I published the below earlier this year on the NIA blog for its tenth anniversary. Thought it was worthy of a repost as it seems as true now as it was a few months ago.
Introductions and Warnings.
I’m a little late. I only realised that this blog had hit the ten years mark a day after it happened. So I spent a few days thinking about what I wanted to talk about here to celebrate/commiserate.
About five years ago I heard a quote from someone who I have long since forgotten. ‘Write Angry’ they said. I thought about this and started writing it at the front of each notebook. I still believe in the motto somewhat. Maybe I have mellowed.
Nah ….. just kidding.
Be aware that I never set out to offend but I also never censor myself from being truthful.
Nothing gets mended by sitting on a broken fence.
So buckle in.
Ten Years and Missed Opportunities.
There has been a lot of comics water under the bridge during the last decade. Whilst the small press comics community was a presence for many years previously it has really taken off whilst I have been blogging. In fact one of the reasons I took up the blogging and reviewing pastime was because my comics creating had halted some years before and I felt the need to be creative within our hobby. Commenting and critiquing seemed like a good option.
There have been some great comics in the period and some that have truly opened my eyes to all areas of art. However I will use the quote that seems appropriate here that ‘Experimentation jumps about without prejudice’. It moves slowly from one area or medium to the other. Sometimes the comics hive mind thinks that it has found the perfect equation in creating and rests on its laurels lazily until the ability to be genuinely ground-breaking is out of its reach.
Historically (and excuse me for my blunt summarising here) comics does just that. It has peaks and artistic troughs. Marvel Comics in the seventies lead the way with their Bronze Age output by Gerber, Starlin, Moench, McGregor and their gang. Then we got the sweet spot in the eighties with DKR and Watchmen etc. Then the nineties hit and whilst the mainstream exploded with unoriginal biceps and butts the fringe grew up with Clowes, Fingerman, Brown and others. Vertigo was on a mission that they won more than they lost. Then we got the noughties and the rise of the writer with Bendis, Waid, Brubaker, Millar and more.
Then what happened?
The mainstream slowed down with often indifference towards the medium and a greedy need to move onto the big and small screen. Sure there are some high points that can be quoted but the true experimentation moved on into the world of creator owned, underground, independent and small press. Nobrow, Avery Hill, Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, and more where gripping my wallet and my shelves. These were the books that I found the most inspiring to write about and enjoy. Sure, I continue to read and collect the big companies but I’m never looking for something ground-breaking from them anymore.
The UK small press scene has really taken off in this last decade. They supply the tablecloth decorations for nearly all the once pre-COVID weekly conventions and have become more than a scene or a community that I would say that their popularity is such that they will one day be referred to as a movement. ‘Art Festivals’, ‘Zine Fairs’ and ‘Comic Conventions’ attract often more creators than punters and cater to people invested in the art and often sadly ‘the scene’. People now describe themselves with such self-confident wankery as ‘Creative’ or ‘Graphic Novelist or even ‘Sequential Artist’. I long ago tired of telling them ‘It’s all comics sweetheart!’.
And there began the beginning of my theory on what followed….
The Mass Hysteria of Art without Criticism.
With the rise of the small and independent comics companies we saw the rise in their examination and review online. These reviews started well but fell into the trap of becoming a string of comfortable and flowery adjectives. Along with the fractured emotions of the highly strung Twitter and Instagram junkies we began to see a move towards the rise of the fake review. I’d hesitate in even calling them reviews as they represent something little more than free promotion in most cases. It is clear that a review in any adults eyes should be an independent examination of the quality of a comic. This should be critical of what is bad at the same time as being encouraging on what is good. Sadly this is mostly lost.
The reviewers joined the party. They became part of the scene and (and I include myself in the past as guilty of this sin) were friends with those that created the books on their reviewing plate. People became overly sensitive regarding an actual critique. For years they had been told that their books are perfect so how dare someone actually point out a failing. (Myself included) Reviewers have stood there with a foot pump inflating the egos of people who are, let’s face it, incapable of selling more than a couple of hundred comics – mostly to friends, relatives or easily swayed convention attendees. Are any comics perfect? Really? Reviewing of music and film never seems to hold back in being honest – but the problem in comics is that we are all in the same goldfish bowl. Swimming around quoting the same old hackneyed shite without truly breaking free and thinking for ourselves.
The Creation of your own Artistic Legendary Status.
Over the last decade I have watched the shameless rise of what I call the Self-Hype Machine. In my experience this did seem to be only initially in the land of writing but I see it more and more recently in artistic realms. Is there another industry where someone can arrive without a shred of ability but just start telling everyone that they are a ‘A GREAT WRITER’ or ‘A GREAT ARTIST’ loudly on every social media platform and at every convention without the back row of the theatre putting their hands up and giving a huge “Steady on there babes!’ That egomaniacal steam train of self-promotion is something that has always made my eyes roll but it has of recent years reached Partridge levels of cringe!
You may be of the opinion that people are allowed to do and say what they like about their own creative endeavours. (You may also believe in unicorns and honest politicians?) But the truth here is that these Self-Hype Machines often galvanise the Twitter deluded hive minds into an endless mutual masturbation of retweets without an actual read of the aforementioned comics. This rolling and rolling of that proverbial stone gathers the mass of bumptious buffoonery and begins to get the attention of publishers (cough, cough Rebellion). These ‘in crowd’ hires without an eye to quality then begin to infect the mainstream and we get badly written comics with sub-par art on the shelves in newsagents and comic shops. And every single time this happens we dilute the medium with weak piss content that stops a genuinely brilliant writer or artist being employed!
Honestly – does the world really need another Steven Universe rip-off?
This contagion of a fool’s paradise is now totally out of control. The idiots are running these companies with their goggle-eyed attention to the politics and trends of the moment rather than an eye to who can actually write and who can actually fucking draw! Professionalism seems often to be thrown out of the window with a need to be that Top Dog with Know-It-All attitudes whilst staring at the glowing screen of your smartphone. Embarrassing advice is thrown about by infants and when challenged they dive into self protective sub-tweeting.
And you know who is to blame? Us critics that’s who. I used to idiotically take pity on creators and fail to mention what was wrong with a comic. I don’t do that now and haven’t for years. I’ve got less books through because of that approach but if that’s the price I have to pay I will do. Honestly, these days I’d rather buy a comic to review than be given it – less guilt that way.
I cherish the comics of people with vision and talent. There are those out there who continue to produce interesting, transformative, funny, exciting, sensitive, insightful comics. But this crowd is shrinking as the kettling effect of the noisy idiots takes full control of the scene. Please create without a concern of what the in-crowd might think. Dare to be different. Dare to take a chance. Dare to offend. Don’t worry what others might say. It’s something that I am learning with my recent work through Tribute Press that this is the sort of comics world that will make you happy.
Movies and Sales.
I think we can quite happily say that the success of a movie doesn’t really impact on the sales of a comic significantly for any extended period? Sales of monthly comics is an area in need of a real shot in the arm and every week seems to raise a story of distribution troubles or conspiracy theories of the failure and financial troubles of the bigger companies, distributors and shops.
So, please, every time you feel a need to talk about a comics centric movie or TV series give a little moment to mention the actual comic!?
In the last ten years I moved my not insubstantial financial buying habits to Orbital Comics in London. An Eisner winning comic shop with great monthly comics, graphic novels and back issues. A hop and a step from work it became a Wednesday afternoon full of joy as I picked up my pull list and a few off the shelf comics and trades.
But that went belly up. Suddenly and without any real warning.
In the busy West End of London we are left with the choice of the hipster hang-out of Gosh Comics or the sterile action figure fuckery of the Forbidden Planet. That vibrant half-mile area of comics shops with Comics Showcase as a past worthy mention seems thoroughly on the decline. Come on Travelling Man – pull your finger out and plant a flag! I have moved into a mail order pull list, a load of Ebay catch-ups and travelling to shops across the South-East to see what gold they hold.
The hobby has taken a real hit with this virus. An immediate adaption/change in line with this new status quo is required for comics to survive. Something brave and something that will put comics back in the hands of a new generation – a move that will hopefully lift readership numbers and get the money flowing back into our hobby! We also need to stop arguing with each other! To stop creating groups on all sides of the isle. This is totally counter productive to selling the darn things – any idiot can work that one out! Stop shaming people for political/social/personal ideology and concentrate on the comics. As an example I got a message on Twitter to see if I wanted to follow ‘Comics Art’ as a subject. I clicked on it and it was a load of people in tweet after tweet talking about politics. If you go to see a romantic movie you don’t want to walk into a theatre and see a documentary about dogs shitting do you? You don’t have to check the political or moral position of every creator on everything. If you did that they would never get any sold – OH TOO LATE! I almost died last year so to me this is all bullshit – babytalk sixth former politics.
Fingers crossed huh!
I write comics for fun with people I like. I don’t worry about the amorphous mass of children on the internet and what they might like or show to their Instagram buddies. There are people who have an educated opinion I respect – that’ll do for me.
I review in writing and on podcasts with honesty. I’m not looking to have a sleepover with anyone and will give you a critical opinion on what you have created. If you have the bottle then contact me. If you create something good I will say so. Without fear or favour.
I’m a lifer and will continue to buy and consume comics until I die or they kill me.
Stay off Social Media – it’ll only wind you up.
Many thanks for reading.