What Year is This Again?

This video confuses me.

I mean, I like it; it’s funny, well-made, etc, etc… And I strongly endorse the basic message. I’m just not sure it fits comics in 2011 as I see them.

I complained about diversity with the best of ’em a decade ago in RC and I think there’s plenty of room for improvement even now, but when I look at today’s comics scene, I see great progress on multiple fronts, and somehow that doesn’t seem to be reflected in the more serious rant portion (starting about 5 minutes in) of this otherwise great video.

Graphic novels, Manga, All-Ages Comics, Non-Fiction Comics, Webcomics… all of these have had some genuine success stories in the last decade. Hell, all five largely began as serious markets in the last ten years. When looking at diversity as they define it, I wonder if Eric and Co. really considered Persepolis, Fruits Basket, Bone, The 9-11 Report, or Penny Arcade?

Maybe I’m missing the point, but it seems like kind of a direct market, comics store centered complaint. A bit like saying that TV doesn’t try anything new, based on the fall schedule of ABC, CBS and NBC.

Anyway… still a great funny video, and its heart is in the right place. Do check it out.

[via pretty much everyone]


Discussion (32)¬

  1. Laroquod says:

    I think the difference between your point of view, and the video creator’s point of view, is that you are satisfied for diversity in comics simply to exist in the world, whereas that isn’t enough for the video: the video has a huge chip on its shoulder over the fact that indie comics do not pay the way the mainstream does.

    • Scott says:

      At least it’s a funny chip. 🙂

      I should add that the examples I gave were mostly *very* lucrative for their creators.

      I would have added Scott Pilgrim to the list, which sold like gangbusters recently, but it could always be labelled a “superhero” comic, despite being so much more.

      • Laroquod says:

        Good point. I think it is not so much about whether it is possible for indie artists to make a lot of bank, so much as whether it is probable. Witness the video’s focus on supporting a wife and family, as if having those things gives you the right to get paid.

        I didn’t find it funny at all, personally. Although I’m not one to leap on some ‘it’s offensive and shouldn’t have been made’, I just really really wish it had taken a higher tone, because it seems to demonstrate the opposite of what it claims: that comics is an immature art engaged in by dudes who never grew out of their teens. I don’t believe that at all, but that’s what this video says to me. It does NOT fill me with the sense that there are thousands of mature artists out there with really important things to say that aren’t well served by the marketplace. Not like, say, going to TCAF does. I think this video is counterproductive.

  2. Chris Howard says:

    Oh it’s very much about the direct market, comics store problem. while there’s been some great success stories in the book trade, I do have to wonder if it isn’t all a fad and publishers will get in and get out as they see any kind of shift. All-ages might have a better chance in the long run with book publishers.
    Webcomics? Anybody’s guess. Sure, there’s a huge diversity out there, but it’s not valued as it should be, and with sooo much, and a general attitude that much of it is sub-par, that a long uphill climb.
    I think many are sad that the promise of the 90’s self-publishing boom was cut off at the knees by the distributor wars and the shrinking of the market.
    And it does seem like Marvel and DC go hunting for successful creator-owners to make sure they get them signed for something. Does feel a little creepy/predatory.

  3. Josh Benton says:

    I mostly agree. Webcomics, if nothing else, have certainly shown that there’s a market for non-superhero comics; while DC’s Vertigo has shown time and again that there’s nothing preventing these books from having a “mainstream” audience.

    I also had a brief Twitter exchange with Tim Seely when this was flying all over Twitter. Honestly, I think the onus of what’s being talked about in the video is as much on creators as it’s on retailers and readers. If traditional print markets and doing things the way the mainstream companies do isn’t working for independent creators… maybe they need to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done. If I was doing a book, and worried that I stood to lose money in the doing, I would tend to go with the model that’s going to lose me a lot less money.

  4. Max Vaehling says:

    Well, the numbers cited in the video do sound very Big-Two-Centric. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago the digital sales stats for 2010 were blogged and tweeted all over the place, and they contrasted a lot. More creator-owned, less superheroes, if memory serves – sounds like you have a point, Scott!

    Of course, the fact that things seem to be moving up for creator-owned stuff doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move them some more…

    • Scott says:

      Amen to that last point!

      Don’t want to be a vote for complacency or anything. Clearly we still have a long way to go.

  5. There’s tons of diversity in comics, It just doesn’t sell well.
    How can we get inexpensive independent comics into brick and mortar stores? -I have no idea.

  6. Scott W. says:

    Drac -Maybe brick and mortar stores aren’t the place for Indie comics in the 21st Century?

    All -I’m with Scott in that I know where these guys are coming from, and I get it. I can barely keep the lights turned on doing my own comics and every now and them I’m forced to go begging at Marvel.

    But you can’t really hold Marvel and DC responsible for the lack of interest that Marvel/DC readers tend to have in Indie comics. Obviously there is cross-over, but in general the kind of person who collects superhero comics is not the same audience that Mouse Guard or Bone is going to attract.

    I can see why Marvel and DC play such a huge part in the collective irkedness (new word!) of us small time creators. But for me personally I look at them as a source of a decent pay check when I need it, and not really competition.

    The whole direct market/brick and mortar shop just wont work for small press folks. It requires too much investment. We can bitch about it and how its not fair, or we can explore other outlets. If we never sold another single floppy issue of Atomic Robo and all our sales were suddenly digital -why should I care? Its not up to me to dictate how the reader wants to experience the product I have on offer.

    Know what I mean?

    • Robert says:

      The more I think about it, the more it seems that the issue the video presents is less about diversity and more about supporting individual creators and by extension print media. In a way, it seems like most artists/writers want to hit it big and be among the big leagues with DC, Marvel, and Image (the success stories of guys like Kirkman, O’Malley, Bendis, and others certainly play a part in this) but at the same time are unwilling to explore venues that wouldn’t have existed years ago (the internet) for varying reasons.

      Maybe because The Digital Frontier doesn’t look so promising to some as opposed to others. Maybe some find the prospect of making a living off comic downloads or a webcomic as appealing as a miniseries deal with Image or Dark Horse? Maybe I’m just rambling on my keyboard for no explicit reason but I personally think that while the internet is a good outlet, some folks just find it as just as exhaustive as getting printed and sold in B&N.

      But what do I know? I’m just a consumer, so I can’t speak for everybody.

  7. OMG it’s hourly comics day! I’m totally going to participate–thanks for the reminder!

  8. Robert says:

    Yeah, it does seem centered toward the direct market, which is sorta undermines the message and makes it look 20 years older than it should be.

    I’m all for creator’s rights and what not, but the video’s tone of “don’t support the unoriginal creator-raping corporations” seems pretty counterproductive, juvenile, and too one-sided to me. Yes, the Big Two sustain themselves on superheroes made decades ago, but that’s what popular, and why should sticking to your guns be a BAD thing if it still pays off?

    Considering the demographic the direct market is aimed at, of course superhero comics are going to be among the top selling. If anything, the people the video’s addressing would probably look to the bookstores or the internet. Though, IT IS a legit point given that the mainstream industry’s still dependent on direct market sales, but again, they stick to what works.

    Still, why should independent artists and writers care about their work being among the top selling 50 as opposed to caring about their work getting any attention at all? Why should consumers support creator-owned books just because their creator-owned? I think these questions should at least be elaborated in some form, at least for the sake of giving the issue more depth than the video would have you assume.

  9. […] Steve McCloud has written his reaction to the above video: I complained about diversity with the best of ‘em a decade ago in RC and I think there’s […]

  10. Mike Cagle says:

    Yeah. The video seems sort of silly to me. Sure, if you hang out in comics shops, you’ll see a lot of superhero comics. Why are they looking there? Did these guys read Fun Home (which actually was on Time magazine’s list of 100 important American books of recent years)? If so, they probably didn’t buy it in a comics shop. Or maybe they did — at my local comics shop, the other day I bought Groo, Usagi Yojimbo, and one of the volumes of the Collected R. Crumb. I’ve also bought books there by James Sturm, Jim Woodring, and many other non-superhero creators. Not to mention the Scott Pilgrim books. I think all of these are creator owned. Have these folks seen R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis? Have they seen the work of Joe Sacco? Lucy Knisley? Larry Gonick? Maybe they need to just ignore what DC and Marvel are doing — I mostly do. I very rarely buy superhero comics — and I don’t miss them. There’s lots of other, more interesting stuff out there.

  11. My thoughts EXACTLY, Scott! I laughed when I watched it, but then had this weird feeling I was back in 1989…

  12. gio says:

    Just to introduce myself, I’m French. Excuse me for my english mistakes.

    To go over the simple message of this video, I think that the thing which most characterizes the world of comics is its self-satisfaction. Compared to the world of contemporary art or illustration, comics have always 10 years behind (at least). Every time there is a very small change, she said, “Oh we have evolved, it’s over, we can stop!” As soon as a first step is done, we stop at once to question ourselves, the “revolution” is done! That’s why the comic has a problem to walk, it does one step every 20 years.
    Those who, 20 years ago, complained that the standardization of comics (in France, “L’Association” for example) when they become mainstream (now in France, L’Association is probably the most influential Comics publisher (as “independent” it claims), no longer seek to evolve and enjoy somehow of the lack of diversity, since it is them who now has become mainstream. But if you look closely, it’s always the same stereotypes that dominate.
    Just compare with the world of painting, illustration, cinema, literature …
    Comics is so accustomed to stagnate on itself that smallest, shyest, beginning of a change or novelty is “Wahouuuuuu! Look how we are moderns!” Just to remind: the first “Persepolis” was published ten years ago….Art Spiegelman did the same kind 20 years before. And Harvey Pekar…so…I stop.

    I already tried to raise this issue with you at Angouleme in 2008, but French people around you stop you from talking with people who were not on the agenda. (And prefer to place you with medias who ask always the same questions)

  13. Severin says:

    Superhero comics could disappear tomorrow and indie comics wouldn’t be any more popular. If anything, superhero comics keep comic stores commercially viable, which provides a little more shelf space for that small percentage of alternative comics. And then there’s the fact that, yes, it might not be your cup of tea, but superhero comics does provide work and pay for comics artists, who can continue to play the “funny comics lottery” on the side if they’re man enough.

    It’s true that there needs to be more diversity in the direct market, but blaming Marvel and DC at this point won’t solve anything.

  14. Bluus says:

    I feel like they’ve just ignored huge pieces of the comic industry here. A lot of independent comic-book folk sell their stuff via their websites and conventions now, they aim directly at their personal market and completely bypass selling in stores. I have a few friends who make their livings that way and they do really well. As has been said, the video also ignores the manga industry which generally speaking takes up a lot more shelf space in bookstores then american comics. Not to mention that of course there is a focus on superhero comics in comic book stores, they’re popular with a big chunk of the comic reading demographic.

    Honestly I tend to stay away from comic book stores because the people working at them are generally not very helpful.

  15. Kris says:

    I’d probably like that video more if they bothered to get sales numbers that weren’t from Diamond.

    There’s a lot more to comics sales than just Diamond, like the aforementioned Comixology numbers, or things like the Amazon Top 50 Graphic Novels. I love to browse that thing. Out of 50, know how many of those books are usually superhero books? Less than five.

  16. Michaelk42 says:

    Video is now private.

    I guess I missed it then. :/

  17. Gibson Twist says:

    Mr McCloud, I have been a fan of your work for many years and I have immense amounts of respect for your perspective on the medium, but if you are suggesting that there is diversity in the print comics medium simply because independent comics exist, I must disagree.
    The titles you named are outliers in the field and their success, more critical than financial, pales in comparison to even the mediocre-selling Marvel and DC titles. This is not to mention one of them is a webcomic, and webcomics exist in a different sphere than print comics.
    Mr Powell’s point was that comics is not a medium in which it is viable for a plurality of genres and that this is due at least in part to the suffocating domination of two giant corporations. His was a call not to make more independent comics or even to make independent comics more successful, but the idea that any but two or three publishers in the industry are deemed independent is a failing that exists only in print comics.
    Your citing of the proliferation of Manga comics only underscores Mr Powell’s point, in your words that Japanese comics have a much greater diversity of genre and are a much more accepted art form in that society. It would be enough to say that the popularity of Manga in North America signifies diversity if we were considering only readership, but readers of Manga are rarely readers of North American comics and North American artists don’t get a subsidy from those sales. It is that fact, that a diverse Japanese market is thriving while North American diversity is overshadowed by a cape, that illustrates what Mr Powell says, that diversity in the industry here needs not necessarily to be created, but promoted.
    Certainly he makes a spectacle and it could have been in better taste, and he doesn’t have solutions as people so often need to be able to understand, but the argument he makes is a strong one and it is a little disappointing to see you and so many others dismiss it as not being aware of the facts.
    You yourself wrote of a future in which comics were shelved in sections of genre, where it is viable not simply to have a handful of non-fiction titles, but hundreds, and to have a section of historical books no smaller than the section of Green Lantern books. This can only happen when we spend a little grey matter thinking how to get it done, because right now, in most comic shops across the continent, there is a small section of diversity sandwiched between superheroes and Manga. I don’t think Mr Powell was saying there is no diversity, I think he was saying that the diversity can’t afford to pay its bills.
    I remain an admirer of your work, but I hope that you will perhaps take more time and consider this matter further. Thank you for reading, I apologize for lacking brevity.

    • Scott says:

      Hi Gibson. Time’s short, so I can’t respond to everything, but I will point out that all of my examples (with the possible exception of the 9-11 Report) have generated some serious money. Bone’s sales, just of the color Scholastic volumes a couple of years ago, was somewhere north of a cumulative 2 miliion.

      Thanks for your thoughts though. I was sorry to see that Eric took it down. As I said at top, I certainly endorse the basic message.

  18. […] a summation of the video here, as well as her own thoughts on it. Here are some commentaries on it: Scott McCloud, Van Jensen, and Tom Spurgeon. There were also conversations comic news/commentary sites: one on […]

  19. Derek says:

    Actually I think in the documentary: The Cartoonist: Jeff and VIjaya said that the majority of Bone sales come from overseas, specifically France, Spain, and Germany.

  20. I tend to agree with Scott about the timing of the video, but it was certainly funny and produced some good conversation. It is too bad it got taken down. Does anyone know why? Surely not because of the mild debate on this little thread.

  21. I think, Scott, that the analogy of the old time major TV networks’ relative audience share today might hold better if there were a thousand other comic book stores across the US that aren’t tied to DM distribution. As it is, comics don’t operate within the equivalent of a vast cable and satellite network that allows public access to the existing diversity. The present situation is more akin to the one we had before the advent of cable TV, the somewhat monotonous programming that burst with creativity when the cable network finally began make it possible. I remember the rumblings back then and how the smallest players jumped in to have their say when a new playing field appeared.

    I also thought Eric’s video was hilarious, but certainly right on and somewhat of an eye opener to boot. In the aftermath, there seems to be a reluctance of the indie creators to even want to address the issue of DC and Marvel, in favor of concentrating on how to basically survive as comics creators against enormous odds.

    I see this as a temporary failing. I believe we will have no choice but to one day confront this issue and begin to demand a greater sense of responsibility from those who have the power and are choking the industry with irresponsible policies. DC and Marvel’s strangle-hold on the buying market and public perception of the saleability of comics seems at best injurious to every player in the comics medium.

    I look forward to a stronger public outcry aimed at pressuring the big 2 from into somewhat releasing this bizarre duopoly hanging over our heads and casting an ominous darkness over the entire medium.