Top 10 Most Influential Comics of the 1980s
Ever since the earliest comic books appeared on newsstands in 1933 they followed many of the precepts laid down by comic strips: square bordered panels arranged in a left to right pattern, use of onomatopoeia for sound effects, different shaped borders dialogue balloons indicating thoughts or words spoken aloud or whispered, captions to set a scene, and a down to earth realism even for such fantastic characters as Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers.
With minor exceptions, comic book publishers kept to these tropes for many decades making an exception early on for the newly invented super-heroes whose outsized antics needed bigger and bolder presentations. Enter such figures as Jack Kirby who used tricks of foreshortening, full and half page panels, and breaking panel borders to convey a sense of furious action.
For almost thirty years, little changed until the advent of artists Neal Adams and Jim Steranko both of whom entered comics from outside the field bringing with them new ideas about how to tell stories visually. In the 1970s, though many of Adams and Steranko's tricks were abandoned, the idea of breaking open the comics page remained with artists like Gene Colan, Rich Buckler, and Frank Brunner who continued to experiment with page layout.
In the 1980s, artist Frank Miller did the same with his work on Daredevil but now adding a new attitude to the storytelling to match the radical inclinations of his art. Influenced by film noir and later Japanese manga, he built an atmosphere of oppression and brutality to DD that only grew more intense issue by issue. No one realized it at the time, but Miller was leading the industry into uncharted territory, one that in time would become completely divorced from the strictures of the Comics Code Authority.
At the same time, across town at the offices of Marvel competitor DC, a British writer named Alan Moore was also doing his part to shake up the status quo. There, taking over the Swamp Thing comic, Moore immediately began to explore the dark side of the human psyche with tales that were increasingly unsuitable for young readers. Other writers from across the water would soon follow Moore's example including Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. Together with Miller at Marvel, they would succeed in transforming ground level comics into an adult oriented playground where children were not welcome.
It was a transformation that the comics industry perhaps needed as prices climbed and readership shrunk with children abandoning comics (and reading in general) for other pursuits. With a fan base now comprised mostly of adolescents and young adults, the industry could proceed full speed ahead with a program of increasing violence, sex, and darkness. The line between heroes and villains became blurred so that by the end of the 1980s when Marvel and DC found themselves challenged by a host of upstart companies with no allegiance to the Comics Code, they were forced to adapt to the new sensibilities or continue to lose ground.
The following is a list of the top 10 most influential comics or series that acted as sign posts in this transitory period between the last years when comics were accessible to readers of every age and their current form appealing to an extremely narrow band of young adult fans who often require stories that feature the extremes of human behavior in order to be entertained.
10) Punisher Limited Series
Created by writer Gerry Conway in 1974, the Punisher was inspired by similar characters that had been appearing regularly in paperback for years including the Executioner, the Destroyer, and the Avenger. All derived their popularity in part from the Dirty Harry films of the early to mid-70s which capitalized on the frustrations of Americans with the apparent inadequacy of the law in dealing with criminals. By the 80s, such sentiments had trickled down to the younger set who soon took a shine to the Punisher who really began to take off after writer/artist Frank Miller featured him in one of his Daredevil stories. A limited series by writer Steven Grant and artist Mike Zeck followed which proved to be a huge sales success. In succeeding years, the Punisher would star in numerous series, each more violent than the last helping to redefine what it meant to be a comic book hero all the while pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in comics.