A few days ago, we published a column by Beau Smith about the current state of the comic industry. That column generated a lot of discussion here and on Twitter, as well as on other social media platforms. Beau's opinion was divisive, with some creators indicating that they felt he made some unjust remarks about his peers. Nelson Blake II was particularly vocal, so we asked him if he would like to write a rebuttal rather than continue to be restrained by Twitter's 140 character limit. What follows is that rebuttal, edited only for grammar.
"In all my years of marketing, I have never seen an industry so out of touch with their consumers. This isolation has been built and continued because there is that former fan-turned-pro mentality that secretly thumbs their nose at the readers they used to be. They are on the other side of the convention table now and the last thing they want you to do is be on that side with them. They want your money and your applause, but after five minutes at the table or online, they want you to go away so they'll have more time to snicker and poke fun of you with their peers that share their side of the convention table. Trust me, there are very few comic book creators and folks on the publishing side that even read comics today. They immerse themselves in their own work and maybe check out their work of their friends, but other than looking to steal an artist, they don't read comics for the most part. Hard to take, but trust me, it's true." –Beau Smith (bolded text added to original)
I called Beau Smith a liar for this particular excerpt from his recent article on Comics Bulletin. That's a strong response, and the strength of it isn't lost on me. Name calling is something I'm against in general, but especially within the context of professional peers. This is a small industry going through some serious struggles and a personal attack on the internet can easily escalate and expand beyond the two people involved.
So I take great consideration before saying it: you're a liar, Beau Smith.
That is the most accurate response to this article. While I'd like to drape every discussion with the curtain of subtlety and nuance, the context of this discussion must be as bold as the lie that provoked it. Before I can go on to drop a tome's worth of anecdotal situations that disprove Beau's assertions, we have to recognize the absurdity of the premise itself. Beau is taking his personal experience and making a generalization based on the premise that "most" comic book pros are like the ones he's interacted most with in his 25 years in the industry.
Generalization is a pretty tall task in comics. In order to do so, you have to have a group with reliable commonalities. Amongst comics professionals, you have people that are: old, young, male, female, straight, gay, Democrat, Republican, Independent, black, white, Hispanic, European, Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, East Coast American, Mid-Western, West Coast, Coke, Pepsi, Xbox, PS3 and every kind of variety that you could collect into a common interest. So to assume that all or most of these people have the same attitude, you would need evidence of those numbers. We can easily see the folly in making assumptions based on the individual behaviors of such an eclectic group.
Just by the amount of people that I know that have not met Beau Smith, I can confirm that he has not met enough people in the industry to satisfy the criteria and tone in that excerpt of his article. That's why it's not an opinion, but a lie. If you choose to write a piece representing a group, you have the responsibility to do the research required for accuracy, lest you be fraudulent. Beau hasn't met and doesn't know all or most of everyone behind a convention table today and he knows that, so proving the lie is the easiest part.
That's not the main concern.
Nelson Blake II at a Signing
What concerns me personally is that everyone has the opportunity to have a great show if they take the time to prepare and pay for the trip and admission. I'm a comic book artist, so my lifetime convention experience is very important to me. Just as an aside, if you really want to put your convention experience to the test, fill up a portfolio with art that isn't good enough and go around asking pros to find ways to tell you why. Here's a big high five to everyone willing to stand in line and have their work eviscerated in front of a bunch of strangers, and possibly someone they look up to.
Let's get to some real insider info. The one thing that pros have in common is the week before a convention. In that week before, you have to finish up your work to the best of your ability (WOE unto those who are behind!), make sure everything you're selling is printed and packed, get coordinated with those that you are obligated to and finally you have to make the trip itself. While you're there, you have table duties, panels, professional meetings, dinners and that thing that you hope you have time to do. While the hustle and bustle of the convention is common to all who wear the admission badge, many pros also have to perform while they are behind the table.
The pressure to perform. Every individual responds to this differently, and this is another reason gross generalizations are a disservice to all parties involved. Some people have charismatic personalities or life experience that makes them comfortable around crowds. Some people just feel gut wrenching fear every time a stranger looks them in the eye and expects something from them. People prepare all of their lives to master their craft, not taking into account that they'll have to expose their personality beyond the work. Many don't think of smiling and shaking hands with big groups when they sit down and make their first childhood fan fiction. When it comes to meeting your favorite pro at a convention, user results may vary.
I can't do what Beau did and speak for everyone, but I can tell you my personal perspective as someone who doesn't fit the description in his article. Before I was hired in comics, I played guitar in an underground band that regularly saw crowds of more than a couple hundred people. One day as I was starting the rapid break down of the equipment, a fan came up to me, sweaty from moshing and still buzzing with adrenaline. "Dude, can I have your pick?" Even through my endorphin fueled stupor, I was stunned for a moment. This isn't something you ask me. This is something you ask Metallica or Megadeth, not a mediocre player like myself. But I could see it. If I just gave him my pick, this would officially be a great show. Being a fan myself, I could identify with the feeling (I caught a pick from Dimebag Darrell at my first show), and that's when I saw the fan/entertainer relationship in a whole new light.
We share at shows. It is an absolute gift to be able to have a job that can bring happiness to someone. If you love that job, you're luckier than most people ever get to be. Having a job drawing comics is cool, but having a job that can potentially make someone happy is way beyond that. When I go to a show, none of the aforementioned responsibilities are nearly as important as making sure that people who spent their hard earned cash can have a great time. I want my fellow pros to have a great time too, because too often we forget the "comics" and focus on the "industry." Most if not all of the people I know are so great with their readers that I learn from their interactions.
At a show, I hope people are able to enjoy those who are awesome, shrug off the jerks, and get their money's worth no matter what.
I won't spend much time on the question of pros readings books. Some people don't, many do. The thousands of arguments I've had with pros over this story or that story more than proves that people are reading when they get the time.
Nelson Blake II is an acclaimed comic book artist who has worked on titles as diverse as The Darkness, Witchblade and G.I. Joe.