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August 6, 2012

A Few Very, Very Late Words On Dan Nadel And Kickstarter

Ten days ago, the writer, editor, publisher, teacher, critic, curator and historian Dan Nadel wrote a provocative blog post for his own TCJ about Kickstarter and the Kickstarter-driven project SP7. It went over less like a lead balloon and more like that kid entering a late-August water balloon fight having filled his with urine. Since Nadel's post rolled out, a lot of comics people have jumped into that particular fray both in that specific comments thread, around the Internet, via Twitter and Facebook and in e-mailed conversation. Some have stayed on topic; others have focused their energies on pointing out various ways they think Nadel is a giant tool -- both for saying what he said or more generally, or even in the context of how he's otherwise awesome. In terms of substantive action, it seems like a classic tempest in a teapot event. The heat of it has already dissipated. Nadel's harsh words certainly haven't dimmed enthusiasm for the Garo tribute project -- if SP7 hasn't reached its goal by now, it's going to any hour. I have yet to detect a mass exodus from any comics festival involved. I feel like more good than harm was done, but I can appreciate those that are happy to see this one in the rearview mirror.

Two things came up I thought needed mentioning.

imageThe first is an accusation floated against Nadel both to and near me. I received a few e-mails about the propriety of Nadel writing what he did given that he's also one of the organizers of the Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Festival, a curated show that had just decided not to invite back SP7 and Retrofit guiding force Box Brown. I asked after this with Brown, Nadel, BCGF organizer Bill Kartalopoulos and, off the record, some of the folks that I read in public complaining about this. Brown expressed some reluctance to talk about it, but said that after initially tweeting his disappointment following Nadel's post and drawing a connection between the two he deleted that message and was generally moving forward. Nadel and Kartalopoulos confirmed that an invitation was not extended to Brown but emphasized that it is the pair of them along with Gabe Fowler who make decisions on all invites, that any personal acrimony would be mitigated through the other people making that decision. (Brown mentioned receiving a personal note from Fowler that he had fought for Brown and Retrofit's inclusion.) Nadel denied any personal motivation as a festival organizer or in writing his post. Nadel and Kartalopoulos emphasized the high number of quality applications for this year's Festival, but declined to provide information about other previous exhibitors not invited back other than to say that there are several first-time exhibitors this year.

Personally, I think it would be weirder if Brown had been invited and then when the Internet dust-up hit had that invitation rescinded. It makes consistent sense to me that someone might not like a project both as an editor writing a post and as a festival organizer deciding on applications. I'll accept Nadel at his word that no personal animus was involved in writing about Brown at the time he chose to write about Brown. Whether or not it is the optimally desirable situation in comics to have people playing multiple roles, well, I don't see any way around that. To its detriment and to its glory, comics is a low-threshold participation racket. Talented people with the desire to do so are going to wear multiple hats, whether that's editing a magazine, publishing books and helping run a festival in Nadel's case or making comics and editing/spearheading comics projects in Brown's. I don't think asking questions is wrong, either, and in this case I think there's actually something comforting that a clear response is available if people want to take it, as opposed to comics issues where the end game is pointing out something is really, really wrong and then hoping the overlords involved might be convinced to do something about it against their own short-term financial interests.

The second thing I think worth mentioning here is that I truly feel that in the long run Nadel did everyone a favor by speaking directly, forcefully and humorously about these issues. I don't agree with Dan Nadel that a tribute to Garo needs to be historically accurate in order to be legitimate (and in fact, some of the best comics are illegitimate). I do, however, think that this would make a fascinating spearhead with which to assault the resulting art, and I respect the passions behind wanting to see people give elements of the past their full and respectful due. I don't agree with Nadel that there's anything wrong with crowd-funding in terms of how such projects should be perceived, or which kind of projects should pursue that kind of funding. I am, however, deeply suspicious of claims made on that tool's behalf, of specific elements to many projects that aren't questioned at all even as they make my eyes pop, and the long-term effect on traditional publishing the tool may have. I think crabbing after this stuff the way Nadel did may be the only way to inject a critical element into asking for money to do stuff where the ultimate defense is, "Well, we're not forcing anyone to give us anything." I wish I'd done it first. I also think it's perfectly fine for Nadel to bring this up even if he fails the Internet Hypocrite Test, because that test is stupid.

I was therefore encouraged by some of the thorough posts on these issues that appeared last week, more thoughtful commentary in the space of several days than has appeared on Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding tools since their arrival in comics' consciousness months and months ago. Let me recommend three: Secret Acres, Sean T. Collins, Mike Dawson. That's a publisher, a creator/critic and a creator, all talking about different aspects of the issues raised by Nadel's hue and cry. I'm sure there are others.

It's difficult to talk about things in comics in a critical fashion, despite comics' huge windbag tendencies (of which I am Windbag Commander #1). Comics is a capital-light world and a small room besides. "Do you like me (and my comic), yes or no, please check one" is the primary relationship most of us have with one another. So to get thoughtful people digging into something, getting them to think about an issue with a critical mind rather than throwing up their hands and declaring all options equally awesome, this is a rare and beautiful thing. We need to continue talking through issues and developing better ways of doing what we do, including Kickstarter. If that takes a Dan Nadel shouting "Sell your boots!" Archie Bunker-style, that's fine with me. The shame would be if we stop.
posted 12:20 pm PST | Permalink

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