Stepping back into the ’90s while going through some old writing files got me thinking about how we judge what was important in the past. Even amongst the unfinished files I could find the early stages of my current writing style, and, even if it wasn’t particularly well executed, it would still count as an important stepping stone to the writer I am today. In a way, some of those unfinished pieces may actually be more important to my development as a writer than some the things that I actually finished.
The same is true with a lot of things. The comic industry in the ’90s isn’t generally considered to be one of the best periods creatively or commercially. Famous more for the speculator boom and ensuing crash, as well as some undeniably bad comics, the ’90s gets something of a rough deal at times. From a creative perspective it’s actually fairly easy to pick out highlights. Eightball. Preacher. The Authority. Hate. Transmetropolitan. The Invisibles. All products of the ’90s and, to my mind, all great comics. Oddly enough, what I see as one of the most important comics of the ’90s is also, from the same creative standpoint, amongst the worst.
Youngblood by Rob Liefeld has the distinction of being the first comic published by Image Comics, way back in 1992. I can remember reading a friend’s copy of the first issue back when it came out, and even then, to my unsophisticated eye that quite liked muscular men in spandex hitting each other, I thought it was a bit ropey. It’s not something that’s aged well, and it’s something that, from a creative perspective, would likely be forgotten if it wasn’t for its place in history.
As the first comic published by Image, it’s hugely important. It’s the comic that made the idea of of Image a reality, and the sales of Youngblood, along with later Image books, proved that creator-owned comics could crossover into the mainstream and hold their own at the top of the sales charts. The early days of Image were a far cry from the company it is today, with it’s heavy focus on shared superhero universes and the aforementioned muscular chaps, but that’s where the seeds of today’s company were sown.
It could easily be argued that if Youngblood hadn’t come first it would simply have been replaced by another book, Spawn perhaps, but that misses the point. As an artefact of historical importance to the comic industry, Youngblood is hugely important, not because it was good, but because it was first. It goes to show that it’s not only the work that we think of as creatively excellent that will be guaranteed a place in history.