Kibbles ‘n’ Bits, 10/16/09

§ Ben Towle argues what many felt about the STITCHES National Book Award nomination — it’s nice that such a fine book was recognized, but putting an adult memoir in the kids section just because it’s a graphic novel, isn’t all that progressive and reveals a gap in the Comics Revolution:

My point is straightforward: until there’s a sizable adult readership for comics/graphic novels which do not derive their appeal from a factual/memoir-based connection to their narratives, comics cannot be said to have truly “arrived” as an art form. Yes there are a number of GNs that have sold well in the mass market, but the vast majority of them rely on the novelty of some kind of appeal to events or circumstances beyond simply a well-crafted narrative to do so: the author’s tragic childhood (Stitches, Fun Home, Blankets), the author’s personal involvement in political strife and/or war (MAUS, Palestine, Persepolis), the author’s tragedy in adulthood (Cancer Vixen, various other cancer-related books), etc. (And of course, there are things like Watchmen that “regular people” will buy when movies are made of them.) Where is the readership, though, for general fiction GNs? Beyond comics folk, I’d say it’s in the realm of very small to non-existent.


§C2E@, the Chicago convention planned for next April, will include a Comic Studies Conference, and is looking for proposals:

If you’re a librarian, professor, teacher, or scholarly fan, the Comics Studies Conference wants to hear from you. The CSC invites proposals for scholarly presentations, book talks, slide talks, roundtables, professional-focus panels, workshops and other panels centered on sequential art and comics in any form (graphic novels, comic strips, comic books, manga, web comics, etc.), comics-centric works, or adaptations of comics materials, genres, or figures into other media for its first annual meeting, held in conjunction with C2E2.


§ A few more details on that Bradleys cartoon pilot, which Peter Bagge we co-write.

§ Benjamin Marra is a cartoonist who’s been getting a lot of attention in certain circles, and after you read this interview, you may see why:

Har. I dig your sarcasm. I do include fans of indie, autobio comics as fans or potential fans of Night Business. But I hope that they’ll read it and never admit to anyone or themselves that it secretly touches them in a place they love and yearn to be touched. Yes, I am making a statement to indie comic fans. My statement is indie comics don’t always have to be indulgent, pitying, self-analyses of despair, sadness and self-importance. There’s a broader spectrum of emotions and story ideas out there I’m trying to explore in comics, like, lust, rage, revenge, violence, street justice, drug abuse, nudity and sexiness. The sum of which is Exploitation. To be clear, I don’t think that all indie comics are as I’ve described. It’s the indie comic stereotype – that is well anchored in reality – that Night Business is a reaction to.

Comments

  1. Scratchie says:

    Thank goodness there is finally a comics creator out with the guts to use story ideas like lust, rage, revenge, violence, street justice, drug abuse, nudity and sexiness. Lord knows we’ve never any comics written about those story ideas before, in the entire history of comics.

  2. “Thank goodness there is finally a comics creator out with the guts to use story ideas like lust, rage, revenge, violence, street justice, drug abuse, nudity and sexiness. Lord knows we’ve never any comics written about those story ideas before, in the entire history of comics.”

    Awesome this means Stray Bullets is coming back! Right?

  3. “Where is the readership, though, for general fiction GNs? Beyond comics folk, I’d say it’s in the realm of very small to non-existent.”

    GNs, from a bookstore perspective, are a genre. It has its own category, just like Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, and, yes, Western. It sells as well as, or better than, these other categories.

    For fictional GNs, this will continue for the foreseeable future. (Non-fiction GNs get shelved in the proper category, like Biography, History, Science, and Current Affairs.) Just as a few “genre” authors have broken free of their classifications (Crichton of Science Fiction, Gabaldon of Romance), so might a few GN creators find acceptance in the general Fiction shelves.

    I read a lot of GNs, in a variety of genres. (I just finished a biography of Vlad the Impaler.) I also read lots of books without pictures, in a variety of genres and categories. I think the same can be said of just about any reader. They will have topics which they enjoy, but will consider the occasional title outside their interests, like a graphic novel.

    So, I celebrate any mainstream acceptance of graphic novels, no matter what the reason, whether it is a display in a library, a literary award, a review in the New York Times, a major motion picture, or a selection as a “One City, One Book” title.

    As a bookseller and Seducer of the Innocent, I don’t care what (graphic novels) you read, as long as you read something.

    As for mainstream acceptance, we are there folks. Have been for at least five years. The major book publishers all have significant GN catalogs. Hollywood is developing lesser-known properties into motion pictures and television shows. Kids are ready comics in school! Usually at the suggestion of the librarian!

    But if you want to maintain your outsider status, that’s cool. Meanwhile, I’ve got a four-year-old nephew that loves Spider-Man, ’cause he sees it everywhere and his friends talk about it.

  4. Synsidar says:

    GNs, from a bookstore perspective, are a genre. It has its own category, just like Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, and, yes, Western. It sells as well as, or better than, these other categories.

    That seems to assume that people read GNs primarily for the artwork, or the content traditionally associated with the form (superhero, autobiography) while prose readers read novels for the story content. If that’s the case, then the comics counterparts to Nora Roberts, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, Greg Bear, Terry Brooks, et al., aren’t going to appear within Towle’s lifetime. The people who could potentially be such writers will be doing screenplays instead.

    SRS

  5. “But if you want to maintain your outsider status, that’s cool. Meanwhile, I’ve got a four-year-old nephew that loves Spider-Man, ’cause he sees it everywhere and his friends talk about it.”

    Oh, thank god for saying that. That “outside status” very well may be the last hurdle to cross for some folks. But no matter what there will always be an indy scene and a mass-media scene. Squabbling about it instead of accepting it (no matter what the form) doesn’t get people anywhere. Obviously the fact that we can even branch comics across such a diverse palette in so many markets and have recognition (as Torsten’s nephew) speaks volumes. Yes, we should always strive for more, but why can’t we also be happy with the gains we’ve made?

  6. @Synsidar — Yo’re right! But that’s not a statement on comics failing to go mainstream – it’s simply that comics are a terribly cost-inefficient medium for telling stories. If you’re a writer by trade, unless you’re part of the Marvel/DC machine, where you have well-oiled infrastructure managing a huge pool of artists, the comics medium is probably not the place to go to make your fortune. Mass market novelists like those you mention average about a year to produce a 400 page work that your typical reader might consume over a week or two or more. It’s a good value for the reader and the writer, being the sole creator, can reap decent returns. For a 200 page graphic novel, it’s a much shorter investment for the writer, but add on the art and it takes the same 9-18 months as a novel, only the end product can be consumed in a matter of hours, not weeks, and the advance/royalties must be divided between writer and artist (which could include separate inkers/colorists/letterer). This isn’t to say that there is no merit to writing for comics, or that a handful of writers can make a decent living writing comics outside the Marvel/DC machine, but it absolutely makes more economic sense for someone looking to make a living writing fiction full-time to turn to novels or screenplays.

    Frankly, mass market writers have more right to feel threatened by comics’ dominance in Hollywood/gaming culture than comics do by the enduring popularity of the paperback.

  7. Julian says:

    “I’ll go further to say Night Business is not just a reaction to my perception of indie autobio comics but also a reaction to comics I see as trying to usher the form into a legitimate literary sphere. Some of those works – some of which are autobiographical – would be Maus, Persepolis, Blankets, Jimmy Corrigan, Optic Nerve and Asterios Polyp. While those works are all formally successful, inventive, awesome demonstrations of the comic language, critically lauded and beloved, I disagree with them creatively at a fundamental, philosophical level as comic books. Comics have had a sordid and disreputable history. From traditionally foul business practices to Seduction of the Innocent to the McCarthy hearings to the effects of the direct market, comics have achieved a relatively hideous station in popular culture which is where I’d like them to return and stay. I don’t believe comics should be precious books printed on archival paper telling serious stories that examine our interpersonal relationships. I believe the form should be cheap, gutter-level, throw-away entertainment with stories that appeal to our most base emotions, fantasies and desires. I’d like for comics to be full of dangerous ideas that parents wouldn’t want their kids to read. I believe this to be comics true nature.”

    Oh god, not this argument again.

  8. @Torsten – “[Graphic novels] has its own category, just like Science Fiction and Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, and, yes, Western. It sells as well as, or better than, these other categories.”

    Even if this were true sales-wise (and I’m not sure it is) that’s doesn’t really have much bearing on the point I was trying to make in the post Heidi linked to. The point is not whether or not GNs sell well in book stores, it’s what KINDS of GNs sell well in book stores. Specifically, it’s that there is a very narrow scope of genres of GN that an adult casual general reader will pick up and read.

    That this is the case can easily be borne out by talking to whomever does the ordering at your local B&N or borders, or talking to any literary agent who deals with GN about what types of books the trade publishers are buying, or just by looking at the hard sales numbers (to the extent that they’re available and reliable when it comes to GNs).

    As to this “outsider status” silliness (I’m not sure where this is coming from), please note that I (just barely) make my living making comics. I want comics to have as LITTLE “outsider status” as possible!

  9. Synsidar says:

    Mass market novelists like those you mention average about a year to produce a 400 page work that your typical reader might consume over a week or two or more. It’s a good value for the reader and the writer, being the sole creator, can reap decent returns.

    Your reasoning seems sound, but it implies a dismal future for people wanting good genre fiction in comics form. Unless a writer/artist happens to be a good writer, it’s too easy to let the artwork dominate the storytelling and to go with what’s most effective visually, rather than working as a prose writer does to create an overall sense of what’s going on and how the plot is progressing.

    For example, DOCTOR VOODOO #1, written by Rich Remender, came out last week. Whatever Remender’s talents as a writer might be, he evidently has little knowledge of sorcery in fiction, and wrote Doctor Voodoo as a superhero, flexing his magical muscles. What happens in the story makes no sense at all from a god/worshipper standpoint, but the dialogue was dramatic, the pacing was good, and the relatively few people who reviewed the comic seemed to like it — even though the story was nicely-drawn trash.

    Accomplished prose genre writers are at least aware of genre conventions and won’t violate them for the sake of visual effects.

    SRS

  10. “Unless a writer/artist happens to be a good writer, it’s too easy to let the artwork dominate the storytelling and to go with what’s most effective visually, rather than working as a prose writer does to create an overall sense of what’s going on and how the plot is progressing.”

    1) A good editor would help a writer/artist with such an issue or shouldn’t have picked it up in the first place.
    2) If you are hoping for a thriving market for good genre comics where art is incidental, then I would say, yes, the outlook is dismal.

  11. Synsidar says:

    Artwork cannot make a bad story good.

    That’s not a profound thought, but it occurred to me after reading the Marra interview and the 2007 piece on The Beat about the gap between “autobio” and genre fiction comics. When a writer/artist does an autobio piece, the artwork will be an integral element of the work; when an individual or people produce a genre fiction comic, the artwork isn’t integral to the story. It just gives descriptions of characters, scenes, etc., a visual dimension that would otherwise be absent. The Lee-Kirby FF stories would be pulp fiction, whoever drew them, or if they’d been prose stories with spot illustrations. Whatever virtues Kirby’s artwork had couldn’t change the nature of the story.

    The artistic elegance of the autobio comics might explain why “arty” types find them much more appealing than fiction. They’re reacting to the completeness of the works, as if they’d read effective poems. No genre fiction stories, even if they’re done by a writer/artist, can have the same effect.

    SRS

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