If there’s one thing that the independent comic industry fails at as a whole, it’s self-mythologizing. Considering that the majority of the most interesting work (and, presumably, stories behind that work) since, oh, the mid-80s, say, have come from publishers that aren’t called Marvel or DC, why does it feel as if there’s an entire history of the comic world that is entirely missing from the collective consciousness?
This really became clear to me after a recent non-fiction reading spree that started with Grant Morrison’s recent Supergods, and then went on to include Gerard Jones’ (wonderful) Men of Tomorrow (about the creation of the comic book industry, focusing on Superman and his creators), Dan Raviv’s Comic Wars (about Marvel’s 1990s bankruptcy and the confusing and genuinely surreal battle waged over control of the company) and Ronin Ro’s Tales to Astonish (about Jack Kirby). Each of these books takes the comic industry seriously to varying degrees, and talks about the real people and real events behind characters and stories we’re all too familiar with, and each book is – again, to varying degrees – an enjoyable contextualizing of what those stories really meant to the real world that they came from.
But they’re all about superheroes.
It struck me, reading those books, that I don’t really know that much about how the direct market turned out all manner of smaller publishers, or how those smaller publishers went from fanboy-esque mini-Marvels and DCs to genuine alternatives to that “mainstream” like Fantagraphics, Oni Press or NBM, to name but three. Who were the people responsible? What were the reasons? What are all the trends and traces and stories behind all of these things?
The information’s all out there, I’m sure (or, at least, a lot of it probably is), but it’s all over the place, scattered and not easy to track down and put together. Comics, for the average Joe Plumber or Grizzly-Wrestlin’ Soccer Mom out there in the real world, pretty much means Marvel – or, if they’re lucky, Marvel or DC – and it shouldn’t. It feels, at times, as if the Big Two dominate the industry’s self-awareness and history as much as they do its market share, and that the history of those two companies translates into the history of the medium and the industry. We need more stories to prove that that isn’t the case, I think, and more people willing to tell those stories to as many people as possible. Who wants to become the Greil Marcus of indie comics?
(And an odd epilogue. After writing this week’s column, I find out about the existence of this project which, while not being exactly what I’m talking about, may intersect more than a little bit. If you’re feeling generous, consider giving gratefully.)
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