Gary Groth on reprints, digital, Borders, DC and even more

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Gary Groth 2007 Gary Groth on reprints, digital, Borders, DC and even more
Gary Groth has been tapped to play Christian Walker in Powers. Oops, wrong headline.

Today’s slam dunk interview is Alex Dueben’s chat with Fantagraphics’ publisher Gary Groth, probably just because on the internet a frank discussion with a knowledgeable comics publishing figure is about as common as a humble moment from LeBron. Throw in that he has stellar vocabulary skills, and you have a winner.

For instance, on Borders

How has the Borders bankruptcy and their problems and the closing of stores affected the book trade?

I don’t think it’s affected us. I think whenever something happens like when Borders closes, something comes and fills that gap, even if that something is only Amazon. Borders didn’t affect us at all, because Borders didn’t buy many of our books. As you probably know, the book buyer at Borders was apparently obsessed with manga and bought almost exclusively manga. Of course it would have been nice to have been sold in Borders for all those years, but we weren’t. Trying to be sold in Borders was like beating our heads against a brick wall, so when they went under, we didn’t suffer at all. Barnes and Noble is still strong. We’re strong with independents. There are a number of chain stores in the South that we sell pretty well to, like Books-A-Million. Amazon is either the first or second largest seller of our books.


Many other tidbits, including that reprints of comics strips sell beter than new GNs (“Why that is, kind of puzzles me.”) and a plan to get all of Fantagraphics books into digital format in a year’s time.

Groth also gives his take on the Relaunch in typically blunt fashion:

It seems like a pitiful attempt to con more people into buying the same old shit. I probably shouldn’t be so cynical. I’m sure that some brilliant talent could breathe some life into this stuff. Like I said, I’m not one to talk. I haven’t read this stuff, but it just seems so completely uninteresting to me, and in a way, it’s idiomatically alien to me. We get a box of comics from DC every so often and I’ll look through it. Stylistically, the work kind of repels me. It’s too frenetic and manga-influenced. I’m way too old for that stuff. I wish I could be a more cogent commentator on that stuff, but then I’d have to devote time to actually looking at it.


Some might be puzzled by Groth’s description of DC’s art style as “manga-influenced,” however.

Comments

  1. You know, for years Groth was the publisher everyone loved to slam, belittle, and make fun of, mainly because he seemed so pretentious. And from time to time I’ve been part of that chorus.

    Now I regret that. Despite his shortcomings, Groth and Fantagraphics have managed to survive more than three turbulent decades when nearly other companies born in the same time have fallen by the wayside. You don’t accomplish that being a fool.

    Perhaps, after all, the man really IS as smart as he thinks he is.

  2. Alex Cox says:

    “Some might be puzzled by Groth’s description of DC’s art style as “manga-influenced,” however. ”

    I suspect he meant the page layouts and the pacing. A great deal of current superhero comics are tremendously manga-influenced with regards to storytelling, if not character design.

  3. Andre says:

    Some of DC’s books have felt like they’re aiming for a “hey hardcore fanboys, this isn’t manga!” look for awhile, especially the shift of Bart Allen from the very manga-y Impulse to the retro Kid Flash look [thankful Bret Booth seems to be aiming for somethingelse]. Tim Beedle’s article awhile ago about editors pushing away young artists w/manga influences also makes me wierded out by Groth’s statement on that.

  4. Andre says:

    Alex— hmm… think you might of nailed it on the head there. Also, the shift to focusing on arcs vs. single issue stories to suit the GN market is another part of that [also influenced by manga's sales]

    Scott- odd statements here and there aside, he know’s what he’s doing. And even with a little manga bashing above, FG’s published some of the years best looking manga collections with Drunken Dream and Wandering Son.

  5. Synsidar says:

    Groth’s attitude toward superhero comics isn’t that uncommon, but the products themselves aren’t likely to change as long as the corporate owners consider the characters properties to be exploited and the creators consider doing the stories their jobs.

    When something has to be produced to meet a deadline and keeping the job requires meeting the deadline, attitudes toward quality change.

    Readers might never know what a creator is capable of doing with Superman, Green Lantern, or the other heroes until he’s told to just do the best story that he can.

    SRS

  6. The Beat says:

    Gary is NOT a manga fan, or at least doesn’t get it, as he has stated many many times over the years. So the manga publishing is a recent, but welcome trend.

    Alex: Hm. Maybe the manga style would work better if it came in manga-sized chunks? i.e. tankoubon.

  7. I know Groth ruffled a lot of feathers back in the day, but I always thought he was an important, necessary voice in the wilderness, even if I didn’t agree with him. I say this as a regular reader of the Comics Journal from pretty much the beginning.

    With Fantagraphics, he definitely put his money where his mouth is and I’m glad they’ve survived and continue to publish.

  8. jacob goddard says:

    I love Gary Groth. I love that he hasn’t mellowed with age. I love that history has done nothing but proved him right (probably beyond his wildest dreams). I love that after 15 year of knowing who he is, he’s still who I want to be when I grow up.

  9. jacob goddard says:

    I’m also willing to chalk up his feelings about manga to lingering guilt over the Eros line.

    I know shop lifting the porn comics he was publishing in my early teens was a big part of my introduction to manga. I doubt I’m the only one.

  10. Matthew Southworth says:

    Fantagraphics is THE best publisher in comics, without any peer. No one has dedicated so much time, money, and outright belief in producing good, original work for as long as they have.

    Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, R. Crumb, Jim Woodring, Al Columbia, Charles Burns, Peter Bagge–all these people doing beautiful, original, individual work that in many cases would likely have gone unseen had Fantagraphics not put such hard work into distributing it.

    I feel really lucky to live in Seattle, where I can raid the Damaged Books Room at the Fantagraphics Store and fill my shelves at 50% off.

  11. Might also consider the way North American book reader’s eyes are trained to track text left to right. Manga format was specifically for the eyes of those who were trained to track from right to left. That’s a basic analysis but if a reader has installed muscle memory in their visual cortex with literally thousands of reps for many years of North American text reading, then we should really look at this. Even the Japanese have conducted studies of functional differences contrasting kanji and kana visual patterns. Add a Japanese culture who grew up reading this symbolic form language, and manga will be more accessible. However, in the land of fusion, Americans try to arbitrarily mash the ingrained North American /English reading eye patterns and we get an automatic disconnect even on a subconscious level, without years of cultural manga formatted storytelling. If one looks at Chris Ware’s formatting, his exploration of scale and eye flow still roots itself to Western visual story structure. Imagine reformatting Ware’s comics for diehard Japanese manga readers. Might not go over very well but it would be an interesting study.

  12. I think you guys are all reading too much into his “manga” comment. He may have seen one or two issues in the past few years that had some manga-ish element that stuck in his head. The point is, he just doesn’t read Marvel and DC comics, so it’s difficult for him to characterize them.

    The funny thing is that back in the 1980s, I think Gary felt it was the duty of The Comics Journal to cover mainstream comics, and that put him in a very adversarial position. Now the worlds of mainstream/superhero comics and alternative/art/indy comics seem almost utterly divorced. I suspect Gary isn’t writing scathing editorials about the powers that be at Marvel and DC because that world seems kind of irrelevant to him. As someone who worked for Fantagraphics back in the 90s, I’d say Gary has mellowed a LOT, primarily by becoming more indifferent.

  13. “Like I said, I’m not one to talk.”

    BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!

  14. Groth perfectly sums up my attitude toward the DC reboot: total disinterest. I’m too old to care.

  15. R. Maheras says:

    The Beat wrote: “Gary is NOT a manga fan, or at least doesn’t get it, as he has stated many many times over the years. So the manga publishing is a recent, but welcome trend.”

    I guess I don’t “get it” either — despite six years in Japan during the 1980s where almost all I could get was manga.

    Don’t get me wrong — I was enjoying the great art in manga like “Akira” before most of my comics fan brethren in the United States had ever even heard the term “manga.” But despite the fact the scope of available comics in Japan was enormous, the vast majority of it did not really appeal to me, art-wise.

  16. Matthew Southworth says:

    To echo Rafael K’s point–and that of several others:

    I believe that Groth’s point about layouts being manga-influenced refers to the kinetic style of modern superhero layouts. Manga, generally speaking, seems laid out to communicate motion, action and emotion, whereas American comics up to the Image era generally were laid out in a more unobtrusive and also uninflected manner.

    That’s not to say that action, emotion and motion SHOULDN’T be communicated in layouts; but when one looks at Kirby’s work, the panel shapes were rarely anything but rectangles on a grid (the action contained in the boxes). And for someone like Groth, his reading of current independent comics bears out a more straightforward style as well. Look at Chester Brown’s PAYING FOR IT, for example–eight boxes in a grid on every page. Chris Ware’s layouts are mostly a gridded, almost mathematical arrangement. Jordan Crane (the SUPERB and very underrated Jordan Crane) also uses a simple grid arrangement.

    Compare that to virtually any mainstream superhero book, and I think one could say that the layouts do bear at least some resemblance to manga.

  17. Robert Boyd said:

    “The funny thing is that back in the 1980s, I think Gary felt it was the duty of The Comics Journal to cover mainstream comics, and that put him in a very adversarial position. Now the worlds of mainstream/superhero comics and alternative/art/indy comics seem almost utterly divorced. I suspect Gary isn’t writing scathing editorials about the powers that be at Marvel and DC because that world seems kind of irrelevant to him. As someone who worked for Fantagraphics back in the 90s, I’d say Gary has mellowed a LOT, primarily by becoming more indifferent.”

    Robert, without disputing your characterization of Gary as such– since I think it likely that you have known the man better than I– I find it hard to believe that “duty” *alone* motivated the JOURNAL to cover. From the late 70s to the early 80s, I can’t imagine the JOURNAL garnering any readership at all without covering the mainstream and genre-comics. I know that the sales may have been meager even then, but who would have bought the JOURNAL in that time period had it avoided genre comics? Leftover EC fans and head shop patrons?

    Now, I’d certainly admit that by the late 80s the JOURNAL had started to avoid emphasizing the mainstream, even though the mainstream/indie scene had not fragmented as much as it has today. That’s the period when covers started featuring people like Ralph Steadman rather than Wolfman and Perez. But even at that time, I’m skeptical that “duty” alone informed the JOURNAL’s increasingly oppositional coverage of the comics mainstream.

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