Monday, November 29, 2010

TechDirt vs. Colleen Doran: Angry, Angry, Angry

I don't know where to begin regarding a post that Techdirt has, savaging Colleen Doran for her column in The Hill regarding comics piracy and digital "theft". There is a level of vitrol here that is hard to quite get, except for the fact that Tim doesn't like people upsetting his little digital "everything for free" model. And its even worse when he makes a good point or two along the way.

For one thing, the comment section is full of extremely angry readers and writers, with a hell of a lot of anger directed at Colleen for no good reason. Seriously, lets look at the situation without a lot of snark: Colleen Doran writes an opinion piece about how hard it is to make a living as an artist in this day and age with everyone wanting free content, and gets hit with asshole comments like this:
You may have lost business to the internet, but that's only because, as I was coming of age, there was so much more interesting content being generated for free, by folks who made it for free, on the Internet than in your paper and ink, overpriced pamphlet.
as if Colleen was the one who was doleing out assignments and pricing and packaging the stuff herself over at Marvel. Perhaps that particular author should have been checking out her own work, A Distant Soil instead of assuming that the only comic out there was the latest X-Men crossover.

Saying that if she's having a hard time making a living is her own fault is like the rich telling the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and get going. Perhaps less than 1% of the webcomics out there are making money, making enough money to support themselves, and yet everyone holds them up as the ideal for surviving as artists. Listen people, making art is hard and time consuming, and the reality is that very few people are going to pull the discretionary income necessary to keep themselves going.

Certainly I would have thought that people like Colleen and Terry Moore would have been the poster children for making this work, given a strong fanbase and name recognition, but perhaps not. Perhaps there simply isn't enough time in the world for them to actually spend hours creating art and then marketing themselves on the internet.

I'd love to have an actual ratio of artists vs. consumers in the world. I'd love to know what would happen if all the webcomics people just quit producing for a week or two, would people get as twitchy as if their daily newspaper page with comics suddennly went blank? Or if no new comics showed up in the store for a month? Would people be angry, or would they simply click to yet another site? And what about having all the television shows go to repeats? Remember how it was when Lost would go to reruns? I thought that you'd have riots like the streets of Detroit.

I'd love to know how twitchy people would get when all their favorite stuff to consume would go away. And then all the artists could lean back and say, "Sorry, you'll need to pay me so that i can get back to work." Expect that people don't like strikers, do they? The same people are angry that ARTISTS THAT ACTUALLY PRODUCE MATERIAL THEY LIKE want money, and if those people STOPPED PRODUCING, then the people would get... even angrier? How the hell does that work? Colleen is nailed to the cross with the phrase "Creator Entitlement" as if everyone on that board doesn't work for a living. What if we impaled their crass comments on wanting a paycheck as "Employed Entitlement". Fools, wanting to be paid for working in an office, filing paperwork, answering phones, doing anything. Such Entitlement, wanting a "paycheck". Go home and tell your wife or husband that they're withholding your pay that they really would just "like it for free".

It only enhances the odd relationship that people have with artists and the things that they produce. We assume that the art just comes out: That actors like to act and make movies, musicians write our favorite songs over breakfast and that comics are made by people who just doodle. The best ones look so easy that we assume it just exists, poof!, out of thin air.

If we go back 15 years ago, AOL, the huge heavyweight on the block, went and bought TimeWarner because it understood that content was king. The internet user has an insatiable, vampiric desire to consume content at a higher rate than ever before. Feeding that beast is becoming Uroboros, the eternal snake eating its own tail to consume and conquer the hunger, but with a greater global economy, that hunger shows no sign of abating. The best point in the Techdirt anger are the truest: that Colleen is one of the few that needs to figure out, or have someone else figure out, how to leverage some money out of that fan base. The should be able to do it better than most, and it may take a person that sees the micropayments and other, more inventive ways to market her on the digital ecosystem so that fans of hers will come and spend.

Friday, November 12, 2010

JMS Leaves The Floppies: World Yawns

Tom wonders, in his usual way, over at the Comics Reporter, whether J. Michael Straczynski leaving the monthly Wonder Woman and Superman is a vote of no-confidence in the monthly books. Other, of course, have picked up on this and will make it a small meme for about 5 minutes.

I mention this because, really, most of us have given up on the monthlies in a big way. Marvel and DC regularly put out story arcs designed to be collected into the trades which have a longer shelf life anyway. So, of course, the format is dictating the content. Which is always has done. All of us older comics readers got addicted to the monthly format of 22 page stories from an early age, and that's how we "see" comics. It pushes our buttons for what we're used to. People who came to alterna-comics via Groening or Carol Lay are going to look for the weekly comics fix in their local paper. Unlike the writer of books, who are going to write chapters solely on how long the chapter needs to be, the comic writer chapter is going to have to give you 22 page chapters for their story arc.

And you know what? There is a reason that more sophisticated work is being done long form in the Graphic Novel format. While I'm annoyed that Straczynski can't finish his damn work, but that he keeps getting work, I loved his Thor. Best version of Thor in 20 years, so yes, I put up with it to get a comic that i enjoyed the hell out of. But the pacing for the story that he was writing would have been better outside of the 22 page format. Each month we ended at a strange place in the rhythm of the story and had to pick it up 30 or 60 days later. I would much rather have read a great Thor Graphic Novel.

Yes, the floppies are dead, they just don't know it yet. No, Straczynski's leaving has to do with his inability to make deadlines. Yes, his parting bon mot is just about right. Leave your comments below.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aging Out of Comics: Why Does It Happen?

Here is a good question, why do people abandon something that they like? Why do readers of comics stop reading comics? Why do people who like a certain type of music stop purchasing that music? Or seeing a certain type of film?

Jason Thompson ponders the age old marketing question of how to hold on to an audience, one that, in prior years, would have been reliable readers of a certain type of manga. There is a lively discussion below the initial Live Journal post that I’ve pulled a little bit out of.

What is interesting is watching Jason write about something that I’ve approached many times on this blog. Where are the comics for my age? I had almost stopped buying 7 years ago when, in my late 30’s, nothing spoke to me anymore. Jason wonders why you can’t sell more adult oriented manga to former readers and fans of shonon and shojo manga. And it’s the same with American comics. Marvel and DC have always wondered why they lost readers when they moved on from that “I love the Avengers” phase. Those same people don’t decide, “I’ve grown past Little Mermaid, so I’ll stop going to movies now,” so why not move them to more mature manga?

For the longest time, there was nothing to move to really. Jason is picking up Alan Moore as the natural follow up to reading superheroes, since his work dovetails from Swamp Thing and Superman into Watchmen and Promethea in a natural progression. People stop reading, I believe, because there was no follow up, and there was a social pressure to “move on to adult things”.

What is striking is how all the things that Jason says in regards to “aging out” of manga are the same for the United States and superhero comics if you just replace the words.

And I was exposed to Anime early on, and fully believed that, while Americans were being subjected to Star Trek 3: The Search for Chris Lloyd, the best space opera being made was Be Forever Yamato and Captain Harlock. I saw the adult implications in the kids series even if they were being used as subtext.

I do think that there were bids for the medium to grow up in the 1980’s within American comics, but man it was a hard sell. And I wouldn’t have wanted to have been a pioneer trying to stay in business back then. While DC was foistering Camelot 3000 as a supposed more adult comic, Love and Rockets was starting to come out, if you knew where to look. American Flagg had 10 whole issues of greatness in that series.

Rushthatspeaks has a couple of interesting comments part of the way down:
First, it was difficult for me to find things that suited my tastes as I got older. They turned out to be out there, but I really had to look. Shounen and shoujo get the splash ads in the magazines, the pages at the back of other manga, the bookstore displays and the clever catchphrases….

…it cannot be overemphasized how much American comics shops, who have the adult readers of Watchmen etc. and sell the indie comics meant for adults, used to hate manga. I am not joking nor overstating when I say that at the place that used to harass me, I would come in and ask for manga and be told 'We don't order that ridiculous girlie crap and your boyfriend should know better than to send you in to ask for it'.

At this point my household just goes into the local comics shop, they give us their distributor catalogs, and we do all our ordering ourselves because they have no idea what we are talking about. There is no marketing force behind manga for adults. When we ask company reps at cons, they say it's because it doesn't sell, but I think there may be a bit of a catch-22 loop going there: it doesn't sell because it isn't marketed because it doesn't sell because it isn't marketed...
How is this different than the superhero reader who has decided to move on? How many women were attracted by Sandman to comics only to find that there was… well… nothing to go to? It is a Catch-22, and this goes straight to the heart of the problem here: if you don’t have a market, you need to make one. Somehow. Locally. I spend all of the Alternative Press Expo looking for books that would entertain and appeal to the 44 year old comics lover: me. I found some, but I didn’t find a ton. But that is better than it used to be.

Why aren’t there a lot of adult comics? I’ve blogged before about the fact that I think comics excel at the large moments and fail at the small ones. Subtlety doesn’t play well in comics generally, which makes it less suited for many of the adult themes that you might explore, so it does seem easy to ignore certain stories for lack of ability to pull them off. (Like having a sophisticated script and the worst actors in the world at your disposal. At a certain point, don’t you just give up and go back to doing “Once Upon a Mattress”?)

Rushthatspeaks again:
I don't think any young fans (or at least not the majority of them) actually go around thinking "Aah, Bleach is the shit, but when I turn 21, I am never reading manga again." They may gradually succumb to societal pressure not to do such weird stuff, but I don't think any fandom actually thinks within itself their fandom is something that must be "grown out of." There will always be some people who grow out of it naturally, and some people who go on cosplaying into their 20s and 30s, no matter how embarrassing and awkward it is for everyone else at the anime convention.
Jason seems to think that the 1980’s audience for Alan Moore was willing to move from DC to From Hell in one fell swoop because they were hungry for more adult fare. I think that he’s giving us more credit than we deserve honestly. Some of us were hungry for more, but it was a long ugly discovery process. But I can say there it is a complete lack of modesty that drove the 1980’s comic convention goer. Those great unwashed masses in X-Men T-Shirts went to the conventions again and again because they were impervious to being awkward and embarrassed. They insisted that they were right, and slowly but surely, pop culture came back to them an apologized.

You could read that X-Men trade on the subway and have it look normal. We didn’t grow out of it. Not entirely.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

In Review Of: True Loves by Turner & Botma

Just finished off True Loves by Jason Turner and Manien Botma, a sweet, predictable alterna-love story that i found at APE at the New Reliable Press table.

I mean, c'mon, who could resist such a charming and beautiful little cover like the one on the left?

I'm reminded that my wife continues to rent Romantic Comedies, when both of us know the plotlines, we know the resolution, so why go rent another? Because, occasionally, just occasionally, they do one that gets the little details correct along the way to the predictable finish. Somehow the writer will slip in enough clever lines that actually have some emotional resonance or interesting details and you find yourself sucked into the movie despite knowing that these two actors are not going to spend the rest of their lives deliriously in love.

True Loves fits that description to a "T". I knew where the plot was going from about page 4, but that was ok. Jason and Manien were doing a detailed true-to-life-in-Vancouver-in-your-20's story, and they sold me on these characters. True, Eliza, Dirk, Zander and Herb all ring note-perfect for who they are, what their characters do, how True and Zander end up falling for each other.

I mean, c'mon, we know that True and Zander will end up together, the question really how they'll get there. Its from that that we start to appreciate the book. Jason and Manien do an excellent job juggling their small cast of characters and making them stay true to themselves.

I think that much of the pacing stems from Jason's weekly schedule while originally putting the strips out. There is a pacing to it that is subtly different than it might have been had it just been done for a book. It keeps Jason from extending some scenes, which in turn keeps the action a little punchier. I think that it works to his advantage. The art definitely gets looser as the book goes on. The first few pages of True at the clothing store and at dinner with Dirk are much cleaner and tighter than the final pages of Zander shaking cherry blossoms all over True, but the looseness works and almost never intrudes on the storytelling. My one quibble: that Zander looks almost a little too happy, almost a little too stoned through out the story.

And, of course, now i have to go get True Loves 2 so that i can see where they went with the story from there. Cause, yeah, now i like these people and now i want to see where they go from here. And isn't that the best part? We all want characters to fall a little in love with from stories like these.

Monday, November 01, 2010

In Review Of: Street Angel by Rugg & Maruca

Not only is it the coming of Jesse Sanchez, but it’s the coming of The Afrodisiac! How could I miss out on that? But I digress, I’ll back up to the sweet pink cover of the digest trade “Street Angel”.

Forget where I heard about “Street Angel”, but it was another review that was good enough that I ended up bugging my LCS Blue Moon Comics to order me a copy. What I got was a good read, but one that shows the tricky part of collecting the learning curve. Its steep and not entirely smooth and in one place it shows up, bumps and all.

The early stories are a black and white hoot, showing Rugg and Maruca running roughshod through enough comic book tropes that we instinctively know just what their stunted childhood was spent doing. The aforementioned street angel, Jesse Sanchez, is a fun character that doesn’t need to make any other sense that doing all the cool stuff that we can’t do in our world: being the world’s greatest homeless skateboarder and ninja destroyer while having a legless skateboarding buddy to boot. Its fun, totally goofy shit that looks like the old Wally Wood 1960’s Thunder Agents in places. Its also totally forgettable beyond the laughs.

But by the 4th story in the compilation, Down in the Dumpster Blues, writer Rugg is growing by leaps and bounds and a lot of the goofy ninja shit is gone, What we’re left with is some growing emotional honesty about jesse’s homelessness and lack of food and the embarrassment from a single stare for a classmate as Jesse stands in a dumpster. The interaction is both light and heavy in equal measure and crackles with low volume/high emotional resonance. Artist Rugg is also growing, relying less on solid blacks alone and pulling out the quill and brush to add a ton of texture and grey to a less black and white world.

It is my best guess that the artwork here was originally meant to be printed at regular comic size but has been reduced to digest size, which tightens up the linework, but can start to drop out smaller details as well. In this case, the scans seem solid, but there is a real lack of impact with it’s small size that I bet was in the originals. Dumpster blues would be something that I know that I would be impressed to have sitting on my drawing board at 10 x 15 size.

Hero Time, the direct follow up story continues the impressive artwork, as well as a far more cohesive story. The pacing is excellent, as are the pastiche’s of 1970’s marvel comics included in the story. Suddenly, Jesse and an older, wiser Afrodisiac are fighting an almost impossible battle, and we get a great little comic gem of a story.

Rugg's layouts and composition have improved greatly by this issue. Did i mention that learning curve earlier? Hero Time is far more mature in its storytelling and its aims, veering from the sardonic to the serious to the revelation that all the Afrodisiac's efforts to save the Earth have long since been lost by the next generation, a slightly bittersweet view of the aftermath of every other issue of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers circa 1972. Gerber as one of the few to try and address this with his classic Howard the Duck issue, "What do you do, the day after you saved the Universe?"

Of course, in the back are the covers, a great collection of Rugg doing lots of visual pastiche: Harold Grey, rob Liefeld, and Dan Clowes to name a few. And the obligatory sketchbook pages. But the meat? Its in issues #4 and #5 here. A fun read, and worth searching out or getting your local guy to order!

New Reviews Coming...

for a variety of books that i've picked up.

Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell

Street Angel by Jim Rugg & Brian Marluca

Umbrella Academy by Way & Ba

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Bombshells by Terry Dodson

and The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke!