Indy-Pendant is the first column ever written by Brant W. Fowler running from May 2005 to January 2007. It's a focus on independent comics creators, publishers and titles. These are the reprinted archives, which were originally published on www.comicavalanche.com.
Week 26 - Originally published on December 4, 2005
What up my peeps? Last week I told you I was going to change things up a bit from here on out, alternating from the normal fare to other types of coverage as was evidenced in last week's column. And this week I will continue in this vane.
As I was reading a few indy titles and preparing to write this column the particular titles I was reading sparked a thought that turned into the premise for this week's installment. Instead of focusing on specific titles this week I thought it would be fun to explore the entire independent comic spectrum in relation or contrast to the mainstream comic spectrum.
First of all one must determine what classifies a comic as independent or mainstream. Here at comicavalanche.com we typically consider anything from Marvel or DC mainstream and everything else independent. And while that may be technically true some consider publishers such as Image (Top Cow, TMP and Shadowline included), Dark Horse, IDW, and even Alias as mainstream, or at the very least not truly indy. Being a huge wrestling fan, though, I relate Marvel and DC to the WWE and WCW (when WCW was still around), and all other companies to wrestling promotions such as OVW, Mid-South, SMW, etc. Sure ECW was somewhat competition for the big two, so we could classify Image as ECW, which still technically makes it indy. Of course when you realize WWE funded ECW all those years it kind of makes ECW akin to Epic or Icon, but I digress.
The point is WWE and WCW pretty much cornered the market, and it was hard for other promotions to make it, which is the same thing that happens in comics. Now sure promotions like ECW and now TNA have climbed the ranks and gained some recognition, as is true with Image and smaller publishers such as Alias. But the fact remains that Marvel and DC always have and more than likely always will corner the market, and all the other publishers will always hold a smaller piece of the pie.
But then some would argue that only the little guys out there self-publishing or publishing through their own studios or imprints are truly indy. I've never given into this kind of thinking, as it plays to the pitiful starving artist mantra that typically, in the art world, gives artists (writers included) excuses to be depressed, rude, anti-social pessimists, of which I'm not an advocate (though I could be accused of the same such behavior myself this past year ironically). But I'm getting way off topic.
For the sake of argument, I am considering everything not Marvel or DC related (including Icon, Vertigo and Wildstorm) as independents for this discussion. You can agree or disagree, it doesn't matter. What this topic is really about is the problems indy books face, and how some of those problems are the same problems causing mainstream books to suffer.
As I began reading a certain title at first glance the art was nice, and the opening dialogue was well written, but something seemed very familiar about it. Then as I got deeper into the story the imagery and text became more so familiar, and then it dawned on me. It was well hidden, but this was yet another version of the same tale I've seen adapted in at least three other books in the past few months! This worried me a great deal.
Going back to my wrestling analogy for a moment, one problem with the WWE that is well noted is it's lack of direction and becoming stale, reusing plots and storylines, and basically becoming a one-trick pony. This is why WCW, back in the heyday of the NWO, and ECW with it's extreme style, and even TNA with it's high risk thematic matches became more appealing to fans. They were tired of getting the same people coming out to the ring every week and talking for 20 minutes straight only to be followed by the same main event they've seen ten times in the past several months. It's why TNA is on the rise now regardless of the fact their storylines suck. Their presentation is completely different. They are unique and innovative, even with the veteran stars for the most part.
This is the same type of thing that is complained about often in mainstream books. A huge reason why Crossgen hit so many chords is because they offered something completely different than what was out there. They took a risk and for a while it paid off. Image became popular because it had the hottest artists at the time shelling out books, but eventually grew into a training ground of sorts for the big leagues, being the #1 creator owned company around. Marvel and DC, for a long time, survived only out of loyalty to their characters I'm convinced. For quite a while both doled out terrible stories and meaningless events (mid 90's anyone?).
And this is where the indies come in. When I realized why that title I was reading seemed so familiar it dawned on me that independent books are suffering the same fate as the mainstream books. There are too many similar stories out there that try to take a unique perspective on something, but ultimately come off as clones with slight twists. And it's not just the one title I read, but I started looking for it in others and found it has become a trend. I won't point out which titles because when I started this column I made a decision to focus on books I like rather than point out ones I don't. I think there is enough negativity on countless message boards already and this column need not be one more place for a fan to vent his frustrations.
My point, though, is that while there are some really original titles out there, they are few and far between. The problem with really small press publishers, or self-publishing is that virtually anything can be published whether it's good or not. This is why I consider companies like Image and Alias as indy, because I personally feel that most creators need some place to go that will be honest with them and tell them if it sucks. At the very least everyone who self publishes should have an objective editor who knows what they're doing and actually listen to that editor's suggestions.
For so long we as fans have screamed about the bland and monotonous plots and storylines coming out of the big two. So indies became the hot topic and everyone rebelled against mainstream and sought out "better" stories to enjoy without all the commercialism and what not. Two problems arose out of this revolt. Indy creators started filling niches instead of really going for unique stories and ideas. And the big two stepped up their game and took they're universes to the next level, resulting in a lot of great stories currently taking place.
The indies, on the other hand, for the most part are a lot of the same fare all over the place. For every good indy book like many I have reviewed here there are ten clones of it out there that aren't so good. For every good title Image produces they produce 2 or 3 terrible ones, which lack direction, and are boring and predictable.
So where do we go from here? I'm like everyone else in that I want to see the little guys succeed. Heck, I'm one of the little guys trying to succeed. But at the same time I don't want to fill the shelves with tons of crap by writers who only think they can write, or artists who think they can draw (and if I'm one of those please keep me off the shelves!), and then we are left with one good title out of a hundred. That type of thing will kill the independent comic industry because the more bad ones there are out there the more visible they become. And why sift through a thousand terrible indy titles to find the ten good ones when you can just pick up your favorite mainstream title now that the big boys have finally started listening to the people?
The answer is simple, but the application is very complex. Indy creators (self included) have to really be honest with themselves and take a long hard look at the work they are producing. First they have to determine if their idea is a unique, innovative and interesting story, and one they want to tell. Secondly, they have to honestly ask themselves if it's as good or better than anything else out there. And if not then why bother? Why not strive for the best? That's what's going to get people's attention. That's what's going to get people reading your books.
And Indy fans need to be as picky about their indy titles as they are about their mainstream titles. Now that may sound harsh and contradictory to what I stated about negativity on messageboards. But the fact of the matter is we are doing no one any favors by pushing titles that are less than par with the average mainstream titles. And we're doing the industry or ourselves no good by continuing to publish these kinds of books either. It's not enough to be different or to come from an aspiring, struggling, hard working creator with a vision. They also have to be good. Very good. Better than good. Or there's no point in doing it at all.
One more time with the wrestling analogy. Why does anyone become a professional wrestler? They aspire to be the best at their craft. They aspire to be given an opportunity to carry the strap. If not then why put themselves through the torture and the road schedule if they don't feel they ever have a shot at greatness? Sure, once they've been there for a while most realize they won't make it to that level, and now they do it for the love of the business and to keep their income intact. It's the same with comics. Sure we do it for the love of the medium, but whether we aspire to work for Marvel or always do our own thing, we want to do two things. We want to entertain our readers, and we want to be the best at what we do. Or at least we should. Then maybe we'd have the good problem of having so many good titles to choose from rather than constantly having to sift through the coal to find a diamond in the rough.
Thus ends another week, another column. I don't know if anything I said made any sense to you. It seemed to make sense to me, but then I can understand my own insane ramblings, which even disturbs me! At any rate, I hope you enjoyed the change of pace and the topic at hand. Feel free to pop on over to the Indy-Pendant forum and post your thoughts on this week's column. There will be a thread there you can reply to on this week's topic. I won't be able to read or respond right away as I am still having problems accessing the site all together, but we are working through that problem with the server's tech support. You can always email me at the address below also.
Next week we'll return to some reviews, unless I change my mind, 'cause that's how I roll!
Brant W. Fowler / Writer, Letter, Creator, Reviewer, Columnist and Comic Related PR Coordinator
Brant W. Fowler has been a professional comic book letterer and logo designer for three years, and has been a freelance editor for the past five years. He has also worked with graphic design, writing and many other area of skills for several years honing his talents. You can learn all about what he's up to by visiting Gonzogoose Design. Brant is also a member of the core operations team at Comic Related.
blog comments powered by Disqus