By Darryl Ayo
You realize that you hate Supergirl fans because they campaign against the existence of Power Girl. Never content to simply not read the comic that you like, those people write letters to the editor asking to end the comic and erase the character.
Despite two critically-lauded runs, Supergirl fans get their way and you grit your teeth, rage boiling behind your eyes, more angry with yourself for caring about a goddamned superhero than you are with the people who wished her away.
None of my friends understand me. I hang out with independent cartoonists, far away from the superhero world. I struggle to articulate to them what I find lacking in the alternative comics scene. I tell people that I don’t have a strong sense of community, which obviously baffles my friends in the alternative comics community.
But that is the problem. We are the cartoonists. It’s a community of artists. I never have a strong sense that I belong to something larger than myself. Something greater than what my peers and friends and I have built over these years.
When I see alternative comic conventions, I mostly see people wandering around a flea market and buying things. They get their things signed and go home. There are panel discussions, but with such a dull focus in general, most of these discussions are similarly blunt-minded.
At the very first MoCCA convention in June of 2002 at New York’s Puck building, I saw groups of people sitting in circles on the floor, reading the minicomics that they had just bought and talking. That, more than anything else made me fall in love with the idea of an indie comics community. I haven’t seen that since.
To build a community around art, there needs to be (1) the art and (2) people to interact with it and (3) people to interact with the art with each other.
And for that to truly work, there needs to be a notable number of these interactors who are not also creating the art. There must be greater stakes than one’s own work or the work of one’s personal friends. There needs to be rings of separation further and further from the causation event (the work of art and its creation) and those rings must collide with everything else in the general matrix of art, culture and life.
It doesn’t work in isolation; that only leads to inbreeding.
I like Tumblr.
The best thing about Tumblr is that it’s not solely focused on the artists. That’s also the worst thing about Tumblr.
If only there was a stronger moral commitment to attributing credit on images, Tumblr would be perfect.
I love the idea of people transmitting images back and forth and I like the idea of the images leading the discussions.
I believe that comics, more than anything else, are image-culture.
It’s not “words+pictures,” it’s “pictures that talk.” Sometimes comics culture is pictures that talk literally. Word balloon indicating a character’s speech. Sometimes the pictures talk more abstractly, simply communicating to us what is happening, and “happening” can be a very loose concept indeed.
I have found more image culture via Tumblr than I dreamed, with some blogs that have nothing to do with “comics,” but have everything to do with sharing ideas and feelings with pictures. Pictures taken by the bloggers in their homes, commercial photograph edited crudely to satire the originator’s intent, unedited images presented for discussion…
My idea of image-culture was expanded by the internet and given a context in which to flower into something bigger than Daniel Clowes’ latest “graphic novel.”
Thank god for that.
If I had it my way, I would make people talk to me with more pictures than words, which is madness because I am in love with semantics, semiotics and blah blah as well.
Maybe I don’t mean that I’d literally call for more pictures than words, but rather a greater amount of pictorial communication in general. I wouldn’t want to have to order coffee by sketching the idea out for the barista.
I’m not a cartoonist because I love drawing. I’m a cartoonist because I love LOOKING.
In 1999 or 2000, my freshman year drawing professor Bob Heishman told us that “drawing is ninety percent looking and ten percent mark-making.”
I’ve repeated that to many people over the years but only now do I see an alternate meaning of that advice. Recently I’ve been drawing less but observing and thinking more. Maybe I’m not cut out to BE a cartoonist. But maybe that isn’t quite the point.
I’ve been thinking about calling it quits. And then I’ll make a mark.
You aren’t what you say you are but rather you are what you actually do.
I’m a reader, writer, dreamer and ten-percent mark-maker. It isn’t what I imagined for myself but it certainly is what I seem to have done. I can’t complain because I’ve chosen to live this way.
I first got into alternative comics through the Comics Journal message board. When I signed up I started a string of threads all at once. I was moving far too quickly for the comics world. I was unloading a lifetime’s worth of questions, ideas and discussion inside of a couple of hours. They told me to chill out.
In alternative comics, it’s never about the art, it’s always about the people who make the art. So-and-so sucks. BUT HE’S SUCH A GREAT GUY! Such-and-such is overrated. HEY, HE STARTED THIS-AND-THAT MOVEMENT. Nobody cares about comics per se; only status within comics. That never sat well with me. The alternative comics community is a circle of back pats. We’re all smiles when we see one another while setting up our flea market tables and we’re all see-you-next-time when we break our tables down at the end of the weekend. Alternative comics lack a basic concern with the artform. It becomes about the personalities involved, and “community,” but ironically, that is the core reason why a broader alternative comics community does not exist. “Broader” than the circle of cartoonists who hawk their wares at weekend flea markets called “comics festivals.”
The thing that got me back into mainstream and superhero comics was a chance encounter with the blog of David Brothers of 4thletter.net. It was part of his essay series “7 artists” focusing on Chris Bachalo. When I was a teenager I was a huge fan of Bachalo so I read the essay. The hooks were in.
Around that time, Daniel Clowes’ anticipated original graphic novel “WILSON” was released. I took one look at it and fled the alternative comic scene like there were dogs after me.
There is more to talk about in mainstream comics even though the scope of mainstream comics is narrower. Work comes out on a predictable schedule with lots of infastructure in place to build a sense of contextual unity and conditional importance. Comic books come out every week on the same day. Individually they are scheduled to be released monthly. Overall, there is a consistent stream of whatever your poison might be.
The thing that really struck me was that people actually disagreed with the comics. People read things and if they didn’t like them, explained why as opposed to smiling big and proclaiming “GOOD WORK.” People publicly criticized the work and demanded better. These things are simply not done in alternative comics. Ever. I felt closer to this work than I have felt to the alternative comics scene in years. Because no matter what one thinks of superheroes or mainstream genre work, people always asking for better. There is a sense of involvement that extends far beyond the people who make the work into the people who consume the work.
Mainstream comics have a stronger sense of community because people are invested enough in them to speak about them. Publicly on message boards and blogs, locally at their favorite comic shops, privately among their friends. I scarcely ever experienced this involvement during my eleven or so years of alternative comics.
I miss having a tribe.
Written August 16, 2011.