochi e molto sparsi (e riguardano sopratutto Champions)

Tra l’altro ho finanziato Champions Now e l’ho letto un paio di volte proprio per via di alcuni articoli su quel blog, e lo trovo poco affine alle mie corde, poco accessibile diciamo, ma gli spunti di riflessione del testo sulla creazione di personaggi, ambientazioni, e flusso di gioco a me han colpito parecchio. Non so quanto sia comodo al tavolo, perché segue una sua linea di pensiero - che ricorda molto quella di Sex&Sorcerer - che appunto parte per uno sguardo molto esterno al gioco per finire al gioco concreto.

Da parte mia credo che il capitolo sui due " Statements " lo farò proprio per tutte le discussioni pre-nuovo gioco col gruppo :smiley:

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@Grimsworth, se ne hai voglia, secondo me a qualcuno quegli articoli interesserebbero. :wink:

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Spero di avere il tempo per segnalare le cose migliori a riguardo, ma le riflessioni su quel blog riguardano principalmente le intersezioni tra fumetto e gdr di supereroi, e sopratutto di Champions, la sua storia, le sue evoluzioni. Una frazione minoritaria dei post riguardano i giochi a tema supereroistico che sta sviluppando, e che poi non ha finito per dedicarsi a Champions e il suo lavoro in Svezia.

Per rapidità: Qui c’è tutto quello che riguarda i gdr su quel blog. Il post che ai tempi mi aveva convinto ad addentrarmi nella lettura penso sia questo che parla del gdr ufficiale della DC negli anni 80.

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