Where do you think the medium of comics is headed as more people either create or buy comics outside of the typical mainstream publishers?
I think it’s interesting that you’re seeing the rise of self-publishing again, which hasn’t been a major part of the marketplace for a while… but instead of self-publishing directly through Diamond, savvy creators are self-publishing through Image, where they can sort of sublet space in the front of the Diamond book, or through Comixology. I think the challenge is still that the comics selling sustainable numbers outside the mainstream publishers either have a film/TV tie-in or are from creators who’ve been marketed into name-recognition by the mainstream publishers (or both). The lure of film/TV adaptations and especially of owning those rights is not just an added incentive for creators these days but it’s almost crucial to their success, which is problematic because that’s a lottery ticket… especially when you’re in a situation where the publisher isn’t supporting a campaign to make those film/TV deals happen.
Obviously I’m a huge proponent of integrated transmedia storytelling and multi-platform release models, but there’s a big difference between creating across multiple formats vs. creating a comic that is financially reliant on the speculative business of selling film/TV rights. That type of speculation is dangerous for creators and doesn’t support creative innovation. The film/TV model wasn’t always the prevailing model in comics, it’s just the most recent one and I think it’s past due for a replacement. No one’s cracked a new model yet, but a lot of smart people are working at it. Once a new, more responsible business model is devised, I think you’ll see a renaissance in comics storytelling and innovation.
Which creators do you think are pushing the envelope as far as creativity and innovation in and outside the medium of comics?
It’s kind of obvious to say, but Grant Morrison continues to be a fearless storyteller and it’s exciting to see him leaving superheroes. I thought Ales Kot took a lot of risks in his debut Wild Children, he made bold and dangerous creative choices that set his book apart from the pack. I’m intrigued by what Templesmith and Menton3 and Kasra are doing with 44FLOOD, I think it could be really important. And everything Molly Crabapple does blows me away. There are actually a lot of really exciting things happening on Kickstarter, but I think we’re still waiting to see if someone figures out a new approach that takes things to the next level. Comics audiences have been really supportive of Kickstarter so far, but it’s still mostly the obvious model of crowdfunding a personal project through your social network or else it’s a version of the Womanthology model. What Renae (de Liz) did with Womanthology changed the paradigm of running a comics Kickstarter, but I don’t think we’ve progressed past her innovation yet. I’m excited to see what will come next.
What practical and concrete advice do you have for creators trying to get their ideas out through the medium of comics?
I think the most important thing is to do something different from what’s already going on out there, be authentic but be audacious in your storytelling and also in your positioning and promotions. It sounds obvious and everyone will tell you to be unique and have your own voice etc, but then in the same breath they’ll give you notes on how to make your project more like everything else and warn you not to take risks. There’s nothing safe about art and creativity, there shouldn’t be. And your true enemy is obscurity… I think it was PT Barnum who said if you want a crowd, start a fight.
But maybe that’s not really practical advice. The practical advice would be to know who your audience is, as precisely as possible. It will change, but know who you’re talking to and how you intend to reach them. Nothing drives me crazier when I’m talking to a creator at Halo-8 than when I ask them who their intended audience for a project is and they say “people who love comics” or “people who love great films.” That doesn’t mean anything.
You need a core audience to support it at the beginning so you have the momentum to cross over, and you need a specific plan on how to reach that core and another plan on how to cross over into other audiences. And you can’t rely on anyone else to figure out or execute those strategies. They’re calling this the Year of the Creator and I think part of that is because this is the year when the creator needs to do more of the business for herself or himself than ever before. There’s never been more opportunity, but it’s also never been more competitive and it’s never required more hard work and innovation to stand out from the pack.
Matt’s epic responses have made this week’s Comic Revolt one of the longest Q&As for Comic Booked in recent memory, but he pulled the double gold for quality and quantity. Check in with us again next week as I continue looking at more alternative and innovative approaches to comic. Thanks for reading!