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.

I’m not kidding, if someone tells me that I’m putting down their favorite stories-about-people or normal-genre-stuff, I’m going to learn karate and then karate-chop them.

My point is that context means a lot. You start telling people that you’re into “alternative comics” or “indie stuff” or worse “artcomics/literary comics,” their eyes are going to glaze over and they’ll begin the cold sweat that people start to feel when they get cornered at a party and bombarded with a discussion about John Cage.

Obviously, context is everything. “Alternative” and “independent” are relative terms of comparison and in comic books, the point of comparison is against corporate superhero comics, particularly Marvel and DC’s offerings. But it’s that same small-minded viewpoint that keeps “alternative” comics in a tiny box. Actually a box inside of a box. Some publishers/marketers have figured this out, for example First Second Books has a perspective that reaches over the heads of the Comic Book Direct Market and into the real marketplace for books. And they don’t market their products as “alternative” or “indie” (First Second is a division of a major New York book publisher).

This is a blog post for like five, ten years ago. Outdated bitterness, perhaps. It’s not the publishers promoting this linguistic problem, it’s the readers and people like me, who pass along these outmoded terms as a way of allowing ourselves to be understood in this vocabulary-challenged field. I get angry about semantics.


10 Responses to “Alternative comics, artcomics, litcomics, indie comics”

  1. Sean T. Collins October 24, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    I’m like the flipside of the coin on this issue: I don’t mind “alternative comics” as a term, but I try never to call superhero comics “mainstream comics.”

    • darrylayo October 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      Unfortunately, from an internal, North American comic book-centric perspective, they do count as “mainstream.”

      Fortunately, that’s not the only metric by which to measure the funnies.

  2. jdalton October 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    I’m okay with this.

    In fact I often feel a profound disconnect between so-called alternative comics, like the stuff I do, and REALLY alternative stuff- the kind of stuff that is deliberately anti-everything, blows new holes in the medium, stapled and photocopied by preference, traded at zine shows, and so on. Not that there’s anything wrong with those comics. I love them! But it is a bit odd that I’ve ended up under the same tent as them, with my elves and kids and pseudo-manga sci-fi.

  3. Rob Clough October 25, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    The worst is trying to explain alt or indie comics to superhero nerds. A guy who saw i liked comics said, “Do you read the Flash?” I said, no I read what you might call indy or underground comics.” A moment, a beat, a glimmer of recognition in his eyes, and he replied, “Do you mean like Spawn?”

    • darrylayo October 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

      At this point, I would have said “YES. Exactly that,” wide-eyed and deadpan.

  4. DeBT October 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    In a similar vein, I’m probably the only person I know who calls Graphic Novels “Comic Paperbacks.”

    • darrylayo October 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

      What about when the same material is in hardcover? The similarity between a hardcover book and its softcover companion are greater than the similarities between any book and its original serialization.

  5. Ian Harker October 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I’ll double-down on the semantics. Indie refers to business model where as alternative refers to content. There are a lot of indie genre comics that really aren’t a part of the alt-comic conversation because they are entertainment-over-art.

    I agree that alt-comics are essentially “normal comics.” The qualifier I always like to use is that “these comics would be mainstream in Europe.” (which is a lame-o qualifier, btw)

    I think the art vs. entertainment distinction is real though and very important. I’m not going to try to define it here though but I believe it’s real. Of course there is plenty of cross-pollination though.

    • darrylayo October 26, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      I’m definitely all-for your first paragraph there.


  1. Comics That Aren’t Mainstream: What to Call Them? | Mr. Manley - May 11, 2013

    […] I think Darryl Ayo might be trolling the fanboys a little bit with his thoughts on the nomenclature of non-mainstream comics: […]

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