Saturday, June 6, 2009

Something a Little Less Sweeping

I've been writing about stuff in really broad strokes lately. That's a habit I've gotten into in class and I need to watch out that I don't sound a) too old-farty, b) inflexible and c) tunnel-visioned. Now, look, I know that tastes change. I was not able to watch all the films that are available today when I was in college because VCR's were still not around for the general public. At least, not where I was.

I also had the taste of a horny 19 year old. To Steve Gellar's dismay, my main recollection of SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (which he did the screenplay adaptation for) is Valerie Perrine running around naked. Yep. Class. That's me.

I'm really pushing my students and myself to see what we can do to raise the bar and get our medium looked at differently, but I really don't think that it can happen in our lifetimes. Too much already ingrained into the American Psyche (not psycho).

I think that we can produce some quality (in all genres of story and art) material in the next few years and help that goal, but I don't think we'll be revered like the European artists are.

I am constantly being told how much "extra time" that the European artists take on their projects because they take "a week a page." Again, as I've said in class, if I were to write, pencil, letter, ink and color a page - it would take me a week, too. The American studio division of labor was created to circumvent that.

Do we need to go to a "one person did it all" type of genre in order to be taken more seriously as an art form? Why cannot collaborations be taken just as seriously?

Now, I admit - the majority of mainstream stuff out there is pure crap.

That's not helping matters, either.

So, I do my job the best I can and hope for the best? Or do I work towards a loftier goal and end result and help "create the change?"

My main attraction to doing mainstream work at this point is two-fold:
1) the money is good (not great, but good) , and
2) I am addicted to the accolades that you get from fans of that medium.

I also am petty in that I wanted to prove to the mainstream publishers that I still have it in me. I'm still viable.

I did have some fun doing the VIGILANTE stuff, but the schedule was grueling and the end result was not satisfactory on many levels. Rushed work is just that - rushed work. I did a great job within the painfully short deadlines given, though.

Well, enough about me. I'm rambling as I figure out where to go from here.

I think I'm going to do the mainstream samples that I mentioned and then see where I go from there.

What's everybody working on this summer?

More later.



Drew said...

Hey, all good reasons Tom.

There was something I read awhile back on the ol' Internet that got my brain thinking on what could be done to actually help the comics industry here. Anyone you ask, it's not a young market, it's a market that is sadly growing older and older, at least when it comes to the traditional print comics. With the current system in place, everything is bottlenecked, stagnant, and the same as it was 10-20 years ago. You're telling me Civil War was a great storyline. Fine, that's your opinion, but I cared even less about it back when DC did it and called it Final Crisis.

We're stuck with the fact that our beloved industry is monopolized by ONE shipping company (I'm looking at you, Diamond!) and unless you're crazy and don't want national coverage, you go with Diamond. Unfortunately, it's waaaay more profitable for Diamond to sell as few titles as possible to as few shops as possible. Why it works that way, I dunno, but the math is clear. It costs them more in the end to send out their orders to everyone than to focus on a select few and let the others bleed dry.

This is wrong. We all know its wrong. Why don't we give them the finger and search for alternatives? No one's really stopping us.

Marvel and DC are wasting resources, honestly. When you think about it, REALLY think about it, how many Spiderman or Batman stories can you possibly do before you're just retreading the same old? How many reboots, alternate universes, or what-have-you do you do before they're all as convoluted as their original archetypes?

Something I'd love to see happen is for Marvel and DC to cut their product in half. Yeah, ditch the 3 or 4 spiderman titles out there, put out only one. Cut the ten different random batman books or JLA, and put out two or three. Use those freed up resources to let artists and writers create new IP's for you! Air out everything and get some new ideas and characters and storys in there for people to enjoy!

Unforunately, I think they'd much rather hold onto their loyal, yet aging and dwindling fans than try something risky that could be longer-lasting and healthier for them.

Drew said...

We need to get out of comic shops. Don't do away with them, a good comic shop can be a great place to go, while some shops are just downright terrible and sleazy. But I'd love to see comics expand out to be as commonplace in bookstores, your Wal-marts and Targets, etc.

Something that might help (and would address that whole deadline deal) is maybe axe the idea of monthlies. Put out only trade paperbacks or something like that. It seems to work pretty well for our European bretheren, and it wouldn't take any retooling on the part for bookstores and such. They just start stocking their shelves with new paperbacks of old characters, new characters, originals, classics, etc.

Sure, some people say the web is the next step- but I'd sure hate for it to be the only step. I'd hate to know I can't have any more comics to just shuffle through on the shelves. Maybe somebody will come along and do those monthlies and such on the web, and then collect them all into trades...hmm...

Anyway...some people have said this whole economy downturn might be good for comics. It might crush the superhero genre and negate enough of it to where new content flourishes in its wake. I'd hate to see it come to that. I'd much rather see the companies take a proactive stance and move themselves towards more viable areas and ways than be forced into it. Hardly anything good comes out of being forced into something. You bitch and scream the whole time doing it.

As to your answer your question of what I'm doing, I'm getting stuff together for Heroes Con, which at the moment is tweaking the website for Border Crossings so it doesn't look like ugly internet crap. If I've got time before Heroes sneaks up then, I'm going to finish up penciling, and get some of the first 8 pages ready to be posted.

Drew said...

Also, sorry for the uber-long posts lately, Tom. This is all just stuff that I've thought over and mulled endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am happy though that you are still active in the comics field! That is an impressive achievement after a hiatus.

To answer your question, I am working on the New York trip this summer.
At home though, I am teaching Sequential Art classes at my local library. I teach 2 classes a week to students ages 12 and up. We're going to cover character design, environment design, page/panel layout, a do-it-yourself session on how to compile mini-comics, and a comics jam at the end.

Guthrie said...

Thanx for all the insider info on your working process and art career Tom. I'm excited to see more work for you in the coming months and pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of it. I think we can all potentially learn from your experiences, its an exciting time to be a sequential major at scad. With regards to European vs American comics ,I love super hero stuff but I think between the Manga that's imported and the super hero stuff, the lack of innovation is driving potential readers to look to other mediums for original ideas. I also think getting out of the comic and specialty shops would be a good idea, but you would have to have more original material to attract the attention of people who wouldn't otherwise pick up a comic.I honestly think a lot of the problem is the way artwork especially say cartooning is viewed in America. It seems you only have two shots at American audiences, and its children (Walt Disney, Pixar, or Marvel and D.C.) or Museum Quality work i.e. Frasier Crane or other art collecter types. Whereas in europe and Asia it seems perfectly acceptable to see adults reading comics, or magazines with cartton-ish figures often in adult situations. I think limiting print to only trades is tricky too, because there would be few artists who could afford to "float" for such a long time on a paycheck and this would surely limit the risks taken in only making material you knew editors would be interested into collecting in book form. I'd like to see more stuff like Fantagraphics used to do or even more Drama and Suspence oriented material. I think its just that its hard to make a living doing anything outside of the mainstream in the states.

Tom Lyle said...

You said this: "We're stuck with the fact that our beloved industry is monopolized by ONE shipping company (I'm looking at you, Diamond!) and unless you're crazy and don't want national coverage, you go with Diamond. Unfortunately, it's waaaay more profitable for Diamond to sell as few titles as possible to as few shops as possible. Why it works that way, I dunno, but the math is clear. It costs them more in the end to send out their orders to everyone than to focus on a select few and let the others bleed dry."

I ask you this: HUH? How do you figure this? Diamond GLADLY distributed Marvel's 100 + titles in the 90's and made a boat load of money over it.

I'm not sure about your logic there. I think Marvel's and DC's problems stem from riding a horse until it dies ... and then riding it some more. It's the same material over and over. I don't mind multiple titles, but I have to admit that I still think the problem starts at the editorial phase. Too little control with too little ideas. How writers can be late baffles me. Why they tolerate late artists (esp. those who copy from photos) baffles me.

I agree that there has to be a change, but you don't throw out one area (Marvel and DC) to make room for the other. YOu make product that can be good enough to usurp them or eliminate them naturally.

I've been telling me classes for over two years that there has to be a new way to distribute comics besides the web and trade paperbacks. The bookstores are overcrowded and the web is still is crap shoot. A BIG crapshoot.

More later to my other responders. Btw, such well thought out passion, Mr. Sides. Nice to see it still.


Drew said...

I'm not saying, or wishing for that matter, that Marvel or DC gets thrown out to make room for others. What I would like to see is them maybe reduce the amount of recurring titles they have and refocus some of those resources to new stuff.

As for Diamond, it's more of a reference for Independents/Small Press, not really Marvel and DC, or even Dark Horse and Image. Diamond will gladly ship their stuff out, since they know it sells, and it sells well. But when they start to be bogged down with shipping out indie or smaller press stuff, it starts to take away from their profit. So it's not really a matter of them shipping out less Marvel or DC stuff, but more them shipping out less smaller, less mainstream works. I suspect that not too long ago announcement of the stricter policies regarding shipping was in regards to that. They know that Spider-man will easily sell 'x' amount of copies, but some new book or series? Not so much, and they'd rather not put the effort into shipping it out if they don't know it's going to turn some sizable profit.

Regarding's really funny how often I've heard in podcast interviews or something similar how common it is for people to miss deadlines, to the point where I wonder if until proven wrong they just assume you'll be late...That just sounds loopy.

I have to give your web/print comment some more thought before I write anymore, but I do think that a really healthy, symbiotic relationship of the two could be a really strong way to get growth.

Tom Lyle said...

You've been listening to Jeremy Mullins, I see.

Here's an example of Diamond's policies put on another company - Wal-Mart:

Say Wal-Mart sells 50,000 units of a product per month and some rival company to this product puts out their version of "x". Is Wal-Mart going to push "new x" over the sure thing?

No way.

That doesn't make them evil.

I think the Print On Demand has made it even more important for Diamond to have strict policies because anyone can turn out some piece of crap and publish it.

It's a free market and you have to have the goods and product to make it. Most people just don't have the capital to weather the beginning where there may be losses instead of profit. They forget that this is a business, not fan press.

I think that CEREBUS and STRANGERS IN PARADISE and BONE to name three proved the product can win out.

Does some good material get lost? Yes. But it's not Diamond's fault. It's the fault of an undercapitalized business venture by the creator.

Think about it.


Drew said...

Haha, you caught me, Tom. I got some learnin' from Mullins a ways back.

It doesn't make them evil, that's true. I think it does put a bit of a damper on some of the smaller guys, and it's made some of those publishers hesitant to take on new stuff because of that. You also have waaaay more knowledge and experience in all this, so I tip my hat to you

Dark Horse has been doing some interesting methodology lately, with looking to take on long-running, successful webcomics that already have an established fanbase and bringing them to the print world.

I do agree that being exclusively web is a risky thing to do. Honestly, off the top of my head, the only comic I know supports their creators incredibly well is Penny-Arcade, and much of its success is lent to the fact that it was one of the first (if not the first,) to tap the videogame culture as an audience and gather a following on the web. PVP does quite well too, though I think Scott Kurtz operates mostly on his own, whereas the Penny-Arcade folk have a small office essentially, with people handling stuff outside the comic, like general business, merchandise, charity, etc.

I don't think that such a business model works for everyone, and even in the end, I think there's still the idea because it's web, you aren't really a professional because you don't have anything in print. It's one thing for folks to go ahead and start printing on their own, quite another for somebody else to actually want to print something of yours because they think it's good. The writer of Atomic Robo, Brian Clevinger, wrote about this before, basically saying that getting into print was still a way of 'arriving' and being 'legit.'

Why do I have the weird feeling this all somehow ties into what you said before about entitlement? I'd actually like to hear your thoughts on that.

xaqBazit said...
this was a similar post by Draw! magazine editor, Mike Manley that pretty much sums up how I'm feeling right now. I spent about 1 1/2 hrs in Books a Million today looking through the Graphic Novels and Monthlies and found only about 5 or less that I actually considered getting at one point or even had me moderately interested. Im not only mad about the way comics are distributed but what the big 2 are putting out and looking for. All the artists I thought had a "unique style" have been around so long they've reserved themselves to doing covers or not having to work at all. As soon as I open a book and see the art I... Well I don't even want to get into it, but I've slowly been shifting my goals as a comic artist away from the things that got me into it in the first place. Anyway, so I'm looking backward for inspiration and as someone else mentioned looking for inspiration from other mediums and genres. But you come across a few new breaths of fresh air every once and a while, it makes me wonder if it makes all the crappy books worth it, or if were in a generation of young artists who haven't found their "style" yet. Or have we, like films, maxed our possibilities and can only create new experiences by delivering different combination of rehashed ideas and styles? And the public seem, next to those speaking up here of course, fine with it (as shown in the picture I posted the link to). -Z

xaqBazit said...
also wanted to link this, where Joe Q was debating how much comics "should" cost, and why they do cost what they do. Interesting and related, just thought I'd chime in.

xaqBazit said...

and lastly id like to re-post this, its one of the responses to the Cup O Joe post i put up just above this that one of my friends from DA wrote, it deals with comic format and price.
"No, I'm talking about format. ....Digital cuts production costs which should lead to a cheaper retail price. Plus a downloaded file can't sell out. ....Graphic novels are both cheaper to produce than the five-or-six single issues it would take to equal the same amount of stories. It gives more bang for the buck and is a format that can be kept in print and allow readers to start reading at the beginning rather than finding the next jumping on point. Plus there is a perceived value to a trade that a floppy does not hold. ....You could even put together a monthly magazine similar to Shojen Jump or whatever. Keep the stories self contained with rotating creators. You could also have interviews with creators and maybe a section on how to draw your favorite Marvel character. You could also cover the upcoming toys and movies and video games and direct-to-DVD cartoons. ....Sure it would be aimed at younger readers, but isn't that exactly what this industry needs? New blood? And they would be getting it at grocery stores and newsstands and the magazine section of bookstores. A lot easier to find those than a comic store. ....Oh, and the advertising revenue for a magazine aimed at younger readers would do better than your average comic. You could get a higher ad rate and it would be more desirable to companies selling fruit snacks and box drinks and toys and upcoming saturday morning cartoons and so on. ....I dunno. Makes sense to me."

Derik Diaz said...

Tom, I sent you a really important e-mail to your "other" e mail address. I could really use your help with something. Thanks.

Angel Hill said...

Tom! I stop paying attention to your blog and suddenly there's all this activity!

I'm definitely one of those admirers of European comics. Perhaps my personal style reflects japanese style comics more (doesn't help that I was born in hawaii and my uncle is a translator of japanese comics), but I actually have a greater fondness for European comics.

But, even though a lot of the foreign made books have just one name on the cover, most of them actually DO have a team of people that they work with - most Japanese artists hire several assistants. They have even crazier deadlines than we do! And a number of the European comics I read have a separate writer and artist, although the artist does tend to carry the book from start to finish (pencils, inks, colors, letters).

I think that perhaps the American comic industry has instilled the idea of 'one person doing everything' into the newer generation of comic artists simply in the way that it conducts itself. I've always felt that if I'm not going to be paid a whole lot, and struggle to meet crazy deadlines and be told what to draw or not draw, then why not just do it all myself? Then what I create will be my vision entirely, and whatever failures or rewards come from it are mine alone. I know that's a bit greedy, but I guess over the years of the industry stepping on the little guy, that sort of feeling has been engendered in the new generation.

I think that the 'do it yourself' mentality is also in larger part an integral piece of the American cultural identity. Americans want to run their own business, own their own home, and live the American Dream by making it big with an idea and the willpower to see it through.

America is a big freaking place. I think that there is room enough for the big publishers and all of us little guys to make a living, and maybe even work together to make the comic industry better. Variety is what keeps the industry going - big companies take into account what the self publishers are doing just as much as the self publishers look at what the big companies are up to and they draw ideas from each other. I'm sure lots of do-it-yourself self publishing types hold team-based comic artists/writers/inkers/colorists/pencillers etc in high regard - after all, they must have been influenced by someone in mainstream comics at some point. The more that indy comic artists say "hey, these guys deserve your respect" and vice versa, the better things will be. It's about keeping an open mind and being honest in our discussions and open about our influences. :)

Angel Hill said...

Oh, and I forgot to tell you what I'm working on this summer :) I'm starting a webcomic collective. It's just going to be my comics at first, but eventually I'm hoping I can expand to include other peoples' work. It's not a pay site like wirepop or anything.

I'm probably not going to launch my first comic until January 2010, because I want to have lots of pages done before I start putting them online (I don't want to fall behind!), but I've already started working on the actual website design - and of course, the comic itself. I'm about 5 pages in on one comic, and 8 pages in on the other. I figure if I have everything ready to go, I can do a proper business-like launch of my "chain" XD It feels weird to have all these comic pages, and not show them off though.

prynterman said...

Tom, refresh my memeory...what does a horny 19 year old taste like?

xaqBazit said...

Looks like someone is just trying to get Tom in trouble (cough) prynterman!

Deane said...

I'm looking for the Tom Lyle who designed STARMAN for DC COMICS in the late Eighties:


It's one of my favorite designs and I wanted to ask him some questions about it.

Warm Regards,