Lots of talk lately about Diamond raising its order minimums. Tom Spurgeon has a characteristically meditative but surprisingly assertive piece while Chris Butcher spells out the reasoning behind his even more alarmed response.
I don’t feel that I have enough years under my belt to take a stand on this, but I have to record my reaction to this part of Tom’s post:
If it’s not the end of the alternative comic book, it’s certainly a vicious blow to those comics as we’ve come to know them. This is worrisome because an entire generation of excellent cartoonists came to prominence through alternative comic books — Joe Sacco, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Julie Doucet, Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Seth, Joe Matt, Adrian Tomine. Alternative comic books were not just a vehicle for those talents but played a huge role in shaping how those cartoonists developed by giving them platform that offered legitimacy without permanency, unfettered control with periodic feedback. Although there are more opportunities now and have been other opportunities all along, one can argue that none of those formats has been as useful to this expression of comics.
I don’t doubt it. But when I read through that list of names, the only ones I feel the slightest connection to are Woodring, Brown, and Tomine — and Tomine is the only one that I encountered in comic book form. (Are the Hernandez brothers left off for some reason? They would add one more, but the point remains.) For better or for worse, the “alternative” generation, and especially the alternative comic book, has been almost completely irrelevant to my comics life. And I’m hardly a comics illiterate.
It’s possible that what we’re doing here is not so much killing a living thing as burying a dead one — acknowledging that it’s not going to come back. The Eightball/Optic Nerve/Palookaville format had its pros and cons, but its moment does seem to have passed. Dissecting it for useful lessons would be a good idea; agitating for its return strikes me as pointless. There aren’t any full-page newspaper strips anymore, either.