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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sound of Crickets, Or Else -- Diamond's latest attempt at making sure everything they distribute has Wolverine in it has now claimed two titles popular with critics and artcomix aficionados. Crickets by Sammy Harkham has been the most traditional "comic book" of the two, while Or Else by Kevin Huizenga has experimented in format and content with virtually every issue.

(Digression: I think I have bought every issue of both series with the exception of the most recent Or Else, which Diamond was not capable of delivering to my retailer despite soliciting for it in the pages of Previews, making Previews even more useless than it obviously already is. I love paying five bucks for a catalog that does not deliver the items I order. That makes perfect sense to me, thank you.)

No less a commentator than Sean T. Collins has used the cancellation of Crickets to predict the end of the alternative comic book, and while I love Sean and swap graphic novels with him occasionally, I don't think he's right about this. In fact, I think, quite the opposite. This is the end of Diamond, not the end of alternative comic books.

It's instructive to note that Or Else and Crickets were so different. Harkham's title delivered fairly standard and easy-to-grasp comics (artcomix, yes, but pretty standard in terms of format) while Huizenga reserved his most oddball efforts for Or Else. We now know that Diamond has no use for either, and can presume that the distributor -- which has always tolerated non-superhero comics, nothing more -- now really has no desire to bother with anything other than superheroes, now that The Long Emergency has settled in.

Unlike Sean T., though, I don't think this spells the end of alternative comics. Certainly it is the end of alternative comic books being published and racked in superhero convenience stores as if they are the same thing, ready to compete against the latest, badly-written Brian Bendis mess or overwrought midbrow Brian K. Vaughan effort. It is the end of Diamond boxes packed with Mark Millar, J. Michael Straczynski and Kevin Huizenga as if they all represent the same thing. Nope, alternative comics will survive, and perhaps even thrive better without the Granny Goodness-like loving care of Diamond Distributors.

Kevin, it's time you and your compadres refocused and relaunched The USS Catastrophe Shop. I'd link to it, but it's far from what it used to be (the premier place to find minis and alternatives you would never, ever see ship through Diamond) and there is a claim that they are re-doing the site. Good. It's needed now more than ever. Sammy, maybe now you understand why I questioned the wisdom of a $125.00 comic book when the economy was clearly headed places that could not tolerate such a thing. I'm happy for those few who could afford Kramers Ergot #7, but the economy has reached nowhere near bottom yet and I hope you have plenty of other kindling around when the heat gets shut off and you start looking around for things to burn.

There have been alternative comic books almost as long as there have been comics. Tijuana bibles, alternatives and undergrounds have always found a way into the hands of the people that wanted them the most, and I think as long as there are people, there will be some form of alternative comics. Superhero junk may thrive in a bad economy because desperate people need facile fantasy material more than ever, but creating alternative comics just takes a cartoonist, a piece of paper and something to draw with. This batshit crazy notion of elegant, timeless comics like Or Else actually having a place in the Direct Market of disposable garbage was the artificial creation of society with too much money paying too little attention to the cliff we were all about to barrel over.

Well, the cliff is in the rear-view mirror, now. Most don't realize it yet, as they hang extended, Wile E. Coyote-like, about to begin the long descent into the true reality of The Long Emergency, but the American Century is over and the economy as we knew it for most of the life of the Direct Market is over. Cartoonists like Kevin Huizenga and Sammy Harkham and Dan Clowes and Chris Ware and many more may find themselves self-publishing what they can, when they can. The end result may be fewer alternative comics, and certainly none delivered en masse by the UPS man once a week, but the ones that do survive will be like sweet water in the desert for those of us that still care, saddened by this momentous market correction (for truly that is all this is), but secure in the knowledge that some people make comics because they have to, and I'd rather have those than the corporate superhero junk that Diamond is killing itself on. I won't miss Diamond at all, and I'll always support alternative comic books. But if those are the kind you make, or love to read, then right now would be a very good time to start figuring out how to get around in the new world we're about to inhabit. Look at how it was done before there ever was a Diamond Distribution, because that's where the answers lie.



Blogger Jason Marcy said...

I don't know whether to be elated or depressed, or both, by this essay my friend.
Hewre's hoping that we can still make and read the comics that really matter.

29 January, 2009 07:11  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Like many things, I think this is what the individual makes of it, Jason. If you spend zero time from here on out playing Diamond's game and use that time and money to get to your core audience and try to build on that, it seems a better strategy to me. There's definitely a period of darkness upon us, but a much brighter light at the end of the tunnel than Diamond ever promised for artcomix creators and readers.

29 January, 2009 07:21  
Blogger Jason Marcy said...

Oh no, I agree with you. I have little use for Diamond and their silly nonsense. They've been nothing but an albatross to the Indie comic community, and we will be better off in the long run without them! I feel a sense of elation more than depression about this. In many ways, I have built up an audience (and continue to do so...) without the aid of the monopoly...

29 January, 2009 19:38  
Blogger Joe Willy said...

I do think it's hurt alt comix that there's been no "one stop shop" for a diverse selection of stuff.

It would be nice to have somebody who was interested in carrying not only mini comix like USS Catastrophe but also stuff from alt publishers from as big as Fanta and D&Q and down to Picturebox and Buenaventura and then self-published stuff like Becky Cloonan & co.'s self-published anthologies. Nobody is rally doing it all yet. But it's hard to tell someone else they should throw their money into such an effort.

Sadly, most of the comics "taste makers" seem to live on the coasts and don't hurt for places to find great comics.

30 January, 2009 07:55  
Blogger kenny said...

To be honest, Amazon works for me as the one stop shop for all things art comics. Sure, maybe not the individual floppies, but I think the medium is moving beyond that anyway. To me, the floppy was only utilized for art comics because it was the excepted norm for comics distribution. Now, we have the web, so someone can serialize their project on the web and then turn around and sell it as a collected edition.

30 January, 2009 16:55  

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