On Fumes

Today, we present Chris Mautner's interview with Eddie Campbell about his latest graphic novel, The Lovely, Horrible Stuff. An excerpt:

CAMPBELL: Most people take a lot of things for granted, like what a thing is worth and how much they should get paid for an hour’s work etc., but for a few other people nothing arrives without a set of negotiations. Like agreeing on how much is to be paid then, when the time comes, having to phone up to make it happen, then having to shepherd the money through international exchange channels. Nothing is ever worth the same amount twice. I don’t take anything for granted. There was a time when I got two Australian dollars for one American. Now I get less than one. And I make all my income from foreign countries, so multiply the problem by Euros and pounds. So yes, I guess I see money differently from Joe Average. Explaining it to my wife is where the difficulty resides.

And of course, Joe McCulloch is back with his usual Tuesday column on the week in comics.

We're still running on vacation time here, so undoubtedly we're missing a lot, but here are a few comics-related links worth looking at.

—Perhaps the most surprising development was the Wall Street Journal's publication of this review, which uses the occasion of Christopher Irving's Leaping Tall Buildings to display attitudes towards Marvel and DC and creators' rights more typical of your average comics blogger than you'd expect to find in a financial newspaper. (A sample: "If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new 'Avengers' comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology.")

—J. Caleb Mozzocco notes the appearance of a creator portraits page at the DC Comics website, which Mozzocco thinks may have been spurred on by some of Chris Roberson's public comments upon his departure from the company.

—Finally, it's always worth noting when Robert Boyd is writing about new comics. Here he is on three recent "art comics" he thinks show signs of being influenced by the more cosmic side of Jack Kirby.

17 Responses to On Fumes

  1. TimR says:

    Re WSJ review – Those might be good reasons to avoid picking up an Avengers comic, but (other than the bit about specialty shops) they are not the general public’s reasons. The general public is not aware in the first place about the quality of the art or writing, or about the arcane mythology, and probably would not have an opinion if they were.

    Also I wonder what the writer means by “clumsily drawn”. You can find it aesthetically unappealing, but in what way are they clumsy. Compared to what? It’s not like the typical gallery artist has better basic drawing skills than the typical marvel/dc artist.

  2. Pat says:

    “It’s not like the typical gallery artist has better basic drawing skills than the typical marvel/dc artist.”

    Maybe not better basic drawing skills across the board, but I’d bet on average they are a hell of a lot better at making whatever it is they’re making than the average mainstream comics artist is at making comics.

    Jesus, I’ve been waiting to see someone make this argument on a big(gish) platform for so long now. For all the speculation you see online about “Why don’t comics sell better?” you almost never see anyone ask “Why the hell SHOULD they sell better?”.

  3. Scott Grammel says:

    Following Marchman’s logic, if Whedon’s Avengers movie had simply been done as a graphic novel, drawn by one of the better mainstream artists (Quitely? Cooke? Samnee?), and promoted in better bookstores nationwide, a happy, hungry superhero-loving public would’ve as eagerly bought copies as they did tickets for the movie version. Really? Does anyone anywhere buy that? Hell, I doubt Marchman himself does.

    No one can deny that creators have long been poorly treated by the industry, but his implied fix is woefully simplistic. In fact, though not an across-the-board reality, all the biggest industry players have tried creator-owned arrangements of some kind over the past three decades, and the results have rarely provided either long-lasting successes or viable characters. Yes, there are the rare Hellboys and Walking Deads and Watchmen, but unfortunately they are all too rare (you’ll note that DC hasn’t announced any Before Camelot 2000 comics yet).

    Just as I’ve long theorized that Playboy as a cultural force was doomed the minute they hit on the brilliant defense of sealing copies in plastic (no browsing meant no impulse buys meant lots of no interest in general), the flight to the comic book store as newstand distribution crumbled was as brilliant and as sad a solution.

    Typical Marvel and DC artists versus average gallery artists? Somehow I doubt this is a battle of titans on either side, these days.

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    I think Scott has the chicken and the egg backwards re: PLAYBOY. As sales on the magazine plummeted because of competition from raunchier magazines and the general decline of periodical sales, PLAYBOY had to, uh, penetrate new markets such as Barnes & Noble and airport newsstands, which outlets refused to display it unsealed. The lack of browsability is at best collateral damage to a vital marketing decision. I suspect if they’d stood their ground and refused to seal it, the magazine would’ve been dead years ago for want of any distribution. (MAD MAGAZINE’s sales have collapsed probably at a similar rate and MAD remains unsealed and browsable.)

    I agree that the idea that super-hero comics have declined because the work has become more insular and ingrown is at best an exercise in post hoc reasoning. (In the 1980s when the decline was already going strong, the biggest successes were the ultimate mega-insular/ingrown SECRET WARS and CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS series.) The nostalgic notion that “If only comics were as simple and accessible as when I was a kid, you could pick one up and make sense of it, then the industry would be strong still” strikes me as complete and utter bullshit. The fact is that the main audience for comic books is and has always been kids and kids have stopped reading comics not because of any inherent failure of the people who create comics but because kids have stopped reading comics. The reason there used to be zillions of westerns on TV and now there are none is not because of some great failure of the creators of western TV series but because the audience got sick of westerns. People who like comic books are mad that comic books are failing as a medium and would like to blame someone, but sometimes a medium or a genre just fails for reasons of zeitgeist, technology, or cost (comic books’ great asset was their cheapness; even allowing for general inflation, comic books ain’t cheap no more).

    There is a residual cultural fondness for the characters and concepts of classic comic books among people who don’t want to read a comic any more but get a kick out of watching an old favorite like Spider-Man for a couple of hours, and super-hero action, it turns out, is the absolute ideal subject for splashy CGI. That is why you can make a billion dollars with an AVENGERS movie but can’t make jack shit with an AVENGERS comic… and it’s not the fault of the people doing the AVENGERS comic.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, current super-hero comics are fucking awful beyond belief. I just don’t believe they’re failing because they’re awful, or that you could make them succeed by making them less awful.

  5. Secret Wars was a piece of shit, but don’t you dare say it was insular. Everyone fights everyone else, for no particular reason, is about as simple and accessible a superhero idea as it gets.

  6. John Farwell says:

    cost. if i could still buy a comic book at the local drugstore for the price of a half gallon of gas, say a buck seventy-five or less, i would. a buck and a half, absolutely.

    cheap paper, 2 staples -these things are attractive -unless or until the above context is absent.

    simplicity. a major attraction seemingly thrown away that mayhap more was simply lost to efforts to maintain once heady sales. busy art detours one. beck, bode, toth, the majority of the silver age DC artists, the Harvey books, the ACG books, the Charlton books, Archie, they all had it. kirby too in the structure of his figures. even steranko, like wally wood’s figures. kubert was a master at finessingthe difference. it seemed like when neal adams hit, that envelope got stretched -or the ‘detour’ became itself commodified. i liked vince colleta’s inking on Thor for its own sake but also, i suspect, for what he subtracted. nowadays, the fancy coloring seems to collude against simplicity even it might otherwise be there. moebius’s own genius for simplicity comes to mind. gir’s work seemed to lack it and makes me wish moebius had drawn blueberry but there’s a european market factor there i can’t speak on. simplicity works. look at dave sim or matt howarth or chester brown or los bros. if it’s in the figures, like crumb’s work, for all his tonal shading lines, it’s there, like jack davis’s work. if its absent in the figures, like gil kane’s work, simpler inking (like wood inking him) then serves best. simplicity is a thing to consider, rather than only consider it a consequence of economy of labor’s time. but there’s that too, which gets back to cost. look at the most popular webcomics. i assert many such wouldn’t be as simple as they are if it didn’t matter, but yeah, argument by assertion is no argument at all, i admit. ahem. (which could be said about this whole reply for that matter, come to think of it -but then again; i shoulda kept it simple…)

    i was glad when you brought up the factor of cost. regardless of what i say, like you said, declining sales were a fact of life across the board, but it could’ve been mitigated. accessibility too changed when the distribution implosion came down to Diamond & all moved to direct [dedicated brick & mortar] sales. the loss of the neighborhood locally owned drugstore changed the landscape too, at least for me. how many Revell plastic model sales, balsam wood glider sales, paddleball & rubber ball sales, soda fountain sales, were lost to comics back then i wonder.

    i could be wrong, but… if i could still buy a real [cheap paper, 2 staples] comic book at the local drugstore for the price of a half gallon of gas, say a buck seventy-five or less, i would. a buck and a half, absolutely. lots. this i know. doable? tenable? doesn’t seem like it. the economy isn’t presently there until that pump is primed. consumers drive that pump. no one reads comics any more? i think the market’s there. look at the B&W explosion of the 80’s; whoever would have thought that could happen? praps it was the underground comics that showed the way -or primed that pump.

    i wish there was some [simple] way to get cheap real comics into Walgreens and CVS/Eckerds drugstores. (i don’t even wanna talk about WalMart.)

    there seems to be some reason why anything that is simple and works isn’t allowed any more. maybe that too has been commodified now and you have to pay for it…

    “Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two. If it’s fast and cheap it wont be good. If it’s cheap and good it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good it wont be cheap.”

  7. MADdelaRosa says:

    The cost and accessibility of the damn things is probably closer to the root cause rather than aesthetic accessibility. After all, people like mediocre entertainment by the droves, even insular mediocre entertainment (crappy TV shows, movie franchises, and, even more relevant, all those awful, lowbrow, horribly-written books that millions of people read all the time).

    I have long hoped for mainstream comics to go back to newsstand distribution and, at the very least, cheaper paper stock (which some still do, like a few of the Vertigo books) and do away with the flimsy, ugly, glossy paper. I’m not sure how much going back to non-glossy paper stock would help with costs, but I sure would like to see a good article somewhere that explores this cost issue (get to it TCJ!), as well as the aesthetic ideas behind it (which seems right up Frank Santoro’s alley). Of course, all this is taking for granted that existing comic book prices are mostly a function of their production cost, and not of cynical, profit-maximizing schemes.

    Also, John: great comment, but damn, reading it gave me a headache. Capitalization is your friend, man.

  8. Scott Grammel says:

    Kim, all of what you wrote regarding Playboy is reasonable, but as I specifically was addressing cultural significance and not commercial viability, where exactly do we differ? The important point, though, that I didn’t make sufficiently clear, is that previous to the sealing editorial decision-making would inevitably involve more of a dialogue with the wider culture and its concerns, whether political or social or aesthetic, which has the twin benefit of refreshing that overall culture while maintaining the magazine’s relevance. In addition, while there will always be a demand for pretty, naked ladies, as you yourself make clear, that demand could increasingly be satisfied in a growing multitude of easily-available platforms. What the bagging did was to negate Playboy’s clear advantage in almost all other editorial areas. People really did pick up Playboy for interviews back in the day, especially as they knew there was so much in addition that was guaranteed to be of high quality, from reporting to fiction to illustration to cartoons to reviews.

  9. TimR says:

    Best I can gather the pulp paper is only cheaper if you have a very high print run, due to the fact that those presses are just as happy to run off 100,000 as they would be 20,000 —- once the press is set up — at little additional cost. But most comics have small print runs nowadays, so cost-wise it’s a wash (or even cheaper to use “nice” paper.) So the question is aesthetic, and can you really imagine that we are a people who would ever consider using some retrograde technology for aesthetic reasons? At best we will occasionally dirty up some nicely printed comic with faux newsprint effects, in homage to (and partial derision of?) those bad old days.

  10. Doug Skinner says:

    When I was a kid, I read a lot of comics in mass-market paperbacks too: MAD, gag cartoons, reprints of newspaper strips. They were cheap, unpretentious, and available everywhere. Now that format seems to be reserved mostly for long novels.

  11. Kim Thompson says:

    We don’t differ, Scott. I haven’t read a PLAYBOY in well over a decade, but as I recall the editorial quality had pretty well plummeted too. I get very bored on airplanes and will buy almost anything at the airport newsstand, but PLAYBOY no longer meets even that low threshold. 15 or 20 or 25 years ago it would’ve. Quite aside from the nekkid ladies.

  12. MADdelaRosa says:

    So bored that you would buy the latest Green Lantern: Limb Dismemberment Corps trade?
    Over Playboy?

  13. John Farwell says:

    That old time newsprint paper felt good, looked good, and read easy to me. I miss it. Yeah, I would *love* to see an article on costs breakdown, no matter how ‘dry’ the topic may be. TimR’s comment on paper costs is food for thought to me.

    re: capitalization… i’m sorry about the headache. been writing this way for 40+ years. i use capitalization pointedly judiciously. (it’s certainly not an affectation, or laziness.) it all depends on what i’m writing. some times i mix it up & i don’t do that just for the heck of it -it just works out that way. i don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, for sure, but capitalization, or the lack thereof, affects my writing, or rather is intrinsic to the piece… still, your point’s well taken. & thanks for the compliment.

  14. Scott Grammel says:

    Once copies were bagged, the previous rationales for what had been considerable expenditures for editorial content no longer applied. That’s when the downward slide would’ve logically begun, I’d think.

  15. Kim Thompson says:

    No, I’d pick PLAYBOY over that. Fortunately, that has never ended up being the only choice.

  16. MADdelaRosa says:

    Yeah, I miss the feel, look, and smell of the old newsprint, which is part of the reason I enjoy reading old comics so much (even some that aren’t that good otherwise). I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see a modern comic using that paper (one that currently does it that I buy regularly is Roberson and Allred’s iZombie and it adds to the joy of reading it). Hell, if they only went back to Baxter paper I would be happy.

    And I’ll take this opportunity to once again coax the powers-that-be to get on an in-depth article that explores costs, paper stock, etc. Sadly, I think TimR’s insightful comment is the closest we’ll get.

    And no worries about capitalization, I think I’m so overworked from writing nonstop the past few days that I’m a little sensitive to a bit of strain while reading. I can certainly handle it, affectation or not (I don’t really care). Hell, I used to read that WalterLilly (or whatever) guy’s posts in the old TCJ message board fine all the time.

  17. MADdelaRosa says:

    That makes sense.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *