This week's about comics, honest. If that's all you want to read, skip down five paragraphs.
A very interesting week for mail. Quite a few Republicans and a couple Libertarians were understandably upset with last week's discussion of President Junior. Some insisted it was wrong to compare a President to a fictional villain, but I believe that was the point of the column: there is no comparison. Some insisted the column is an inappropriate place for political commentary (god forbid I express my own opinion in my own opinion column). An oddly large number asked, in oddly similar language and too-calm tones strangely reminiscent of how the star children addressed adults in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, whatever possessed me to threaten my own livelihood by daring to express a political opinion possibly contrary to those of some of my readers. (It's not like we're living in America or anything, after all.) Some wrote to tell me I'm clearly outside the political mainstream (who knew?). A couple wanted to know why I'd defend the Clinton administration (which I don't actually recall doing), "the most corrupt administration in American history." (If you ignore the Grant, Harding, Nixon and Reagan administrations, I suppose.) A lot of what I have to assume are not Republicans raved the column up. I received several notices the discussion had spilled to other groups, like the Green Lantern forum here on Comic Book Resources, of all places, and to Chuck Dixon's excellent website, Dixonverse, where I was humorously labeled the anti-Dixon. (For the record: I like Chuck, I generally enjoy his stories, we don't see eye-to-eye politically. As far as I know, Chuck didn't enter the discussion.)
I am curious, though: exactly how is my commentary any different from the shellacking Bill Clinton took from conservative pundits even before he took office? Were you upset about that, or was that okay because he deserved it? If it didn't upset you in principle, then you clearly don't have a problem with last week's column in principle. So it must be the specifics. Lemme ask you this: if Dubya's such a great guy, and you really do constitute the political mainstream in America, what are you so paranoid about? It's not like anyone's going to listen to me. Or is this one of those "we mustn't allow gays to be visible because someone might think it's okay to be gay?" type of things.
(Aside to Augie: thanks, pal! By Tuesday, MOTO hits are usually ground to a halt, and your column sent 'em screaming through the rafters. Is that something you and Jonah cooked up? Since one good turn deserves another, everyone go read Augie's column. But a liberal?! I'm wounded! I ain't no candyass liberal. As Phil Ochs said, "In every American community, there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberal's. An outspoken group on many subjects, 10° to the left of center in good times, 10° to the right of center if it affects them personally." We can let history settle whether my Dubya comments were inane or not.)
Besides all that, there were the usual pleas for help in entering the business. Help for research. Private answers to last week's question of the week.
And a manifesto.
I don't like manifestos. I've read too many of them. Since I started the column I periodically get them from people looking for endorsement. The tracts are usually produced by jumped-up little twits masquerading as revolutionaries, putting forth some unreal agenda for "the future" that they can't possibly hope to put into practice, like everyone else will be so overwhelmed by their logic and brilliance the world will fall at their feet. Somehow it never works out that way. Media manifestos are the worst, usually produced by washouts grubbing for attention and willfully confusing art and commerce. Ignoring reality, painting a fantasy version of the world that no one else finds interesting, and declaring what constitutes valid and invalid tastes: people who read THE FOUNTAINHEAD one too many times. I wrote a column awhile back about rulebreakers and rulemakers. All manifesto writers want to be rulemakers. Normally I throw the things right out.
But once in awhile truly bizarre letters come around:
Dear Mr. Grant,
We have read your column for several months. We read your archives. We appreciate your candor. We appreciate your ideas. We are here to say you are too late.
You have not heard of us. No one has heard of us. You have written many words about what is killing comics. We are what is killing comics. We will save comics.
This is not a boast. Your column cannot save comics. You are tainted by association with the dying comic book industry. You talk about new directions, but you write X-Man. You write Green Lantern. We understand your economic needs. We do not condemn them. But your voice is corrupted. You write as if your words will convince comics companies to change. They will not. Systems do not change from within. You write about Superman, but Superman is of the last century. Spider-Man is of the last century. The X-Men are of the last century. They do not speak to the twenty-first century. They cannot speak to the twenty-first century.
You have written about underground comics as if they no longer exist. How can you write about things you know nothing about? We are the new underground. We once read Spider-Man and X-Men. We reject them. We reject corporate comics. We are not saying no one should read them. We do not care what anyone reads. We are about freedom. We are about possibility. We are not here to dictate to anyone. We were tired of publishers dictating to us.
No one was making comic books that we wanted to read. Commercially produced comics are a trap. They are not what comics need now. Even the smallest publishers appear too concerned with commercialism. We do not want to be part of that. We decided to do create our own comics. We have been doing it for three years. It is not our goal to do comics for the lowest common denominator. We have no interest in creating comics to be sold to movies. We do not want comics reduced to a feeder system for other media.
You have written about genre. You have denied the superhero. We do not deny the superhero. We do not deny any genre. We do not care about genre. Story is our sole concern. We will go anywhere the story needs to go. We want comics that cover the full range of human response and concern. We want stories restricted only by individual imagination, not by commercial considerations. We are not interested in fist fights. We are not part of so-called "alternate comics."
We want stories better than any stories being done in comics. We freely admit we are not there yet. We did not expect to immediately be at the top of our form. We want art that is the equal of the stories. We want well drawn, expressive art with intensity and emotion. You have written about problems of storytelling in comics. We encourage artists and writers to work closely on storytelling, as equal partners. We discourage swiping by writers or artists. We are not interested in the past. We acknowledge the past. We do not wish to duplicate the past out of ignorance. We want to use new technology to create new effects. Our intent is to create the comics of the future.
You have written about problems of distribution. We have no interest in comics shops. We have no interest in newsstands. They are outmoded. We are generating our own distribution system, using up-to-date. Our current goals are small. We are not interested in quick fame or profit. We make our money elsewhere. We produce comics out of love. It is our investment. We expect to make money at a later date, after we have gone public. That will be after we have completed our distribution system. We currently distribute on the Internet to approximately 500 people world wide. They were carefully chosen. They create comics or they critique comics. Everyone participates. We do not have a website. We do not want one. We do not want to be a dot-com. We do not want comments from those who do not understand what we are trying to do. We exchange comics through secured e-mail. We are taking great care to grow our system slowly. We do not want rapid success. We are not interested in being a fad. We are satisfied with slow growth. Until broadband technology is widespread, we will not distribute to the public. We will go public when we are satisfied with the work and the means of distribution. We are not satisfied yet.
We do not have a name. We do not want a name. We are not seeking publicity. We do not want publicity. Anyone who wants to find us will figure out a way. We realize you may think this is a hoax. We include samples to prove we are serious. They are for you alone. You do not have permission to reprint any part of them. You are not to give them to anyone else. We know that legally you can make "fair use" of the material, but we are trusting you. We have sent this through anonymous remailers so that you will not have our contact information. We do not want to be contacted. Some will think we are writing this to get attention. They are wrong. We elected to break our silence solely to express solidarity with the goals of your column and to tell you that we have already achieved many of them. We carry out the will of our group. We do not lead them. We vanish back into the underground for now. You may print this letter if you choose. Your readers will not believe that we exist. We do not care. They will believe when we want them to believe. We encourage you to join us in spirit.
We are the future. We will make that obvious when the time is right.
Ooookay. Someone's been reading THE FOUNTAINHEAD.
The samples they sent were gorgeous. Remember how EC Comics represented a stylistic jump past the standards of the early 50s, forcing everything else to come up with them? It was under pressure from competition with EC that DC shifted from the dark and squashy art that epitomized the company postwar to the sleeker, sharper, more open latter-day Alex Raymond style embodied by Sy Barry's art that became the core DC style during the Silver Age. (At least in Julie Schwartz's books.) There were no credits on the work, nor titles, so I don't know who did what or what to call it, but while the writing on two of the pieces wasn't bad - it's a little hard to tell since everything was an excerpt - the third was: wow. Like Stephen Hawking speaking through Zane Grey, translated by Neil Gaiman. To say I've never seen anything like it is an understatement. Certainly their comics are as fluid as their correspondence is stilted. There's not one person writing or drawing for them so far who, I think, couldn't get work from the majors just by showing samples. That's a lot of work for a hoax.
On the other hand, such operations aren't unprecedented. There have been amateur press associations, or APAs, in both comics and science fiction fandom that have operated more or less the same way for decades: each member is expected to contribute on a regular basis, beyond the eyes of the general public. A number of current comics professionals came out of APAs, like Mark Verheiden. It's not that big a jump from an APA discussing comics to an APA producing them. Even if these guys are fakes, I like the idea. Don't like the comics out there? Make your own. Power to the people.
If it is for real, and anyone knows anything about these guys, drop me an e-mail with some details. Maybe there is a hidden comics underground. Maybe they are the future. (It's a bit egotistical, but stranger things have happened.) Certainly at this time when the big swing is back toward "corporate comics," as they put it, the business could use an explosion of creativity and ingenuity. Maybe, like the apocryphal Gospel of St. Thomas says, the kingdom of heaven is spread upon the earth, and we just don't see it.
A couple things: let me welcome Larry Young to the CBR family. Larry's column LOOSE CANNON began last week, and, since Larry brings experience as a comics creator, writer, editor, publisher and shop clerk (and, ha ha, quite a little wit too) to the table, anyone who enjoys (or hates) MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS should go check it out.
Last week I brought up the possibility of a MOTO: YEAR OF BLOOD '01 t-shirt. Had quite a few eager responses. Unfortunately, I've decided to pull it. See, Martin Oakley of Bloodstained Productions, a small independent comics company, informed me that Bloodstained is issuing an unrelated "Year Of Blood '01" t-shirt as part of their big push this year. So you can get one from them. (Bloodstained Productions, 634 E. Empire St, Ishperning MI 49849) We could do one of our own, but why foster confusion? (We may issue a substitute MOTO t-shirt especially for Republicans, picturing my head on a silver platter.)
Question of the week: who do you think will be the single most influential person in comics in 2001?
Whatever questions you might have about me can probably be answered with a quick trip to Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions. You can also express your own views at the Master Of The Obvious Message Board, or send me mail. Bear in mind that while I read all my mail, time constrains me from replying in most cases. Thanks.