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Michael Mead On Where Have All The Comics Gone?
posted June 12, 2010
I've been collecting comics for 30+ years and have my favourites, Jason Lutes, Los Bros Hernandez, Chester Brown, Harvey Pekar, Joe Matt etc. Ten years ago all of those creators seemed to be producing regular work. I bought all that I could find. Now that same set of people seems to produce next to nothing. No Berlin for more than a year, only an annual Love and Rockets (and substandard work at that, for the first time in 25 years of reading Los Bros work I am really disappointed in their comics, it's like I'm just collecting it for its own sake), no Harvey Pekar for a least a year, Chester Brown seems to have dropped off the face of the planet and Joe Matt seems otherwise 'engaged.' I mean what's happening? They've still gotta eat right? I suspect their audience would buy whatever they put out so why don't they put out more?
Flicking through the February Diamond Previews today it looks like there is a lot of comics produced but how many of them are any good? A closer look at the entries of a quality publisher such as Fantagraphics over the last few months and you realise their Diamond section is a combination of new and previously-released material. The proportion of new comics versus comics that are 'offered again' or newspaper strip reprints from Fanta, D an Q etc is tiny.
When a new comic from a quality publisher comes out it is more likely to be a 'book' or graphic novel. I may be wrong but I don't think Joe Sacco's latest book (just published, can't remember the name) was ever serialized in comic book form? When I saw it today I thought well this looks great, I should buy it but I baulked at the cover price (NZ$66) and then I thought about how long it would take to read it. On the way home I realized how much I miss reading comics in periodical form, it's a 'little something' to look forward to, ironically it's more affordable (for your cash flow even if you end up paying more overall than you would for the collected book) and of course it's more 'readable' in the sense that you know you are going to read a quality comic in a relatively short time.
My comic buying and reading habits were formed in childhood (mid 1970s) so it's no surprise I prefer to read comics this way. In fact recently I unconsciously re-created that childhood experience by buying the recent Archie 'marriage' issues. I deliberately didn't buy them from the comic store. I went to the only pure 'newsagent' in central Wellington City, pop. 170,000 approx, about 200 miles south of Hicksville, (all the other outlets that sell comics and there aren't many, sell a mixture of food, cigarettes, lottery tickets, greeting cards etc) and just picked up the comic from the shelf (I didn't ask for it to be set aside for me). That store only gets three issues of Archie a month so there's a real chance I might miss out. No other store in the Wellington CBD sells Archie (why? why?). It's been thrilling! Honestly, I know it's Archie (Archie for God's sake!) but because so few of the comics I want to buy are produced on anything like a regular basis anymore, buying Archie has actually been exciting. My 11 year old son grabs the issue off me before I can read it. Even my wife reads it. I'm gonna miss the experience when it's over (two issues to go).
In 2010 I think the state of the comics medium is the best it's ever been in its history, both the quality of the work being produced and its critical acceptance (comics world and real world). It's just that some of the fun has gone out of buying comics and the good ones don't come out often enough. If this keeps up I may have to go back to reading books...