Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio. This week, Bennett mourns the death of independent comics.
So by now we’ve all heard the news about Diamond and I for one won’t much miss the Previews Adult Supplement (again, I’m far from a prude but I definitely saw things there I wish had gone unseen). But more importantly we’ve all had a chance to study the new Thresholds for Publishers but I’ll leave it to those far cleverer than myself to comment on just how this will affect the direct sales market, but I can tell you what it means to me; the death of independent comics.
All I knew of the Golden Age came from books like All In Color For A Dime and The Great Comic Book Heroes and being a true child of the 60’s (i.e. I was a kid then) my participation in the Silver Age was pretty much limited to reading my older brother’s comics when he wasn’t looking. I’ll never forget the shock we received upon learning to finish a story begun in X-Men #45 we’d have to buy not just another comic book (by age nine I was an old hand at continued stories) but one we ordinarily didn’t get, Avengers. We were of the considered opinion this was a dirty gyp.
But I was there for the dawn of the age of independent comics, an era best defined by something that Harvey Pekar of American Splendor once said “comics are just words and pictures and there’s no limit on how good the words and pictures can be.” I believed in comics with a fervid missionary zeal, the first article of this faith being they were the most democratic of the arts (i.e. anyone could do them), the second being they were the cheapest. Unlike movies, television and music no special equipment beyond pen and paper is required to make comics, and thanks to the direct sales market the efforts of the rankest amateurs could compete directly with the largest synergistic youth entertainment conglomerates in the world for shelf space.
I’m an unapologetic superhero guy and when I last wrote about the 80’s here I invoked the creators who gave us Nexus, Badger, American Flagg, etc, titles that were creatively innovative (as well as having the innovation of being actually owned by their creators) but still heroic adventures purchased by installment. But believe me I’ve always looked to the new and the other and voraciously read, well, everything. Elfquest, Cerebus, Love & Rockets, Hate, Eightball, Flaming Carrot, Dork, Sky Ape, Naughty Bits, Pop Gun War, Scud, Strangers In Paradise, Yummy Fur, Bear, Action Girl Comics, Castle Waiting, Evil Eye, Usagi Yojimbo, Zot…
I read them, reviewed them, when I wrote a monthly column for a local free paper I promoted them and when I started my career behind the counter I sold them, by hand, word of mouth, I placed copies at the local coffee shops with the name of our store stamped on them. I never deluded myself into thinking I could make everyone a comic book reader but firmly believed there were comics for everyone, if they’d only give them a chance.
And that’s pretty much over; of course it’s been over for a while now, seeing as how we live in a world where a start up publisher is more interested in publishing (and retailers more interested in ordering) Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes instead of the next American Splendor. And when it comes to self publishing, well, I’ve seen the numbers and heard the horror stories and know just how tough that route can be for someone with a dream but not enough financing to hang in there until there’s enough material to be collected into a trade paperback.
I could get mad about it but the truth is you can’t fight the cold equations; given current economic conditions I can’t blame anyone for maximizing profits. The answer, as it so often is, the internet. It’s still fairly inexpensive putting your comics online and while the audience for non-superhero comics is limited in comic shops your potential readership online is unlimited. But if you’re more interested in having someone else do it for you I’m guessing there’ll always be someone more than willing.
Over at Comic Book Resources site there’s an interview with Inverse Media’s Michael Murphey’s plans for Total Digital Distribution “whereby serialized titles and other applicable material will be made cheaply available directly to readers in formats optimized and reformatted for mobile devices and desktop computers, with an eye toward eventual trade paperback sales. The company is also in development on an iTunes-like system to service such content.”
I don’t know if that’s the answer but it’s definitely an answer and it’s more than I have at the moment.
I’m feeling a little sad right now.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.