It’s been a long time since I wrote about Comics as opposed to comics, the industry as opposed to individual works. But over the past week I jotted down a couple of bigger-picture things on other sites and I wanted to gather them here.
First, last week I submitted the following response to Tom Spurgeon’s weekly Five for Friday audience participation post. The topic was “Make Five, Matter-Of-Fact Positive Statements About Comics Right Now.”
1. At this point, I feel comfortable saying that the internet has provided at least as durable and viable a forum for getting new work by growing alternative cartoonists in front of a wide audience on a regular basis as did the late, lamented Alternative Comic Book format. A couple weeks ago I realized that this is now how I consume the bulk of my comics, and this is quite aside from “webcomics” as traditionally identified.
2. Comics’ culture of complaint may not get us very far, but lately we’ve at least been complaining about the right things: representation of women and non-white people both on the pages and behind them at the big two companies; the rights of comics journalists to be afforded freedom of the press even when covering things local authorities oppose or in ways those authorities dislike; acknowledgement that popular titles and characters were the creations of individuals and objecting when the companies benefiting from those creations dismiss or abuse those individuals; calling on organizations that purport to honor the best in comics to explain why they’ve failed to do so by broad consensus standards; et cetera. I’ve seen way more complaining about these worthy targets of complaint than “Wolverine would never say that!” or “Chris Ware is boring” lately. While I’d be happier if we didn’t have to complain at all, at least we’ve got our heads on straight.
3. There are more excellent colorists working for the companies whose comics appear at the front of the Previews catalog now than I can ever remember before, and people are discussing their contributions to the comics they work on as vital. Dean White and Bettie Breitweiser, for example, are now talked about the same way Dave Stewart’s been talked about (justifiably) for years.
4. I like sex and horror in my alternative comics, and there’s a bumper crop of both right now, often at the same time.
5. I could name three or four or maybe even more conventions held up as an ideal interaction with the art form and its participants by people I personally respect: BCGF, TCAF, SPX, ECCC… Even one would be a fantastic boon, and we’ve got a bunch.
Second, and related to the second point above, the critic and pundit David Brothers announced that he has stopped buying Marvel and DC products over ethical concerns. The shoddy treatment of Jack Kirby and his heirs in light of the forthcoming Avengers film and of Alan Moore in light of the forthcoming Before Watchmen comics were the straws that broke the camel’s back. A day later, the comics writer Chris Roberson announced that he would no longer be working for DC following the completion of his current projects for the publisher, also due to concerns about their treatment of creators, going so far as to direct curious respondents to Brothers’ piece for a full explanation.
My Comics Journal editor Tim Hodler notes that Brothers’s article feels different somehow from Stephen Bissette’s call for a (partial, as Tim remembers but few other seem to) boycott of Marvel last fall. I explained why I think that is on Twitter yesterday, and here’s an edited/expanded version of what I wrote:
Clearly and publicly articulated personal decisions to stop doing a thing work better than boycott calls for everyone else to stop too. At this point, even just saying “I read/make these comics; simultaneously I find these practices — toward Moore, Kirby, Siegel, Shuster, Friederich — repellent” is a victory. This has long been my stance as a freelancer for those companies. I think the noise matters more than the purchasing habits. (In terms of Bissette’s boycott, I thought then and still think that his call for readers to bring up ethical issues loudly and often at convention booths and panels would be more effective.) Ultimately, it’s people who like those comics and want to buy them or work on them, like Brothers and Roberson, who will bend the arc of the industry toward justice, just as it was people like Frank Miller and Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson who moved it in the past.
Meanwhile, the rise of “fusion comics,” the New Action, and nu-Image allow people who depart the big supercomics companies to maintain their diet of action- and spectacle-based comics. Manga does this too. Scott Pilgrim does this too. The push in some critical quarters for a new, primarily non-literary-comics canon — Kirby, Moebius, Otomo, Chaykin, McCarthy, Manara, Pope, Mignola, Urasawa, Graham — does this too. You can even get shared-universe storytelling, from Mignola/Arcudi or Kirkman or Grist or Larsen or the revival of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme titles. Today, you needn’t challenge/force yourself (depending on how charitable you want to be to people) to read alt/lit/art comics to make the change. Nor are transparent knockoffs of/auditions for the Big Two the only thing you have to fall back on if you want to read about extraordinary individuals attempting to solve problems through violence. Viable aesthetic alternatives that still work in roughly the same way enable different ethical/moral choices to be made. They go hand in hand. And many of those aesthetically comparable alternatives available today arose because of companies and creators who decided to work more ethically in the first place. It’s a virtuous cycle.