By Darryl Ayo
I never really took to alternative comics, when it’s all said and done. I like them, and I like supporting them. But I’m the antithesis of alternative culture in general. My personal drive in alternative media, culture and art is always to try to lift things that I like from “alternative” to “mainstream.” I never caught onto the “underground forever” mentality of many alternative culture enthusiasts and I never understood finding it preferable to remain obscure.
I want things that I like to become popular. I want my opinions to be popular, I want art that I like to be well-regarded, I want cultural values that I hold to be mainstream.
I find myself at a complete impasse with people who feel that alternative things should remain alternative. I don’t understand the idea that “well 90% of people are idiots,” or “I don’t WANT those jerks clogging up my cool scene.” I understand the arguments that are set forth, but I cannot fully agree with those arguments. I want to turn on the television and see TV shows that are funny, I want to turn on the radio and hear music that I enjoy, rather than tolerate. I want to open up the newspaper and laugh until I stop breathing because the comics page is true-to-life FUNNY. Elizabeth! I’m coming to join you!
I want the bad things in life to be a small minority and the great things in life to be the overwhelming majority. I want to ride on Pegasus ponies made out of lasers, galloping across rainbows made of Lego blocks while thunderous dance-rock plays in the background. On a Tuesday.
So it’s life’s saddest irony that I fell in love with comics, of all things. Comics, the bastard child of all reality. That substance that was exciting and engaging and memorable and connected with the major culture for one brief point in history and never no more. Comics, the maker and unmaker of dreams. I couldn’t separate myself from comics, so I had to dig deep and see what could be done to change the world, bend it to my will, slip comics back into the daily lives of average people.
To be explicit: I’m talking about newspaper comics. It all funnels back into newspaper comics. My years of superhero comics, manga, alternative comics, webcomics, superhero comics again–it all comes back to this simple outlet. And I’m approaching comic strips backed by everything I’ve learned from studying every other form of comics that I could get my eyes on.
Newspapers saw the first comics, the first *great* comics and arguably many of the best comics of all time, still. So why is it that when people say “comics,” many of us skip over the kind that most people read and refer directly to the kind that are divisive, often demographically narrow and for many people, largely inaccessible? I’m not saying that any kind of comic is better than any other kind, but I’m curious as to why our culture–at large as well as our comicky-subculture–has seemed to ignore the newspaper comic strip as an essential idiom, mode of expression and source of cultural interest?
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we act like newspaper comics are relics from a bygone era, we ignore them, and then we defiantly wave around the latest terrible strip as evidence. But by systematically shunning these strips (which still reach a vast audience, despite what the latest scare-headlines say), we increase the problem of mediocre strips running almost uncontested.
What are you talking about, Darryl? Are you saying that newspaper comics are mediocre and not-mediocre at the same time? YesNo.
Look/listen: comics are annoying. Dealing with the comic book industry is a pain in the neck. Dealing with the alternative comics industry is a pain in the butt. Dealing with the newspaper comics industry is a pain too, but it’s the least-offensive pain of all the comics-pain. I go to this cafe every morning. There’s a terrible newspaper called the New York Post that is sitting there with a small comics page that has some terrible comics and also one or two good ones. This is the easiest time that I will have with comics for the entire day. Today, tomorrow, yesterday, the day before and next week. Newspaper comics are easy to like because they’re just *there* and they don’t make me go to a place and scour the shelves or read any blogs to develop a shopping list, because they don’t take up any space in my house, because they don’t ask for more than a moment of my time, because I don’t have to hunt for “seeds” on the “torrents,” because I don’t have to deal with the latest comics digital distribution confoundment–although I do use some digital services to manage my daily comic strip reading.
The thing that I found weird with newspaper comics is that I’ve been so used to fighting that I haven’t learned how to be at peace. I don’t know what to do with myself when things just flat out work. I use Daily Ink and GoComics to channel a pleasing blend of comic strips to my email box every morning. I fussed with my list for a few days with each, but now, I just have to sit back and let the stuff hit me daily.
Of course, I love problems, so I thought of some to keep myself busy. I enjoy these formats, but I’d like to see more of the cartoonists that I’ve grown to love throughout the years working to get into this venue. It’s hard, I know it’s hard, I KNOW THAT IT IS DIFFICULT, but that’s why there are rewards. I’ve seen good people catch bad breaks in the newspaper comic field. I’ve watched the unworthy have uninterrupted careers because nobody stood up to say “that comic is no good, replace it.”
I was reading my occasional indulgence, the Believer magazine which features prominently the illustrative styles of Charles Burns. Recently, Alvin Buenaventura has been editing a comics spread titled “Comics.” That’s a pretty good name in my opinion. In this feature, we see some of alternative comics’ best stars doing newspaper-style strips, although on a quarterly(ish) basis rather than a daily basis. Some of these parody the tones and styles of newspaper strips but some are really sincere forays into periodical comic strips. I’d love to see some of these cartoonists bet it all and go into daily comics. I believe that all people deserve to see terrific comics in the course of their day. Except like…bad people. Bad people can go to prison and read USA Today, which has no comics.
We have spent so much time worrying about saving comics, we haven’t had much time to enjoy them. I’m so very tired. So I just want a newspaper with some good strips, every morning and I won’t need to complain any more.
*Animation by Geneva Hodgson, who blogs at cartoonfuntime.