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

June 6, 2010

Two More Conversations We Could Be Having (HC Edition)

As promised, here are two more arguments we could be having about comics, conversations that might be more vital and necessary than the conversations towards which the field frequently drifts. More to come.

image4. Will Comics Experience A Tidal Wave Of Destitute Older People In The Next 20 Years, And If So, Can Anything Be Done About It?
The one terrifying thing about the cases helped out by kind organizations like The Hero Initiative and the dozens of personal efforts driven by the community's kind heart is that one may argue that the initial "root" creators towards whom such efforts are usually directed operated for most of their careers out of a greater sense of structure and even economic opportunity than the 1970s and 1980s generation. There were always hard-luck cases in comics, but many drifted towards comics in the flush time because of the opportunity for economic advance, and those that made a lifetime of the industry tended to do so by either maintaining a workable freelance profile or becoming partnered with publishing organizations.

The Direct Market generation, however, can be argued to have worked the outer edges of freelance brinksmanship, piecing together a gig here and a gig there over the years without any sort of institutional support and without acquiring the ability to save money or in many cases buy a home. The late Steve Perry represents a source of deep worry for a lot of comics pros because I think they see within him a kind of unending optimism in righting one's career that may make a liability of survivability, exposing one, although perhaps not as tragically and directly as Perry, to a number of dangers as options run out and the unexpected left cross of life potentially smashes one in the jaw in the form of a spot on the X-Ray or a natural disaster that makes one take flight.

While organizations like The Hero Initiative do so much good in the case of people that fall through the cracks, when the cracks become the norm there aren't enough e-bay auctions in the world to fix things. And, except for those with a sense of moral clarity, it's harder to generate nostalgia and sympathy for a guy involved with a bunch of comics from First and Eclipse you've never heard of than someone tied into the wider pop-culture crackle of a favorite superhero. Not only should we all be paying attention to these matter individually, but there needs to be widespread, honest discussion about what to do on this as a group. Even the direct relationships that cartoonists working on the Internet develop with their audience may not be enough as those audience develop their own responsibilities. It bears a chat or 50.

5. What Is The Overall Impact Of Digital Publishing On The Financial Well-Being Of The Creators?
One thing that rarely gets brought up when talk surfaces about the publication of comics content for digital media devices is exactly how the expected change in price becomes reflected in the amount of money going to the creators. A lot of the side-stepping here is done through the veneer of general industry boosterism through which companies generally increase profits and buttress the bottom line -- the digital comics revolution is discussed in terms of 1) the medium generally, 2) the bottom-line sales. It's worth asking, though, if a million sales are added to a certain comic book or comic book series and the creators aren't profiting at all or even just unfairly, is that the kind of thing that needs to be blindly celebrated?

With Direct Market sales of many comic books racing below the point that mainstream comics used to freely say was their break-even because it seemed so far away, you begin to hear the rumbles that certain page rates and certain expected monies changing hands may be reconsidered. The conventional wisdom that comics could knock the prices down on digital comics because they no longer have to be printed has taken a terrible beating at the hands of those that suggest it's other sunk costs that are more important. Other remain skeptical about who gets cut out if there are cuts to be made, suggesting without outright saying so that cuts may may come right out of the pockets of creators first. That's the likely direction such a conversation would develop. For now, though, I'd settle for a way of lookig at the comics world that values how this new form of comics publishing works on behalf of the men and women making the comics, not for the shiny icons in the stories themselves. They'll do okay.
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink

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