Archive | October, 2011

Mixmaster

28 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

Newspaper comics suffer (for many reasons) in part because newspaper editors don’t use their comics pages as an opportunity to express their own creativity. The comics page is an unwelcome nuisance to most paper editors; it needs to be there, but the editors tend to have no interest in it. That’s why comics pages tend to be conservative (old comics) and uninspired. The perfect ideal would be that a newspaper editor took the comics part of his or her job as an opportunity to flex their muscles and exercise some personal freedom. I liken the task to that of a college radio DJ, a figure in American culture renowned for taking pride in finding new things and breaking them for an audience.

While plenty of newspaper comics are dire, there are still plenty available to all three of the major syndicates that–if an editor is doing his or her job–will provide a very personal mix of material for the reading audience. But since newspaper comic editors don’t care (the job is foisted upon them among other responsibilities), they default to whatever already exists along with the whims of the few readers who bother to complain whenever there are changes.

My personal fantasy comics industry works like a hybrid of what we’ve got in newspapers crossed with an approximation of the Japanese comic system for magazines. Here’s how it works in my head:

You’ve got your syndicates who hire, nurture and promote cartoonists to newspapers. The newspaper editors license the strips from the various syndicates in accordance to their own vision of what their comic page should look like. Ideally, this is an important task that the newspaper editor sees as crucial to his/her paper’s success as well as his/her personal enjoyment of career. The Japanese influence that I would like to see is a tighter engagement between readers of newspapers and editors of comic pages. I want to see editors directly engaged with what readers are enjoying and not enjoying. I want comics to routinely be pulled into newspapers and dropped out. I want to see comics more directly in line with what you and I actually care about.

In my fantasy, editors seek feedback from their readers to determine the ongoing enjoyment of the comics. If a comic isn’t doing well (for differences other than “Bring back Beetle Bailey!!”), the editor reconsiders the approach and considers replacing that strip. In my fantasy, comic strips don’t last eternally, but instead, cartoonists cycle through various ideas throughout their careers. A comic might last six months or it might last ten years. In my mind, this is how markets work also. In reality, comics, like capitalism, are rigged so that the weakest tend to survive while the true lifeblood, fresh ideas, are left to whither and die, despite being important for growth.

Newspapers are constantly trying to save themselves. Comics are constantly trying to save themselves. Both are facing an impossible task; they should be trying to save each other. The modern newspaper pre-dates the invention of the comic strip but the comic strip was created to make individual newspapers more attractive. Early strips were highly interesting in part because there was an element of real-world competition that forced all participants to stay on edge and work very hard. Today, with both industries suffering, I am disappointed how neither side seems to recall the glory days when both industries recognized one another’s utility to themselves and to society in general.

Keep it current for the kids

27 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

Things that don’t make sense in North American comics: 1) comics that exist after their creators have ceased to. 2) these comics’ existence continues despite minimal effort to applicable to contemporary culture. Things that make perfect sense in North American comics: people’s general lack of interest in comics.

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The word comic means funny

26 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

The shortest version of this is that when all else fails, comics should be funny. It’s nice when they’re not funny but are instead suspenseful, emotionally revealing, sexy, adrenaline-fueling or intellectually provocative. Every one of those responses is valid. Despite it all, comics are still basically a wonderful vehicle for comedy. Which becomes sad when one considers how few comics are actually funny. Even/especially those particularly created with the intention of provoking laughter. I try to keep my rage in check, but one day, I’m going to snap and begin reviewing comics with the sole criteria being whether or not the comic is funny. This would be a critical bloodbath. This is one of my deepest fantasies.

A Tribute to Harvey Pekar – Cleveland Heights, 10/25/11

26 Oct
by Kevin Czap

Last night I spent the evening at the Dobama Theater, a part of the Cleveland Public Library, to join in a celebratory memorial service for Harvey Pekar. I hope all of you reading this know how significant a figure Harvey is, but if not, I wrote a bit about what him and his work means to me at my other blog shortly after he passed last July. For more information, there’s no shortage of writing about (and written by) him. Anyway, the purpose of this event Tuesday night was to get together with a portion of the community that knew and supported Harvey throughout his life. Some folks had come up through grade school with him, some had only known him tangentially as a part of the culture of Coventry Road. My big take away from the event is that one of the most important things Pekar’s work did was to highlight real people, real lives, and in that little community theater it was all right there.

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Genre diversity in comics, if that makes any sense

25 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

When people in comics talk about genre diversity, I don’t think that they think about what that entails. For instance, when I log into iTunes or my new favorite toy, Netflix, they have a variety of different things on display as well as a clear list of major genres. Rather extensive list for both services. When I log in to the comic book shop, I don’t really see that so much. My regular shop does a good job racking the collected books in genre-based shelves. But even then I wonder if there isn’t enough diversity. Or at least the feeling that enough bases are being covered. But on the other hand…

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Alternative comics, artcomics, litcomics, indie comics

24 Oct

By Darryl Ayo

I look at a lot of the so-called “alternative comics,” and–I don’t expect that I’m blowing anyone’s mind here–find that they are perfectly normal. They should be called “normal comics” and marketed as such. They should be called “normal comics,” and people can say “oh, are you into Spider-Man?” and you’d respond “nah, I only read normal comics.” Look at some of the stuff noted as “alternative” or “left-of-center” in the comic book world; a lot of it is genre stuff akin to what you’d see at the multiplex or stories about normal people that you’d find in the center of your local Barnes and Noble box store. Just regular, normal stories. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

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Where My Eyes Can See

19 Oct
by Kevin Czap

Frank Santoro

It was quite a coincidence that Darryl made the post he did on Friday about poster-sized one-pagers, since it’s in line with something I’ve been thinking about recently. One of my bigger concerns when I was at school was to try and figure out how comics could work in a gallery context. I was never satisfied with just sticking pages up on the wall – they’re designed to be held in your hands and engaged with on a personal level. My self-righteousness on this subject has cooled over the years, but I still hold to that basic concept. I stopped worrying about trying to fit comics into a gallery and just focused on making my books (or websites). Needless to say, I never figured out the answer, which left me unprepared for when I was asked to have my first solo show.

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