Note From The President, Cerebus 182, May 1994Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
One of the most important elements for a potential self-publisher to remember is that sincerity cannot be faked successfully in the comic-book field. Further, sincerity is what makes a comic book successful and insincerity is what makes it not successful. There is a great temptation for people trying to do self-generated comics for the first time to hedge their bets and start by asking themselves what kind of comic book is likely to be successful. Although this is usually done with the best of intentions, it is a world-class mistake. I was guilty of it myself in making Cerebus a sword-and- sorcery parody title at first. I had had a certain amount of success in the fanzine and small-press world with selling drawings of various Robert E. Howard characters to the burgeoning Robert E. Howard magazine field and hoped to 'tap into' that market. After three years, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel of the handful of sword-and-sorcery cliches and felt no great urge to go looking for any that Moorcock, deLint, et al. might have bypassed. Once I moved from a field in which I had no interest to fields in which I was interested (politics, economics, power, religion, etc.), I began to find my voice. Wendy Pini had had the original Elfquest story in mind from a very early age and the difference in involvement and affection for the material was readily apparent between Elfquest and Cerebus in the late 1970s.
A good recent example is Jeff Smith with Bone. The Bone characters have existed in Jeff's fevered little brain since before he entered kindergarten. Anyone taking a dispassionate look at the material a little more than two years ago as Jeff prepared to bring his story to the direct market would have offered only the longest of odds of his possibility for survival: and longer odds on any kind of success. Jeff himself admits that as he familiarized himself with the make-up of the direct market, he could see no niche whatsoever for what he was intending to do. And yet, as we have all seen, Bone has taken the direct market by storm in a way that only Elfquest and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have before it. This is a recurring theme in the comic-book world which predates the direct market. While Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did a great deal of freelance work for DC, their involvement with and affection for Superman is the element missing from Dr. Occult, Slam Bradley and their other features. Stan Lee has said many times that when he sat down to create the Fantastic Four, it was the first time he had written a comic book that he himself would want to read. Whatever may have happened after the fact (around the time that Jack Kirby left for DC: 1971 or slightly earlier), at the seminal moment there was sincerity and that was what sustained Marvel and allowed them to overtake the sleeping DC giant where sincerity existed only intermittently in the 1960s, in spite of, never because of editorial direction. Last year's new universes fiasco is a perfect case in point. Most of the companies participating invested a majority of their money, editorial energies and promotional efforts in attempting to duplicate and revive Stan Lee's seminal energy thirty years later. The point that they missed (and for which all of them - as well as the distribution and retail communities - are now paying a heavy price) is that the imitation of seminal energy is not, by its very definition, seminal.
Survival of the fittest is a central rule of the direct market. Fittest does not mean strongest, wealthiest, the one with the best marketing department. It means fittest in the sense of most appropriate. While most of the money and attention in the direct market are focussed on 'skyrocket' books, titles which flare brightly and then go out, our real strength lies with books like Bone, which start as a glowing ember, which flare into a small campfire and are soon racing across the globe like an unrestrained inferno. The greatest mistake anyone could make at this point (and I'm sure many will) is to start a title whose seminal viewpoint is 'I went to do something like Bone.' Any such title is doomed to failure in my view. It is a very difficult point to grasp, but if you really want to make your mark in the comic-book field, you have to figure out what you would most enjoy putting down on the page. I have always enjoyed Rick Veitch's work, but nothing I have seen of his comes close to the energy and enthusiasm I have seen in the advance pages of Rare Bit Fiends. I have always enjoyed Steve Bissette's work, but Tyrant is a completely unexplored level for him, the book he has been promising himself for ten years or more. It has returned him to his seminal interest in dinosaurs; it is his thing.
What is my thing, is the question you should ask yourself.
There is probably no other medium of expression in the world that is as time-consuming, relative to its 'consumption time'. It takes a writer-artist, on average, a full week to produce twenty seconds worth of entertainment when he or she is working at peak efficiency. In order to sustain the energy level necessary, the creator's enthusiasm has to be overwhelming. It must be painful for you to be away from the drawing board. Excruciating. An interesting interplay between two characters in yet another 'post-apocalyptic humans versus mutations' story that takes ten pages to set up is not sufficient. You have to be completely and unreservedly enthusiastic about page one, page two, page three, etc. Totally interested. Totally committed.
As Bone has proven, when that is the case you need only get the work into circulation by whatever means necessary. Word of mouth will do the rest.
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