16 thoughts on the Comics Journal/Kickstarter/SP7 fight

In his capacity as co-editor of The Comics Journal, Dan Nadel (who is also publisher of PictureBox Books, co-organizer/curator of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, and an important anthologist/historian/editor) tore apart virtually every aspect of SP7, a tribute to the influential Japanese alternative-manga anthology series Garo for which editors Box Brown and Ian Harker have established a Kickstarter fundraiser. This has led to the most impassioned argument among alternative comics people I’ve seen since back when I started reading the Comics Journal message board in 2001. Here are my thoughts on it.

1. I’m having a really hard time figuring out which side of this argument is the cool side to be on. Does anyone know? Because I’m on that side.

2. In a single post, the Comics Journal’s three-decade reputation for temperate rhetoric is RUINED.

3. I am actually glad this is what we’re arguing about today, instead of just sticking the boot into obviously bad and unethically made superhero comics again. For one thing, those comics don’t need the press. For another, the issues we’re talking about, the comics and creators and editors involved, they are actually vital to the art form. They can stand to be argued about passionately.

4. Dan’s ersatz editorial is clearly the product of months or years of pet peeves given voice in straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back fashion, and as such is riddled with inapt or inept elements that a calmer and more considered approach to this post would probably have caught and eliminated. The thing about spelling “comix” with an “x” is pedantic and childish; the claim that EC Comics didn’t influence the undergrounds in a substantial way is plain wrong in a way that even Dan’s co-editor Tim Hodler caught immediately; much of the argument about how Brown and Harker are misreading Garo particularly and manga generally requires the absolute least charitable read of what they’re saying, to an extent that strains credulity; it’s kind of funny that he spells Bryan Lee O’Malley’s name wrong while decrying the sloppiness of his targets’ writing; and so on. Don’t blog angry!

5. The strange thing about doing a Garo tribute anthology is that you’re doing a tribute to an anthology, which is definitionally a whole range of comics (genres, styles, tones) by a whole range of creators rather than one particular set of visual and narrative and philosophical characteristics you can point to and say “there, that’s what we’re paying tribute to.” If the idea is to pay tribute to the way the various kinds of comics in Garo, a whole range of approaches that roughly map to “alternative comics” here in the English-speaking world, broadened the possibilities available to Japanese comics readers and makers, wouldn’t the best way to do that be to simply make a broad range of thoughtful, progressive comics? It’s entirely possible that that’s what this will be, with zero fetishization of Garo qua Garo, but if so it’d almost defeat the purpose — you could slap the word Garo on any collection of thoughtful, progressive comics. It’s like, no one thinks to do a RAW tribute anthology, because the influence of RAW was internalized and dispersed throughout all of alternative comics. Alternative comics is a RAW tribute anthology.

6. That said, I like Ian and Box personally, and as editors. (I like Dan personally, and as an editor of both comics and criticism, too. I’m a lot closer to Dan on both points, honestly.) I like many of the contributors here. The book’s Kickstarter isn’t something I’d contribute to because I’m not familiar with Garo and would mostly prefer to see the contributors do their own things in their own settings, but it’s something I’d probably pick up at a show.

7. I was surprised to see the discussion really quickly escalate into open anti-Nadel backlash. I probably shouldn’t've been. Dan is a gatekeeper four or five times over: He’s the publisher of one of the only mid-’00s artcomix publishers still standing. He’s the co-founder and arbiter of a curated festival that has absolutely kept cartoonists at the gates based on his taste. He’s the co-editor of the alternative comics criticism publication of record. As an editor/anthologist/historian he’s helped broaden, or suggest an alternative to, the comics canon, depending on how you want to look at it. He’s the post-alternative generation’s most prominent straddler of the line between comics and the fine art world. If you’ve ever felt rejected or neglected by him in any of these guises, it’s knives-out time, because nothing fires comics people up more than “you think you’re better than me?!”

8. That’s not to invalidate all the complaints, of course. Though all, literally all, of my personal and professional interactions with Dan have been delightful and enriching to me as a comics person, I have to imagine he’s been an unfair dick to people from time to time, since we all are. Moreover there are people in comics for whom a rejection by Dan in whatever capacity, however honestly and fairly arrived at by Dan, really would hurt, career-wise.

9. If you’ve ever followed any of the online feuds in which Dan’s been involved, or if you’ve ever talked to him about the work of other editors and publishers, the throughline that emerges is that Dan takes the presentation and contextualization of work very, very, very, very, very, very seriously. I’m paraphrasing this, but one thing he said comes back to me any time I look at an archival reprint project: For the vast majority of cartoonists, you only get one shot at this. If your work in reprinting comics, or writing about them in your book’s backmatter, or the context you provide for them w/r/t other cartoonists and movements in comics, is sloppy, that’s not just about you — from now on anyone who encounters these comics will encounter them with that sloppiness as their lens into the work. You owe it to the readers and the cartoonists alike to be rigorous, serious, sensitive, informed, insightful, and otherwise good at your job. If you strip away the excesses of rhetoric and the Kickstarter stuff, that’s his concern about SP7 and its presentation of Garo. It may be a lot to read into what is effectively sales copy, the Kickstarter description, but it’s hardly crazytalk.

10. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding entities enable the creation of a lot of terrible, lame work, but lots of terrible lame work gets made anyway. It seems like an opportunity to spread the financial risk of making art around up front so that artists can make more art is a positive development overall. It shouldn’t be the burden of a new model to behave flawlessly and yield flawless results in a way that the old model doesn’t.

11. Of course the new model shouldn’t also smack its shoe on the table and shout “WE WILL BURY YOU” about the old model, whether you’re talking about publishing through established publishers or distributing through the direct market, both of which are vital for the health of comics, no matter how much you don’t like your local shop and no matter how many rejection emails you’ve gotten. But Box and Ian aren’t doing that, so it’s a separate issue.

12. I think we should also separate obvious boondoggles, freak occurrences, and cases where wealthy, successful artists are using Kickstarter anyway from consideration of efforts like this. Penny Arcade, Womanthology, Mark Andrew Smith’s stuff, Marc Silvestri, that weird stick-figure D&D comic that made like five million dollars, Amanda Palmer — they tell us nothing about this project.

13. I don’t see how you put your books on Amazon and still wax outraged about Kickstarter’s Amazon fees, I really don’t. I’m not being some “two wrongs make a right” “Kirby got ripped off so it’s okay to rip off Alan Moore” type person, because in this case it’s literally the same thing. Isn’t it? That’s not a rhetorical question–I really want to know if there’s an appreciable difference between selling your books on Amazon and kicking to Amazon via your Kickstarter crowdfunding effort.

14. It seems to me that the job of a publisher is to pay for, print, distribute, and promote the work of the people it publishes. Take any of those elements away and I’m not sure you’re a publisher in the traditional sense, and that’s something for people published by such entities to thoughtfully consider. Of course, I’d never before thought about this issue at all prior to this year, so these are very tentatively advanced ideas I’m putting out there, not the Magna Carta. I know a lot of respectable outfits who don’t fulfill all four of those criteria.

15. That said, money from a bank, from your dayjob paycheck, from your trust fund, from a loan from your parents or your buddy who’s a lawyer, from people who pre-order or contribute on Kickstarter — all that money spends the same. If you, the publisher, are still in charge of gathering those funds in order to make and sell the books you publish, it doesn’t matter much to me how it is you’re gathering it.

16. The cartoonist Chris Wright said on Twitter that one of the reasons he likes publishing through a publisher rather than on his own is because he’s “too lazy and too stupid” to do it himself. He was kidding around a bit, but he’s right. Not every artist has the interest, inclination, or ability to hustle. I know that I myself could not be less interested in or less adroit at self-publishing. I got into writing to write; I have no brain for getting printer quotes. Now let me stop you right there before you “well la-di-da” me — I FULLY REALIZE this predisposition on my part limits my ability to get things made. If I could be different about it. I would be. I don’t feel entitled to the world beating a path to my door, I don’t expect it to, I own the consequences of my disinterest and inability to self-publish. But yeah, not every artist has that in them. They shouldn’t be expected to. They shouldn’t be blamed for their failure to, as if it’s a moral or artistic shortcoming.

22 Responses to 16 thoughts on the Comics Journal/Kickstarter/SP7 fight

  1. Andrew White says:

    Good points. #9 is a great articulation of and insight into what was for me one of Dan’s better arguments. I was surprised, although I guess I shouldn’t have been, that people picked up on the Kickstarter stuff to the near exclusion of discussing Garo, the influence on manga on North American alternative comics, and other things along those lines that I personally find much more interesting.

  2. Ian Harker says:

    “…the influence on manga on North American alternative comics, and other things along those lines that I personally find much more interesting.”

    I find this much more interesting too, that’s why we’re making this book!

  3. Kiel Phegley says:

    I have no dog in the Garo race as I’m not familiar with the anthology AT ALL, though in general I think the word “tribute” comes with an entirely different set of expectations than the kind of historical survey anthology Dan is known for. When you’re doing a tribute to something, you can define how you pay homage without as much worry for whether you’re canonizing the original work in some way, can’t you?

    Also: “pay for, print, distribute, and promote” sounds like a fine job for a publisher in general, but if a project is released where any one of those responsibilities is delegated to another person or persons than whomever does the rest, does that mean said project no longer has a publisher? I think if something got published, than someone has to be largely responsible for that, yeah? To me, a publisher is defined as the person who take the MOST responsibility for making that release possible, not ALL the responsibility.

  4. Jog says:

    Eh, the problem with #5 is that Garo actually *did* have a really specific set of narrative and philosophic characteristics for a while; it was initially put together as a vehicle for the indoctrination of children into leftist ideology, and it was Sanpei Shirato’s Marxist ninja comics that held the thing together in terms of popular appeal. Even subsequent to that, a lot of contributors shared a passion for rejecting Westernization and its corruption (which, to be fair, involved such wicked concepts as ‘feminism,’ it can be argued) in favor of a mythic/mystic and/or nostalgized agrarian Japan, with much hearkening back to older, ‘traditional’ forms of Japanese art and narrative. What I’m getting at is that it’s reeeeeeeealy dicey to evoke Garo outside of the super-specific cultural-political context in which it grew. Honestly, I suspect Dan got pissed because the SP7 Kickstarter is doing almost exactly what Dan once published a Ryan Holmberg essay in direct opposition to, i.e. appropriating a specific cultural work for its partial applicability to current trends in a different culture’s arts scene:

    http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/04/ryan-holmberg-on-the-early-garo.html

    All that said, I’ll emphasize that I don’t think the SP7 gang is actually wrong in what they’re taking from Garo (I am a backer, after all!), it’s just that their effort to invoke the spirit of the anthology as a means of celebrating the influence of manga on today’s young cartoonists — an influence built mainly from exposure to commercial Japanese comics, frankly — obscures the unity and attitudes of the formative Garo artists, which obviously triggers Dan’s #9 tendencies.

  5. Frank Santoro says:

    It would be more fun if this fight unfolded over months ONLY in the letters column of each monthly print iteration of the Comics Journal. (;) (;) sniff sniff I miss the old daze.

  6. Ian Harker says:

    “Honestly, I suspect Dan got pissed because the SP7 Kickstarter is doing almost exactly what Dan once published a Ryan Holmberg essay in direct opposition to, i.e. appropriating a specific cultural work for its partial applicability to current trends in a different culture’s arts scene:”

    Has he ever heard of Paper Rad?

    Seriously though…

    “All that said, I’ll emphasize that I don’t think the SP7 gang is actually wrong in what they’re taking from Garo (I am a backer, after all!), it’s just that their effort to invoke the spirit of the anthology as a means of celebrating the influence of manga on today’s young cartoonists — an influence built mainly from exposure to commercial Japanese comics, frankly — obscures the unity and attitudes of the formative Garo artists, which obviously triggers Dan’s #9 tendencies.”

    My basic logic (which Dan missed completely) is: People read Manga –> People make manga –> People make interesting manga.
    So what drew my interest to manga-boom/echo thing is that many of these artist haven’t been exposed to much alternative manga yet they’ve on their own developed what could be described as alternative-manga. The Garo artists grew up reading popular children’s manga. In that sense they are no different than one of our artists reading Dragonball in middle-school. Yes? No? Maybe so?

  7. Leigh Walton says:

    Dan is trying to fight like six different battles at once here and on suuuuper shaky ground for at least half of them.

    If you want the kids to have a better understanding of Garo and its context, honestly the most useful thing you could do is edit the Wikipedia article on it.

    Meanwhile the “tribute to something we’ve never read” idea reminds me of Talking Heads imitating Joy Division and Paul McCartney imitating the Who based purely on press reports of what those bands sounded like. But I guess McCartney should have done his homework ¯\(°_o)/¯

  8. [...] interest is Study Group contributor Sean T. Collins’ post with thoughts about the whole thing over on his blog. It’s pretty good, measured, etc. I expect the comments will get lively on that one, if not [...]

  9. Shannon says:

    Hey Ian, I think I like this project even more the more light has been shined on it, not less. Let me see if I have a handle on what you guys are going for:

    “By the early 70s, a bunch of people who grew up reading commercial Japanese comics (manga) had developed individual, idiosyncratic comic art styles influenced by their exposure to said commercial Japanese comics. A lot of these people were anthologized in GARO. (Had there been an anthology of the Bay area underground scene at the same time, a similar parallel could be made to those cats’ idiosyncratic take of commercial American comics from their youths, EC in particular in many cases). Now, in the early 21st century a generation of artists outside Japan grew up exposed to commercial Japanese comics. They too have developed idiosyncratic artistic practices influenced by their early reading. So exposure by these artists to GARO qua GARO isn’t really the point, the point is to see, all cultural context aside, how would an anthology of idiosyncratic styles from people weened on manga as much as on commercial American comics compare to the original, Japanese-specific anthology.”

    Does that sound right? ‘Cause if it does, man, a)that’s not too hard to get, b)the read was indeed uncharitable, and c) that’s what art does all the time. Take stuff that’s out there, fuck with it, see if it’s like other stuff that’s out there once it’s been made. If anything, I could see something like SP7 making people who know nothing about GARO then going back to check out what the original thing was, turning to people like Ryan Holmberg and Dan for more context and guidance. It’s like, I don’t know, if someone got together a bunch of small label garage band singles from the early 00s, put it together on an anthology and called it a 21st century Nuggets. Could it suck? Sure it could. Would it be fun? Probably. Would it end up damaging the reputation of the original Nuggets anthology? Probably not. On and on, you get the picture.

    But also yeah, see Jog up above. Canon making is always provisional. Ware makes us need to go back and check out Frank King. He creates his own ancestors. Often the mission of artists and scholars line up nicely, but sometimes the very real need for hype- and myth-free context that should be the scholarly ideal don’t mesh well with the need for artists to not give a fuck about reverence and just jam out. If it’s good jamming, it changes the landscape. If not, usually people can walk away from the wreckage. It’s all playing pretends, people.

  10. Shannon says:

    Also just realized that if anyone wanted to REALLY stir some shit up with regards to #7, and make Dan’s head implode in full on #9 eschatological fire, they should do a Hairy Who tribute project, funded through Kickstarter. #notadvocatingthis

  11. Geoff says:

    Sean-To help you with #1: Dan Nadel is the Red Skull and he wants the Cosmic Cube. He’s going to rid the Universe of all those poorly worded Kickstarter promos, banish the “Garo” tribute to the Negative Zone along with all the other “viable comics projects” that he’s tired of seeing on Kickstarter. Matter of fact, he’s going to get an underling from A.I.M. to read all that Kickstarter crap for him from now on so he can digest his breakfast. And, finally…his most diabolical scheme– eliminate the letter “x”.
    I think it’s pretty clear where Captain America stands. xxx G

  12. Ayo says:

    Dan Nadel is right about history and historical fidelity.

    He’s wrong about basically everything else in his editorial, but I feel him on the history aspect. Selective history is always wrong, and selected history viewed over the shoulder of another country is extra-wrong. Our country already has too many wrong perceptions about Japanese comics. Directly creating a selective historical tribute on a subject that was never understood that well by Americans makes things significantly worse than your average “-san”/”-kun” mistranslation.

  13. Mr. Pants says:

    @Sean

    TCJ was never a temperate climate. Why else would they have called their letter section “Blood & Thunder”

    @Ian Harker

    You need to work on your editorial skills, guy. Garo =/= manga, but you’re implying the opposite. Your rather interchangeable use of the terms (as well as with “art-comix” and “alt. comics”) in the KS description creates a very ill-informed proposition for SP #7. You don’t describe how this specific group of cartoonists were influenced by Garo at all. What you’re further clarifying is that what you’re putting out is a tribute to manga, which is fine, but it helps to get things straight.

    • “TCJ was never a temperate climate. Why else would they have called their letter section ‘Blood & Thunder’”

      Sarcasm detector on the fritz, Mr. Pants?

  14. Ian Harker says:

    Shannon is officially the new SP7 FAQ. His above post nails it 100%.

  15. [...] Dan, he can speak for himself. “No Good Reason” is blazing angry and has been met with the wrath of 10,000 trolls. We grant you, you trolls, you, that it’s tough to argue that Dan is not a gatekeeper. Dan [...]

  16. Robby Karol says:

    On point number 12, I don’t think it’s quite fair to lump in ORDER OF THE STICK (the stick figure D&D comic) with Amanda Palmer, Marc Silvestri and Penny Arcade. Amanda Palmer has been on traditional record labels (and presumably could be again), Marc Silvestri has been traditionally published and has important contacts/relationships with the founders of Image and Wildstorm, and Penny Arcade has their own fan convention. And womanthology has a lot of people with those contacts/experience.

    As far as I know, the guy behind ORDER OF THE STICK doesn’t really have that kind of professional reputation or relationship with the comic book/entertainment industry. He’s got a popular webcomic, but there was nothing, on the face of it, to suggest that he was as popular as Penny Arcade when he put up the Kickstarter thing.

    Of course, something that nobody mentions is that, we don’t know what Marc Silvestri/Amanda Palmer were doing before they set up the kickstarter campaing. Perhaps they did approach all their contacts and professional groups. Maybe they were told that those companies were consolidating and weren’t publishing/putting out new stuff. So maybe we’re blaming Kickstarter when we’re really looking at the failure of the market in general.

    • Oh, I didn’t mean to lump him in with those, as it were. I just meant his gargantuan success on Kickstarter was an unusual circumstance we shouldn’t use to judge the overall enterprise.

      Silvestri runs his own company, the Top Cow imprint at Image. He can put out what he wants, or I’d be pretty shocked.

  17. [...] inspired some 180 comments on the post and much discussion elsewhere, including these pieces by Sean T. Collins and by Barry and Leon of Secret Acres. I’m curious to hear what people have to say about the [...]

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