Fear and Loathing in San Diego ’97: Friday

Colin Upton’s Buddha on the Road is up to issue #4, with the war in heaven becoming the siege in heaven.

This year’s con is marked not so much by who showed up but by who didn’t. The Small Press Ghetto is eerily similar to last year’s, with the exception of Jessica Abel and Megan Kelso; Jessica has moved over to the Fantagraphics booth, and Megan is in the tiny Black Eye/La Mouette Rieuse area.

No Jason Lutes? I heard rumors that he was around, but didn’t see him; same with Steve Gerber: he was supposed to be on a panel somewhere; no Donna Barr; no Jon Lewis. This is the first time since I’ve been coming to these things that Donna hasn’t shown up. She’s up in Washington trying to break her book into the book market. She’s realized that the number of Superman fans who like the Desert Peach will always be tiny.

Standing on the mid-level food area looking out over the exhibit floor, what stands out? Police lights, push-up breasts, and Magic: The Gathering. Talking to Michael Meyer at Twist & Shout, he commented that it must be great having this in your home town. I don’t know. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t, that’s for sure. The shows I travel to are APE, the Chicago ICE if it resurfaces (it won’t this year, but should in 1998), and Angoulême if I can swing it.

Why? I never bother going to book cons. That’s what Borders and Amazon.Com are for. I don’t need cons for that. Cons are for fanatics. “Fans”.

I shouldn’t have to go to cons to get mainstream comics. Cons are for superheroes and Star Wars. The options for mainstream comics—as opposed to Superman and Batman—are, as I see it, two:

  1. Ignore the comic fan market completely, and try to get your comic published as a book
  2. Work with other mainstream comics artists to make your own publishing coalition that can distribute—and market—your mainstream comic in mainstream venues.

I picked up a copy of Jessica Abel’s otherwise wonderful “Retailing Alternative Comics 101” flier. Right up front is:

Everyone has concerns about how to keep a store viable in these rocky times. Ancient capitalist wisdom says: diversify. You may run a perfect mainstream comics emporium, but your audience is limited to fans of those comics, and if mainstream comics sales are declining across the board, you have no safety cushion. If you add an alternative comics section and get the word out that it’s there, you could attract a large new group of potential buyers.

Read that again, replacing “comics” with “books” or “movies”. “You may run a perfect mainstream movie emporium, but your audience is limited to fans of those movies.” Limited to “fans” of the “mainstream”. That’s an oxymoron. Fans are for the fringe. Jessica Abel’s work is mainstream. It’s Marvel and DC that are alternative.

The comics serials market may well remain a wonderful way for mainstream artists to bootstrap their way to a book; that is, see a little bit of money and a little bit of feedback during the creation process. But mainstream comics are never going to survive solely on the leavings of Superman and Spider-Man. The current system is comparable to Umberto Eco marketing his books solely to the Harlequin readers who like Umberto Eco. Undoubtedly there are some. And he could complain left and right about how there should be more. But it is a silly exercise. His real market is not among Harlequin readers.

And if you’re writing mainstream comics—if you’re Jessica Abel or Eddie Campbell—marketing to the fan market alone just doesn’t make sense.

Enough! On with the breasts.

I’ve heard great things about Peter David’s The Last Avengers Story. Honestly, it’s just a fight, and not a good one at that. Very little characterization, the “twist” is obvious from the beginning. I can’t recommend it.

On the other hand, I also picked up Enki Bilal’s La Femme Piège from the same booth (Comic Relief/Berkeley). This is the middle book in Bilal’s Trilogie Nikopol.

Cyber-punk with comics graphics at Deadly Roses. Requires Shockwave.

Megan Kelso’s Girl Hero #6 has been available for a while now; I finally picked it up today. Megan concludes the Bottlecap story which nobody except me liked. Even Megan is planning on letting it “fade gracefully from view”. Also in this issue is “The Reunion”, a story written by her father. Nicely done. She’ll be collecting all the non-Bottlecap stuff into a single book.

La Mouette Rieuse in Montréal (mouette@odyssee.net) carries a full line of bandes dessinée. E-mail them if you’re looking for something, or if you want to find out how to get a catalog! I also picked up the January 1995 Lapin, a collection of comics stories in French.

Jay Stephens’ The Land of Nod #3 is a gothic story about a cute mummy. Look for it.

There’s some sort of history museum of comic books supposedly at www.Comic-Art.com.

Mansplat headlines its lead article “Samantha Sez… Two Dicks Are Better Than One!” It’s a discussion of the two Dicks in Samantha Stevens’ life. Look for it at www.Contents.com.

Yes, it’s true! Coober Skeber #2 is the Marvel Benefit Issue! Free! Includes work by Jon Lewis, Jeff Mason, Seth, Tom Devlin, and many, many more. If you find it, get it. Money should be no object! Help save Marvel Comics by purchasing this free comic!

If you’re a retailer, please pick up Jessica Abel’s “Retailing Alternative Comics 101”.

The Small Press Expo is September 19-21, Silver Spring, Maryland. Look for more info at http://www.indyworld.com/spx9/. If it’s as good as the minicomic, it’s a “don’t miss”. Even more of a don’t miss is the SPX Comic, $3.00, supports the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Happy Jack is a tale of souls and demons from Glancin’ Glenn Carnagey. Still only an ashcan available, but pick it up when it comes out and take a look at it.

“Silly Daddy #15 Ships In September! 24 pages. $2.75 retail ($3 postpaid. Retaielrs get 50% discount). Self contained realistically surreal comic story.”

Are Alternative Comics Todays Equivalent of the Undergrounds?

Jim Valentino, Terry Laban, Dan Fogel, Shannon Wheeler, and Carol Lay joined to talk about why todays Alternatives are, or are not, like the Undergrounds of the sixties and early seventies.

Terry Laban: “Underground Comic is an outdated term like Acid Rock. Alternative comics are just another branch of the comics industry. Undergrounds are defined by their audience: the Underground culture.”

Jim Valentino: “We had long hair and shit like that but I hate labels to begin with. If it’s a good comic its a good comic. If its a shitty comic its a shitty comic.”

Carol Lay: “We have pretty much the freedom we had in Underground comics.”

Terry Laban: No one rebels any more. “Is wearing funny clothes rebellion? Anything you do, someone is waiting to sell a product to you.” Timoth McVeigh rebelled. That’s about it.

Jim Valentino: S. Clay Wilson, Robert Crumb, that was a revolution. It was surprising that you could go there in that form. Mike Diana didn’t do anything that S. Clay Wilson didn’t do twenty years ago.

Comics as a Socializing Force

Mark Wheatley, Lee Marrs, Joe Field, Dave Rawson, Will Eisner, Sergio Aragones; Barb Rausch and Scott McCloud were in the audience.

Will Eisner: “I’ve seen this business die three times. I’m standing here at the edge of the cave waiting for the resurrection.” “People will moralize on their own. We don’t have to do it for them.” “You need as a writer to understand that you are responding to the psyche of the times.”

The discussion started out slow but ended with an unsatisfied bang as Joe Field announced that retailers and creators share responsibility if their products depict evil things that actually happen: such as sex and death. The discussion threatened to explode, but time was up.

The Fans v. Pros Trivia Contest!

It was Still The Purple Pros vs. the Bismoll Chapter of the Mike Tyson Fan Club: Len Wein, Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Roger Stern (aka Len, Cubby, Annette, and Lucky) against Tom Galloway, David Goldfarb, Jim Drew, and Jim Murdoch. Kevin Hayes returned as Alex Trebeck. Roger’s buzzer didn’t light up, but it still locked everyone else out. So if the buzzer goes and no one lights up, it’s Roger. Remember this, it’s important later.

The categories are:

  • Off the Map
  • Groups
  • Weapons
  • Sidekicks & Flunkies
  • Horses
  • The Mystery Category

Okay, no suspense. The Mystery Category turned out to be Pro Wrestling.

Question: “Which member of the Seven Soldiers of Victory died?” Tom: “Wing.” Len Wein: “Waitaminute, I wrote that story!” In fact, Len seemed to have written the story for about every other question asked, prompting the suggestion for next year’s contest, “Stories by Len Wein”.

Question: “Who was the Living Weapon?” Len: “Arrg!” Tom: “Okay, something Len wrote.”

Roger Stern showed off that he still knows how to light up by listing off the names of each of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The Purple Prose still lost, 195 to 160.

The Fifth Annual Drink to the Fund

There was also a funny smell in the air at Fantagraphics annual Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party. And it wasn’t just the clove cigarettes. I popped by with the J Street Gang after not watching the sun set at Coronado. The party was less than a block from the Fire Station, and may have annoyed someone there. One of the firemen came by asking about licenses and how many port-a-potties we had, but unfortunately everything seemed to be in order.

I skipped the Eisners this year; had I paid attention and known that Miller was going to open it, I might have popped in just for that and left after it was done. He’s usually good for making fun of. My experience with past Eisners leads me to believe that hitting J Street was the correct choice. The Eisners and accompanying awards are becoming more and more pointless. As the industry contracts, the awards multiply, to the point where they mean little more than those bumper stickers you see that say “My child was citizen of the month at Buggery Elementary”. Yeah, right. Yours and every other child whose parents could afford four bucks and scratched out “Mystery Spot” for bumper space.

In our local paper, Alan Moore was listed as having won one of those awards “for his work on From Hell and Supreme.” Bloody hell. My child was abortion of the month at County General, and my copy of Supreme cleaned up the mess. There’s an award worth giving and receiving. Supreme: The Quicker Picker Upper.

Tomorrow: The Future of Comics, and Steve Gerber or Grant Morrison, never together.