Queer Alt Comix History

“When Maggie sees Hopey, I know exactly how she feels. This story I’m doing right now is Maggie trying to figure out what boundaries she has with Hopey now that they are both with different people, and she’s kind of like, ‘We used to play around, can we still play around? Are we not supposed to play around?’ … Maggie is getting frustrated, and I’m just learning all this stuff about what Maggie is thinking about their relationship while they are together.

– Jaime Hernandez, on his current Love & Rockets story

I was so happy to be able to host a panel on queer comics at San Diego Comic Con this year. When I first started going to Comic-Con, it was important to me to attend the annual Gays In Comics panel at the show. The larger queer fandom wasn’t really accessible to me at the time, either online or in person (though I had some wonderful friends I could talk comics with), and sitting in the big room full of other people ‘like me’ was exciting. I’d dreamed of being on that panel for years, until the interests of the folks running that panel and my own interests as a reader and critic diverged to the point that I stopped attending… which meant that hosting a smaller queer comix panel with four comics authors whom I respect immensely–Mariko Tamaki, Gilbert Hernandez, Jamie Hernandez, and Ed Luce–was pretty much that dream come true. Thanks to Julia from D&Q for thinking of me to moderate.

The wonderful Brigid Alverson has a thorough write-up of the panel over at ComicBookResources. I thought it went really well, and I was happy to see that on reading Brigid’s article my memory lived up to the actuality of it! There’s some great commentary there on the importance of queer comix, but also, queer comix as they exist within the continuum of ‘alternative’ comics. Alternative comics and the scene around them have a really checkered history when it comes to queer representation. I got into it a little at the beginning of the panel, but basically while the undergrounds and early alt comix were certainly transgressive, queer narratives tended to be pushed to the side. nostraightlinesThe excellent anthology and history book No Straight Lines, edited by Justin Hall, does a great job at drawing connections between important works and putting together an overview of the queer alt-comix scene in the 70s, 80s, and 90s for contemporary readers. I recommended it on panel, and I’ll recommend it again here. But yeah, it was awesome to have Jaime and Gilbert on the panel  just come right out and say “No one was doing this,” when talking about their roles as straight creators of queer characters in the alt comix scene. They added a lot of continuity to the discussion! Having two out-and-proud creators on panel was also wonderful, particularly as Ed and Mariko have entered the field relatively recently and later in their lives, and they brought some amazing insight to the panel. It was amazing, and I could’ve talked to all four of them for another hour at least.

So yeah, please go check out the article! And the work of all four wonderful creators!

My thanks to Brigid Alverson for transcribing so much of the panel and writing it up, and sharing it with the readership of CBR.

– Christopher

P.S.: I originally posted a draft of this, and then finished it about an hour later. It may still be the old version in the RSS feed, sorry about that!

The nuts and bolts of Gay and BL manga

“When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called gay manga would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

“But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators?”

– Gengoroh Tagame

My Brother's Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame.
My Brother’s Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame.

I’m so thrilled to see that the transcript from the TCAF panel on Gay Manga and BL manga has been posted at Deb Aoki’s MangaComicsManga. Thanks to Deb for hosting it, to Shaindle Minuk for the transcription, and Deb and Graham for the edits.

The actual panel title was “Gay Comics Art Japan”, and it talks about not just gay manga, not just BL, but gay identity as it’s expressed through art, and the identities of its creators. It is exactly what I hoped it would be when I helped put it together, and Graham Kolbeins (Massive), Leyla Aker (VIZ/SuBLime), Gengoroh Tagame, and especially host, translator, and panelist Anne Ishii, all did an incredible job. I’m so proud of them and grateful to them.

This is a wonderful look at many of the facets of homosexual desire as expressed through Japanese manga, and I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

– Christopher

Shifts and living history

One of the things that I mentioned on the Inkstuds podcast with David, Brandon, and Robin, is an idea that’s been rattling around in my head for a long while now, and that’s the concept of the comics industry (and occasionally the medium) going out of its way to ‘other’ the success of books that they don’t like, or don’t want to be representative of ‘their’ industry. (If you’re not familiar with the term Othering, btw, this is a pretty good description.) I want to dig into that idea a bit more, because I think we’ve maybe just witnessed a real shift in the way the industry is able to deal with those successes.

So, basically, my theory goes that the manga boom in the late 90s sort of blew up every single thing that the industry thought about comics, and who the audience is for comics, and what comics can do. I’ve been writing about comics on and off since about 96-97, and I’ve been writing not only about the potential for comics, but then the realization of comics. It was a time of really quick change, a lot of it good change, sparked mostly by $10 trade paperbacks of Sailor Moon (big-ups to Tokyopop). The success of those books and the ones that followed like Card Captor Sakura, Peach Girl, Fruits Basket, and so many more, were the proof to the theories that comics could be for everyone, for women and for girls especially, and could sell in numbers that were comparable to how they sold overseas. Then Viz launched Shonen Jump, Random House launched the Del Rey Manga line (now Kodansha), Hachette launched Yen Press. The comics came out, the comics sold well, the comics brought in new audiences.  Sales exploded, sales leveled, sales crashed, sales leveled again, and just this year everyone’s saying that sales are up a little once more. Not just for girls and women, but across the board. This is all stuff that actually happened, and you can go back and look it up if you don’t want to take my word for it.

So how did the rest of the comics industry react to this sea-change? In the pettiest way possible of course, by othering the success of that material as much as they could. “Manga aren’t comics,” went the discussion. They were, and are in many ways, treated as something else. The success that they had, the massive success that they continue to have, doesn’t ‘count’. All those sales and new readers were just ‘a fad’, and not worthy of interest, respect, or comparison to real comics. It was the one thing that superhero-buying-snobs and art-comics-touting-snobs could agree on (with the exception of Dirk Deppey at TCJ, bless him): This shit just isn’t comics, real comics, therefore we don’t have to engage it. You can see traces of this attitude, in, for example, The New York Times Best Sellers list for comics, which split manga out into its own category after pressure from non-manga publishers, because the lists woulda been manga-dominated every week. Then the manga boom and manga bust and leveling could all happen off to the side, and no one would have to encounter scary ideas like “women make comics” and “women read comics” and “women buy comics” and they could keep the now-more-narrowly-defined comics industry the exact shape that they wanted to, albeit a little smaller and a little sadder for the exclusion.

(Side note: Sadder still than the people who insist(ed) that manga aren’t and can’t be comics are the poor brainwashed weebs who insist that comics can’t be manga. It’s a dumb argument. If comics is a language then manga is at most a dialect, at least slang, not a different language entirely.)

(Side note 2: At least alt-comix finally embraced manga to a degree in the mid 2000s. Although the gender split among creators of manga translated into English and published by alt-manga publishers is about 90% men at this point, which is not really very good!)

So, the comics industry was able to successfully ignore the massive success and new audiences that the manga publishers brought with them. But you know who didn’t? Kids publishers. Scholastic Graphix. Papercutz. Abrams. First Second. Kids Can Press. Even Yen Press’ arm at Hachette. They saw that with the right conditions, you could get someone other than males aged 18-49 to read comics, and have it be incredibly successful. These publishers paid attention and put together imprints to publish original work specifically for the audiences that the comics mainstream insisted didn’t exist: Kids, girls especially, tweens and teens. And the books sold well. Won new audiences. A whole industry of “original graphic-novel” based creation sprung up that simply did not exist before the success of manga, the success of Bone at Graphix, of Twlight: The Manga at Hachette, Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys graphic novels, Binky the Space Cat, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, American Born Chinese. Or Smile, by Raina Telgemeier. Smile, which sat on the bestseller list for a year and was largely disregarded by the comics industry. Incredible bestsellers, many with outside-of-comics media attention, largely ignored, deliberately ignored. Because their success didn’t fit the paradigm. They weren’t comics. They were ‘for kids’.

(Side Note 3: Still heard the old saw that ‘Kids Comics Don’t Sell’ at Comic-Con this year from a larger pub.)

“Those aren’t real comics, aren’t real graphic novels,” went the refrain around 2010, 2011. “They’re for kids. They lack sophistication, they lack nuance, they’re babyish.” So you can ignore the massive success of Bone and Smile and 66,000 copies of Twlight: The Manga sold on release week, or a 190,000 copy print run on Papercutz’ Lego: Ninjago graphic novel, because the books, if kids are reading them, can’t possibly be any good. Because the books in a publisher’s line are all the same trim size, there’s no art to them. Because they sell well, there’s no art to them. Regardless of who is creating them or under what circumstance. It’s a garbage argument that, once spelled out here becomes obvious and sad, but it’s still an argument that gets made all the time, with every book release.  And we can successfully other, again, the success of books aimed at anyone who isn’t a male aged 18-49, and the industry puts even tighter blinkers on and it gets a little smaller, and a little sadder still.

(Side note 4: Raina Telgemeier wasn’t considered ‘notable’ enough by Comic-Con to be a Special Guest at Comic-Con in 2014–even though SMILE and DRAMA had topped the NYT Best Seller lists for more than a year each, at that point. They realized the error of their ways this year and she was a special guest for 2015.)

Speaking of 2015… here we are. The past 20 years have been specifically depressing when it comes to how the comics industry, particularly what we think of as ‘mainstream’ comics and ‘art-comics’, have regarded the massive changes that have been happening in the larger medium of comics and graphic novels, and their perception and place in North America. It’s not all bad, there are some bright spots at traditional comics publishers when it comes to representation, diversity, and audience… but I think it’s mostly bad. But I also think that this year, 2015, is gonna pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the old way of thinking, because the ‘othered’ books, and the audiences for those books, and the creators of those books, are dominating any real discussion of the medium AND the industry, and the folks who haven’t gotten with the program look foolish as hell.

The optimism started for me earlier this year. The Tamaki’s This One Summer co-published by Groundwood and First Second Books took home the Printz Award and the Caldecott Award (among many other honours), a very big deal. Only the second time a graphic novel and won the Printz and the first time for the Caldecott. These were good, solid wins, that caused delightful controversy in library circles. Brought a smile to my face.

Last month Scholastic Graphix sent out a seemingly innocuous note that was actually a very loud statement: Congratulations to Raina Telgemeier for Smile being on the NYT Bestseller list for three straight years–oh and she’s also got the top four spots on the list simultaneously as well.

raina_three

It was, as the kids say, shots fired. Scholastic e-mailed this graphic to the press of the entire comics industry, and they wanted to say something very clear: “This isn’t a flash in the pan, this isn’t ‘just’ kids books, this is a writer-artist who has made a major achievement, who has won a huge audience and continues to win new audiences every single week, with every single book she makes. Pay attention.”

Flash back to a little over a week ago: This is the first year that Marvel Comics as a Publisher did not win any Will Eisner Awards for excellence in comics, and none of the creators who won individual awards like penciller, writer, inker, colourist (awards that were basically invented to recognize achievements by creators working on assembly-line big-two superhero books) had any substantial Marvel comics work this year. DC Comics’ recognition came for J.H. Williams III’s work on Sandman: Overture and a month’s worth of Darwyn Cooke variant covers, which is a very small showing for them. You know who did take home Eisners though? A lot of women, a lot of folks working on books with large or primary female audiences, and young audiences too. Emily Carroll, Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson, Shannon Watters & Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson & Brooke A Allen of Lumberjanes, Ariel Cohn & Aron Nels Steinke, Cece Bell, Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki, Gene Yang, Raina Telgemeier, Fiona Staples, they took home Eisners this year. 

The 2015 Eisner winner list doesn’t look like other years, and even though the list has been trending in this direction for a few years, it was surprising to me. I smiled pretty hard at that one. The Eisner Awards are voted on by professionals working in the comics industry, and it’s pretty clear from the results that the professionals working in the comics industry AND the books that they think best represent the industry to the outside world have changed dramatically from even five years ago, to be considerably broader, and considerably more diverse.

(Side Note 5: I want to be clear: I specifically do not intend to denigrate the work of anyone nominated for an Eisner this year who didn’t win, either in my personal appreciation of their work or the larger recognition of their work. It’s intended to illustrate a larger shift in how Eisner voters are approaching the awards, and who the voters now are. Just needs to be said.)

I’ve been thinking about those Eisner wins for the last week, about Raina’s success, and about some great, important conversations I had at Comic-Con, and I can’t help but grin about it. Things aren’t just changing; things have changed. I think very much for the better. We are at a point where the success of traditionally ‘othered’ books and authors is so large, so in-everyone’s-face, and so displacing of traditional comics ‘successes’, that you simply can’t reduce the size of the industry enough, or tighten the blinders enough. You can’t other what has become the majority.

What finally prompted me to talk about this, to expand a couple of short sentences in the podcast into a blog post was actually this week’s New York Times Best Seller list for comics. The softcover list features female creators as 9 of the top 10 books (with a very women-audiences-friendly holdout by lovely male creators). The folks on my Twitter timeline had a nice little celebration when that list was released, and I’m really happy for them. Well, not really ‘them,’ actually. But us. All of us, including the superhero pubs and the art-comix pubs and even the sour fans and weebs; the industry is markedly, demonstrably better for more people right now than it has been in years, because we can produce successful books for women and men, for children, tweens, teens, and adults, and those books can sell, and we can celebrate our successes together, if we want to. We get more, different, successful comics. That’s a win.

The NYT list and the Eisners and basically every single benchmark we have in this industry are flawed, often badly flawed, but we can take all of these things together and pull out some very clear and important trends: We as an industry have made enormous steps in the last 20 years to not deliberately exclude women and young people from the comics medium, and to actively celebrate their accomplishments. That doesn’t mean that everyone is now suddenly enfranchised, or that the industry is done deliberately excluding audiences (not to mention creators, not to mention people working in the publishing industry), but real progress has been made.

Let’s recognize it. Let’s celebrate it. Most importantly, let’s keep it going, and keep pushing for positive, inclusive change.

– Christopher

 

 

Podcasts is a weird word. Is it specifically tied to the iPod? Anyway.

ITEM! I just saw this tumblr post by Kelly Sue Deconnick, someone I’ve known a real long time now, imploring a fan to pre-order one of her upcoming books:

If you’re interested in picking [Pretty Deadly] up, PLEASE PRE-ORDER. After this long of a delay, I guarantee it’ll be under-ordered. That’s on me, but if you want it, I want you to be able to get your hands on it. Pre-order, pleeeeeaaase.  – Kelly Sue

Kelly Sue was right there at the ‘dawn’ of the pre-order movement on the Warren Ellis forum (referenced here), and she knows the importance of that sort of direct customer engagement. I think this is a great example of the importance of pre-ordering, because by all accounts Kelly Sue is a creator who’s “Made It”, who has a dedicated fan base, but is still encouraging fans to take an agressive, forward-looking position when it comes to getting her comics. If Kelly Sue thinks it’s important, then it’s important, and my advice to all creators is to start trying to really mobilize your fanbases.

Also of note? This very elaborate Greg Pak pre-order campaign for his upcoming series from Dark Horse, entitled Kingsway West.

272559-fist-of-the-north-star

ITEM! I was a guest on Robin McConnell’s INKSTUDS podcast alongside the talented David Brothers and Brandon Graham, and it just went live. We talk for nearly 2 hours on this one, and I actually listened to it and I think, you know, I think it’s pretty good. David’s an incredibly smart guy, and I think he’s one of the people that brings out the best in my own commentary on the comics industry; I was super-happy to spend an hour chatting with him (Robin and Brandon were great too, don’t get me wrong). We recorded this about a month ago, and it actually got me thinking, and thinking, and I’ve actually been writing here at the blog since then. Maybe I’ll keep it up? Anyway.

BestWorstMangaPanel_SDCC2015
LtoR: Eva Volin, Brigid Alverson, Chris Butcher, Deb Aoki, David Brothers.

ITEM! I just got back from San Diego and had a really good time. I was on a record six (6!) panels this year as a participant or moderator, and it looks like all of the info for one of the panels is now online. I got to join Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, David Brothers, and Eva Volin on The Best and Worst Manga 2015 for the fourth year running. I had a great time. :)

You can see all of our pics, slides, etc., at Deb Aoki’s Manga Comics Manga: http://mangacomicsmanga.com/sdcc-2015-best-and-worst-manga-of-2015/

…and Jamie Coville has the complete audio of the panel over at his website, TheComicBooks.com: http://www.thecomicbooks.com/audio.html#SanDiego2015

 

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print!

– Christopher

Breaking into Comics [Conventions]

I know it sounds fake, but I’m legitimately humbled when I’m reading one of the various comic book sites on the internet, and I come across someone being nice about TCAF, the comics festival that I founded. We just had our 10th festival in May, and it went well I think, and we’re going to keep getting better and better every year. We’ve already started planning for 2016 (May 14-15 in case you’re marking things off on your calendar).

Twice in the last week I’ve followed a link about conventions and running conventions, and found TCAF cited as a show to aspire to. I can’t tell you how proud this makes me, as not only do we all work really hard on TCAF, but we actually do want to have a positive, transformative effect on the industry. It’s validating to hear from smart folks that we’re worth emulating, and it encourages us to try even harder.

The first link is this blog post by Dave Merrill, an occasional customer of The Beguiling and U.S. transplant who has been involved with convention running for almost 20 years, mostly on the anime and manga fan-con side of things. Dave got an email question about best practices for starting a new show, and apparently he wrote a ton, and then fashioned the whole thing into a blog post for us to enjoy.

http://d-merrill.blogspot.ca/2015/06/advice-to-young-fan-event.html?m=1

I think this article is full of solid, measured, practical advice that I’d probably give myself. It’s also really kind to TCAF, which was unexpected but appreciated. But yeah, plan for your first event to be SMALL, run a successful event that everyone enjoys, rather than going too big and risking a negative attendee experience. Maybe the only other advice I’d offer is to try and get some experience in working at or for a convention, if at all possible. Volunteering, that sort of thing. Being on the other side of the attendee experience, even a little, is a huge help.

tumblr_npe3b4iDFM1u4tp9ro1_500The other article I came across that was unexpectedly kind to TCAF is this preview of the first Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) Festival that Tom Spurgeon, Vijaya Iyer, Jeff Smith, and company are putting together. I think they’ve got a fantastic model and some incredible institutional support in Columbus, and so I happily clicked through to see what they had to say:

http://www.newsarama.com/24862-jeff-smith-hopes-to-make-columbus-ohio-a-comic-book-destination-with-new-convention.html

I’m super excited about this show, even though Spurgeon and Smith are doing their best in that interview to try to manage expectations. Probably for the best. Like I said up top, starting small, running a solid and well-received event, and growing, is the best way to go forward, and I’m really glad to hear that CXC is progressing in that direction. Seriously, go read that interview and tell me that show doesn’t sound awesome.

Anyway, both of these articles are lovely and complimentary, but I’m happy to link them just because they’re full of great advice about con-running, and the ideologies behind putting on a good show. As I said on Twitter a little while ago, it’s not hard to look at the industry and see that things need fixing, and comic cons are a good place for me to exert some influence. I’m really honoured, and humbled when we get feedback like this, that we are making a difference.

– Chris

 

New. Now. Next.

Hey comics fans! Are you excited for 2016 yet? How about this winter? This fall?  Probably, because between today’s Image Expo, this week’s Fall/Winter reveal by Alternative Comics, and Tuesday’s ‘reveal’ of 45 outta 60 new Marvel titles, it’s pretty clear that the discourse is focused squarely on ‘things to come’ in the comics biz–and I think that’s actually a huge, huge problem that no one is talking about.

A little bit of history: Once upon a time, in the late 90s and early aughts, I ran a site called Previews Review, where I would go through the Previews catalogue and pick the stuff that I thought was best, occasionally with my pals James and Scott joining me for it. I did this in the hopes of imploring the reader (you) to think about their buying decisions 2-3 months in advance, so that you (the reader) would go to your local comic book shop and ask them to order those books in. Basically, during this time period and following the Valiant/Image busts of the mid 90s, comic book retailers were even more conservative and hewed even more closely to ordering Marvel & DC exclusively than they do now. Demanding pre-orders wasn’t just a tool in the toolbox for creators and small pubs working outside of the big two, it was a necessity if they wanted their books ordered at all! I became very focused (along with lots of other industry types) on the books that were on the shelves 2, 3, 4 months away. Books, companies, whole careers eventually thrived because they could effectively work this system of direct fan involvement into influencing overall retailer orders, particularly some smart retailers who could see which way the wind was blowing (Tokyopop and Viz had just started blowing up in bookstores, and the audience for comics overall was diversifying).

Of course, if you’re imploring customers to pre-order their purchases months in advance, then the sales component is attached to that advance press, and the system works! The ‘sale’ is made and you just maintain that forward-looking focus. But during my professional comics career I’ve seen that change though, from companies putting their press-weight behind books coming out that week or month, shifting it to the Previews catalogue 2 months ahead, all the way to this week’s Image/Marvel/Alternative Comics type announcements looking 6 months out or more.  I can tell you, the idea of your average fan knowing what was going to happen in their superhero universe after a big event crossover? It didn’t happen, until perhaps the last issue of that crossover was in stores. It’s something that was almost non-existent back in the 90s, and entirely commonplace today.

I think for further proof of this, you can look at comics retailers bitching that the Previews catalogue has gotten less useful as it’s moved from being a retailer tool to a reader tool. I’m on board in some cases–I think Image’s recent decision to pull solicitation text out of the catalogue almost entirely is a problem. Image has pulled solicit text and promotion from the catalogue for most of their titles, and the catalogue is the time at which retailers are actually ordering comic books, in favour of disseminating information online and through fan sites. It’s a bad move, giving retailers with an order form in front of them less information. Marvel and DC are no better, with their solicitations of projects with the ostensible creators of those projects “To Be Determined.” A title announced before there’s a story, a product offered before there’s anyone to make it.

(And I do want to be clear, there were other factors that led to this forward-looking change. First, the comics-related movies shifted focus forward a little, as that industry influenced (and continues to influence) publishing and creative decisions for many projects. Perhaps the largest though is the integration of the comics industry with the book market, which works between 6 months and 18 months in advance. The success of comics outside of traditional comics venues really did cause publishers to need to work and schedule further in advance in many cases. But if I had to pin it to one thing, it would be the discourse around looking at the Previews catalogue and beyond, and the explosion of fan-sites and blogs at that time all toeing the party line regarding preorders really kickstarting the whole thing, in my humble opinion.)

I think where this really became a problem is when the act of moving that ‘comics conversation’ ever-forward was divorced from the act of consumers being aggressively encouraged to pre-order that material. We’re now getting announcements, really BIG announcements with tons of press, for titles and books that we won’t even be able to order for months, let alone actually purchase and put into our hands. Anecdotally, we’re getting customers coming into the store on the reg asking for a book to be added to their pull-list before it’s in the catalogue, thanks to online announcements. We’re happy to try to accommodate those requests, but All-Star Wonder Woman has been sitting on one poor fella’s list for almost two years now, highlighting at least one problem with the advance hype cycle.

At the Image Expo today, more than 20 new projects with the publisher were announced–some of them sound neat, some of them do nothing for me, but the earliest any of them starts seems to be late this fall. Meanwhile, at the Image Expo that happened about a year ago today, a great new project was announced that is only just now being offered in the catalogue, for release in September. SO far as I can tell it wasn’t mentioned at Image’s big expo at all today, despite it still effectively being an unreleased book, but one that could certainly use a the strong promotion that event provides, since now is the time for retailers to actually buy it. Don’t you think it’s profoundly weird that the biggest bit of press a book might get is six months, 12 months, or more, before the book is a real thing? I do.  But you look around, and that’s where the discussion, where the conversation in comics is at.

It’s weird.

I also wanna talk about reviews a little. About criticism, and even about those conversations we have about comics. I was chatting with a publishing rep friend a little while back, and he was absolutely despairing a situation I’ve been hearing a lot lately: “I can’t get anyone to talk about the books I publish. ” I empathise, I really do, because I just came out of a marketing job where that was my exact job. I like to think I did a pretty good job of it, but it was also a little bit easier because the video game licenses of the game books and the educational content of the manga classics had built-in audiences to pitch to–pitching an original I.P. is infinitely harder (as I learned). And the thing about this publishing rep friend of mine? He has a lot of good books! Or at least as good as most of the other stuff on the stands, the books that are getting talked about. Tweeted about. Bought. And they feel like they can’t get a shake because the conversation is still about Nth generation superhero universe reboots, and Image comics. And they can’t even be mad at Image, because they fought tooth and nail for their spot at the table. So? Just despair, because they don’t know what to do. I don’t think anyone knows what to do. And I think that the disparity and distance between a project’s hype and a project’s availability, I think it hurts smaller publishers, publishers with more diverse lines, willing to take bigger risks, the most. The lack of good critics actually talking about (and creating a conversation around) good comics that are actually available is having a pretty profound impact on the industry.

These aren’t isolated issues either. I’ve heard significant complaints about the two publishers that I think are doing the absolute best job at promoting their lines of books, from creators unhappy with their promotion and marketing, or their sales, or the attention they’ve been given. I’ve met creators perfectly happy with publishers that I feel do a lousy job of promoting them. I’ve met all sorts of creators in between. There’s no guarantee that, even when you CAN manage to create a hype cycle around a work AND a critical discussion around that works WHILE the books are available for sale, that it’s going to make everybody happy. But I can tell you that in general, it isn’t happening, and no one is quite sure exactly what to do.

I’m not in a position to tell anyone what to do, but I can take a moment to at least point out the fundamental disconnect that I’ve been writing about here today.

There are more comics and graphic novels being released every week, right now, in North America than quite possibly ever before. Certainly within my lifetime. There are rumblings about the stresses that this is putting on the industry, about the low sales of many projects, the even lower wages, the comics (and publishers!) that are nothing more than Hollywood-bait-get-rich-quick schemes, and the aging retail base making it difficult for certain types of comics to make it into stores.  But I think if you step back and look at the situation, it’s not hard to see that the divorce of the hype and publicity cycle from the sales cycle, and the lack of a strong and trusted critical and curatorial voice coinciding with both, are really hurting comics more than they’re helping. Especially good comics, diverse comics, and the kinds of comics I want to read and to find success.

– Christopher

 

Where’s Chris: Comic-Con Edition!

In case you forgot what I looked like.
In case you forgot what I looked like.

Hello! I am happy to say that I will once again be attending Comic-Con International: San Diego this year. I’ll mostly be stationed at the Drawn & Quarterly Booth, #1629, as the good folks there have given my erstwhile employer The Beguiling a small corner from which to sell a gorgeous array of original comics artwork. I’ll be helping Peter out there on and off through all five days of the show. If you want to say hello that’s not a bad place to look for me. You can also tweet me @comics212 to see what’s up.

I’m also happy to say that I have a very full panel and programming schedule this year, as I’ll be participating in or moderating 5 different programs at the big show. Every panel is very different from the other too, which is great. It’ll be a busy show. Here’s a quick run-down:

Friday, July 10th

Hopey, Julio, Skim, Oafs, and beyond,
Friday, 7/10/15, 1:00p.m. – 2:00p.m., Room: 28DE 

Emerging from the undergrounds and into the alt-comix of the 1980s, queer characters and voices have always been loud and proud in alternative and indie comics. Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez were at the forefront of queer characters’ visibility with their groundbreaking and award-winning comic book series LOVE AND ROCKETS, featuring brilliant characters like Hopey, Maggie, Israel, and Julio. Contemporary authors Mariko Tamaki and Ed Luce have contributed new queer icons in their books SKIM and WUVABLE OAF. Join all four creators and moderator Christopher Butcher (Comics212.net, Toronto Comic Arts Festival) for a discussion of the history of queer character visibility in alt and indie comics.

How to Survive Conventions as an Indie Creator
Friday, 7/10/15, 8:30p.m. – 9:30p.m. Room: 8

Calling all artists, small presses, and makers: Are you interested in or currently touring comics and pop culture conventions? Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) moderates a panel of experienced exhibitors Daniel Davis (Steam Crow, Booth Bastards), Shing Yin Khor (Sawdust Press), Paul Roman Martinez (The 19XX), and Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows (The Devastator) to discuss making a full convention calendar work alongside a heavy production calendar. They’ll also answer questions raised by the Comics Beat + The Devastator 2014 Convention Survey –– what should creators expect from conventions and how can we make the most of them?

Saturday, July 11th

Kids Comics Summit
Saturday, 7/11/15, 11:00am – 12:00pm. San Diego Central Public Library – Shelley Special Events Suite

What’s the state of the children’s comics industry?  Publishers talk about their publishing programs; discussing how kids comics have changed in the past decade and how they’ll change more in the decade to come. A conversation with Alex Segura (Archie Comics), Filip Sablik (Boom), Kuo-Yu Liang (Diamond), Gina Gagliano (First Second), Sven Larsen (Papercutz), and David Saylor (Scholastic). Moderated by Christopher Butcher (Toronto Comics Art Festival).

Best and Worst Manga of 2015
Saturday, 7/11/15, 7:00p.m. – 8:00p.m., Room: 23ABC

I don’t have the official description for this one, but myself, Brigid Alverson,  David Brothers, Eva Volin, and moderator Deb Aoki are once again participating in an hour of chaotic fun, as we run down our choices for some of the best and worst manga of the year. It’s gonna be fun, and it’s always a packed house!

Sunday, July 12th

Nickelodeon Returns to Comics!
Sunday, 7/12/15, 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Room 8

Eric Esquivel (writer, Sanjay & Craig), Sam Spina (artist, Sanjay & Craig) and Jim Salicrup (editor-in-chief of Papercutz) plus special guests give you an inside look at how Nickelodeon’s hit properties Sanjay & Craig, Breadwinners and Harvey Beaks are being turned into Papercutz Graphic Novels. Featuring the editors, writers and artists who make comics out of these awesome shows! Moderated by Christopher Butcher (The Beguiling, Toronto Comic Arts Festival).

And that’s it for now… I think. I’m always terrified that I’ve agreed to be on a panel and then forgotten about it completely. Heh. Anyway, I really am looking forward to Comic-Con again this year, as even the years where I have a miserable time are also years where amazing things happen. It’s a neat show that way.

Cheers,

– Christopher

The first TCAF Announcements have gone up…!

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I’m happy to say that the first round of TCAF announcements have gone up, including the preview of our first 2015 Poster by Charles Burns, and the announcement of Featured Guests including Burns, Gurihiru, Eleanor Davis, Lucy Knisley, Scott McCloud, Barbara Stok, Jillian Tamaki, and Chip Zdarsky. It’s going to be a spectacular year for the show, with some really amazing stuff planned. I’ll make sure to ping here with announcements as they’re made, but feel free to add the TCAF site and social media to your various feeds 😉

http://torontocomics.com/news/

Twitter: @Torontocomics
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TorontoComics
Tumblr: http://torontocomics.tumblr.com/

– Christopher

 

 

Distance

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The distance between North America and Japan is so huge, sometimes. This cover was dropped into my inbox today because I’m on Viz’s press list, and this is a cool-looking book, sure, but the description–it’s an adaptation of Richard III, sorta, by a very talented shoujo manga-ka named Aya Kanno–and the image immediately create a wonderful dissonance.

It’s unabashedly a queer image, two men intertwined, slightly sexual, but I think really it’s more that it’s not afraid to read as a little queer, or a little sexual, than that it’s aggressively either of those things. Shakespeare was all kinds of queer, if you squinted especially, but as a contemporary portrayal this is so wonderfully unique.

Moreover, we just don’t see comic covers like this in North America. We don’t. In our supposedly accepting, permissive society, homosexuality, or queer masculinity, is still so forbidden. This isn’t a strictly queer, or strictly sexual work. This is mainstream comics (in Japan at least), a literary adaptation. Meanwhile an original work with original characters that pushes the boundaries? People freak out. The Walking Dead gay kiss is the most recent example of that.

In Japan, which is nominally considered a ‘repressive’ or ‘restrained’ society, to have an image like this adorn a very popular manga from a highly regarded manga-ka, the latest in her series of work exploring the politics of gender, sex, and sexuality? Totes fine.

Anyway, I love this artwork, I love the idea behind it too. I am frequently glad for manga (and works in translation in general) for reminding me that the world is big and has different ideas in it than I might see every day. I would’ve liked to have compressed this down to 140 characters for Twitter, since it’s not that big a thought, but, here we are.

– Christopher

 

 

Low Art

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One of the ‘things’ we ‘did’ in Paris (I went to Paris, btw) was go to the Pompidou Centre, because it was recommended and in the guidebooks and it’s a neat building and Andrew and I like going to art galleries. They only had 1 of their 2 galleries open, which meant that we got to see only the most recent bits of modern art (1980s onwards) and the Jeff Koons retrospective, toured there from the Whitney in New York.

We took in the Koons retrospective first; Andrew didn’t really know much about Koons or the controversy surrounding him, and I’d heard enough to greet the entire thing somewhat suspiciously, but with as open a mind as I could muster.

Having just read this excoriation of Koons and this show published in The New York Times last year (good read, check it out), I think my opinion now is the same as when I walked out of the retrospective;Jeff Koons makes pretty delightful work. To explain further: he doesn’t seem to have very much to say, but he’s really interested in saying it in a big way that tries to delight onlookers. This has made him enormously wealthy and famous.

I know that in certain circles, calling it art intended to do no more than delight is a savage criticism, but I wonder if those folks have visited the permanent collection of the Pompidou Centre, not the dadists and surrealists, but the 1980s and beyond stuff? It’s dreary as fuck. It’s art that’s more complex, thoughtful, and even occasionally illuminating, but it’s also generally terribly dull, none of its conceptual nautre benefiting in any way from being realized in a museum (hat tip to Andrew for that observation). Gallery after gallery, so little of the work was playful, or fun, instead exclusively reflecting the darkest parts of the dark decades since the 70s, drawing connections between darknesses, moments of levity often coming only through depravity. It’s impossible not to view it as a counterpoint to Koons’ work from the same period, galleries upon galleries of aggressive and often political work, set against Koons’ outsized tchochkes, toys, and relics. It certainly made a statement.

I was lucky enough to visit an installation at The National Gallery of Canada last year, itself complex, thoughtful, illuminating, and dreary, that was excellent. It’s called …from the Transit Bar, by Vera Frenkel, link here. A functioning dive bar (with alcohol) (I had a bourbon), a working piano, and interviews with various people who’d had to leave their homes for various reasons, played on CRT monitors and TVs around the room. Newspapers in various languages printed, conversations in languages you couldn’t understand, ominously dark, foreboding, and all of it illuminating an experience and a feeling and many, many ideas. A place that you didn’t really like, and you stayed just long enough to figure out where to go next. The remnants of violence everywhere. Powerful stuff. Produced in 1992, roughly the median of the Pompidou collection artworks, this had a similar tone and feeling but was considerably more successful, and successful at imparting ideas about security, about travel, about borders and languages than anything I saw in the Pompidou collection… in particular the many works trying to do just that.

So, yeah, it was very interesting to me to come out of the Koons exhibit, which I’d been told I’d hate (because he’s a shallow, horrible man, and because his work is so thin of premise you could shave with it) and feel kind of elated, a little giddy at it. I kind of want a metal balloon dog for my shelf, or maybe one of those shiny Popeye’s. To then be confronted with reams and reams of work imbued with meaning that were frankly boring and said little that wasn’t painfully obvious, well, shit, I’ll take the reproduction of the 12 foot Hercules with the glass sphere, please.

So, here’s the thesis, at the end instead of the beginning since this is a bit freeform: I think society is in a tough place, and security and comfort are universal needs. We’re being offered security, in the west, primarily through consumerism, and Koons has been aware of that for a long time. Rather than being the angry artist painting Ronald McDonald with a gun and a money bag robbing America, he’s the one enshrining him as the head of our ideals in shiny steel. That’s a repugnant image for many, particularly in the art world, but it’s no less valid a realization of how society views and uses consumerism, and frankly, it’s delightful to look at.

I had a fun time at the Koons exhibit. I left the Pompidou Centre exhausted. Go see the show if you can, it’s worth seeing. Keep an open mind, and a skeptical eye, and skip the gift shop because they don’t have little metal balloon dogs or shiny Popeyes.

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– Chris

P.S.: It’s very difficult for me not to read any sprawling criticism of ‘low art’ see it as a criticism of comics, the lowest of low art and the most commercially compromised art there is, generally. I would’ve introduced this idea into the above, but I haven’t really thoroughly interrogated it yet, so here it is as a postscript.

 

Never Safe For Work