A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, April 06, 2007


A long gestating thought that has been around over the years, but has itched at me since that horrendous Newsarama interview I did for Valentine's Day (let's not link to it), and it's now been pushed to be scratched by various message board discussions with Laurenn "When it Doubt, Double a Letter" McCubbin (who we will link) about Fun Home.

I have a challenge for the comics community at large.

I want to banish the way we use the word "mainstream" in our industry. I vow to never refer to superhero comics, to Big Two comics, as "mainstream" ever again. I used to justify it by saying they were the mainstream within the direct market, but such qualfiers enables that aspect of the business to lord their status over the rest of us and make it like they are the most important part of our industry. I might be fine with it if they didn't turn the distinction around and ask the rest of us to justify our right to be here or act like moving over to that side of the industry is the true measure of success. (And by "they," I encompass fans, pros, and journos.)

This is not meant to denigrate superhero comics. I read them, I like them. (Yesterday I bought the new Danger Girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Adam Warren's Empowered, so I'm not really that big a snob.) I also have an interest in writing them. They are not, however, mainstream entertainment. They are the real fringe in comic books. Yes, they have some very successful crossovers (cue the EMPD now), some big media hits when they move into movies and things, but if you want to talk what really fits into the overall fabric of mainstream entertainment, that suits the concerns and interests of the public at large, it's the work of people like Alison Bechdel, Gene Yang, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and so many others. Marjane Satrapi probably got more press last year than Captain America. She certainly has a better chance of making "best of" lists than he does at the end of this one, too.

There is no "comic book mainstream." If we are to be part of the larger culture, there is only "mainstream." Superhero books are a genre. My books are often romance, and that's a genre. Fun Home is literary memoir. They all have their place. We need to stop with enforcing our own caste system via language. And until any of us can sell more than Naruto on a regular basis, we're all the alternative, none of us are the first choice.

I love comics. I want them to succeed and be loved by collective masses. But first, a little tough love in-house.

Currently Reading: DMZ, vol. 2: Body of a Journalist by Brian Wood & Ricardo Burchielli

Current Soundtrack: Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob

Current Mood: dismissive

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All text (c) 2007 Jamie S. Rich


Terry Blas said...

Well said my friend. I have also had similar thoughts.

Chris Arrant said...

It's comics. Superhero comics aren't mainstream, "the big leagues", primetime, but just the most sales dominant genre in the direct market, one of several markets that comics works in.

It's kind of like the term "independent", applied both to comics and film.

Jamie S. Rich said...

I like the term "independent," but it's no longer used properly. It used to mean, basically, independently funded, away from any corporate backer. John Cassavetes made independent films, it was his cash, his company, his distribution. Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez made their films on their own and then sold them, and that was still independent, but then that's probably where the worm started to turn.

In comics, you had Dave Sim, a true independent, and then you had smaller companies. I believe Dark Horse is still owned by one man, as is Oni, and that's a gray area, too.

It's now a term that's bandied about pretty easily, though. "Small press" is probably more accurate, if we had to put a term on it, but some feel that has negative connotations. The term "indie" is most abused in film, though. (It also has its roots in music, and the music industry is notorious for trying to make smaller labels within larger companies look like they are autonomous.)

So, I agree. Just comics.

Never comix, though. Never, never.

And manga are comics, too. ;)

Chris Arrant said...

If you had caught me two years ago I would have been extremely adverse to the term "comix", but hanging out with Dean Haspiel and his frequent use of the word has got me to be more pliable and occassionally use the term.

Becky Cloonan blogged her own interesting take on the use of classification words in comics:

To me, comics are hydra -- with seperate heads for comics, manga, BD, comic strips, political cartoons, and even those comics-as-instructions.

BUt back to the use of the word 'mainstream' in comics. I remember oni coining "the real mainstream", and it was a good turn but it also seemed reactionary. Imagine if the medium of comics were sub-classified the way prose books are in bookstores. Romabce/sci-fi/fiction? What would it be for comics? Superhero is probably the biggest genre, but other than that it's all neck-and-neck. And I'll punch in the face someone who calls 'manga' or 'OEL' a genre.

Anonymous said...

An EPMD reference. Should I be impressed?
I like the word independent, when it used in the literal sense. "Indie" being used as a term to define a "scene" just irks me. It has lost all meaning, like the word "gangsta".
LEt's not forget Manga, manwha, OEL... argh. It's all "comics", is it not?