THE CASE FOR DARWINISM
I've been thinking a lot about Quesada's recent comments about "Darwinism" in the comics field. In part, that's because it's starting to affect me. Chuck Dixon's MARVEL KNIGHTS is dead now. And Erik Larsen's two books at Marvel are, to say the least, underperforming. If those two books were cancelled tomorrow, would I be the next victim of Quesada's 'drastic' new campaign to uproot anyone younger than 35 from the hallowed halls of the House of Ideas?
I thought the concept – as interpreted by various people - was a bit skewed. It's similar to Marvel's No Reprint policy. There is no such policy. They just aren't overprinting to the same drastic degree that they used to. The result may be the same in many cases, but I think the phrasing has been morphed to fit various agendas.
So I looked back to is the Quesada quote from the press conference of 06 June 2001:
"I know that there will come a day for me, and for every creator where people lose interest in your work… You lose your voice, whatever that may be. It happens to everybody. It will happen to me, it will happen to the best of us. Essentially, it's Darwinism. It happens, and you just have to move on. If the comic book industry has passed you by, it's passed you by. We need to rely on new, young voices. If we're not hiring people it's because traditionally, their styles are not going to sell. We're going through this right now - check out Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Comic. Here we're doing this retro thing, and again, the fans are voting, and they're voting with their feet - they just don't want it."
I think that Quesada hit a nail on the head and then blurred it about just a little bit.
First of all, the whines that Marvel should not have a New Talent search because there are plenty of older creators who are out of work is just ludicrous. It's not that far from saying we shouldn't bother getting new kids reading comics because all of those speculators who were around ten years ago are all we need to get back to save the industry. The truth is, there should always be an open door for new talent. If we suffer from the inbred cycle of creators that give us rehashes of the same thing over and over again, could we hurt that by bringing in new talent? It reminds me a bit of Major League Baseball. Look at the managers of the teams. They just reshuffle them every year, but for the most part, it's the same two dozen men and a few people who occasionally get promoted from within. If the manager of one team gets fired, you shouldn't worry about him. He'll show up in a different city when his ex-batting coach turned manager in that town gets fired. They just circle around.
I like the idea of injecting fresh faces, whatever their age. Not everyone in this talent search is going to be 18 years old, but that seems to be the general assumption. To be sure, there will be a ton of 16 year olds without the experience or talent who will try this thing, but they'll get bounced fairly early on. Don't sweat it.
But to say that you should close the door on the next Mark Bagley because Tom Lyle is looking over his shoulder and sniping at people on his way out the door is ridiculous.
Second, there are creators who don't age very well. They may lose touch. They may get locked into their own patterns. They may be out of new ideas. They may have peaked too soon. Many would put Chris Claremont's name in any of those categories.
Third, there's always a turnover of talent. For every Dick Giordano, you have a Martin Wagner. For every Will Eisner, you have a Chris Wozniak. For every Denny O'Neil, you have a Gerard Jones. Not everyone will stick around forever, or even past his or her prime. That might be due to talent, circumstances, or environment. But time marches on.
Fourth, tastes change. I'm only 25 years old. I look at teenagers today and I can't relate. I can't imagine complaining about my cel phone being taken away from me during class, or my teacher making me turn my hat around forward on my head (because I was never allowed to wear hats in school), or buying term papers off the internet. I can't listen to twenty words out of the average teenager's mouth without wanting to chuckle at how inane, repetitive, or improbable it is to decipher. What are the odds that I could write a book about a teenager that would sound natural? I just don't think it's automatic that any good writer or artist can successfully emulate any particular style.
Does the style Will Eisner used in his early SPIRIT days sell comics today? Does the rigid grid system and ludicrously over-written Stan Lee narration from early Marvel sell comics anymore? Do the simplistic and plastic characters of the 1940s and 1950s sell to today's comic book aficionados? Maybe they do for those interested in the nostalgia. But in a time of MTV and fast-paced everything and blockbuster Michael Bay movies, all of that isn't going to do anything. Even if the work is solid and the story entertaining and well told, it won't sell. It doesn't fit in today's marketplace. And Marvel doesn't have to publish it. If they want to go with someone who's grown up in today's culture for a better feel of authenticity, then let them. Yes, you're in danger of becoming self-referential and incestuous in your comics in a new way, but that's the cycle these things run on.
Fifth, there is a limited amount of work to be had. Take a look at the Marvel and DC monthly publishing load. They publish – combined! - less than 100 titles a month now. It's amazing any comic shops can stay in business when their profits are about forty cents a book. More and more of the comics out there are done as creator-owned and creator-controlled entities. Take a look at Image or Cliffhanger or Vertigo or just about all of the back half of PREVIEWS. If you have an idea that people will go for, you can stay in the business. Put your money where your mouth is. I have newfound respect for Dick Giordano, David Michelinie, and Bob Layton. They're doing just that with their "Future Comics" line. Now the only question is whether it'll sell. Their main promotional point right now is that they're all comparatively old geezers in the comic book industry. That's not going to work for long, but if the comics are any good and in tune with what the comics reading public wants, they have a chance. They won't be automatically shut out – nor should they be – just because they've been doing this stuff since many of us were in short pants.
(Here's a quick corollary: Just because it's good, it doesn't mean it's going to be successful. Sad, but true. And just because it's solid, that doesn't mean it will resonate.)
Sixth, there are trends in comics and you'd be a fool to ignore them. Take a look at the influx of manga-influenced artists in the business right now. Certain looks take hold from time to time and it's tough to get rid of them. You can see it from the early Image days, too. Look at all the garish Jim Lee-wannabes you had drawing everything from FOURTH WORLD to JUSTICE LEAGUE and back. Eventually, the tide recedes. It's another cycle.
If, tomorrow, everyone wanted their comics to look much the same way as they did in 1975, you'd probably see a lot of those much-remarked "older creators" come back into vogue and a new wave of young artists emulating them.
Finally, and quite possibly the most harsh thing I'll say in this column: If Jack Kirby came back from the grave today and drew a run of six issues of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, I'm not entirely certain it would be successful. That's not because of people who'd snub their noses at Kirby moving backwards and not forwards. It's because Kirby's stuff doesn't resonate as much today as it did thirty years ago. And I doubt any one of us would ask him to try drawing in more of a Dragonball Z style.
I don't think Erik Larsen's FANTASTIC FOUR maxi-series isn't selling because it's a poor Kirby rip-off. I think it's not selling because nobody really cares to see a Kirby-styled book. It's true that you can't find a single mainstream comics artist today who wasn't directly or indirectly influenced by Kirby. We're a couple of generations removed from undiluted Kirby style, though. The freshness of that style is gone.
Where I think Quesada flubbed it is when he said that Marvel had to "rely" on the new talent. That's not necessarily true. You can't ignore it. You can't close yourself off to it just because your stable of talent is doing fine right this minute. If you do that, you become stunted. It would be wrong to rely on new talent just because they're new. In using the word "rely," it gave people the ammo they needed to say that Marvel didn't give a fig about their more seasoned talent. The other big misstatement is to make a blanket statement that older people are out of touch. It's not necessarily always true. That's also a part that, I'm sure, got under some people's skins.
You shouldn't shut out more experienced talent just because they're "old." But, let's face it: MARVEL KNIGHTS was not a book that felt particularly like a 2001 Marvel Comic. It read like a tame 1980s book by comparison to the rest of the line. With all the characters from the book moving to other parts of Marvel's publishing program, the book would have been either redundant and/or contradictory. (The slow start the book got off to, coupled with the issues of lateness from the past few issues, didn't help, either.)
The fact is that Marvel is going after a particular style these days. Much of the new talent they've brought on board share the same tastes. They come from the same places. They've come up in the comics field together. They share similar views for where comics should be going. That just means that occasionally some decks will have to be cleared to make room for them. That's when Chuck Dixon gets tossed from MARVEL KNIGHTS or Dan Jurgens is offed from CAPTAIN AMERICA. (Jurgens' book is another one that I thought was good, but didn't necessarily fit in with the "new era" of Marvel Comics.) It's unfortunate, but we shouldn't necessarily let that cloud our judgment of those that replace them. I liked both books, but I'll probably give them both a chance with their new creative teams.
(It's also a danger of doing work-for-hire that you can be so easily replaced, but that's a topic for a whole other time.)
I think I'd rather have this debate between the young and the old than the other one I hear whispered around. It comes from the people who want to say that this new talent search is just a way to make comic books more cheaply since the new talent's page rate will be lower. Those are the dangerous people, because they see that in every move Marvel makes, regardless of the situation. Eliminating the Comics Code Authority? Cost-cutting. Auctioning leftovers from the old offices? Desperate money grab to stave off bankruptcy. Silent month? Stiff the letterers their paycheck. X-TREME X-MEN? Stiff the inkers their paycheck.
Please – someone write in to argue for that. I could use another column's worth of material.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH?!?
This was, to put it mildly, a big DVD-buying week for me. The two highlights were UNBREAKABLE and the complete BLACKADDER boxed set, containing all four seasons of the hilarious Brit-com, plus the BACK AND FORTH reunion movie, the Christmas special, and more.
As I watched them, I noticed something very scary. The man who plays BlackAdder's sidekick, Baldrick, is Tony Robinson. The man who draws SIN CITY and was part of the comic book documentary included on the supplemental UNBREAKABLE disc is Frank Miller. Were they separated at birth? You make the call.
Coming soon: Bryan Setzer and Joe Quesada?!?
TELLOS: SONS AND MOONS
To the right is a pinup to be included in September's Tellos special. Click on the picture to get a better look. Provided to Pipeline by series co-creator Todd Dezago, it's drawn by his IMPULSE partner Carlo Barberi, inked by Oscar Carreno, and colored by Edgar Delgado. (Delgado is doing outstanding work right now over Humberto Ramos in OUT THERE. More on that next week.) I thought it was purty, so I post it here.
More than 225 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I'm also tentatively scheduled for a day at the Small Press Expo in Maryland this September.