The Panel gathers movers and shakers from across the industry together to answer your questions!
Don’t miss out on your chance ask the big guns a question or two, send them in now to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of the Panellists should be known to you but if not, don’t panic I’ve got a few details on them at the end of the column.
This week’s question comes from The Monkeyboy a French reader with whom I have had numerous discussions on how comics are perceived in the UK and US compared to his country. The question is:
“Will comic books ever reach the same levels of respectability in the UK/US that they have in such countries as France or Japan? If so how do you think we’ll get there?”
Craig Lemon: “Not a hope in hell.
How could it be achieved?
Drop the pamphlets. Drop the weekly “must-go-to-the-shop-or-you’ll-miss-out”, that is so geeky and insular. Push original graphic novels and trades. Make shops look more like Page 45 the shop, than Page 45 of Penthouse.
Is any of this going to happen?
Peter David: “Will comicbooks ever reach the same levels of respectability in the UK/US that they have in such countries as France or Japan?
If so how do you think we’ll get there?
If there’s a world war and we’re conquered by France or Japan.”
Shawna Ervin-Gore: “I sincerely doubt that comics will ever reach the same level of respectability here in the U.S. as they have in other countries. Arguments could certainly be made that this has been happening gradually over the last decade or so, and that’s true to an extent. But I just can’t see respect for comics as a medium ever reaching the masses in the U.S. as it has abroad. There are too many reasons to list all of them, but my gut instinct is that one of the biggest reasons is that America tends to be a fairly shallow, overtly-image-conscious culture, and the social stigmas against people who read comics are pretty deeply-rooted and pervasive at this point. The medium will occasionally benefit in little, tiny measures from the mainstream success of blockbuster movies like Spider-Man, but your average person doesn’t become an overnight, dedicated fan when she’s suddenly reminded that comics exist because Tobey McGuire made a movie based on one. If anything, people will be swept up in a couple of weeks worth of hype, then they’ll forget again that comics are a cool and fun and viable entertainment medium. Every little bit of positive reinforcement helps to a certain degree, but the chasm between people who appreciate comics and people who see comics as childish, unsophisticated, or just plain weird is a little too wide.”
Devin Grayson: “I don’t know much about the industry in France, but I know that in Japan, comics, or manga, are viewed as a medium, not a genre. Here, comic books are almost exclusively connected in most people’s minds to superheroes. In Japan they have superhero manga, but they also have romance, mystery, self-help, porn, historical, and nonfiction manga, to name a few. We have some of that as well, but in nowhere near the same quantities or percentages.
And then there’s the other biggie — in Japan, manga comes in the form of a small book (which, of course, is available at bookstores as well as specialty manga shops). I know that my parents, comic civilians both, didn’t really care about what I was doing until they saw my first trade paperback — that looked like a *book* to them, and suddenly they believed that I made my living writing. The product we offer, as currently formatted, is essentially pretty flimsy and disposable. Not surprisingly, whether accurate or not, that fits with the opinion most Americans have about the quality of the content as well. American retail is all about packaging. If we want to change how people think about our product, one of the first steps would have to be changing the look, marketing, and perceived value of said product. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a critical early step that isn’t completely out of the realm of
Bill Rosemann: “If by “respectability” you mean considered as a valid medium–equal to TV, movies, literature, painting, etc.–then I would argue that the battle is already underway. The more you see graphic novels in bookstores (even mixed in with text-only novels), the more you see articles in newspapers or segments on the news, the more you see comics being discussed in universities (or in schools through CrossGen’s Bridges program), the more “respect” comic books are getting. An entire generation grew up reading comic books, and now that generation is making movies, teaching, writing television scripts, reporting for newspapers and otherwise contributing to and/or controlling the media. So the more good, intelligent stories with complex, three-dimensional characters we produce–and the more companies take serious efforts to distribute their products to the mass market (and then promote those creations in the mass media)–the quicker we’ll get there. Due to decades of stereotyping and snobbery, comic books may never be “respected,” but we’re at least staking our claim on the pop culture radar screen. That’s what needs to happen: first we just need to be considered a valid medium, filled with both high and low creations…the respect will come later when people discover the heights we can all achieve”
Terry Moore: “Honestly? I doubt it, because America is just not an art culture. By and large we are educated to be business people and professionals. Most Americans can name 3 famous American businessmen, but they can’t name 3 famous American artists working today… and if they could, who would they name? We don’t have any famous American artists that are household names. The last one was Andy Warhol. America in general doesn’t know about all the great artists working in their chosen fields. On the other hand, art is just as much a part of Europe’s culture and history as anything. The people there revere the arts and those who can make it. The only time I ever got a free meal for being a cartoonist was in Germany. That was nice. I believe all cartoonists should eat for free all the time, don’t you?”
Mike Savage (Guest Panellist): “First, allow me to retort…Just kidding (I had to say that). Seriously though, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michael Savage. I own a shop here in Florida and at one point occupied the position currently held by SBC’s very own J. Hues at Future Comics. I’m known to pop up on stage during Marvel panels with absolutely nothing to say and at most conventions am normally only seen at night in the Marvel hospitality suite, the only guy without a beer in hand. I am very interested in next week’s question.
You see, while in Chicago last weekend I had a very lengthy conversation with one Richard Isanove on that very subject. I mentioned that my collection as a shop owner consisted of, not single issues, but Hardcovers. That included my Uncanny run from issue #1 to current in turn for Marvel Masterworks and trades. He was amazed. I told him that comics were the most complicated art form ever created in my opinion and that they deserved hardcover format. (why that is my opinion can be discussed another time) We talked of the Italian and French hardbound editions and the fine paper and printing used on some of the books in Europe. How you aren’t considered a “geek” for reading the monthly comic book. We talked of how the European comic artist is just as big as a rock star in France and how we both hoped that would be the case everywhere in years to come. But we both agreed that we would probably never see it here in America.
One has only to look back to the early years of the comics code to see why. The stigma has stuck with the books to our day here in America. As for me, I do my part every day to encourage more people to read comics. I hope one day mainstream acceptance earns them the respect they get in Europe. My hope is that comic shops encourage people to stop bagging their comics and instead…pass them on. We should give out rewards for letting people borrow your comics, not stuffing them away like they’ll be worth millions someday. The 90’s taught us that that will never happen. As for me, I still get my single issues, and when I’m done reading them, I pass them on. I’ll always have my hardcovers to proudly display. Mike Savage Comics Enthusiast!”
Rick Shea: “I think it’s possible that comics may someday reach the same levels of respect that are achieved in foreign countries, but it’s not going to be easy. I think CrossGen is doing everything they can to get new readers into their books by advertising outside the industry and getting every kind of coverage they can to get new readers interested in comic books in general and not just their own books. The DVD comics showing up at Wal-Mart and Toys R Us soon enough should help to get new people interested in the characters and hopefully they’ll find their way into comic book stores eventually.
I think the more mainstream coverage comics get, the better. I really would love to see that celebrity-based ad campaign or something similar take effect as people will follow their favorite celebrities everywhere. That would of course lead to more people talking about comics and spreading the good word even further. The industry needs to go from “guilty pleasure” to mainstream entertainment, as well as convincing people that there’s something for everyone if they only know where to look. It’s not going to happen overnight, but with all the books I’ve been selling hundreds of lately and the new faces I see everyday, it’s getting there.
There’s also a renewed sense of interest from the media in comic books as we’ve run FOUR (and soon five) front page articles for the people section of Florida Today so far this year. They were about Free Comic Book Day including our promotion to get more children excited about reading via comics, the Hulk movie and the comic book influence, Crossgen Comics and our Sojourn signing, and one talking about comic books influencing the Matrix films. I’m going to give away my secret to other retailers and fans: Call or e-mail the paper and clearly explain what you’re doing to help the community as our fifth article next month is going to be about donating graphic novels to libraries and their rise in popularity. It’s as easy as that. They won’t come looking for you, but make some friends at the paper. Six of my customers work there, so I milk that for all it’s worth and I wish more retailers would do the same.
Now get out there and spread the word. Amen.”
Markisan Naso: No. They will never be respected here because people are idiots. For a stunning example of public stupidity I refer you to the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case of Jesus Castillo. Castillo is a Texas comic book retailer who was charged with two counts of obscenity for selling adult comic books to – get this – adults. Not only were they adult comics sold to adults, but they were adult comics sold in a separate adult section that children had no access to.
The prosecutor sealed Castillo’s fate by saying that the mere presence of these comics poses a threat to children. She also pointed out that a school is located across the street from the shop, despite the fact that the judge told the jury that the school’s presence could not enter deliberations. Oh, and there was also this statement: “I don’t care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids.”
So now Castillo gets sentenced to 180 days in jail, a year probation, and a $4,000 fine, and Texas basically gets to say that selling an adult comic book to adults in an area inaccessible to kids, is a crime because comics are for children. Are you fucking kidding me?
Texas has just thrown out the first amendment for comic books. A precedent has been set. And now other states may follow the Longhorn example.
So, to answer your question again, no, I don’t think comics will receive the respect they do overseas. Yeah, it’s pessimistic, but I believe the industry will always struggle to find acceptance. Comics may be embraced by the mainstream when translated to other mediums such as film, but when it comes to actual comic books, people on the outside looking just don’t seem to get it. Now, that said, I don’t think we should give up. God knows I want to be proven wrong.
Alan Donald: “I find it very difficult to see how we will overcome the rubbish that has become culturally ingrained into our societies. At the same time it must be possible as the comicbook industry in its most recognisable form in the US an UK is only 80 years old at the very most, less than that really. Surely that isn’t too much time to overcome? People have been racist for centuries but things are getting better now (aren’t they?).
The French and the Japanese (for example) have never seen comics as just being for kids nor have they gone through the backlash against this, alienating kids. We’re now in a bizarre situation where many people believe comics to be kids stuff and many parents won’t let their kids read comics because the first one they pick up in a shop is either hardcore porn or Frank Castle blowing someone’s head into a flesh flavoured smoothly.
We’ve taken the first big step with works like Maus, Pedro and Me, The Watchmen, The Sandman, Batman: Year One and any number of current titles on the shelves. The quality of writing has improved to the point where the best is literature, the bulk is better than most books on sale and the worst is better than the modern day pulps. The artwork in comics has also changed with an unreal selection of styles available. Then of course there’s the small matter of the collections, graphic novels, hardbacks etc
I can’t bring myself to turn against monthly comics nor comicshops but they are part of the problem. Comics need to be in general circulation in a form that people want to buy.
All the ingredients are there it’s just getting the public to realise it…like they did when The Sandman was coming out…damn, dropped ball again.
Um…what was the question?”
Summary: Collections, films, cultural changes, the loss of geekiness and wider distribution. The Panel is pretty much in agreement this week over some of the possible ways of fixing this problem and in its despair that it’s happening at all.
This Week’s Panel: Craig Lemon Lemon (Review editor at Silver Bullet Comicbooks (and second in command as it were of the whole site)), Peter David (Captain Marvel, Supergirl), Shawna Ervin-Gore (an editor at Dark Horse), Devin Grayson (Gotham Knights, Nightwing), Bill Rosemann (Publicist, Crossgen), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), Mike Savage (Comics Enthusiast), Rick Shea (Manager of Famous Faces and Funnies an enormous comicbook retailer) and Alan Donald (Columnist, SBC).
Next Week’s Question: “What do you believe makes a good comic book cover? Is the ‘in-your-face’ style better than the ‘story-telling’ style with its fun quotes?”
Big Shout: The Panel need your questions so email them into me at: email@example.com.
Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.
SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusivity.