Because Fantagraphics’ FLOG RSS feed is kinda broken, I see the same blog posts by them 5-10 times in my feed reader. Because I saw this post by Eric Reynolds 5-10 times, I finally thought enough about it to post. Essentially, Eric found an interview with Chris Oliveros from 1996 that was about periodicals versus graphic novel collections. Here’s a quick quote:
Q: Do you think it’s possible that there could be more work in the future where the artist could sit and draw for two years, and release the entire story… [?]
Oliveros: I think the periodical approach is a good thing. In order for comics to be released in book form, where an author would take two or three or five years to complete this novel, the medium would have to attain this sort of popularity you have in general fiction…
Which is, you know, ha-ha, things are graphic novels now, and even with the popularity of the medium as compared to 10 years ago, very few people are getting those $50,000 advances. But the thing is, Oliveros wasn’t wrong. Like Eric says, it underscores a lot of the issues facing the market today:
1. Particularly with first- or second-time authors, the majority of graphic novels are being ordered by all retail outlets entirely blind, because serialization offered months and months of “previews” of the material to readers before it was in graphic novel format.
2. There are a ton of graphic novels being produced, and even if you read only stuff that’s, you know, good, I feel like that’s still 10+ graphic novels a month at this point. It’s very difficult for any work to stand out, let alone rise-above. It’s why you see people (like myself) getting behind books in such a strong way. STREET ANGEL or SCOTT PILGRIM or MONSTER or whatever really are solid books, but with 300+ graphic novel releases a month, you kind of have to keep banging the drum to make people aware of them before they get entirely buried—and those are three genre comics with mass-market appeal!
3. And that’s before we get to all the crap that’s being released. Unnecessary collections of superhero periodicals. Awful, awful fucking movie pitches masquerading as ‘graphic novels’ to give them an undeserved legitimacy. Self-involved, self-indulgent, pseudo-literary garbage. Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanity projects. The merely mediocre.
I’m just like ranting here, but yeah. It’s really, really hard for a graphic novelist to lock themselves up for a year or two, with little-to-no feedback and an ever-dwindling advance, and crank out a book. Back in the old days, the serialization of Louis Riel or Berlin or Optic Nerve provided feedback, interaction, and occasionally periodic injections of cash, all of which made it just a little bit easier to be a graphic novelist. Er, comic book artist. Cartoonist? Illustrator? What did people call themselves in 1996? I was still in highschool.
ANyway, it’s one of the things that I really like about the web, that a smart cartoonist can figure out a way to serialize their work (or even just produce it for the web), making money along the way, and then releasing collections (“graphic novels”) and enter a different market. I think the web is big enough for more comics… It was one of the things I wanted to get into a little bit more on the panel Tuesday, but that wasn’t really the place for it. I also really, really think that the current web-model doesn’t suit every creator.
But I think that, getting back to the point, a more consistent presence in the public eye before a graphic novel release is a very good, important thing. And if we’re really going to let the pamphlet-format comic die, then we need _something_ to take it’s place, and I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. I am happy to be proven wrong though. If the future of periodical comics is out there, please send a link my way.