Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writing is Hard: Mediocre doesn't cut it anymore

This article by Steven Grant is a couple of weeks old, but it makes a point that I want to reinforce. Grant says:
It's not uncommon to hear some, even among top talents in the industry, talking about how comics are just comics, will always just be comics, should always just be comics, and anyone in comics thinking otherwise is a pompous self-loather trying to rise above their station. And they're wrong.

The American comics industry has lived for a long time on its own relatively isolated little island, where things have developed under fairly unique circumstances. But the medium's no longer an island; only the business is. And now only if we choose to be. Because comics are mainstream now, as mainstream as anything. They're acceptable. They're accepted.
Comics have been in the literary ghetto for a long time. I remember a quote that I think was by Warren Ellis maybe? I can't find it now, but whoever it was who said it was actually quoting a Japanese director and talking about how when no one's paying attention to your stuff, you have a lot of room to be bold and take big risks.

Unfortunately, for a lot of creators, having no one around to read your books just meant that you could be lazy and put out crap. I know because as a comics reviewer, I've read a lot of it. I've even bought some of it because I was wanting something new to read and there just weren't a lot of choices available. But there are choices now and that means that everyone's got to bring their best to the marketplace.

As Grant says:
Just "making comics" isn't good enough anymore. Used to be – and a lot of creators and would-be creators still operate like this – that to "make comics" all you'd need is some rough idea and somebody to draw pictures about it, and because it was in comics format and the market was predisposed to be sympathetic, it was easy to pass that off as a story. The comics industry was considered to be working under special circumstances, and special dispensation was handed out like Halloween candy.

If you haven't noticed, even on our little island sympathy is a scarce commodity these days. There are still plenty of books flooded out there that are incoherently written, or have art that doesn't mesh with the subject matter, or are seemingly plotted via dart board, or lack noticeable structure or hooks, or are predicated on ideas that are utterly unoriginal or uninteresting. There are also a lot of comics that don't sell to save their souls, though the two things never quite hit a one-to-one correlation. It's pretty obvious that at a lot of companies the title "editor" is sort of an honorific handed out and a lot of people claiming the title have no editorial training and an infirm grasp of what exactly an editor is supposed to do.

There was a time when all of that was good enough, when the industry and the market may not have considered any of that good, exactly, but it was considered good enough.

Now it's just not good enough. It's time to reimagine what constitutes a "good" comics story, and how this applies to the growing graphic novel market.
I'm finding that's true in my own comics buying. I'm less and less willing to shell out three bucks for a crap - or even mediocre - comic. I want Awesome. And I finally have enough choices that I think I can get Awesome.

But the real message for me here is that if I'm going to write comics, I've also got to deliver Awesome.


alex-ness said...

some of that feeling of being a creative arts ghetto was not earned though, people assumed that comics were for kids, and however much they might have been aimed there at one time, the stigma came from the comic industry being considered as works for children.

Give a kid a crappy comic they might still like it, give an adult a crappy comic and they assume that it is because it was aimed at children.

I think that the lazy comes in to play when people do not aspire to tell good stories REGARDLESS of the audience for whom the work is aimed.

Michael May said...

Oh, I absolutely agree. But deserved or not, the ghetto impression of comics made too many people feel like they could just coast through with whatever crap they felt like making. I'm glad that's not the case anymore.

In light of your observation, it's ironic that the best crafted superhero comics right now are being created for the kids' market.


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