(Sept. 29) -- Comic book fans and collectors usually focus on titles that were successful, artistically valid or of historical importance. Rarely do they focus on those that are, well, stupid.
That's left the door wide open for Shaindle Minuk and her hubby, David Merrill, who for more than five years have been showcasing the lamest, silliest and dumbest characters and stories from comics past on a website fittingly called "Stupid Comics."
The couple, who both work as graphic artists in Toronto and create their own comics, started the site as a labor of love after what Minuk describes as "years and years of finding comics in thrift stores, antique malls and comic stores that were of no real value except that they were really amusingly stupid."
She believes the Internet is the perfect medium for displaying weird, out-of-context images to the world, but Merrill said the site is similar to what they had been doing for years, except to a slightly larger, more anonymous audience.
"When we had friends over we found ourselves digging out these terrible comics and showing them off, and eventually we realized we could do the same thing to thousands of people at once," he told AOL News.
What makes a comic stupid? It's something Minuk and Merrill are still trying to figure out.
"With comics, sometimes the line between good and bad can be very, very blurry," she said. "For instance, DC Comics' line of 'Superman Family' comics from the '50s are made fun of a lot on the Internet, including on our site, because they're silly, nonsensical and just plain dumb, but they're not 'bad' by any definition. They're well drawn and extremely entertaining, and the authors knew pretty well what they were doing -- writing for young kids.
"When I say a comic is 'stupid' I don't really mean it as a bad thing; it generally just means something in it made me laugh that was maybe not intended to be funny to a grown adult.
"It's really hard to consider a comic in which a fat woman is bullied by her boss into losing weight, after which he fires her so he can marry her as anything but bad -- especially when the art is just traced from another company's comic, for instance. There's nothing really defensible about that but it's still funny."
Although the comics that Minuk and Merrill focus on are stupid, they have learned from the mistakes of others.
"The biggest lesson [I've learned] is if you trace, don't be so bleeding obvious about it," Minuk said.
Meanwhile, Merrill says reading thousands of stupid comics has taught him to cheat -- as an artist, that is.
"One thing I've learned from some of the more hacked-out comics we've featured are the dozens of ways to cheat -- things like silhouette panels, large areas of smoke or black space, giant shadows, ridiculous close-ups or zoom-outs, and other techniques that can make an artist's task easier," he said.
"I don't blame most comic artists for taking short cuts. This kind of work was, and still is, notoriously low-paying. On the positive side, there's a lot of charm in the ineptitude of script and art that make many of these stories work in spite of themselves, and that kind of serendipity is gold to a creative artist. Most of these creators were always looking for the simplest solution, and there's a certain value to that mindset."
Some of the things found in stupid comics that particularly bug Minuk include bad grammar, poorly placed word balloons, incompetency and general incoherence, along with endings that come out of nowhere and comics about celebrities that rely a little too heavily on press package photos.
Merrill is bugged by excessive words in what is mostly a visual medium.
"I'm frequently amazed at the overwritten nature of many of our stupider comics," he said. "Simply letting the drawing carry the plot should be the natural state of comic storytelling, but most really stupid comics have a combination of a really idiotic story that is about three times as complicated and wordy as it needs to be. Of course, we get a lot of mileage out of outdated racial and gender stereotypes as well."
Defining a stupid comic may be as open-ended as the definition of obscenity laid down in 1964 by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see that." And, to that end, Minuk and Merrill don't always agree. For instance, they both have different ideas of the stupidest comic characters in history.
"I think any character can be stupid or smart, depending on how it's handled," she said. "Having said that, Dell's attempt to turn Universal Movie Monsters into superheroes was pretty stupid. Two great tastes that don't go together."
Meanwhile, Merrill leans toward a Richie Rich spin-off character as the most ill-conceived character in comics history.
"I would have to go with Billy Bellhops on this one," he said. "Who thought kids would want to read comics about a bellhop?"
In the five years, Merrill and Minuk have updated the site, they've managed to avoid being called stupid by their own readers. Almost.
"Mostly everyone enjoys the feature and takes it in the spirit in which it's intended," she said. "We do get some people who think we're too harsh, which may be a fair criticism, though I'd like to point out that we own all of the comics we feature, meaning we paid good money for them. If we hated them, we wouldn't collect them.
"So far, we haven't received any sad e-mails from wounded comic creators. Some of the fans think we're big meanies, but, for the most part, I think it's obvious that we have a lot of of love for these comics, even if they are stupid."
Despite the harsh title, Minuk believes the Stupid Comics site provides a service to the artists and comics who serve as its fodder.
"Some of these comics would never be seen by anybody otherwise," she said. "Some things, like the folly of the '80s black-and-white boom, in which people would blow their life savings to publish their weird and very personal comics, I feel should be appreciated by people by any time period.
"I also find it interesting that a lot of girls and young women these days aren't aware that at one time, there really were American comics meant for girls. I think a lot of them assume that the Japanese must have invented the concept of comics about love and romance because, in their lifetime, the American publishers have had nothing to do with it. I also think it's very salient to today's comic readers and publishers that even the silliest comics of the 1950s outsold the 'hottest' of today's comics."
As for the future? Minuk believes that comics will always have some aspect that is stupid, but it may not the same as it was in the past.
"Today's comics are definitely stupid in a different way. Well, some of them; there will always be dumb merchandising and licensing gimmicks, or like right after the last U.S. election when putting Obama on the cover was a sure-fire seller," she said. "I don't find superhero comics anywhere near as fun nowadays as they were in the '50s and '60s or even the '70s, but I've never been much of a superhero fan anyway.
"However, Archie, at least, is pretty consistent. When it's stupid now, it's stupid in almost exactly the same way it was stupid 30 or 40 years ago."
"The comic industry, filled with former fans embarrassed at the junk they read as children, decided at some point in the '80s that comics aren't for kids any more," he said. "Subsequently the industry abandoned their largest and most lucrative market, and they've been coughing up blood ever since, vainly trying to sell 'mature' versions of children's adventure characters to a world that doesn't want to read grim superhero comics.
"It continues to amaze me how popular comic books were when they weren't trying to impress anybody with how grown-up they are."