The bridge is over.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Preface: I wrote this in my notebook after discovering last week that the conclusion to the major re-launch of the 1980s series Nexus had hit the stands. Steve Rude, one of the biggest “indie” comics creators of the last 25 years, made a comeback — to the sound of crickets. No one cared. To me, that meant the Direct Market was really finally and absolutely dead. Everyone said it was dead last summer when Love and Rockets abandoned its pamphlet comic book format and went to an annual trade paperback format. Like Love and Rockets, the fate of Nexus was bound up in the history of the Direct Market. But unlike Love and Rockets, Nexus was suited for the “alternative mainstream” fan. It was a particular kind of adult superhero book that appealed to a seemingly more sophisticated audience than the regular superhero comics. The DM supported titles like Nexus and allowed them to thrive. Not any more. Maybe everyone’s just had their fill of Nexus but the news of this indie’s end got me thinking about the bigger picture. The end of Nexus represents, to me, a window of time that has closed. The new regime is upon us at last, and I wrote this to simply mark the time. Also, the below is really an exploration, for me, into ideas that my friend and mentor Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics has expressed to me for years—in his store, over the phone, in emails, in class lectures. The “bridge” and “tree” metaphors are pure Boichel. Thanks Bill, for letting borrow your melody line and riff on it here.

The bridge is over. From 1975 to 2005, the Direct Market was the bridge from the old world “Comics-as-ephemera”, returnable periodicals model to the new world “Comics-as-Literature” bookstore model. The bridge changed comics, saved it from sure death on the newsstand and put comics in a place of permanence. Everyone in Comics has noted the consolidation of the DM and the rise of the chain bookstores & the internet as venues for new work. Now, this year, more than ever, I seem to be repeatedly noting to myself the real split between the mainstream and the alternative sides of comics.

During the heyday of the Direct Market in the late ’80s and early ’90s mainstream and alternative comics were together in one marketplace because there was no other option essentially, no bookstore support, no internet. What that meant was the two traditions were folded together. Gilbert Hernandez and Steve Ditko were on the same rack literally and figuratively. The old mainstream guys influenced the young alt guys, there was a clear traceable legacy. One could see Bernie Krigstein’s influence on Dan Clowes, Jack Kirby’s influence on Chester Brown, Ditko’s influence on Hernandez. It was a singular perspective essentially. One big sandbox. One tradition.

The market can now support multiple perspectives. It is not a monolithic community. There is no official definition of Comics now. It’s too big. Finally “comics” doesn’t just mean American mainstream super-hero action adventure stories. (Well, comics never meant just that genre, but y’know what I’m saying: Marvel and DC have lorded over the form for almost 50 years.) In 2009 you can walk into a comics store like Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh and see no superhero comics on display at all. There are enough “alternative” or “literary” comics/graphic novels out in the world to fill a whole (small) store. And there are “alternative” publishers who don’t use (or are shut out from) the Direct Market and who use book trade distributors to get the work out to stores.

So we got what you might call a bifurcated market. The two traditions, once folded together in the same market, have split. There are two sandboxes now. What that means is that if you grew up reading comics from, say, 1999 to now you didn’t necessarily have to read superhero comics to get your comics fix or even go to a store that sold both. This is a good thing. It’s a new audience, and a broader one than maybe any of us old school dinosaurs could have anticipated. I’ve spent far too much time ranting about “the kids not knowing their comics history.” Well, I’m over it. I don’t really feel the need to explain who Marshall Rogers is anymore, or convince anyone that late ’70s Kirby is actually really good. Figure it out for yourself.

This new audience, I think, is alienated by superhero comics and associates the genre with corporate America. They don’t like it. And who can blame them? They wonder why folks like me keep extolling the abilities of some guy who drew Spider-Man. They could care less. I had a student tell me, “Yah, it’s beautiful art but it’s Spider-Man.” This too, this palpable attitude, is a good thing. After all, aren’t Batman and Spider-Man just corporate logos these days?

Comics history is like one big tree where McCay and Herriman are the roots, Kirby and Caniff are the trunk, Crumb and Spiegelman are big branches, and the rest of us schlubs are up there somewhere. It’s all connected. Each generation has its precursors. I would assert, however, that for the first time in comics history it’s possible to graft new identities upon the tree without being schooled in the singular tradition, without growing out of the singular tradition. One can choose precursors from other traditions, not just from comics.

I see Persepolis as an example of this grafting. It is at once outside the tradition of comics and within the boundaries of the form. I feel that it was only possible to come into existence because of the split that happened some time in the last 10 years. I’m sure that’s no big revelation for most of you, but it’s something to consider as we move forward into the next decade. It’s now possible to bypass a very particular, esoteric education in “mainstream” comics, and go right to its “alternative” and also to the avant-garde. It opens the door for “vertical invaders,” for artists from different traditions to make work and to find an audience. The marketplace will support a book like Persepolis, I think, precisely because it is divorced from the old world model. Satrapi’s free from the “Tree of Influence” that’s existed in comics; she’s free to draw in a straight-forward generic style that is appealing to a vast audience. (Think of it this way: As “straight-forward” or “realistic” Clowes’ style in Ghost World is to a schooled comics reader, it looks baroque and affected to a non-comics reader.)

One could say comics like L’nR and Optic Nerve may have been the first to appeal to this emerging audience. But I feel that those books didn’t/don’t cross over so much as Acme Novelty Library or Persepolis because the styles of the Hernandez Brothers and also of Tomine are essentially derived from the mainstream comics and illustration tradition. I feel that it was Ware’s choice to reach beyond the mainstream tradition back to the newspaper strip golden age that has allowed him to have such a diverse audience. It seems this new emerging audience still connects particular styles back to mainstream comics. I’m curious to see how Mazzucchelli’s new book does now that he has “unlearned” all his mainstream tricks. ( I also think Seth’s eventual collection of Clyde Fans will “cross over” to an audience beyond comics. He has a style that has little to do with mainstream comics. Interestingly enough, Seth said recently: “I am converting Palookaville into a hardcover format this year. I love the old comic format but Chris Oliveros convinced me that the work would do better if we moved on to this new direction. It’s kind of sad, passing of an era and all that.”)

So, here we are: Summer 2009. Whatever system we have now, it’s working. Pamphlets still get published even if they only serve as advertisements for the collection, GN’s sell better and better, downloads are happening, comics are on Kindle: whatever works. However, in the process it feels like a real division has been formed between the “mainstream” and the “alternative” factions. A division that was always there underneath, forming. But now it’s ruptured and split the marketplace.

Which brings me to Comic-Con. San Diego Comic-Con will always be some sort of Oscars for our community. But whose community is it anymore? Increasingly it’s the motion picture industry’s community. It’s not about “the work” anymore. It’s definitely not about the creators or even the comic book dealers. It may be cool for most mainstream creators or fans but what’s in it for us in the “alternative” community? Not much. So I gotta wonder why “we” still go. I can certainly understand why Fantagraphics and D&Q go (it’s the biggest show of the year, duh) and that Comic-Con is still profitable for them. But for me and my comrades over here on the fringe of the fringe we feel like we’re getting priced out of our own neighborhood. The split seems this year to be more pronounced than ever and it looks like those in the “mainstream” have no choice really but to hold on for dear life as they become co-opted even further into corporate America. They really have no choice. They sold themselves out years ago.

But the alternative comics community does have a choice. So give me TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, SPACE, Stumptown, and the “alternative” circuit and tell Comic-Con and the Direct Market, “Thanks for the memories.” The bridge is over.

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74 Responses to “The bridge is over.”
  1. Inkstuds says:

    Hey Frank, I think we need to do our TCAF follow up still.

    I am all about the developing of a literary tradition within comics. Kids these days don't know whats up.

  2. Frank Santoro says:

    you got a soda on your roof.

  3. Desert Island says:

    nice post!

    The "end of and era" quote rings true, but mainly for artists who can create whole graphic novels at a steady clip (which is also great for publishers). Oliveros has convinced Seth to produce larger whole works because Seth is ready to work that way.

    More contemplative artists still benefit from the pamphlet format, which allows for a smaller, self-contained increment of work. Harkham and Thurber come to mind. I'd hate to wait for these guys to finish a coffee-table book just so I can see their latest ideas.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Frank, you ARE the soda on the roof, so maybe don't be so dismissive. This post is a lot to digest…

  5. afdumin says:

    It's really interesting. For years I've crammed everything I can about comics' and cartoonings' past and present into my brain. But, sometimes I just wish I could unlearn it all and see what kind of new avenues I might take when approaching the page. It's a similar feeling to the one I had after art school. Of course, then, I could always console myself with the old adage, "Once you know all the rules, then you can go back and break them." But, now, I'm not so sure. It's hard to forget everything you've learned.

  6. Jason Michelitch says:

    "I feel that those books didn't/don't cross over so much as Acme Novelty Library or Persepolis because the styles of the Hernandez Brothers and also of Tomine are essentially derived from the mainstream comics and illustration tradition. I feel that it was Ware's choice to reach beyond the mainstream tradition back to the newspaper strip golden age that has allowed him to have such a diverse audience. It seems this new emerging audience still connects particular styles back to mainstream comics."

    I find this statement interesting, in that it implies (I think at least in part correctly) that there is a sort of inherent nostalgia for a form that we have all grown up with and around (the newspaper strip) and that in Ware's work we find an exceptionally beautiful/intriguing version of that form, so that even those who could not have actual nostalgia for the great newspaper strips are drawn to it visually while being repelled by other more "mainstream" art styles.

    It has been my experience that many people I know in their 40s and 50s, who grew up with comic books as a piece of their surrounding culture but who could not be called comic book fans by any stretch are drawn to Love and Rockets, and I wonder if it isn't this same sort of nostalgia at work, where they are confronted with a particularly complex or wonderful or intriguing version of an art form that was ubiquitous but only intermittently interesting to them (in the form of superhero and Archie comics) in their formative years.

    Tomine doesn't seem to connect with any audience in this same way. The majority of people I know who read Tomine are younger and have accepted alt-comix as just a medium that's around. They aren't fannishly obsessive or dedicated form enthusiasts; comics to them are a much more normalized experience, albeit less frequently encountered than music or movies.

    I also think that lumping Ware and Satrapi together as "accessible" and then only mentioning Ware's harkening to newspaper strips is a bit of an omission, in that I think what is important aesthetically about Satrapi is her crude-ness (a term I don't mean to use disparagingly), which in actuality can be much more appealing to many readers who find the more ornate illustration in "mainstream" comics (and in Ware!) too complex and inaccessible. Satrapi harkens not to newspaper strips but to children's books and pre-Renaissance art.

    Sorry, that rambled on a bit. Hope it's at least partially worth the amount of digital real estate it occupies…

  7. DerikB says:

    I'm surprised more of the pamphlet as advertisement for trade hasn't moved over to the web (some of it has as a concept, but not from people that were already doing pamphlets).

  8. Jason Overby says:

    I think I really used to want all this to happen, but now I feel ambivalent. There is definitely something great about tradition piled on tradition ad infinitum that makes for an awkward, weirdo medium, and that's probably a big part of comics appeal for a lot of us. We identify with this rogue, outsider cultural artifact. The literary GNs that get so much attention in the mainstream (Fun Home, Persepolis, et. al.) can't hold a candle to the tortured intensity of Clowes or Chippendale (or Weirdo!) for me. Something vital is being parsed out…

  9. Frank Santoro says:

    "I think what is important aesthetically about Satrapi is her crude-ness (a term I don't mean to use disparagingly), which in actuality can be much more appealing to many readers who find the more ornate illustration in "mainstream" comics (and in Ware!) too complex and inaccessible. Satrapi harkens not to newspaper strips but to children's books and pre-Renaissance art."

    Agreed. This is what I was trying to get at.

  10. Evan says:

    This isn't Rude's first comeback, for Nexus or for Rude. I'd argue his erratic publishing schedule hasn't helped his title out any. And self-publishing was not, perhaps, the wisest path to take in 2008-9. Especially when DHC seemed willing to shoulder the costs, and could arguably do a better job of getting the comics out there and collecting them afterward. They're still producing the Archives, iirc. Although, I don't know if that's the case, of course, I'm speculating. But sometimes creators make decisions that hobble themselves. And few (if any) books sustain original popularity over two decades plus, esp in indy-land. And even Nexus fanatics don't seem overwhelmed by the recent stuff, much like recent Madman has been met with largely blank stares. Comebacks are tough, for creators or characters. There's always that core audience, but there's a reason you don't see too many Flaming Carrot or Mage t-shirts on folks at cons. Sometimes things wind down, creators get distracted, the magic is gone or the shine is simply off the title. The casual fan base has moved on, many supporting retailers have closed shop, new things have taken hold. Hard to recapture former glory, especially when you publish once in a while, and are running an overall continuity spanning 25 yrs, and are up against so much stuff in Previews.

    The DM's a disaster, comics are a stupid business, and pamphlets are looking like dodos these days, but there's other factors that can clip the wings of a comic. Sometimes the creators don't help themselves any.

  11. Frank Santoro says:

    Agreed. Well said.

    Also, as I mentioned, the news was just a springboard for me to explore these ideas.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It seems to me that comics–alt, hero or no–doesn't want to work at "success" the way fine art does, where there's a general understanding that quality will out down the line (i.e., after death or years of trying), but wants to behave like film or music, where immediacy of impact puts the work into the hands of people. Financially, that makes sense, because cartoonists gots to get paid, but it also undercuts the very ability of the art to last–how's Kramer's Ergot 7 going to make a difference in 20 years, unless the work gets re-released in a format that other people can get to it? It's not. Part of the problem with "comics scholarship" is that so much of the work that gets acknowledged as "important" for the young artists is just plain physically inaccessible, or it's financially such a burden that a cartoonist, reader, anybody, is going to have to take on any measure of work just to track it down. Kid wants to be a painter, wants to look at paintings–not that hard. Kid wants to be a cartoonist, wants to look at old cartoonists–well, better hope that the work he/she is interested in had enough savviness (or initial popularity) to still be available. (What if there weren't Storyville reprints? How easy was it to come by the comic prior to them? How about all the artists who don't have a Copacetic to hang out and learn at?) We've got an easily accessible library of established classics and an ephemeral, always changing shelf of "what matters right now". And what matters right now might not in 20 years, and the stuff we ignore, the stuff that nobody bought, the stuff that needs twenty years of artists reference and worship, that's going to end up in the out of print obsessive reader library. Gary Panter lists his top ten comics, and even if he's only half-serious about them–well great. It takes cash and luck to track down Jimbo & Raw, and now here's another list of possible lodestones that barely exist. How long before Brendan McCarthy's comics join that pile?

    Of course, real, non-white tower scholarship might help too, but that's either so far off that it's never coming, or the ground has been ceded to a constant fight between "what you should like" and "what you do."

  13. Evan says:

    I dunno…Some people don't worry too much about success because they've already got money from some other avenue. I don't think Sammy Harkham financed KE7 off Poor Sailor royalties, y'know? And that's fine, I'm not saying anything other than he made what he wanted to make w/the book, that's all he owes anyone, in my opinion.

    And if Brendan McCarthy cared that anyone read his old comics, he could upload all the creator owned-images them to the web. Or get them put out by some small press, or large press. or self-publish. Perhaps he made more money designing for film and tv and isn't so worried his own comics get out there. Not everyone hankers for comics to be whatever you or I want it to be. Fans have to dig for everything, that isn't just comics, that's children's books, pulps, kid's records, old pinball machines, novels out of print, radio shows, anything that's fallen through the cracks. Raw would be more easily available if spiegelman supremely cared to make it more available. Maybe the different contributors or contracts he made with pantheon make it difficult to reprint. Hasn't a lot of it been reprinted? There's a complete Jack Survives out now, how rare can so much of the project be now? (I'm asking, not taunting).

    The less successful folks, ie, the less moneyed, seem to work fairly hard to get their stuff back into print, because they need to, or want to. Or have time to tinker with it. The more successful folk have people doing it for them, or have a lot of other fish to fry. And plenty of folks, doing good work or bad, might simply not care much. Or are too busy getting by to deal with their legacy, or a project's legacy. A lot of folks own the great work of the past decade or three themselves, so, they can do a lot with it. And the old stuff seems to be getting collected. Comics might not be successful, or sane, or 'adult", but I think ti's becoming easier to find a lot of the past work these days. Between the web and reprinting and re-releases, it's actually kind of flooded, with a plethora of accomplished and fun and classic work. I can't afford most of it, but a lot is creeping into the library. I'm not feeling too awful about some books being hard to get, that's life. Comparing comics to film and music will always be a tough call, because people don't abandon film or music as they get older, if you know what I mean. Film and music are inherently popular and socially acceptable and make folks oodles of money, etc. Compare badminton to baseball, y'know?

    Of course, there are always the exceptions that disprove my babble. But, not everyone really wakes up everyday caring about the legitimacy of the medium or their own comics. Readers do, perhaps, but, well, I'm a fan, and I want all the stuff I can't get, across many media, within my reach.

    Most folks still make comics because they want to make comics, sometimes to the detriment of their wallets and well-being. We're getting more opportunists and hustelrs every yr in comics, so, don't worry, it might all be coming into play, galleries, agents, managers, etc.
    I don't know what happened to the formatting on my post, sorry. Can't figure out how to fix it and have to get dinner. I suck, sorry.

  14. Evan says:

    Whoops, it fixed itself automitcally when it uploaded. FOget hat last bit. I still suck at stuff, though.

  15. Evan says:

    I CAN'T EVEN TYPE LIKE A HUMAN. I give up. No more posting today.

  16. E says:

    "The marketplace will support a book like Persepolis, I think, precisely because it is divorced from the old world model. Satrapi's free from the "Tree of Influence" that's existed in comics; she's free to draw in a straight-forward generic style that is appealing to a vast audience."

    Something worth noting about the "Tree of Influence" is that its specific to North American comic artists with the exception of Moebius. Excluding Moebius and Chester Brown, I think everyone listed works/worked in America. Satrapi might not come from this Tree of Influence, but her style certainly owes a lot to David B. over in France, who in turn is well-grounded in his own trajectory of French and European comics history. While certainly some of her crossover appeal must owe to her generic, readable style and even her self-contained, paperback format, I think that a lot of her appeal is due to her topic and its presentation. Autobiographies/memoirs, political conflict, Iran and the Mid East in general, something that can interest adults but engage young people… Kinda similar to an earlier example of a graphic novel gaining a mass audience, this time by someone who is located on your "Tree of Influence", Spiegelman.

    Also, given the history of mainstream comics, there is as much a stylistic as a genre-based/story content distinction between itself and the alt. All this just makes me wonder how much individual branches on the tree represent not only stylistic influences, but content-wise as well.

  17. j says:

    The last two decades destroyed the continuity of generational DM superhero readers. With very few exceptions, you could not pick up a mainstream superhero book in the 90s and you cannot pick one up now. The experience was/is punishing and painful. If the DM rises and falls with Marvel and DC, its about to get dragged even further down by horrible corporate decision making at both. They both chose to feed the crossover "event" beast again, which equates to hitting the self-destruct button. Their sales spike once they start. If they stopped now, the spikes would disappear and someone would be made accountable. They can offload the next "War" or "Crisis" onto the life-long fans who'll buy the books no matter what at this point. Everyone else will wander away, sales will atrophy. It's the 90s. Anyone with a real stake in the business would probably try to steer the ship away from that iceberg, but DC is a fragment of Warner and now Marvel's primary reason for existence is its film studio. The DM is at the mercy of two corporations whose primary interest in publishing comics is to preserve trademarks they might want to mine for film and television.

  18. j says:

    Also, you were seeing a film industry at this year's SDCC that still hadn't pulled itself out from under the effects of the writers' strike. It was a ghost town compared to the studio presence you're going to see next year when everyone shows up with all the highly-anticipated product they've been developing–the late 2010/Summer 2011 films. The San Diego Comic Con will probably be leaving San Diego in a few years; that convention center is too small for the high-stakes PR blitz Hollywood wants to stage there.

  19. j says:

    Here's a stroke of genius that could be the real future of Comic-Con: the movie marketing amusement park. This set the internet movie sites (Harry Knowles et al.) on fire.

  20. samd says:

    "I've spent far too much time ranting about "the kids not knowing their comics history." Well, I'm over it. I don't really feel the need to explain who Marshall Rogers is anymore, or convince anyone that late '70s Kirby is actually really good. Figure it out for yourself."

    well, I agree and disagree. not knowing your comics history and being aware of the plethora of undiscovered talent and cannonical talent of the past is useful, and at the same time, the 'new history' of comics can fuel creative minds enough to come up with entirely different solutions to the probem of making comics. Somone who has a certain vision of comics might not find any use in the old Kirby or etc. because they dont work in comics in the same way. If you believe stories can be told visually, printed, in a way that doesn't resemble a panel to panel method, or uses other such devices, you probably wont get as much out of seeing how Kriby bounces somone around the page. Maybe the slower or more weirdly paced comics of the last decade fit a vision somone has. I dont know. knowing history never hurts, but sometimes maybe it can be a baggage. I mean, I love the Fort Thunder guys, but I think they're telling stories in a mode that's been used for the past hundred years of comics, where to me somone like Chris Ware or even Bald Eagles is attacking that mode and inventing it to fit his vision of storytelling, and to me maybe that vision can come with or without knowledge of history.

  21. Frank Santoro says:

    Yah, the "Comix History Tree" was a quick sketch, very North American, I know.

  22. Frank Santoro says:


    "Part of the problem with "comics scholarship" is that so much of the work that gets acknowledged as "important" for the young artists is just plain physically inaccessible"

    very true. this is changing tho', so who knows how it will be in a couple years. I think studying inaccessible work might become easier with the interweb. let's hope so at least.

  23. Frank Santoro says:

    "Not everyone hankers for comics to be whatever you or I want it to be."

    I missed this on first reading. Really made me laff, haha.

    Gary Panter told me that he's had so many people tell him, "Why don't you just do (fill in the blank) and then everything will work out."

  24. Anonymous says:

    It's gentrification – keep pushing the upscale and expensive – and pretend your audience is likewise. Forget Joe Lunchpail and the kids who actually made your 'enterprises' viable in the first place.

    An unemployed hippie could have easily forked out a couple of dollars for Eightball etc. in the mid-90s (and maybe a TPB or two). But now prices are an increasingly loud FUCK YOU to the less affluent comix buyer. Likewise creators are going to see a sharpening pyramid (Spiegelman or bust!).

    Pseudo-scholarship (in equally expensive textbooks), Hollywood hustles, galleries, McSweeney's and the New Yorker – put 'em all together and we'll see the life drain even faster out of comix. Some/all of the above have buried many a vibrant subculture.

    All those endless deluxe hardcover collections make stark the 'class war' being waged on comix consumers, and the huge gulf between the big time and having to give up because you got rent to pay (if you live by a gallery, I doubt you could afford it anyway unless you own a 'hip' publishing house specialising in 'deluxe' editions).

    My guess is that audiences will keep getting older, richer and duller. See the current state of jazz if you wanna know where comics will end up.

  25. Frank Santoro says:

    "All those endless deluxe hardcover collections make stark the 'class war' being waged on comix consumers, and the huge gulf between the big time and having to give up because you got rent to pay (if you live by a gallery, I doubt you could afford it anyway unless you own a 'hip' publishing house specialising in 'deluxe' editions). "

    What are you talking about? At first I thought you were talking about Hollywood and Comic-Con. And then I got to this paragraph and realized your just taking a shot at Picturebox.

    This post is about the split between alt comics and mainstream comics.

  26. dylan sparkplug says:

    I love those ditko style chart illo drawings.

  27. sam says:

    also, I think those pamphlet comics will always be around, I just think that, like musicians, comic artists grow out of certain formats. Seth and Clowes are now good and big enough that they can jump straight to an 'album' without releasing a 'single' or a seven inch, or an EP, etc. Smaller, younger artists who are still maturing (harkham and thurber were mentioned) still are doing those formats. The problem with pamphlets is that you have to be good enough to sell them but…I dont think this is the most friendly sounding term, I'm not trying to be offensive, but basically you have to be good enough to sell them (thurber, etc) but "bad" enough to not be able to sell somone a giant book right off the bat. I dont think it's the end of an era, I could be wrong because I didnt grow up in any era I can speak of since I'm pretty young, but the stories being made now either suit one format (pamphlet) or the either– leading to the divide in terms of readership, I think. I donno.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Quote from an email newsletter circulated by Steve Rude's publishing house:

    “Steve is turning his focus to gallery paintings,” the newsletter said. “Steve is a brilliant artist and we’ve been living hand to mouth for the past three years. Losing over $5,000 in the last two printings of Nexus we have been unable to pay our mortgage and have no desire to lose our house.”

    “Steve does plan to continue in comics putting out a book direct to trade every few years and using gallery painting as a means to finance his comic endeavors."

  29. Rob Clough says:


    Loved the tree sketch but there's one major omission for a future version: Eisner. Miller should branch directly from him.

    I agree with E that Satrapi is very much a part of a different tradition with its own discernible roots and branches. That said, what's been interesting about the past ten years is the way that those grafts have crossed borders and oceans. Manga, euro-comics and American comics have all been influencing each other with translations being much more readily available, as well as comics appearing on the web (legal and illegal).

  30. Dan Nadel says:

    A couple things as I wade in here:

    1) Frank's "tree" sketch was just that: A sketch. So think of it less as a stated canon and more of an idea of how these structures grow. And I agree with Evan on most of his very sensible points. Comics history is rapidly evolving and so much is accessible these days. Frank's basic point, that there's a fundamental schism between the root tradition and an ongoing practice is true. Instead, people can pick from a multitude of traditions. I think of Dash explaining Scott Pilgrim to me, and then I read it and totally enjoyed it. But it is, to my mind, from an entirely other comics tradition than I'm used to — one born of manga and video games. Nope, no EC Comics there. But it works. That just makes me want to trace the manga roots back and back and back. Some of us will always want to do that work, and some of us won't care. Fortunately comics remains such fertile, undiscovered territory that there's plenty to keep everyone occupied.

    2 The ol' "class war" thing is hardly worth responding to. But suffice to say, I don't know a single publisher who wouldn't LOVE to continue doing pamphlets, myself included. And to his credit, Alvin Buenaventura, the very same Alvin who published KE7, is doing just that. But speaking for myself, I was unable to find a sustainable business model for them and found that the retail and consumer culture simply doesn't support that format for non-superhero/licensed comics anymore. I hope Alvin proves me wrong. There are a million reasons why the market moved away from the pamphlet, many well explored by the likes of Tom Spurgeon in various articles, but "gentrification" isn't one of them. If only! I'm also not sure it's a question of "good enough" or "bad enough". It's more like something like Optic Nerve and Palookaville began in a more accepting market and built up an audience over many years. The only truly successful pamphlet launch of the past decade or so is Angry Youth Comics.

  31. Frank Santoro says:


    " what's been interesting about the past ten years is the way that those grafts have crossed borders and oceans."

    yes, yes. well said.

  32. Anonymous says:

    OK – I wasn't making accustations at Picturebox or any other 'quality' comix publisher (more power to ya!).

    My beef was more with the current distribution/retail system, and how the smaller comix stores are being wiped out.

    I saw this reflected in the way other creative businesses are shaping up. Narrowing of potential audiences (smaller, but with more money). Being priced out of pursuing any artistic interests – music magazines, 'art' movie DVDS, over-priced CD jazz/classical box sets all going further 'upmarket' in their pricing – does seem to create a kind of invisible 'ceiling' on who can access this stuff. I'm writing from Europe, so maybe it's different over there. The cultural 'wealth' that was available to young Hernandez or Crumb breathes a much more rarified air these days.

    My gripe about galleries was probably due to being 'priced' out of the (now) gallery-rich district I lived in all my life (art used as a 'soft' weapon against a community). So apologies if it sounded like an accusation.

    I still think 'literary' magazines and Hollywood are toxic to comics, though.

  33. Frank Santoro says:

    Cool, thanks for clarifying. Really.

    The current state of Jazz music you referred to above rang true for me. One of the greatest trumpet players alive right now, Sean Jones, lives in Pittsburgh and I go see him at this really awful club. It's the only decent Jazz club in Pittsburgh. It sux, it's expensive, but what can I do? The guy is, arguably, the best right now. And I love Jazz. So I go. And it's great for what it is. It ain't 57th street in the 1940s but it still exists. It makes me happy. And he is "furthering" a form that has been left behind…

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hey – I love jazz, too. Unfortunately the closest we get to live jazz here is an ubiquitous Sinatra impersonator – who always performs at private gallery views!

    Maybe one of the 'noblest' things about comix is that it is pretty arcane (look at the tates of Deitch, Crumb et al). The patience, belief and craft required is pretty out of sync with our instant tech age. I've met kids shocked that Acme Novelty Library is drawn by hand ("why bother?").

    As for mainstream comics – they're just spare merchandise for movies and games. Regular readers of superhero comics at my local store are affluent males pushing 40, with the occasional young girl looking for manga.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Louis Armstrong – Windsor McCay
    Duke Ellington – George Herriman
    Ella Fitzgerald – Milton Caniff
    Charlie Parker – Harvey Kurtzman
    Charles Mingus – Charles Schulz
    Dave Brubeck – Carmine Infantino
    Count Basie – Stan Lee
    Thelonious Monk – Jules Feiffer
    Miles Davis – Jack Kirby
    Ornette Coleman – Steve Ditko
    John Coltrane – R Crumb
    McCoy Tyner – Kim Deitch
    Albert Ayler – Rory Hayes
    Herbie Hancock – Neal Adams
    Weather Report – Jim Starlin
    Kenny G – John Byrne

  36. Anonymous says:

    One more:

    John Zorn – Gary Panter

  37. ULAND says:

    I find this assertion that "literary magazines", etc., are toxic to "comics" sort of shortsighted. Believe me, I get that there is a kind of raw energy to conceptions of "comics" as a marginal deal that is basically fed by it's marginality. I like that too; there's an amount of dedication and connoisseurship that propels it, and that's valuable in and of itself. But lots of comics (and they're just as much comics as the comics we might like a little more) are simply no longer marginal. There is no wishing the genie back into the bottle. Ware, Satrapi, Seth, etc., have far more in common with the world of contemporary fiction in terms of intent than they do Picturebox.To think that presenting them as such is going to have any real effect on our little niches just doesn't ring true to me. It's ironic, but the people that seem to most covet RAW magazine seem the most upset that it's helped achieve some of the goals Art Spiegleman had in mind; we don't have to be tied to these traditions, we can graft in anything we like, and this work can be presented alongside other visual art forms and alongside contemporary literature as well ( I'm not talking about you, Frank. You're just calling a spade a spade, it seems.) I think it's good, overall. "Comics" isn't a body that can be poisoned unless we take ownership of it. It's a bunch of scattered ideas. I'm excited by that. I think Eddie Campbell is right in that the best way to think about comics has less to do with form than it does literary or artistic intent; Spiderman comics have more in common with Knight Rider than a comic by Seth. ( my keyboard is half busted. The return key doesn't work.No paragraphs. Sorry) Further, I think lot's of Picturebox type work could sit comfortably beside more experimental contemporary fiction, right next to photography, next to journalism, etc. If we're talking about markets and distribution, why not do try out the obvious and match like to like?

  38. Anonymous says:

    Point taken, but I do recall a very old interview with Dan Clowes (I think it was Blab!) where he cites the 'sleazy' disrespected nature of comix as giving it a kind of freedom and immediacy (even superhero stuff), and how Raw (especially Panter and Spiegelman) was too self-consciously arty for his tastes. I remember nodding, as I was much more of a 'Weirdo' fan at the time. Crumb's editorship of that really emphasised comix as a branch of 'outsider' art, to my mind. Not just undergrounds either – you could argue Ditko, Wood or even Starlin were 'outsider artists' in temperament and subject matter. Self-consciousness, 'literary' aspirations and an eye on the judgement of Hollywood or 'serious' critics are draining a great deal of comix vitality.

    Funny recalling those comments if we see how Clowes' career turned out! He truly was a master of the pamphlet comic, and it's a tragedy that its dying out. I even gave up on Acme, vaguely irritated by its (pointless) hardback price-hike and the artist's demand that I put a decade into a very slight saga.

    I also recall when Dan Pussey met 'Arto Bubblegum', a pretentious huckster selling a hundred dollar comix anthology – now look at Kramer's Ergot! I did feel personally insulted by its price tag, like its makers decided that they could shave off a certain 'demographic' in exchange for further prestige…

  39. Joe Willy says:

    It seems to be happening in all art forms. The www is opening up access to the consumer for thousands and even millions of artists, but as that happens people can focus on the narrow range that suits their tastes and art forms might no longer bump up against their ugly cousins the way Love and Rockets sat on the shelf next to Mars Police comics or the way Coleman Hawkins was in a record bin next to Hawkwind. Now people can go to websites that cater only to their area of interest and focus like a laser on what they already like.

    Not to mention that with millions of options we no longer have that bored superhero comics fan with a couple extra bucks that picks up Cerebus or Yummy Fur looking for something else to read and having run out of super hero comics. Even a die hard comics readers might not even be able to afford every Batman or Wolverine comic in a given month.

    Then again, that same access to the entire world of media online means you can usually sample stuff for free and blogs and Twitter are constantly exposing me to things I'd never have seen in the old days.

  40. sam says:

    yeah but for what it's worth, IMO, KE7 kind of sucked anways.

  41. Jordan Crane says:

    Yeah, San Diego sucked. For me the barometer of it's sucktitude was the number of minis that I traded for. Three. Grand total THREE. The people who make mini comics are not the same people who buy their tickets to the con 3 months in advance.

    I think that SD is getting greedy and preselling their tickets and selling a whole mess of 4 day passes ahead of time squeezes out the casual attender, the "regualar" person, and it is just this person who buys the unmainstream comics.

    I don't know. I'll probably go to SD again.. I'm tenacious. But if next year sucks as much as this year did, I'll quit SD. The problem with the smaller cons, for me, is the travel – I just can't afford the travel. It'd be swell to have a convention that's decent in Los Angeles.

    And about the pamphlets.. Okay, so they're gone. What next? What replaces them – a readily accessible and regularly appearing forum for short works, or bits of longer work? The only thing that occurs to me is the innernet. Webcomics.. or kindle, iphone, whatever.. Distribution cost is zero.. how to profit, even minutely from it though? Ads.. subscriptions.. what else?

    I dunno. Dan is right, comics are a strong form – it's the distribution right now that's broken.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Well to be honest about half of any Kramers Ergot sucks (which is better going than Mome) – even when it was (vaguely) affordable.

    I agree what you say about narrowing options via websites etc. – I'm reluctant to pay for anything 'risky' if its costing so much! I'm find myself increasingly sticking with tried and tested favourites.

    We need cheaper anthology comics with wider distribution. A chance to experience different artists without worrying too much about 'investment potential'. Something you could lend to a friend without having to worry about the big expensive 'art object' you're letting go of.

    Case in point: Ron Rege's recent anthology – did it really need to be a big hardcover? Surely the contents would have suited something more portable and accessible?

    All I know the 'entry level' (ie. kids who don't go to art school or have comix ambitions themselves) is the biggest market lost by comix in the past decade.

  43. ULAND says:

    Anonymous- I'm not willing to go along with the idea that the more literary stuff has been created with an eye towards pleasing critics or achieving respectability as an end; I think most of the people who create that kind of stuff genuinely like the same sorts of material that some literary critics might like as well.
    I don't think anybody would spend so much time and put so much effort into creating that kind of material for other reasons. I mean, there are far easier ways to make a name for yourself.
    I mean, McSweeneys' isn't around because people think it'll make them look cool. People actually like it. You might think it sucks, and it might just, but it isn't pretending to suck.
    ( I don't think it does, as a whole, suck.)
    Besides, I think, like you say, Clowes would probably have a way different take on things today..I think those days are over..

  44. ULAND says:

    I don't think there are that many more people who'd be willing to spend $14 on a Rege collection than there are who're willing to spend $25.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Hey I've got nothing against McSweeney's or the New Yorker – I'm just apprehensive of comix becoming a kooky niche of (L)iterature marketing.

    Maybe that's what'll 'save' it, but its also gonna put a whole lot of other comix out in the cold. Maybe I'm just sensing a wider 'blanding' of popular culture, with little self-appointed 'vanguards' running after the bigger disposable incomes.

  46. Anonymous says:

    ps. Uland –

    I'm fully prepared to sample more comix if they had the price 'grades' you suggest. We're in a recession – for me, what costs less wins!

    Liking your blog tho'.

  47. Frank Santoro says:

    Over ay ComicsReporter, Tom Spurgeon wrote:

    "I still think of the Direct Market as a potential home for alternative and independent work because a) it's the place where the short-form delivery systems work best and I still believe in short-form delivery systems,"

    I disagree. The Direct Market is Diamond Distribution. And Diamond, we all know, is shutting out small publishers with their minimums. So, how are alt and indie publishers supposed to use this short-form delivery system?

  48. Frank Santoro says:

    I keep reading Spurge's piece linked to above and I keep coming away with different interpretations. Now, I read it as he's arguing that even tho the DM sucks it's still a potential home for short-form work. Like he's saying stores could follow a different model? I dunno.

  49. Joe Willy says:

    Anonymous said: "I'm just apprehensive of comix becoming a kooky niche of (L)iterature marketing."

    As opposed to a kooky niche of the superhero direct market? Would that be better?

  50. Anonymous says:

    If left to the buyers of major bookstore chains, distribution of graphic novels will inevitably narrow (this is already the case with 'real' books). Waterstones and Borders already devote most of their GN shelves to superheroes – especially if there's a movie tie-in – or worse, trade paperback collections of movie/TV adaptations like Buffy, Heroes etc.

    A handful of 'literary' (or 'issue-based') GNs get hyped by the broad sheets – Persopolis, Fun Home etc. – and they get a little more shelf space.

    I have yet to come across ANYTHING published by Picturebox or Bueneventura in any mainstream book store. You get a tiny amount of D & Q or Fantagraphics, but only if its (at minimum) as recognisable a 'property' as Ghost World (but preferably as iconic as Peanuts).

    Although the comic shops I live by are increasingly devoting themselves to toys, you at least get a wide variety of GNs and -yes! – pamphlet comics to browse.

    I should also add I'm old enough to remember when you could find a good selection of comix in head shops (they still exist), record stores and porno shops – which brings us back to the lost 'sleazy' aura that comix once had…

  51. Anonymous says:

    Another potential market is gallery shops. There's a lot here in Europe. Competing with overpriced DVDs, prints and art books (with an identifiably 'tasteful' audience in tow) may help the market for 'art' comix. I dunno – I'd prefer otherwise, but I think pamphlet comix could continue at that kind of venue.

  52. Dan Nadel says:

    Anonymous: I think to some degree you're shadow boxing here.

    1) PictureBox books are widely distributed at Barnes and Noble stores across the USA, among other chains and "mainstream" bookstores.

    2) No one is blanding-out the culture except the consumers. It is always tempting to imagine there are guardians at the aesthetic gates, but it just ain't so. Nearly anything anyone could want is widely available via a plethora of web sites, including Last Gasp, where you can buy copies of Cocaine Comix, for example, for like $4. That's pretty cheap. Certainly heaper than cocaine. Furthermore, there are tons of affordable mini-comics, oodles of free web comics, etc etc. But asking for things to be how they "used to be" is pointless.

    3) Books and comics cost A LOT to produce. There is no cheap way to do quantities above 100. And artists have a right to any kind of aesthetic choice they desire. Ron Rege's recent book retailed for $24.95. I'm sure Ron coulda made it much smaller and done it black and white, thus killing the effectiveness of half the comics. Then it would look shitty and still would need to retail for $19.95. Would that have been better? $24.95 for that book is a steal. If Sammy has a concept for the next Kramer's that means using a certain format which will cost extra to produce, that's his prerogative. It's not elitist or anything else. I can't afford to buy tons of shit: I'd like to buy tons of awesome books that cost $150 or $200. But I understand that they cost a lot to produce and so that's that. I'd also
    like a really nice Roger Brown print, but I don't take it personally that I can't afford it. I understand that various people involved need to earn a living, and that markets need to be maintained. People make choices. You don't have to like them, but no one is out to make you feel bad. That's life.

    4) I assure, you "gallery shops" are not the slightest bit interested in selling pamphlets, and nor should they be: No one wants to buy them and they will net that shop about $2.00. What a sale. It doesn't make sense for a shop (i.e. anyplace other than a comics store) to try to introduce comics. And places like record stores have a hard enough time selling records right now. They're not buying into the "cool stuff emporium" idea. The fact is, for the most part only someone who grew up with the format finds it desirable as an object to buy and keep. It's difficult to turn people onto it. And don't worry, it's not just comics: magazines are dying too. It's a generational shift that, try as we might, we're not going to be able to stop.

    You want affordable entertainment? So do I. But books are a low margin, low income, labor-intensive business. And when I say business, I mean it. It's certainly not fun and games and high falutin' aesthetics. It's a hard business. There is simply no way to make comics work the way you want them to anymore. If I were you, I'd settle into that reality — you'll save yourself a lot of web time.

  53. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I'm saying that the DM is still the best place to sell little bits of art in serialized form. It's so good at it the big companies have spent twenty years trying to force smaller companies from this market and they can still sell millions this way even though their package — $3.99 for a comic designed to be read quickly as 1/5 of a $14 trade paperback featuring mostly severely exhausted characters — sucks balls.

    I have my doubts the system will ever go back to working the way it did when they sold 9,000 copies of Dog Boy or whatever, but I still think it could be made to work if the right people entered the market, and it's possible they could although not likely. For instance, people crack on retailers, but there's been more variety in direct comics retail models than there has been in alternative comics publishing models. In my opinion, anyway. So there's still a whole bunch of stuff out there that could be tried.

    The problem with finding an anti-Scott Rosenberg, of course, is that an anti-Rosenberg would bring money into the field rather than take money out or expect to break even and would have to do so smartly (as opposed to Mr. Eastman's welfare program). Good luck with finding that guy or gal.

  54. Jason T. Miles says:

    (Note: This comment is revised from an earlier comment I deleted due to incoherence.)

    Santoro wrote:

    "I disagree. The Direct Market is Diamond Distribution. And Diamond, we all know, is shutting out small publishers with their minimums. So, how are alt and indie publishers supposed to use this short-form delivery system?"

    Santoro also wrote:

    "Now, I read it as he's arguing that even tho the DM sucks it's still a potential home for short-form work. Like he's saying stores could follow a different model? I dunno."

    It might be too late for alt pamphlets to make a come-back in the DM, but I don't think it's out of the question. This is a complicated issue and all the involved parties, Cartoonists, Publishers, Distributors and Retailers shoulder the burden (I cut Readers from the list of involved parties because I don't believe they are in any way culpable), that is if you see the diminished presence of the alt pamphlet in the DM as burdensome (as I do).

    Here's some basic things I'd like to propose:

    Cartoonists: Produce a good read on a monthly or bi-monthly schedule of a 24 to 32 page b&w comic with color cover that can retail for under $3.00.

    Publishers: Stay on Cartoonists to meet the deadline. The deadline is everything. Without having a consistent presence on the racks the Distributors, Retailers and most importantly the Readers will forget to order and buy the alt pamphlet. Service all markets to the best of your ability. It's a lot of work to service the Mass Market as well as the DM and everything else in between and beyond, but you have to make sure the trains are running on time to the best of your ability.

    Distributors: KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SELLING! If you don't know what you're selling then be sure to have the Publisher educate you as to what you're selling so you can best represent both of your clients, the Publishers and Retailers (this goes for all markets).

    Retailers: KNOW WHAT YOU'RE SELLING! If you don't know what you're selling then be sure to have the Distributor or Publisher or Cartoonist educate you as to what you're selling so you can best represent your client, the Reader.

    The above is a very, very simple and broad idea of what I think has to happen for alt comics to succeed in the DM. It doesn't even begin to elucidate the complications and problems involved every-single-step-of-the-way.

  55. Frank Santoro says:

    I can appreciate all this discussion about how to utilize the DM, but, from what I'm noticing not many of us are taking into consideration how fewer comic shops there are these days. Also the ones that cater to the alt crowd don't necessarily use Diamond to get their books. I know Copacetic, for example, orders directly from Fantagraphics, D&Q, Picturebox et al. It's easier.

  56. Anonymous says:

    The idea that cartoonists are fucking up because they're not producing a 24 page comic every month is insane. How long do you think it takes to draw these things when you can't afford to survive on comics as your only income? Kupperman is a slow artist, granted, but he sells well in pamphlets (I think) and he can't manage it. Maybe if you're Gilbert Hernandez you can manage but who is?

    Weirdo and Zero Zero were great and I know a lot of cartoonists would kill to have those back, but remember when Fantagraphics launched two great (quarterly) anthology titles, Blood Orange and (the seriously amazing) Bete Noire and no one bought them? There's may be reasons out there for MOME to switch to the bookstore format and I'd bet good money pretension isn't one of the top five.

    And to back up Mr. Nadel I bought New Engineering at a Barnes and Noble in Jersey, stocked right next to Naruto, where it belonged. And it cost me $5 less, or thereabouts, than I spent on alcohol tonight.

    Also, great post and this magazine is really "on" this week…

  57. Mark P. Hensel says:

    I went to a panel at MoCCA 09 on how the Great Depression II was affecting the independent comics industry, and someone on the panel pointed out that there are only 300 DM comics shops in America (possibly including Canada) that stock indy/alt/art/whatever titles.

  58. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Frank, I've written a ton about the lack of geographical coverage that exists in the post-'90s DM world. It's a definite problem for sure. I'm 2.5 hours from any comics shop, 3.5 from a decent one and 11 hours from a good one.

  59. Jason T. Miles says:

    I'm not sure if this:

    "The idea that cartoonists are fucking up because they're not producing a 24 page comic every month is insane. How long do you think it takes to draw these things when you can't afford to survive on comics as your only income?"

    was directed at me or not?

    But I'd like to make it clear that I was writing a proposal for an alt comic to succeed in the direct market. That's all and nothing more. Personally, I consider a good alt comic produced 4 times a year to be a miracle (go look at a catalog from Fantagraphics or D&Q from the 90's to find plenty of examples).

    I do find it both interesting and startling that someone like Dave Sim fits both my proposal and the first part of the above quote from Anonymous.

  60. Jason T. Miles says:

    Santoro wrote:

    "I can appreciate all this discussion about how to utilize the DM, but, from what I'm noticing not many of us are taking into consideration how fewer comic shops there are these days. Also the ones that cater to the alt crowd don't necessarily use Diamond to get their books. I know Copacetic, for example, orders directly from Fantagraphics, D&Q, Picturebox et al. It's easier."

    There are a fair amount of comic shops that buy alt comics and graphic novels from distributors other than Diamond. When Fantagraphics decided to no longer sell directly to stores (both in the Mass Market and the DM) I talked with a lot of comic shops that had then decided and continue to buy Fantagraphics from distributors like Last Gasp, W.W. Norton, Ingram and Baker and Taylor. Nothing prevents a comic shop from ordering items from a distributor other than Diamond/the DM. It is very important to note that Diamond offers a better discount than most distributors because they sell items on a non-returnable basis, thus forcing their clients, the Publishers but mainly the Retailers, to try and know what their customers want to buy. Whereas a buyer for a big book store can order 5 or 10 copies of something and if it doesn't move they can just return it to the distributor for credit. Which is easier?

  61. oletheros says:

    As an aspiring comics creator, I cannot afford to offer any kind of discount to retailers who want to stock my book in their store. Combined with the fact that retailers are generally conservative on unknown indie comics, the DM was a non-option before I even began self-publishing – and that was before Diamond made their policy changes.

    When faced with a problem of this magnitude, I figure that I have two choices: 1) I can whine about the problem and hope that someone solves it for me or 2) I can take matters into my own hands and figure out a way to resolve the problem in my favor.

    As far as I’m concerned, my primary demographic is not comic book readers; this is like targeting DVD watchers or mp3 listeners. My target demographic is people who want to read interesting stories or look at interesting art. I don’t have to convince these people that all comic books aren’t superhero nonsense – I just have to convince them that MINE aren’t.

    It sounds strange, but any creator who approaches self-publishing and is not prepared to spend at least half of his time thinking about the business end of things (distribution and marketing, for a start) is flat out going to fail. There was a time when this was not the case, but it’s something that every aspiring band for the past fifty years has had to deal with and it’s probably time that aspiring comic book creators started thinking about their craft in these terms.

  62. Paul DeBenedetto says:

    Curious as to where you think Tony Shenton (who's existence as a rep I was admittedly ignorant to until his name was dropped around MoCCA a ton this year) fits into this discussion? I'm not really sure if he's illustrating or refuting your point, but he's certainly succeeded in some capacity as being the "Direct Market" for smaller indie publishers. If your premise here is true, that this dichotomy of mainstream vs. alternative is such a large chasm and that perhaps alt comics creators should stop worrying about the direct market, does that make him obsolete or does it strengthen his position in the market?

  63. kenny says:

    I'm sorry, I don't have the time to read all the comments, so I might sound like the guy who comes late to the party and says something that's been discussed to death already, but…

    Copecetic Comics is the absolute best comic store in the world. It's probably the best specialty store in the world. This can't be stated enough.

  64. Frank Santoro says:

    when I wrote:
    "I can appreciate all this discussion about how to utilize the DM, but, from what I'm noticing not many of us are taking into consideration how fewer comic shops there are these days. "

    I meant on this thread. I think you've been covering this topic extremely well on your site for years.

  65. Joe Willy says:

    Proposals are great but we've seen more retailers load up on books they can make more profit on (The Big 2 which they get from Diamond at larger discounts due to "exclusive" deals) while taking "chances" on fewer indy comics with lower profit margins. It drives me nuts because I see bargain bins full of those more profitable titles and empty shelves where the 1 or 2 shelf copies of indy titles were but got sold. Go figure.

    Warren Ellis' "Slimline" format (the idea being 16 pages of color comics with 4 more of "backmatter" for only $1.99 and which resulted in Ellis and Templesmith's "Fell" as well as "Casanova" by Fraction and Ba) at Image was a great example of a new model which was pretty soundly defeated by the market despite everyone saying how much they'd love a cheap comic. Though obviously there are always other factors at work (like creators being able to make more money working on other titles and for different publishers).

    I think though that one thing that helped "break the bridge" is when major indy cartoonists started producing one book a year instead of 3 or 4. It helped break the cycle of fans going to the DM shops, the other indy titles that might have been purchased when someone showed up and the new Hate or Eightball hadn't come out yet suffered, and the stores eventually switched their ordering patterns or forgot those titles altogether. I also think a quiet storyline has been the glut of new DC and Marvel product in order to push other companies off the racks.

  66. Tom Spurgeon says:

    "I think though that one thing that helped 'break the bridge' is when major indy cartoonists started producing one book a year instead of 3 or 4."

    Even that has a bad-actors element to it, though. In the early and mid-1990s the avalanche of shit launched through the DM by the mainstream companies followed by strategies that closed stores and harmed remaining retailers by making distribution super-crappy for a couple of year had a direct effect on killing the second generation of alt-comics cartoonists with showcase books. It's not unreasonable to think that if the market wasn't run in full spousal abuse mode by the bigger companies, you would have develop a generation of comics makers that would have been producing three or four times a year when Clowes stepped back to one. And then maybe even another generation after that.

  67. Torsten Adair says:

    Pamphlet/Periodical comics will migrate to the Internet. Costs are cheaper, advertising is more directed and measurable, and community is more robust.

    Why do I visit Forbidden Planet each Wednesday when I work for Barnes & Noble? Because B&N doesn't sell Wednesday Comics or Fables. Perhaps I'll buy a sideline, but mostly it's the comics.

    So what happens when comicbook stores become specialty bookstores? Will they follow the path of science fiction book stores? How do they compete with a chain or a website?

    Or do they become hobby shops, catering to a specific clientèle like a model train store or fabric shop?

    Perhaps the Direct Market was a bridge that linked the mass-market with the literary. But then, how many comicbook stores carried Raw Magazine? I was already a fanboy when the book was published, but I bought Maus at a bookstore, not at my local comics shop.

    Literary comics didn't save the comics industry. In the early 1990s, there were smatterings of Acme and Sin City and Love and Rockets, but not on a mass scale. Marvel didn't print many collections. DC offered a few titles, but mostly only what could appeal to a literary or licensed audience.

    What saved comics was Pokemon. That's when bookstores discovered that comics could sell, and that's when publishers discovered that they could sell comics as well as they sold every other type of book. Before manga hit our shores, publishers had taken the slogan "Comics aren't just for kids" and changed it to "Comics aren't for kids". Manga changed that.

    Once graphic novels began to sell in bookstores, American comics publishers began to enter the returnable market. (In 1997: DC, Marvel, WaRP, Dark Horse, Cartoon Books, First[sic], Viz were the only GN publishers selling to the book trade.) Once GNs hit the book trade, libraries could easily acquire titles which appeal to reluctant readers. Once those young readers got hooked on manga and other comics, publishers began to market to those kids.

    Bookstores are a mass medium animal, just like newsstands. I used to tell my critical co-workers "If it's crap and it sells, it isn't crap." We can try to offer the best, but that's an easy way to go broke. How many comicbook stores survive by not selling DC and Marvel superhero titles?

    The Direct Market encouraged diversity by shifting the risk from the creator/publisher to the retailer. Unfortunately, retailers are unlikely to risk money on a title which will only sell 1,000 copies nationwide. Instead, creators will move to the web, create communities, sell directly to the fans, and eventually land a book deal. (Like "Wimpy Kid") That will become the new "direct" market.

    Diamond? Comics shops? How will they evolve? Diamond is distributing publishers to bookstores. Comics shops? Try to offer expert service and choice, diversify stock, and an enjoyable experience. (Tate's Comics is close to perfect. That's why they won the Eisner Spirit of Retailing award.)

    Exciting times. Life is good.

  68. McDonald. says:

    Why this rupture has to be a bad thing? original stuff is exactly what we need after decades of the same. Why does everyone has to be so afraid of new things? If old stuff is SO good, why can't new stuff be as good in the future when they become the old? Sometimes people tend to forget that time passes and things evolve.
    I see the problem of San Diego, but as I said, things CHANGE, you can't hope them to be the same forever. If SD is not a good place for comics anymore, then new ones will start to pop up and that's a good thing for those losing space for SD, it's their time to shine. You see, things change and gets rearranged, get used to it!

  69. Frank Santoro says:

    Agreed. I think is a good thing, this rupture. My tone might sound severe or something, but ultimately I'm thrilled to be divorced from the old model. It's just tough to navigate sometimes. Unchartered waters and all that. Where's the lighthouse?

  70. Anonymous says:

    Hmm…quite frankly, an odd post Frank. First, I've been collecting comics for over 20 years, and personally, I don't care about Nexus. And I collect all types of comic books. I've heard good (and average) things about it, but it never appealed to me.

    Second, that you added in Persepolis without mentioning that it was a foreign comic book, was weird. Hey, if you want to rant, it's your blog, but at least this required some perspective, no?

    And just as I love some of my indies, some of the 'mainstream' stuff is just as good. Yeah, they may be corporate shills, but there's a reason why there's an underlying appeal for the X-Men and some other comics. And some of those reasons are more valid than stuff I've seen from webcomics and other indie comics.

    If anything, I agree that the use of other book distributors for comic books and trades, etc., is and will be a good thing to get the stronghold grip of Diamond off of comics.

  71. knut says:

    Looking for a good price? How about Free? There should be a Paper Rodeo in every major city. There is enough of a subcultural economy in every city to support free publications, not only in terms of ad revenue but also in terms of distribution. All it takes is a little organization from the local cartoonists.

    You've got to take it to the streets!

  72. Mark P Hensel says:

    Austin had a pretty good free comics paper for a while called Proper Gander (actually it was printed in a smaller college town nearby) for a while but it folded a couple years ago. It was pretty awesome but I bet that a lot of the same economic factors that are killing newspapers would keep a local free comics paper from breaking even.

  73. Frank Santoro says:

    I keep seeing "mainstream comics press" posts referring to this essay that read something to the effect of:

    "Yah, but Nexus was already dead, what does that have to do with the Direct Market?"

    I say clearly in my Preface that "Maybe everyone's just had their fill of Nexus but the news of this indie's end got me thinking about the bigger picture."

  74. Dylan Horrocks says:

    Y'know, I don't generally read stuff about comics these days (or very many comics either, to be honest), but a friend sent me this piece so I felt I should. It's nice, of course.

    A couple of brief comments (which may have already been made – reading the whole discussion was beyond my limited comics-related reading tolerance):

    1. Satrapi's drawing does draw on some different comics traditions, but particularly those of Europe. Eg. she's heavily influenced by David B., who in turn has other European influences. But yeah, maybe children's illustration (etc) is of more significance.

    2. I think your forest sketch is nice, but really we're looking at a forest of interwoven trees, whose roots and branches connect and inform each other. I mean, Herriman and McKay (for example) created other chains of influence through non-comics scenes (fine arts, illustration, children's fiction, film, etc) – and some younger cartoonists are drawing on their work thanks to those other chains.

    3. Tom: (see, I did glance at a few comments): Maybe the internet is now the best venue for distributing short-form comics works (aside from anthologies like Kramer's Ergot, literary journals, magazines and of course short story collections)?

    4. But as to your main point, I would like to raise a beer in remembrance of the Direct Market and the particular historical era it represents. And then I would like to breathe a sigh of relief and move on. I think for many of us, the DM comic shop was never the only or even the most significant venue for our engagement with comics – and I for one won't miss it very much at all. It's like remembering when the only place to eat in town was a greasy smoke-filled hamburger joint; sure, you can get nostalgiac about the days you spent there, but thank god those days have gone!

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