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

January 22, 2006

CR Sunday Magazine

Save Gocco!


Via the really entertaining Onsmith Comics blog comes word of the "Save Gocco!" site, a web destination dedicated to the Gocco Printer that a lot of alt-comics cartoonists have discovered in the past several months. Seems the machine has run its popular course in its native country; the site hopes that its maker will consider continuing its manufacture for markets like North America. Onsmith is selling a small book of Gocco-made art that looks pretty damn cool even if you're not interested in the fate of the machine.

If Wishes Were Fishes

In his widely read column at Comic Book Resources, the writer Steven Grant recently pointed out in response, I think, to various industry reform impulses, that comics first and foremost need to be better. I agree with the point. The better the content, the more an industry and audience rises to meet it rather than has to be convinced to pick it up and give it a try. Comics has so much lousy and uninspired content in a field of very polite people who will generally not say so, that the primary justification scores of professionals take to basic issues like reform and growth seems to be inclusion of one's own material, which deserves it because it's on arguably the same playing field with some stuff that seems to have its foot in the door. Building an art form to protect the collective needs of its "C" and "D" students hardly seems worth the time, no matter how nice they are, no matter how hard they try, no matter how passionate they are.

Yet while a call for excellence is valuable in that (obviously) excellence is valuable, and a call for renewed attention to better content can perhaps change the tenor of conversations and move them away from "everybody gets a chance to publish" tire-spinning, I think there are definite limits to what it can accomplish. Those artists that are trying to make their work better in meaningful ways are probably already doing so, and those that aren't, or can't, are probably going to continue doing what they do, too.

This is why, and not for punishment's sake, I suggested that if you don't have the values of stronger content replicated in industry mechanisms that help this along, you're probably going to accomplish less than if you do. While I've never suggested bifurcating PREVIEWS -- which Grant points out doesn't have the support of those publishers who would be sent to catalog equivalent of the little kids table -- I have suggested the possibility of limiting it severely, which does have the support of a lot of small publishers, at least off the record. The key is that you get out of the rigid thinking of limiting the catalog according to aggregate sales and things like willingness to buy ads in Diamond's catalogs, and instead use a combination of publishing track record with liberal exceptions for obvious measures of quality such as the now decade-plus old industry awards. Not only do a lot of very mediocre comic books have access to the Direct Market for what seems the sake of the value of giving as many people as possible access to the Direct Market, there are lots of mediocre to bad comic books demanding retailer time and attention and money coming from publishers that can't keep a business plan together for the first half-year of their existence -- publishers that fail to publish. The industry could make it harder for such companies, and harder for such books, to get their foot in the door, and definitely make it more difficult for companies that have discredited themselves to keep that access.

Steven also seemed very confused by the idea of self-publishing "sponsors". This happens already, where a self-publisher who won't be allowed in Previews otherwise appears at the end of an established publisher's solicitation. What I'd suggest is that if you want to limit market exposure to bad comics, this policy could be enacted more frequently, if not become the primary way that self-publishers get a foothold in that ordering process. It's a potential trade-off, sure. But it's no longer 1983, or even 1994 -- surpassing quality has a much greater chance of finding a foothold than ever before, and I'm not sure we need to count on the good riding a wave of vanity work and false starts tumbling out of the comics equivalent of Fibber McGee's closet.

Neither proposed policy is ready for enactment; they're certainly little more than conceptual ramblings at this point. I might disavow them next week. And there's certainly other policy changes that could be made to support better comics, including dismantling those massively unfair, bartered advantages that certain large companies have, companies that also release a lot of bad comics, and make them compete on equal ground with equally deserving publishers, all for the sake of the industry entire (which has about as much chance of happening as my flying to the moon later today and becoming King of the Cheese Men). But any value promoted for comics, even one as basic as "excellence," needs to be supported by policy wherever it can, or it can be as toothless as that old-time desire that comics go back to being 10 cents and available on every street corner.

Help! and Humbug To Appear


Hot on the heels of Egon noticing that a Greg Theakston-produced best-of from Harvey Kurtzman's Help! has been announced for the distribution pipeline, Fantagraphics co-owner Gary Groth interjects into the resulting TCJ message-board thread to announce his company will be doing a complete collection of Humbug, rights to which apparently went to Arnold Roth when it collapsed. The Harvey Kurtzman-organized post-MAD Magazine efforts are among the least seen, known-to-be-good comics from a group of major cartoonists, so this is great news, I'd say.

Go, Listen: Jeet Heer on Old Time Comics

You might have to scroll around a bit to find this radio show featuring Jeet Heer speaking on old-time comics, but it's worth it.

Go, Look: Jesse Hamm's 2005 Eisner Ceremony Sketches


I was lucky enough to link to some of Jesse Hamm's sketches in my report last year on the 2005 Eisner Awards ceremony. Now he's put those sketches and many more up in his new blog.
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