Alright, yer Bleeders? Apologies for the break in a weekly column, Christmas at the shop plus various bits meant something had to give and I’m afraid it was this. Hope you all had a good Xmas & New Year. I confess the column only has the title it does because I found this whilst having a rummage through YouTube.
Those off you who follow me on Twitter, where I say lots of amusing things, may have noticed I posted a serious of resolutions. One of them was to try to do some good whenever I saw something bad happening, so here’s an idea that attempts to kill many birds with as few stones as possible.
Having done a bit of research with some friends lately, I’ve discovered just how much time and money goes into putting a variant into an issue of Previews. Regular readers may have noticed that variants are a mild source of annoyance for me, however what I’m talking about isn’t the ‘Order 100 copies, get this cover and totally bugger up your cycle sheet information’ but the special ‘Signed & Numbered’, ‘Torture Variants’ kind of things. Stuff that I brush past when making notes for Previews, never to be thought about again.
I have no idea how well these books sell, or if they’re worth the effort and importantly, money to put them into Previews. Maybe other shops do really well out of them. I’m hard pushed to think of a benefit to them beyond a revenue boost for the month. I don’t know. Just keep that money that’s going into soliciting those variants in mind while I say the next thing.
I worry about this business, because it doesn’t really behave like a business. There’s no real security beyond having the wherewithal to save the money you’re making while you’re hot for when you’re not. That’s a lesson to be learned the hard way, generally. Sadly, if there’s one thing that never seems to change, it’s that people never learn from the mistakes of others. This is a fickle medium and today’s Chip Zdarsky is tomorrow’s …Insert your choice of example here. There are sadly too many to think of just one
It strikes me that we really don’t, as an industry, have anything set up for people who’ve done their time on the Batmans, the Avengers, the Spider-Mans., the Justice Leagues, etc. Or people who’ve learned so much, and have so much to teach. Tastes change, Superstars fall out of favour. Talent who’ve spent decades working on whole universes suddenly find themselves hoping some of their concepts will make it into video games so there’ll be some royalties forthcoming, because nothing else is on the horizon.
Nobody really thinks about people who aren’t in the spotlight and suddenly Wizard Magazine is taking your Editor-In-Chief to visit the guy who created the characters in your movie in a shitty hospital because he can’t afford his medical care enough to get decent treatment. That’s one public example. I daren’t think how many we don’t know about. I do not understand how an entire industry that is essentially founded on the notion of people being decent to each other and helping someone out when they’re in trouble believes that the practice of ‘Person rises to fame, person spends a few years being “hot”, person drops down ratings, person leaves biz, gets old, has to appeal online for help with medical bills, person dies, Publisher releases ‘Wow, Do you Remember How Good This Person’s Work Was Best Of Omnibus;” is a structure we should accept. I understand how capitalism works. I do not accept it as a reasonable justification for not caring about people as much as we can when we’ve all grown up reading Superman, for fuck’s sake.
What does occur to me, though, is that there’s a whole wealth of intelligent, talented men & women in this field who don’t get the recognition, respect or income they deserve, simply because they don’t work fast enough to turn out a book every month. That’s a total lack of imagination and compassion on the comics community’s part, and given most of us got into this business because we read stories about the idea that someone can do something good for someone whether there’s a profit to be made or not, a bit of a disappointment.
I don’t know how to put this without sounding like I’m a mean human being, but I look through Previews and once I get beyond the Dark Horse/DC/IDW/Marvel bit, I start to think the same thought over and over again:
‘I don’t know who the art director is on this comic, but the person drawing this promo image isn’t ready to be seen on this level yet.’
Now, let me make this clear, here. I’m not writing off everyone who isn’t working for one of the big companies as bad, my criteria of ‘good and bad’ is essentially ‘Would I be proud to stock this on my shelves?’ (because one tries to take a bit more pride in the business than ‘Put any old shit out and hope’, really.) I’m not saying I haven’t thought the same thing about a lot of DC’s covers, or Marvel’s for that matter. Just that it happens more frequently in the indie section, and I’m more than aware that budgets for smaller companies mean sometimes it is a question of ‘Do you want it good, or do you want it Thursday?’. I’m not trying to advocate a universal standard of quality here, there’s just talent who are working on things now that they’re going to look back and cringe upon down the line when they hit their groove, I think.
So, to review, here are the birds:
There is too much money being thrown about on short-term profit items.
A lot of incredibly talented people are neither working in comics nor are likely to be in the near future.
Many people who don’t have the experience or chops are being pushed forward to try to sell retailers and customers art that they’re not ready to work on yet.
And here’s the Stone:
What if the money being used to solicit these books, which, by back of a napkin maths must be at least thousands of dollars a month, was used instead to fund a series of Artist-led studios. These studios, run by artists who’ve obviously got the chops & experience to art direct various projects would provide covers, back up strips, promo work, short story previews and various other pieces for promotional duties. They could be used to provide advance lay-outs for big event comics that’d be set up at the Marvel Summits, meaning we wouldn’t have to deal with situations like Frank Cho half killing himself and becoming visibly more distressed trying to turn out Battle Of The Atom 1 against insane deadlines again, as he covered on his Facebook page last year, as the Studio would have already set up layouts and such. Perhaps publishers could also provide a library of relevant recent books, so an artist wouldn’t have to buy, say, a run of Azrael for reference if they were about to start drawing Azrael?
That’s the 1st benefit, giving this talent some decent work & dignity that isn’t tied into hacking out 24 pages of Avengers content every four weeks, the second is that these studios could be used as a learning ground for younger artists who show obvious potential, but aren’t ready to be on the main stage yet, but would certainly benefit from working on backgrounds and such, much like people like Wally Wood or Dave Stevens earned their chops under the guidance of Eisner or Caniff. That level of mentoring has been lost in a digital age and it feels like there’s no one to act as a guide to someone who can suggest amendments to a piece before posting it on Tumblr. Something a bit more useful than ‘pop round to mine and spot my blacks, will you? I’ll pay your bus fare and everything!‘
These…apprentices, I guess, would be paid assistants, both contributing and learning from some of the best in the business, accepted on a portfolio based interview for a position. Instead of the old pressure of ‘Is this person’s work good enough for publication NOW?’, the question would be ‘Could this person be publishable down the line? Is there a spark here worth encouraging?’
Obviously I’m not suggesting this as an industry standard, I doubt the likes of Chris Ware or Peter Bagge’s work would be much different if they’d actually studied under Kurtzman or such, but a whole generation of eager young artists with the benefit of a Garry Leach, George Perez, Jerry Ordway or suchlike could only be a good thing, couldn’t it?
I imagine there are holes in this idea that more intelligent people myself will point out, but let’s not do the ‘But actually Wonder Woman isn’t from Krypton, therefore your whole argument is invalid’ route this time. Oh, and maybe read this by John Freeman before you comment. It’s rather good, I thought.
(Nevs Coleman would actually get a Superman logo tattoo, but doesn’t want random strangers explaining their opinions on ‘Man Of Steel’ at him. He gets quite enough of that kind of thing by having a haircut like Wolverine at the moment, even though it’s clearly based on C.M. Punk’s barnet circa Summerslam 2013. Sheesh, People.)