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The Kids Are All Right

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.

Yours Pals,

Barry and Leon

 

 

10 Comments

  • Great, well-reasoned and reasonable post guys!

    Reply
  • Good essay! I do want to say a couple things though. I don’t think anyone (especially any cartoonists) are anti-publisher. We love publishers! They take a lot of the slack and burden we can be stuck with in the self-publishing world. However, kickstarter and other crowdsource funding websites have enabled a lot of artists to publish and promote their own work much more easily if they want to, making publishers less of a necessity. No one is talking publisher obsolescence though. I would be incredibly bummed if secret acres and koyama press and all the rest stopped making books. No one wants that. But it’s a good way to get your work into the hands of the public as soon as it’s printed and make a lot of your money at once. Most of us artists don’t have a very big platform to take presales. I could probably make a couple hundred in pre-orders through my own website, where as on kickstarter I could make a couple thousand. People love kickstarter/indiegogo/whatever. It makes them feel like a part of something because they not only get to help someone out, but they get a return on their investment at different tiers and also get listed on the website as a backer and therefor get some bragging rights (some people like this, i dont know).

    But, it is incredibly irritating though when a “gatekeeper” comes in and acts like using a site like kickstarter makes you immoral scum who should instead be spending their life savings or working an extra job (on top of working full time and drawing the rest of the time, i mean come on!) to publish your work. I’ve said this a ton already so I won’t get into it much, but I really feel like Dan is playing the role of an oppressor in his article. Someone who wants people to stay in their predefined roles. It seems like he doesn’t really understand how rough it is for the people actually making comics.

    As for SP7, it’s not exactly a “garo themed” anthology, it’s a garo tribute. It has more to do with the spirit that reading artists from garo comics has engendered and the way that influence has moved current underground comics in a new direction. Dan doesn’t know how much influence garo and alternative manga in general has had on the current generation of cartoonists because he’s clearly out of touch. He isn’t following people on tumblr, he doesn’t know! I know. I’m right in it, and I can safely say that a lot of us grew up on dragonball z and sailor moon and as we got older discovered Tsuge and Tatsumi and Ebisu and Maruo and etc and it influenced our work the same way the EC stuff did for the underground artists before us (i guess, i dont really know that much about non-manga stuff though). The point is, is that the garo influence is very real, and the anthology is about that, and not fan art. I don’t do fan art (pretty much ever) and I’m making work made to stand alone in my own mythos for this anthology. Everything I do is a tribute to garo in that it’s artist shaped the way I look at and create comics.

    Can’t wait for the new spx releases too!

    Reply
    • Leon says:

      Thanks for showing up and clueing us in a little to Garo. Like we said, we know very little about manga, alternative manga and the history therein. We should also qualify that since there are manga we love and cherish even if we don’t understand its historical content. Have to disagree, though, about people not looking for publishers to go away. However, these are the same folks saying print is dead, too.

      Reply
      • Yeah, I guess I meant more that no one who likes books wants to get rid of publishers. Print isn’t ever going to die anyway, those people are dummies. I bet they also think vinyl records or even cds don’t get made anymore. ( ̄ー ̄)

        Reply
  • Eric Reynolds says:

    Very well put, guys.

    Reply
  • pat aulisio says:

    great post! and also great reply zach!

    i dont think fan art or fan fiction should be considered a bad word.
    i’m basing my career thus far on that entire idea and others people creations (rub the blood, bowman, conon, and my new man thing comics) and so is my partner josh bayer (rom, suspect device, re-drawing dp7 for raw power)!
    but this is a whole other argument i guess?

    anyways this garo book isnt really fan art or fan fiction but like zach said a tribute, its more about the idea and feel of the book that harkens to garo then straight up taking certain elements and re-doing them as westerners.
    we could have just made SP7 a really long academic comic scholar essay instead of a anthology filled with amazing cartoonists, would that have made dan happier? the kickstarter blurb wasnt supposed to show our PHD in comic art, it was to easily explain our idea for an anthology to the passing fan, not everyone who reads kickstarter pages are comics journal intellectuals, regular people with a passing interest in comics and just regular art patrons read it too, they dont need to see our comic education degree to make sure we know what were doing when releasing an anthology based around an idea, they just have to be interested in the idea itself. ian harker is not dumb when it comes to manga, i swear, ive listened to him rant more then most people.

    and kickstarter is awesome, and publishers are awesome too! there just 2 different things. and money is money, its getting spent on the same things.

    also its amazing how you guys both write one blog post.

    Reply
    • Leon says:

      Totally agree with you on all fronts, and, really, I don’t think your Garo book needs much explanation. As for fan art, we don’t think it’s a dirty word, exactly, it’s just more vulnerable to this argument (which it was, an argument, and probably unnecessarily).

      It’s not easy writing these posts as a duo, either. We occasionally butt heads. If you think the stuff in here on Amazon is comprehensive of both of our thoughts as individuals, think again. We are pretty good at finding some kind of truth at the intersection of our reasoning, though. Years of practice, I guess.

      Reply
  • Super excited for the new Theo Ellsworth book, that sample looks great!

    Reply
  • “Does anyone really miss Borders? Amazon is a bigger threat to Barnes and Noble than it is to Bergen Street.”

    St. Marks books (not St Marks Comics) would take issue with this. I see your point but having worked at St Marks, maybe the best booksotre in NYC, Amazon is no small factor for a strong independent bookstore.

    Reply

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