[Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, p. 175]
In the last month I have spent quite a bit of time discovering, on my own, what an absolute bloody genius Warren Ellis has been for the last ten years.
Thanks in part to the lawless, Wild-West frontier nature of the Internet (a blessing and a curse), it can be difficult to find coherent archives of anything, let alone scattered serialized rantings from a deranged madman for half-a-dozen companies on two dozen web sites. But when I stumble across something like Streaming (good lord, what a terrible interface UBB is for long-term content) or Come In Alone (considerably better; thank you CBR)… It brings on the sort of all-day (or -night) kid-in-candy-store binge mindfuck that comes from suddenly discovering a giant repository of ancient brilliance. (Which is, sort of, what comics are all about, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Essentially, most of the thoughts I have had about comics in the last year have already been thought by Warren, five years ago. A sample:
The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of “comics.” The intermediate form is the serialisation towards collection, what used to be termed the “miniseries”. DC Comics did not become the No 1 publisher in sales terms because of all its ongoing titles. It became No 1 because of the massive and growing revenues generated by its graphic novels and albums. Comics are not “habitual entertainment” that need to remain static and require broadcasting regularly until death us do part. That’s the comic strip, and even those are sometimes allowed dignified endings. Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories. If you can’t handle that, then you really need to be in another business. Those who support us will be rewarded by increased sales and given the gift of the Future. The people who attempt to stop us will be stamped on.
Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It’s like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels.
There’s room for any kind of good work, no matter what genre it’s in.
But that doesn’t excuse you from going out and burning out all the bad work at the fucking root with torches. It doesn’t excuse all the nameless toss that DC and Marvel and Image and all the others slop out every month. If you want to read three hundred superhero comics a month then you are sick and you need medical help.
Rip from their steaming corpses the things that led superhero comics to dominate the medium – the mad energy, the astonishing visuals, the fetishism, whatever – and apply them to the telling of other stories in other genres. That’s all THE MATRIX did, after all.
Too much of the industry’s energy is focussed on creating comics for children that children either won’t read or won’t find. The comics retail culture is almost exclusively an environment for adolescent males of all ages. Trina Robbins is fanatically devoted to producing comics for girls, which is great. We need more genuine fanatics. But Trina Robbins producing comics for girls that are then exclusively sold through the direct sales network for comics specialty stores is nothing short of retarded. Because girls won’t know it’s there. Mark Waid was frequently heard to complain that, in IMPULSE, he was writing a children’s comics series that was only being read by forty-year-old men. Because here’s the news; kids don’t go into comics stores any more. Even the nerdy kids go down to the Virgin Megastore to rent some Playstation games, if they’re not at home downloading some porn. “The kids” couldn’t give a rat’s arse about your shit. If kids get comics, then they buy, or get bought, comics off the newsstand. And comics publishers gave up on the newsstand a long, long time ago. Hell, they gave up on kid’s comics a long time ago. I mean, do you see a dedicated campaign to tell parents that there’s a POWERPUFF GIRLS comic available in specialty comics stores? One of the perks of my job is that I get complementary copies of all DC books. My four-year-old daughter practically tears my arm off to get at the new POWERPUFF GIRLS comic. If anyone cared enough, mobs could be gathering at comics stores tomorrow in search of this work. But they don’t. Evidently the POKEMON comics were shifting something like a million units a month at one point. Did you see those readers at your local comics store? Did you see those books listed on the Top 200? No.
This was in early 2000. Five and a half years ago.
Very little has changed at the big boys, but (it seems) sentiment has continued to build that something must be done, and people like Warren and Larry Young and Chris Staros at Top Shelf have leapt into the breach and made comics the right way (joining others who’ve been doing it for years), while the Isotope and others have reinvented the comic shop, inspiring others like Rocketship and Riot. Image Comics, birthplace of Witchblade and Youngblood, is now publishing Age of Bronze and Walking Dead and Bonerest. Newspaper journalists STILL can’t write a headline about comics without clichés, but fuck them.
This is going to happen.
I’m going to be a part of it.