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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Monday Mixtape: Ayo and comix

17 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

This past weekend, I discovered that the Graphicly Facebook app is smoothly integrating with Facebook pages. This is the biggest comics news for me personally because I’ve been holding my breath waiting for the moment that I could start using the feature. To give a basic overview, Graphicly is the more social-network-sensitive digital comics service out of the Big Three: ComiXology, iVerse Media and Graphicly. Being a heavy user of social media and a bit of a comics reader, this is a fascinating development for me.

I have started a Facebook page which I believe can function a bit like a book club. I’ll be able to embed specific comic files from Graphicly (similar to YouTube) and people who visit my Facebook page will be able to actually read the file right there. For the purposes of discussion, I’m searching out comics that are free or which have lengthy previews so that we can try to get a little bit of chatter going. Facebook.com/LetsGoAyo –come and hang out!

xoxoxoxoxoxo

In other news, this weekend was also the 2011 New York Comic Con (NYCC)

I attended but did not exhibit. I spent time with some established friends, made some new friends and got super-mad about comics. Which sounds like a regular day, except adding a crowd of maybe one hundred-thousand people. I found myself in a very unusual position this year because things that I like a lot such as Adventure Time and HomeStuck are actually popular. I’m used to being an extreme outsider at these sorts of things. I was pretty happy with the comic book publisher booths for Archaia, Top Shelf, First Second and Oni Press¬†amongst others.

Marvel Comics‘ booth reigned supreme this year with a towering monument to The Avengers complete with actors as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents guarding Captain America’s uniform and shield. One thing that I want to impress upon people when I describe these cons is that Marvel Comics and chief competator DC Comics don’t sell comic books at these festivals. They don’t sell anything, actually. They use these comic cons as an opportunity to promote their respective brands, to encourage¬†immersive fan interactions, to promote upcoming events, and to generally further a culture around their products.

Of course, this is impossible for the other publishers to mimic because those publishers are dealing with properties that are owned by various creators. In DC and Marvel’s case, all of the properties are owned outright by the publisher and thus it is always a gain when they choose to take a path such as 2011 Marvel’s decision of promoting one product line (The Avengers). A publisher like Top Shelf cannot reasonably do that because all of their products are the work of individual authors who each need to have their fair chance to promote a particular project. Marvel therefore has two advantages: the obvious advantage of a greater amount of money in general, and the subtler advantage of being free to put the full weight of its marketing behind a single concept, and allowing that year’s secondary lines to merely enjoy any runoff.

The artists’ alley had tables from the best-known mainstream superhero artists to small-name creators looking to make a name for themselves. Always remember: if you care about comics as an artform, you will spend a good amount of your time in the artists’ alley at these types of shows. On the other hand, I found myself spending an unprecedented amount of time becoming acquainted with the world of vinyl toys and illustrators’ poster-prints. There’s so much at these comic-con shows that each year you go back presents a new opportunity to dive into something that is brand new to you.

Dark Horse Comics‘ area had a combination of experiences. On the soft carpeting of their exhibition space there was a small stage for Dark Horse authors to talk to fans and hold signing events, but on the side of that was a standing display area showing off two iPads with Dark Horse’s digital comics app installed and ready for passers by to browse.

This is the most obvious and simple thing that comic publishers need to do at these festivals. Comic books look spectacular on the iPad; and having two digital readers on display allows show goers who are soaking in the spectacle of the festival in general to get a quick blast of the product itself, in all its glowing, brightly-colored glory.

Only true regret of this year’s NYCC is that I found that the panels were far more crowded than they had been in years previous. I usually prefer to spend a day of this festival just sitting in panel discussions, but this year, I didn’t get a chance to even attend one!

Such is life.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

And that’s that.

-Ayo.

Comics.

14 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

In his book Reinventing Comics, comics theorist and cartoon character Scott McCloud holds up a North American comic book magazine and proclaims that “this is not a comic,” followed by a panel in which he opens up the comic to the pages within, “this is.” This began a short sequence in a chapter that focused on the downturning Direct Market of North American comic books and how the industry can bring new readers in. McCloud believes–as I do–that the most important aspect to comics culture is awareness. He stands in a camp of thought that says that if only one could show people the things, more people would be excited about comics.

This short sequence of the book goes on to suppose that if the comic book cover is not in itself a comic, then it is a barrier to comics awareness. Therefore, if we could put the sequential art directly at the forefront and show people exactly what comics look like on the inside, more people would go into the stores.

McCloud throws out something that is clearly a futurist suggestion–a window display for comic shops that features blown up comic pages in a large mechanical display. This display would allow passersby to turn the pages with controls from the outside. They’d have the pages right in front of them. In this way, McCloud suggests, the direct experience of comics/sequential-art would be placed before the eyes of the average person walking by.

To which my immediate response was as follows:

“…or, you could just make a comic that fits on one page.”

This was the earnest beginning of my cartooning career.

In the months that followed, the idea implanted itself deeper and deeper in my mind. When I started to truly make comics, I imagined them as one-page strips. The cultural and commercial appeal in my mind was to make “poster comics.” And I knew that there had been such things in the past. But my desire was to make them “a thing,” how do you say…a vital genre in the sequential art medium. Related to traditional comic strips and traditional one-page comics, but altered through context. Normal one-page comics are read in newspapers or books. A comic the size of a rock poster would be originally intended for a person’s wall. As such, even though the shape is similar, the intent is different.

For example: a one-page comic like Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For (one of my favorite comics of all time) is easy and fun to read on an alternative newspaper page, on the computer screen of Bechdel’s blog and in collection books like Houghton Mifflin Harcour’s 2008 The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. However, the visual style of Dykes to Watch Out For is actually unsuitable to be read from a few feet away, even if the art is enlarged to make each strip poster-sized. The panels are compact, intimate; the content wordy. At some points, Bechdel seems to suffer from horror vaccui (the fear of negative space). I say this with great love for Bechdel and other horror vaccui artists. I love the stuff, but it must be read up-close, on a page of paper, not at standing distance on a friend’s wall. No.

For that, you’d need to look at a cartoonist who came along a few years later: Aaron Diaz of Dresden Codak. I first met Diaz in 2007 at Small Press Expo. I met him very shortly after encountering Dresden Codak online. I wasn’t too into webcomics at the time; I found them difficult to keep up with. But I enjoyed seeing new work that I could investigate at places like SPX. At this time, Diaz hadn’t printed any books yet; he was selling twenty dollar Dresden Codak print-posters. I believe that I told him at the time how happy I was to see him doing these poster-strips because they were a thing that I felt was vital and necessary. I bought one of the posters as well.

Unfortunately, by 2007, I had moved on in my own work past one-page strips and toward multi-page short stories and more¬†prominently, my one-panel nonhumor vignettes, Little Garden as well as a couple of lesser works. As much as I love Little Garden, I have always had a yearning in the pit of my stomach to do bold large poster comics. With large, spacious panels that a person could fall into. I keep attempting but I always fall short, in part because so much of my cartooning skillset has grown accustomed to the single-panel format. Meanwhile, I’ve been forced to clench my teeth with bitter regret each time a person mentioned to me that my work would “make great prints.” But writing this article has been personally enlightening. I will consider a life change.

HMMM!

PIX 2011

12 Oct
by Kevin Czap

Ah, it’s autumn. Time for a trip to our sister city for the second annual Pittsburgh Independent Expo. This trip marks a year that I’ve been tabling at comics shows, and it’s nice to celebrate the occasion in such a great place. (For those interested in reading a long and enthusiastic report of last year’s show, check out this post. Everyone else, let’s move one.)

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