Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Is It Really A Bomb If It Goes Off And No One Knows It?

If the tastes change, can we all start to complain that the general public likes our little college indy band? Retorically, I feel like that is a little of what Frank Santoro is lamenting in his Comics Comics column. Frank riffs on how the general public has taken over what used to be our little corner of the world and, a little annoyingly, moved on without us. And that's OK.

A few points that he makes along the way:
So, I thought I’d riff a little bit on what I think Evan is getting at – because I definitely remember when the L ’n R Sketchbook came out and how big of a deal it was for many of us at the time
Really? Perhaps it was in your comic shop at the time. I was reading Love and Rockets from issue #5, and when the sketchbook came it, it was like, "Cool, an artbook with Jamie's work." I don't know why it would have been seen as a "minor bombshell", but clearly both Frank and Evan Dorkin saw it at the time, so it just goes to show how different the reaction was. But it makes the point that, given the scarcity of the material back in the day, that each new work that WASN'T superheroes was a revelation, something to be held up and examined by the light from all angles. There was that little out there.

(edit: It has been pointed out by Evan Dorkin, who originally started this chain of thoughts that I was trying to be totally snarky, which points out that tone is damn hard on the internet sometimes. I meant to come off as a bit surprised by the comment, which i was. No nastiness intended in this post. In general, I was quite in agreement with Frank's original thoughts on his post.)

And now... well, now there isn't. Now we've become what we always wanted: practically mainstream, and respectable. Wow, who would have thunk it? We're in book stores, in sometimes big numbers, we have entire conventions that feature monographs and graphic novels and objects d' art like MOCCA and APE, we get reviewed in legitimate publications like the NY Times book review and even win Pulitzers.

And we're so large that there is no longer the one "Book of the Show" that everyone in talking about. Which is great. It does mean that our audience is so fractured that there can no longer be consensus within the community, something else that Frank brings up:
It was a bitter pill to swallow when I had to “sell” Love and Rockets to a new reader when I worked at a comics shop. It is hard to remember a time when I thought Los Bros.’ star would dim in the hearts of new fans. But I would just do just my best Bill Boichel impression and would explain that it was like The Beatles, insomuch as they changed everything. “Well, I never liked The Beatles,” said the twenty-year-old college sophomore. And as a retailer or a guy working for a retailer, what am I supposed to say to that?
and its a good analogy, given that you could make the case that The Beatles kinda changed everything within rock and roll, fracturing the audience so much that it was no longer easy to say which kind of rock and roll you liked.

But if you take it back to 1990, you had a real dearth of work. There was so little out there. And now its easy to have a book shelf full of complex, fascinating work that you can show off. Remember, as a retailer you can work with what the person likes to introduce them to all sorts of things. Every record store owner had a kid who loved Led Zeppelin who eventually got turned on to Willie Dixon because they wanted to work their way back to the roots. All Star Superman can lead a reader back to Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo.

Finally there are roots and levels of strata to dig down to. Prior to this there was nothing. Nothing at all. To paraphrase Frank Miller, "Everyone wanted to believe that we had this long tradition to talk about, when all we had behind us was 50 years of shit." The Hooded Utilitarian had a long post about a lost Toth Enemy Ace story that made me realize that while i loved Toth's design sense, the vast majority of stories that Toth had to illustrate were utter dreck. Its not's Toth's fault that he was an artist with a capital "A". He never had an audience that would have read his work next to Asterios and Big Numbers and Sacco and Tomine, and now he would have. Its a shame. I would have killed to have Alex Toth work on mature material worthy of his talent level!
I feel like I meet people who are new comics readers all the time – and when I ask them what they like, they invariably say, in one form or another, “all kinds of things.” They like Sin City and they like Ghost World. They like Naruto and they like Barefoot Gen.
And its that short of range of material that, hopefully, can keep things going for graphic novels: that there is a degree of love for the artform and all the different types of things that it can present. And while we can never put the worms back in the can, never re-piece together our audience like it was in the old days, we'll still have our memories of seeing R.E.M. with about 10 other people in a coffee shop.

Ah the good ol' bad days. Long may they be gone. (edited to add: Bad in that it was superheroes and more superheroes and very few avenues besides the direct market, which was flourishing in the period before the B & W collapse put some many shops under. While no one is happy with current economic climate, i.e. Colleen's post in The Hill that i commented on recently, certainly we can agree that comics are finally no longer just "Pow" and "Bam" and "comics aren't just for kids, Batman!" in the local paper anymore.)

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