Popularity is scary

 Uploaded Images Dark-Horse-In-April-2007-20070109043021852-744124
The Wisdom of Steven Grant continued: This week he reveals the secret truth no one wants you to know about!

The American comics industry has lived for a long time on its own relatively isolated little island, where things have developed under fairly unique circumstances. But the medium’s no longer an island; only the business is. And now only if we choose to be. Because comics are mainstream now, as mainstream as anything. They’re acceptable. They’re accepted.

Repeat that until it sinks in. They’re accepted. Comics are accepted. We’re accepted. We’re not lionized, for the most part, but why should we be? But we’re not freaks anymore, or outsiders. The island is no longer a necessity. Great as it’s been living on coconuts all these years, there’s steak out there to be had. There’s a whole world a hell of a lot bigger and more diverse and more interesting than our island.

And I suspect that’s what a lot of people in American comics are secretly worried about.


This idea was tangentially discussed at the “State of the Industry” panel we took part in the other night, ably reported on by Laura Hudson:

When the panel discussed ways to expand the audience for comics and graphic novels, Phegley said that the medium would never truly go mainstream until it was embraced by middle America, and suggested that it would be beneficial if a graphic novel were promoted by Oprah’s book club, for example. MacDonald agreed that “passing the Oprah test” was something she often came across in her work at Publishers Weekly, and an important factor for mainstream acceptance.


Actually what interested us the most about this panel is that when asked to mention comics they liked, Bully said Dark Horse’s Little Lulu reprints and Kiel Phegley mentioned Dark Horse’s Casper collection, books the very little Beat was reading all those years ago.

WE’re not sure we can articulate the connection right now, except that the idea of acceptance for comics is scary because Oprah might not like YOUR comic, and then where would we all be?

Comments

  1. Torsten Adair says:

    There are many benchmarks yet to come. One of the biggest is convincing parents that comics are something they should buy for their children. Soon after that, there will be a Caldecott Award. Oprah has two benchmarks. The easier one is having her talk about your book. Most likely, I could see her doing a show on adult graphic novels like Incognegro. The second is the Nobel Prize Of Publishing: Oprah’s Book Club. The title would have wide appeal, be easy to understand, and have ideas which generate discussion. American Born Chinese would be a good choice.
    Middle America already reads comics. My mother has read Persepolis, Maus; my father Watchmen, The Cartoon History Of The Universe; my sister-in-law Castle Waiting.
    Bookstores and libraries all over stock graphic novels. GNs flirt with the bestseller lists. The New York Times reviews them in the daily paper!
    What we need to do is seduce the innocent every chance we can! Find a reader and suggest a GN they might enjoy!

  2. Fanboy Menace says:

    Who cares about being popular or accepted? Mainstream movie fodder that desperately wants to be taken seriously? Sounds like a good way to kill any real artistic spirit left in the medium. Comics are the popular kid in school. They’re the shifty cool kid who sits in the back of the class.

    Do something to make comics dangerous again I say. Be rebels and shake things up. All this pandering to popular culture is seriously lame. Doesn’t anyone get a little embarassed when Joe Q. goes on Colbert and breathlessly tries to sell these events to an audience that has no idea what he’s talking about? Just do awesome work and eventually the people who care will find you.

    It’s like the comic industry is walking the line of catering to and milking its own insular direct market audience, yet waving it about to whoever will listen in the mainstream media in an attempt to draw others into the “club”. Once upon a time comics just rocked as much fun as they could and made sure they were cheap and easily available. That’s all that it really took.

  3. Fanboy Menace says:

    Who cares about being popular or accepted? Mainstream movie fodder that desperately wants to be taken seriously? Sounds like a good way to kill any real artistic spirit left in the medium. Comics aren’t the popular kid in school, they’re the shifty cool kid who sits in the back of the class.

    Do something to make comics dangerous again I say. Be rebels and shake things up. All this pandering to popular culture is seriously lame. Doesn’t anyone get a little embarassed when Joe Q. goes on Colbert and breathlessly tries to sell these events to an audience that has no idea what he’s talking about? Just do awesome work and eventually the people who care will find you.

    It’s like the comic industry is walking the line of catering to and milking its own insular direct market audience, yet waving it about to whoever will listen in the mainstream media in an attempt to draw others into the “club”. Once upon a time comics just rocked as much fun as they could and made sure they were cheap and easily available. That’s all that it really took.

  4. I think the benchmark is academic discussion, even though academia is also outside the mainstream. But academic discussion is seen as a stamp of approval to the mainstream (or a kiss of death, depending). The cultural value of something tends to be measured by how popular it is for intellectual dissection, for better or for worse.

    Imagine the day when kids don’t want to read The Watchmen because they have to write a report on it for Comics class. :D

  5. Oh god this blog has graphic smileys. What a nice finish to a post about “academic discussion”. (Insert disgusted smiley here)

  6. I agree with Fanboy Menace that comics will be better off the less “mainstream” they are, but I don’t see Quesada’s going on Colbert as pandering to that mainstream, ’cause Colbert’s cool and by extension at least some of his audience-members are too.

    Going on Oprah, of course, would be a different story. The horror… the horror…

  7. The lamentation of Quesada on Colbert or Marvel comics (or DC) going “mainstream” seems a little ridiculous. You’re too late. When characters’ faces are appearing on the sides of popcorn buckets I think it’s safe to assume that they’re “mainstream”.

  8. hcduvall says:

    I would like comics to be more mainstream as more comics will be sold, more creators will make a living off making them, and that’ll inspire more comics will be made that I might like. I certainly wouldn’t resent the wrong kind of people liking comics or the wrong comics too much. Certainly less than the options that would open with comics being an easier financial path for people to take.

  9. I think the interesting thing is that the comics that are most likely to be perceived as attracting a “mainstream” audience are indie creations, while mainstream company creations tend to cater more to niche-America (in this case, the super-hero/fantasy crowd).

    Something like Fun Home, American Born Chinese, or Persepolis is much more likely to capture an Oprah award than even the better super-hero tales (say something like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” or a particularly good run of Daredevil).

  10. Q: “Who cares about being popular or accepted?”

    A: Anybody who works in comics.

  11. i’ve actually been thinking on this for the last few months. the acceptance and popularity of HEROES started the thought. people are having mad fits over the “brave new angle on superheroes.” where folks like us have seen it a thousand times before. (and seen it done better he adds surreptitiously)

    this mainstream acceptance is scary and strange.

    i’m not sure i like it but i’m sure as hell along for the ride.

    “Oprah might not like YOUR comic,”

    bite your tongue!

  12. Fanboy Menace says:

    I have to disagree both with comics being more mainstream causing them to sell more. Forty years ago comics sold millions with limited media tie-ins and a shadow of today’s merchandising. DC and Marvel both have much higher profiles today, but they still sell just a fraction of their yesteryear tallies. It’s all comes back to being good, cheap, and easy to obtain, not how accepted you are by Entertainment Weekly.

    And for everyone in comics wanting to be popular and accepted? Also consider these comic creators of 40 years ago. They were working like crazy for basic wages with poor royalties. There was almost no promise of media options outside of cheap, sub-standard cartoons. They never had any reason to believe their work would be seen by anyone but children with the rare exceptions of some older readers. There were no high-profile conventions. Their comics weren’t referenced by hip television shows and their wasn’t anything even resembling G4. They worked for the love of the medium and a modest paycheck.

    Will Eisner’s boundary expanding Spirit, the exceptional work of the EC writers and artists, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko’s experimental pop art, R. Crumb’s underground movement, and so many others: all amazing work that continues to inspire and be talked about to this very day.

  13. John Shableski says:

    It’s funny to think that people view mainstream acceptance in the same fashion as the punk fans did ‘back in the day”. As soon as a British band would sell records in the US their fans back home would drop them.
    What I see happening now is that the mainstream will adopt graphic novels and comics(which is already happening) and more mainstream authors will see the format as a better way to tell a story. This is extremely cool.

    What does it mean for the shifty cool kid in the back of the class? An opportunity to create better cutting edge stuff.

    Now here is the question, you fiercely independent soul: When the big house shows up on your door step with a nice hunk of cash and an opportunity to make your story “popular” or “commercially successful”…whaddya gonna do?

    I think you will take the cash. Afterall, doesnt the money allow you to do even more cool stuff? Look at Frank Miller, the guy is directing movies.

    How cool is that? So dont piss on the moment. Embrace it and make it work to your advantage.

Speak Your Mind

*