COMICS AND THE MASS MEDIUM
Ultimately (I would maintain) Television has to fail in its plan for total conquest. Television — once it merges completely with computers and becomes inseparable from them — will divide human society into The hypnotized and the non-hypnotized. After that happens, I believe that comic books will begin to achieve greater prominence, because comic books at their best and most effective — are informed by individual awareness, insight, and inspiration. One everything that can be put on Television is put on Television, once every human discipline and interest which can be reduced to binary code and pixilated has been reduced to binary code and pixilated, what remains will be the last enclave of human existence: individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.
We aren’t ready. in my view, we aren’t ready to take our natural place in the arts-and-entertainment scheme of things. But that’s okay. There’s plenty of time, and (in my view) we are moving inexorably in the right direction.
The biggest impediment — as is usually the case— is with ourselves — or, rather, with the portrayal of who we are (but actually aren’t) in Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comics Retail 1 r, Fan, Wizard, and at comic-book conventions. A portrayal which would lead any impartial investigator to conclude that we are tremulous, fearful creatures, clawing anxiously at Television’s door, dragging action-figure toys, X-Files and Star Wars merchandise behind us like Jacob Marley’s chains and ledgers and counting boxes. Individual awareness, insight, and inspiration are viewed (in this portrayal) as curious by-products and minor keys in the symphony of the comics “industry” — instead of as our only hope for a secure future.
Again, that’s okay. As I read the above-mentioned publications or on those rare occasions when I find myself at a comic-book convention or in a comic-book store, I just accept the fact that (for the time being and in the foreseeable future) they represent what at least passes for the majority view in the comic-book field — that what has saved us and what will save us is our tenuous connections with Television and movies. As I’ve explained in the first three ista1ments of “Comics and the Mass Medium,” I consider this a completely mistaken notion. What I do find gratifying is that all reliable evidence indicates that that view — the “industry” view — is completely doomed. By its own definition — that comic books are successful only insofar as they have been absorbed and transmogrified by Television — the “industry” guarantees that it will be drained of its lifeblood incrementally but irrevocably, surviving just, long enough to ease the transition from a comic-book field centered on Television to a comic-book field centered on comic books. The Legion of Junkies — the fully hypnotized of the “industry” — will be unable to see merit in my arguments, which I find even more gratifying. How suitable a repercussion that the parasitic “industry” which fed for so many years on the lifeblood of writers and artists now finds itself attached to Television — the biggest parasite of them all — and is so thoroughly in a state of denial that it won’t even begin to conceive of detaching itself before it is a drained husk, breathing its last.
I believe that the comic-book medium does have a nascent Spirit (how appropriate that that is the name of Will Eisner’s character, which was the first genuine ineffective carnation of individual insight, awareness, and inspiration in our medium’s history) — and that this Spirit was both shocked and offended at its very core when the last of the “industry” trade shows were taking place in ‘94, where monolithic and fascistic booths (Who could forget Tekno Comics’ giant mailed fist grasping its lightning bolt, the dry ice clouds, its virtual reality pods, and its wall full of Televisions — Nimoy, Spillane, Gaiman. Nimoy, Spillane, Gaiman? The Spawmnobile? DC Time-Warner’s black corporate skeleton likewise punctuated with Televisions? Liefeld’s spaceship with its little Television?) ascended towards the heavens like soulless and implacable steel and glass skyscrapers. A threshold had been crossed and everyone, even Californians — who exist in Television’s very Heart of Darkness and thus qualify as the Most Hypnotized of the Hypnotized Society — knew it. Very little was said in print, the Hypnotized comics media waxing enthusiastic as attendance figures were fudged upwards and the myth was advanced that “a good time was had by all,” when all verifiable reports were of stricken and discombobulated “industry” adherents lurching around the site wondering aloud: “Where will it all end?”
Lest I be accused of ivory-towerism (interesting environment where when you expend time, energy, and money going out to promote your work, you are accused of demagoguery and shameless self-promotion, and when you stay home and do your work, you’re accused of rein treating to your ivory tower), I can understand these “industry” quirks when I face the centerpiece of my own Television addiction: he Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. The Leafs are the good guys, and all other teams (especially the Montreal Canadiens) are the bad guys. The Leafs trade away Wendal Clark and I hate the guy; the Leafs reacquire him and I love him again. Like “industry” adherents with their inexplicable love of the Fantastic Four or Batman and their unswerving belief that these trademarks have inherent value, I am inexplicably loyal to those little blue uniforms gliding around my little box of coloured lights and sound resembling little, blue tropical fish or strangely mutated blue fireflies. I am making progress in willing myself to disengage my loyalties and in moving the Leafs step by step away from the core of my being. It isn’t easy — it isn’t easy at all — and I consequently empathize with those fighting a similar addiction whose ultimate “high” is seeing anything born in the comic-book field represented on Television.
The first signs already exist that individual awareness, insight, and inspiration will ultimately prevail against the “industry.” Creator ownership, long overdue in the field, has gone from a marginalized quirk to an inescapable centerpiece in what comic books are. Even while the majority of comic-book stores are filled with this month’s hot crossover, flash-in-the-pan special, or hyped and ballyhooed first issue, creator-owned titles are making incremental progress in relative sales. Cerebus goes up and down the distributor sales charts like a yo-yo (Peter Bagge alluded to the same syndrome in a recent issue of Hate): #161 this month, #217 next month. Up forty-five places and then plummeting fifty places. Always with the same approximate sales. Sometimes rising relative to Television comic books (Batman, Spider-man, et al) even when the circulation has declined by several hundred copies.
You don’t have to be at this game for the twenty years that I’ve been at it to reach the conclusion that these numbers are largely — if not completely — meaningless and that the genuine forward progress of the medium is taking place elsewhere: in the manifold realms of individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.
Barry Windsor-Smith is doing some very interesting things with word balloons in Storyteller, playing with the eye’s movement across the page and developing new ways of reading the page in the process. Each innovation that he develops — when it “works” and even when it doesn’t — leads to the realization that creators have just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible in the comic-book medium. The most significant observation in recent years was Howard Cruse’s retrospective admission that he started Stuck Rubber Baby thinking, “300 pages. 1 can fit the history of the world into 300 pages,” only to discover just how limited 300 pages can be: It is an experience I shared in the 500 pages of High Society which led me to leave Church. & State open-ended, to allow it to grow internally, and which allowed me to make more effective use of 500 pages of Jaka’s Story. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s recently completed From Hell (besides being a contender for best graphic novel to. date) demonstrates clearly just how much Alan learned about the implied confines of the comic-book medium in doing Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Killing Joke, and what progress he has made in individualizing his work since those earlier experiments. It is for this reason — the evidence of how much is yet to be discovered in the “how” and “where’ of creating comic books — that I say that I don’t think we are ready. And it is for another reason — the glacial pace at which Television and computers are merging — that I say I think there is time.
Individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.
Donna Barr, in her recent Comics Journal interview, shows herself to be one of the heralds of this forthcoming age — doing her comic books in such a way as to satisfy her own insight, awareness, and inspiration. Clearly, this leads her to. be impatient at several junctures with her largely sympathetic interviewer. In explaining her fascination with World War II from the (German side of things; “Both the major event of the 20th century and people who were its central focus have been a focus of my attention, and ever since I can remember. I have no answer for this, because I don’t know it myself. I’m obsessed. I’m possessed. It’s completely subconscious. It probably has something to do with bloodlines, or with mythological interpretation of the 20th century, but if I got into that it would take up a whole book and interest no one but me.” Her point is well taken by someone (like myself) who sees individual awareness, insight, and inspiration as the point itself, the defining characteristic of the Spirit of comic books as a medium. To the Television-centered, Barr’s work is profoundly inexplicable. What about the Jews, the veterans, the homosexuals who would be offended by what you’re doing? As is only appropriate, the question is, in its turn, inexplicable to Donna Barr. Having studied centuries of German history, everything she is doing is informed by wider perceptions than those allowable within Television’s confines, where “Nazis = Bad Guys” suffices for the Legion of Junkies and eliminates “the major event of the 20th century” from further consideration.
Individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.
Donna Barr and Howard Cruse don’t experiment much with structure in their use of the comic-book medium. Barry Windsor-Smith and I do. Alan Moore doesn’t. Awareness, individualized, pursues its own preferences along its own preferred avenues of exploration. For some it is content exclusively. For some it is structure and content One of the first effects of creator-ownership as a rising element in the comic-book field has been the turning away from the collective environment by individuals who understand, whether consciously or unconsciously, that introspection is of greater value than is extroversion. There is no “right” or “wrong” way for a creator to create his or her comic book — there is only the exploration of those avenues the individual creator is inclined to explore and the pursuit of individual preferences — sometimes for a page or two and sometimes for the entirety of a career. “Where are we going, and what are we doing?” — the fundamental question posed by the very existence of Comics Retailer, Comics Buyer’s Guide, Wizard Fan, and comic-book conventions (and to which the only sensible answer is: “We’re going in every direction at once, and we’re not doing very much”) — has less to do with the future of the environment (in my view) than the individual answers to be obtained from asking, “Where am I going, and what am I doing?”
This is true of retailers as much as it is true of creators. The vast majority of retailers are imprisoned, by choice, within the confines implied by 4’Where are we going, and what are we doing?” Their stores are living testimony to the two-decades-old answers to that question: “We axe buying way too many corporate-owned and -controlled comic books and storing them in our back rooms and basements.” “We believe what the corporations who publish these books tell us about them no matter bow well or badly they sell.” “We believe that X-Files, Star Wars, and Star Trek will attract new customers into our stores.”
There are a handful of stores begun in the last two or three years which do not subscribe to these views, of which Nottingham, England’s Page 45 is the foremost example.
Page 45 sells a lot of super-hero comics — which I hadn’t realized until I saw a computer printout of their sales. Super-heroes are the biggest selling item at Page 45. The largest difference between the traditional store’s answers to “Where are we going and what are we doing?” and Page 45’s is the decision to answer the second question first: ‘What are we doing?” Page 45 is selling comic books to interested customers. Their first priority is their subscriber list and filling — accurately — each subscriber’s pull-file order. The fact that they are drawing subscribers away from all the other stores in the area (including the pop-culture-wannabe shop next door which is awash in X-Files, Star Wars, and Star Trek ephemera) points up the central flaw of “industry” stores not having “pull-file reliability” as their first priority. It’s not that Page 45 is willing to get their subscribers a copy of Patty Cake and Hilly Rose (though they are in the extreme minority of stores in that they are willing to do this); it’s that they can also guarantee each issue of a Spider-Man or Batman title. This is a pretty basic, simple, and sensible answer to “What am I doing?”: building a subscriber base and ordering comic books to fill the immediate demand.
They display a small percentage of the available DC, Marvel, and Image material that they order — anything that they have confidence in as a display item: Sandman, Marvels, Kingdom Come. Watchmen, Dark Knight, The Maxx, A Distant Soil — essentially books with the maximum allowed and allowable creator control in the corporate context. This approach is not only sensible as an answer to “What am I doing,” it merges very well with “Where am. I going?” It presupposes that once the creator-control genie is out of the “industry” bottle, it is inevitable that stores are going to rely on creator-controlled books rather than corporate-controlled books for their “bread and butter.” It also presupposes that — whether it takes a decade or two OE three — creator-control will supersede and virtually eliminate corporate-controlled books. Page 45 is structured in such a way that it is going where comic-books-centered-on-comic-books are going — at a 90-degree angle to where comic-books-centered- on-Television are going. Their subscriber list for corporate-controlled titles will wax and wane, surge and subside, and virtually disappear in the fullness of time, leaving their store fundamentally unchanged — an outlet for state-of-the-art individualized expressions in the comic- book medium. Since they have no need to consider how many cases oil-Files trading cards they’re going to need, whether to invest in a “dump” for Star Wars action figures or role-playing games, Stephen and Mark actually have time to devote to their second — and equally sensible priority — developing and maintaining an ongoing supply of the best the comic-book medium has to offer: opening up direct accounts with those publishers and self- publishers whose books aren’t readily available through distribution channels. What makes these works “the best the comics medium has to offer”?
Sales and Stephen and Mark’s awareness, insight, and inspiration.
It’s their store.
“What am I doing?”
1. I am reliable in supplying comic books to my subscribers. 2. 1 am developing and maintaining a supply of what I consider to be the best the comic-book medium has to offer. 3. 1 look for new comic books to support and maintain in stock.
Individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.
We are going somewhere. In fact, we’re already there. We just aren’t ready yet. Such is the nature, I suspect, of individualizing. For all of us whose lives revolve — to one extent or another — around Television and its supplicants, movies and music, it is almost impossible to perceive how different an environment made up of individuals is from a collective environment. Television deals with the illusory “We,” collectivist feelings and prejudices, communities and societal notions which presuppose the need for Good Guys and Bad Guys. Us and them. “We” know “we” are good, because “they” are bad. Small wonder — in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall coming down — that Television has seized upon the comic-book fundamental best suited to its purposes: the clear demarcation between Good Guys and Bad Guys. It is a dying viewpoint (a persuasive argument could be made that the Berlin Wall coming down was the final nail in its coffin) being overtaken by the inescapable fact that, ultimately, nothing exists beyond individual perceptions (wait a minute — didn’t homosexuals used to be the Bad Guys?).
We are going somewhere. Mercifully the process cannot be hurried, hinging as it does on the exact (and unknown) number of creators who are choosing to rely on their individual awareness, insight, and inspiration, and retailers who are willing to do the same. Progress is fitful or — to be more accurate — the perception of progress is fitful. The comic-book environment which is centered on comic books (creators and retailers going about their business, three steps forward, two steps back) resembles a major airport in the middle of a winter storm only (I would maintain) because of those “industry” adherents of the comic-books-centered-on- Television, who — if they aren’t whining about their flight being cancelled — are trying to rebook on another airline to another destination or are telling everyone who will listen that the airport itself is structurally unsound and could collapse at any moment. Just so many tedious Chicken Littles who differ only from their children’s story counterpart in the fact that the sky is falling. But, I would maintain, it is only their sky — corporate-controlled comic books and comic books-centered-on-Television — which is plunging earthward.
There is no way of telling how advanced the process of individualizing is, whether among creators or retailers. It can’t be discussed intelligently because — as Donna Barr points out—it would, indeed, take a book to describe each individual’s history and progress, and the book would be of interest to no one except the individual himself or herself It is clear that a dissatisfaction with Television and a dawning awareness that Television represents a wildly inaccurate portrayal of human existence is something of a precursor to the individualizing process, and that — once set in motion — the individualizing process itself makes the collectivizing impulse (wherever it occurs) an object of disinterest.
Creator ownership and the ‘control of their individual creativity by individual creators is at the root of the upheaval in the direct market and the actual source of alarm (whether they recognize it or not) among the ‘industry” adherents of collectivized thought and action. Industry roundtables, conferences, and symposiums appeared briefly and have now vanished. Much verbiage is still expended in the direct market over how to “grow” the market, how to reach out to non-comics readers and create a diversity of titles. The fact remains that — unless the individual in question is willing and able to sit down and write and draw a comic book or a graphic novel or is willing to open a store which emphasizes creator controlled and owned series instead of corporate controlled and -owned series — there is really nothing that they can do apart from buying more good comics (whatever they conceive “good” to be).
I would suspect that those retailers who have retreated from the comic-book environment, grasping at the Television straw of diversification into X-Files and Star Wars and Star Trek, were never really in the comic-book environment to begin with. They have learned their adherence to (rends, their adherence to brand names, their adherence to Television icons from Television (as I learned my adherence to the Toronto Maple Leafs from Television). DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse are — to them — ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, month-by-month winners and losers, Good Guys and Bad Guys. Of course, there is no accurate Television analog in the comic-book field. That is the strength of the medium, the strength of the Spirit of comic books. It is inconceivable that a writer would own his own television show and be solely responsible for every aspect of production and have the last word governing content and direction. Completely inconceivable. But, because DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse are represented as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, it is the rare retailer who can even conceive of comic books existing outside of that structure. They could read every word of the Fantagraphics catalogue and — having no Television network analogy for Fantagraphics see nothing there. And, seeing nothing there, would be content to watch their comic-book business erode to nothing rather than perceive something outside of the Big Four Networks.
Donna Barr’s assertion that she is both obsessed with and possessed by her work is a direct implication of creator control and ownership. If you consider how many creators who own and control their books have hung on through each successive wave of turmoil in the direct market, who have hung on through years of hand-to- mouth existence, successive publishers, various formats, and who still produce, who still bring their work to market, it speaks volumes about the addictive nature of exploring your own creativity. Certainly there have been few creators in the last decade who — having achieved some semblance of a good living from their books — have elected to throw in the towel and pursue some other venue for their creativity. Even the least viable, least marketable titles seem to soldier on — sustained by the promise of each small rise in circulation, each substantial (and sometimes insubstantial) order and reorder. If a sufficient number of Page 45 stores were to come into existence, how many of these titles would be required to sustain them? From Stephen and Mark’s standpoint, enough titles already exist — their display problem is far more one of selecting material from the plethora of available candidates, than it is trying to figure out how to fill their shelves. This is why I say that in answer to the question Where arc we going?” it seems self-evident that we are already there. And also that we are not ready yet.
Not ready for what? Not ready for another boom, another exponential expansion. Collectively, we haven’t grown up a bit, we haven’t learned a thing, and we are just waiting fur a chance to repeat our mistakes. A sudden surge in sales like the one which followed the Image launch in the summer of 1992 and which rolled through the environment for a year or so, and we would simply find ourselves up to our eyeballs in the latter-day equivalent of Tekno Comics, Valiant, Defiant, and all the other orate wannabes.
It seems clear that Ron Perelman’s ill-fated ownership of Marvel Comics mirrored the misapprehensions of the direct market. With his theory of buying up trading card companies, focusing on the trademarked characters, planning a chain of Planet Hollywood-style Marvel restaurants, buying a substantial interest in Toy Biz, and getting as many Marvel cartoons on Television as he could, the difference between his (forgive my bluntness) stupidity and that of the average retailer amounted to the number of zeroes on the end of their respective cheques. It all made perfect sense to the Legion of Junkies — a vertically integrated entertainment empire touching on and controlling everything that made comic book stores successful. In my view it was doomed to failure from the precise moment that Tom DeFalco informed Perelman’s suits that the defection of the Image creators was unimportant and that they would be forced to come back to Marvel when Image failed. The theory that artists and writers were interchangeable, expendable, and unimportant was firmly entrenched at Marvel for a number of k years — dating back at least as fur as Jim Shooter’s reign I, of terror. Over a reasonably short period of time, everyone at Marvel who could remotely be considered in the comic-books-centered-on-comic-books camp was fired (or moved to the periphery) and replaced by a comic books-centered-on-Television adherent. Gary Guzzo — if one of the former group—told me about one of his last meetings with the powers-that-be, where one of the topics of discussion was what to rename the creator-owned Epic line of books. Guzzo suggested “Timely Comics” and — in the ensuing debate — came to the realization that he was the only one in the room who knew that Marvel Comics was originally called Timely.
We aren’t ready. For even as Marvel Comics fell to at nuns in lock step with the misapprehensions of comic book stores across North America — believing in everything except comic books — the comics media, dominated as they are by the Legion of Junkies, were swift in r- their assessment. Marvel’s ruination was the result of not having a successful, big-budget-movie version of one of ii its characters. If only Brad Pitt had agreed to play the Spider-Man! If only Jack Nicholson had agreed to play the Green Goblin! If only Martin Scorsese had agreed to direct Spider-Man.
We aren’t ready. Linda Medley’s Castle Wailing merits a sidebar or a single column in Wizard Fan. Comics Buyer c Guide, while Lobo vs. the Maslc warrants the cover slot and a full and detailed examination of the creative committee delegated to bring it to life. Could a Lobo movie be in the offing? Be still, o beating heart of the Legion of Junkies! If only the Fantastic Four had bad time to cross over with a movie star like the Mask — The House That Jack Built, the House of ideas might have been saved from the ignominy of Chapter 11. This viewpoint — so widespread as to be nearly universal — is too depraved, too perverse, too symptomatic of the dying “industry” to be contemplated without one’s gorge rising.
We aren’t ready.
Can the Legion of Junkies adjust their world view sufficiently to perceive that maybe—just maybe — DC’s credibility in the direct market might — in some small measure — have something to do with Vertigo being an imprint known for granting a larger measure of creative control? (Let’s leave aside the fact that the Vertigo contracts are undoubtedly made up of the smoke-and- mirrors of reversion clauses — i.e., ‘if we think the property is exhausted, you can have it back — assuming we don’t renew the copyright just for laughs and to piss you off.”) It’s a peculiar legacy, to be sure, but isn’t Vertigo really an attempt to close the barn door after Alan Moore had already fled? Come back, come back! All right, then. Well show you — we’ll have a creator friendly division and make all of your fellow Brit writers as rich as Croesus! We’ll give them all the creative freedom you wanted and more! Well go to bat for them against the corporate overlords! We’ll show you.., you... Alan Moore. you. It is perhaps not the strangest chapter in the history of creator ownership and control but it would be hard to come up with a stranger one. The façade slipped, briefly, last year when Truman. Lonsdale. DC. and Time-Warner were sued by the Winter Brothers for defamation. In pretty short order (doubtless on Paul Levitt’s orders). Karen Berger cut the boys loose, hung ‘em out to dry. and made noises that DC would invoke the clauses in the contracts indemnifying DC against any responsibility for lawsuits brought against the company by any third party because of content. Cooler heads prevailed — doubtless in the course of more fully contemplating the chilling effect being experienced by others of Vertigo’s creative citizenry (excuse me, Mr. Levitt. sir — but didn’t you just throw Mr. Tim and Mr. Joe to that pack of rabid wolves over there?). It tame out that Karen Berger misspoke — or didn’t speak at all —or didn’t mean what she didn’t actually say (good old ditzy Karen — what could she have been thinking of, Paul?). Even the strangest stories can have a happy ending. And a watershed moment in the painstaking history of creator control in the comic-book medium passes with scarcely a mention outside of the pages of The Comics Journal. Would that the comics media’s astonishment at this strangeness and its coming-to-pass had minored what was, doubtless. Paul Levitt’s own: Holy smoke! We really do believe in creative freedom. Holy smoke! We have to!
Alas, there were multi-page articles to prepare on Superman’s nuptials, lists to be composed of the legion Of artists and writers delegated to document the proceedings (by all accounts on a crushing deadline imposed by the producers of Lois and Clark. When Television says “jump,” Paul Levitz asks “how high?” on the way up). Who could be bothered with monitoring or chronicling watershed moments in the history of creative control when Superman was about to get married — and only four years after he died.
We aren’t ready.
Or maybe we are. Or maybe we are closer to being ready than we are able to perceive because the comics media lag so far behind the actual learning curve that we are all fooling ourselves that all those splashy articles — unreadable computer-coloured type against garish cornputer-co1oured Imagery — in any way reflect the comic- book field as it exists today. One would search in vain for anyone over the age of fourteen who sees Fan, Wizard. Comics Retailer, Comics Buyer’s Guide, and the bought- and-paid-for editorial content of the Previews catalogue as “informative” — let alone “indispensable.”
With Marvel Comics about to be fractured into a million pieces (which might already have happened by the time this sees print), with DC Comics maintaining its presence in the direct market largely through its creator- owned and son-of-creator-controlled imprint Vertigo (again, dealing with the perception and not the reality of same), with Rob Liefeld’s pseudo-Marvel comics company cast down from proximity to Todd McFarlane’s Pearly Gates (Thou shalt not indulge in work made-for- hire to that extent, you moron), and with Image and Dark Horse contending for the title of More Creator-Friendly Than Thou (Larry Marder’s announcement that Matt Wagner’s Mage 11 would be released by Image was uncharacteristically gleeful. coming from the usually inscrutable Nexus of All Comic-Book Realities), with Jim Valentino having rung down the curtain on Shadowhawk and writing for Liefeld/Marvel in favour of the individual awareness, insight, and inspiration of A Touch of Silver, with the demise of Tekno and Broadway...
At the very least it can be said that creator ownership and control in the comic-book field have made enormous strides, If Comics Buyer’s Guide, Fan, Wizard, Comics Retailer, and the editorial pages of Previews don’t reflect this — well, who can blame them? As the genuine fire of’ individual awareness, inspiration. and insight blazes ever brighter at the margins of Dark Horse and Image, intermittently and unpredictably at Vertigo. here and there — in somewhat greater proportions — at Mad Monkey. Slave Labor. Fantagraphics. Caliber’s Tapestry imprint. Drawn & Quarterly, and among the waxing and waning ranks of self-publishers, their ambition each individual’s ambition — becomes survival, pure and simple. and, if need be, meager subsistence whatever the personal toll, Comic-book newspapers and magazines, like their “real”- world counterparts, are driven by their advertising, and to take Comics Retailer as an example — if the thousands of dollars needed to mount an advertising campaign are only forthcoming from role-playing-game manufacturers, then, well, small matter to infer that role-playing games are an integral and necessary part of any comic-book store. Likewise the conventions — those summer extravaganzas of X-Files, Star Wars, Star Trek Magic Cards, role-playing games, Penthouse trading cards, Spawnmobiles, and Televisions, Televisions, Televisions blaring their conquistador intentions from every aisle and booth — who can fault them for knowing which side of the bread their butter is on? If the Toronto Maple Leafs decided to buy ten thousand dollars’ worth of booth space and print up special Toronto Maple Leafs Salute The San Diego Comic Con drinking cups and eyeshades, can any among us imagine that Faye Desmond (or any other Big Con Director) would deny them the opportunity? With their colourful blue costumes (like super-heroes) and their propensity for thumping, grinding, pounding conflict, wouldn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs have at least — at least — as much in common with the comic-book field as role-playing games and video games? Conversely (from the vantage point of the Big Con Director), of what importance are creator control and ownership in the comic- book field if it chooses to use its meager resources to keep itself alive and pay printing bills on its next issue or its first trade-paperback collection instead of approaching the Chicago Comicon with its chequebook at the ready and every intention of sponsoring a dinner or a cocktail party, an awards ceremony or a Creator Control Day at that night’s White Sox game (just consider the Television exposure!).
For the time-being, there seems to be little more that can be done than to be patient and derive what meager enjoyment is to be had in watching the residual St. Elmo’s Fire of corporate control writhing upon the scrap-heap of history as it is portrayed and as it portrays itself in the pages of Comics Buyer’s Guide, Comics Retailer, Fan, Wizard, the editorial pages of Previews, at those wacky summer cons, on comics’ own Television show, The Gravity Room (oh, please, don’t get me started on that one), and all other misapprehensions born of the larger misapprehension that comic-books-centered-on- Television are destined fur anything besides a one-way trip to oblivion. The mere act of turning off your Television, staying away from your computer, and participating in the new and irresistible wave of individual awareness, insight, and inspiration washing clean the Television-infested corners of the comic-book environment is all the reward any one of us could ask. Each individual with his or her own contribution as creator or retailer — or as a genuinely creator-friendly publisher or as a new distributor willing and eager to nurture a creator-owned title up from sales of 700 an issue to 1000 to 1200 — prepares the way for the new environment, based on individual awareness, insight, and inspiration.., three things that will, in a decade or two, prove to be as resistant, as unassailable, as anathematic and indigestible to the Television Beast as was the loudness and lewdness of rock ‘n’ roll four decades ago.
It will be a lot of hard work, and many individuals will not make the grade, but hard work, in my view, is its own reward to the wise — not an insurance policy promising that someday no work will be required and the rewards will continue unabated. In my experience, I have never met a creator who regretted experimenting with creative freedom despite the toll it took in a reduced standard of living or a diminishment of creature comforts. Quite the contrary — once creators experience total creative freedom, they become single-minded in their quest to achieve it again whether by adhering to a creator-friendly company or by self-publishing. Once individual awareness, insight, and inspiration take hold, hard work and required sacrifices become, not a price to be paid, but, rather, a key element in bringing individual awareness, insight, and inspiration to full flower.
At this point in the direct market’s history — whether consciously or unconsciously, acknowledged or unacknowledged — everything (except the comics media and comic-book conventions) is reshaping itself around the perceived needs of comic-book creators, adjusting its own needs to accommodate the requirements of creator control and creator ownership. Small wonder that everything has gone so quiet -after the major convulsions in the distribution end of things. Creator control and creator ownership are best served by the calm and quiet within which individual awareness, insight, and inspiration flourish best.
We may not be ready — each individual creator and retailer — but the environment is certainly changing in such a way to enable us to be ready.
And if that is the case, then the -future is — for all intents and purposes — already here.
And Television and the Legion of Junkies be damned.