The last two conventions I exhibited at were SDCC in July, and SPX which was last weekend as you may have heard if you’re on social media in the vicinity of anybody currently involved in the independent comics world. I came out of each of those shows feeling weirdly enlightened about Where Comics Are At, in a wide-angle way.
SDCC was fun but kind of discouraging, and presents an image of what is now, I guess, the Entire entertainment industry in a bluntly capitalistic way: the most space is given to the companies with the most money for it, and the events and products are talked about according to a similar hierarchy. I don’t like it but it makes its own kind of sense and it’s how things are: work that makes money has more mobility in the culture, and barring any strongly-principled management at events like this, the amount of money the work makes will be the thing that decides its place. I try really hard to not get pessimistic about this. And of course popular things can be quality things! I like a lot of popular things. But the connection between popularity and your or my specific notion of quality is tenuous.
I leave SDCC and shows like it having spent huge amounts of money the exhibit there and feeling like what I’m doing is insignificant and untenable. I want to emphasize that this is an issue I have with the philosophy of the show, not with the attendees. I have met some very excellent people who attend SDCC every year.
I came out of SPX this year extremely excited about the huge volume of beautiful and idiosyncratic work being produced by artists working outside of entrenched & monied institutions. It’ll never be the same amount of room as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or whatever, but there is room in the culture for this stuff, in terms of attention and money and enthusiasm. It’s hugely inspiring to me to see so many people making work independently or with publishers they know personally and believe in, and seeing that a lot of that work is sustainable for them, and seeing that a lot of it takes full advantage of its independence by being brutally honest, or strange, or socially conscious.
SPX is run by people who believe in it and are uncompromising in how they do it. I’ve disagreed with some aspects of how it’s put together (honestly, less and less each year), but WAY more than that I value that there’s a specific vision for it and clear steps forward every year. I feel basically the same way about several other shows and organizations, TCAF in particular.
Anyway the image of the Scene that I leave SPX with is something variegated and vibrant. Many people doing ever-better work in an ever-better-connected world where not one of us can really afford a big SDCC booth but there are more opportunities to make space for the work than there have been before.
More and more It seems like kind of an obligation to me to use that space productively and consciously. With that in mind here are some uh “action items” I’ve been thinking about a lot lately for myself and my own relationship to the work & independent/web comics in general; take them as you will:
- Push yourself in directions that wouldn’t have been available or viable to you a few years or decades ago, when finding an audience for your particular thing was a hundred times harder.
- Look at creative compromise as a sliding scale: it is impossible not to compromise; making anything at all is a string of compromises and small failures. Compromise or sell out on what you have to, so that you don’t have to on the parts that are most important to you.
- Be aware of the political context in which you are working. The removal or mitigation of the power of gatekeepers is essentially the change that’s been happening for independent media recently. In their absence, don’t perpetuate the lowest-common-denominator ideas they perpetuate. Don’t think that because you’re not making things for mainstream culture, you’re not participating in the creation of culture and you’re above regressive mainstream ideas. No creative work exists in a political vacuum, and you, independent creative person, have the luxury of some control of what your work is saying on that level.
I started this as a convention recap and now it’s a call to arms or something. All I ever have to say is work hard and be self-critical.
FULL DISCLOSURE I WON AN AWARD. The Ignatzes mean a lot to me and SPX means a lot to me; I’ve been going to it since 2009, longer than any other convention. The jurors and the voters are people with demonstrably excellent taste, so I am really honored to have even been nominated.
I’ll put up some pictures or something less overwrought later!!!!