I’ve been reading John Allison’s insightful (and incisive) “Manifesto for UK Indie comics in 2010”
This is targeted at professional comics artists, who are working in print, or on the web.
By definition a manifesto should be provocative. This one was blogged up and twittered out, something that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. There is some great food for thought here, especially if you want to actually *make money* off your art. John A has been down in the trenches for some time, fighting the good fight for webcomics, and creating attractive narrative comics in his own voice with a diverse cast of characters that have been with him since childhood.
This is well thought out, and also calls into question my role. I sporadically do comics/webcomics, and also spend a substantial amount of time running a nonprofit for Cambodian comics, and write research on the side. Putting on my professional hat for the moment (I have no hesitation to make money from comics) I’d like to respond to some of the points raised.
1. Maybe living in the most expensive place in the country is not the best idea anyone ever had
Point. Eddie Campbell moved to rural Queensland and still kept up the pace.
2. Small press: it is not 1994 any more
Do the obvious: get a web site and payment systems in place. Look at how successful folks are doing it.
3. Make comics for people who don’t make comics
The story’s the thing. In the old days we used to call them ‘civilians’. Me, I simply can’t imagine people NOT READING COMICS. It’s like saying you don’t listen to music. And yes, I’ve met people who explicitly state they don’t listen to music, or read comics.
As Athonk once said to me, ‘You guys just make comics for each other.’ That’s fun to do. But it is not the only thing we should do.
When Maximum Rock and Roll panned a selection of Melbourne comics, Clint Q-Ray reflected on the (sadly departed) Comics Australia message board that this was a good reminder there’s a world outside the comics ghetto.
(Though I should note, Webcomics folks do guest strips for each other all the time.)
What you want to shoot for is the getting your audience to ‘One Thousand True Fans‘. At least.
4. Forget what you learned at art school and read some business books
LOL. Many of my Cambodian artist friends never had the CHANCE to go to art school. The career path for comics in the States/UK/Oz is still pretty lame, though options are improving thanks to folks like Matt Madden and Jessica Abel. I’m all for there being more choices. But art school is not a prerequisite.
Yep, looking at business models is a good thing if you want to eat from your work. As per point three: look at the successful people in your field. What did they do? How do they make rent? What online payment tools do they use?
5. Making money from art is not vulgar
We are the sons and heirs of shyness (about money) that is criminally vulgar. I like James Kochalka‘s approach (cross-platform artist) though his distancing from his readership as ‘fans’ is a bit off-putting. At San Diego Con, year 2000: Keith Knight: ‘Buy my book. It’ll make you laugh.’ Now that’s SELLING.
It’s not vulgar to make money. But it is a crime against yourself to make comics that do not fulfill you personally. If you begin by making comics for yourself, there are bound to be more like minded-people out there. Just as EBay has identified countless affinity groups for collectibles, the web allows for more specific and unique audiences.
6. Making pamphlets is ridiculous
(John, you sell pamphlets online. :0 But to be fair that’s in addition to your books and other goodies.) Thanks to the Anglophone comics world’s acclimatization to manga, we now live in a world of comics in book format. King-Cat has been compiled into lovely hardcover volumes. We should shoot for books. DIY comicker output is ridiculously small. If you want to make money in any area of comics, you should be aiming for ONE PAGE A DAY. If comics is your hobby? Keep on with the pamphlets and handmade comics.
7. Diary comics: stop it
LOL. Just stop it! Stop it right now!
You should write what you know. It’s no crime to START with diary comics. And conversely, those with the most dramatic lives usually cloak it in symbolism due to trauma. Take your diary comic and plop it into a different culture and you’ve got an exotic memoir. I’m thinking of Nicholas Wild, Pangolin in Afghanistan. Your memoirs in your own neighborhood are dirty laundry. But to an overseas reader they’re a fascinating peek into another culture. If you’re gonna share your daily doings, go global if you want any chance of success.
Secondly, you can use your journal comics to evolve and move outward into other stories and characters. Heck, Tatsuya Ishida is moving inward from fantasy to his personal life, after many years. Everything is a diary comic, when you get down to it, reflecting your mood and interests at the time you create it.
I love how Robert Crumb could create the most outrageous characters just at the drop of a hat. (My character SlugDog was an attempt to riff on that and also create a completely unsellable property, in a mockery of how eager people were to pander to mass media.)
What John is saying here also regards constructing narratives. I could write a dozen blog posts on this topic, both pro and con. (I’ll reserve the right to at a later date.) You’re not obliged to write narrative comics. But that is what I keep coming back to as a reader. (Short gags are fun. Contextualized into a larger setting, even better.)
9. A scene that celebrates itself has nothing to celebrate
Hey look! Here’s Evan Dahm (Rice Boy) connecting with his scene! Drawing live for his readers and friends.
The physical scene is being replaced by the virtual scene. John A. may not have a regular pub night with local comic folks, but he’s regularly twittering & blogging on the web with other artists.
We shouldn’t be involuted. But the ‘scene’ is what’s kept me and so many other people going. If you are an amateur or dabbler, it’s a great place to refresh yourself and regroup. Some examples are places like Comic Rehab and Chugnut collective.
Webcomickers pretty much rely on each other – and their audiences, creating or ‘crowdsourcing’ a personal audience. If that ain’t a community, I don’t know what is. I like my community and miss my pals who are overseas. But it ain’t the only thing in my life.
10. Being ambitious doesn’t equate to being unpleasant
My ambition is to keep doing what I’m doing and actually afford things like health care and saving for retirement. Whether that entails being a full – time comicist – or alternating between research and other interests? We’ll see.
Cheers for that playful provocation. We’re living in an interesting time for comics. The economy ain’t so hot, but comics as BOOKS are doing *great*. And as regards web comics, there is no established canon. It’s a very fluid moment, I’m curious to see what will coalesce.
More Manifesto Fun:
Shaenon Garrity: http://www.comixology.com/articles/412/-Ten-Things-to-Know-About-the-Future-of-Comics
El Santo: http://webcomicoverlook.com/2010/10/26/ten-things-to-know-about-the-future-of-webcomics/
Commentary on the above: http://www.stormingthetower.com/2010/11/why-machine-of-death-is-important-for.html
‘The Old Bastard’s Manifesto’ http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=13272
Right. 100 Characters. Off I go. Cheers for the nudge, John.