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

January 4, 2013

CR Holiday Interview #16—Heidi MacDonald



imageI met Heidi MacDonald at San Diego in 1995, five minutes before moderating the infamous "Get Larry Marder Panel" after Image had made the decision to throw in with Diamond and change the face of comics distribution forever. We have the kind of relationship where I can run the picture at right -- which she'll probably hate -- and where I check her site The Beat and its twitter feed frequently enough I'll know almost immediately if she makes her opinion known on the matter. I'm jealous of her contacts and the enormous amount of goodwill she's generated over years of working in and near North American comic books. I think she's a good writer, too; she wrote a couple of the more memorable essays I ran while at The Comics Journal in the mid- to late-1990s, and I always enjoy her longer pieces at her site. I was surprised when I looked it up that I'd never had her in this series to talk about the year in news, and I'm happy she agreed to help me correct this massive oversight on my part. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: Heidi, one thing that jumped out at me when I was thinking about your site in terms of this interview is that you've both redesigned and kind of re-fashioned what you're doing there. Can you talk a bit about what the site is like now as opposed to a few years back, what made you want to change what you were doing and how you went about making some changes?

HEIDI MacDONALD: The short version can't stay the same on the Internet, although your own site has done an amazing job of proving that isn't always true! The longer and most boring version is that my old installation at was done in a hurry and corrupted by database glitches that had crept in from the neglect of the old webmasters. These glitches meant that anytime the site got any traffic, it crashed. Which was, to put it mildly, a little frustrating. It also, in technical terms, hosed my authority. So I had to clean up the database and get a clean reinstall on a new, stable server. Or rather I hired someone to do it, Ron Croudy and Ryan Dickey at SmartBomb, for various reasons, it took a long time... and that was also frustrating.

I don't know if your readers are into this wonky webmaster stuff -- probably not, but I love it. Basically I wanted to build a site that could stand up to traffic surges, and I now have one. I also think the site just looks better in general, and I'm really glad to be off the Woo Themes framework, which was way too fussy for a complicated blog, even though their themes were all the rage a few years ago. I use Studio Press now, and it seems to be much more stable.

The entire history of The Beat has been a battle against the web and finding a responsive webmaster who could solve problems as they arose. I'm pretty happy with where I am now, technically speaking, I can handle 90% of the under the hood fixes myself, and that brings peace of mind.

SPURGEON: An aspect of your site now that people I know talk about when we sit around talking about comics web sites -- which is all the time -- is that you have a lot of different voices on the site now. It seems like the idea there is freeing you up to do the longer pieces you like to do, but I think there are some readers who miss having your voice on the site dominating the way it used to. Is that a worry at all, that you lose something by bringing in different voices? My take is that you kind of prefer being a steward/editor as opposed to a single voice.

MacDONALD: Well, that is also because the web changes and I've changed. I wish I could just sit there and spend four hours a day and write up all the news I thought was important and jot down an essay on the behind the scenes of the industry and throw in a few Gerard Butler ass shots... but there is just too much comics for one person to cover any more! And I am not a passionate, engaged reader of DC and Marvel superhero comics any more, but Todd Allen and Steve Morris are, and they cover DC and Marvel books better than I can. I've long thought that the only way to be more productive was to clone myself, and since that isn't legal yet, I've tried to, at least, find people like Todd and Steve who have an "authentic" and knowledgeable voice. I've had a hard time finding people who were up for the job of writing from the Beat viewpoint -- or at least at the rates that I pay -- but I've been lucky to find a few. Hannah Means-Shannon is another writer I've been so lucky to meet -- she goes everywhere and then just dashes off thesis-like round-ups of what was said and done. Of course Torsten Adair does whatever it is that Torsten Adair does, and Shannon O'Leary and Jessica Lee get the indie stuff. Henry Barajas is another guy who is getting into comics and has the broad based view of the industry that I want the site to reflect. Serhend Sirkecioglu is someone else who is very forward looking whose viewpoint I've been happy to spotlight.

Another thing, Tom, is something I mentioned to you in passing at BCGF. I want to train some of the next generation. There are so few legit sites about comics, and people get so little training in how to do this. I don't have tons of time for hands-on oversight and editing, but I am trying to give my younger writers at least some sense of what is an important story, and how to cover it and professionalism and other things that probably don't matter any more in the era of crowdsourcing. I'm especially interested in bringing along female and non-white writers. Comics are a diverse, worldwide medium and I hope The Beat reflects that in its own inadequate way. Giving new people a chance to establish themselves is a reward in itself.

I do miss being the one-stop Heidi source, but those days are gone forever, both because to the nature of the web and the fact I'm not getting any younger. Mind you, I'm not sure my new model is all that sustainable, but I'd rather go out giving it a whirl.

SPURGEON: Working with as many other writers as you do, and given what we both know are the constraints of publishing on-line, how careful are you not to kind of cross over into the kind of exploitation that sites like ours sometimes criticize? I had a creator express this to me at Comic-Con, that they were tired of being lectured about how they were being exploited by [mainstream comics company] by being given enough money to buy a house, in articles by writers that were being paid $10 for the article, if that. How do you avoid being part of the problem, or do you even see it like that?

MacDONALD: Oh, I'm very cognizant of this, and whoever told you that was spot on. I don't want to get into financials for the privacy of others, but last year I made a conscious effort to put more money into the site, and it definitely paid off. People should be paid for what they do, and that is always my goal. I include myself in that formula, BTW. Even if it's just a token amount.

This ties into a few other things you and I discussed but there is no money in running a comics news site. The category just isn't strong enough to support itself in advertising or other forms of monetization. Lots of entities have tried and failed. Marvel and DC aren't going to pay you money to run your ads just so you can hire people to go poke around in their contracts and disgruntled employees.

imageSo, you work around. I have a few ideas for ways to raise money, and we'll see if I have time to put them into action this year, or if I just live on a single bowl of kale a day. I just ran a post about how readers who don't want to see posts of set pictures from Thor 2 can help The Beat remain viable. But I actually like set pictures from Thor 2. I know you are a purist about not running "media" news on your site, but I like giving comics a wider context, when its appropriate.

SPURGEON: Is the PW newsletter gone now? I know it was being phased out. It's not like you're not continuing with comics coverage, but do you have any take on why that didn't hit harder, that kind of devoted coverage? Was it a disconnect between medium and what's out there now? Was it the focus of the coverage?

MacDONALD: It isn't gone, it comes out once a month -- the second Wednesday of every month. It did almost go away for a while, but the short version is that the newsletter was endangered for a while because it had no ad support. Comic book companies run so lean and tight they just don't have any money for advertising, as I'm sure you're aware. Trade publishing is an ad-supported medium for the most part. I know PW Comics World is thought of as a valuable resource by publishers and librarians and so on, but it needs to be self sustaining as well, and getting advertisers to commit to that isn't as easy as it sounds.

As for your other questions... a monthly -- or even weekly -- newsletter is a little bit harder to manage in the instant news world. There needs to be some kind of snappy name for the ratio between frequency and impact in the media. Call it the Twitter to McSweeneys ratio. The more often something comes out, the more trivial it can be, and the longer between episodes, the more of a satisfying chunk -- or earth, shattering, Internet breaking news story -- it has to be. I co-edit PW Comics World with Calvin Reid and I think he would agree that finding news shattering and stunning enough for a monthly is not always easy.

SPURGEON: I'm going to draw you out on the following, but let's talk about the year 2012. It doesn't seem like there was the kind of dramatic New 52-style publishing event to kind of anchor things, and that we had a mix of trend stories and maybe less dramatic publishing. If you and I were college classmates, and you knew I knew something about comics but maybe not a ton, how would you snapshot the year in comics if we were to have a conversation along those lines? What was important to you?

MacDONALD: I think it's the year that everything worked, or everything found an audience. Maybe the New 52 was the kind of soul shattering, reality warping, Internet cleaving event that needed to get attention to comics -- especially since Batman was somehow involved -- but when the smoke had cleared and the tears had dried up there was a world of amazing comics for a rainbow of tastes available. I think the New 52 also cemented in the minds of comics creators of a certain age that not owning any IP and just working on corporate comics was not the best or only career path -- and the exodus had begun a while ago so you had strong material like Fatale ready and waiting.

There were just so many things that worked in 2012, from Image with Saga, to IDW with My Little Pony to Boom's Adventure Time comics... you couldn't have even imagined the last two being sales hits five years ago. You could have imagined them 30 years ago, though -- even given the long tail audience specialization we have now, we seem to have created a more diverse audience for comics in terms of age and gender.

imageThere are so many creators who had banner years. I was so happy to see Matt Bors get so much attention, winning the Herblock Prize, and he had a defining year in general. The agonizing death of editorial cartoonists at newspapers has been a huge story that you have been covering in detail, but I feel like the election proved there is an intense interest in these kinds of policy cartoons still, and things like Cartoon Movement and Symbolia are helping this kind of comic evolve into their next iteration. I know that monetization is still a concern -- as it really is with all of this -- but a whole aspect of comics that was in danger of dying out is jammed with lively voices and evolving into the next phase.

I think there are several things that made this such a strong year all around. So much of the good stuff is in print and available. If you stumble on some old "Ten Best Comics" list on the Internet, you can probably go to a comic shops, or a bookstore or Amazon and buy it. You can buy a new edition of Kings in Disguise, for crying out loud. The work of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and the Hernandez Brothers is widely available. So is Krazy Kat and Secret Agent Corrigan. Fantagraphics put out strong new editions of classic EC and Carl Barks. (Corto Maltese still got the shaft, but I guess that's eternal.)

Plus, as I think several of your holiday interviews have mentioned, the graphic novel "era" has lasted long enough for a bunch of talented younger folks to get a significant body of work out there. Bryan Lee O'Malley, Craig Thompson, Faith Erin Hicks. And we still have new stuff by Richard Sala and Rick Geary coming out.

Also, having comics on tablets has definitely increased their visibility. This will be all we talk about in 2013.

imageFinally, you and I might disagree on this, but Batman, The Avengers and The Walking Dead being three of the hottest media properties of the year helped more people than ever realize that they still publish comic books. I'm a firm believer in the rising tide lifting all boats theory, even if I no longer believe that if you replace a reader's copy of Aquaman with a copy of The Man Who Grew His Beard he or she won't notice. Even if only .05% of the consumers of the filmed editions moved on to the comics, that's still 1000's of people. General visibility and awareness of comics soared in 2012 and luckily -- finally -- there was an infrastructure and quality books to back it up.

SPURGEON: I thought this was a really interesting year for comics culture, which is your specific purview. I wanted to ask first what you thought about the way various issues get discussed now. Twitter has turned into this rolling mega-board, it seems, but you also have people who have dropped out entirely and you also have people that use Facebook, and you also have people that prefer tersely-worded not for publication e-mails. Do you think that the comics culture on-line reflects the wider comics community, and if not, what's the difference? Is there any danger in assuming one is the other?

MacDONALD: I'm really bad at understanding social media and how it works with Millennials and Gen Yers and all that. My use of the Internet stopped evolving in about 2005, and as that recedes behind us I become more and more obsolete. But I do like Spotify.

I dunno. Some people like catching up over brunch, some like to go out for drinks. Some like drinking at brunch. As a writer on such topics, I think it's just impossible to follow everything now and you either need an army or referrers, or just stay glued to twitter all day. I find Facebook nearly useless but I've always despised it, and with their new way of promoting stories, it's more of a crapshoot. The Internet is like Times Square on New Year's Eve... it's easy to get lost in the cold dark shuffle where everyone has a party hat and toots a paper horn.

The Internet creates more level of observation and argument. Is the news just what Bleeding Cool says it is? Or an actual truth? There are obviously so many ways to find out about this stuff and hundreds of Tumblrs and twitter feeds to exploit it. Outrage can roll like a wave, and so can praise. We haven't even mentioned Kickstarter, with its a wave of monetary approbation, I guess. I follow one friend request on Facebook and find a whole nest of new artists I never saw before -- it's like turning over a rock and finding beautiful duotone ants with Wacoms.

As people look for attention, the means of getting it has to get louder and more outraged unless you're Randall Munroe or Kate Beaton, so there seems to be a daily outrage now. I was little dismayed by some of the outrage campaigns this year. I thought the whole James Gunn thing was dumb, but it quickly turned into a judgmental witch hunt -- let she who has never drooled over an English guy on Tumblr post the first tweet -- and a two year old post on a website that no one noticed is a threat that has to be stamped out. If all that energy had been put towards buying books by female creators, you'd have a better industry tomorrow.

As for your question about community... obviously there will always be a silent faction and whether they are the majority or minority depends on whether they agree with you. I like looking at sales charts as a tonic to the Outraged Blog Post, but even those are suspect. Really, comics culture like any culture, is a matter of tribes. Different tribes have different customs. Superhero comics has fostered the Wednesday Crowd with their need to dissect every week's purchases and investigate the motives of the publishers and creators with a waterboard. We live in a world where Dan Slott got death threats over killing a comic book character. That's like getting death threats over the sun going down. Whatever community that is I want no part of.

Indie comics fans seem to like to interact in different ways, whether on Facebook or in person at indie shows. The Internet is like life now... you can't generalize about anything. What is true and what is real? I don't think there are any answers to that. I used to hope for a return to Authority, but all the web experts say crowd sourcing is here to stay and when Buzzfeed becomes the wave of the future, you just want to hide in your Hobbit hole.

SPURGEON: As a follow-up, something that really fascinating is how much brave conversation there seemed to be -- about things like Before Watchmen, for example -- but at the same time how deeply dysfunctional some of that conversation can be. I get the sense more than ever of a real "you're with or against me -- and my brand!" attitude where it just seems like things get divided into really basic advocacy/non-advocacy camps. Like the issues are less important than if you're on whatever person's side or not, and to not be on that person's side first and foremost is some sort of egregious breach. Do you think comics discusses things well? You actually have comments to moderate that might give you greater insight into this, I thought.

MacDONALD: Well, I have fairly well-heeled posters compared to CBR or other places, and I don't allow threats or name calling or that other stuff, although whenever I go away for an hour someone posts something stupid. The larger the audience on any particular post the more incoherent the "commentary" gets, unfortunately. I am probably a lot more numb to it than I think. Peggy Burns tells me I have the worst commenters and that broke my heart, but even on a site like TCJ you have some whack-a-doos. Whack-a-doos come with the territory unfortunately, just like millipedes and tent caterpillars. I would love to be on the message board where Kurt Busiek and Warren Ellis and Shaenon T. Garrity just trade observations all day, but even if such a thing existed, as a journalist I'm not invited.

I'm not a natural at crowdsourcing, so I'm already obsolete. Having seen the crowd that sends death threats to comics creators maybe has prejudiced me. I do know the informed reader often has something to say, and I like to provide a little bit of a town square for readers that I have, hopefully, kept informed.

I don't think I was as struck by the polarization thing as you mention, although maybe I alluded to it with the James Gunn thing. With Twitter and everything you are immediately forced to give the appearance of taking sides. Personally I don't retweet stuff that I don't have at least a general agreement with. I'm all for giving people who shouldn't be blogging a way to make their opinions felt. I want more signal less noise, and to do that you have to fiddle with the radio tuner all day -- and no one I know even listens to the radio any more.

Just to come around to your original question, I wonder if not being a jerk on the Internet will ever be considered a part of general good manners. A big question for human evolution really.

SPURGEON: Where do you think the culture stands right now in terms of those creator rights issues that seemed more important a generation ago? It seems like there's a mercenary attitude, and kind of a relativism, but I was also shocked by how disdainful so many people were when it came to fellow professionals and the poor families of these foundational creators. I get principle disagreement -- Gary Groth is an interesting one to tap on creators rights -- but the lack of generosity concerning what upsets people seems to me indicative of something, and I can't place my finger on it.

MacDONALD: I've never talked to Gary about this topic, but I know he doesn't have any time for Image, and I think he was pretty skeptical about the whole Northhampton movement and creators bill of rights.

Do you remember back on Warren Ellis' Engine forum where all those kids who were being taken advantage of by Tokyopop were saying "I live on ketchup sandwiches and own 49% of my work and I Love It because they gave me a chance!!!!" They are all quiet about it now and because of tumblr and deviant art, they can just get their shit out there without Stuart Levy being involved at all. No one thinks they need a publisher to find an audience any more. You're seeing fewer and fewer of the Radical/Platinum type Foulfellows saying "Just give me your stuff and I'll sell it for you, my fine lassie!" Kids today think having a tumblr is as good as being published by Tokyopop. I speak fairly regularly at local cartooning schools and I have no sense of what the kids are planning, but they don't seem to think the Big Two is where its at.

imageMeanwhile you have the Wednesday crowd who want their comics at any cost. Sometimes it's a bit gray. I feel horrible for Gary Friedrich, but he helped dig himself a very bad hole. Doesn't mean he was treated right, but he wandered into a bear cave armed with a penknife. At the same time people who think the Siegel heirs or Kirby heirs are greedy are parroting some weird kind of "The corporation is always right!" vibe. I don't think the creator is always right, but... they tend to create most of this stuff. Just to put this in a wider context, during the election, anytime you put on Fox News, it would be talking about how the Obama administration had handcuffed the "job creators" over and over again. It's like that South Park episode "They took our jerbs!"

Meanwhile, a simple reality check and you see corporate profits are at an all time high and wages are at a low, percentage wise. This is a modern version of the feudal system where you must spend your life raising turnips in the shadow of Castle Greybreech so your lord can protect you from the thieves and infidels. And the court jester/grand vizier and everyone wants to keep the narrative fixed. A lot of comics readers seem to think that if Marvel or DC lost a little control, comics would end, or they would be forced to read The Man Who Grew His Beard.

Maybe some of this is the problem with Internet comics news also. I think there are so few objective news sources for comics and nerd culture in general out there. It's like "You gave me a DVD? Okay you own my soul now." This goes back to what I was saying earlier about trying to provide a place for at least trying to investigate things a little or ask a question. I have very little time for doing it myself, but I have to keep trying somehow. Need to do much better.

SPURGEON: Is the second rise of Image as important as it seems in terms of providing an actual place for people to create their own work, which they'll control? Or is it just the latest place that looks like it has something so there's a mad scramble for the buffet?

MacDONALD: The big question for 2012. From a certain viewpoint, you can be sympathetic to the corporate comics mentality -- billions of dollars are at stake and somehow the bigger the media gets, the more interconnected it all is. Whether transmedia actually exists or not, it has en effect on what used to be the joy of comics and finding quirky little takes on half-forgotten characters. Now even Rocket Raccoon will be a Hasbro toy under the Christmas tree. When they say they control 6000 characters, they mean it!

My metaphor for corporate comics throughout the year goes back to my days working at Disney in the '90s. I remember some of my friends working on a lot of branded books for Aladdin or Pocahontas or Mickey or whatever like kids picture books and audio books and coloring books... the gigs usually paid very well, but it wasn't like they went in to the editors' office and said "I have an idea for a Mickey Mouse Audio Book that's going to change Mickey's world forever." They just got a call from an editor and went in and pitched "Mickey Mouse is trying to mow the lawn" and a book got written. There was no ego involved. It's pretty clear that corporate comics are going in that direction. You get the call to write Firestorm or Firestar and the cheat sheet with the event of the quarter and that's it.

So Image has emerged as the both the training ground and the end result of this system. It seems docile young Image writers, thrilled with a paycheck, are the new event shock troops, while more established Big Two writers with something to say are cycled out to create their own stories. I think the success, as usual, will be based directly on the quality of the books, and Image does need to keep an eye on that. I've read a bunch of Image books that I enjoy greatly and some that are filler. The Image creators are mostly self taught, and are learning the marketplace through trial and error. In the writer-artist system that so many Image books use it's harder to create a genuine character/story, I think. Will a Rick Remender or Matt Fraction or Justin Jordan circle back to creator-owned? Eric Stephenson is as dedicated to the comics life as anyone I know, and he's been trying to boost Image's infrastructure a bit this year.

On the plus side, newer comics readers seem open to something that is fresher and less predictable, so there is an audience for good new genre books that Image is producing. The Image publishing model has lasted 20 years, and I think it will last beyond that.

SPURGEON: I thought this was the best year for convention and festival, ever, and maybe it's not even close. I thought San Diego and Brooklyn and SPX in rising order were all pretty great, plus you had Spiegelman in Angouleme and that amazing summit in Chicago. How do you view the rise of the small-press festivals and the changing face of conventions? Again, is that a positive that we can actually bank on, do you think, or is it merely just a diversion from deeper, more troubling issues in terms of the collapse of certain elements of infrastructure. Did you have a favorite moment at a show this year?

MacDONALD: My favorite moment at a show was at TCAF at the Saturday night party which was a freezing cold rooftop beneath the Super Moon and everyone was just hanging out and drinking beer and talking about cool shit. It was kind of like that at the Cartoon House post BCGF after party too, but that was inside and so smokey and loud. Sort of the same feeling outside after the Ignatz awards at SPX. They were all awesome moments though because finally I was surrounded by cartoonists who don't seem to have a built-in certainty that their lives and careers are doomed to failure and poverty. That could be a false hope, as very few indie cartoonists that I know make a living at it, and a lot are very poor. But there is a sense of breaking ground and recognition that fuels enthusiasm and good work and creativity. In 2011 I feel like everyone was concerned with making a living and in 2012 everyone was concerned with making art and getting it seen. 2013 will go back to money, I think.

I thought the con circuit was great fun this year; I wasn't at a single stinky show, and it was a mood lifter. At the risk of projecting, I felt like you looked so much happier and more comfortable at the shows this year. Of course, you had a shitty life threatening 2011, so anything would be an improvement, but I thought you were picking up on the good mood, too.

imageThe small press festival circuit seemed well-established this year, but even there, the vibes are different. TCAF was the closest thing to a "New Mainstream" show I have ever attended; the attendees seemed to be readers of all ages, shapes and sizes. Whether it was Homestuck or Smile, there was a passionate and engaged readership. This seemed like an expression of the LIbrary/Bookstore market forces that have really remade the industry in the last 10 years.

BCGF was a lot more like an "indie music" festival, to use a term I'm sure the organizers would hate. Art Spiegelman is the Alex Chilton, and Dan Clowes is the Steven Malkmus. BCGF to me is very much the end of a narrative that begins with RAW and winds through the art comix movements of the last 30 years, from Fort Thunder to Kramers Ergot. To me there was very much the feeling of highly personal art that reflects an experimental view of comics, while being as far from corporate comics as possible. So yeah, indie comix = indie music, at least in the personal, exclusive sense.

That both these narratives are strong enough to sustain not one but multiple shows and "symposia" throughout the year is another sign of how strong and diverse the current material and creative base is. SPX sort of drew on both these, and we'll see how MoCCA shapes up. They aren't mutually exclusive at all.

Man didn't Bill Kartalopoulos have a great year, in terms of doing the programming for both SPX and BCGF, and co-organizing BCGF and putting together the cultural events surrounding the show, and even launching his own publishing imprint? I thought every panel I attended that Bill put together this year was really well thought out, but he also knows the background of such a wide variety of comics and art history to give it added heft. I think I wrote on The Beat that his panels weren't Comics 101, they were comics grad school, and we're at a place that's ready to appreciate that.

As for mainstream comics's a formula now that a lot of people enjoy, and while it is definitely a "trend", I don't see it fading away for a while. As long as there is an attractive young woman willing to wear a vinyl suit and call it Catwoman and a former cast member of The Munsters is alive, there will be comic-cons.

SPURGEON: Why isn't there a comic book midlist anymore? Why is it 100K copies and then a steep fall to the 30K and 40K level? Does comics over-publish?

MacDONALD: Well, that goes back to what people want to read. Corporate comics just don't have casual readers and haven't for decades, and this is a sign of that. It's either half the line or none of the line. It's why every comics executive says they have event fatigue and want to slow down and never do. Maybe it is possible with the huge success of The Avengers and Batman and so on that some casual readers are being drawn in and some may like the Rocket Raccoon or Amethyst comic and just keep buying that, but Marvel and DC haven't shown much ability to exploit the audiences for individual titles in a long time. I wouldn't call 40K copies a steep fall, by the way. That's a pretty decent number. It will be very interesting to see how the Constantine comic from the mainline DCU does. The Vertigo edition had wasted away to about 10K copies over the course of 300 issues. The DCU's offbeat titles had middling to cancellation level sales, so this will be a real sign of whether you can rebuild a "midlist."

SPURGEON: Let's end with something forward-looking. Do you read comics digitally? Do you read print comics digitally? Is that a market that changes everything or is it just another market? I keep thinking that we should have seen a comic not a free comic that's a runaway hit in that market by now; then again, maybe I'm just missing it thinking about it this morning.

MacDONALD: I guess you're talking about "tablet comics."


MacDONALD: So far the biggest digital hit has been the Pocket Gods comics from APE that sold wayyyy more digitally than in print, but that was before the iPad even. I'm excited by Aces Weekly and Monkeybrain and Madefire and Thrillbent and all the other digital imprints but I haven't had time to sit down and really explore them yet. I read comics digitally in the form of review galleys I get from most publishers. (Hello, Marvel?) At any time my iPad has 5 to 6 gigs of digital comics on it and it's incredibly convenient to read on those odd moments. Is it a preferred method? Not exactly... because they are lo res watermarked, but it's fine to stay up to date. I am not exactly a consumer of comics although I do buy physical copies of my favorite books from time to time and try to fill in gaps in my collection. I'm going through a personal space crisis however, and digital has really lessened the pressure on bringing home tons of comics I have no room for, and I'm beginning to think, very, very slowly, about the idea of replacing some of my beloved print books with a space-saving digital copy. It's a huge leap of habit however.

As for the digital market, I'm sure it will emerge in some amazing, gorgeous and life changing way that we could never foresee. The next RAW or Kramers will be an iPad app, and it will change the way people think about comics and storytelling again. I hope I am mentally acute enough to appreciate it when it happens.

SPURGEON: To take us out, you've always written passionately about women-in-comics issues, which a lot of the time are just basic human dignity issues and at other times are very specific to comics' unique DNA. I have to admit that even with my own shortcomings in terms of writing well about that kind of thing, I was particularly unprepared to write about something like, say, fake geek girls -- not because I fail to be saddened by the undercurrent of rage that's obvious in some of the statements people were making, but mostly because it's hard for me to wrap my mind around any sort of strong identification mechanism, positive or negative, when it comes to consuming art. I also thought that it was odd that we had a "power" list that seemed design to almost throw the spotlight on clueless, non-inclusive definitions of power, and that seemingly ignored the Jeannie Schulzes and Jenny Robbs that wield that kind of influence even when it's defined that way. So are you hopeful there's progress, Heidi? I think I am, but I don't know that my opinion is all that pertinent.

MacDONALD: Aw , I thought I was going to get away with an interview where I wasn't asked a women in comics question. When that day comes, and Dean Haspiel, Mark Siegel, Tom Kaczynski and the rest are asked about being a man in comics, we'll have true progress. [Spurgeon laughs]

imageBut I did write a lot about this subject in 2012, so it is legit. To get to the heart of your question, there was definitely a surge in visibility and loudness among female genre fans of all kinds this year, and also a surge in the amount of material available for them. The Hunger Games was one of the biggest movies of the year, and made YA movies with female heroines more viable. At the same time, so many female cartoonists are having great careers here they aren't asked what it's like being a woman in comics all the time, like Julia Wertz, Gabrielle Bell, Noelle Stevenson, Emily Carroll, Raina Telgemeier, Lilli Carré... on the publisher side everyone loves justifiably, Annie Koyama, but Emma Hayley at Self Made Hero also deserves a lot of props -- they had an incredible year with The Nao of Brown and English language editions of Kiki de Montparnasse and so on. It's a great year where Rina Ayuyang can start a publishing company and no one is patting her on the back for being a woman publisher and breaking down barriers and all that other externally imposed bullshit. That is true progress, except that I just did it!

Anyway I'm sick of compartmentalization and that has to be fought against still. No more stupid women in comics panels and limiting women's anthologies. Also, women have to help themselves and break out of the "pink" ghetto by getting included in things that aren't "for girls."

When I was young Trina Robbins was my hero but I always thought, "Wow, Trina is so angry, can't she see that me and my generation have solved everything?" Now that I'm older than she was when I first met her I see younger women making the same dumb mistakes and men still being paternalistic jerks. The battle for freedom or recognition is never won, it will go on and on and on. As Trina pointed out, one hundred years ago Rose O'Neill was one of the most famous cartoonists in the world, and yet we've spent 100 years wondering if women can draw comics. Right now, all the male comics purists are jumping up and down and telling us that Rose O'Neill wasn't a cartoonist and her art was too girlie to be taken seriously, anyway. I've heard that so many times. Bullshit!

Now, as I alluded to above, I think outrage can turn into nitpicking frowny face that is ultimately a waste of time. Like I said, if you believe in women in comics, buy comics by women and starring women. It's as simple as that.

If you want to make the world a better place, do what former Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey did and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and give the money to a charity that helps teenage victims of sex trafficking. In a world where young women are being literally raped to death with a metal bar, it's important to see the bigger picture.


* The Beat
* Heidi MacDonald on Twitter
* The Beat On Facebook


* olivier schrauwen
* photo of heidi mac from the 2008 edition of heroes con
* i'm not totally opposed to thor 2 photos
* matt bors cartoon
* walking dead
* kurt busiek
* the gary friedrich era on ghost rider
* from smile
* lilli carré
* rose o'neill could draw (below)



posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink

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