The Old Bastard's Manifesto
Best before 01/01/01
Management not responsible for incorrect expiry datesManagement not responsible for your anger, your embarrassment, or your insufficient intelligenceManagement not interested in your response
Work prone to spontaneous mutation
Ideological freeware: distribute at will
This is the time. The Western comics industry is scattered, unfocussed, badly confused. Such periods are optimum for violent revolution. The Old Bastard says sharpen your axes, make your peace and pack your Rohypnol; we're going on a road trip to reclaim the comics industry and remake it in another image. Specifically, mine.
Pop culture is darkening again. Accept it and stop whining, or stay at home and continue to attempt to convince your aged mother that you're really not sitting in your stained, crunchy bed fantasising about Betty and Veronica. People who refuse to see what time it is are surplus to requirements.
Stop whining about what we're telling you long enough to listen to what we're telling you. Be an adult.
The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of "comics." The intermediate form is the serialisation towards collection, what used to be termed the "miniseries". DC Comics did not become the No 1 publisher in sales terms because of all its ongoing titles. It became No 1 because of the massive and growing revenues generated by its graphic novels and albums. Comics are not "habitual entertainment" that need to remain static and require broadcasting regularly until death us do part. That's the comic strip, and even those are sometimes allowed dignified endings. Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories. If you can't handle that, then you really need to be in another business. Those who support us will be rewarded by increased sales and given the gift of the Future. The people who attempt to stop us will be stamped on.
Once, the characters were the most important part of a book to its audience. Then, the publisher's brand became paramount. Later, a schism emerged, where for every person who aligned themselves with a publisher, another aligned themselves with a particular family of books from a publisher. All these identification systems have pretty much gone the way of the dodo with the new century. But a new alignment is emerging. More and more stores are racking their books not by publisher, nor alphabetically by title, but by creator. Which makes sense. Do you go into a record store and look for the new long-player recording by your favourite popular beat combo by record company? Go looking for the Eels single in the Dreamworks section of Tower Records? 'Course you bloody don't.
No-one wants the creators to appear bigger than the characters. The publishers hate the notion that Grant Morrison could have been a more important thing to ACTION COMICS than the presence of Superman - that maybe the characters don't sell themselves and that the creators might have something to do with it.
People do respond to reviews and mainstream media features and fond memories by entering stores in search of the new Neil Gaiman, or the new Alan Moore, or the new Frank Miller. So rack them accordingly. Let people have a Neil Gaiman section in stores, or Alex Ross, or Will Eisner, or Grant Morrison. We might not be a grown-up medium yet, but if we dress like it, we might just bring it on.
Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It's like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels. Imagine that. You want a new novel, but you have to wade through three hundred new books about romances in the wards before you can get at any other genre. A medium where the relationship of fiction about nurses outweighs mainstream literary fiction by a ratio of one hundred to one. Superhero comics are like bloody creeping fungus, and they smother everything else.
It's been the hip and trendy thing to do, recently, to say that superheroes are, you know, all right. And, if they're well done, I agree with you. There's room for any kind of good work, no matter what genre it's in.
But that doesn't excuse you from going out and burning out all the bad work at the fucking root with torches. It doesn't excuse all the nameless toss that DC and Marvel and Image and all the others slop out every month. If you want to read three hundred superhero comics a month then you are sick and you need medical help.
Rip from their steaming corpses the things that led superhero comics to dominate the medium - the mad energy, the astonishing visuals, the fetishism, whatever - and apply them to the telling of other stories in other genres. That's all THE MATRIX did, after all.
What you say on the net doesn't matter. What you used to say in letters pages doesn't matter. No-one's listening to you. Because whenever anyone asks you what you think, you ask them to bring the fucking Micronauts back. The coin of your uninformed opinion is unutterably debased. Come back when you have something worth saying.
Too much of the industry's energy is focussed on creating comics for children that children either won't read or won't find. The comics retail culture is almost exclusively an environment for adolescent males of all ages. Trina Robbins is fanatically devoted to producing comics for girls, which is great. We need more genuine fanatics. But Trina Robbins producing comics for girls that are then exclusively sold through the direct sales network for comics specialty stores is nothing short of retarded. Because girls won't know it's there. Mark Waid was frequently heard to complain that, in IMPULSE, he was writing a children's comics series that was only being read by forty-year-old men. Because here's the news; kids don't go into comics stores any more. Even the nerdy kids go down to the Virgin Megastore to rent some Playstation games, if they're not at home downloading some porn. "The kids" couldn't give a rat's arse about your shit. If kids get comics, then they buy, or get bought, comics off the newsstand. And comics publishers gave up on the newsstand a long, long time ago. Hell, they gave up on kid's comics a long time ago. I mean, do you see a dedicated campaign to tell parents that there's a POWERPUFF GIRLS comic available in specialty comics stores? One of the perks of my job is that I get complementary copies of all DC books. My four-year-old daughter practically tears my arm off to get at the new POWERPUFF GIRLS comic. If anyone cared enough, mobs could be gathering at comics stores tomorrow in search of this work. But they don't. Evidently the POKEMON comics were shifting something like a million units a month at one point. Did you see those readers at your local comics store? Did you see those books listed on the Top 200? No.
So give up. Quit it. Work on making comics stores places that adults will go into. Adults are good. Many of them have jobs, and therefore have money to spend. Give them adult works to buy, the equivalent of novels and cinema. Understand that when you write CAPE GIRL or ZAP BOY, you are not writing for your fondly imagined child audience. It doesn't exist. You are writing for a forty-five-year-old unmarried man living in a one-room apartment who listens to Madonna and is probably masturbating over your work. I want you to hold that image in your head the next time you sit down to create one of these works. Your worst convention-nightmare fan, glopping away as he peers through thick glasses at your drawing of Zoom Woman.
Then go and do something better with your time. Because I'm telling you now, I'm out of patience, and if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
And who knows? In a few years, when we've reached the point where the majority of work in a comics store is suitable for readers over 10, then perhaps we might move to set up children's sections, as seen in bookstores the world over. Makes sense. Children's material is one of the most lucrative sectors in publishing. Once you've created a space that non-hobbyist adults are happy to enter, maybe they'll bring their kids in one day. And then we can begin again.
I am part of the problem. Fuck you.
This is the perfect opportunity to begin building an adult medium. The industry is in flux, the direct market is in trouble. We seize on times of change and bend things to our mighty will. Make the change.
I can be contacted by email about this column at firstname.lastname@example.org. My genuine award-winning website, updated on April 1, is http://www.warrenellis.com. There is a COME IN ALONE discussion area here on CBR.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read HOLLYWOOD EAST by Stefan Hammond (Contemporary, 2000), listen to SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING by Medicine (Creation, 1992), and hit REACTOR magazine at http://www.reactor-mag.com. I have unclean reasons for recommending this site. Not only is it the brainchild of illustrator and warrenellis.com webmaster Chad Michael Ward, but it includes a serialised comics story for the web by myself and Jason Alexander called BAD PLACES. Today's recommended graphic novel is TIME²: THE SATISFACTION OF BLACK MARIAH by Howard Chaykin (First Comics, 1987). Now begone.