Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

June 8, 2012

Comics I Read In Series Form In The 1980s: Ronin


Ronin was the first title that made me aware of the primary peculiarity of the Direct Market: that the comics ordered weren't returnable, and if a comic didn't quite get over with a store's customer base in the way the person ordering for the store predicted, it might have a real effect on the bottom line for these largely cash reserves-light businesses. I learned this because the relative lack of movement of this title on the stands was communicated to me by my local shop owner, perched behind his counter. This meant that by the time this comic was released, I was enough of a valued customer that this kind of in-store business would be talked about, which is also kind of a remarkable thing if you stop and think about it. I've never had that relationship with any other kind of merchant, that's for sure. I watched the initial growth of the Direct Market through my first local comics shop, and it was one minor but intriguing thrill after another: the offerings went from one rack, to one shelf, to a little room off of the main one in the used bookstore where the funnybook business was housed, to that alcove plus more of a salon/spillover area and a filing cabinet full of subscriber folders. It eventually moved to a storefront near campus where the black and white boom and bust clubbed the poor place to death.

I remember very little about Ronin, or at least my personal reaction to what I was reading. I couldn't repeat the plot in much detail even now if you pointed a finger at me and asked. I remember thinking it looked awfully cool, and I remember the big, talk-about "moment" from the initial story in some detail. I remember the Comics Journal review nearly as much as any individual issue. One thing I do recall is that I was aware of where the comic fit into Frank Miller's story as much as the story of the comic itself. I knew that Ronin was a big deal for Miller -- and to a lesser extent, it seemed, DC, the Bobby Ewing of the funnybook world -- and my consumption of it and reaction to it was based in part on rooting for Miller to succeed. (I think at the time it was considered an extravagance and a slight-to-perhaps-even-major under-performer, making the lightning bolt success of Dark Knight that much more surprising, but I could be wrong.) I also remember that I looked at Miller as a full-blown adult in the industry when he was like, 26 that year, which is pretty remarkable to me now. At any rate, plugging into comics as an expression of some cartoonist's career or personal story and thinking of the comic in terms of what it meant for my favorites getting over became a major secondary way I read a lot of comics from the early '80s until the mid-1990s, and I'm not sure I'm rid of the notion now.

I don't think I've read this series since, in serial or collected form. I've read a lot of comics several times over I remember liking less.
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