Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from Michael O’ Sullivan and is as follows:-

“Why aren’t comic books and graphic novels accepted by the mainstream in the UK/US as an important art-form, like they are in France and the rest of mainland Europe? Why are comic readers stigmatized? People reading trashy magazines are fine, but reading a comic makes people think you are some type of outcast with no mates or intelligence!”

Bart Thompson:

I live in the US and the only other country I’ve ever visited and lived was Canada, so that doesn’t count. We face the same problem in the US, so I’ll try to answer this from my perspective and excuse me if I start getting angry… this is a subject that irks me terribly.

Why do Americans love and embrace every form of entertainment (movies, music, novels, etc), but comics and graphic novels… which is an American made creation… is cast aside like a ‘headed stepson’? So many possibilities, so many generalizations, and so little time! First off, I think it goes back to the fact that in general, AMERICANS DON’T READ ANYMORE! Hell, I’m guilty of this too… it’s been some years since I’ve actually sat down and read a book without any pictures at all. But I read constantly- I’ve always loved reading and I do read tons of online articles, trade publications, magazines, comics, hell, I even have subtitles on when I watch DVDs. Public schools are changing from the way they were when we were children. Things have become so sterile and PC it’s sickening. They bring in dress codes but they take out things like dodge ball & kickball (it gives certain kids an advantage and picks on other unfortunate kids or some crap like that), music programs (like chorus and band practice), and the school libraries. If the kids don’t have access to things like this, where are they going to find an appreciation for it? Sports… they have football and basketball… not all of us are 6 ft tall and 250 lbs. I kick but in nearly ANY sport BUT football and basketball. What about kids that were like me? Where are the boxing classes? The martial arts classes? Music… they may or may not still have chorus, which I took back when I could sing, but what about band? Sure people made fun of the band people, but without the band kids we wouldn’t have the Alicia Keys and Mike Shinoda’s and the Dr. Dre’s of the world. Same for reading… it’s harder and harder to convince kids to read, and if the option isn’t given at every opportunity, we’re going to lose the next generation. I think the current industry is making half assed attempts at getting the youth readership back into comics. We need something on a grand scale. Scholastic’s agreement with companies to list graphic novels and trades is a step in the right direction. We need more. DC and Marvel need to come together and do a ‘Save the Reading’ campaign like VH1 has the ‘Save the Music’ campaign. They need to start visiting local school and giving away comics to kids and they REALLY need to go to children hospitals and donate comics. Libraries need books… they’ll order things that people suggest because most people either don’t know or are too lazy to just ask. Libraries WANT people to read and they WANT suggestions. They’re quick to actually purchase books from people who suggest them, I’m sure if a large company wants to GIVE them a donation of graphic novels to place on their shelves, I doubt they’d turn them down.

As for why people look down on comics and the people who read them, look at how most collectors treat their comics. Things are improving… our image is changing from all the comic movies from the past 5 years. But the stigma still remains. Most collectors horde their singles, read them, and file them away never to be seen again. Comic fans are too exclusive and secretive with their collections. We let friends listen and borrow our music. We invite people over for DVD night. How can we get our family and friends involved with our comic collection? Also, most people think comics is nothing but an adolescent male power fantasy about grown men in tights. Sadly most of our best selling comics support that idea. We have to keep creating and pushing comics that don’t fit that mould. Find out what your friends like and let them borrow comics in that area. We have Preacher, Sin City, Stray Bullets, Dogwitch, Strangers in Paradise, Midnight Nation, Dawn, the Walking Dead… hell, even Vampires Unlimited, Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies, and ChiSai. The industry needs more evangelists to spread the real gospel of comics. So lets get on the ball.

P.S. Why doesn’t comics have a cable TV station for comic related shows and comic related movies? Teen Titians, Batman Animated Series, the Flash, etc.?

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamutoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies”. The Myriad 6-issue anthology will be released early 2005, so be sure and pick those up!

James E. Lyle:

Well, Michael O’Sullivan, you’ve asked a question that I’ve heard debated for years. I have to say that even in mainland Europe that this assertion depends on what sort of comics we’re discussing.

My impression during a short visit to Denmark and Germany in the early 90s was that there was a lot of disdain for comics in those places unless they were the “correct” sort of comics. In other words, comics in Europe can have the same disdain placed upon them unless they meet some sort of arbitrary standard of “cool”.

In Denmark for example there were a lot of comics (Tjener Serier, I believe is the term, but I’ve probably misspelled it) that were considered kid’s stuff and nobody with any class would consider reading those. However, if the comic in question was printed on slick paper and perfect bound that seemed to increase the perceived level of “cool”. Or if the comic was blatantly pornographic, then it was considered beyond the “mere” definition of comics.

Frankly, I believe that the media in general has a problem with comics. If one watches Television at all you’ll see that generally speaking comics are treated as silly at best, downright antisocial at worst. I could attempt to project all sorts of theories about “sibling rivalry” between media, and they might be right in part. (I can see how someone who produces motion pictures at a cost of millions of dollars per production, as well as a production rate of perhaps one to two films per year, might feel a certain amount of envy towards comics creators that can single-handedly turn out story material for the cost of a piece of paper and some ink, and get it in front of the public on a monthly basis).

But whatever the cause, the effect of the dominant media in the US and UK continually deriding comics has negatively impacted our medium. There are some signs of hope with the continuing success of comics inspired motion pictures and TV shows, but even then there’s a lot of monkeying around with the actual stories to make them “work” for other media. I can count on one hand the films that have not made a mockery (at some point) of the comics they are supposed to be based on. And very few of those have been hits (for whatever reason). I won’t name names, but I’m pretty sure every comics fan has his own “hate list”.

Perhaps it’s high time that some comics fans started questioning the derision placed on comics by the other media. Everytime some TV show mocks comics as beneath the intelligence of their audience, perhaps we fans should write the producers of that show and let them know that we’re not happy with them. If they already consider us geeks, what have we got to lose?

When I think about this, it’s remarkably similar to the way that big media tends to treat Evangelical Christians (being both a comics fan and Christian this argument appeals to me). The media wants our approval on the one hand (our ideas on storytelling as an example from comics, our patronage of certain retail chains during Christmas as an example from Christianity), while on the other they paint a grim portrait of anyone who participates in fannish behaviour, or Christian devotion.

Now THAT deserves some more thought. Hmmm…

Hope this helps,

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle)

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Sean Patrick O’Reilly:

“If you ask a non-comic reader to describe a comic book many would immediately conjure images of muscle-bound superheroes, big-breasted women, onomatopoeias and a two-dimensional story of good vs. evil. I think people would be shocked (good or bad) if they read a book like Wanted or Starkweather. They would have a hard time believing that this was still defined as a comic book and I would venture to say that many would argue that this material shouldn¹t be allowed to be printed in this medium because it’s not for kids. It is my opinion that the majority of people still believe that comic books are designed for 10 year olds, even though that is one of the smallest markets in the industry. Many people still associate comic books with a young ?simple¹ audience and it would take something really profound to shake that belief. The word COMIC might have something to it but I believe it¹s much deeper than that!

For a moment imagine George Bush reading a comic book. Pop! Images
Fly into your head and none of them probably paint a portrait that he¹s spending his time intelligently. Publicly it¹s a tough sell to erase a stigma and to advocate for comic books. But that¹s what the industry needs. Someone needs to go on Jay Leno and show that reading comic books are cool.

Comics need a vocal ambassador who is respected, intelligent and can sell the medium and embrace the industry. Who could do this? Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Jim Lee. All of these people COULD do this, so do we just wait until they speak up? No.

I believe it starts with YOU (and me). We can show others around us that reading comics is cool. That reading a comic book is the same as any other medium where imagination, noble aspirations and incredible stories can take place.

Your mission if you chose to accept it – Next time you are around the
Water cooler, talk to one of your co-workers and mention a comic book you read on the weekend (even if you read it a year ago just LIE and try this) and start to describe it with the same passion and insight that you would describe a great movie you just saw. Note their reaction and let us know how it went.

You might be surprised at how big the ripples in the pond might grows

Si vales, gaudeo!

Sean Patrick O’Reilly is the EIC of Arcana Studio.

Vince Moore:

Oh, man, what are you asking me for? I’m a lousy American. Comics aren’t well respected here either. Scratch that, I mean superhero comics aren’t well respected here. Manga is pretty much the real mainstream here, with the Indy/Alt comix coming in a distant second, and those comics are getting plenty of respect. Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t Manga from Japan, that other area of the world where comics are respected as an artform? Damn typical Americans, always borrowing culture from other places and not respecting its own. What’s the deal with that? Like we can’t make our own respected comics. What about Watchmen? Or Dark Knight Returns, damn it?

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Stephen Holland:

Finally, someone in the comics industry other than myself using the word “mainstream” correctly.

Superheroes are not “mainstream”.

Straight fiction is mainstream, non-fiction is mainstream, crime is mainstream, humour is mainstream.

It’s what the mainstream reads and watches in other media. It’s what they’re interested in.

And if that’s what the majority of comic shops in the US and UK stocked – if that’s what the mainstream actually had access to – then the mainstream would have accepted comics as an important art form and entertainment medium a long time ago just like on mainland Europe, because that’s what the shops on mainland Europe do stock.

It’s not as if there’s none available for shops here to buy in. One look at Page 45’s stock list at www.page45.com will show you there’s more of it about in the format the mainstream wants – collected editions – than there is of the superhero sub-genre, which is/was/never will be more than a cult interest.

Please don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with superheroes – I love The Ultimates and Bratpack and Powers – but there is everything wrong with the way superheroes have been marketed over the last 30 years to the exclusion of everything else.

That’s what’s happened in the US, that’s what’s happened in the UK, and that is precisely why the medium and its readers have been stigmatised here. It’s assumed that’s all there is.

And if you assumed that all there was available on CD was country & western, well, wouldn’t you consider that a little weird?

But listen, I’ll say this again: no one should be ashamed of buying and enjoying whatever it is you’re into, including superhero comics. I’m not. In fact when we opened ten years we printed a t-shirt which was a homage to Whistler’s Mother, dressed as a nun, with comic books falling from her lap. The tag-line went: “Page 45 – Wear Your Habit With Pride”.

We sold out in just a few weeks.

Stephen Holland runs Page 45 – a comic shop in Nottingham – with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He can also be found, monthly, in Comics International.

Donna Barr:

You know how we call Tony Blair “The Poodle” because he’s George Bush’s lapdog? I guess the same applies to the attitude about Drawn books. Whatever the Yanks are doing, the Brits lap up. Including attitudes. Cuz how else to explain it, I’m at a loss. I mean, these are the people who invented MUSIC HALL, if we want to talk about taste!

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Jesse Leon McCann:

Just as with cartoons, Michael, comics have yet to get beyond, with the majority of the population, the belief that they’re “for kids only.” However, I believe we as a society are close to the tipping-point where that will change. In the meantime, keep reading comics and spreading the gospel of comics, and don’t worry about what the unbelievers think!

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

Roberta Gregory:

I dunno, but it is certainly even moreso in the U.S! If you watch any popular movie, showing a character reading a comic book is a handy device for making the statement: “this is a stupid, clueless, illiterate person!”

(Who will most likely botch something up later on and ruin it for the rest of the cast.) Maybe since half of the adults in the U.S. ARE really stupid and illiterate… (why else would they have re-elected George Bush? they are over-reacting to comics as too obvious. The same way some gay guys who want to ‘pass’ ostracize guys who they consider TOO campy and ‘flaming’…..

Maybe they are ‘closet’ comics readers, the same way as the most self-righteously ‘moral’ of the conservatives tend to have all sorts of shameful skeletons in their own closets.

Roberta Gregory is the creator of “Bitchy Bitch”, who not only stars in Roberta’s Naughty Bits comic book (ex from Fantagraphics), but also appears on television worldwide in animated adventures, the latest being the “Life’s a Bitch” series on the Oxygen Network.

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