Hey, That's My Cape! Powell's Diversity Vid, Help or Hurt?
Fans and creators alike seem divided over "The Goon" creator Eric Powell’s video promoting new ideas and diversity of genres in comic books. [See what's being done about ethnic diversity in comics here] Before I continue, if you haven’t already seen it, well you’re out of luck. The video has now been set to private on YouTube, a move I’m severely questioning as it shows, in my opinion, a lack of conviction in seeing your movement through. I’m going to summarize its contents as best I can for you while discussing the topic. I’d much rather let it speak for itself but well, them’s the breaks.
Powell has created The Creators Front For Diversity In Comics, now just The Front For Diversity In Comics apparently (there’s a Facebook page if you’d like to join). The video itself? It has shock value. It reminds me of the negative campaigning we see each time the elections role around. It works to a point, but is it the right way to get your message (which is an important one) across? Because something this crass can have the opposite effect and turn a lot of people off. Either way, Powell’s message is clear - publishers, creators and readers aren’t doing enough to ensure diversity of genres in comics.
“No other entertainment industry is sustained from one genre and 50 year old material. The comic book industry is living off of decades old company owned super hero titles while shoving new original content to the side. The result is, the industry has slowly been losing readers for years and alienates anyone who is not interested in reading books about guys in tights,” says Powell in the clip. And that’s one of the tamest statements of the bunch.
The video is satirical in nature and an “anal rape” is played for laughs to get his point across. A “creator” is being raped by a “superhero” to simulate his selling his soul to Marvel and DC (yes, they are named specifically in the short as offenders to the medium) to keep his family fed, instead of his creator-owned works being enough to pay the rent. It’s not enough to simply demand people buy creator-owned comics just because they’re “the little guy,” you have to sell customers on specific talent and stories. That’s what will get them shelling out their hard-earned cash for a character they’ve never heard of.
I agree with most of Powell’s sentiments though I’m not sure its really sending the best message possible to help the cause. Then again, I’m not the first journalist to be talking about it, so I suppose it’s positive because it’s getting people discussing creator-owned material more than I’ve ever seen at one time. But what Powell doesn’t say in the video, or at least take the time to say, is how to really go about fixing this problem other than basically saying, “just fix it.”
Like the video says, “making it big” off of creator owned work is like winning the lottery. For all the creator-owned writer/artists who have had a good amount of success in that world, Mark Millar, Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith, Robert Kirkman, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Powell himself, there are thousands still working a day job to make ends meet. Many writers do “mainstream” comics while simultaneously working on creator-owned material. Is that so wrong? According to Powell, it is, simply because they’re “the Man.” Never mind that Powell recently did an arc of DC's Action Comics with Geoff Johns.
Powell’s message seems to claim anything from Marvel and DC is pure crap because their owners, Disney and Warner Bros., “don’t care about comics.” The parent companies not caring about comics may be true but I know a lot of people who work for those companies that do care and are trying to make great comics every day.
I admit I’ve fallen victim to the “buy what you’re familiar with” adage, I’d almost always pick up another Batman book before picking up something I don’t know. I like Batman. There’s nothing wrong with that and I take offense to Powell making me feel like there is. Familiar names help of course, also stories that are at least somewhat familiar but have a new spin on them thanks to the creator can sell me on something creator-owned. What it comes down to is, you want to buy quality comics you’ll enjoy, and since readers pick up Marvel and DC comics more often, they feel more likely to find something they enjoy there. It may not be right but brand identification helps. Do you buy adhesive bandages at the store or Band-Aids?
But don’t forget, the sheer amount of creator owned work that is put out every month is enormous and multiplying exponentially with the digital age. If you’re a new or up-an-coming writer, finding an artist for your story is as easy as browsing DeviantArt.com. And it must be pointed out that while they fall under the same umbrella, creator-owned and self-published are not mutually exclusive. Plenty of creator-owned titles are published by companies already established like Archaia, IDW, SLG, and Dark Horse (not to mention DC's Vertigo and Marvel's Icon), but there are tons more being self-published. And yeah, of course it’s going to be tough for them to find an audience.
Now that’s not to say it’s impossible for new characters to take off and become almost as well known as classic superheroes. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Jeff Smith’s Bone, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, have all enjoyed financial success. I’ll say it again, you have to sell customers on specific talent and stories, not just tell them to buy creator-owned for the sake of it being creator-owned. That doesn’t even mean much to a majority of the audience. They want a good story. Show it to them.
Your creator-owned work will sell a fraction of what work for the Big Two will sell. It’s a fact. No self-publisher or indie publisher has the kind of marketing or visibility Marvel and DC have. Plus, the percentage of what you make from that work will vary greatly. Of course printing, marketing and distributing the book is all on your shoulders if you self-publish. But everyone has to start somewhere and if you stand behind quality stories and keep spreading the word, something fantastic just might come of it.
Let’s not forget, some people are only interested in creator-owned books and could care less about Spider-Man or Wonder Woman. Classic characters are not the be-all, end-all of the comic book business and the sooner everyone realizes that the better for the medium at large. Would I love to see Marvel or DC promoting creator-owned work? Yes! Are they going to take a chance doing that when they can’t even ensure their established books are going to sell well enough? Probably not. Would I like to see the superhero crowd spread out their interests a bit? Absolutely! But some people just want superhero books like they want ham sandwiches instead of turkey. You can’t change everyone’s mind.
Before the storm has really settled, it seems Powell has taken all the criticism of his video, good and bad, and attempted to parlay it into actual solutions. He’s since written on the Facebook page:
“Encourage publishers to produce original content. ALL PUBLISHERS! What people missed in my video is that I NEVER SAID DON'T BUY MARVEL & DC COMICS! I jabbed them. Absolutely. Well deserved. They complain about the shrinking of the industry and then cater to one demographic. But the best way to enact change would be to encourage ALL publisher to make original content. Be vocal. In a positive way.”
He continues to suggest we all be “positive” in our solutions, though his original video was anything but, yet continues, “We need to be more vocal in talking about good original books. We need to build the market. If the superhero companies and the readers who want nothing but super hero books won't get on board, then screw them.” Doesn’t sound too positive to me.
So what can you (and I) actually do to mobilize if you feel the cause has merit (I’d like to hope no one thinks diversity in comics is a bad thing)? Pick up something new, creator-owned, once a month. Take a look at what Steve Niles has been blogging lately. He’s actually suggesting creator-owned books you could try. Imagine that. Ask your local comic shop owners for suggestions or search the interwebs for a while and see what people are raving about. Retailers aren’t going to order these books if people aren’t reading them. And web and digital comics are making it ever easier to create original work, you’ll find even more to choose from online. So if you agree with the message behind Powell’s video, find a great creator-owned book, read it and suggest it to a friend. If it’s good.