Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Comic-Book Store Environment

Inside-backcover, The Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing (1997 )
Art by Dave Sim
(from the essay 'Comics & The Mass Medium Part 4' in Cerebus #216, March 1997)
Creator ownership and the control of their individual creativity by individual creators is at the root of the upheaval in the direct market and the actual source of alarm (whether they recognise it or not) among the "industry" adherents of collectivised thought and action. Industry roundtables, conferences, and symposiums appeared briefly and have now vanished. Much verbiage is still expended in the direct market over how to "grow" the market, how to reach out to non-comic readers and create a diversity of titles. The fact remains that - unless the individual in question is willing and able to sit down and write and draw a comic-book or a graphic novel or is willing to open a store which emphasises creator-controlled and -owned series instead of corporate-controlled and -owned series - there is really nothing that they can do apart from buying more good comics (whatever they conceive "good" to be).

I would suspect that those retailers who have retreated from the comic-book environment, grasping at the Television straw of diversification into X-Files and Star Wars and Star Trek, were never really in the comic-book environment to begin with. They have learned their adherence to trends, their adherence to brand names, their adherence to Television icons from Television (as I learned my adherence to the Toronto Maple Leafs from Television). DC, Marvel, Image and Dark Horse are - to them - ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, month-by-month winners and losers, Good Guys and Bad Guys. Of course, there is no accurate analogy in the comic-book field. That is the strength of the medium, the strength of the Spirit of comic books. It is inconceivable that a writer would own his own television show and be solely responsible for every aspect of production and have the last word governing content and direction. Completely inconceivable. But, because DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse are represented as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, it is the rare retailer who can even conceive of comic books existing outside of that structure. They could read every word of the Fantagraphics catalogue and - having no Television network analogy for Fantagraphics - see nothing there. And, seeing nothing there, would be content to watch their comic-book business erode to nothing rather than perceive something outside of the Big Four Networks.

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