Dec 18, 2014

Christmas Miracle #2 -- New Kids on the Block #4

One of the things I love about comics is that they're basically a snapshot of a moment in time. They had ads in them, letters pages, and of course stories, that are all immediately of their time. I don't think I've ever felt that as hard as I have with New Kids on the Block #4, our second piece of Christmas cheer for 2014.

So why are there New Kids on the Block comics? Because these guys were ridiculously popular. They were trendsetters who basically defined what the 1990s, or at least the early 1990s, was going to become. It's hard to understand now, because they're little more than a punchline to jokes about the era -- but people really BELIEVED in this stuff back in 1991. And I mean 'believed' as literally as possible.

But we'll get to that in due time.

Let's start with some history and then some stats. Harvey comics launched in 1941, when it was a fairly conventional 1940s comic company. It reached its height in the 1950s and 1960s with comics like Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Witch, Little Dot, Stumbo the Giant, and of course Richie Rich. These comics were all -- as we've covered before -- completely awful. In 1982 the company closed its doors and ceased publication.

But in 1986 it came back, modestly, and survived until 1994 when it ceased publishing all together. From then until 2012 Harvey was little more than an IP holding company, licensing its properties to the highest bidders. 2012 is when they were finally sold to Dreamworks, who owns all their IP now.

(There's more wrangling in the story, but that's a brief summary.)

So New Kids on the Block appeared as a comic in a brief window of time just before Harvey Comics' demise as a publishing house in 1990 and 1991. It's appropriate because NKOTB themselves were such a brief phenomena. A phenomena that Harvey Comics milked like crazy.

Based on my count (which I did using there were 46 NKOTB comics produced by Harvey across 12 different titles. Many of them were one-shots, but there were 5 solo ongoings each with runs of at least 7 issues. That's right, they had 5 simultaneous ongoing series! 

That's not to mention the different crossover comics they did (with Wendy the Good Witch, Richie Rich and even Hi-C, yes... the fruit drink thing from the USA).

So smack dab in that window of viability we have New Kids on the Block #4, the Christmas issue.

This is a terrible comic. You might have guessed that, considering I haven't spent much time yet actually talking about it. Okay... so this comic is basically in the style of other celebrity-based humour comics. It's a pun-fest, with twee storylines about the perils of celebrity. The celebs themselves are barely drawn as characters, and are all interchangeable. Even the art isn't very impressive, though I'd hardly call it BAD.

To me this comic has far more interest as a glimpse into the 1990s than it does as a stand-alone entertainment. I'm far more interested in the advertisements and the letters pages than I am the general comic book content. So if you're interested in the comic book content I suggest visiting Linkara's video on the subject, it's pretty thorough.

So let's look at my favourite ad in the book. It's an amazing glimpse into a time where people listened to cassette tapes, where people rang into phone lines for wakeup calls and where people could only communicate with their favourite celebrities by ringing up expensive phone lines and leaving messages that the stars probably never listened to.

Isn't that amazing? Everything about it is incredible. They have a cassette tape with 900 messages from New Kids On the Block. I can't even wrap my head around that. What would that even say? I've tried to locate the tape, but I can't. I mean, at what point, when you're recording 900 messages, do you just give up and start talking about your dick?

Would anyone even have bought this thing? Listened to it? Well... It seems that they have!

Check out the New Kids on the Block letters page. Some of these letters are incredible:

My favourite letter is the one by the girl who was let into the New Kids' bus and then decided to clean their dishes. This story is remarkable for several reasons -- not the least of which is that it reveals that each of their New Kids had not only their own bus, but their own limo. That's nuts. That's a ridiculous amount of money that was swirling around these people.

If you want the full experience, though, try this summary of a New Kids concert.

There's one quote from that wall of text in particular that I love: 
The fans at this show were, no doubt, Southern California's finest, with flowers flying, customized balloons sailing, and banners waving! One special banner echoed my sentiments exactly: "NON-BELIEVERS JUST CHILL OUT!" I gotta tell ya, that night, it was hard to believe the any non-believers existed. This small piece of the planet was at one...and one for all!

Non-believers just chill out. It's nuts. This is what it was like in the early 1990s. This was the hype, the intensity of feeling. For me, despite the fact that this comic is terrible, the glimpse into a moment in the past -- that reminder of what it was like -- is tremendously enjoyable.

It makes me wonder where some of the stories went... not the stories in the comic, but the fandom stories. Like -- who won this contest? Who hung up the pinup in the centre of the comic book? Who rang up those awful 900 lines? I don't know.

Speaking of the contest -- if you have a mind to trying to take a crack at your own New Kids comic, here's the entry page:

I should end on a pun, since this is a Harvey comic. Let me see. This comic didn't have THE RIGHT STUFF, but it doesn't matter because I'll HANG TOUGH, and see if I can be LOVING IT FOREVER. 

Or something.

--Andrew S.

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