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

March 20, 2009

Is The Comics Industry A Lost Cause?

Alan Moore seems to think so and Eddie Campbell seems to agree.

imageAre they right? This morning at least I think they're right more than they're wrong. The fundamental tragedy of the American comics industry is that it's built on core acts of exploitation and as long as there remains money to be made it will never get free of that original sin in a meaningful way. There are business executives with tangential relationships to the making of comics that may profit more in a quarter-year from certain creations than the creators will in their entire lives. This is seen as a good thing. Not only is this not a good thing right on the face of it, but the insistence that it at least arguably serves an overall good drives a great deal of the self-loathing, defensiveness and poisonous overcompensation that creators and company employees are forced to negotiate in some fashion or another every single day.

Can anything be done? Reform from the creator class seemed possible when one remarkable generation fought for greater recognition of artists and fairer contracts, but that movement now seems exhausted and its progress limited to how reforms already achieved might better allow for the possibility of significant profit and return. Reform from the industry's patrons is impossible when the bulk of that audience values the uninterrupted continuation of their entertainment consumables over anything that might threaten same. I'd argue that today it's less a matter of whether or not the comics industry is a lost cause than if anyone still considers the industry a cause at all.

The two great hopes for future reform don't exactly encourage. That an entire generation of creators just now moving into their 60s may as a group be so spectacularly ill-prepared for the financial realities of old age that it somehow shames a movie- and licensing-wealthy industry into offering, say, greater health care options, that seems like the sort of thing that the bulk of younger working creators can be convinced doesn't really apply to them and will be depressing as hell besides. That the industry itself will somehow have its spine shattered over the collective knee of a thousand website-riding barbarians and their hordes of fans that simply won't respect the rules, that counts on an opportunistic creative class resisting efforts to co-opt long-term opportunities and a reliable profit structure that at least comes close to matching the one in place somehow taking hold. I'm not hopeful.
posted 8:25 am PST | Permalink

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