You know, I still get mail bemoaning the deletion of the letters pages from TRANSMETROPOLITAN and the other Vertigo titles. Strange letters. And I remember, at the time of the deletion, that people were acting as if their legs were being amputated. You know what? I’m glad they’re gone. If it were me, I’d go further and delete them from most books (the exception being the kid-aimed books, which should have big letters columns with space for photos and drawings and birthdays and stuff, the way British kids’ comics do). I’d cut them out in order to subtract from commercial comics the notion that you, the audience, have an inalienable right of reply. Because I’m afraid you don’t. Transplant the situation to the real world for a moment. Imagine if it was compulsory to the makers of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 that the film must immediately be followed by a lengthy reel of viewer’s comments upon the first MI film. Or if Stephen King and his publishers were compelled to include, with his new novel, under the same covers, a fat appendix of reader’s letters about his previous novel. In no other narrative artform is there the expectation that equal time will be given to the audience’s opinion within the confines of the work itself. Deleting the letters pages from Vertigo books was a financial decision. But it’s also a clear step towards a mature medium.
I had a conversation the other day with a retailer/publisher acquaintance of mine, Robert Scott (http://www.afcstudio.com) about creating a “brand” within the business. The perfect example of such that occurred to me was Neil Gaiman. A man who writes fairly directly to a large but discrete audience, and a man who doesn’t write very fast, has turned what would ordinarily be simply good work into establishment of a brand. The term “Neil Gaiman” has been wrought to imply and otherwise connote quality. He’s worked hard at selling himself across media. I personally think that there are a handful of Gaiman’s peers who produced better work during and immediately following the same period, but they remain invisible outside the medium, and ill-seen even within the medium. Neil Gaiman is a clever man who wanted an extraordinary career, and his imprimatur denotes quality to a wide number of people even despite things like NEVERWHERE. He doesn’t need a logo. He has his name. And that is all that is required.
However, it should be noted that Neil Gaiman spent a great deal of time on the road to establish that brand. Same approach that brought James Ellroy to prominence – tour, tour tour, handsell, handsell, handsell. Now, I don’t live in America, and can’t just piss off for a day or two to hit a few comics shops. And, bluntly, I’m not prepared to do the kind of eight-week American signing tours Neil’s done.
It should also be noted that Neil built himself an audience that came in large part from outside the already extant readership base. He brought new people into comics shops to look for work with the Neil Gaiman mark. In many ways, he is the absolute epitome of what comics creators should be doing if they want a career. And yet, just a few years after the conclusion of the SANDMAN serial, barely a year on from his DREAM CATCHERS illustrated novella as published by DC Vertigo, he exists in the ongoing conversation of the comics culture not at all.
|“In many ways, [Neil Gaiman] is the absolute epitome of what comics creators should be doing if they want a career.”|
And while he might reasonably be expected to not feature constantly in the ebb and flow of information and idea exchange, since he’s given up the form, I think it’s odd that the single most successful writer of the Nineties is almost hushed up. Is almost made not to exist. Is almost an… embarrassment.
CrossGen comics impress me despite themselves. Publisher Mark Alessi seems absolutely dedicated to the company and to comics. My friend Bryan Hitch has been in touch with Alessi for some time, and has recently spent a fair amount of time with him. Has nothing but good things to say about the guy. Personally, the books leave me completely cold – these are not my favourite creators, and in large part they’re not working in the genres that interest me. The stuff is kind of bland, over-blended in the way you might expect from a bullpen operation. You can’t battery-farm good comics. It’s a form that requires mad dictatorship, not cheery democracy. But that’s not my argument with CrossGen. What I don’t understand is this; that the company is very sensibly well-capitalised, that there is a strong sales and marketing team and revenue available for expensive serial advertising campaigns —
— and yet the entirety of their energies has been directed at talking to the already-extant comicshop-centric audience. In short, the people who already read WIZARD and PREVIEWS and go into comics stores regularly.
|“CrossGen comics impress me despite themselves.”|
If you’re going to chuck money at advertising – and WIZARD ain’t cheap, you are chucking money – then why the hell aren’t you hiring a good PR firm to design you some intelligent and dazzling entry-level ads for ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY?
I mean, if you’re a smart person (and there are few genuinely stupid self-made rich people) and serious about growing the market and you’re a multimillionaire, why not just do the job properly?
I can be contacted by email about this column at email@example.com. My terribly beautiful website, recently updated with a new front-page essay and now containing an online store (carrying most things listed in INSTRUCTIONS) and a 24-hour rolling news service, is http://www.warrenellis.com.
BAD WORLD, a new series of occasional articles by myself, is at http://www.themestream.com/
INSTRUCTIONS: Read WILD TALENTS by Charles Fort (1932, republished 1998 by John Brown Books), listen to TAXIDERMY by Queen Adreena (Blanco Y Negro, 2000), and hit Brian Michael Bendis’ website at http://www.jinxworld.com.
Today’s recommended graphic novel is REINVENTING COMICS by Scott McCloud (DC Paradox).