Friday, August 26, 2005

The Fox, The Hen, The Corn

There is more good stuff right now than there has ever been. Don't give up now! We've almost reached the other side!
--Heidi MacDonald, The Beat

Problem is, Heidi ... we're not going to get there together. Not at this rate. We're like the fox, the hen, and the corn needing to get across a river. The comics blogosphere will eat itself.

I've not been back in comics long, but the tension is obvious. Paul O'Brien touched off the latest "Mainstream vs. Indy vs. Manga War", and it flared up elsewhere, but this is like the Cold War: the skirmishes are just the erupting into view of an otherwise simmering conflict. Somehow, the publishing company or country of origin of a comic has become the central debate, instead of the art and writing. And while making minute distinctions in comics is nothing new, as comics fans love to have someone to look down on from their low social perch, it seems like it's become more entrenched and heated with the advent of the WeboComicBlogoNet. Everyone has an opinion, and now they can publish it ... and calm debate doesn't generate many hits.

Part of the increase in rhetoric comes from the pressure placed upon the old indy/capes dichotomy by the onslaught of manga. For years, both sides claimed they would be the one to penetrate the mainstream and champion the cause of sequential art in hearts and minds everywhere. One would do it with bold, four-color action, the other with intricate, heartfelt observations of life. And then manga comes along, does it, and renders the conversation moot. I would expect both sides are a bit embarrassed, if they even acknowledge what's happened. Manga is now the mainstream, and everyone else is fighting for a smaller piece of a smaller pie.

So - "BoreGate 2005". I'm going to avoid commenting on the personalities involved, because that's a mugg's game. The vitriol and bile is hot and heavy, but I really can't tell how much is for effect. The hyperbole has escalated to the point that reasoned responses just get swallowed whole. I really have no desire to choose sides in this one ...

... because I reject the battle lines that have been drawn up.

I think this constant petty squabbling between fans of manga, the mainstream, and indy comics is pointless and self-defeating. Though some would like to see the comics mainstream die a horrible death, I really can't see how that helps anyone or anything, other than increasing the nose-cutting to face-spiting ratio. Indy darling Tom Beland just posted about how he's a Spider-Man fan from the Old Skool, and I know he's not alone. Like it or not, mainstream superhero comics are part of sequential art in America.

What sticks in my craw in this debate is how insufferable the "Indy" flag-wavers can get. I can almost understand capes-n-tights fans that myopically follow the DC/Marvel Continuum, because at least they are following characters and stories. To bang the drum for "Indy" is to root for publishing concerns, to frame the debate in terms of "that which is not Marvel/DC", to cede the Big Two the front rack and define "'Indy" as "Other".

What is "Indy"? Since Harvey Pekar's latest, The Quitter, is published by DC, is he no longer "Indy"? Is he now The Man? Is a title like Tarot somehow inherently better because it's not published by Marvel or DC? Is Warren Ellis mainstream or indy? Fell is instantly better than Desolation Jones or Jack Cross because of the names in the legal boilerplate? The man may even write some manga - that'll really crack the internet in half!

Just like the last time I actively read comics, I entered to catch up on the mainstream events and have ended up drifting to a much wider range of comics. I recently added a "Greatest Hits" to my sidebar, containing my favorite posts. There's an "Indy", a manga, and something from the Big Two. My interest in current comics far outstrips my finances or my available time, and I agree with Heidi that the comic landscape is strewn with brilliance. But they don't come from one place. There's great stuff in the manga isle at Borders Books, in the monolithic crossovers of the Marvel/DC "mainstream", and in the indy listings at

I don't care if it's a multinational conglomerate or a basement inkjet, I'll read what appeals to me. I don't feel the need to be an activist, and I don't feel the need to let Marvel/DC frame the debate. I am not reacting for or against them in the slightest, because I have no interest in being a foot soldier for someone's else's' economic concern. I don't want "mainstream" comics, or "Indy" comics ... I want good comics.

We're in this together, folks.


Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Bah! No one wants to hear rational talk like this!


Seriously, though, good post.

Shane Bailey said...


Jim Roeg said...

Mark: EXCELLENT post. I suspect that you speak for more people than you know--you certainly nail my own feelings on this debate anyway. (As usual!!)

James Meeley said...

I must say, very nicely summed up. Personally, I think this whole debate stems from the fact that, no matter what type of genres you like in comics, there is so much more diversity in the product and a lot of it good, that folks don't have anything much to complain about on the actual works. So, they instead are looking to other reasons to complain.

Heck, I recently told someone that I read the CrossGen titles, as proof that I read "non-superhero" works and people had to come out an "correct me" for it. As if my feeling that CrossGen's titles weren't superheroes somehow would bring about the destruction of comics as we know it, or something like that.

I did manage to do us (what I think) is a thought provoking blog entry about it, but the fact remains that some people just couldn't let it go. They had to look for something to "correct". Even when that something is more a matter of opinion, than anything else.

I really hope all this nonsense blows over soon. Because all it's doing is giving people who think comic readers are maladjusted social introverts more ammo than they already have to make thier cheapshots. We all need to be smarter than this.

Mark Fossen said...

Guy, Shane, Jim .... Danke, all. I was hoping I was speaking for a "silent majority" on this. It's often "silent" because the extremists hog all the inflammatory language. I tried to write something arguing for a middle road, but using the rhetoric of the extreme.

James -

I liked your CrossGen piece, and I think it's an interesting idea. Those against the "superhero mainstream" can often use convienent definitions of "superhero" ... as Jim points out, Grant Morrison often gets some sort of wierd exception where his "superheros" aren't what they mean.

Only problem is ... I completely missed CrossGen. Their entire start to finish was while I was away from comics. Never read a single thing from the line in the least, so the specifics of your essay are lost on me.

Queenie Chan said...

I draw manga for TokyoPop ("The Dreaming"), and while I'm in full support of manga I would hate to see mainstream superheroes die. Superheroes is an important part of the comics industry too, and like most people here, the three-way fight is a whole lotta nonsense.

Personally, I feel that the STYLES of western comics and manga is actually getting closer, fuelled by cross-cultural influences on both sides (especially the american-made manga). So I think if manga keeps on going at the same rate and we see more manga-inspired/influenced western comics, it will inspire the manga fans to check out more indy/mainstream comics too.

So I don't see why people from other camps are "upset" about manga's influence. We're just at a tipping point in the industry (at least that's what I believe.)

Tivome said...

Good thing real manga fans has no idea there's even a debate going on. This is really very limited discussion between big2 fans and indy fans, with comments from a few manga readers who still cares. Real manga fans are really busy worry about getting new books, finding scanlations, and doing their own drawings to give a hoot.

This is a debate for the old-fart comic fans; the future of the comic world is not even part of the discussion, cus they're all reading or creating manga.

Shane Bailey said...

"Real manga fans are really busy worry about getting new books, finding scanlations, and doing their own drawings to give a hoot."

I find it a dead argument whenever someone says "real fans" of anything. The whole tone of your comment kinda missed the point of the post. Mark even summed it up at the end with "We're in this together, folks." Saying that "it's an argument for old-fart comic fans" doesn't really help things much.

I don't really think we need seperations, or divisions, or classifications for different comics. Comics are comics no matter where they are from or how they are produced. Sure there are differences in quality, sales, audiences, origination, publication, genre, and style, but they are still just comics in the end. Why limit yourself? Read what you enjoy and let others enjoy what they want to read.

Ian said...

Great essay, Mark.

Mark Fossen said...

queenie -

I do think it's getting closer. I really think the OEL issue is blurring the lines. Because then it becomes more clearly about influences, and everyone's influenced by someone. I'd really like to see the distinction go away. I don't even care which name wins: feel free to call Superman "American Manga". It's all just sequential art, and I think there's as much to learn from Eisner as there is from Tezuka. (Also, I added you to the blogroll, and will keep an eye out for The Dreaming).

Tivome -
Actually, an early draft had a line "manga fans just don't care about this 'debate'". I cut it for some reason. :)

Your attitude is something I just can't understand. It also seems patently false: it looks to me like plenty of manga fans are interested in how this all plays out in Western markets. But your attitude about "old-fart comic fans" seems foolish to me. It's not even aboput market, I just don't understand limiting yourself.

There's a series. Black and white. Published in tankubon. A young man has a romance and he has to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends. It's videogame wire-fu action, as he and his friends have these adventures. No superheroes in sight.

I'm talking about Scott Pilgrim. Does it matter the author's Canadian? Does the drawing style make that much a difference? Why limit your reading based on country of origin or publisher? Isn't that the "problem" with "old-fart comic fans" who won't try manga?

Damn .. I should have read Shane's post first. Looks like he said it better than I. :)

9 comments, no spam, and good words from Ian. I could die a happy blogger now.

joncormier said...

Warning! Sarcasm!

How dare you take a reasoned and balanced approach to this issue? Do you hate comics or something?

Sarcasm ends.

Like the post. Like the reasoning. It's nice to see people out here who just enjoy the medium and are willing to try as much diverse titles as they can. I'm an indiscriminate reader myself.

Jon Silpayamanant said...

Personally, I don't even care if a particular comic is good. I just like to read, um, voraciously.

Or maybe I mean omnivorously?


Andy Diggle said...

I don't want "mainstream" comics, or "Indy" comics ... I want good comics.


Kat Kan said...

I read everything - mainstream superheroes, lots of indie comics, tons of manga - I'm a voracious, promiscuous reader. I also select graphic novels for libraries in my job as a freelancer for a book distributor. I select as wide a range of material as I can. We in the library world share the viewpoint of Mr. Diggle and anyone else who just wants a good story. I also speak as a longtime comics fan - I've been reading this stuff since first grade, for ... umm ... more than 40 years, guys. My thanks to you, Mark, for your thoughtful comments.

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