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This is a good look at an interesting aspect of the comics scene, but I'm curious (or maybe just argumentative) about the contention that there's a bifurcation of indie and superhero (or "mainstream", if you prefer) in the comics industry. That seems much too simplistic to me, which might be due to my antipathy toward that superhero half, which I think is tending more and more towards irrelevance. Maybe I'm just making the old "New Mainstream" argument, that there are a multitude of other genres that wouldn't really fit into the superhero mold, but aren't exactly avant garde. Where would, say, Scott Chantler or Faith Erin Hicks fit into this division? Or Kevin Cannon, or Nate Powell, or Raina Telgemeier, or Sarah Glidden, or Queenie Chan, or or or or or blah blah blah, there are a million examples. There's a pretty big gulf between Marvel/DC house style (even as varied as those have become) and the modern underground, or whatever you want to call "indie" stuff these days.

Of course, maybe I'm just arguing for the sake of arguing here, ignoring the attempt to head off this issue at the beginning of the essay. I think it just irks me that if something isn't a superhero comic, it's considered "indie", even though it's really much more mainstream that that fringe subgenre that still somehow dominates the comics conversation. I really wish we could get over whatever barrier makes that notion persist, since I'm really, really sick of it.

I got paid. And I spent it on drugs.

Can I get credit for the Fusion tag?

See Inkstuds with Brandon Graham and Michael DeForge

Frankius, what are you doing online, you Luddite??

Your check's in the mail by the way.

You said you were going to mail me your comic Zegas. I'm in New Mexico. The guy at the mail place didn't have anything for me.

Hey Matthew Brady, Marvel/DC dominate the industry. They are what's considered corporate. Other publishers are indie. The majority of things published by Marvel/DC are superhero stuff. A lot of the stuff published by others is non-superhero. Thus, superhero is considered mainstream, while non-superhero is considered indie.

Does the recent Kirby unfairness make it less likely that there will be indie/ mainstream superhero team-ups in the near future?

I, for one, just thought it was a really great piece.

This was the best post this site has hosted. And I just got your comic in the mail. You are my favorite person this month.

Kirby unfairness and DC Superman rights issues and both Big Two renumbering their line is going to implode the industry. Burn baby burn. Bring on the Rapture. Judgement day.

Kirby is going to murder you in your dreams if you buy Marvel.

Boycott Marvel!

"Clowes gets it, but his imitators don’t; when Tomine draws someone in spandex it’s not to show us how absurd and fantastic it can be, it’s to heckle and point out how banal of a concept superheroes are to him. We don’t need that sort of cheeky arrogance in any genre of comics. If he despises it so much, Tomine should follow Sammy Harkam’s example and never draw this type of material under any circumstance whatsoever."

Oh, really?

What sort of cheeky arrogance DO we need, then, and in which genre of comics do we need it? Perhaps ANY form of cheeky arrogance (or perhaps some arrogance other than the cheeky flavor? Maybe SASSY arrogance or UPPITY arrogance is more amenable to your desires?) other than an artist being so ornery as to express his dislike for the hallowed concept of garishly costumed & super-powered champions and villains beating the shit out of each other a la the WWF, right?


Better that Tomine do nothing but diss Captain Spandex Muscleman with every genius-level stroke of his "imitator"'s pen than no one ever insult that tapped-out fantasy subgenre again.

Better a thousand, blood-drenched ninjas eviscer~ ah, never mind. Whatever, fanboy.

Great piece, and I totally agree. I wish more people could work on Big 2 properties without having to shed their sensibilities and style.

Also, people getting all mad about a dissenting opinion in the comments of this blog of all places is pretty funny.

Oh and it's good to know that this site's fanboys can dish it out, but can't take it.

Superhero fans love to say that Marvel and DC dominate the "industry", but I don't think that's true, at least if you venture outside of your average comic shop. They dominate the Diamond-distributed direct market, but that's just a fraction of the whole "comics industry", which encompasses manga, European imports, self-published comics/minicomics, webcomics, graphic novels and pamphlet comics from a wide variety of "corporate" publishers, newspaper strips, gag cartoons, and, I dunno, probably graffiti if you really want to get inclusive. To call the two mired-in-the-past dinosaurs that are still standing on the backs of Jack Kirby, Siegel and Shuster, and Bob Kane and Bill Finger the "mainstream", or even "corporate" (what about Fantagraphics, Oni Press, First Second, Viz, Kodansha, etc., etc.?), is like treating publishers of new versions of pulp novels as the primary purveyors of fiction literature. It's ridiculous. Superheroes are the fringe, and their fans need to realize that they're a bunch of weirdos obsessed with silly fantasies about people in fetish gear, not some sort of dominant aspect of any culture.

Take your Grant Morrison and your Marcos Martin and kiss my ass, you freaks. Matt didn't invite no poo-poo pants nerds to THIS party.

If "indie" cartoonists weren't allowed to heckle superheroes, Johnny Ryan could never have drawn that Supervillain Team-Up with the Red Skull and Art Spiegelman. And then all of human history would have been in vain.

I'm really into red Fender Stratocasters.
I don't care who's playing it, if there's one on the record, I'll buy it.

My other favourite music is anything made by anyone who wears bracelets.
God damn, I can't get enough of that stuff.

Matt Brady is right on both of the broader issues he's brought up - the superhero genre dominates the direct market, but the direct market is itself such a shriveling, gasping thing that this hardly means anything to anyone outside a specialty comics shop anymore. Likewise, there's a lot more variety out there in the way of artistic sensibilities than just "indie" and "superhero/mainstream." There are artists whose styles descend from old newspaper strips, from manga, from caricature, from European comics, from the golden age of animation, etc. The world of comics is a lot bigger than "Marvel and DC on one side, and on the other, Clowes and Tomine and maybe some scribbly dudes from Kramer's Ergot."

Also, I totally rolled my eyes at that whole "you can make fun of superheroes, but only in a way that is careful and sensitive and does not offend our delicate sensibilities" paragraph. Yeesh. This is a genre about people with magic powers fighting people with other magic powers in their underpants. Get a grip.

I like this.

Moose, where did Michel say that "indie" and "superhero" were the only two types of comics aesthetics?

Great post.

Not so much a statement as an implication by omission - there are more than just "the two camps," after all.

Great post Fiffe. I would disagree with several of the comments above. No one is dictating that there are only 2 genres, similarly several aspects of the medium as a whole were not taken account of. If you want to look at the big picture of the industry from the outside-- that is to say from popular understanding in the US-- it IS mostly superheroes. Hell I show my folks other kinds of comics all the time and yet still all they can think of is batman. Secondly, all you have to look at is what is being made into movies to see what is mainstream and what is not. There have been a few movies based on amerimanga, manga and some on crumb/pekar, but for the most part its superheroes all the way. If anyone is going to go around saying superheroes are a complete waste of time, well clearly theres something you are missing. Popular culture clearly embraces them on some level, so it would be good to acknowledge what that is before dismissing it. I think that might have been the source of the Tomine argument, but im only guessing.

Some of you guys are ridiculously mad as hell that someone with a brain might like superheroes, even mainstream superheroes. What's up with that?

Thanks to everyone for reading and posting your thoughts. I haven't had a chance to respond until now. Let's get to it.

Matthew Brady, I made note of "indie" and "mainstream" being broad name tags for the huge world of comics, but I don't think it was to the detriment of the rest of the comics landscape. They do happen to be the two I am concentrating on here. I didn't mean to say that they are the ONLY camps, but they are often identified in large sweeps by different facets of the community (all types of fans, creators, retailers) and that is where my reference point begins. ["Mainstream" has always been a weird term to use and should be taken with a grain of salt while understanding that I'm talking to those that are familiar with the industry. To the REAL mainstream, as in the general non-comics reading public, comics are either the stuff of fringe dwelling or pop culture throwbacks.] Anyway, the main thrust of this post is to show how the off-model/off kilter versions of these "mainstream" trademarks can sometimes prove to be more interesting, maybe even more vital, in comparison to the typical approach used in producing them. Oh, and Nate Powell, Raina Telgemeier, Sarah Glidden etc are easily considered "indie". Euro, kids lit, memoir ... all that stuff is "indie" in the eyes of the fan/retailer.

To respond to your second comment, DC and Marvel dominate the American field (which I agree is limited and dwindling, but still huge) in 2 ways: sheer, constant output and the money paid to creators. They are places where once can potentially make a decent living in compared to all of the other American options. I'd say Dark Horse and maybe even IDW are runners up in the paying department. They, too, are mainstream companies. Maybe even First: Second, payment-wise. However, Marvel and DC are both subdivisions of huge corporations (Disney and Warner Bros. respectively), Fantagraphics and Oni are not. That detail makes a world of difference.

Brenner, comics actually don't need ANY type of arrogance, and I think you're more aggravated at me criticizing Tomine than what I am criticizing him for. The very few superhero bits I've seen of his have suffered from any real lack of joy or inspiration. He isn't celebrating anything by doing them, so why bother doing them at all?

Jones of the Jones Boys, I agree with you. Nowhere, though, did I write that creators aren't allowed to heckle superheroes. They can, and DO, and I love them for it. A good portion of the examples I champion in the piece are nothing BUT heckling. Kurtzman himself was doing it, and he did it brilliantly. As does Chirs Ware. Johnny Ryan does it hilariously, and even if he hated superheroes (I'm not sure whether he does or doesn't), his strips are at the very least inspired. I don't think there's anything wrong with having a distaste for the spandex material, but why bother working within those confines if there's no satisfactory return in it for you? Spiegelman, Burns, Chester, and Columbia are a few that don't go near the stuff, and no one is hurting because of it.

Moose n Squirrel, as far as my delicate sensibilities being offended go, you must've missed the part where I favorably mention Simmons, Brinkman, Panter, Clowes, Millionaire and Marra. Their work on these properties are CLEARLY anything but "careful" and "sensitive". Like Brenner, you're probably a Tomine fan who can't tolerate any sort of criticism regarding him.

Also, don't roll your eyes. It's rude.


As for the rumored Marvel cease and desist order against Coober Skeber #2, editor Tom Devlin was kind enough to clarify a few things when I asked him:

"I never received a cease and desist. When I handed it out at Comic-con that year, I gave a copy to some Marvel folks and one guy said 'I'll be sure to give this to our lawyers.' But it was in jest, or not, but nothing ever happened.

Marvel did release that Jim Mahfood Generation X Underground Special soonish afterwards. I realized then that maybe my idea was opening up some floodgates of mediocrity and sure enough we got to see a bunch of alt creators do crappy superhero comics (Bizarro, Strange Tales, who knows what else.) I'm not a fan of such things.

I should say that I dreamed up the project after doing a bunch of small press signings at the Million Year Picnic (I managed the alternative section and created events) and EVERYONE ended talking about superheroes. I found this generally annoying coming from a group of people so dedicated to advancing the form beyond the superhero stage that I decided I would give them a chance to do their goofy heroes and move on. Hoo-boy, that didn't pan out the way I hoped.

To be clear, I did grow up reading superhero comics as well as strip comics, magazine comics/gag panels, Archie, Gold Key grocery store 3-packs, whatever. Basically, any comics I could get my hands on. But by the time I was working at the store I had long grown tired of superhero comics. I have zero interest beyond the occasional Ditko or Kirby sequence. I find the DELL history much more interesting artistically.

Boy, this all sounds so negative.

Oh, I should add because I think it's important. I asked people to write straight stories not parodies. Of course, most did parodies even me. Oh well."

Thanks for the responses, Michel. Sorry if I was antagonistic, but apparently something in what you said touched a nerve, and I focused on a distinction about labeling rather than on the content of the piece itself, which is rather good, full of plenty of great examples of ways to tell superhero stories that are interesting and fun, rather than the over-serious dirge that that portion of the industry has become. If more superhero comics were like the ones you spotlight here, I would be much more interested in them.

Also, regarding Tomine, I thought the superhero strip he did for the comics portion of the recent newspaper edition of McSweeney's was pretty good, not really a "superheroes are dumb" type of piece but a transposition of his style of character onto a guy who wears tights and fights crime. I'm all for making fun of superheroes, but at least do something interesting with it, don't just plop some guys with dumb names and costumes onto the page and think you're saying something profound. I'm glad the "indie" portion of the industry has gotten away from that sort of thing; for a while there, it seemed like that rage against superheroes taking over their medium was all-consuming, with every indie cartoonist doing something about how stupid superheroes are. They seem to have worked that out of their system though, and that's how the medium has expanded beyond superheroes and responses to superheroes into its current multivaried landscape of excellence. Comics!

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