In my opinion, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of bemoaning our fate of living in the 21st century, and, while this might make me sound like an old man, I’d agree with the cynics out there that a lot of the arts and entertainment in general have gone downhill a bit, but if you’re a comic book fan, let’s admit it, this is a great time to be alive. Nerds like us fall into depression like in Midnight in Paris, where we might say to ourselves, why couldn’t I be born in the Golden Age, or why wasn’t I a teenager back in the 80s and early 90s when Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman were producing their masterpieces, but if you really stop and take a look around, you’ll see this era isn’t bad at all. We’ve got a lot of good things going for us. Here’s just a few reasons why we should consider ourselves lucky to be into comics in the new millenia.
There’s A Lot of Interesting Stuff on the Shelves
In the past decade, a lot of comics have come very close to finding the right synthesis of style and content. In the 90s, as a lot of people have said, comics were heavy on style, but light in the content department. Starting around the mid-90s, we saw the renaissance of the writer when Grant Morrison worked his way into the mainstream with JLA, and other writers like Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, and John Byrne satisfactorily proved that comics didn’t have to be independent to be good. What they started came to full bloom in recent years, as so many writers started developing fanbases and special recognition. We can now browse through shelves each month and pick up new work by such notables as Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Mike Mignola, Geoff Johns, and Bill Willingham.
Comic Book Artwork is Taking New and Exciting Directions
Part of the reason why comic art has changed so much is because the medium itself has too. Most mainstream comics are printed on glossy paper now, which allows colorists a wider-range of tones and hues. Eye catching comics like J.H.Williams III’s Batwoman or Frank Quitely and Alex Sinclair’s art for All-Star Superman simply wouldn’t have worked on pulp paper. Unfortunately, the use of glossy paper is responsible for the spike in prices, which is one of the few drawbacks of this era.
Independent Comics are Easier to Find
It used to be that you’d have to go to specialty shops to find the “underground” work by Robert Crumb, or to read the infectious grumblings of Harvey Pekar, but now, even my local library carries books by both. Fantagraphics Books has done an astounding job of making what was once marginal available in the mainstream. If we go online, or browse at a good comic book shop, or check out our libraries, we can find stuff like Jim Woodring’s wonderfully absurd Frank series or read the down-to-Earth work of Daniel Clowes or Chris Ware. Independent comics make up only a small portion of comic sales. I recently looked at a list of the top 100 best selling comics of 2011, and most were Marvel and DC. Maybe it’s best that way. Part of the enjoyment of reading indie books is knowing we’re holding something so many others haven’t heard of.
Reading Comics isn’t Widely Shunned
Okay, I’ll still get weird looks at certain places when I’m seen picking up a comic, and sometimes cashiers look puzzled and librarians get confused, but otherwise, I’ve avoided judgment or undue criticism. In the 90s, you were thought stupid if you read books that had pictures, as if the illustrations saved you the effort of thinking. Now, so much of the new movies and TV shows out there are so mind-numbingly stupid that you can consider yourself smarter for checking out what’s on the shelves instead. Most cities have a handful of comic book stores, and there you can go in and not worry about being called a nerd–you only have to worry about not being nerdy enough.
We Have Access to Digital Comics and Webcomics
Some industry insiders have said that online comics are ruining the medium, but they can say that because they’re on the inside. Webcomics and digital comics allow people who couldn’t find a way into Marvel or DC or any of the other companies to show off their work and build up a decent fanbase of their own. In reality, so many of the big companies aren’t looking to pick up new talent at all, so you almost have to go solo to get anywhere. There’s a lot of easy ways to get your home-made comics out there, such as starting up a blog like this one, or putting them on Flickr, or self-publishing them through Amazon. Silicon is the new pulp.
Old Comics Are Easy to Find
Graphic novel sales account for a large part of the industry’s profit, and so every company is doing everything they can to reprint their backlog in convenient forms. The nice part is, you could argue we have it better than people who were reading these books decades ago. For one thing, in the Golden and Silver ages of comics, it was the norm to withhold credit for the creators. Maybe they thought it broke the fourth wall to list who the writers and artists were, but this prevented fans from finding artists and writers they liked and following them. Now, companies are retroactively giving credit where credit is due. For example, Disney rarely bothered giving Carl Barks credit for his work on Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, but now books are being specifically marketed as the work of Carl Barks. Now we’re in the priveliged position to find comics that were published even before the Golden age, such as Krazy Kat, which is something people in the 50s couldn’t do with much ease.
So, comic book fans, take a moment to sit back and think about how nice we have it now. Sure, some of the companies have made some pretty preposterous mistakes as of late, but it’s still a fine time to be alive and to read.
—–If you’re looking for something besides comics to check out, then look for my books A Rapturous Occasion and The Madness of Art: Short Stories, both of which are on Amazon in paperback and as ebooks.
What are your thoughts on new comics?