Posts Tagged ‘comics conventions’

Frank’s Soapbox #4


Friday, May 21, 2010

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SPX crowd

Howdy True Believers! Frankie The Wop here with a rant for your Friday afternoon. We’re in the middle of a pledge drive here at CC and we thought we’d keep you faithful readers peppered with some thoughts on our beloved little community (while you groan at the computer screen waiting for the pledge drive to be over).

I was over at Jim Rugg‘s house yesterday hanging out and talking shop. He’s got this cool new mini-comic called Rambo 3.5 and I asked him if he’d taken any by Copacetic Comics to sell. “I haven’t had time,” he said. “TCAF was a couple weeks ago, I’ve got this show in Indiana this weekend and Heroes con is coming up soon. I’m almost sold out of the edition just from doing shows. I want to sell them to stores but the shows are more important.”

A light bulb went off in my head when Jim said that the shows are more important. Since the late ’90s when SPX and APE and other small-press comics shows popped up, there has been this yearly schedule that many cartoonists operate under. I know I try and have a new book out by MoCCA (which used to be in June) or by SPX in the fall. Nowadays, there is a convention every few weeks. I think this is a good thing. But it makes me think about how getting work into comics stores has become less of a priority for many cartoonists. The shows are the priority.

Also, this is the part of the argument that I think is missing when we all wonder why there aren’t more serial alternative “pamphlet” comic books out there. Retailer Brian Hibbs often argues that if 20 to 30 cartoonists each committed to two or three releases a year, that a critical mass would form so that every week you walk into a comics store there might be something that tickles your fancy. I think he is correct but I also think the fact that there are so many shows nowadays that many alt cartoonists and fans of alt comics just do not go into comics shops that often anymore because there really isn’t anything for them. The fans of such work know that they can wait until SPX or MoCCA or TCAF or just order from the artists directly or through distros like Sparkplug.

The other reason, I think that there are less serial pamphlets is because the market determines the form. The Direct Market determined that the pamphlet form was THE FORM. Now, the form is whatever tickles the fancy of the maker and what they can sell at a show. I know 20 to 30 alt cartoonists who release two or three comics a year but they aren’t serials and they aren’t pamphlets. These works don’t engage in the Direct Market’s periodical model. These works reflect the demand of the market which is generally geared towards handmade zines or trade paperbacks that are not serialized.

Anyways, I could go on and on. I know there are a a lot of different factors that make up the current marketplace and that I’m missing some important points. But I just wanted to float this one out there. The Bridge is over. We live in the era of The Show.

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Gary Panter and Peter Saul: In Conversation


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

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Photo by Chris Rice

Herewith the epic conversation between Gary Panter and Peter Saul, December 5, 2009, The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. Moderated (just barely) by yours truly. Enjoy.

Gary Panter and Peter Saul: Live

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The bridge is over.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

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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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More 50 cent finds


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

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This is a wild one. Originally created as a syndicated strip for a European anthology, Cat Claw had this Romita/Buscema Marvel house style style. That was cool for 1981 when it first appeared. But it didn’t get collected here in the States until 1989 so it looked really weird and old school by the time I saw it. Funny how that can happen in less than a decade. The best part about picking this run of issues up was seeing how the covers for issue six and eight are nearly identical in terms of layout! “Yeah, the kids liked that one, just do it again and sex it up a little”. Who drew it all? Bane Kerac.

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50 cent bin


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

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All right. More scans of 50 cent comics from the comics show the other day. First up, a Charlton Ghost Manor with a crazy, loose Ditko story that is already, safely, in my swipe file
Next up, one of the weirdest, most obscure, resonant comics of my youth and the “black and white explosion” of ’86-’87: Stark Future, drawn by Jim Somerville. It was like a poor man’s Moebius before Moebius really hit in the States. Like, I remember seeing this comic at the beginning of high school and then it fading from memory as European comics became more available.

Stark Future was inspirational because it felt within reach, like some comic you could draw yourself in study hall. It made me want to draw, and draw something different than superheroes. Reading this comic was like watching a Ridley Scott movie. It was dumb, futuristic nonsense but it made me want to try my hand at it too. It primed me for Moebius and everything “serious” about comics. Seriously.

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Heroes Con Here We Come


Thursday, June 19, 2008

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The Comics Comics and PictureBox advance team has arrived in Charlotte, NC for Heroes Con. Frank and I are lounging in our hotel room, high above the convention center. So far it looks like a fun show and damn fine for back issues. Why, there’s an entire Fangoria section at one table! Anyhow, Tim will be joining us tomorrow and then we have some fun panels:

Friday, 3 pm:

CAGE MATCH: Comics Comics Vs Comics Comics! | Room 208
A live critique session with the editors of Comics Comics. Timothy Hodler, Dan Nadel and Frank Santoro will conduct a no-holds-barred argument about a comic book or graphic novel of their choice. Audience participation is encouraged. Chairs might be thrown.

John Byrne’s FX
Kirby’s OMAC
The new issue of Mome
Kick-Ass 1-3

Saturday, 12:30 pm:

From critical favorite hits like MAGGOTS and POWR MASTRS, to prominence in influential anthologies like KRAMER’S ERGOT, “art” or “abstract” or “out” comics are pushing the boundaries of the avant garde in comics. Join Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter as he sits down with Picturebox publisher Dan Nadel, KRAMER’S ERGOT editor Sammy Harkham and publisher Alvin Buenaventura for a frank discussion of this leading edge of art in comics!

Sunday, 1 pm:

CRAFT IN COMICS: Jaime Hernandez, Jim Rugg, and Frank Santoro in Conversation | 213A
Less a conversation on materials and techniques and more a conversation on ideas and beliefs, this panel will focus on tradition and innovation in composition and drawing for comics. From Jaime’s insistence on not using photographs as reference in his comics to Jim’s clarity of composition and Frank’s careful color choices, there are countless tenets of craft that are largely underappreciated by readers. This panel will investigate these ideas and attempt to illuminate and outline them in a lively conversation led by Frank Santoro.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

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Santoro popped up for a surprise blog entry! All right! Well, I had a good time at SPX and agree with Frank about two important things: Speak of the Devil is the best ongoing comic book in the world right now (only AYC and Raisin Pie come close) and Kevin H. should be featured in conversation with Ben Jones next SPX, or perhaps at MoCCA. The two most restless searchers in the medium. SPX felt pretty routine this year. I was thrilled to see the new Brian Ralph book, intrigued by Ken Dahl’s stuff, and psyched to see the Baltimore kids working hard, not to mention the debut of Panray, a pretty rad new silkscreen tome. No major surprises though, I suppose, and I agree with Frank: a pretty insular crowd. Was totally amused by the various “fight” threads over on the Beat and TCJ. And, um, that’s it. I gotta get back to work!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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OK. SPX report. I like reading other people’s views on the show, so I thought I’d add my own to the mix before the week was over. Forgive me if this feels dashed off. I just want to get some impressions down before they evaporate.

Was it slower than last year? It felt like it. There was never an insane rush of people crowding all parts of the floor (which I remember from last year). Yet it was pretty brisk. People were buying. Especially late on Friday and around 4 on Saturday when people had done enough window shopping and had figured out what they were gonna take home.

Buy. Sell. Trade. Don’t get me wrong — I see SPX more as a community event than a commodity one — but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re there to sell books. But who’s buying these days? That was what I was trying to figure out. It’s other artists, really, and other dealers who do a lot of the buying. Not a big surprise, but I was having a rough time trying to get a handle on who my audience was this year and, y’know, do a little market research. Some know the work already and some are surprised PictureBox even exists. Nothing new there, but where were all those new comics fans that are supposed to be out there? Where were all the new “book” crowd people? I feel like I read these articles all the time about this new type of educated, multi-dimensional comics reader but I rarely ever encounter them in large numbers. (Except at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, those folks at The Beguiling have groomed a whole slew of this new type of reader.) I mean, there were plenty of you sharp comic readin’ cats out there — but I’ve seen you year after year. SPX seems to be a mix of newbies, passersby, and hardened old-schoolers. I would say it’s because it’s in Bethesda, but really I feel this way at MoCCA too.

So then what about the community? Well, I kinda felt a real sense of community more than ever this year. It’s really great to see C.F. and Brian Chippendale at the same show as Gilbert Hernandez and Kim Deitch. That’s three generations of radical comics (“underground,” “punk,” and “fort thunder”) in one show and that, to me, is pretty special. Tim Hodler moderated a panel on genre comics that included Gilbert, Jon Lewis, Matt Wagner (!), and myself. Dan Nadel interviewed C.F. about inner space (while Chippendale interjected from the audience about music and Providence history). Both Tim and Dan were on a panel with Gary Groth and Doug Wolk which was moderated by Bill Kartalopoulous (who I think did a great job setting up this year’s panels). At SPX these events feel right somehow. MoCCA’s off-site panels seem weird and disconnected from the show, and San Diego‘s panels are too blockbustery. So yeah, community in full effect, yo. It was pretty sweet. I’ve heard that almost all of the panels were recorded and will be available soon, so please stay tuned. (Next year wish list: Kevin Huizenga and Ben Jones “in conversation”.)

And as far as the comics themselves: one thing I really noticed this year was that most of the “new” comics were long on craft and short on narrative. I think this trend is due to a lot of new practitioners coming to the field from other backgrounds besides comics. Meaning, I think a lot of the people who are new to making zines and minis aren’t long-time comics readers and are more immersed in fine art and illustration. This is a good thing. But some of them are familiar with comics and comics “language” and some of them aren’t. And the books they are creating seem more about the look and the craft of bookmaking and image-making than they are about creating narrative comics. Again, this is nothing new — I’ve heard this being said about Fort Thunder — but in reality most comics created by Chippendale, Brinkman, Paper Rad, C.F., etc., are all character-driven and tell stories. And for the most part they are all avid readers of comics — and mostly mainstream comics at that.

I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m not saying that I don’t like the new crafty, abstract work that was in evidence this year — I’m simply taking note that there is something new going on. And I like it. The work is beautiful. I do, however, lament the absence of strong characters in this new trend. Whether the comic is well-executed or dashed off what I notice is there isn’t much of a story or any real characters to identify with. There’s no distance, no mediator between the artist’s intention and the reader’s comprehension. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But it’s sort of like abstract painting, which I love, but often leaves me wanting more. Yet the work is usually so visually stunning that one has to hope that the craft and narrative elements will start to balance out. And, ultimately, I hold out much more hope for this approach to making alt comics than the rehashing of every Clowes, Ware, or Tomine story of the last 15 years.

Anyways, thanks to everyone at SPX. It’s still the best indy comics show out there.

P.S. Read Gilbert Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil — IT’S THE BEST COMIC BOOK ON THE MARKET RIGHT NOW!

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