It’s that time of year when all Americans contemplate the civil liberties they enjoy every day. That’s what Americans everywhere have to look forward to, right? But, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about comics.
I’ve only read comics for about 5 years now. I discovered them in college, and through my tenure at Sequart Organization, I’ve slowly digested the industry-specific jargon and scholastic buzzwords. Still I have a lot to learn before I can say that I am a “comics scholar,” though I’d like to think I am one. What I do know is that there is a lot we as a fanbase can learn from other popular media
Episode 4 of South Park’s18th season, called “Handicar,” lampoons the development of Uber and Lyft. Both companies rose in the wake of smart phones and handheld applications that benefited from the increased mobility of their users. The result was an app that coordinated and made possible independent ride sharing services, which were perceived as high-end equivalents of larger companies like Yellow Cab. Characteristic of millennials, and their fierce autonomy, these new companies were very successful initially, but now themselves face a variety of challenges with UberPOP and the latest California ruling that has reevaluated the classification of Uber drivers.
This is natural for every industry as it grows and becomes more specialized.
The comics industry again is on the cusp of change. Editorial consensus is shifting towards a more balanced depiction of women in comics. Also, other minority voices from the LGBT community are now represented in comics. Of course, this is making waves in the fanbase. Both positive and negative voices have risen up to both welcome and decry the change. I’ve voiced my concern over the conceptual dilution of mainstream comics, and the psychological implications that it entails. But the upheaval of the superhero genre of comics is misplaced, I think, considering the expansive oeuvre of independent comics. After all, complex women have been in comics for years. Lesbian and gay characters have been depicted in panels far and wide. The readership just hasn’t discovered them yet.
The Uber service uproar is analogous to the reevaluation of the comics industry writing practices. Change is difficult. We endure change in a variety of ways in our lives. Our friends get married, our grandparents pass away, and the comics we love are canceled, or retired for new blood and new stories. Rather than fight change, the change should be welcomed. The saying is true, “the only thing certain in life is death and taxes.” So why not enjoy the progression of the art and let the new come in uninhibited? The irony of the comics row that has irradiated the industry conversations is that diverse comics have always been available; they are not the invention of upstart, forward thinking delinquents. Independent comics have existed for decades now, and they have only just begun to be recognized thanks to the marketing powers of social media and online communities.
Independent comics are markedly diverse. They are free of corporate editorial intervention, but are also raw and sometimes unrefined. Raw comics aren’t necessarily a bad thing; not at all. Some of the greatest Jack Kirby stories were his most wild fantasies realized and subsequently canceled for better selling titles. The Fourth World saga is a great example, replete with cowboys, sadists, Prussian generals, fire-and-brimstone preachers, and the Greek gods themselves, realized as cosmic deities forever at war with the antithesis of all that is good and wonderful in the universe. Kirby’s work is beloved today, but was hardly popular in his own time. Let not Kirby’s example be a byword for creative people everywhere. Indie comics shouldn’t suffer as he did.
It doesn’t serve justice to the hundreds of amazing titles in production for me to name all of the best indie comics. Each one brings something new to the table, and challenges what we know about comics and how stories are translated from prose to panel. Superhero fiction, which dominates the market share, is limited by the binary interpretations of morality that force stories to inevitable and predictable conclusions. Of course, the reactionary response to this was revisionism in the late eighties, but the resulting complexity of the narratives stole away the narrative clarity, and actually made the writing on a whole significantly worse. (Just my opinion.) Superhero comics needed to grow up, and instead grew patchy facial hair and built man-caves in their parents’ garages. Truly adult comics, unconfined by established conventions, flourished alongside superhero comics. The very same magazines that were killed by the Comics Code became the most ground breaking sources of pulp fiction since H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in Weird Tales.
I love what artists like Ramón Pérez are doing right now. I enjoy everything that Archaia Entertainment produces, and though their recent acquisition by BOOM! Studios was worrisome to fans invested in Archaia’s niche aesthetic, their work has never been better. Mel Cayo couldn’t be a better person to push these kinds of comics forward. That artists are more involved with their projects now is akin to the earlier work of independent comics, wherein the artist was also shared the burden of scripting the comic. The resulting art is intimately connected with the narrative and offers the readership more organic aesthetics to enjoy. Even mainstream comics have begun to ape certain aspects of independent comics using techniques like promoting mixed media in art. But this is just a poor substitute for the real thing. Whatever the flavor, or inspiration, indie comics are perennial trend setters.
So, if you have time this Independence weekend, please check out indie comics. Which title exactly, I cannot say. This is the age of Google. Figure it out! Go seek your local independent comics creator and see what he/she has to offer. These are the comics enterprising on new territories of narrative. They are worthy of your attention. Check out Archaia, Avatar Press, and 2000 AD, anything. Choose your poison and enjoy!
Declare independence from the Mainstream Two!