CONFLICT OR BLOOD DIAMOND?: COMICS’ 3 EDGED SWORD

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Hello out there. I know this column has been quiet for too long, but now I’m watching all the comics news and had to throw a little input into this silly, swampy, mess.

I’m sure you’ve seen all the controversy about Jawbreakers, I can’t help but see it. It’s clogging up my timeline, and I’ve sat through more comic YouTube videos than I ever wanted to admit to. I’m sure you’ve all drawn your own conclusions, but I just need to throw a little starter fluid on your fire.

I see this whole situation as a perfect example of comic book industry “truth”, and as one of my favorite characters from comic book television says, “The truth is a three edged sword; there’s my side, there’s your side, then there’s the truth”. Here’s some truth.

A young Randy Zimmerman perfecting the craft!

I grew up in comics, loving all forms of comics. I’ve seen this industry grow and contract and grow and erode so much that I find more pleasure out of it than in it. I saw days of pure prosperity when we had a half a dozen comic distributors moving an unbelievable amount and variety of product for every reader to enjoy. Unfortunately, that was some 40 years ago.

I was part of what they call the black and white boom and bust, where we produced all sorts of mid-stream works of every genre that you can imagine. That was a golden time, but also fleeting. I also watched as the market became flooded with really bad quality, horrible black and white product that caused a bust in the market, and had many retailers scrambling, and a lot of them dying, because they couldn’t move product they thought would be hot on to an unsuspecting readership that was just looking for quality entertainment.

Suddenly there was a small spark of promise that came onto the market, as a group of rebels decided to buck the system and form their own comic company. Unfortunately, they brought with them exaggerations and mimics of what was currently selling HOT at the time, without much variety, and with just a small hint of quality. That further brought on another bust as retailers discovered they had over-invested. Add to that suddenly one of the major companies decided, without doing much research on the Direct Market, to distribute themselves, and they bought their own distributor, forcing what was at the time 36% of the entire market through a hole that at the time was only distributing 15% of the total product. Of course, that wasn’t going to last.

The direct market looked surely to collapse, but one distributor rolls out of the rest, convincing key Publishers to come with them in order to save the market, quickly making them a monopoly that no “law” would come to recognize (they convinced the law that they were but one magazine distributor among a number of other distributors – leaving out the fact that they made themselves the sole distributor of a certain product in a certain market- no other definition for that than “monopoly”).. This company dictated terms, controlled almost every aspect of the market, displaying the power of the middleman in a market desperately trying to keep its head above water. Greed and fear prevailed the middleman was King.

So now fast-forward 30 years, as the market, the system, and the industry become stagnated into this hole dictated by the middleman. New books new ideas, new trends, were squashed in favor of a crazy demographic that these “Exclusives” solely catered to. It was ingrained in all of our psyches. Anyone who was producing comics at the time knew the demographic: 25 to 55 year old mostly single mostly white practically all male. We all knew that. That’s who we drew and wrote for and marketed books to. There were times at conventions where there were only two kinds of females at the shows, those who read science fiction and “kind of” liked comics ( those were EXTREMELY rare), and those who were dragged there by their boyfriend. We all knew that, it was the way it was. Sure, there was Sandman, there was Star Trek, there was Elfquest (a black and white property that actually broke out as the exception to the rule), but if you go back and read product from that time that was the demographic. That’s why all the women in comics were drawn with an ever-expanding circle template and wore skimpy clothes. It was where the geek/nerd stereotype came from of the overweight, dumpy looking, comic reading male hiding out in their parents basement. That was our reader, and in most ways, that was us (and, in some cases, still is).

Sidenote here, and sorry for a slight digression, but it was during this time that X-Men writer Chris Clairmont was considered a “cutting edge” writer of female characters because he had some female characters look at a male character and think “yum!”

Excerpt from Excaliber # 5 written by Chris Claremont

 

Then, apparently about a decade ago, somebody woke up and realized there were huge sections of the readership out there the “mainstream” comics publishers just weren’t catering to. Suddenly, it started becoming “diverse” and a lot of minor character switch skin colors and gender, but very few original characters took form. During that period the art form became more sophisticated as plot points changed storylines evolved, and comic seem to mature, if only just a little bit.

So, these diversity written comics wouldn’t sell on this Market as well as the other comics. “What the hell was wrong?” “Why was suddenly changing the direction of our marketing and demographics not making us a ton of sales?” Could it be that there were 30 plus years, no, 40 plus years of constant Market demographic stagnation that had to be overcome? Why, oh why is this so hard for people to realize? We had that demographic ingrained in us for decades. Nearly every comic shop owner had that demographic ingrained deep into their psyche.

The few stores that thrived on a more diverse demographic we’re the ones that came in fresh, and who didn’t realize what the market was like. The new hires into these comic companies got a quick education in sequential art, but rarely a history lesson and its foundation. The majority of the other comics retailers have learned to diversify on their own, only into retail gaming or hobbying just to remain afloat. Comics and Diamond be damned.

Another Sidenote here (sorry): Anime and manga thrived during this, literally forcing kids to read in dyslexia just to be entertained. The best in sequential art was brought in from outside of the “Big Two” companies who had catered to this demographic for decades and yet were so surprised that their diversity just wasn’t selling.

So now the Jawbreakers book gets offered, independently, with an Indiegogo campaign, a product that fits right inside the old style demographic and people are SO offended by the product and creator that they cause a stir, literally trying to restrict business between comic shop owners and the producers of the comic, not to mention the folks who offered to publish it. I hope you can see where I’m standing here because I feel like I’m standing on a swampy pile of crap. This product has generated more profit then probably any single comic has generated in who knows how long primarily off of the negative publicity. All without the backing of that middleman. This to me is amazing.

Those out there who are upset over the money Jawbreakers has generated need to re-examine their views and accept the thought that welcoming diversity and tolerance in comics might mean there will be comics they might not want to tolerate aimed at a demographic that has proven to sell LOTS of comics in the past. Guess what, that’s “business”, and “good business” at that, whether it’s progressive or not, there’s money there that obviously needs to be catered to. It’s only history, based on fact and a demographic an industry has catered to for decades. Only now, that audience is WIDELY expanding OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM, thanks to your “outrage”.

So, who REALLY is at fault for all this? The creator of the product? The lack of “diversity”? How about blaming and understanding a system and an art form stagnated for over 40 years by a distributor and publishers enforcing a demographic standard to an ever-shrinking market?

This incident will close out in comics “news” pages, even more, YouTube videos, and probably courtrooms BUT, one thing is now proven for sure, you can make a TON of money on an old-fashioned (old demographiced)
based comic and not have a mainstream publisher or Diamond make any money off of you. All you need is enough attention. Think about THAT.

In closing, understand that the comics’ industry can be a trolling knitting circle of close minded, immature idiots. It can remain in that sad and slowly shrinking demographic and remain non-inclusive, or it can be a diverse ART FORM, embracing ALL kinds of comics, from ALL points of view, with a FREE MARKET based upon merit and performance for livelihoods. YOU better decide, and decide quickly because this industry moves like the Titanic (clumsy, slow, and out of date to modern industries) and there’s an iceberg coming right at us.

Better grab your 3-edged sword and GROW UP.

Thanks for being here.

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