Once again, a little behind schedule. I reckon this proves that the thing that’s changed most in the last decade is the fact that I’ve gone from being in my late twenties to being in my late thirties. I spend a lot more time asleep than I used to. Still, I’m here now.
I had a teacher once*. Maggie Ilse. There are three reasons why I went into the English Teaching business, and she’s precisely a third of them. Fairly obviously she taught me a lot of things – it was her job after all – but there is one piece of advice that has stayed with me after what must be damn near a quarter of a century.** She told us to forget about needing to catch up with the soaps on TV and concentrate on our studies because “when you come back to them in a couple of years time, they’ll be in exactly the same point in the plot.”
As I’ve been commenting on comics over the past decade, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Maggie’s Maxim” could also apply to comics. I mean seriously – how many times has Gotham been destroyed now? And I know that it’s closer to twenty years since the last time Bruce Wayne disappeared and came back again, but that just shows that some cycles are slower than others.
I mean, just to underline the point, let’s look back to one of the earliest columns I ever wrote, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back. It was called Bats about the Girl****. It was all about my love for Batgirl, for Barbara Gordon, and my concerns over the arrival of a new Batgirl on the scene. Now, can I refer you to January this year – specifically Still Bats about the girl after all these years? It’s a different new Batgirl I’ll grant you, but really Steph’s basic situation isn’t substantially different from Cassie’s. The so-called “mainstream” is just going around in circles. It has done over the last ten years, it did in the ten years before that and I don’t imagine the next ten years are going to be very much different.
Of course this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If the idea is a good one, recycling it every so often lets a new generation of readers appreciate something they might otherwise have missed – something that’s especially true in a medium as transitory as monthly comics.***** Besides, all this rebooting keeps things fresh. It’s not in any way repetitive or indicative of a deplorable lack of imagination amongst the suits at the major publishers. If anything, I’d have to say that this phenomenon has got worse in the ten years this column has been observing the scene, and I think it’s something of a corporate problem – and it isn’t confined to comics either.
Look at the number of re-makes and sequels that are pumped out of Hollywood these days. It seems that the only way you can get a film green-lit is to base it on something that has already succeeded – how else can you explain the existence of the forthcoming A-Team movie? How else can you explain the recent Bionic Woman TV series? How else can you explain any of the substandard “reimagined” shows that have polluted our airwaves lately?******
I think the truth is that the need to make a profit makes the people who control the money – who generally are not on the creative side of anything – unwilling to gamble on anything that doesn’t have a pedigree. And of course it’s often the same companies who own the movie studios that own the comics publishers. Why on Earth would w think they’d treat us any differently?
On at least one level, I don’t blame them. How can I? As my old friend Budgie has often pointed out, the people who run the comics companies aren’t in the business to make comics. They’re in the business to make money. If they fail to do that, then they don’t make anything and we don’t have an industry. It’s just a shame that they can’t recognise that what people really crave is innovation, they just can’t tell a marketing researcher that because you can’t ask for something you don’t know about.
Fortunately there are a lot of people working outside the major publishers who do get the need for creativity, and it seems to me that over the last decade they have taken a greater share of the market. I remember a conversation at one of the early Bristol events – I suspect it was Comics 2000 – in which we questioned why Warren Ellis had agreed to write for Avatar Press. We were of they view that they were no account purveyors of tits and ass comics and a writer of Ellis’ stature had no business there.
How wrong can a bunch of pretentious tossers in a room be?
Since then we’ve had Doktor Sleepless, Gravel, No Hero and all manner of other glorious work. We’ve had Craig Thompson’s Blankets and all the other glorious stuff from Top Shelf. We’ve had Grandville and Alice in Sunderland, Malcom Magic and the DMC. There are so many places now where creativity can thrive, it simply doesn’t matter that the majors are locked in a temporal feedback loop. The real industry goes on producing exciting and original work.
Even when the majors lose their nerve and drop a title when it gets too original – I’m thinking of The Boys here – there are places for the creators to go. In truth, the last ten years has been little short of amazing, and I have been privileged to be given this platform from which to observe, applaud and snipe. I’ve seen new writers and artists emerge and move on to great things – did you know that former Comics Bulletin columnist and old friend of this column Tony Lee is currently top of the New York Times Graphic Novel best seller list for his adaptation of the cult bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by the way? – and I’m looking forward to seeing how things pan out over the next ten years.
There is the outside chance that at some point my own project might come to fruition – having been delayed for a couple of years by the same issues that have made Fool so damn unreliable of late. Expect news of that soon. There are any number of comics coming in the future that will be every bit as good as the best comics from the past. The past has been pretty good to us, and the future is brighter still. I’ve loved every single second of the column so far.
Thanks to all the publishers who sent me stuff to review. Thanks to all the writers and artists who give me the time of day at places like Bristol and Brum, and who return my e-mails when I ask stupid questions.
And most of all, thanks to you.
Thanks for reading – this whole thing would be pretty damn pointless if you didn’t.
Here’s to you.
Here’s to comics.
And here’s to the future. It’s looking bright, so get your good shoes on, crank up the volume and let’s boogie. The anniversary waltz is over, but the dance goes on!
*Well, obviously I had several, but there are never that many who stand out, and few who stood out more than she did.
**And Maggie, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but it really has been that long…
***A cure he subsequently failed to pass on to Barbara Gordon. I mean she’s doing very well using the chair and everything but he could at least have offered. Seriously, much as I love the bat you have to admit that at times he can be a really self centred tosser.
****I’d link to it but the archives are behaving a little weird as I type this, but I don’t doubt that you’ll be able to find it for yourself if you’re interested.
*****Yeah, I know, but trade paperback collections don’t happen to fit my argument at the moment and in any case if readers don’t know the story exists they won’t know to look for the trade.
******I’m discounting both Battlestar Gallactica and Doctor Who from this list. Your mileage may vary.