Sunday, January 30, 2011

Creator Owned. My .02

Over the span of the last few days, there has been a shift in the comics world. Being that I am still on the outside looking in, I see this shift in terms of a spectator, but somehow I still feel involved because it affects me personally and will continue to do so long after I am inside that glass house.

The point of the shift...the epicenter, if you will... is that Creator Owned Comics need your support. This seems like it makes sense on just about every single level, but still it gained almost zero traction up till this weekend with a word from Steve Niles and a video by Eric Powell.
The word was simple. Support Creator Owned Comics.

Without support, the industry suffers. Chained to the corporate desks of Warner Brothers and Disney, owners of DC and Marvel Comics respectively, the landscape of comics will become watered down and filtered to the point where all diversity that DOESN'T stalk the night with a utility belt or SNIKT out adamantium claws when danger is near dies on the vine.

A lot of people on either side of this cultural divide have opined regarding this. Those working FOR the industry giants feel somehow targeted and attacked. Those on the outside of the wall feel empowered and like they are being heard for the first time. My simple view on this falls in the middle of the road. Hardly the voice of a revolutionary, you may say but hear me out.

This industry needs it's rock stars. I think I have uttered that phrase at least a hundred times this weekend to the point where even I tire of it, but it is true. The giants move the mountain here. The world of comics rests upon some pretty large shoulderd today, creatively speaking. We have some of the greatest talents to see print working their craft today obn either side of that divide. Alex Ross, Mark Millar, Mark Waid, Brian Michael Bendis, Frank Miller, Steve Niles and anyone else I fail to mention simply because their name escapes me at the moment are doing a fine fill-in role as our own Atlas and their shoulders support the rest of us as we run this marathon aimed at finally making that breakthrough that Comics are a truly viable form of entertainment.

You and I already know this. It's the rest of the folks who seem to still have their inbred biases. I'm not here now to make that case though. I'm preaching to the converted so that would be a waste of time. Those of you who know me already ARE reading my comics and realize I'm far closer to Stephen King than I am to Steve Rogers. I have taken the tack that comics are literature....just as much as they are art and you folks have jumped on board with this. I thank each and every one of you for that.

Now comes the hard part. The Call to Arms has been sounded. There is a groundswell flying through creative persons all over that could literally change the entire landscape of the industry. Folks are talking about all the ills the medium faces (monotony, pricing, distribution) with the goal of CORRECTING them for the first time rather than bemoaning their existance. In short, we comic book folk are in the process of growing a spine.

For too long we have simply accepted two not so noble truths about our industry. Truth 1, if you aren't working for Marvel or DC, you haven't made it. Truth 2, your comic has a small sliver of a very small demographic and will gain nothing more in the way of readership...ever.
Truth 1 was blown out of the water by the success of indy comic giants like Mignola, Niles and Kirkman. The fact that their comics were interesting enough to create a movie, let alone successful ones, dispells the fanciful notion that if your comic isn't 50 yrs old or older and has a easilly recognizable costume you ought not even bother. Granted Zombies are a fad and will fall by the waside sooner or later, but they are here now and they have hit that Truth in the face with a hammer.

The second truth is that your audience is only going to be the smallest slice of an finitely small pie. Hogwash. For every ticket sale of movies like Road to Perdition, Hellboy, Red and every ad sale on The Walking Dead, there is someone finding out that story was a comic book and saying "Hrm." That may not seem like a lot but put yourself in t heir shoes for just a second. Their whole life was a static field. They only read magazines or newspapers with an occasional bestseller thrown in. To them, reading equated boring. Great Expectations. Get through that in one sitting and I'll wash your dirty undies for a month.

But you put the notion in that person's mind that your idea is interesting by getting him in the theater or tuned into the broadcast. That doesn't translate into a sale. In fact, for every 1,000 people who go Hrm, maybe 1 buys the book. But that's not the point. The point is your story just made a convert. When your NEXT one comes won't be greeted at the airport with blowing tumbleweeds. Maybe it will be just a small group with a banner...maybe it will be a big brass band and a throng of screaming fans. Who knows? Who cares? The point is with the success of every individual one of us, the stigma that our audience is small and shrinking faces extinction.

Those two 'truths' have guided the accepted wisdom in this field since its inception. Well, as is the case in most revolutions, with their shattering, the void is created. By supporting creator owned comics, you do not doom Marvel and DC to the slag heap. Hell with that. In fact, they are a necessary evil. Their culture, content and commerce is the engine driving the industry. We creator owned comics are the cool extras like power windows and hands free GPS. But it's the extras that upsell the engine.

This leaves a few questions.

Question 1...What Next?
Simple. Go out on a limb. Next time you go to a comic shop, take a second to actually LOOK at the creator owned section. It's not just the x-rated comics, tho often, shops lump the two together due to space constraints. See if there is something in that rack that piques your interest and take a gamble. I won't promise you will love it, but think of the last time you bought a crap one off from Marvel touting the 5,000th fight between Wolverine and Deadpool. Did THAT give you goosebumps?

Question 2....How can we generate interest in the best creator owned comics out there?
We need a Sundance for Indy Comics. It sounds simple on its face, but this is a necessary void that has existed for a LONG time but no one's noticed. True there are the Eisner Awards, but what I am proposing is not an awards show, though that will also be a feature. In my mind, it is a submittal based convention where everyone makes a date to meet, similar to San Diego, but minus that marketing arm. This isn't to sell a movie, so much as it is for someone who never read The Goon to see it presented and meet Eric in person. It sounds silly, but that's only because I haven't really put a LOT into this. The implications exist that we could create a single day show/award with the ability to show the cream of teh crop and have it be indpendant from publisher influence, while still maintaining the feel of a convention. Since ours is not a time based medium and there are no Showings, the constraints of scheduling fall to the wayside. Tables and booths come to mind, but we're smart people. We can do better than that. We need to broaden our tent and innovate.

Question 3....Who will this INDEPENDANT body consist of?
HellifIknow. We'll need to cross that bridge though.

Question 4.....How will we implement this?
Well, I see the body creating a website. Through that website, they can keep the community posted on ALL works by ALL creators. Being that we comic folk are notoriously niche, this will fragment, but fragmentation is natural. horror guys to this part, action folks over here, super heroes that a-way. But all contained under teh same tent with the ability for cross promotion. We own our own characters so if The Goon wants to have a chat with Nails from my comic The Portland Express, Eric and I could make that happen.

The point is we have crossed the threshold here. We now need to take stock of the new landscape our mini revolution has provided. We must never lose sight of the ultimate goal in making the best comics we are able. Those that can help should be encouraged to do do. There is room for the reclusive genius here, but we will only get as far as we are willing to allow ourselves. If we maintain the every man for him/herself mentality we've built up over the last 40 yrs, well...all this talk is bullshit and you've all wasted my time as much as I'm wasting yours.

Friday, January 7, 2011

It ain't easy, this noveling

Anyone who puts two or more words togehter in some coherent form can realistically call themselves a writer. That said, there is a world of difference between a writer and a Writer. Writer (big w) implies vocation. writer implies hobby. Currently I am a hobbiest writer. I write because I want to rather than for money. Truth be told, I anticipate that changing in the very near future but till then I cannot in good conscience capitalize my title.

That brings me to this. Since I am a non-professional, I find myself writing when I have time, crafting small works in between coffee breaks and focusing on the quick payoff for a single sitting. That precludes me from getting involved in a long term project such as a novel, since I just haven't got the time to sit on the same egg for that long. That I have nothing better to do is immaterial. I am not on the clock for this so the time I would spend bridging the plot between chapters 5 and 9 can be way better spent. But I've decided that since this is the year I make the point to get serious about this writing thing, serious enough to capitalize it, now is the time to start treating this as a profession. I hope that I don't rob myself of my motivation in the process. Right now, I write because I have to. It's not a "I need to make this month's rent..." need. It's closer an "I need to keep breathing..." need.
If you have anything you are compelled to do, you might share this feeling. If there is nothing that completely overtakes your thoughts then you may not understand. I have ideas, you see. They start small. "A guy with a broken heart." I sprinkle in a reason, "His girl left him." and toss in a plot, "She stole all his money and ran off with his brother." and I have a story. Most writers operate this way. I add in the fact that I have a natural afinity for conversation. I can hear the thoughts of the guy "How could she do this? How could HE do this? I just loaned that bastard $1000 for his mortgage." and I have a story in the span of time it took YOU to decide whether to stop at Jack in the Box or Burger King.
I'm not saying this to brag. Hell, sometimes I wish it were otherwise. It's like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, I just GET it. It comes as naturally to me as pulling my hand from a burning stove. I find my need to write is entirely reflexive, and sometimes my natural narrative reflects that. but the structure involved to craft a novel sometimes flies in teh face of this freewheeling natural talent. You are forced to think three or six chapters ahead. You are forced to plant plot twists, to foreshadow, to extablish backstories. A lot of times, what comes as a completely natural flow of words dies on the page the second a writer attempts to dissect it this way. I have had it happen to me. I have started a project (many times) with an uncontrolable flow of words and ideas only to have them all wilt before my eyes the second I move one of them out of place.
This is the curse of writing a novel for me at any rate. Every writer wants to write a novel. They feel it justifies their existance. I'll not lie when I tell you personally that I feel that writing a novel means I will sell it also. There is a certain anticipation of monetary gain behind the motivation I feel when layering words onto this page as I do. The curse part comes when they take their innocent idea and attempt to attach modify and augment what is there to make it fit the format. Some stories are just supposed to be short. Some need additional narrative to explain the motivations, but if it only needs 200 words, then dammit, just write 200 words.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


(a short story about a paranoia and it's effects on the weak minded, and yes Jeff, this means you)