Sunday, July 31, 2011

No art here. Just comic thoughts.

Boy, all this 'more women for DC Comics' stuff is everywhere! I've read it all, see all the sides of the story, etc. etc. and don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said, but one thing that did strike me is what's wrong with the DC Relaunch from another perspective.

And this is all meant in a purely constructive way. I hope the DC relaunch is a success. I'm even interested in some of it. I hope, in general, it just ends up spreading the joy of comics wider, raising all boats with the tide! I really do. But I'm skeptical, and here's why...

The DC House Style.

I know DC have always had a house style, but surely, in a relaunch intended to grow readership, this should have been the first thing to go. One thing I've seen people saying a lot lately is, yes, there are a ton of female creators, but they don't fit the DC style so the point is moot. Well, get rid of the style! That's your first barrier to diverse creation right there. Not just for females, but anyone who wants to do something truly different and out there.

In creativity, more than anywhere else, you gotta take risks, you gotta go for broke, and keeping to a house style is an unnecessary restraint. Dark and gritty works for Batman, but it doesn't work for Teen Titans. What works for Superman, doesn't work for Supergirl even, and so on. Most of us have seen some of those failed pitches floating around, from Dean Trippe's Lois Lane: Girl Reporter to Ben Caldwell's YA Wonder Woman series, and I can only imagine these were passed over because they don't fit the House Style. Maybe tons of other reasons, too, I have no idea, but if you're pitching a radically different take on a character that DC thinks should only ever look one way, well... it's a long way uphill from there. It'd be like giving Jim Lee a picture of a giraffe and telling him that's what he looks like in the mirror. "Pfft. Get outta here with your crazy ideas!"

Forget breaking up DC in to statistics of men/women/minority/etc characters for a second, and lets break it down in to style. (This is the part where if I had the inclination I would do a pie chart that showed 100% Jim Lee or Similar.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind that style. It would work for many a book, but not EVERY one. And yes, there is wiggle room within that style - Frank Quitely is nothing like David Finch, etc, etc. but Frank Quitely is also nothing like, say, Mike Maihack. Or Doug TenNapel. Or Kate Beaton... actually, Ms Beaton already does her take on these superhero characters that seem to be wildly popular with a lot of people - judging by how the superhero strips of hers get more widely tweeted, tumbled, liked, etc. than her more literary/historical strips. At least, they're usually only ever the ones I see. Why isn't DC offering her insane money to make them even more insane money?

Imagine a DC Comics where Morrison and Finch gave us Batman, but Faith Erin Hicks gave us Batgirl. Where Johns and Lee delivered us some Superman, but Clio Chiang gave us Supergirl. Where Zatanna was brought to us by Ted Naifeh, Teen Titans by Sarah Mensinga, alongside Flash by Manapul, and Green Lantern by Mahnke. Why is there no room for that kind of diversity??

Honestly, you could give as many awesome examples as you want for who could be doing great things for DC, but more often than not, you're going to come up with names of people who just don't want to. UNLESS they're given free reign. UNLESS they're allowed to be themselves, artistically. IF their uniqueness is perceived as a value, not a detriment. If they're allowed to bring what they offer to the table without it being re-shaped in to big boobed, beheaded bimbos!

Where is the benefit in doing the SAME thing 52 times every month, endlessly? Even Jim Carrey gets sick of being Jim Carrey, you know? Diversity is never going to happen if you sit around in your House, only answering the door to people who know to come round back, while ignoring the possibilities of opening up the front door to everyone else.


Will Shetterly said...

Eric Orchard linked to your post on G+, and it's being discussed there. Basically: yep.

What's sad is this is an ancient discussion, and I suspect many of the people in charge of comics know you're right. They've got a wingwalking problem: they can't let go of the past until they're sure of the future. But what they don't get is they have to make a leap, because the past is killing them.

Jason R. Tippitt said...

Artists you're not likely to see doing regular work for the Big Two on a superhero book again: Bernie Wrightson. Chynna Clugston Flores. Bryan O'Malley. Duncan Fegredo. Liam Sharpe. Alfredo Alcala. Ty Templeton. Kyle Baker. Christine Norrie. Sam Keith. Bill Sienkiewicz. Leonardo Manco. Jim Mahfood. Mike Mignola.

(Some of them have never, to my knowledge, worked on a superhero book for the Big Two -- to the detriment of the Big Two.)

Jared said...

first off, i think you hit the nail on the head with "some creators dont want to work for the big 2." and i say that more at jason. mike mignola has done work for both marvel and dc, but im pretty sure hes satisfied with hellboy right now. its not always about a negative feeling towards a lack of "creative freedom" as much as it could be about rights and properties, as well as the appeal of writing your own characters instead of someone elses.

as for diversity at DC, i think theyre doing better than they were. with books like grifter, ivampire, and animal man coming out i think were seeing a darker side of DC. i dont think theyre the most diverse publisher but they do house vertigo and i think theyre trying more to be diverse. at the same time the DCU has its own style period, and people on some levels buy DCU books to get that style and those type of stories. and im okay with that.

Lan Pitts said...

Ted on Zatanna is a great idea! I had this discussion recently about this very thing. Marvel has a more eclectic style, and DC needs to branch out more.

Jason R. Tippitt said...

Jared, you're absolutely right -- some indie comics creators are exactly where they want to be. Some folks like Mike Mignola or Todd McFarlane have landed in a place where they can do what they want and own their work free and clear, and bless 'em for it.

It could be the observed tendency of the best age of comics being whenever a person was 12, but it does seem to me that in my younger years, the Big Two did allow more room for experimentation -- Keith Giffen drawing JUSTICE for the New Universe in shadows and angles, Bill Sienkiewicz drawing the Demon Bear story in NEW MUTANTS, Kyle Baker following Bill S. on THE SHADOW for DC, Ted McKeever doing PLASTIC FORKS at Epic, even Walt Simonson's THOR run (Frog of Thunder for the win!).

There were house styles even back then, and I suspect an objective survey of what was published then would find that -- as today -- much of it had a uniform look and feel.

caanantheartboy said...

I can't help but think some indie cartoonists might jump at the chance to play with the big boy's toys if they were given free reign for a limited series or a small series of OGNS, etc. if only to bank the corporate cash for later self publishing.

Jason R. Tippitt said...

The Bizarro Comics hardcovers -- spinning out of the pulped Elseworlds 80-Page Giant -- did a little of what caanantheartboy suggests. And I hear Marvel's done something similar a couple of times -- "Girl Comics" and "Strange Tales," though I think the latter was a MAX book and so separate from the main line.

Seems like there was also an indie-style Fantastic Four miniseries that came out about the time I stopped reading comics entirely, and I've heard there was something experimental/"meta" done with Omega the Unknown in recent years.

But I've only really gotten back into comics this summer after years of having quit cold turkey, outside picking up the occasional Year's Best Comics (from the same line that does Year's Best Essays, Year's Best Fiction, Year's Best Sports Writing, Year's Best Nonessential Reading, etc. -- so those are largely indie stories, rarely anything DC or Marvel).

Tony Esteves said...

I was reflecting on the "house style" when the thought occurred to me that this "new" style is made to appeal to movies, TV, and video games.
Maybe the movies will bring in more readers- or maybe the movies can sustain its own business. It's not as though you need to reed the books to watch the Dark Knight, you just need established name recognition.
I may be too cynical, though.

caanantheartboy said...

You just hit on something else I was thinking about, Tony. "It's not as though you need to read the books to watch the Dark Knight".

This is absolutely true, and probably why there's no trickle back to comic stores. If you have never read a Batman book, but go see the Dark Knight, there's no reason to seek out the comics.

I've had that with movies from books too. If I hear a movie is coming out based on a book, I will always try and read the book first, because I know after I see the movie, I more than likely won't bother. (I did this with Lord of the Rings. Crammed, I did!) ;)

ALL this time is spent trying to figure out how to adapt comic books to OTHER media, but they need to start thinking how they should properly adapt them to their OWN media. Comic sales are pitiful when you look at the sales figures. 400,000 is a good figure (well, more 'outstanding' these days) in a world of almost 7 BILLION people? Granted, they're not all in the target demographic, but still... there's something very wrong there.

Adapting to movies/TV works for the little guys - it's done wonders for Scott Pilgrim and the Walking Dead, for example, but it doesn't work for the big names. Making a Batman movie isn't going to help people read Batman comics. Just like making Batman undies, watches, neckties, etc. isn't going to get people to read the comics. By the time most kids are three years old, they're already aware of who Batman is, and not from knowing there's comics out there starring the guy, but from their bed sheets!

It's an icon problem I guess. All kids know who Mickey Mouse is, but they've never seen an actual Mickey Mouse cartoon. Same with Batman, Superman, etc. They're thrown out there as icons now, but at some point you have to separate the icon from the idea.

Getting people to read the comics - shockingly - involves making compelling comics, and treating your characters as sacred cows - icons - does not make for 'compelling.' The corporate hand is far too visible on the page.

Anyway, yeah... Why do they go to SO much trouble to re-imagine their icons for other media, but they can't re-imagine them for comics?

Bobby.N said...

Big Corporations can't even afford a 0.0005% drop when thinking of their stocks on Wallstreet, so this age-old 'creative-freedom wish' from many of us fans simply won't happen.

When they DID create a playpen in rare books like BIZZARO WORLD, they got cool alternative artists (that is, alternative from their 'house' styles) to have creative fun with their characters... and you know what DC/MARVEL?... they sold REALLY well. Still sell, infact. So it does work - it's just that it's a big machine with millions of 'suit-n-tie' investors wanting a guaranteed profit every week/quarter, so taking creative risks ins't on their spreadsheets, so we just have to wait until someone with enough passion (balls) does another BIZZARO... or something.