Archive | December, 2011

Comics Festival, version 2.0

12 Dec
By Darryl Ayo

I don’t feel comfortable with the culture of comics festivals and I am advocating for a culture of true arts festivals. I would like to visit a comics festival that is not only free to attend but also largely void of direct sales on the show floor. The average comic show is something along the lines of a craft sale. There is no tradition in our culture for a festival of comics in which exhibitors are not trying to pitch their wares at passers-by.

I want to go to a comics festival in which the show floor is comprised of various booths which can act as miniature galleries, small viewing areas, small reading areas, entertainment spaces and so on. I would like to visit a comics festival in which there are activities such as panel discussions, artist Q&As, documentary screenings, reading spaces and presentations…all without any cartoonists actually sitting behind a table, smiling nervously and hoping that enough people buy their book that they might afford their plane ticket home.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a comics festival didn’t have that awkward pressure of introverts trying to sell their heart’s work to strangers? Wouldn’t it be pleasant if we could all speak with one another without the sad ritual of buying each other’s work, sending that poor, single twenty-dollar-bill traveling around the room and back?

If you’ve chatted with me about comics between MoCCA 2011 and BCGF 2011, you may have already heard my rough drafts for this before. We will surely speak of it again if you let me.

A cartoonist in every newspaper

12 Dec
By Darryl Ayo

Comic books and graphic novels are wonderful but I’m at a point where I realize what the comics field has left behind when it largely abandoned newspapers. Let us reach across the aisles and get reacquainted with our syndicated brethren.

Here’s the short of it: comics in North America began in the newspapers, and they have never been more popular and successful than when they were the highlights of newspapers. Now I can hear that guy in the third row from the back: shut up guy. Newspapers are NOT dead, nor are the comics within them. The newspaper is alive and kicking–although competing with television and the internet for media control.

Right now, there are wonderful comics coming out of the comic strip syndicates. I personally love:

Tina’s Groove by Rina Piccolo

Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson

Zippy by Bill Griffith

I hasten to warn you that none of these comic strips are published in New York City newspapers. I know, I’ve checked.

I also like:

Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau

Mutts by Patrick McDonnell

Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

These CAN be found in New York City newspapers.

But to me, this isn’t enough. This simply isn’t enough. I realized that from the comic strips I personally like, only Doonesbury attempts sustained longform storytelling. Meanwhile, in the past, the popular comic strip Dick Tracy by Chester Gould was brilliant at keeping newspaper readers at the edges of their seats day after day. I can only imagine that these 1930s comic fans had their old-timey hats leaping off of their heads every day. Dick Tracy predates comic books’ Batman. There were other longform comic works that kept the daily commuter pumping sweat and gritting their teeth in anticipation. Buck Rogers, Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Mickey Mouse, to name some of the popular ones.

Today, we look at this type of storytelling and say that it doesn’t work in newspaper strips, it’s better to put it in a graphic novel. Now–no disrespect–nobody is going to see that graphic novel. Whereas everybody and their mother saw Popeye in the ’30s. There’s no question about it–if you want your longform magnum opus to be seen by anybody outside of the same 200 people, you need to get those comics into the hands of the common man and the common woman and the common child. Common people! It’s common sense.

So I’ve sworn off graphic novels for the time being. Not because they’re bad, but because I believe that if we want comics to be successful, we have to think big…by thinking small. Small enough to fit in the comic page of the local newspaper.

There are too many cartoonists in the United States syndicated comics industry. Or alternately, there are not enough. Syndicated cartoonists make money by having their strips licensed for modest fees to many newspapers. What if those newspapers only hired cartoonists on an exclusive basis and paid them higher individual rates? What if a cartoonist worked for Journal News and produced a daily strip to entertain the community of Lower Hudson, New York? What if the editors of newspapers pulled their heads out of their hindquarters and remembered why so many Americans fell in love with the newspapers in the first place?

For cartoonists, the benefits would be clear: if newspapers were competing on a local market and comic strips were being distributed in small geographic arenas, there would be more jobs for “cartoonist,” just as a matter of course. This is where North America’s vast landmass becomes an economic asset for small businesses. Over the last forty years, with the ever-rising ubiquity of large, global businesses, North Americans have been struggling with the opposite: losing local jobs to monopolizing businesses. Comics largely wiped themselves out of competitiveness decades ago because of this. Before the weight of monoculture crushed the rest of North American small business culture.

I think that the North American Comic Strip is a perfect tool for varied storytelling, both longform and short form, both comedy and tragedy, from vignette to continuity. I think it’s about time we started thinking honestly about what we as a comics culture have lost when the comic book world largely divorced itself from the comic strip world and vice versa.

And I think that the role of the syndicate in newspaper comics is in flux but that this institution still has a great deal of ability to help broker cartoonists and advocate for their clients. The syndicate, to my mind, could still function in its current role of agent, facilitator and liaison for comics-bearing-newspapers and their client cartoonists.  What I’m interested in is a shift in focus.

There’s potential markets out there, but we have to restructure the way we think about things.

The Underground is Emptying My Wallet – BCGF 2011

7 Dec
by Kevin Czap

Wrapping up this wonderful year we have the granddaddy of a show that is the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest. Hopefully we can get L to talk about what it was like on the other side of the table soon, but I was just some guy who flew to New York to buy comic books. Given the pedigree of BCGF’s roster, there was a lot of spectacular work to pick up, to the point where I had a hard time singling out any for on-the-floor recommendations. I’d been looking forward to checking this show out for a while and I feel like it was a fitting end to 2011.

Continue reading

Origin Story.

2 Dec
By Darryl Ayo

According to my calculations, I read my first comic in the summer of 1987. The Sunday newspaper was laying flat on the radiator in the kitchen and my mother stood over my shoulder and read this aloud with voices:

Thanks mom!

I was born in 1981. So for many people my age, I was just about Calvin’s age when Bill Watterson started Calvin and Hobbes in 1986. And like many people my age, I fought back nostalgic sniffles on December 31, 1995 when Calvin and Hobbes took their final sled ride.

I haven’t seen the above strip in years, friends. Today (Thursday, December 1st 2011), I finally discovered which volume  of the black-and-white collections that this particular strip was compiled in and I promptly purchased that book. Whenever possible, I think we all owe it to ourselves to look our origins right in the face. Everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve been striving to do all my life stems from this strip–and moreover, stems from the direct memory of my mother showing me something that she thought was really cool.

A lot of people don’t really understand my need to talk about and discuss comics. Since comics are printed literature, many would prefer to read and absorb the work privately. For me, the discovery of comics was very tied in with the idea of a shared experience and even performance (since my mother loves to read things dramatically). Comics, at their best, are an integrated part of a wider cultural experience; no different from films or novels or music.

For me, comics have always been a something one shares–as well as part of a larger tapestry of daily experiences. Now…how about them Yankees?