I feel pretty good about comics right now. This thought was spurred by the news that, the week after the Batman movie opened, the bestselling graphic novel in the country was Raina Telegemeier’s Smile, a semi-autobiographical account of a young girl finding her way through middlegrade. It’s a full-colour graphic novel for kids, girls in particular, and it’s been on-and-off the top of the bestseller lists for the better part of the two years since it was released. Telegemeier’s next book, Drama, arrives at the end of next month and is likely going to do just as well.
Smile started out as mini-comics, and as web-comics, quite a while back. Raina has been making comics and putting them out there for people since before there was a ‘professional’ avenue for her to do so. She was like hundreds of other creators out there in that way, doing work that is (by every other measure) in a popular genre or mode, but where a professional delivery system for that work did not exist in the comics industry.
It does now.
I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t work to be done of course, but we’ve hit a point where the lie espoused by the industry gatekeepers, that “there isn’t an audience for kids comics” or “there isn’t an audience for girls or womens comics” has finally been put to rest. Oh, the gatekeepers hung onto it as long as they could, “webcomics aren’t comic books” or “manga aren’t comics” or whatever nonsense they dug up. They’re still espousing it to some degree or another–I particularly liked this article by Heidi MacDonald on why superhero publishers will never “get” women–but it’s demonstrably false. Comics for kids sell now, the Lego Ninjago comic has a 425,000 copy first printing, a number that dwarfs most others in comics… and DC had that license at one point btw. Comics for girls (and boys) like Smile continue to sell very well. Despite the gleeful hand rubbing over the demise of manga, it still sells quite well, thanks. And the internet…? The internet is home to a fantastically diverse array of cartoonists either making their living or a significant chunk of it from the online serialization of their work–and they’re coming for print too. They are COMING FOR PRINT.
Basically, the gates are down. There are smart publishers, and they aren’t turning down projects by rote anymore. Projects with queer characters, for girls, for women, for kids, for people of colour. And where there aren’t publishers, there are now distribution systems for creators to put their work directly in the hands of readers. If your sole desire is to write/draw Spider-Man or Superman (or god help you Batgirl) then, yeah, the gates are tighter than ever. They probably aren’t going to loosen, either. But if your goal is to do comics, and tell stories that reach people, then that’s at least possible now. There is an industry now, where there wasn’t 10 years ago.
It’s bogus to be denied access to the market do to age or gender or ethnicity or sexuality, and those are the gates that I feel have fallen. Now the challenges of these creators are the same, legitimate challenges that established creators have been facing for years–finding and connecting with your audience, digital, piracy, contracts, publishers, distribution, all of that. It’s not easy, and I doubt it ever will be, but I do finally feel that everyone can finally face those challenges together.