I can’t fold, I need gold, I reup, I reload, product must be sold To you.

17 Jun

By Ayo

Minicomics, artcomics, lit-comics, indie comics, alt-comics. That whole region of comics falls under a general umbrella. The problem is that nobody is making it rain.

There is a lot of talk about how strong comics are as an artform and how important the independent/art/lit-comics world is. Over a decade since Fort Thunder and Jimmy Corrigan and it seems like it mostly is just talk. Yes, some individuals have made a career crafting a niche product while NPR hosts scramble to describe them as “not the comic books you may be used to,” but it still does not amount to a very powerful movement. It is more than selling individual books to decent numbers of people, I am talking about does this field of art mean something to culture as a whole. Does it factor into a moderately average person’s daily life? Or are literary/art/alternative comics just an occasional novelty, like a parlor trick?

1.

I have asked people on occasion: apart from cartoonists, you know, the people who are directly involved in this field, who reads indie comics? We never talk about them, these “civilians,” these “only readers.” I am desperately interested in them. I know a lot of cartoonists. Hundreds. I know hundreds of cartoonists. I want to know more about people who have an interest in this work without it being a vested interest.

How do indie comics factor into your life? Do you buy minicomics from conventions? Do you go to conventions only to buy minicomics and meet cartoonists? Or do public readings, panel discussions matter to you? Are you reading this blog and blogs like it? Cartoonists tend to conduct personal communication publicly between one another. Does that interest you or are we obnoxious?

For those of you who read minicomics, what do you do with them? How are they stored in your home? Do you have a special place where you go to read your minicomics? How wide or deep is your interest? Do you follow certain artists or enter a comics festival and snatch things up left and right? Do you dispose of your minicomics eventually? What do book collections of comics mean to you? Do your other (non-cartooning) friends share any part in your interest?

2.

Once upon a time, not long ago, millions and millions of people read comics every day in the newspapers. Several changes in the business structure of newspapers dwindled the cultural power of these everyday, mass-enjoyed comic works. But there was a lot of culture to them.

Newspaper comics would be read and passed around, favorites would be cut out and pinned to cubicle walls, folded into envelopes with a letter, taped inside of a school locker.

A quick joke or a plot movement forward in a longer narrative, and people would incorporate that into their day. I remember reading the newspaper comics in the breakroom at my old retail job. Very casually, while taking one’s fifteen-minute break, one would grab the Lifestyles section of the Democrat & Chronicle, read the funnies, stretch one’s arms and then head back to the salesfloor.

I miss comics of a kind that would incorporate into an average person’s daily life without demanding to become a dominant force in a person’s life.

3.

When I look at comic books in general and smaller comics in particular, I see a steep barrier of entry for readers. The community is very closed. Not by conscious exclusion but by years of increasingly conservative and protective stances.

One obvious example is how festival attendees are treated by the institution of a comics festival. Festivals often seem to advertise exhibitor afterparties as main events. Thanks for showing up to pay the door fee, now please depart so the real people can mingle.

Other barriers against “civilian” readers of alternative comics:

A) often, I see cartoonists at festival tables ignoring browsers to talk to friends. At times, the person browsing has been me, so I recognize being ignored.

B) the almost arcane internal logic of much of the material being produced. I’ve been reading this sort of comic for over a decade. Can a person strolling in off of the street find the same value? In short, who are people addressing their works to?

C) the self-deprecating facade of many cartoonists (and their works) is not encouraging. Sometimes it is sincere, sometimes it is a pose–a false modesty– but it is always ugly. Just like rappers often pump themselves up as tough guys, cartoonists often deflate themselves as weaklings. “Aw shucks, it’s not the best comic but it’s okay, I guess?” Stop that now. I’m not suggesting adopting a stance of arrogance but for goodness sake, show some spine and project a reasonable confidence to people. Make them feel glad that they stopped to talk to you.

D) for some strange reason, even though indie comics consist of a tightly-woven community that enjoys to publicly celebrate itself, the community fails to actually engage in public open discussions. This is not a matter of cartoonists being unwilling to offend one another–even supportive, complementary blogs receive little discussion, traffic or activity. Cartoonists will talk all day long on an ephemeral medium like twitter but not in a longer-lived document such as a posted essay or a blog entry. It gives the appearance to other people that NO ONE CARES. Because at the end of all of the talking and writing, a casual reader will see “entry has 0 comments.”

E) then there is the festival itself. Used to be that comic festivals were disparagingly called “glorified bake sales.” And they are. It is the same set up. We bake our brownies at home in our ovens (xerox machines), bring them to the church rec-hall (comic festival) and sit, smiling placidly as we hope for people to stroll by and buy our homemade brownies (they are made with love). I have publicly proposed a different comic festival. One where there is no selling but just exhibiting. Where people simply browse and enjoy the art and the pages. A gallery scenario more than a retail/craft-fair scenario. In my thinking, this would be a healthy balance, allowing some festivals to focus on outreach and encouraging people’s interest in comics without the urgency of “buy something, buy something.”

4.

When I think about music, I understand recording artists’ sense of urgency about the economic strength of their business. It is their livelihood. But when I think about myself as a customer, I dream back to when I was thirteen, sitting beside the radio, taping songs onto a blank cassette to listen to on the way to school the next day. I think about song lyrics getting stuck in my head for hours at a time. I think about presetting my favorite radio station into my parents’ car. By the time I had my own pocket money and could afford to purchase CDs on my own, I was expert enough in what I liked that I was eager to buy albums that I had learned about. When I think about music, I remember us as kids, quoting lyrics at each other. I remember having impassioned debates about which recording artist was better than who. I remember reading the magazines to get insight into similar musicians.

Music is easy because it is so fluidly integrated into our lives and our culture. Just as comics used to be. Just as comics should be.

@darrylayo

39 Responses to “I can’t fold, I need gold, I reup, I reload, product must be sold To you.”

  1. Jarod June 17, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I think of how frequently mini-comics are omitted from articles and books on comics history, even discussion of indie comics. I think a lot of it has to do with accessibility. Do you live near a shop that carries minis? Do you live near an annual indie show that you can attend? If not, you’re left wandering the internet for reviews or preview pages, and even then, I’m often hesitant to buy a mini when the shipping cost is usually more than the cost of the comic.

    But part of the problem is that cartoonists are hesitant to write about our own medium, to speak about what the comics they make are, and what it means to make them. (Maybe it’s the embodiment of the self-deprecating loser?) But if we don’t engage one another critically about our medium, then others will speak for us, or omit us from their discussions altogether. So the most widely-produced form of comic is the least accessible.

    I, too, would be interested in seeing who reads minis but doesn’t make them. I feel like the second I started reading them, I started making them. I’m not terribly interested in comics criticism, I’d much rather read about what it means for people to read comics, the ways they use them to understand living and being the world. I’d like to talk more about experience than craft or analysis. Is there a place for this conversation?

    The indie shows seem like a great place to have conversations between cartoonists and readers. But as a cartoonist with a table at shows, I feel pretty alienated, like you’re supposed to make your friends before coming to the show. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone just walking in off the street, looking to learn and to explore.

  2. ThePaisleyLady June 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    The first comics I ever read were Maus, Persepolis, the Flight anthologies, and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. The first two I read because my high school added them as the first graphic novels to make an appearance in our school library. They were considered educational. I started reading the Flight books after I spotted the gorgeous covers at the book store while browsing. And as for JTHM, well, that was something we teenagers passed around among ourselves in secret. Something dark, and funny, and amazing, that we knew our parents wouldn’t like.

    I didn’t start reading superhero comics until college. Now I read everything. I am not a cartoonist, but lucky for me, I am a librarian. I have the power to order just about any mass produced comic I could want. Mind you, I live in a small town in the south, with next to no artistic community. I go to one Sci-fi/Comic/Gaming convention a year. So, there is really no occasion for me to go to comic festivals, buy mini comics, or meet creators. So, when I say I still read indie or alt comics, I primarily mean comics published by companies like First Second, or Oni, or sometimes even Dark Horse or even Vertigo. Not nearly as underground as I feel you are talking about, but trust me, I am pretty much an audience of one.

    In order to combat this, I have been running a graphic novel discussion club for the past two years, so that I can share my favorite work with people who normally wouldn’t read it. The last book we discussed was David Small’s Stitches. Next will be Gabriel Moon and Fabio Ba’s Daytripper.

    To me, you know, it is just inspiring. The way this medium can be used any way you want to. The way these creators slave away to complete their vision, even though there is no guaranteed audience. My favorite example is Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. That’s a weird book! It has vision, it is beautiful and intellectually stimulating and different. I know that the creator had a history with superhero comics, but that did not insure him readership of Asterios. But he made it anyway. That is so admirable to me. So I guess, a huge draw of indie/alt books is to find out how the next person will stretch the limits of the art form, and find a new way to use it to tell a story.

    Anyhow, not sure if these are the answers you are looking for, but hey, just know, we citizen readers are out there. And we appreciate it.

  3. Felicity June 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    I read some indie comics–not a ton, no, but I enjoy them. Usually I get them through word of mouth; a friend read this one and enjoyed it, a friend who is a comic artist mentions this. I don’t really have the time or money to attend a convention, but those friends of mine who do let me know when they see something interesting they think I will enjoy.

    Honestly, without the daisy chain of comic artists talking to each other (i like this artist, and they are talking to that one–maybe that one has some interesting material). That said, if there’s no website of some sort I can at least get a feel for them with, it’s more than useless to me, since I’m 99% likely to never meet them or see their work otherwise.

    If I regularly read a particular artist’s work, then I really like a blog. Who the person behind the art is matters to me nearly so much as the work itself (this isn’t limited to just comics). This can keep me reading and enjoying even if sometimes there’s a few works that don’t resonate with me, if I find them engaging on a blog.

    Usually I keep minicomics for a bit, and then eventually (either my interests change or some such), I’ll take them and sell them to a second hand bookstore, so someone else can stumble on it and find it. (Sometimes I let friends pick them over, but most the time they’ve read any of the ones I have). I’m not really a collector of comics.

    A few of my non-artist friends share my interest. Some of them are more invested in it than me, and some of them are less and just read if I have something on hand and don’t really actively look for work.

  4. Ben Humeniuk June 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    One thing I’ve benefited from is a local zine community that’s fairly evangelistic and inviting to interested parties. I’m in the Houston area, so we’ve got Houston Zinefest, which does a big yearly event and smaller workshops during the year– including stops in schools to teach kids how to make their own minicomics. I don’t know if minis can ever be as ubiquitous as the daily newspaper strip (I think, on the whole, we’re interacting with an arts/punk/outsider audience as our primary demographic), but I wonder if a healthy culture that teaches kids to make their own work and keep making it leads to a wider embrace, appreciation, and conversation down the road.

  5. Zavh June 17, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    As someone who has been reading comics, almost all I could find, since I was 6, I am confident is saying that the alt comics scene has rarely reached out to me.

    Partly this is for the simple reason that there are very few “big” books as entry points- “Black Hole” was the first book of its type that I found at the library, and there aren’t a lot more there to this day. I don’t know that there’s anything that can be directly done about fame, though, so this is probably not something to worry about overmuch.

    Once I knew to look for this stuff though, there was a lot to sort through. Part of the strength of alt comics is how varied they are as a group combined with how specific they are individually, but that is incredibly intimidating to anyone trying to come in from the outside as a reader. What I saw at first was a lot of really strange art, and it took a long time to break past that. It felt like the really weird comics functioned as a gate to the rest of the community, where there was more plot and character and punchline, and less deliberate strangeness.

    My local comics shop is wonderful, and has a shelf of alt comics- mostly zines, nothing too fancy- and every time I browse it I notice 2 things: 1) many of these comics use deliberately ugly styles, with off-model characters or gross-out images; 2) a 32-page zine has a $7 price tag. This is a really bad entry point because 10 feet away there are racks and racks of glossy mass-produced stuff for half the cost and that looks SO MUCH more appealing out of the gate.

    More mainstream illustrative styles, like Craig Thompson’s, were the entry points that eventually convinced me it was worth my time to get into some of this stuff, and it’s been pretty rewarding, but those zines on a rack in the local shop still nag at me.

  6. sojournerstrange June 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Where do webcomics fit in your scheme? I’ve read comics which I would describe as “mini comics”, but all digitally. Although I’m probably not even the kind of audience that you would want, since I’m the sort of reader (for books also) who only buys their own copy of something if 1) they’ve already read and liked, or 2) they are a fan of the creator. Of course the mini comics you’re talking about wouldn’t make it into a library; in this case reading-and-liking could only occur if the artist also put it on their website.

    Sadly, I have had the rotten luck to be the fan of artists who live on the other side of the world (not Japan — it sounds like manga industry/community/? works very differently), or else I would have liked to go to the cons they attended and buy their print editions. But as a US resident, I should probably not complain so much! Everyone else gets shafted waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often; guess it’s turnabout fair play.

    (As you can see I’m not a comic creator or someone who’s plugged into the community you describe.)

  7. sojournerstrange June 17, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    ….hm. Moderation filter?

  8. Elaine M. Will June 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    You’re so right that most readers of indie comics are also cartoonists themselves, and that there is a certain “clique-ish” elitist feeling when going to an indie convention. (For the record, I never ignore browsers to talk to friends) I do think that eventually alt comics will mean something more to culture at large, but it won’t happen without, as you say, more discussion and effort to make the group less insular.
    And the person above who said $7 for a 32 page mini is too much is right on the money. (i’ve even seen ones for TEN dollars)
    I also think there are way too many creators focusing on “experimenting” and on what makes a comic a comic rather than, you know…telling a decent story. We’re not going to bring in more people off the street by making work that’s increasingly more inaccessible. Just my two cents.

  9. darrylayo June 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    I would also like to add that some artists choose to be obscure and that’s fine. Other artists find themselves in obscurity as a byproduct of the kind of work they produce. The latter type may wish to find more of an audience while the former type might not care one way or the other.

    Just another thought to consider.

  10. De♥chuuuuu♥nique (@dechanique) June 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    1) I am a cartoonist and member of the comics community, so I can’t comment un-biased but.. from my experiences:

    I find zines to be disposable. I know that sounds mean at first glance, but zines are one of those impulse purchases for me. I buy a ton of mini-comics/zines in a clip due to the low cost of them and sort them into storage boxes on my bookshelf (I use IKEA boxes XD). As I get time, I filter through them and place the ones I would like to keep in one box and recycle out the ones that have no re-read value for me.

    The low-cost and disposability is a boon for me in locating new works and artists, because I can pick up a bunch of read at my leisure, without guilt if I never get to them or dislike them. It’s a great first toe-dip into an artists work. If I’m unsure if I’ll like an artists narrative style or works, I’ll often pick up a cheap zine (if they have one). I’m way more willing to take a chance, and have discovered some amazing stuff – like Corinne Mucha! I was waiting at Lucy Knisley’s table and saw all her minis. They looked really nice, so while waiting I bought 4 of them, most without even opening them. I ended up loving all of them.

    3. A) As far as comic festivals are concerned, I try to make sure I am considerate of all my browsers. Maybe it comes from years of working in retail and customer service (having to divide your attention among multiple people), but I’d like to think I’m very good at juggling friends versus browsers and their various types (the ones who demand attention, vs the ones who don’t want you to talk to them at all because they are only looking vs the shy fan, etc).

    I have encountered many artists who don’t do this. I once stood in front of someone’s booth for 10 minutes trying to buy art – but when he finally noticed me he apologized (the person he was engrossed with was a friend). If I didn’t desperately want that mini, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around as long as I did.

    C) as someone who was fully self-deprecating not too long ago, I agree 100%. It’s a very damaging attitude to take both for your clients and yourself as an artist. Know your weaknesses so you can strive to improve them, but also know your strengths. If you paint your work negatively from the get-go, it’s going to be hard for someone unfamiliar with your work to see the positives in it.

    Great blog, Darryl!

  11. Dan Morris June 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about comics culture a lot as I’ve started to draw and think about making comics again. I’ve thought for a very long time that comics culture, both on the corporate end and the alternative/art comics end, has become more and more insular. It’s obvious with the corporate end because there’s so much of a critical eye on everything that Marvel/DC/Image/Dark Horse/etc does but rarely do people writing about comics really focus that eye on the alt/art comics end.

    I talked on twitter about this but a lot of this lack of discussion reminds me of an art history class I took in college. We talked a lot about the academic and critical schools on art at the time and how they gravitated towards more conventional work than work that was really daring and boundary pushing (ie. the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Realists, etc.) that we talk about now. That’s what comics criticism, in a lot of ways, has become; it’s pushing conventionally “daring” work. These are comics that are are farming on very infertile soil because it’s been tilled so much. I don’t mean this just from writing perspective but from a visual perspective. Outside of a few artists, there’s too many cartoonists in this scene drawing from the same visual cues; old newspaper comics, underground comics, and alt comics. The landscape of comics has become in many ways stunted and incestuous. People have been reading this work for years get it. It’s made for them. Anyone who can’t decipher this visual language is either lost or wondering why “poorly” rendered images are being interpreted as the high point of an art form. It’s not a visual language that is very inviting. That’s the point for a lot of people but at some point you have to ask yourself the very hard question “For who are you making these comics being made?”

    This bring me to my next point, I think a lot of that has to do with lack of a wall between critics and cartoonists in this scene. Now granted there is a lot of great writing writing on comics right now. I can’t deny that. To me though, there’s a lot of suspect writing on comics because of the close relationships between critics, publishers, and cartoonists. I don’t think that its healthy when the major voice of comics criticism owned by one of the two biggest publishers in alt/art comics and whose editor in chief is a publisher for a smaller art/alt comics boutique. Ultimately, publishers are going to put out the work that they most believe in deserves publishing and eventually that work will have to stand on its own. Yet having the publisher put out the reviews of this work doesn’t say “We’re trying to be an honest critical voice here”. It says promotional piece to me. Same with when critics are friends with cartoonists and vice versa. That’s seems even more even more incestuous to me. How are critics supposed to provide honest and through analysis of material when they’re buddies with the person making it? No one wants to speak poorly of friends so how is an art form supposed to grow when there is glowing praise coming from every direction?

    This brings us to conventions/festivals. Reports on conventions seem to generally indicate two things; 1)how hangs out/bar scene went, or 2)what was the book of the con. Every con report is like this. Comics as an art form is talked about by people who go there but it’s not really a focus. It’s like Darryl said, it’s basically a bakesale where a community gathers to more or less just support that community. Now some comics shows festivals do a pretty good outreach towards people who don’t read comics (I know that Heroes Con does this and from what I’ve heard so does TCAF) but I then have to ask, “Do those people the next Wednesday go to buy comics? Is there such thing as a casual comics reader in this day and age?” I don’t see comic conventions/festivals as doing much to support growing new audiences so much as supporting the existing structure. Friends go to get new books, existing fans go to get new books, and critics/reviewers/journalists go to talk to cartoonists about work they were probably already invested. Who is that serving other than an already existing audience?

    So for me, alt/art comics seems more interested in perpetuating it’s own scene than actually growing an audience. I’d say there is nothing dangerous with feeling safe with your friends but the truth is that’s dangerous for both an art and a business to stagnate in this fashion. You don’t create a new audience both casually or through academic channels by being conservative. You reach out by making daring moves that either work or that don’t and try to build something. You don’t keep building on the same foundation because you’re bound to fall over.

    • Frank Santoro June 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      for Dan Morris – RE: no wall between critics and makers:

      I agree with this. However, I have been thinking recently that I’m most interested in writing about the FORM of comics by specifically writing about my friends who make comics precisely because through knowing them and knowing their intentions and through what we talk about I might be able to provide insights that the casual reader or even interested fan may not pick up on. So, for me, it is less about “speaking poorly” about friends who are cartoonists and more about speaking enthusiastically and from a sincere place in an attempt to further discussion of the FORM.

  12. Angela Melick (@angelamelick) June 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I fit into your category of ‘those who have a vested interest’, but I’ve also spent a lot of time pondering the reader and how comics fit into their lives. I agree with a lot of the problems you’ve identified, but I take a more optimistic stance on the future of alt-comics.

    The way we consume media is changing, but overall I think that a reader’s access to minis/art comics – even physical minis, is increasing.

    I didn’t discover the indie comics scene until after university – after I’d already been making comics on my own for almost ten years! I’d never heard of a “mini”, never found one in a comic shop (which were not abundant where I grew up). Once I got in it, it was wonderful and so easy to expand my awareness through the online communities, but the initial ‘discovery’ was very much by chance, and I was only brought in as a creator.

    So there is still a discovery/outreach problem, but once that barrier is overcome, a motivated reader can hop from one blog to the next, access an indie artist’s entire archives, and order minis directly from them. From anywhere in the world TO anywhere in the world. Shows are a great way to discover and acquire work outside your usual sphere, but they are no longer the only mechanism available to us. I think that’s a positive.

    As to the habits of a regular reader, webcomics are slowly taking the place of newspaper comics. Many of my readers have described to me how they read my comic as part of their normal routine, along with a handful of other favourites. Some go through the effort to remember my url/bookmark/RSS (which is a tough habit to form), but many rely on their “streams” – it gets shared on reddit, facebook, tumblr…

    Compared to ten years ago, it’s EASY to get into alt comics. It’s easy to add a tumblr to your dash. It’s easy to back a kickstarter or pick up a pdf on gumroad and add it to your e-reader. That discovery barrier – letting people know that we exist as an art form – is the last barrier we have.

    And on that point I definitely agree that we need to be better at outreach. I get excited whenever I get the attention of someone at a con who has never heard of a webcomic. Even better is when one of us gets picked up by the “old news” – newspapers or radio. Every comic should strive to be a gateway. Imagine that your comic is the first indie/alt/webcomic the reader has ever seen… How can you help invite them into the broader community? Once they know we exist, there’s a whole world for them to discover and the future of comics is brighter than ever.

  13. Nathan Kibler June 17, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I think a lot of this discussion plays to the attitudes of the creators themselves, which in my opinion is too diverse to adequately generalize in a single essay. In my experience, the independent comic artists who seem more successful (win awards, make sales on self publications, and interact with the public, not just whom they know) are the ones doing this for the potential social interaction rather than to make money; but this is a fairly vague distinction. My point is success in the Independent comics field requires a certain self-confidence in an artist’s own work and not a concern for how much money they are making from it. This means I believe most people are publishing independently for non-commercial reasons.

    But I’ve also found these same artists can devalue their own accomplishments to the point where they would give it all away if they could. I like your suggestion to change the emphasis of independent comic festivals away from selling, but I also think this would result in an entirely event driven experience, more in line with things like the 24-hour drawing marathons or the “insider” after-parties. The opportunity for exploration for new material that a casual reader might find in a bazaar atmosphere becomes directed and focused away from meeting and reading new material to promoting singular talents. This doesn’t seem helpful to new artists wanting to become more established and recognized.

    As a reader of independent comics for twenty-five years, I find myself reading more collected and novel length works now than I did even ten years ago. I think this is partly because more quality material is available and access is easier with the Internet. Still, I do like to purchase shorter works in order to support artist I feel deserve recognition. I don’t purchase these at comic festivals, instead seeking them out online. More than once I’ve been frustrated when an artist has sold out of a particular item after attending a convention with no plans for republishing or making available through the Internet. E-books are inexpensive to produce, but there seems to be a real resistance especially in independent publishing to electronic media.

    Still, I go to the Internet to find conversation and discussion about comics and independent publishing, not comic book festivals. The conventions I’ve attended have mainly introduced me to the creators I already read. And I don’t think there is a resistance to discussion in the field, it is just that the medium lends itself to singular and unassailable point-of-views, so that counter-arguments simply don’t happen. Responding in kind involves a dedication to the discussion and most artist I know would rather spend that time on their own projects and issues.

    There are so many factors that play into independent publishing that addressing them all is a challenge. I think the value is with the friends and networks one creates, not with the money one makes; but financing these projects and maintaining a career publishing independently is a big challenge. Learning the ropes is not easy and balancing your life so you can make money and express your stories at the same time only comes with experience.

  14. egypturnash June 17, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    3D: “Cartoonists will talk all day long on an ephemeral medium like twitter but not in a longer-lived document such as a posted essay or a blog entry.”

    I can’t speak for everyone here but I can talk about my own experience.

    I’m somewhere between 2/3 and halfway through a big graphic novel. I do it all by myself and aim for posting a couple pages a week. I really don’t have TIME to sit down and blog. In a lot of ways, I feel like a lot of what I have to say about comics is right there in the pages.

    Part of it, too, is that blogs are kinda out of fashion. I feel like if I want to engage my friends now I have to say things on Twitter, not my blog. I’ll probably get more response if I can condense things down to a couple of ephemeral sentences than if I go into detail – and that leads me to Twitter.

    As to interacting with the “only readers”? Honestly, most of my local friends are readers. Some of them have pretty impressive collections of indy comics, with more and more of them coming directly from the artist via Kickstarter. Some of them don’t. I’m an antisocial, shy beast; I really don’t know a ton of other cartoonists.

  15. jennydevildoll June 17, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    LOL, we did(two cartoonists) talk about this on twitter yesterday, didn’t we? :) I’d like to add in regards to this post, as to whether or not indie comics are “a novelty” – to some people I suppose they will be, but there will always be others with a genuine love of those styles, creating them or looking at them.
    I’ve met people who weren’t cartoonists but enjoyed comics, people in music circles or in other aspects of the art world (but not really the comics…”scene”/”industry”/whatever you want to call it). Some people I’ve met through participating in Fluxfest – I guess because within that movement there’s an interest in things like mail art or cut-ups or handmade books…a mini comic fits nicely into that ouvre. And of course the zine world, which seems to have enjoyed some revived interest as of late, people who like zines also often enjoy mini-comics, even if they don’t make them.

  16. Mimic June 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    I’m an avid reader and not a cartoonist. I only read alt or “indie” comics, nothing from DC or Marvel. I got into it originally because the punk scene I was into as a teenager was heavily entwined with the zine/mini-comics scene, and my interest grew from there. I travel to SPX and the local indie mini comics convention in town. I store my minis in short white boxes, unless they’re ones I hang from clips on my art wall, and I have bookshelves full of indie graphic novels.

    I’m probably not normal though because the only comic store in my town is heavily slanted toward alternative books and has a huge indie section. There are more indie books than mainstream, honestly. And because I’ve hung around so long, they’ve let me pick up a few shifts, and most of our customers are not cartoonists themselves. They’re either college students or punks or just people interested in weirdo art culture, or normal people that wandered in to a comic store. It’s really entwined with the music culture around here.

    I think part of the appeal is the “anyone can do this” aspect of minis, hence why most people into them are also cartoonists. I just never felt the need to express myself that way.

    I’ve generally had positive experiences at indie cons – even knowing hardly anyone at SPX, people were still open and friendly. I am shy, but I’ve still made friends and been invited places. I think everyone knows nerds are shy and make more effort? Like, you realize everyone in this giant room loves the same things you do, so how can you not be friends with them? I love seeing artists panels. Lately, I’ve noticed a lot less emphasis on trading and more on buying, which is kind of sad, but I guess the more effort people put into them, the more they want others to value their work.

    That said, the best zine I ever found was a four page mini I discovered on some railroad tracksthat was in French and about a wizard in a library. I have no idea where it came from, but it’s random appearance made me so happy.

  17. Ben Towle (@ben_towle) June 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    Provocative essay, Daryl. Here’re a few thoughts:

    2. The newspaper may be slowly going the way of the dodo, but I wouldn’t underestimate the ubiquity of certain types of comics even today. Walk down the hallway of most office buildings and you’re very likely to see comic strips cut out and pasted on people’s cubicles. Sure, more of them are printed out than cut out of papers these days, but they’re coming from *somewhere*. I don’t think the newspaper strip format–or its appeal–is going anywhere; it’s just that the delivery method is in flux. Ditto political cartoons.

    3a. The “talking to friends” bit is a bit tied to the intermingling of two different functions of a con/event for the cartoonist. More on that when I get to 3e, though. I think cartoonists’ behavior must vary widely by convention. One of my big shows each year is Heroes and there are a lot of “civilians” there why regularly buy minis, indie stuff, and original art from people of our ilk who exhibit there regularly. I do distinctly recall, though, one year where Heroes did a full court press for indie guests and a ton of indie publishers who were not used to a big, general audience, non-indie con like Heroes didn’t do as well as hoped. Purely anecdotal, but when I wandered the “Indie Island” portion of the floor, I often saw these guys chatting with each other, back to the crowd, often dour and unfriendly–just generally unwelcoming.

    3d. Is this particular to comics folk? I’m betting it’s not. I’d chalk this up more to a general move away from things like blogs and message boards to twitter, facebook, etc. That’s not to say I think that’s a wise move, but it seems to be the way of things. People (rightly) disparage the often mean-spirited discourse that could often occur on the old TCJ message boards, but the message board format is IMHO a much more fruitful way to discuss many of the sorts of things that now regularly get “discussed” in 140 character bursts and then are lost to the ether. Every time I hit the Westeros.org (Song of Ice and Fire) message boards I yearn for a similar outlet for comics folk. If you think message boards are dead/non-viable, have a quick look over there.

    3d. Part of the problem with the kind of stuff that you mention in 3a is that comics cons/events are currently serving as both venues for cartoonists to sell their books and also as get-together where practicing cartoonists socialize with each other, engage in “shop talk” and just catch up professionally. I’ve often wished there was a yearly event that was just focused on the latter–a way to separate the two. This is a regular thing in many other fields. My mom, for example, is an art therapist. Every year there’s a gathering of the national Art Therapy Association. They meet, talk shop, give talks, go to “how-to” events. I wish there was a similar thing for comics folks. The NCS is somewhat similar–although, they’re mainly newspaper comics as I understand it.

    • jarodrosello June 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

      I have many friends who are cartoonists, but “friendly” and “welcoming” are not terms I would use to define us, generally. Not that there aren’t some of us who are friendly and welcoming, but…you know…

  18. Greg Hinkle June 17, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m with Zavh on this one.

    The deliberately “ugly” look is such a huge turn off for me. And I realize that that’s a wholly subjective opinion. Some people dig it, and that’s cool. Like what you want to like. I just get frustrated with it, and as I see some of those authors and artists gain popularity it just reinforces my frustration with the scene. (I’m sure it’s just jealousy to some degree, so I’ll just ‘fess up to it now.)

    I’ve tried (though probably not as hard as most) to get into the indie scene. I’ve exhibited at several of the smaller West Coast shows, like APE and Stumptown, and even taken a crack at some navel-gazing autobio mini comics. I’ve been lucky enough to make a few friends through that avenue, but it really is very cliquish and hard to extend my existing network. And that’s from behind the convention table. My wife has been to a lot of these shows with me, and though she’s had every opportunity to get interested in the alt-comics scene, with every show she attends she’s less and less interested.

    I’m sure that there’s a portion of this scene that is legitimately uncomfortable or inexperienced (or both) with selling themselves and talking with people. But you’re right on the mark when you advise cartoonists to show some pride. If you’re not proud enough to show it to someone without a disclaimer, don’t show it to anyone. If you’re not interested in your own work, why should anyone else be?

    The high price points of most of the indie books are hard to avoid. I’ve tried selling my books to turn a profit and it’s HARD. People don’t like to take risks with their money. An unknown creator, with unknown skills, tackling an unknown subject in an oversized zine made at Kinko’s 24 hours before the show? For $10? Yeah, I’ll take the glossy single issue of Spider Man from two tables down. For $1.

    Probably not very helpful information from me here. But there were so many good points raised in the blog post that I felt I had to chime in, if only briefly. Thanks, DarrylAyo.

  19. Frank Santoro June 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Great essay, Darryl!

  20. 365portraits June 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    I’m one of the “civilians” you mention. Personally, I read indie comics mainly because I don’t see myself in any mainstream ones. Most of the comics that are published in newspapers these days are representative of people who are not me. I started reading webcomics and indie comics because I love comics, and so very few comics I could find were about people like me. I enjoy comics where I can identify with the characters, even if it’s only in one aspect of the character, and even more when I can see myself being a character in that world. I enjoy many different genres of comics, from fantasy and sci-fi to slice of life or coming of age stories, but what matters is that the characters aren’t the same clones that inhabit every other commercial comic book out there.

    I love to meet creators at conventions and such, it makes me happy to be able to tell someone how much their work means to me, and to buy something of theirs (although these days I’m focusing on digital copies of works, PDF files of their books and stuff along those lines, I’m gearing up for a major move so the less books the better). It makes me feel very awkward if a person is self-deprecating, whether it’s fake or not. I already tend to feel awkward about meeting people I admire greatly, so that just kicks my social anxiety into overdrive.

    I dunno if any of that was helpful, but I thought I’d put my two cents in. :)

  21. mendel June 18, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    I am a reader. I found your post because Kate Ashwin (of “Widdershins”) reblogged your link to it.

    I don’t really care what comic artists “identify as”, “indie” or not. I want to read engaging, well-written comics. Yes, I used to read Walt Disney, Asterix, and moved on to smaller publishers and more independent comics. I have a few boxes of comics inthe house that I should get around to putting on a shelf again now the kids are older. Since I now live basically without access to comic book stores or well-stocked newsagents, reading comics has become reading indies by the virtue of webcomics being mostly indies, and non-indie websites being often too commercialized to be fun to browse. I read big names like Jeph Jaques or xkcd and some smaller ones that don’t have much of a readership. Most have their own websites, some are hosted (don’t read much off collectives these days), some on tumblr even. I don’t go to conventions. There are a few comics (five) that I check manually as a treat, for most others I use their RSS feed, which fits well with the somewhat irregular publication schedules of many indies. I tend to stay off webcomics that emulate “graphic novels”, i.e. a certain aesthetic that many comic albums have. But then I’m very much a “European” comic reader, and while I read some Batman when I was younger, I wouldn’t spend any money or time on DC and Marvel now. I do read some Manga (actually, One Piece is the one comic I still regularly get on paper). I try to support comic artists I like financially, but it’s hard because I boycott paypal (and so should you, if you actually start getting large amounts of money through paypal, they’re likely to freeze your account because they suspect foul play. Good luck getting it unfrozen). Kickstarter takes Amazon payments, so I’ve supported artists through that (and got printed comic books in the process). Paper comic books are good for gifting.
    I mostly don’t read blogs. I read comics. I do read autobiographical comics. An author who makes interesting comics doesn’t necessarily write an interesting blog. If you post one or two paragraphs related to your comic or your life circumstances while you were making it with your update (and ideally on your RSS feed with the update), I’m going to read that.

    Most webcomics are easily incorporated in people’s lives (at least if they use a computer daily), because they’re following the “newspaper” strip format in size and intent, like you described. I think most mobile device displays are too small to enjoy them, though I haven’t tried any high-res tablets. Reading the archives of a webcomic you’ve newly discovered doesn’t integrate so well, however; there are some story-heavy comics on my “to read” list that I don’t yet follow because I haven’t been able to find the time to read their archives.

    The barrier of entry for webcomic reading is really low; bascially you need a device with a big enough color screen and someone who sends you a link, or catch a recommendation when you read something someplace. (Another advantage of not doing full pages is that small pages appeal to readers with slow connections, though the days I had one of those are long past now.) I’ll also get printed novels (i.e. literature, not graphic novels) off Amazon if I read a good recommendation on the Internet, but it takes a low price: usually distinctly less than 10€ for a new or used paperback, up to 20€ for a trilogy.

    My comment on your fourth item should come as no surprise at this point: Web Comics.

  22. mendel June 18, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    Correction: I found your post because Megan Rosalarian Gedris reblogged your link to it on tumblr.

  23. darrylayo June 18, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Somebody commented about artists/cartoonists not necessarily having time to participate in discussions such as blogs.

    1) that’s demonstratively false because obviously they’re all killing time on twitter which is a greater time drain.

    2) I specifically am referring to *readers* of comics

  24. Aside from stuff like Carl Barks reprints as a kid, my relationship with comics mainly started as a teen in the 90′s with feminist zinesters like Carrie McNinch and Anne Thalheimer. With the exception of a few weirder Vertigo titles, most of my comic-reading has been indie stuff. I did my time writing zines/for others as well and still enjoy it, but comics were never a medium I created on my own.

    That said, I did 2 years in art school and 2 years majoring in English, and comics as the intersection of the two fascinate me–they are, in my opinion, possibly the most compelling form of storytelling we have today (the only possible contender is video games, but that’s a different blog post). I like seeing people talk about comics, whether as artists or writers or readers or as all three.

    As far as avoidance of mainstream comics: it’s never been something I did pointedly, but I’ve always had great difficulty relating to superheroes of any stripe. The indie comic scene is replete with alternatives, where you can read about fat queer people who aren’t white men doing things ranging from laundry to being superheroes themselves. These are stories that are really very rarely given a voice *anywhere*, and they are usually free from constraints of marketing and allowed to be genuine. There also tends to be things that just aren’t found elsewhere–the surreal, the occult–that I love in any form of entertainment.

    Regarding barrier of entry: When I started reading comics the world was a little different. Webcomics were barely a blip on the radar, as we all had 56k modems if we had internet at all. I lived in a rural area and learned about/ordered/traded zines and comics purely through letters and stamps and mixtape trades. For me it is now pretty easy to find comics; the last physical indie comics I bought were from Etsy of all places, and I keep an eye out for any shop that might have a little rack. For people trying to get into the scene now, it is pretty veiled, I think, if you aren’t already involved. I haven’t done much as far as cons and will be attending my first *dedicated* indie cons this year and next, and am going purely as a reader!

    And finally–yes, I hold onto all my physical comics, but I often give them to friends after a while. I think I may have one or two left from my roots in the 90′s; most have been given to people in handfuls.

  25. Erik Nebel June 18, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    i love discussions like this.

    i have a question:
    what would be some examples of the art comics that people are referring to that are “inaccessible” and getting praise from comics critics?

  26. Roxy (@redrawnoxen) June 18, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Comic-maker here!

    I’ve definitely heard my friends in theatre/poetry/lit have similar discussions to the one that’s going on here. Hard to get Joe Q. Public to plunk down $10 for a chapbook of new poetry or $20 to see an indy play in a Red Hook warehouse! So those scenes tend to be insular too. We are not alone.

    I think cross-pollination can definitely benefit both communities. Submitting stuff to lit mags, getting yourself into poetry readings, maybe working with poets… admittedly, you’re still working within another kind of insulated niche, but I think that interdisciplinary stuff can really make people perk up and pay attention.

    • a james June 19, 2013 at 4:12 am #

      The amount of “lit/poetry/theatre is too navel-gazing/insular/small” talk from the inside community…yeah comics isn’t alone here! It’s also true of a lot of queer, punk, kink, and activist spaces I’ve been in…everything tends to involve the same 200 people who’s interests overlap like some out of control ven diagram. I think a lot of the time posts about the people “outside” have a “the ship is sinking!” tone but often I experience it as that the fleet still floats and there’s still open ports even if the ship (the local community) is currently going down.
      And that overlap really seems to work in another method of “interdisciplinary”, giving minis to people I meet at some radical event, community theatre, altsex party, poetry reading, or woo-woo gathering has led me to finding that there are more folks who read webcomics, indie/alt comics, and some who are even into mainstream stuff than the con/shop surface suggests.

  27. Dorian L June 18, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    “Reading Comics” by Douglas Wolk is perhaps my all-time favorite book on comics criticism. After a couple essays on the medium in general, Wolk pretty much just cuts loose and devotes each chapter to one title or work. It’s essentially a collection of love letters and fan commentary on everything from Marvel/DC to the Hernandez brothers to pulpy stuff like Tomb of Dracula (what he calls the “cheap strong stuff”). This is the stuff he did between his assignments for Time magazine.

    Initially, I disliked comics criticism. I took a class where we talked about comics as literature and I was itching to actually make the damn things, so I became guilty of that elitist attitude alluded to earlier: If you don’t make comics, what can you really know about them? I wrote off comics critics as pretentious, when really I was the pretentious one.

    Wolk’s love of comics isn’t invalid. We need non-artists to talk about comics and cultivate an interest every bit as much as we need people to make them.

    Darryl, I always look forward to your essays. This one rocks.

  28. Savoto June 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    As someone who aspires to make comics(of the webcomic variety) I think that area lived in, upbringing, costs, and other factors that have nothing to do with indie comics must be taken into account.

    Like many others my first comic was a big volume that I checked out from my local library when I was a child. Lots of superhero movies sparked my interest again but for the longest time I thought that there was no comic book store in my town(I later found out there is a store but the customer service leaves much to be desire so I mostly buy digital/support kickstarters).

    Superhero comics can only hold my attention for so long so I do drift more toward the indies/comics published by smaller companies or offshoots of the 2(Impact, Vertigo, Oni Press) usually ones with heavy buzz and are of the utmost quality(art, writing, etc). I take chances with unknown indies but not a lot. As an art student I’m extremely picky when it comes to art and that turns me off from a lot of comics that go for the ugly art look. Then there is also the fact that good writing is not guaranteed or even if it is I don’t want to get it in 24-30 pages every other month. The format of American comics lend themselves well to chopped up writing. All of the above are very big turn-offs.

    I also don’t really have the funds and time to go to conventions(which I admit is mostly a fault me just turning the age of majority/being in an area where no one cares about comics so I would be on my own when it comes to transportation/hotel costs/gas money) and I’ve only bought one mini comic ever in my life which I ordered through the internet. I also don’t read sites that talk about comics a lot because it feels like the comic review industry is second only to the gaming review industry when it comes to “being nice so things sell instead of being truthful”, and due to that I don’t really trust reviews on comic sites. And since indie comics have even less press I don’t know what to buy.

    The biggest thing that have held my interest in comics are webcomics but even on this site they go largely ignored(if the Webcomic Wednesdays section is any indication of how much attention they get on here). Dropping a reasonable amount of money once a Kickstarter starts and getting a physical copy of the book and some merchandise has really made me want to buy comics and support creators. Whether a published traditionally indie or webcomic I am attracted to passable art, coherent story line, diversity in the type of characters depicted, and other qualities.

  29. Aeon Blue June 19, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    I read and purchase webcomics, back kickstarters, and donate. Webcomics are perfectly easy to find and incorporate into my daily life, though some of the best ones I don’t read until I can buy an entire volume in book format. Indie webcomics are profoundly important to me because I never could have found the stories I’m reading now when I was a little girl. Stories written by other women, that recognize male beauty, that take place in worlds where women are not only as important as men, but just as prominent, and that feature diverse characters with different identities and relationships to the world and their society. I’ve never read a mainstream comic because they simply don’t have anything in them for *me*. Plus, who wants to get into a series that has been going on for 40 years, that is aggressively sexist, that is fond of regurgitated art styles? The doe-eyed, pouty-lipped women and gruff chiseled men on the covers make me wanna gag. That said, comics are not a part of my identity. I’m not about to go meet up with strangers to talk about them or explore new ones. (I can do that from my couch, if I really wanted to.) I don’t go to conventions for books or movies or video games, and some of those have touched me deeply and even changed my life as well, so why would I go to a comic con?

    The original question seems kinda weird to me because, it’s like, well, it’s great that men have been able to read comics since the 20′s or whatever, but they only started making them for people like me five years ago. What choice do I have but to read indie comics?

    • jennydevildoll June 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Hi, In regards to the bit about there only being comics made for people like you in the last 5 years or so (by which from the rest of the context of your post I’m guessing means women) while men have had them since the 20′s—I’m not going to pretend comics is yet an even playing field, but I do want to point out that there have been women making comics for more than the past five years (I am but one of many), particularly in the indie/alternative fields. Depending on where your interests lie, you could see if (now defunct) Friends of Lulu still have any of their recommendations, or look up older anthologies like the Wimmin’s Comix ones, or Action Girl from the 90′s, or even old Weirdoes when Aline Kominsky-Crumb began to co-edit and more women cartoonists began to appear—the angry letters from some male readers over this serve as an embarrassing exhibit in the psychological history of comics.

  30. saskiiaa June 19, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    What you said about changing conventions – wow that would be awesome! I have DEFINITELY not walked up to a table because I knew I didn’t want to buy anything, but I was sort of interested in just looking.

    As a person who reads comics only, doesn’t make them:
    How do indie comics factor into your life? – I read them online. Some comics I follow diligently, check every time there should be an update, others I check occasionally.
    Do you buy minicomics from conventions? – I am sad to report I don’t even know what these are.
    Do you go to conventions only to buy minicomics and meet cartoonists? Or do public readings, panel discussions matter to you? – It depends on the topics. I’ve only been to two conventions in my life, both times I went to 2 or 3 panels.
    Are you reading this blog and blogs like it? – No XD well, an artist that I follow on tumblr reblogged your post. Since you were interested in reader-only people, I figured I should comment.
    Cartoonists tend to conduct personal communication publicly between one another. Does that interest you or are we obnoxious? – It depends on the artists :P I find it amusing most of the time, but there are some artists that I just don’t like, personality-wise. I will still read their comics, but ignore any blog posts for example.

    Regarding kickstarter – yes I have also found that kickstarter is the best way for me to buy indie comics. I’ve already bought a few books from there. I haven’t bought any books straight from even my favorite artists, just through kickstarter. Mostly because I’d be embarrassed about having books like that in my house. XD

  31. Varethane June 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Most of my engagement with comics happens online at the moment, though I am lucky enough to live close to TCAF and a handful of other comic-oriented conventions. I read a lot of things, both mainstream and otherwise, but I tend to only put money down on the ones I particularly like– lately that’s started to be webcomics more often than not, as a number of my favourites have managed to get themselves into print for the first time using Kickstarter. My purchasing of mainstream comics has actually dropped off steeply as a result; I’ve grown away from the superheroes I grew up with, and gotten somewhat tired of their storytelling methods which I tend to find tonally inconsistent. I prefer webcomics that are more like graphic novels, and I’m really pleased that Kickstarter has been giving these works the opportunity to see print which they might never have otherwise (being often too dark or not quite dark enough or too odd to get picked up by most publishers without seeing a LOT of editorial changes).

    I suppose part of the issue is that a LOT of marketing/outreach clout in the industry still does rest in the hands of the bigger companies and publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, etc)– they have the money to take out advertisements and make sure their promotions are seen by a lot of eyes. Advertising services exist that cater more to the independent/webcomics crowd, but their ads tend to be placed only on the pages of other webcomics or cartoonists’ sites, which doesn’t help the incestuousness you described in this article. Artists tend to be too nervous (or busy) to try to reach out beyond their comfort zone, and (being independents), also lack the support of an agent or company who would handle that sort of thing for them. They might not be able to get those things, because of their work’s type, or because of a lack of quality or a lack of quantity (is it worth it to get an agent if an artist’s entire output is one 32-page zine per year?)

    It’s cool that io9 has a section for webcomic features that can generally be trusted to be objectively picking out quality work rather than featuring friends of the article writer or just grabbing whatever’s the most popular– that kind of spotlighting, from a place that is both widely-read by people who aren’t already involved in the scene and not belonging to another creator who might be buddies with (or desires a reciprocal feature) whoever they’re writing about is pretty valuable and I hope that someday it’s more common for alt comics stuff to be talked about in high-profile places. I’ve also seen a couple of sites that offer objective reviews on comics both known and unknown; it’s just a pity that pretty well all of the other ‘webcomic review’ sites tend to offer either blind praise or trolling insults, so none of them get taken very seriously.

    ….This is a rambly comment I guess, and I’m not exactly an outsider to the scene myself (though I have been a fan of comics for a much longer time than I’ve been making them), but I found this article really interesting.

  32. Kim June 19, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Who reads indie comics? Well, this married homemaker pushing the age of 57 does. Does this meet your perception of “moderately average?”

    I was not allowed to read comic books as a child. I discovered anime and manga eight years ago and became a HUGE Samurai Champloo fan, which in turn led me to the fanart of E. K. Weaver. I’ve been following her comic novel, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, from the very beginning. Then I discovered zines in 2008, and because it’s doubtful that I’ll ever make it to a zine fest, I began attending a local comic convention in Columbus called S.P.A.C.E. – in fact, I made a concerted effort to meet Kevin Czapiewski last year after a post he wrote about the 2012 Chicago Zine Fest.

    The first time I attended S.P.A.C.E. I only had a few hours to browse. The second time, which was last year, I visited all the people I’d met previously and Kevin and a few other comic creators I’d researched online. Yes, I try to do some homework beforehand so I can ask cogent questions and buy things while I have the chance, since some comics are sold on Etsy and I don’t have an account. This year I bought a two day pass and showed up as early as I could and still didn’t get around to every single table.

    I do buy mini comics at conventions and have never failed to learn something new from these purchases. For example, I casually picked up Cakewalk from Nate Powell back in 2011 without glancing at it. WOW. This year I talked his ear off about it at S.P.A.C.E.. Maybe other attendees thought he was conversing with a “friend,” but honestly, I tried not to keep browsers away from his table. I also went to one presentation, but couldn’t make the panel I wanted to attend because of a family emergency. But I watched it later online! On the last day I visited some tables of artists I knew nothing about. To be honest, if something looks violent to me, I’m not interested. I don’t like guns, don’t watch movies with murders and car chases, and while I do read historical non-fiction about wars, etc., I’m not going to read comics about zombies. Sorry.

    I do read comic blogs and I am not new to this one, having first come in through Kevin’s blog in 2012. But this week I came to this post via another artist’s Tumblr. Most of the blogs I read belong to comic artists I have met – and most of them have been nice and friendly. Or maybe they’re just polite because I’m old? Or bemused because I’m old? I don’t know…Maybe I’m bolder and braver than some other non-artist readers simply because I’m all too aware of my mortality; I may not be alive next year to ask dumb questions or praise your artwork. I wonder – what do comic creators think of readers who don’t fit in with the ideal audience they’ve imagined?

    But on the subject of the “self-deprecating façade” – I actually discussed this with a couple of artists at S.P.A.C.E. this year. I mostly see this on blogs, especially from women comic artists, and it breaks my heart. But you know, it’s a human thing to do. Some of it is brought on by latent childhood fears or teenage trauma and all sorts of sadness that we drag behind us for far too long. So please don’t demand that your fellow artists “show some spine and project a reasonable confidence to people.” That’s unfair. That’s like a complete stranger telling you to “Smile!” at the grocery store or on the bus. Some “moderately average” non-artist readers are going to connect with you and your work on an emotional level precisely because they can’t connect on a shop-talk level. Something you do or say or write or draw is going to touch the very core of their being – or completely shut them out.

    What you wrote about music was really true back in the day – I mean WAY BACK when the radio was the main way we discovered new songs and the Top 40 dictated what was cool and hip and happening. But it’s the Age of the Internet and there are so many ways to find new music, and frankly, I don’t know what’s considered “popular” right now. Sometimes I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have an iPod and don’t know how to download music – but because of the web I can communicate with up and coming artists and support their music directly. I think that’s what appeals to me about indie comics as well – the connection. PLUS the fact that I get to choose what I’m going to read – NOT the Columbus Dispatch, which shrinks the comic strips down so small now that I have to read Doonesbury with a magnifying glass.

    Do indie comics mean something to our culture as a whole? I think they will in time. So many great things are not appreciated or celebrated until their creators are long buried.

    Sorry for the lengthy, boring comment, Darryl, but you asked. And I’m grateful that you did.

  33. Matt Crabe Heavensfavoriteman June 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I sold over 300 mini comics and zines about extremely bizarre violence and sexuality to complete strangers last weekend in Chicago. People are only interested in your work if you are interested i making them. . . interested. I am also a tough cartoonist, not a fearful one.

  34. Jacob R. York June 21, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I’m a reader only…not a cartoonist. I came into alt-comix in likely a different way than most people here. I’m not an art student or an artist at all….I’m a high school dropout and I like comics. I want to work in the field but I’ve yet to make that leap. I came into them not too long ago after simply being sick of other output. One day, I just realized I loved comics and missed them, so I went back to the shop and was semi-horrified.I was a big fan of Al Columbia and Josh Simmons…they were like exceptions, I’d loved Columbia for years and I got into Simmons based on recommendations.. I got into guys like Jim Rugg, Joe Casey, James Stokoe, & Brandon Graham…but not really anything else being currently published by Diamond. So I started following Jim Rugg, reading his blogs…he turned me on to Drippy Bone Books, Fukitor, lots of other stuff. I admit, I have an affinity for the silly, ridiculous boy’s comics. Prison Pit I bought prior to this, but that was all. I soon found there were many guys out there doing this…like Josh Bayer, Pat Aulusio, Ben Marra, etc…and I was off to the races.

    Since then, every two weeks I try to make a few purchases. I try to get a variety of things…I love mini-comics, but outside of oily, they are a bit expensive. But yes, I like to get a graphic novel and some mini-comics/pamphlet comics every time I get paid. I must admit that ordering them online….(im from indianapolis, which was no alt-comix shops. all superhero aimed. there’s one shop that gets some fantagraphics….but thats it) it’s a bit of a gamble. Like I ordered a mini-comic of jonny negron’s from picturebox’s site for around 6-7 bucks shipped….it was 8 silent minimalist pages. That’s FINE, I just wish I would’ve had a better idea of what I was getting.

    But yeah, since then I believe I’ve branched out….I’m not too interested in comics as serious literature….but again, there are exceptions.

    My problem with the alt-comix community is….it kinda terrifies me. Being who I am…not traditionally well-educated…not a cartoonist….I feel like the token dumb stoner who hangs around the arty kids in high school.They’re having some philosophical discussion on color theory…while I’m looking around like…”Yeah! ITS RAD! VERY PRETTY!” But I’ve found I probably shouldn’t be so intimidated, but I am. No one has ever been condescending to me online….nothing like that. But being someone who wants more than anything just to contribute to alt-comix in some way…i sit in bed at night and worry that I never will just based on my education and on my lack of artistic skill. My wife is an art school graduate, so I got her at least lol.

    I realize this is likely hard to read. I’m not real worried about grammar and such on blogs like this. I just want to get my point across. But yeah I’ve thought a few times “Am I the only non-cartoonist who reads this stuff?” or “non-art student.” It sure feels that way sometimes.

  35. Penina May 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    I love that you’ve gotten this many comments on a post that mentions the need for discussion and comments. Though I admit I haven’t taken the time to read through them all yet. I think you’re talking about important stuff here, Darryl.

    The most eyes that have ever been on a single comic of mine landed on said comic very recently, through Tumblr. I’ve been making minicomics and tabling shows for years, but I posted something on Tumblr that is a story that a certain demographic of people can relate to, and tagged it as such, and therefore it got many, many more views than any of my minicomics have received. How can we get these our little bake-sale made-with-love minis out in the world in an accessible way that lets people know: hey, this is a story that might interest you, check it out and see if it speaks to you?

    I don’t have an answer for that, but I am going to see about starting up a little minicomics library in a friend’s cafe. Maybe some folks who’ve never seen minicomics will sit and read some with their coffee.

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