Comics is a cruel, cruel business.
I think we all see this scenario. You have a great new comic ready to be released. It's a genius idea that will sell a zillion copies and get movie companies interested and make your name. You've worked and you've struggled and you've neglected your family and friends, devoting all your free time to create a work that means a lot to you. But it was worth it, because your idea is so great. It's such a unique perfect diamond of an idea that anybody, anywhere will want to read your book.
So you find a receptive publisher – say, Image, or Archaia, or, back in the day, little old Renegade Press – and you release your first brand new comic to a waiting comic shop and eReader application. And then…
And then nothing happens.
Oh, maybe your family and friends and a few select Twitter followers and Facebook friends pick up your comic, if they can find it. But most of the world treats the product of your intense hard work with thundering, crushing apathy.
So you work the convention circuit, further neglecting your family and non-comic reading friends, and burning through your spending money. You meet a few cool people and maybe sell a few sketches and have a good time and maybe sell a few dozen comics at the con. You gain a few more readers anyway.
And then your second issue comes out and even fewer people buy it. Previously you were a new number one so a few courageous retailers pick up your book, but now they are worried about not moving more than a copy or two, so the apathy grows. Again, nothing happens.
And the shame of it is, your comic really is terrific. It's Sylvia Faust or Along the Canadian or Joe and Azat or Harker and if only people actually read your comic, they'd love it. But they never do.
Because comics is a cruel, cruel business.
Or let's say you do sell your comic, and you become a big name. You get invited to conventions all over the world, you become a household name among comic readers and you may even become a bit controversial. You're, say, Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus, and at one time considered to be one of the greatest cartoonists alive.
What's Dave doing now? Mining his collections of Cerebus ephemera for his fanbase and releasing an obscure comic about comics through ComiXpress. How many comic fans have even heard at Sim at this point? The number is rapidly shrinking.
Because comics is a cruel, cruel business.
The fact is, we're all busy and overloaded and we all have too many choices out there begging for our previous dollars. There's a recession going on, don't you know, and every dollar is precious and it's hard to want to spend money on something a bit obscure. Why should you, when there's so much stuff out there that's dependable.
So we pass up the things that could be great in favor of the things that we know will be decent enough. You know what? That's not cruel. It's just logical. When every dollar counts, we have to make hard choices.
This is not going to be one of those editorials that try to guilt and compel you to try something new and different. God knows everything I said above is true, and unfortunately there will always be a law of attrition when it comes to comic books. It's the same in any artform. How many bands put out one great album only to have their work be ignored by all but their family and friends? How many great novelists sweat and toil over every word in their magnum opus, only to have their great work thoroughly ignored and overlooked? That's the unfortunately Darwinistic element of the creative world – always has been, always will be. There will be winners and losers, and many great works will be completely forgotten or ignored soon after they appear. They may get some fame or attention, but fame is fleeting, more today than ever before, and people move on with your lives.
Daniel Elkin got me thinking about this topic with his latest Cheap Thrills column, in which he unearths a great lost comic from the 1980s, the intelligent, passionate and wonderfully told Wordsmith #10. Daniel was driven almost to despair by the obscurity of this great comic, by the fact that this nearly completely forgotten gem was hiding in some dusty old cheapo bin. Daniel asks: What the hell is going on? That's two weeks in a row now that I've come across these comic books that are fantastic, but are now languishing unwanted, unnoticed, unloved, there in the bargain bin. What the hell happens? How do we lose track of these books? What does it say about a culture that spawns these artistic moments and then disposes of them without a second thought?
And of course that's a smart question because Daniel's a smart guy and a really terrific writer, and I sometimes share his feelings of despair that there are thousands of great comics that have become thoroughly lost to obscurity. But, really, isn't it part of the wonderful joy of being a comics collector that sometimes we can browse through the back issue bin and find something that's really incredible and awesome and dreadfully underrated? Does this really reflect a flaw in our comics culture or simply the natural movement of creative works across our viewpoints? Do I, as a reader, have an obligation to continually be seeking out great, new, thoughtful and creative works? And as such, should I really be driven to despair for not being aware of a great new comic that can change my life?
This is an especially hard question for me as the Publisher of Comics Bulletin. I've written before in this column about how important I feel it is for CB, and for me as the Publisher of this site, to encourage and help promote really great creator-owned work. I get really excited when I get to read truly innovative and exciting material by great comic creators, be they Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, Derek McCulloch and Colleen Doran, or even by more mainstream creators.
But we are always fighting a bit of a gap when it comes to more obscure titles that are worthy of attention. I was thrilled that Daniel found and embraced an outstanding comic like Pornhounds and discussed it with tremendous passion both here and on the social networks. That comic deserves all the attention it can get. It's special and exciting as comics art and I'm so happy that CB gets to promote it.
What haunts me at night is the feeling that there are many more comics out there that are just as good and interesting and innovative as Pornhounds or A Tale of Sand or some of the other series that we've raved a about, and we as a site just
don't know about them. Worse, maybe we do know about the title and just haven't had the chance to respond to a press release or just don't have a writer available to write about the comic. There's only so many of us, and the comic market is full of interesting titles these days.
I'd like to think Comics Bulletin's reach is broad enough, and our reviewers are trusted enough, to do our small part to help break new and innovative comics and prevent them from falling into the same obscurity of some of the titles I mentioned earlier. Maybe enough of you will be excited by Kolor Klimax to want to read that interesting collection of innovative comics stories and encourage Fantagraphics to publish more volumes of crazy-ass Nordic comics.
It would be cool, too, if some of our retro-reviews – and we're planning many more reviews in that popular informal series over the next few months – could help move somebody to reprint or in some way make available some of the great, lost comics of the last half-century. Our Steve Savage has been running with that idea over the last few weeks, advocating for a "Comics Necropolis" that revives obscure and lost great comics. But wouldn't it be cool for some of these obscure titles to actually come back into print in a nice edition? Wouldn't it be great to read a director's commentary type feature about Wordsmith or Flaming Carrot or To Be Announced, Scout, Airboy, Aztec Ace or any other one of a dozen great comics from the '80s or before?
I'd like to see Comics Bulletin do its small but hopefully worthy part to help promote these sorts of titles, to help remove the cruelty in the comics field. Let us know what you'd like to see us do on that front Comics is a cruel, cruel business. But it doesn't have to be.