At Comic Book Bin Herve St.-Louis rails against what he terms “The Cult of the Comic Book Creator.” What exactly is this cult, you ask? And do they wear hoods and carry ceremonial daggers?
If I’m reading him right, he’s basically using the phrase as a springboard to rage against the fallacy that self-publishing your work will lead to you producing great art, or at least better art than what passes at the Big Two conglomerates. His Exhibit A in this treatise is Image Comics:
The problem this writer has with the cult of the comic book creator, as romanticized by Image Comics, is that a whole generation of creator believes that the ultimate way to reach ultimate self expression is through self publishing. However, self publishing is a business venture and business is not artistry. It takes a different set of skills to be a comic book publisher and a comic book creator. But the cult of the comic book creator has led many talented creators to get burn by an industry ill-prepared to support them. An alternative offered to comic book creators who want to keep the ownership of their properties, is to work with an established publisher. However, here again, the cult of the comic book creator has twisted reality and makes it more difficult for creators to serve their public.
Now, John Stanley spent most of his career working on licensed characters, and I’d much rather read his most lackluster work than any single issue of Spawn or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But so what? For every example St.-Louis gives I can counter with someone — like Jeff Smith and Terry Moore — who has made self-publishing work for them. More to the point, there are lots of cartoonists who don’t self-publish, work with small or even big-name publishers, but still manage to hold onto their copyrights or have significant involvement in the production of their books (Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, etc). I doubt that Robert Crumb will have any trouble claiming ownership of his Genesis adaptation from W.W. Norton.
More to the point, I don’t recall anyone ever saying during the big self-publishing boom of the 1990s that such a move would ipso facto lead to great art (although I’m sure some fool somewhere must have uttered this remark). What I do remember is people making the case that self-publishing would allow for the artist to have greater control over their comic, teach them about the business and get them out from under the thumb of “the man.” Any person with a lick of common sense would realize that a) not everyone is skilled in both business and art; and b) not every self-published comic is going to be good.
Honestly, I bristle when St.-Louis talks about “serving the public” because that smacks of entitlement to me, as though fans are owed something. Self-publishing, and indeed the ongoing issues of copyright ownership, at least as it pertains to comics, should be about the ethical and fair treatment of the cartoonists and their works, and not necessarily their asethetic value. If there is a “cult of the creator,” it’s because the artist/writer/cartoonist is the one creating the comics, not the publisher, and it has nothing to do with some Dave Sim-inspired movement. Whatever the merits or hazards of self-publishing are, they deserve better examination and consideration than what St.-Louis posits.
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