Here lies the Comic Book, R.I.P.?
by Mike Baron
Endless Naval Gazing
Writers, illustrators and publishers agonize twenty-four/seven over the future of the comic book. Chat boards are filled with pessimism and crazy schemes. The comic book is doomed! The comic book must change! Resolved - we've got to get more kids and women reading comics. The best way to do that is digest-sized books in end pockets in bookstores. No, the best way to do that is manga. No, the best way to do that is graphic novels used as textbooks. No, the best way to do that is more online content.
The comic world resembles Western civilization at the dawn of the industrial age. Nobody knows what's going to happen, but everybody's sure we're in for big changes. When the automobile appeared, numerous pundits declared the horse would be extinct within a generation. People love to make sweeping proclamations on the off-chance they'll be proven right. Nobody remembers their mistakes. The comic will always be with us because people love the form. There's a core mass of creators and consumers who won't let it die. All you have to do is count the new publishers every year.
According to ICv2.com, graphic novels are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. Many bookstores, including Barnes & Noble, have added dedicated manga and graphic novel sections. What's changing is how comics are distributed, which has a direct bearing on format. Tokyopop has proved that digest-sized manga can find a big home in America. CrossGen would have succeeded had they kept their overhead low. Congrats to Alessi for paying competitive rates. He should have had everybody work out of their homes and set up his offices in his basement. First Comics would probably still be here had they continued to operate out of an attic in Evanston, instead of purchasing Trump-like HQ downtown.
But look who made the party: Oni, IDW, Avatar, Antarctic, Moonstone, and many others. Dark Horse and Image aren't going anywhere. Comics are here to stay. The internet won't replace them because it doesn't satisfy the collectors. People want something they can hold in their hand. The comic book is what they want.
Climbing the corporate ladder can be injurious to your health, particularly in the comics industry. Why? Because editors are obliged to treat freelancers, staffers, and big shots to meals. Most business is done over meals. The company pays. You sit in a toney NY restaurant talking to the Flavor of the Month and scanning the menu. That blue cheese burger looks good. Before you know it, you've ballooned to two hundred and seventy-five pounds. Twelve hour work days leave no time for the gym.
I've been teaching comic book writing at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design for about a year. Most of the students are art punks and their skin is their canvas. Hardly a square centimeter survives unmarked, and these are the girls.
This summer I taught a one week "Comic Camp." I taught writing in the morning, and John Holdredge taught comic book illustration in the afternoon. I had six students, the oldest of whom was seventeen. It was not what I expected. Most of these kids had paid their own way and were mostly interested in drawing. I should say overwhelmingly interested in drawing. They all wanted to do comic books, often their own concepts, but had no more idea how to tell a story than fly a jumbo jet. They'd paid scant attention to their English and composition classes and could hardly spell.
They would only write under threat of duress. I made them write.
Jeremy brought a spate of Jim Lee derived poses. He and a pal had already produced six issues of their X-Men clone before he was uprooted from California to Colorado. Without his drawing partner, Jeremy was bereft. He lives at home with his fifty-eight year old manic-depressive, alcoholic mother. Half my students had never known their biological father and two of them had no interest. Jeremy's step-father is in prison for shooting him in the leg. "He was drunk and stoned," Jeremy explained, showing off the scar. He couldn't sit still. He beat out rhythms with two triangles. He's a drummer in two bands when his mother lets him out of the house. In class Jeremy was either asleep or beating out a backbeat.
Maurice and Cobra, two tow-headed Beach Boy types who had never met could have been twins. Cobra was in Jim Lee's thrall. Maurice was into Turtles.
Only one student, a high school junior named Zeke, had an instinctive grasp of story structure.
I asked them to write a vivid description of someone they knew. I had them pass their descriptions to the student on their right and asked that student to draw the person from the description. This teaches the value of detail and specificity. Only one drawing emerged that resembled it's subject: Jeremy's mother. Animated by malice, he had provided a detailed description of a chain-smoking, slipper shuffling crone with boobs down to her waist.
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