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Thirty-Two Pages to a Pauper's Grave
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for April 17, 2007
(Note: Red text indicates a dead link.)

 

"Political cartoons are the ass-end of the artform."

 

West Virginia comics-shop owner Kathleen Miller and American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar, in a screenshot from the 2008 indy film The Comic Book Lady.

 

Tom Spurgeon and Heidi MacDonald takes turns discussing the utility of various formats and their financial viability... and the... ummm... yawwwwn. Huh? Oh, sorry about that. I suppose I should be awake for this.

Tom's entirely right that all avenues should be explored, of course. Beyond that, though, the discussion sounds to me like nothing so much as an 1890 debate over the future of the horseless carriage. In the short-term, you're discussing a series of asymmetric markets in a period of immense transition, partly composed of models that either barely work, have long since ceased to work, or that everybody's sure could work but only a few have succeeded in getting into gear... and nobody can say for certain where this transition is leading us. Alas, this is a long-term discussion.

The digression into comics pamphlets is especially pointless, taking place as it does in a vacuum divorced from actual market reality. Folks: As things presently stand, unless you're working for Dan Didio or Dan Buckley — or you're Joss Whedon or (on a really good day) Steve Niles — the notion that pamphlet sales will subsidize your month-to-month cartooning without other sources of income is pretty much nonsense. Most artists attempting to create comics for the format who don't fall into these categories could likely give themselves hourly pay raises by abandoning their comics and taking up positions as Burger King fry cooks. Such exceptions to the rule as Jeff Smith and Terry Moore were only able to continue publishing floppies because they'd cultivated their readerships before the big mid-1990s market crash calcified market conditions around the major publishers, and because they'd managed to build up enough of a backlog that book collections could subsidize their decisions to keep publishing in pamphlet form. Please note: This doesn't mean that you're going to succeed at it.

Yesterday's holy-shit revelation that someone other than Marvel or DC has managed to land a comic book in Diamond's top ten — hell, in the top fifty — should be far more instructive than seems to be the case. To be sure, the success of Buffy and Dark Tower indicates that properties from other media, if aligned with the definable visions of single creators and properly marketed as such, can still convince non-comics readers to set foot in comics shops. Alas, for this to be seen as hope for the future, you've got to assume that the majority of retailers will at some point accept properties that don't come from their narrow visions of pop-culture — shopowners may well be willing to order titles carrying the Stephen King and Joss Whedon brands from Marvel and Dark Horse, but will this translate into, say, a willingness to order the broad spectrum of genres and audience demographics necessary to grab the general public's sustained attention as a rule and not the exception, breathing new life into the format? I'm still waiting on comics shops to learn to sell manga in mass quantities to anyone other than the usual suspects. All that's needed for the comics pamphlet to support anyone not drawing Wolverine, Batman or a licensed sci-fi/fantasy/horror property over the long haul is a complete, top-to-bottom reorganization of the Direct Market and the principles under which it operates. Good luck with that one. There's a reason that yesterday's news was so surprising, and it's as much a sign of the extent to which we take reactionary expectations for granted as anything else.

If you're going to produce longform comics, can serialization in pamphlet form augment one's income enough to make it worth the hassle and cost of printing, distributing and promoting them? Possibly, if you're marketing's good enough, and you're producing work to which the market's conservative current audience can relate. Will it be enough to support you while you draw, by and of itself? There's always the exception to the rule, of course, but the rule itself is no cause for optimism. Is the pamphlet the future of comics? No, of course not. Don't be silly.

 

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