Jimmie Robinson is the writer/artist of Bomb Queen from Image Comics. He is also the writer of this week's What If...? Wolverine: Enemy of the State one-shot from Marvel Comics, out tomorrow. He has a website here.
If you're reading this, that alone makes you exceptional, makes you care about the medium of comics. You might even visit your comic store each week to see what's new on the rack. You perhaps display a few trade paperback collections on your shelf at home. But let's not split hairs here, while I applaud your efforts there's no denying the fact; you are not helping comics.
Now before you launch a barrage of emails with store receipts attached, let's clear the air. How much money you spend doesn't fulfill your support of the medium. Sure, buying books keeps stores open and bills paid, but if we look to that as a barometer of industry health then I'm sorry we've already failed. The pulse of our beloved medium must beat higher than simple sales figures. When compared to other industries, comics rank low to poor in consumer acceptance. I'm sure some will respond that comics are a cottage industry, in short self-supporting, but that type of support, I'm sad to say, is exactly what we don't need.
Creators, like myself, demand more from you than cover price. If you read my books, whether from Image, Marvel, or DC, then I expect you to share the love. Why keep it a secret? Why not tell others outside the "cottage"? You see I work with the "healthy industry" concept. I create books that fill a niche, or exploit existing trends. I self-published CYBERZONE when I didn't see enough black female leads. I started at Image with AMANDA & GUNN because I didn't see enough sci-fi. I switched to CODE BLUE when I didn't see anything to match TV's ER hospital drama. I changed to all-ages with EVIL & MALICE when not enough kid books were around. I sought out AVIGON back before manga was burning the sales charts. Nowadays, I'm working on BOMB QUEEN, which pokes fun at one aspect of the industry: Superheroes. It's not serious at all. It plays on those stereotypes and needs a solid marketplace to acknowledge that. Granted it is very black humor and it splits the hairs thin as spandex, but that's the deal. It's made specifically for that subset of the comic's community. But, I get worried when the entire industry latches to Bomb Queen like the new messiah. The court jester shouldn't be King, or Queen. However, a healthy industry should support a diversity of titles from all companies, from the lewd Bomb Queen to the glorious work in THE AGE OF BRONZE, and mainstream sellers like my work on Marvel's, WOLVERINE WHAT IF?. As a writer of books that span several genres and companies I hope for this ideal marketplace.
But... you are not helping.
I'm an old fart, trust me I'm "up there" in the age department, so I've seen a lot in this industry. I came in when nothing was going on except the "mainstream". Well before the days of Image, and the Black & White boom. Back when self-publishing was unique and called, "underground comix". I would draw my hand-made comics for my friends at school, but my style never matched what I saw on the spinner racks in the stores. I couldn't draw comics the Marvel way. When I grew up I took a crack at self-publishing because I saw no other way to present my ideas to the public. My choices at the time were very limited, but nowadays sweeping change has come and gone several times over. At this point (in my opinion) we're seeing the best times ever for diversity in comics, no matter what your entry level, presentation, or skills. Whether it's print, or on-line, comics are everywhere and in multiple formats. We see this clearly with the new love affair between Hollywood and comics, or on the shelves of bookstore chains racking Manga. You'd think with so many arrows in our quiver the war of insignificance would be on the run. Sadly, not much has changed in reader buying trends over the decades. Within this small industry we're fractured and split, drawing lines in the sand against our own, and we're reaping the cost.
So, enough complaining and preaching to the choir; what can we do?
I'll be honest, there's no magic bullet. Each will have to form their own path in their own way. But one thing is certain, the road to ruin is clear, and I don't see us steering away anytime soon. Thus, we need to support comics. No, not support selected titles. I'm talking comics... the art form. Share the love. Give comics as gifts, use comics in education, break the stereotypes of, "Biff, Bam, Boom!" newspaper reporting. Introduce kids to comics, buy comics in all forms, zines, self-published, web comics, strips, Independent, mainstream, all-ages, adult, trades and single issues. If you're only shelling out for Civil War then you're not helping. In short, supporting yourself - not the medium as a whole. I'm not advocating you purchase everything in the store - nobody is that rich, nor have the time to read it. But when I read that retailers speak of their customers "by the numbers" it worries me that too many are walking lock-step to select titles and not taking advantage of everything comics has to offer. Retailers listen to their customers, but most readers hardly talk to the storeowners, or clerks. Today's retailer has hundreds, if not thousands, of titles to sell, but without your help that stock will tilt one way, or another. Retailers can't read your mind, but they will try when they have no option. No help. What can you expect when so many are making a beeline to a book, to the register, and out the door? Stop, smell the roses. Show interest in books that you like, and let retailers know. Don't merely hope it will show up on the shelf, ask for it by name.
The average person doesn't live in a bubble. We all have friends, family, associates, business contacts, events and seasons - and comics can help in each of those areas. Comics are like Greeting Cards; they can match any and all occasions. Take advantage of the medium outside the cottage. Unlock the closet door, share the magic and open the bottleneck. And we can do it without forcing it down the throats of others. But most of all, we can't do it...
...without your help.