Wednesday 5 August 2009

kenny at Forbidden Planet International looks back to a 24 page insert in Scottish rock magazine Cut, on the happening comics revolution in 1988 and wonders where it all went: It was twenty years ago today. I place the turning point in 1991. I arrived back in London for the Tundra champagne party at the National History Museum. To my horror I had negelcted to bring a suit for the event. I wondered what on earth was going on? Comic book people obliged to wear suits? And when they all started turning up they were arm in arm with beautiful women. I guess it wouldn't be so hard to get a date for such a prestigious outing. But that was it. It all turned by the end of that year, when a scribe in the NME wrote:"If graphic novels are the literature of the future, then how come nobody's reading them?" I tell my own version, and shamelessly plug it here, of the first rise and fall of the 'graphic novel' in How to be an Artist.
And ever since then, I always travel dressed in a suit.

And I always go home disappointed.

Great interview with Dan Clowes at mcSweeney's
I assume you never had any interest in creating a syndicated strip for newspapers?
No, that's a whole different genre − an entirely different genus of cartoonist. The ones I've met tend to be these odd, suburban, country-club types. And just because the format worked with audiences in the 1920s doesn't mean it's still the greatest idea today.
I'm quoting that bit about the newspaper strip being a different 'medium,' or 'genre' because I agree with it but whenever I say it myself Steve Bissette turns up to say I'm full of cheese.
Oh, this bit is funny:
The script is not your typical Hollywood fare. Even the action descriptions are different than what one would normally find in a script. For instance, this is from the very first page: "A large, hirsute man, wearing only Lycra jogging shorts, watches the Home Shopping Network while eating mashed potatoes with his fingers."
[Laughs]" When Terry and I wrote the Ghost World screenplay, we would take turns handing it back and forth to each other. We were adding detail upon detail to crack each other up. We showed one of our producers the first ten pages, and it was packed with descriptions: "The high school graduation banner should be sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts" and things like that.
Never in a million years could we have afforded the rights to Dunkin' Donuts. The producer said to us, "You know, guys, perhaps you should have looked at another screenplay before you started."
aw man, and this:
After fifteen years in a room alone, you can start to feel as if you've unwittingly sentenced yourself to solitary confinement. It's no wonder that pretty much every cartoonist over fifty is totally insane.
arf! must show that bit to the wife...

"Over 50? You've been going that way for much longer than that, honey."

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Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

So what did go wrong then in your opinion?

Though a case could be made that we are seeing something of a flowering of graphic novel sales in the last 10 years, no? I keep seeing stats on ICv2 place about big increases in graphic novel sales figures since about 2001, more attention paid it them in books shops and libraries (Just this week a University library in Texas ordered 2 copies of my IRAQ book. ) etc....

I wonder is this recent increase a direct result of the 80's wider 'recognition', or the product of more recent efforts? And did sales figures for graphic novels go down in the 90's or just held constant? I can't remember right now.

5 August 2009 at 23:10:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Kenny Penman said...

Graphics sales really are a pretty new development. For most of the 90's there actually really weren't that many to sell. The small number that marked the 80's were few and far between - which was essentially the problem. The growth of the market was really always going to be in cool comics and things like Deadline. Eddie is right in that having to wear a suit could almost be seen as foretelling where this was going. Disappearing up it's own 'rock star' bottom. What I was regretting was the loss of the passion of the times. I don't actually see it in many of the new artists - they think about their book deal (and why shouldn't they are creative people who deserve success when they are good) rather than changing, the form - or changing the world. Maybe it was the way I was socialist as a student and now think workers have too many rights (actually that may just be me). The 'gentrification' of the form has to some extent it seems to me taken away much of it's noise and fire - and some of it's fun. looking forward to AX.

6 August 2009 at 06:36:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

Hi Kenny,
Ta for that.
Well the AX collection is something that has noise and fire a plenty - and 400 pages of it! Seriously, this indie manga stuff we have chosen from the Japanese parent book is directly bursting with creativity, oddness, and obvious lack of concern for commercial concerns. The book's motto is:
"Manga should be independent, Manga should be open, Manga should be experimental!"

- sounds good to me.

6 August 2009 at 12:26:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

"So what did go wrong then in your opinion?"

I'm only speaking for myself, but I envisioned comics having a say in the important cultural dialogues of our time. Instead here I am thirty years on and what appears to have happened is the contrary. Culture at large has descended to the level of comic books, and within the comic book community the only debate I can hear is what's the difference between an OGN and a TPB? I always figured that we would get free of the comic shop ghetto and in the larger arena my work and work like it would be seen as the vital part of comics. Instead I still feel marginalized in a huge circus of baloney and when I turn up for a media interview I still have to explain what a graphic novel is and justify why people should read the kind of comics i would never be bothered reading myself.

as for the '90s. There was a general cooling in the world's interest in our medium. Things started to pick up again circa 1999. But from what i can see, except for a few books like Maus and Watchmen, sales to the general readership never amounted to much anyway. Our medium didn't have more books on the scale of those two, but then it shouldn't have to, wouldn't you say?. I recently tried and failed to sell an idea to a general book publisher as they felt the story wasn't a 'big enough' story. I think they wanted another From Hell, something on the scale of 'giving birth to the twentieth century'. In conclusion I'd say hat the general world's acceptance of the idea of the 'graphic novel' was in fact a very shallow acceptance. As long as it was sensational they would listen, then they got bored.

The rising interest of libraries in our medium is tied to their perception of it as a young readers' genre. By all means sell them a bunch of Owlys and Johnny Boos while the going is good, but this is not really what we want for the long term as it puts us back where we started, with comics being 'for kids.'

and round and round we go

6 August 2009 at 18:49:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

"I still feel marginalized in a huge circus of baloney"

again, I'm just talking for myself, but I always saw my alliance with the comic book shops as a necessary and temporary thing. In the '80s I busied myself selling cartoon strips to the rock papers, and trying to get my stuff into regular shops. But as time wore on, all those other outlets faded and I was stuck in the comic book shops. I really don't mind comic books, and I refer to them here from time to time, but i see them as a completely separate medium from the one I intended to be working in. And the newspaper strips are another separate medium again. This third stream, whatever name it is to go by, if it had managed to separate itself from superhero comics in the first place, might have had a better chance to flourish. It has never succeeded in being more than a curious oddball 'alternative' to the other thing. When I go into our local Borders, i see shelves that look like just a messier version of the ones in the comic book store, everything all banged together, and If my book is in there at all, you will have to negotiate the daft nature of their alphabetical filing system . You can see how a reader who might want to read my wry and subtly funny take on life in these whacky times will know to look for Campbell somewhere between B for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and C for Captain America.

6 August 2009 at 19:33:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous All Dazzlin' said...

The problem is, on contemporary retail paper-back shelves, between Campbell and Campbell, there is no Campbell.

7 August 2009 at 05:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Sean Michael Wilson said...

Thanks Eddie and Kenny for you info and opinions... I just realised this is an all Scots strand!

So what can we do next? Make good books, of course. And keep telling people 'comics aint just for kids'. What else?

8 August 2009 at 01:23:00 GMT-5  

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