Friday, April 22, 2016

Let's talk about the comic book industry...

Let's talk about comics. I get away from the point of this blog regularly, so tonight let's get down to it.

I love comics. I read a ton of comics. I create comics. I love doing it. It fuels me. It drives me. I've made it a primary point of my life and I've made a lot of great friends and associates in person, on the internets etc., through this craft. We may not always agree on politics, but we find a common ground in the art of comic booking. And that's what matters.

I'm what can be classified as an "independent" creator or a "indie/small press" publisher. I don't like the term "self-publisher" because my books still get published, I just decided to do it my way.

Anyways, I've been officially making comics under the TJ Comics banner for almost seven years. It started with a small book called "Mack Turner: Slayer of the Dead" that stalled out after three issues (but will be back eventually, rebooted!) and continues with Patriot-1 and ExtraOrdinary today. I also publish The Argonauts by Keith Dallas, and if you're out there looking for a partner to help package and publish your book for the sole purpose of helping each other out, contact me through TJ Comics.

That's what we do in the comics community. Or at least what we're supposed to do. Help each other out. Be good to each other. Fight the fight in an industry that's kind of ridiculous, disproportionate and often times, completely ignored by the mass audiences that consume the industry-related content put out by the bigger publisher and corporate entities.

We're relatively poor, we sometimes work "real" jobs we can't stand and we just want to tell our stories. Comics are like a drug and once you're hooked, it's very, very hard to turn away. Sometimes what we do to put out our stories is mind-boggling... we have to be directors, managers, writers, artists, publishers, cashiers, tax accountants, web developers, social media experts and of course, salespeople.

For me personally, I want to do my own books like Patriot-1 and ExtraOrdinary, but I also want to contribute to the mythos of characters I love. Be it well known characters from Marvel or DC, or lesser popular ones like The Phantom or The Rocketeer, for example. And let me tell you, it's an uphill battle.

I've run two successful Kickstarter campaigns, Patriot-1 won an IPPY Award in 2015 - a particular point of pride for me - and I've spent thousands of dollars to make my comics happen even with lower-than-hoped sales and I keep going.

I do have a solid day job, I'm also married with three young children - making up the four people who mean the word to me. I've been with my wife for 11 years (married for 5), she's my best friend, my kids are awesome and exhausting and I just try to be a decent human being, a good father and a good husband. As I get older, I've become very interested in charity campaigns and helping others. Sure, I got in trouble and didn't always have the best judgement when I was young and stupid - but that's part of growing up. Why is all this personal stuff important? Because I like to think I'm an OK human being or at least try to be and that's key to my view on comics and the industry.

MANY people I've met and befriended in comics are the same way. Many people I follow on the social medias are good people, committed to their passion, fighting an uphill battle just trying to tell stories about their characters, characters they love and trying to make a few bucks in the process.

For some of my friends, they've been influential and work/worked for Marvel and DC and when they do cons and such, they sometimes don't have to worry about table or hotel costs and that's awesome, they've earned it. But for guys like me, I have to carefully pick and choose shows, limit travel and essentially go into each con with the prospect of losing money.

Hell, last weekend I attended a show with some solid names in comics like Mark Waid, my pal Jamal Igle, my friend Steve Orlando and many other titans of past and present. The show was attended decently, but the table I paid extra for was relegated to a far corner, a ways away from the big name creators, and next to a concession stand and bathroom that was all to the far right of the entrance. A forgotten area of indie and small press publishers waiting and waiting for the crowds to swing over. The best kind of cons mix the small press with the big names, or make fans have to go through the small press to get to the big names,

But the attendees never really came, I sold a couple books, but I barely even pitched the books because no one came by, which is highly unusual. With about 4 hours left in the show I was getting frustrated, I spent extra money for a "corner" table and believe me, "corner" was quite literal. The con was an hour away from my house, just across the George Washington Bridge... so it wasn't far and I was paying for the table, gas and tolls. Usually, I'm satisfied if I make my table costs back, but as the first day of the show came to a close, I had little to show... nor did those around me. So I made the decision to cut my losses and just stay home the next day with my wife and kids. Worked out too, it was 75 degrees outside and we got new sand for the kids' sandbox.

That's the first time I left a con like that. It's getting tougher out there for indie and small press. Cons were once our time to shine, but we've been overshadowed in recent years by numerous things like cosplayers, celebrities and "media guests" taking precedence over comics, people really into comic culture but not comics and of course, the sheer fact that there are so many damn cons.

My point is, there are a lot of good, honest people out there trying to do what they love. Deserving to be noticed. Working hard to create fan bases and maybe, MAYBE, get a shot with the big publishers.

Not all indie and small press comics are created equal. Let's just be honest, I personally pride my books on quality. Art, story, printing... I want to put out the best and most professional-looking product possible. While I'm never going to discourage anyone from pursuing what they love, there are a lot of "amateur" books out there.

But what's my end goal? A lot of things actually. I've got a Patriot-1 screenplay that I think is really, really good... and what I'd love is the chance to pitch some of the ideas I have for Marvel, DC, whomever. See if those ideas fit into their editorial plans. I mean... that's what we want to do right? Tell some stories? Make some money?

It should be that simple. At the end of the day we're in a business, a capitalist business. With that in mind, controversy was stirred up by the ousting of Shelly Bond as Vertigo's executive editor. I don't know Shelly, I know the phenomenal books she's stewarded and I know many of the people I know and follow have nothing but great things to say about her. She was let go for whatever reason, be it business or what not... that's neither here nor there. But what her ousting unleashed was something far darker about comics. The "open secret" about DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza... which leads to another problem, which leads to another problem and so on.

The ugly, dark side of comics....  I'm not going to recap here... because you can read it at Bleeding Cool and at Comics Beat...

In a nutshell, we're talking about sexual harassment, blacklisting, gender inequality in comics and general bullshit that shouldn't be happening in a business that is frankly, dying.

The worst part about the whole thing is that there are stories just as bad out there with high profile creators and editors, the DC one just brings up some additional questions. But these issues aren't relegated to just DC. Conventions have signage that say "cosplay is not consent" because people have little dignity or respect for their fellow fans. There are stories of creators, big and small, being shunned or "blacklisted" because they speak out against injustices... much like the superheroes they write or want to write.

The "blacklist." This is a list of pros that publishers allegedly keep if you speak ill of them, or if you don't fall in line or if, in some cases you report sexual harassment or other awful things that shouldn't be happening. Because even if you have a massive and passionate fan base and could team up with a publisher and make some money, if you're blacklisted for some infraction in the past, you're shit out of luck.

Here's an industry trying it's damnedest to make inroads for diversity - diversity in characters, diversity in creators - all that good stuff... but yet there exists an environment where people and specifically women feel they have to remain silent on serious issues for fear of not being able to pursue what they love. I mean, come on.

How can an industry become more diverse, more inclusive and attract new readers to survive when there are horror stories like this out there?

The comics industry and REAL comics culture is burning, while the comics pop culture thrives. Sales are down, readership is down, many talented and creative people are shunned, overlooked, not given a fair chance and it's more evident than ever thanks to social media. Conventions, once boons for small press and indie comics and artists to develop fan bases and find work are afterthoughts to the latest Funko POPs or cheap, unlicensed print vendors.

While good people struggle to create something new, unique or impassioned in an effort to tell stories and make a buck, there are those that are making comics unsafe, exclusive and generally the opposite of what comics should be. That's what gets me the most here. Many of us in the comic persuasion have been bullied at one point or another. Often times that's what turns us to comics. Many of us have been told to grow up or "chase real dreams" and yet, here we are still doing it. But the industry is becoming rife with bullies and people getting in the way of your dreams.

As a whole, comics suffers because of this. There's a darker culture on the rise. One that embraces many old stereotypes and it becomes increasingly difficult to see whether or not the future for comics is bright or if it's just spiraling to the bottom of the ocean floor.

Whether it's harassment, black listing, forced silence or just general sexism. Women are a minority in comics and often treated like second class citizens and that's being polite in some cases. But there's also ageism and the "removal" of now legendary creators who are perfectly capable of creating modern stories.

I'm a "bottom-rung" on the comics ladder. But as I'm trying to climb up, I can't help but look around and see people, ideas and money falling from the top.

There's a rampant problem of really questionable people in the industry, whether it's people in editorial positions or bloggers-turned-creators with a history of being really shitty to people and using their fan bases and following to spread negativity and being generally shitty. For what? It's obviously not helping the business. It's not helping small press and indie creators thrive. And it sure as hell isn't breeding a welcoming environment for new people to spend their dollars and grow the industry.

Comics are dying. The pop culture aspects prevail thanks to the movies and what not - that's all great - but at the ground level, comics are struggling to survive. Not just the books themselves, but the creators, the positivity, escapism and optimism that comics should provide from stories, to creators to relationships. Who are we?

I like to consider myself a decent human being and person, constantly striving to be better while taking care of myself and my family. When you're like me and you hear of these horror stories of the industry, you become frustrated and you start to wonder why the hell you're even trying in the first place.

We all need to be better.

You can directly support me by checking out TJ Comics and/or ordering Patriot-1 or ExtraOrdinary or my other books directly from my online store. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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