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3.16.2006

The Snides of March

Just so's you know, my BREAKDOWNS column is going on a break of probably two weeks, maybe three, as I am knee-deep in submissions for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, and I and the other judges are meeting in two weeks to finish it all up and cast our votes. It should be fun, but I want to make sure it is by having most of my homework done before I get there, you know? So, if you read the column, that's the bad news. The good news is, I got cranky yesterday like I sometimes do, and wrote a post that I ended up revising quite a bit here, so this is kind of a column in itself. The other good news is I should have a guest writer filling in on Friday, if he gets done in time. I didn't give him a lot of lead-time. So just check back in Friday and see what's going on. And now here's your displaced BREAKDOWNS Blog.

Courtesy of former Galaxy contributor and all-around too-polite guy Ed Cunard and his The Low Road, I discovered a new strain of the Team Comix virus at one Jason Berek-Lewis' Independents Day blog. Jason apparently takes the death of Speakeasy comics as an affront to "indy comics" enthusiasts everywhere, and he's got a message and a plan. Speaking to all who happen to wander to a blog already devoted to independent comics discussion, he exhorts readers to give up their copies of New X-Men and Teen Titans and replace them with sterling examples of independence Hero Squared a superhero book by Keith Giffen and an artist who is not good enough to work for Marvel or DC yet; long-running, lascivious superhero book Femforce; and two licensed titles, GI Joe: America's Elite and Starship Troopers: That Was SO Wicked When That Thing Sucked That Dude's Brains Out. Is that his idea of independent comics? More superheroes and sci-fi?

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that his tastes are maybe a little broader than that, but what's this obsession so many people have with what's "indy," anyway? Berek-Lewis, and all too many others equate "indy" with "anything not from Marvel or DC," which I guess would make larger, more successful publishers than Marvel or DC, like Viz and Tokyopop, indy as well. Maybe I'm misinterpreting, but how else would you see it? I mean, is Dynamite Entertainment really an "indy studio," and if so, why? Nothing against them--I know people who work there--but is Red Sonja an indy comic? Isn't Dynamite just a smaller version of IDW is a smaller version of Dark Horse? Is this merely about financial strength or number of titles published? Is Peter David an indy creator when he does Soulsearchers and Fallen Angel, but not when he writes for Marvel or DC? It's all a little silly, and a pretty good example of the comic book culture that refuses to see the world (or at least the publishing world) the way those not weaned on Spider-milk do. It really is not about trying to get someone to give up what they're reading to give their $3 to your indy charity case. People resent that. It's not good salesmanship: "Hey, that thing you like? It sucks! Here's something that's REALLY good!" No thanks. I'm cramming in as many comics as possible prior to voting on them for the Eisner Awards in two weeks, and it's an interesting experience. There are a lot of ind--let me just say small press?--books that suck, and the occasional promising book or talent to emerge. If you pay attention, you'll read or hear about a LOT of what's good already, but there are still some things you really have to dig for, and a lot of the time it's because the people who make these books have no friggin idea who to get them to, how to get the word out. It's why so many businesses fail--nobody knows you're there. Once you get their attention, you better offer something they like and will come back for, but so many publishers and creators can't effectively capture the potential customer's attention in the first place. Who is going to pay attention to Independents-Day site who isn't already hip to non-superhero comics? It doesn't make any sense.

I'm sure this sounds bitter, and yes, I'm a smartass, but to me these ill-conceived movements smack of the same blind optimism found in those defunct publishers, this lack of forethought and hope that if we high five each other and hope for the best, well doggone it, we'll succeed where so many trying the same thing have failed miserably. It's not a "build it and they will come" thing, unfortunately. It's really a "build it, and make sure it's built really well before you show it to anyone, and then when you're sure, show it to everyone you can think of, and maybe tell them to tell all their friends about it, and keep working at it and making it better and stronger, and add on to it and maybe build something else if you're sure you can keep up the maintenance on the other thing, and do it slowly and make sure there are more people coming all the time, and make sure you're working on it every day, and even after all that, they may get tired of it and go away. But if you don't do all that work, they definitely will go away, or never come in the first place." That kind of thing. Small press creators and publishers forget that one of their strengths is their small size. People like to root for an underdog, but only if they feel that underdog deserves to be the top dog with a little support. There's something really satisfying about reading a great comic from a publisher who is only publishing that one comic, maybe another. You want to help out your buddy and buy some girl scout cookies from his daughter, sure--that's a once a year thing, no big deal. The buddy starts hitting you up for more and more money, more and more of a commitment, and he's not such a buddy anymore, is he? That single title, that unique object, when done well, is a beautiful thing. When you try to launch a whole line of books, you're asking too much of most people, and they may pass altogether rather than get that one book, because they don't know which one is the best one to get. You've made them choose between your own products, and you've thrown all these kids out there without a lot of parenting having been done. A sink or swim mentality rather than the real nurturing new books need.

Anyway, the real world is not concerned with your labels of what is indy or not. As we've seen, many if not most indy cartoonists will work for the bigger companies if the money is good or they feel it's a good way to expose their talents to a different audience. And some have no interest in that kind of compromise and just want to do their thing their way, and if people like it, cool. What's important is that if you find a comic you think is really great, tell people about it. Maybe it's New X-Men or maybe it's Deadpan or Angry Youth Comix or Artesia. Whatever it is, it has to be compelling enough to people for them to want to buy it and keep buying it. No movements or activism is going to help if people don't like the product. You don't ask people to drop something they're buying--you make your book so good, you get the word out about it, and if it really is that good, they'll get it and whatever else they buy is not your concern.

3 Comments:

Dave Lewis said...

1. Yay for Ed! We'll miss you, Chris, but Mr. Cunard is a very solid stand-in. I've enjoyed the Low Road since its inception.

2. While we might potentially have great-great-great-cousins in common, I am not to be confused with Berek-Lewis. ;-)

11:01 AM  
ChristopherAllen said...

Hey Dave--

Not a knock on Ed at all, but he is not the guest of whom I was speaking. I asked someone known to comics readers but not a regular comics blogger, reviewer or columnist.

11:26 AM  
Dave Lewis said...

Ohhhhhh...

I suck.

That's what I get for glossing rather than reading in-depth. :-(

2:04 PM  

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