Independents and a Healthy Market
As the direct market prospered in the1980s and 1990s we saw the rise of independent publishers and self-publishers. Maverick creators introduced us to Sabre, ElfQuest, Cerebus, Nexus, Mage, Maus, Eightball, Love and Rockets and Bone.
Today’s climate is different. Large publishers strongly influence market trends and distribution. Fewer readers are buying comics, and retailers, many of who may have been burned in the past by some irresponsible publishers, are less interested in buying from multiple sources. I get it. Yet if the market is to become friendly once again to artistic and entrepreneurial ingenuity, the option must be open for self-publishers to step into the comics’ arena without fear of abandonment…or scorn.
Of course corporations put a lot at stake. They support many people and their families. Their overhead is higher; their shareholders are demanding; a loss in market share can lead to a loss of jobs. For at least these reasons restrictions on creativity and minimization of risk-taking are to be expected in corporate decision-making. However, even the big movie moguls have formed divisions in their corporations to produce independent movies that are smaller and more artful than the big Hollywood blockbusters. And you know what? With a little promotion and the right distribution these independent movies made money while demonstrating that there was an audience for material left of mainstream.
I’m not against superhero books – quite the opposite. I think that we will always need a Spiderman or a Superman to exist in comics. However, I wish that the Big Two would go back to publishing only their core titles and only one title for each character. And I wish that the powers-that-be would hire more interesting creative teams to give their product some punch. So much emphasis is put on intellectual property – Hollywood productions – that many mainstream comics are losing the voices that remain to them. I’m very much in favour of a great adaptation – comics-to-film can work – but I want the two media to remain separate. Let’s not have the comic characters looking more and more like the actors that play them. Let’s have some (…dare I say it?…) variety.
Comics, sequential art (whatever you want to call it) is an amazing art form – a truly vital language through which an artist can express ideas. At one time variety was the status quo. Individuality was sought and embraced, not shunned. Witness: Crane was different than Caniff; Eisner was different than Wood; Kirby was different than Ditko; Corben was different than Crumb; Colan was different than Kane; Gulacy was different than Starlin; Miller was different than Perez; Sim, different than Pini; Rude, different than Wagner; Geez! Even Jaime and Beto remain distinct from each other – and they’re brothers! Yet, when I look at a lot of artists today, both in the mainstream and alternative scene, I see a homogenizing of styles instead of a diversifying of styles. With few exceptions, even the colouring of so many books look uniformly over-rendered – too Photoshopped.
Art is supposed to distinguish and individuate, both the person making it and the audience interpreting it. We should all think about this and make choices that grow our industry and encourage fertile expression within it, rather than cramp it into the tightest of corporate spaces.
Peter Howard, Managing Editor