HOW COMICS GOT THEIR GROOVE BACK
If you've read Steven Grant's excellent column this week, you'll remember that we had a meeting in Las Vegas.
I'd only been there once before for a few hours on my way to someplace else, and I wasn't ready for the full Las Vegas experience.
This may be old news to some of you, but EVERY SINGLE THING IN LAS VEGAS IS DESIGNED TO SEPARATE YOU FROM YOUR MONEY.
We stayed at a pretty ritzy place, The Bellagio, in the center of The Strip. Ferraris out front, beautiful people everywhere, jewels, liquor, money, excess everywhere you look.
Just walking around gave me a sort of Biblical dread in that you just knew that at any moment Divine Wrath was going to come down and wipe away the place.
But then it began to grow on me a little, because I began to see past the glitter and the breast implants and the hair plugs and the nice suits and started to sort of keep my eye on the artifice of it all.
When Steve Gerber's Nevada first came out, I wrote to him: "Las Vegas is too much lipstick on a girl who's pretty already. Vegas is a bag of marshmallows when you really want a steak. Vegas is somebody playing Billy Idol upstairs when you're trying to sleep. Vegas is not having studied for that Anthropology final. Las Vegas is a magician trying to make an easy trick look hard."
My opinion of it hasn't really changed that much, although I did start to see some of the magician's sleights-of-hand.
For example, everything there is done in a manner to manipulate the environment.
I'm a pretty light sleeper, and once I'm awake in the morning, I can't get back to sleep. So I like to ease in to the day a little by reading the paper and drinking some coffee. It doesn't matter how good the coffee is; I actually prefer diner swill over chi-chi roast, so hotel coffee is just fine. I drink it black, because coffee tastes like shit; if you put cream and sugar in it, it tastes like creamed-and-sugared shit.
So, The Bellagio, oo la la, I figure I'll have a paper at the doorstep and one of those dinky little two-cup Mister Coffee makers in the room to ease me into my day.
No coffee maker. No paper.
They want you out of the room quickly and downstairs, looking for a cup of joe to kick-start the ol' grey matter, we'll get you one, no problem, sir, and hey, while you wait, why not throw a few bucks into this handy slot machine right here?
Another thing that struck me, and this was the same at every hotel and casino we went into: the lighting is always the same.
A dim, always-maybe-late-afternoon glow to the rooms. No matter what time of day or night, it always looks the same. Messed with my Circadian rhythms something fierce.
Also, along the same lines: no clocks. You'd better be sporting a watch in Las Vegas if you want to know what time it is, because there are no clocks around for you to help you maybe get the feeling that maybe you've been playing blackjack a little too long.
Another thing I noticed; I was alert up until it was time to go to bed. Usually, I wind down a little about two hours before I fall asleep. I actually get quite dopey.
But not in Las Vegas. I couldn't figure this one out, until one of the many cab drivers we had overheard Mimi and I talking about it, and clued us in. Seems as though since the hotels and casinos have to do a massive amount of air-handling to scrub out the cigar and cigarette smoke, they give the folks a little added bonus of pumping in fresh oxygen while they're at it as well.
Keeps everyone bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
So, you know, you can keep gambling.
No distractions, other than the ones the casinos want you to have.
The whole thing is a manipulated environment designed to get you to spend money on your own personal entertainment.
Now, you've read enough of these treatises by me that you know I'm going to tie this into comics somehow, right?
How does this apply to comics?
How does it not apply to comics?
Every single comic book that you pick up is a manipulated environment. The environment in question, of course, is the harried landscape of your brain; still. An environment nonetheless.
And why is it that Las Vegas is the biggest repository of cash dollars outside of Fort Knox, and that the lowly comic book industry has to struggle to get its top-selling comic to top sales of 100,000 units a month?
It's value returned. A dollar spent in Las Vegas yields more satisfaction to your Average Joe than a dollar spent on a comic book.
Actually, there's a problem right there. In Las Vegas, which, I am told, used to be sort of an adult Disneyland, now has literally something for everyone. Roller coasters and arcades and shopping malls and entertainments of every sort are available in addition to the casinos and the food and the showgirls. People in age from fetus to corpse can find something to do.
Can this be said of comics?
Certainly there are a wide range of entertainments available in comics. Adventure, science fiction, humor, pathos, elegance and joy. Something for everyone.
But there is no access to the form.
In Las Vegas, there are nickel slots. Can you imagine? You don't have to be James Bond, dressed in an Armani tuxedo and sitting at the baccarat table, to enjoy the quick thrill of possibility. Five cents! Who doesn't have five cents? Take the coin and spin the wheel!
There is no easy entry point to comics. You have to go out of your way to find a comic, and even then, the specialty shop that sells them may not have the one you're looking for in stock. You can't just read 'em at the barber shop, or at the corner store, or at the malt shop with Reggie and Jughead because they just aren't there anymore.
Comics have to be sexy again. Then they'll be everywhere. Comics need to take a page out of the Vegas handbook: creators have to make comics so big and fun and sexy that folks don't want to go anywhere else.
Some people call me the Space Cowboy; some call me the Gangster of Love. Some people call me firstname.lastname@example.org
Make sure to stick your head into the Loose Cannon Message Board and tell us how comics can get their groove back.