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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 
15 Ways to Make Comics Better -- There's a lot of people who want to make comics better. Here are some ways I believe that could actually be accomplished.

1. Creators: Create, always, human stories with a strong narrative voice, a clear point of view, and a reason for existing. Anything less insults the reader and devalues you as a creator.

2. Creators and publishers: Ensure high-quality reproduction at every step of the process from the creation of the artwork to the final print job. Poor reproduction removes the reader from the story. You are the ultimate advocate for the work, and for the reader. Fail them and they will flee from you.

3. Publishers: Allow corporate-owned characters who have become creatively bankrupt through mis-handling to lay fallow for a few years. There's no reason at all why Green Lantern, Iron Man, Thor, or most other second-tier characters must be published month-in and month-out. Wait until a creator or creators have solid, original ideas with which to stage a true revival rather than a lame renumbering. If you must publish these characters for trademark purposes, issue affordable, monthly reprints of landmark runs until such a time that a worthwhile new take on the character can be published.

4. Publishers: Publish complex, riveting titles like The Invisibles, Sleeper and Promethea as original graphic novels, a complete storyline published in HC every six months, with the SC to follow six months after initial HC release. If you cannot find an economic model in which to make this work, you have no business being in publishing. If you don't want to put your hands in the toilet and fix things, you shouldn't be a plumber.

5. Would-Be Publishers: Realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first five years of its existence. If you do not have the capital shored up to protect against that fact, and do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high-quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first three years, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come.

6. Publishers: No one wants your new superhero universe, American-created Manga, or fifth-week event. No one.

7. Publishers: If you cannot give away 200,000 copies for free or for a quarter, you cannot sell 10,000 for $2.95.

8. Publishers: Because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its liklihood of success before publishing it.

9. Would-Be Publishers: If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next five years.

10. Creators: At all stages of the creative process, seek out the opinions and evaluations of people whose tastes and critical faculties you trust implicitly. Ask them to be brutally honest in judging your work, and accept that there is at least a grain of truth in everything they tell you, and likely a lot more than a grain.

11. Readers: Do not continue to buy and support comics that do anything less than dazzle you with their ingenuity, their quality storytelling, and their elegance of purpose and design. The only reason any publisher can continue to produce bad comics is because people buy them. Just stop.

12. Readers: Find critics whose tastes clearly intersect with your own, and follow their recommendations into places you might previously have avoided. If Critic A's explanation of why they like a book you like makes sense to you, then find a book they recommend that you haven't read, and try that one. Watch the magic happen.

13. Do not ever buy a comic book with the expectation that you will sell it at a profit later on. 99 percent of every comic book you ever will buy over the course of your life will be worth 12 cents or less within a month after you buy it. Selah.

14. Publishers: If you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book.

15. Readers: Go through your collection regularly, and pluck out any comics you haven't felt the need to re-read for a year or more. Set them aside, and evaluate whether you really want to spend a portion of your rent money providing space for comics you no longer want or need. Throw them out, trade them, give them away, or sell them on eBay. Make room for better comics in your home, and in your life. Make careful note of the creators and publishers who tend to create books that you are not still excited about months after you first read them. Reconsider investing your money in their books in the future. Would you return time and again to a restaurant that served you bad food? There's so much more out there, waiting to be discovered. What are you waiting for?

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