THIS IS FOR YOU, Lisa Hanawalt… Like everyone else on our side of the comics fence, we read Dan Nadel’s blog post on the Comics Journal, “No Good Reason.” The post itself was a harshly critical assessment of Secret Prison 7, a comics anthology and an homage to Garo. The project is being edited by Box Brown, of Retrofit fame, and Ian Harker, who is one half of Secret Prison along with Pat Aulisio. SP7 is being funded via Kickstarter, and you can learn more about it there. There are several gauntlets, and boots, being thrown at issues great and small. A lot of this is a big deal to us and got us thinking about where we would locate ourselves within these arguments. If you haven’t read the post and the SP7 Kickstarter page, go ahead. We’ll wait here.
To begin, we should tell you that we know next to nothing about Garo and that we’re not exactly huge fans of manga. We don’t want to address that part of the critique here because, in all honesty, we’re not qualified to address it. That said, we’ll take Dan’s word for it that while manga has had a tremendous impact on younger, American cartoonists, Garo, specifically, does not have the same influence and in their description of the SP7 project, the publishers blur the line between Garo and manga. Garo certainly does not have the same influence that EC comics had on the Underground artists which followed them, though Dan refutes that influence only to retract it later.
Without adequately demonstrating a historical knowledge of the comics they claim have inspired them, the SP7 publishers have left the door open to charges of trend hopping, bending the comics community’s pre-existing interests to suit their needs. We’re not ready to convict them because they failed to show us that they’ve done their homework. In fact, this would have been easier if the publishers simply stated that they are putting together a Garo themed anthology because they think Garo is awesome, so please give them money because they’re broke. The comics that Secret Prison has produced have been too good to dismiss for their lack of historical context. They are often, however, fan art (see Rub the Blood, another Secret Prison publication which was an homage of sorts to Rob Liefeld). By nature, fan art capitalizes on a pre-existing interest, which makes it difficult to get around the trendiness knock. Fan art can be fun, and even good, but the work can’t stand on its own, to use Dan’s words. He would also use the word sleazy, but that’s too strong for us, like making fun of someone who loves the band Interpol because they have never heard of Joy Division.
Publishing something with a built-in interest, or a viable something as Dan would say, makes the low-risk approach of Kickstarter funding that much more damning. So let’s talk about Kickstarter, hopefully for the last time. We are not threatened by Kickstarter. We are speaking for ourselves only, of course, but the idea that we would somehow be shaking in our boots (not for sale, by the way) because Kickstarter is coming to kill us publishers is absurd. We don’t like its focus on popularity ahead of everything else. We don’t like the way it lets the market decide, appealing to the lowest common denominator and cranking out transmedia-ready crap by the busload. We sure as hell don’t like it as a tool for publishers, and would never ever consider using it ourselves, but we’re not sitting here cursing its name.
The reverse is not true. Going all the way back to MK Reed‘s essay on Kickstarter, someone always feels compelled to make the argument that Kickstarter has created opportunities where there were none, that it has eliminated the need for publishers, who have been acting as gatekeepers for artists everywhere. This is a crock. No one who does what Secret Acres does has ever intended to stand in the way of a cartoonist’s success. We are well aware of the historical and continuing abuses perpetrated on creators by certain large comics companies and maybe that’s what’s stuck in people’s heads. This is akin to conflating superheroes with comics, which is really annoying, isn’t it? Can the argument that publishers are abusive corporations with no respect for creators be applied to Annie Koyama? Get over it. We are nobody’s enemy. We are not tastemakers. We are not gatekeepers. We have no idea what anyone means by “a very personal Batman graphic novel.”
We publish artists, not books. We’re less concerned about products and properties than we are supporting the people who make the comics that we love so much. As publishers, our job is to create opportunities and to find an audience for the artists who put their trust in us. It’s not easy to connect art so idiosyncratic and wonderful to the readers who will make something meaningful of it. It’s the fact that these voices are so idiosyncratic and wonderful that makes it worth the effort.
If Kickstarter can help them, we’re into it. If it gets one of our books into the hands of a reader, we’ll happily sell our books on Amazon, too. Amazon is an inevitability. The internet allows people to skip booksellers and skip paying a bookstore’s overhead, and if Amazon didn’t do it, someone else would. We believe there’s a cultural shift away from reading that is rarely addressed, that is a great part of the decline in a certain kind of bookstore. We suspect that a huge portion of Amazon’s book buyers are the book buying population that will switch to e-readers exclusively, and probably would have done so with or without Amazon. Those of us who prefer paper books will be more likely to get them in brick and mortar stores.
Does anyone really miss Borders? Amazon is a bigger threat to Barnes and Noble than it is to Bergen Street. We’ve seen bookstores revitalized as cultural and community centers, giving the advantage to independents. Despite the economy crashing, the advent of ebooks and the increased procurement of all goods online, Desert Island and Atomic Books are still here and the Beguiling is doing better than ever. You can’t go to Amazon to see an author read or hang out with comics glitterati at a book launch. No community will ever take ownership of Amazon, and Amazon gets books to people in remote areas that can’t support bookstores. It’s also worth noting that Amazon serves the long tail economy – you can buy every single Secret Acres book on Amazon, but not at any single retailer (other than Quimby’s, probably). The Amazon problem is far more nuanced than we’d like to admit.
So we don’t have Dylan Williams‘ backbone. But who does? We do whatever we can, because we owe it to the folks who sweat and sacrifice to work in dedication to the world’s slowest medium. They’re not doing it to sell something, they’re working to express something, and hopefully it’s something people need to hear, because that’s what art is. They have enough to handle without being judged by their ability to self-promote. We do the dirty work. That’s what being a publisher is all about for us.
As for Dan, he can speak for himself. “No Good Reason” is blazing angry and has been met with the wrath of 10,000 trolls. We grant you, you trolls, you, that it’s tough to argue that Dan is not a gatekeeper. Dan isn’t just Picturebox, he’s the Comics Journal. Dan isn’t just the Comics Journal, he’s BCGF. After reading “No Good Reason” we were left wondering if Dan wasn’t pissed off about something else. The world may never know. We hope he’s never mad at us.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a treat. So here’s a peek at our two SPX 2012 debuts, one above and one below. When you see them, you will plotz.
Barry and Leon
What happens when Bigfoot meets the Breeders? Why, our Scuttlebutt TCAF wrap-up, of course! You'd think we were kidding, but we're not. If it weren't for Bigfoot, we'd never had gotten to meet the Breeders and see them play Last Splash front to back way up in Toronto. This has nothing to do with comics, but then most of what happens at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival has nothing to do with comics. It's really about the dancing. And the singing. And the topless singing. Worry not, we did get Capacity 8 unboxed and there were no border issues for anyone (except for Casey). We even made it to our panel, first thing Saturday morning. That may have been perfect timing, because it was something like Between Two Ferns meets group therapy. We're lucky bastards, for sure, but we missed the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon, singing Bette Midler's the Rose (and, no, he was not topless). If any of you have video of this, or pictures of Drawn and Quarterly's jean vests, please, oh, please get back to us. Read on...
Finally, we are hitting the asphalt for our first road trip of the year. It's a long drive to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and we are carrying some precious cargo as usual. Theo Ellsworth is being delivered via airmail, with fellow Acres Brendan Leach, Joe Lambert and Edie Fake meeting us there. Sean Ford has called shotgun, and Capacity 8 is in the boot. Capacity 8 is one of those surprise births with which we are regularly blessed here at Secret Acres. It's also the first time anyone in our gang has dropped a new story for a series that we've collected. Capacity, Theo's big, fat book, is a complete thing, for sure. The eighth issue is all new territory, but it's still all true. In a way. In that Capacity way. Oh, and we'll be kicking off first thing Saturday with a small press panel featuring pals and heroes, Koyama Press, Rebus Books and Grimalkin Press, too. This year's Acresmobile comic mule is the legendary Dash Shaw. Alas, last year's hitcher, MK Reed, is too lazy to make it to TCAF. Everyone else better be heading up - or catching Eamon Espey's Ishi's Brain show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yeah, we're looking at you. We're standing right behind you. No, the other way. Anyhow, there's explicit instructions up on Scuttlebutt.
PEOPLE OF THE SEATTLE: Tonight's the night! Go watch Eamon Espey and Lisa Krause as they bring their show, Ishi's Brain, to Hugo House. Which is in Seattle. Ishi's Brain is based on Eamon's story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss. Lisa Krause is an artist and puppeteer of Bread and Puppet fame, among other things. It's quite a unique experience and pretty much beats the hell of out any old, regular reading. They are on tour all over the country, but there's something fitting about performing Ishi in Seattle. You know, because Seattle is strange and dark and there are scary woodlands and coffee. The Richard Hugo House is also something to see in itself. They have a writers' residence for zinesters (currently held by ZAPP), classes on seemingly everything, a focus on a local writing community and, of course, performances. Go. Have fun. Report back to us. Even the Stranger says to check it out. See...
Stranger things have certainly happened, but it would appear our man, Theo Ellsworth, will have not one, but two debuts at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Yes, we will have the eighth issue of his ongoing Capacity (the first since our enormous collection of that title), but we'll tell you more about that later. Meanwhile, we knew Theo was working on a comic for an anthology, but we didn't realize it was the fourth Alternative Comics anthology. You may or may not be aware, but Alternative Comics published some truly amazing things, like Jeff Lewis' True Swamp and Steven Weissman's Yikes (yes, this was before Fantagraphics took over). Then they took some time off. Now they're back. Also included in this anthology are Alternative Comics graduate James Kochalka, this guy named Craig Thompson, the adorable Noah Van Sciver and #cybergang leader, Alex Schubert, to name a few. Get up to TCAF because it's amazing, and Theo and most of the Alternative Comics crew will be there to sign the thing. Collect them all!
On a more important note than usual: 282 Broadway is where the party has been for, well, seems like forever now. What the hell is that, you ask? It's the home address for Domino Books and Revival House and Rebus. It's known sometimes as Bill K's Place, as in Bill Kartalopoulos. Just about everyone who has ever attended or exhibited at a comics event in New York City or, hell, ever drawn a comic while in city limits, has been exhausted, high, drunk or lost in that apartment while rubbing elbows with their heroes. We've written plenty on our blog, about their comics and their parties, too. Now they're moving out. We're telling you this because these guys need a new home. Go buy some comics from them. Forget the good cause, their books are amazing and we've been seethingly jealous of their good work, so if you like us, help them and get some great stuff for yourself. Everybody wins!