« Comics Of The Weak: Nothing Like Them, Except Possibly A Lot Of Things Much Better, Like Decent Water and The Poor Man's Steve McQueen | Main | Music Of The Weak: And, While We're At It, Why Are There So Many Songs About Rainbows? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Two things. First, I had the same problem in school you had, except I wasn't in the gifted program. I wasn't invited. That hurt, especially since I was helping a few of the gifted kids with their assignments everyday. But as for school? It was the same thing - here's this impossibly vague assignment, go do it. When I was in middle school, I didn't know the other kids' parents were doing their projects for them. I didn't ask my parents for help very often because they were both super busy working. When they did help me out, my projects were *much* better. So, yes, I also have a lot of resentment from that period.

As for comics being insular? Yes, absolutely. The biggest problem I've noticed is a lot of people seem to think the approach the world wants is either "this new angle" on a superhero or a superhero approach on a cliche idea. Then there's the art comics guys, who do these very self-serving stories with all kinds of wonderful new approaches. I hate to say it, but what I think comics needs is something like Jamie Hernandez working on a project that has appeal to everyone. Blasphemy, I know, but I think if someone with that much talent was working on a mainstream idea, it would sell like crazy.

This is the first coherent essay I've read on why comics suffer from an overabundance of creators and a lack of readers ever. Bravo for saying something new and difficult. As someone who learned this lesson the hard way (I have 4,990 copies of a zine that interests no one but myself in a storage unit right now) I can appreciate the utter truth in not having a sense of entitlement about your work... There is a fine line between creating for the market, creating for yourself, and creating something that allows you personal expression but will also engage others...

I love that you got in a reference to those corsets.

What I find interesting about this essay, Nina, is that in many ways comics HAS been an insular world which is only now breaking open to the rest of civilization. There was a small, select, incredibly knowledgeable and self-motivated audience. In the last 10 years or so, as graphic novels have begun getting mainstream recognition and production has exploded (I'm thinking of those ICv2 numbers: $30million in sales in 2000, $330million in sales in 2007), it has brought an influx of new fans with new mores to the party.

I've not been to a lot of Cons; my experience goes back only to the first NYCC in 2006. It was much smaller than this year, and individual artists had little tables alongside and among the big players. That's how I found Brien Fies' "Mom's Cancer" and Steve Ross' "Marked" (I still have my autographed Marked t-shirt he gave me for free--I've been terrified to wear it because I'm terrified to wash it). Now it's very polished and professional, and the artists have all been banished over to the Artists Ghett--, er, Alley, and there's a special Autograph place, and there are panels on TV shows and movies and video games and it's different.

Which is to say that the poor lone comic-book organizer guy might actually have fit in with that 2006 Con, but now the industry has passed him by. And the superhero who can cure hangovers: who knows? Maybe the writing is clever and the art is unusual, and it doesn't matter that the superpower is weird: maybe he could be the next Captain Underpants. But the circus has passed him by, and he doesn't even realize it. Maybe MoCCA Fest is where he should go, or to SPX, where he has a chance to be heard over the cacophony.

Maybe the problem is both with the industry and with the presentation of the industry. But there are people who don't realize that the marketplace has up and left them behind, and I'm not sure whether that's the fault of the industry or the poor clueless people.

I liked the comment about how Jaime Hernandez should work on a comic that will appeal to everybody. Maybe he could take over Garfield? Because Love and Rockets sucks?

Interesting post. But I'm not sure I get it. Who is going to guide these poor insular comic fans? And in what direction? Maybe they just shouldn't quit their day-jobs.

A fine piece of writing, Nina! Not to mention, a clearheaded thing to say.

The more we have of that, the better.

Bryan, it sounds like I totally messed up the point I was trying to make. I was in no way trying to imply Love & Rockets is bad. Hell, Love & Rockets has been one of my favorite books for years. In my mind, Love & Rockets is like some independent movie that's a cult favorite but has never been noticed by the masses. What I was trying to say was imagine if the indie creator got a chance to work on something that would catch the eyes of the masses?

I'm not very film savvy, so I'm hesitant to draw an analogy, but I'll try. Take Jon Favreau. The first film he directed, Made, was an indie project that only appealed to a small group of people. When he got a chance to work on something with a huge budget and a recognizable star, he turned out Elf, which made huge money.

Maybe I'm all wet because I don't understand film all that well, I dunno. It was just an idea. But you're fooling yourself if you think the average person wants to read about the life and times of upper lower class/ lower middle class Latinos.

I was just thinking about this.... My original example of an indie comic creator was Huizenga, but I reconsidered because he's such a unique voice, he should always find his own outlet. I changed it to Dash Shaw, but he's too divisive. I finally settle on Jaime because he's universally accepted as more talented than almost anyone else in comics and I thought the limited appeal of L&R was self-evident.

Well, you could say, "Who wants to read about two childhood friends in Kabul?" Yet "The Kite Runner" is a bestseller and made into a decent movie. Or, "Who wants to read a comicbook memoir about the Holocaust told with funny animals?" Or, "Who wants to read a murder mystery involving superheroes?"

If a story is told well, then people will discover it. Word of mouth will sell the book.

The hangover comic? It's got a good hook. I've already seen one article online about it. Will it sell? Depends on how well the author writes and how well he markets it.

I'm one of those strange fans who enjoys a variety of genres within comicbooks. While NYCC is not the best place to showcase an indy title, it's a great place to see EVERYTHING in one place, just like San Diego.

(And thanks for dredging up the toxic sludge from my memory... I was "gifted" like Bernard Marx in "Brave New World". Maybe I'll write a comic about it...)

I had to do one of those gifted programs as well. I don't remember much besides sitting next to the boiler room with a kid who ate paste answering brain teasers.

I was eventually let out of it & went back to playing kickball.

The paste-eater is now a physicist, ha ha on me.

"Will it sell? Depends on how well the author writes and how well he markets it."

Not to be a bastard, but for some reason this statement depresses the hell out of me. Are there some kind of tacit agreements in this comments thread that I'm not picking up on? Personally, I don't think anybody knows what the average person will want to read. Gregorian chants briefly topped the charts in the U.S. about fifteen years ago. Bookstores still sell The Iliad. J.K. Rowling is like a multimillionaire or something, hippies devoured the Lord of the Rings, the "muh-nuh-muh-nuh" song from Sesame Street was used in a car commercial. Nobody knows shit.

Sorry, bit cranky this evening.

Kenny, I agree with Plok and Torsten. I think that many average people read Hernandez already. Maybe not "the masses" but whatever. How would that even happen? I wonder if something that appealed to more people maybe wouldn't be as good or would be watered-down in some way? Sure, if L&R ended tomorrow, we'd all love to see his Mary Marvel series, or his Super-Obama bio-comic, because something is better than nothing. But Mary Marvel isn't the Zolars. And thank the ghost of Jack Kirby for that.

Bryan, I think you're casting all sorts of assumptions on me that aren't true. I don't believe for a second superheroes are the mainstream. If Hernandez ever did a superhero comic, I'd probably vomit.

You think many average people read Hernandez already? How do you figure this? L&R isn't setting the world on fire sales wise. Like I said, you're fooling yourself if you think most average people give a shit about the struggles of Latinos in America.

I'm saying if Hernandez was given a multi-million dollar budget and a tie to something with appeal to white, teenage girls, he'd make a fortune. That's what sells - stuff teenage girls like. Everything else is just dudes either trying to appeal to women or escape from women.

You make it sound very mechanical, Kenny. But what's the machine for? Are you saying it'd be a good thing for somebody if Jaime did the authorized Hannah Montana comic, or something?

I guess I'm just not getting the biz-perspective in some of these comments, is what I'm saying.

Am I the only person who had nothing but good experiences in a gifted program? Thanks to the program in my elementary school I went to art galleries, heard a Gershwin symphony played by a live orchestra, saw Shakespeare performed, watched a sculptor at work, spoke to computer programmers, taught science to second-graders, visited an observatory and published a comic book. I'd almost certainly be a lesser person today if it weren't for these experiences.

Oh, and to anyone who think that throwing art-comics stars at mainstream tastes and subject matter will grow the market, four words: Jessica Abel's LIFE SUCKS.

I didn't care much for the gifted program when i lived in Georgia--i just remember it being a kind of nerd version of hanging out with Grease fans. They took us on one trip to SciTrek, which is one of those places where you play with static electricity in a big warehouse. The biggest thing that excited my grade school days was when that Power Team group would come by, the Christian bodybuilders who rip phone books in half. I wonder if you can still have those at public schools?

But when I went to school in Germany, they had a test they'd have you take, and the equivalent of their gifted program was that you could have something like an hour to leave the classroom once a week, at any point of the day, and go to the library. I enjoyed that a lot, because I just used it to read those huge collections of Greek and Norse mythology.

Nina will handle her own response to this debate that started. But she does read all the comments!

Oh, and she told me I couldn't write the mean thing I was gonna write in response to some prick, but if you want to know what it was you should email because it's pretty mean. Mostly mean, but kind of funny.

My gifted program in elementary school was...not very well-developed, let's just say that. It was like a severely underfunded pilot project. I think we had a slide projector. No! I'm wrong: we read a story about a slide projector.

In high school, the gifted program pretty much meant going to the river to collect soil samples, learning a tiny bit of BASIC, and not meeting girls.

So, wow. There's so much to respond too. Thanks for all your comments.

I just want to clear up my point of view -- what I was trying to say. Most people have said it was clear, but Bryan, you've both published here and on your own page that you're not sure of my point.

Basically, i wrote my very visceral reaction to NYCC.....which lead me down memory lane, and helped me to draw a conclusion about things that I've been working through for myself. Serving one's self vs. Serving others -- and/or learning to balance the two. One could argue that our whole economy is suffering because of self-interest and greed were the ruling philosophies, and the ideas of community and serving were left as ideas for charity. And things fell apart.

Why much of this was on my mind is because I just read, The Soul of Money, which addresses idea of sufficiency rather than more-than-enough, and the idea of using your money and your resources and your work as a means of expressing yourself out in the world, vs. as a way to acquire more and more and more.

I am in no way implying that comic book fans are childish (as you assumed on your blog, Bryan). I was merely noticing that emptier booths might be empty because the product serves a limited few. The idea that one should find a problem to solve as a way to start a business is not my idea or a new one. It's a business fundamental. And unfortunately, those of us in artistic fields or who have dabbled in artistic fields often have limited business knowledge. Who will guide us, you ask? Read a business book, for fuck's sake.

Hangover man may very well be hilarious, and the new hit that blows our minds. I hope it is! I meant no disrespect to that guy. I literally explained what happened and what went through my mind as I walked by. That's all.

Karen, thanks for your very informative post. Those were great insights, and I'm glad you could compare the 2006 NYCC to the 2009. Obviously, my knowledge and experience is limited. You know, me "The Virgin." :)

Kenny, Jordan, Torsten, Plok: thanks for all your comments and compliments and involvement.

Seth: It was SO great to meet you. You're hilarious! Tell Danielle, my new best friend, that I say hello!

Dirk: Thanks for the link, as always, but especially for your incredible support. I sit alone in my room just writing my impressions and my memories at the behest and with the support of my husband, and then suddenly, through you, I have this huge audience. It's all a bit daunting. And totally thrilling. Thank you so much!

With that -- please continue to talk amongst yourselves!

Maybe it's because I'm not a businessman, or because I don't have a stake in whether a lot of people like/read/buy something, but I find these discussions about "mainstream acceptance" so tedious. Really, who cares, outside of the people actually making the money? I mean, we all love Love and Rockets, so does it matter that much if Jaime Hernandez does something that "has appeal to everyone"? How does that benefit anybody? Do we crave the existence of a product that I can put into somebody's hands and say, "here, now you'll understand why I like comics"? I'm not trying to recruit for a worldwide comics fanclub; is that really anybody's goal?

I guess I can understand the impulse to talk about business decisions and whatnot, but it's exponentially more interesting to actually discuss the, you know, comics. And while it's nice when somebody you admire is successful and makes money, thus allowing them to produce more work, it seems ridiculous to get invested in whether or not they have "mainstream success". I don't really feel the need to be able to walk up to strangers on the street and talk to them about, say, Anders Nilsen. I could probably do that with something "mainstream" like Harry Potter if I wanted to, but I don't. Does anybody?

Sorry if I seem combative. I'm not trying to be. This probably ties into the discussions that have been floating around (and have since died down, making me the guy left arguing after everybody else has gone home) about how DC screwed up Final Crisis or whatever. I get bored when people talk about marketing decisions or publishing strategies rather than actually discussing a work.

I'd argue that a financially successful comic actually does serve to benefit the readers--my understanding of Fantagraphics is that they were suffering through a difficult economic period until the Peanuts reprint license got started, and it was the financial success of those Peanut reprints that made it possible for them to move forward as a company. (This may be anecdotal, but it was something that was written up a few times.)

Whether that's specifically true or not, I'd posit that it's undeniably true that the success of the Peanuts reprint series is clearly what started the current cycle of classic newspaper reprints, which--and I'm looking at you, Brady--has clearly benefitted comics fans. Dick Tracy, Annie, Popeye, Gasoline Alley--would any of these companies been able to get these programs off the ground if they weren't able to point to the Peanuts reprints as proof of audience?

Financially successful comics are good for the industry as a whole: that can be true and still not be taken to some ridiculous extreme where Adrian Tomine draws Harry Potter spin-offs. While it's less the case in DC or Marvel, where a financial success seems to breed a clone of whatever the success is, I think you can point to a lot of other publishers who use profit as a way to push through work that otherwise would have been handled in the sort of shoddy, off the cuff way that so many low-rent teams handle these things. On a personal note--I was a big fan of some of the Humanoids stuff that DC made more widely available a few years ago, and goddammit, I'll be combative: the idea that one shouldn't complain about how terribly that was handled--with DC pushing out the books on a ridiculous schedule where new ones where dropping every couple of weeks, with no promotion, no plan in place, and no acknowledgement that the price point necessitated a longer range sales plan--is one I completely disagree with. Shitty business decisions fucked over Good Comics, and now if one wants to read that stuff, you're back where you were five years ago: either hunting expensive hardcovers or learning a foreign language.

I don't agree with some of the extremes this debate has gone too, and personally don't believe that's necessarily where Nina wanted it to go, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to just cede the ground to optimistic belief that quality will rise. Good business--like the Peanuts sales--has helped the quality of work available. Terrible ones--like the way DC fucked Humanoids--has hurt it. And every time a bad call is made, that bad call becomes a new hurdle in the way for the next time someone else wants to try and take a chance on something that isn't the same-old, same-old.

Well, damn, that's some smart thinking that does a good job of saying, "Shut up, Brady, the grownups are talking". Makes a lot of sense. And that's probably why I hadn't joined any previous discussions, because I felt that I didn't have much to add, whether it was a worthy topic or not. And actually, the examples you bring up are much more interesting and relevant than a lot of what had been previously talked about, like how successful Batman RIP was or should have been. If we have to talk about marketing and sales, this is a good way to do so.

And really, not that I'm trying to prolong any name-calling here, but I was really talking more about the vague idea of mainstream acceptance, which seems to get fans all worked up every time a movie adaptation of a comic comes out (get ready for a lot of blather about Watchmen accuracy in a couple weeks) and geeks think they're relevant for a little while. Maybe I was responding to a post on Stuff Geeks Love from a while back (see here: http://stuffgeekslove.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/mainstream-acceptance/). Like a lot of the stuff on that blog, that was a good moment of realization for me about the behavior of a lot of comics fans, and a galvanization of my desire to be independent from that bullshit. But I'm sure I've got my own bullshit, so feel free to declare your independence from me.

Whoa, let me pull back for a second here: i don't want to be one of those bring the hammer down kind of blog people who makes it a waste of time to comment. I'm probably just being overly defensive because i like to write about business stuff, it does interest me. I'd totally agree with you on that post--it's horrific, and I hope nobody thinks Nina or I give ten shits on ice cream mountain whether or not anybody gets "mainstream acceptance" for anything.

Officially, if you're still thinking about being a nerd, or a geek, or whatever, and it's causing you trouble, and you're past...oh, i don't know, 19, then you have serious fucking problems far beyond whatever might happen to Abe Sapian when he gets his dick out of his ear. I think we both agree on that.

AMAZINGLY well-written.

The only way I can sum up my first real-live con? Nerds are RUDE AS FUCK. I'm 6'0" - you seriously can't see me walking here? You SERIOUSLY need to jam right into me? I know that Bryan Lee O'Malley is here, but CALM THE FUCK DOWN, you will get to him, I promise.

But I did get a new BFF out of it, so all other complaints are nullified.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo