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Forgotten Names, Forgotten Battlefields

16 Jan
By Darryl Ayo

Frank Santoro writes a regular column for The Comics Journal titled “Riff Raff.” This past weekend, Santoro revisited Eddie Campbell’s 2001 memoir ALEC: How To Be An Artist in the format of a drawn review. The interesting thing about How To Be An Artist is that it concludes with a long list of books which Campbell considers to be the best graphic novels created thus far (again, the year was 2001–only the beginning of the “Graphic Novel Boom”). Santoro, in his review, wonders how well this list holds up, over a decade later.

Below is my email to Santoro, reprinted here at his suggestion.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

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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.

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.

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Monday Mixtape: Ayo and comix

17 Oct
By Darryl Ayo

This past weekend, I discovered that the Graphicly Facebook app is smoothly integrating with Facebook pages. This is the biggest comics news for me personally because I’ve been holding my breath waiting for the moment that I could start using the feature. To give a basic overview, Graphicly is the more social-network-sensitive digital comics service out of the Big Three: ComiXology, iVerse Media and Graphicly. Being a heavy user of social media and a bit of a comics reader, this is a fascinating development for me.

I have started a Facebook page which I believe can function a bit like a book club. I’ll be able to embed specific comic files from Graphicly (similar to YouTube) and people who visit my Facebook page will be able to actually read the file right there. For the purposes of discussion, I’m searching out comics that are free or which have lengthy previews so that we can try to get a little bit of chatter going. Facebook.com/LetsGoAyo –come and hang out!

xoxoxoxoxoxo

In other news, this weekend was also the 2011 New York Comic Con (NYCC)

I attended but did not exhibit. I spent time with some established friends, made some new friends and got super-mad about comics. Which sounds like a regular day, except adding a crowd of maybe one hundred-thousand people. I found myself in a very unusual position this year because things that I like a lot such as Adventure Time and HomeStuck are actually popular. I’m used to being an extreme outsider at these sorts of things. I was pretty happy with the comic book publisher booths for Archaia, Top Shelf, First Second and Oni Press amongst others.

Marvel Comics‘ booth reigned supreme this year with a towering monument to The Avengers complete with actors as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents guarding Captain America’s uniform and shield. One thing that I want to impress upon people when I describe these cons is that Marvel Comics and chief competator DC Comics don’t sell comic books at these festivals. They don’t sell anything, actually. They use these comic cons as an opportunity to promote their respective brands, to encourage immersive fan interactions, to promote upcoming events, and to generally further a culture around their products.

Of course, this is impossible for the other publishers to mimic because those publishers are dealing with properties that are owned by various creators. In DC and Marvel’s case, all of the properties are owned outright by the publisher and thus it is always a gain when they choose to take a path such as 2011 Marvel’s decision of promoting one product line (The Avengers). A publisher like Top Shelf cannot reasonably do that because all of their products are the work of individual authors who each need to have their fair chance to promote a particular project. Marvel therefore has two advantages: the obvious advantage of a greater amount of money in general, and the subtler advantage of being free to put the full weight of its marketing behind a single concept, and allowing that year’s secondary lines to merely enjoy any runoff.

The artists’ alley had tables from the best-known mainstream superhero artists to small-name creators looking to make a name for themselves. Always remember: if you care about comics as an artform, you will spend a good amount of your time in the artists’ alley at these types of shows. On the other hand, I found myself spending an unprecedented amount of time becoming acquainted with the world of vinyl toys and illustrators’ poster-prints. There’s so much at these comic-con shows that each year you go back presents a new opportunity to dive into something that is brand new to you.

Dark Horse Comics‘ area had a combination of experiences. On the soft carpeting of their exhibition space there was a small stage for Dark Horse authors to talk to fans and hold signing events, but on the side of that was a standing display area showing off two iPads with Dark Horse’s digital comics app installed and ready for passers by to browse.

This is the most obvious and simple thing that comic publishers need to do at these festivals. Comic books look spectacular on the iPad; and having two digital readers on display allows show goers who are soaking in the spectacle of the festival in general to get a quick blast of the product itself, in all its glowing, brightly-colored glory.

Only true regret of this year’s NYCC is that I found that the panels were far more crowded than they had been in years previous. I usually prefer to spend a day of this festival just sitting in panel discussions, but this year, I didn’t get a chance to even attend one!

Such is life.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

And that’s that.

-Ayo.

Comics Is A Mean Business

22 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

Comics is a Mean Business. November, 2009. Darryl Ayo. Still true to this day, I really do this.

It is so very important to have a schedule, to have a pattern upon which you can rely. Waiting around for inspiration to strike is for the birds. I have a few techniques that I have been harvesting over the years. They include:

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Best Comic and a couple other things

15 Aug
By Darryl Ayo

Good morning! I found THIS on a Tumblr blog (Link: NSFW) http://methhh.tumblr.com/

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