TWENTY-OH-FOUR. THE FUTURE IS NOW.
Welcome to the world of the future.
The bartender sets my second Bloody Mary down on the crumpled, wet Feliz Navidad napkin, wishing me a Happy New Year for at least the fifth time since my hungover compatriots and I walked into Oakland’s oldest Mexican restaurant, Mexicali Rose, this fine New Year’s morning. Mexicali Rose’s Pepto-Bismol pink stucco is about as far from the sparkling champagne glitz of a decadent New Year’s Eve in San Francisco as you can get, but I can’t think of a better place to continue the celebration of the dawning of the new year with a morning-after cocktail in hand.
While on the other side of the bay, San Francisco is coming back to its senses and feeling ashamed for puking on its Tux and dumping those newspaper vending machines into the street in a drunken stupor, Oakland is still in the full fervor of festivities. And that’s precisely why myself and my friends find ourselves belly-up to the noon-time bar, because like the city of Oakland itself, I am not yet done sending out the old and welcoming in the new. Outside Mexicali Rose’s wrought iron gate, women in their Sunday best are cheerfully waving across the street at the windows of the county jail, wishing their loved ones a happy new year. Everyone you pass on the street has a smile and good wishes to offer for a great new year.
The tinsel bedecked TV set hanging above the bar at Mexicali Rose is playing show after show of 2003 retrospectives. What were the best moments, what were the most shocking events, who wore the best clothes, put out the best song, made the biggest impact… wasn’t 2003 a great year? And as cheesy as those shows may be, I can’t help but agree. 2003 was an incredible year for myself, and for comics.
But this column isn’t about 2003, just like downtown Oakland in the first hours of the new year it is all about hope for an even better 2004. That’s one of things that I’ve always really liked about Oakland, all throughout January, and often well into February and March as well, the people are always overflowing with excitement and hope for the future, both for themselves and their neighbors. And that’s why I always make a point of spending my New Year’s day with some good friends in the city of Oakland. As great as 2003 was, I can’t help but look forward to what 2004 has in store for us all.
I pull the chunk of celery out of my Bloody Mary and raise my glass to my friends, “Here’s to the year twenty-oh-four. We’re living in the world of future, my friends. The world of the future!”
As I tip my glass back, I can’t help but think how true that statement really is. We are living in the world of the future. We might not have flying cars or jetpacks yet, the fifties housewife might still be unable to hose down her entirely plasticized living room before the guests arrive, and we may not have a colony on the moon, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t living in a world that’s transitioning into the glimmering world of tomorrow.
Especially for comics.
Now, admittedly, one needs only to look at the sales figures of traditional format books to know that everything is not perfect in the world of comics. Even the most head-in-the-sand traditionalist can see that the times they are a-changin’. But before you give away everything you own, paint your “the end is nigh” sign for the comic industry, and go parading down the street… take a moment to think about how unrecognizable the technology industry of today would be to technophiles of yesteryear. If we let the traditions of old dictate what a computer was, all computers would be building sized adding machines, and not the digital video capturing, internet-connected wireless, pocket-sized computers of today. In the past five years the world of comics has become an ocean of change and those who adapt with the times will thrive while those who are unable to adapt to change will become extinct. This is not to say that traditional formats, characters and stores are obsolete, but only that the accelerated evolution of the comic industry is finding new strategies and methodologies to bring comics to the entertainment-starved masses.
Yes, a new year is dawning, not only for the calendar, but also for the comic industry.
And from where I’m sitting, it looks to be a damn good one.
Never before in the history of our industry have comics garnered so much mass media attention. Libraries and bookstores stock their shelves with comics, mainstream magazines publish comic reviews, the History Channel airs documentaries about comics and books about comics earn their authors Pulitzer prizes. Never before have so many other entertainment industries looked to comics to strip-mine them for content. Comics fuel blockbuster videogames, popular television shows, and the number-one box office at the local movie theatre. If you had told comic fans of twenty years ago that all this would be happening by the time we reached 2004 they would probably think it was all some cruel lie.
But it’s not a lie. It’s happening. Right here and right now.
In the world of the future, twenty-oh-four.
But the most exciting part of it all is that never before has there been such an infusion of new ideas and enthusiasm coming into the industry. From the massive wave of new creators hungry to get their stories into reader’s hands and willing to do the work to make it happen. To the publishers, both new and established, breaking new ground and offering up high-quality diversity that the industry has never seen before. To the new wave of comic retailers who are defying conventions and stereotypes and redefining the meaning of the term “comic book store.” The times they are a-changin’.
And in this new year of twenty-oh-four the creators, publishers and retailers will grab hold of the evolutionary process and further drive the comic industry beyond the borders of the expected and into new territories that were never before thought possible. The outdated rules of yesteryear will be beaten into the shape of something useful within this new age or they will be broken and discarded. Those with aspirations to make comics of their own will pick up pencils and join the ever-growing ranks of the new comic pros. In this new year we are going to break our self-imposed boundaries, and hell, we’ll defy the laws of gravity if we have to. Jetpacks be damned.
It’s twenty-oh-four. It’s the world of the future.
Happy New Year.