Tricky Question LinkBlogging

Some good writers asking some difficult questions lately:

Diamond’s Double Standards

Christopher Butcher reviews Shirtlifter, a well-regarded story about difficult decisions in the lives of a gay couple. He also points out that Diamond refused to offer it for distribution, claiming that “The writing is not yet up to the standards of the comic book industry.”

Based on my reading a large number of comics that Diamond has deigned to carry, my response to this was “what writing standards?!? The comic industry has no writing standards.” Yes, there are some genius comic books out there these days, many of which get to bookstores long before Diamond offers or ships them, but there’s also a very large amount of crap.

Christopher makes it pretty clear that he thinks Diamond doesn’t like the realistic portrayal, including nudity and sex, of a gay couple, and he compares the situation to that of Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose, one of the aforementioned pieces of crap that features gazongoid boobies and copious female nudity and is featured in the regular catalog (not even the adults only porn supplement).

I hope that this will be another case where reasonable responses from those who know what they’re talking about will cause Diamond to rethink this erroneous decision.

Why Do Superheroes?

Larry Young schools a youngster.

For context, first read this Engine thread (link no longer available), where someone trying to start an Engine-like board about superheroes (because there aren’t enough of those) is chastised by a moderator for posting too many plugs. Larry quickly stepped in to ask why anyone would do superheroes:

The superhero audience is already being well-served by Marvel and DC, so that audience really isn’t going to care about your characters or situations, so that’s a non-starter, and Marvel and DC aren’t going to hire you because even if your comic is The Best Superhero Comic Ever, well, they’ve already got their comics scheduled out for a while and best of luck, etc. I’m really interested in yours (or anyone’s, really) answer to this, because once a month, no kidding, somebody pitches us a fully-formed superhero book. Now, leaving aside the fact they haven’t done their market research in general or in specific, what is it that makes a newcomer want to address the superhero over the astronaut or the detective or the nurse or the journeyman newspaper correspondent or whatever? It absolutely cannot be the fact that they think by doing a superhero pastiche in comic book form that they will get noticed by superhero comic book companies who will not give Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Matt Hollingsworth and Clem Robins jobs because the superhero you came up with is so brilliant.

He goes on to encourage others to work hard at their own creations. The next few responses are justifications of why those particular wannabes aren’t listening. They say that superheroes are fun, readers aren’t getting what they want from Marvel/DC (oh yes they are: they want nostalgia and comfortable habit), people stick with what they know (which applies to both readers and aspiring creators), because that’s the story they want to tell, and finally, honestly, because they love superheroes.

Anyway, upon the second appearance of a plug for that superhero messageboard, Ellis thankfully shuts the thread down, which leads to Larry’s response that I linked above. It contains, among other things, this advice, which everyone should pay attention to:

You’re not entitled to an audience; you have to work for it by being entertaining… and trying to co-opt someone else’s audience that they’ve worked very hard to build and maintain is not only distasteful, but sort of rude. Sure, maybe there’s some overlap, and a healthy “If-you-like-this-you-may-like-this” probably won’t step on too many toes… but artfulness beats artifice every time. Don’t be so obvious.

Why Join ComicsPRO?

Tom Spurgeon has some retailer responses to his earlier question about the number of members the retailer industry group ComicsPRO has attracted so far. The first sums up concerns with few benefits for non-US members, issues with mentoring (because most stores don’t want to support local competition, and many comic store employees want their own stores), and website problems.

Joe Field, organization president, responds. His last point addresses the biggest problem I see:

Retailers are by nature control freaks. In our stores, we’re all chiefs and none of us is an indian. It’s tough for many control-freak retailers to trust an organization to represent their interests. I have to tell you, though, in the formative stages of ComicsPRO, the board has been all about doing selfless work for the service of fellow retailers, in the hopes we can make a difference for all specialty market comics’ retailers.

11 Responses to “Tricky Question LinkBlogging”

  1. Dorian Says:

    You’re far more optimistic than I am about the chances of getting Diamond to reconsider carrying Shirtlifter. It IS a good comic, but it’s also a gay comic, and even if Diamond does decide to carry it, there are far too few stores who would be willing to stock it, and I’d be surprised if it could meet the minimum sales threshold.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Leaving aside the gay question — I’ve never noticed Diamond to have an issue in that specific area, but I suspect your knowledge about that is superior — there’s also the question of how often appeals can work, and whether a certain amount of fatigue sets in after a while when it comes to fighting their decisions.

    Given that indy comics are only strongly supported by roughly a tenth of comic stores, do you think its content makes it tougher for this comic in particular? I mean, if I had to guess, I would think that the stores that really stock independent work are likely to be those that would support such material anyway.

  3. Dorian Says:

    Non-pornographic gay comics have had trouble getting carried by Diamond in the past. And, as in this case, the only barrier to approval really does seem to be the gay content. Especially since, as has been noted, the quality of what Diamond will carry is often questionable, at best.

    It has been my experience that most comic fans are extremely uncomfortable with both gay people and gay themes in comics, and this applies to retailers and distributors as well. Even most of the indy friendly stores I’ve gone to don’t carry any gay-themed comics.

  4. Johanna Says:

    I can’t imagine the stores I’m thinking of not carrying, for instance, Stuck Rubber Baby, so we must be thinking of different groupings. But then, I came from Legion fandom, where if you have trouble with gay people/themes, you’re not going to last long.

    Seriously, that’s a shameful thing to hear, and I’m sorry it’s the case. (For my enlightenment, which other n-p gay titles have had Diamond troubles?)

  5. Dorian Says:

    I seem to recall reading that “The Magic If” was rejected by Diamond, but according to the publisher’s website Diamond does carry them. And that was the only example I could immediately think of. I don’t think Diamond carried individual issues of “Boy Trouble”, but they are carrying the trade. And their distribution of “Cavalcade of Boys” and “Circles” was inconsistent; they had some issues, but not others. Everything else that I know Diamond doesn’t carry is either porn or a mini-comic, and in those cases may not have even ever been sumitted to Diamond.

  6. Johanna Says:

    Thanks — I was just curious if I was familiar with at least some of them.

  7. Dan Says:

    Larry Young schools a youngster.

    I was reading along with this thread when it happened, and the irony of Larry telling this dingbat to “do his market research” by couching it in a quick lesson on what else is out there, just cracked me up.

    If you’re gonna pimp capes, you should probably not pick an “anything but superheros” forum to do it. And if you pick The Engine as your advertising mark of choice, somebody is going to school you before you get shut down.

  8. Nat Gertler Says:

    With due respect to Larry, there are a fair number of writers in this industry who built their rep on superhero books done outside of the Big Two. Kirkman is the most obvious recent example. McCloud, Willingham, Wagner, Moore, Morrison, Baron are examples for those of us with longer memories.

    On the topic of Diamond rejections, one thing that should be noted is that they’re going to be much harder on unknown creators coming from unknown companies. You folks might not love Tarot (I’ve never read it), but it comes from someone who had been established in the mainstream. Retailers weren’t being expected to order a pig-in-a-poke. There was an audience for Balent’s style of work, and that’s been fairly well supported by the long run that the book has had.
    See,that’s the main goal of Diamond minding the gates – they don’t want books that won’t get ordered, and perhaps worse, they don’t want books that retailers order and then discover they can’t sell. I’m not saying that this applies reasonably to Shirtlifters, as I’ve not read it, but that is the intent at base.

  9. Johanna Says:

    All of the “longer memory” examples you mention are quite a while back, before the market entered its current phase, I would say. Kirkman is an interesting example, but although he did indy superheroes, he’s better known for launching the zombie craze with Walking Dead. It’s interesting that neither of us can think of another example beyond him.

  10. Larry Young Says:

    Of course, we were originally talking about “starting out” and not “making a reputation.” Kirkman started out with BATTLE POPE, an irreverent MAD MAX rip.

  11. Josh Dahl Says:

    I am that dingbat in question.
    First of all, thank you for the assumption that I am a youngster. Makes me feel good.
    Why was I pimping capes on a no-capes forum? The answer is in my original post on The Engine. I was NOT pimping capes, I was trying to address what I correctly saw as a need which was going un addressed.
    The-engine is great forum to discuss the creation of comics, but I can not discuss all the aspects of the creation of my comics there. I reasoned that there may be more folks like me, just lurking in there. I was right. Read the responses.
    If such a place already exists for discussing the theory and practice of creating superheroes, then I am unaware of it. You implythat there are already “enough of those”, please post some links so that I can use them.

    Then, the author of this blog (Johanna? I apologize. I don’t completely understand the formatting on this page.) Notes that several “wannabes” (my target audience, who are not being fully served by The Engine) stepped forward to say what they like about making superhero comics. She then says that fans of superhero comics ARE being adequately served what they want bythe big 2, and what they want is “nostalgia and comfortable habits”.
    This assumption absurd. Isn’t it more likely that the people who read superhero comics want exactly the same things that you want from your comics? Good stories, well told.
    And why do they keep buying them? Comfortable habit? No. Because they want more good superhero comics.
    And that need can never be met. People who want good comics that they like, will always want more good comics. Don’t you want more good comics? Is your desire for more good comics being adequately served to the point where you do not want any more good comics?
    Of course not. That is silly.




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