Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

August 5, 2013

On Various Reactions To Posting A List Of Young Cartoonists

imagel received some interesting from yesterday's posting of a list of how old certain comics-makers were at an early highlight-moment in their careers. Most of it was a display of prickly defensiveness regarding the idea of age, the notion that by somehow pointing out that this group of comics-makers were of a certain, mostly-in-their-20s age when they hit certain high points, this was an assault on the idea of making comics when you got older. Nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn't my intention, and it's not a particular hang-up of the marketplace, I don't think. I think comics in general does fairly well with older creators as long as their work remains vital. The solid performers in the indy-alt market are about 80 percent in their 40s to 60s. Money-makers in comic strips tend to favor veterans of the editorial page as much as a kid fresh off of his college paper gig, probably more so at this point. The still entrenched editorial cartoonists tend to be veterans, if partly because younger cartoonists are scared off by lack of opportunity. There are a number of men and women born before 1970 with sweet gigs in mainstream comics, too. I am quite old myself. So no, it's not great for everybody, and yes, comics doesn't use all of its talent and there are corners of comics with a unhealthy fixation on fashionable talent and there's even an idea that all artists have a limited shelf life and that a 45-year career or whatever in many cases isn't a realistic thing. But like I said, I think it's a better place than some markets taken as a whole. So not only wasn't that list intended that way, I don't think there's such an overwhelming status quo of favoring young people against all reason that there's any danger in running such a list. It's just a list.

The instigating series of incidents for me to do that post were wrapped up in something I had noticed before and that had recently come up three separate times: an insistence of not just calling people between the ages of 38 and 45 "cartoonists," or "working cartoonists," or even "new cartoonists," but "young cartoonists." I've experienced this before. One of my Comics Journal writers called me ageist back in the 1990s when I wouldn't let someone in a "Young Cartoonists" issue who had published in Arcade. I think you see it a lot in casual ways, too, say a 41-year-old comics-maker referring to herself as a fellow traveler with cartoonists largely in their late 20s. I think it's partly the fear of being seen as irrelevant asserted in the above fashionability scenario, partly aligning one's career progression with those in a similar place, and partly the very comics thing of wanting to filter all discussions of comics in some way where you're front and center. Yet I also wonder if it's the simple fact that there are so few rewards in such a hard field that positioning yourself as a youthful voice and not just a new one has perceived advantages, if only in self-conception. I mean, it's not as easy as that, but I've seen it enough times that I think that's a factor. I like and value all the comics-makers, 16 to 90, and I hope you do, too. It's a remarkable thing that Phoebe Gloeckner was submitting publishable work at age 19 and an also-remarkable thing that Miriam Katin put out We Are On Our Own the year she turned 63. Those are both great cartoonists; but really, only one of them was young.

image from Katin's latest, Letting It Go
posted 8:20 am PST | Permalink

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