Ain’t no thing like me, except me!
Doing the Impossible
Are you familiar with 24 Hour Comic Day (if you are then skip a few sentences)? Scott McClould came up with the idea in 1990. The premise is pretty straight forward; create a 24 page comic book, from idea to completion, in 24 hours. 24 Hour Comic Book Day was officially established in 2004, and since then creators gather once a year to take up the challenge. Milan Erceg’s documentary 24 Hour Comic follows one group of creators in Portland during the allotted 24 hour time frame. Erceg’s film is both inspirational and sobering in its presentation of comic book creators and their books
Erceg follows a varied group of eight comic book creators in his documentary. They range from a thirteen year old attempting her first 24 Hour Comic challenge to her father who is participating in his sixteenth challenge and several other creators with a variety of 24 Hour Comic Day experiences. The film provides both background and motivation for each of the creators. Erceg also incorporates interviews with individuals familiar with the comic book industry who provide insight into the challenges of creating and publishing comic books.
Watching these eight creators in action is quite an inspirational experience. Erceg provides insight into the creators’ minds and what each hopes to achieve. Their creative processes are laid out for the audience to see and you can’t help but feel motivated. But the movie is also sobering in its presentation of how difficult it is to be successful as a comic book creator. Erceg informs the audience that illustrators, on average, make more than comic book creators. This statistic is reinforced in a few of the interviews with the creators at the 24 Hour Comic Day. The viewer can’t help but ask his or herself, “Do I do what I love or do I do what will pay?”
24 Hour Comic is worth a watch for anyone interested in the creative process that goes into creating a comic book from idea to completion. Erceg’s documentary is also a realistic observation that addresses how difficult it is to make a living creating comic books. Scott McCloud says that 24 Hour Comic Day is, “Asking yourself to do the impossible and then doing it.” That quote may be in reference to 24 Hour Comic Day, but it could also be applied to making a living creating comic books.
24 Hour Comic (2017). Directed by Milan Erceg
or What I Learned When Superman Died
Do you remember where you were when Superman died? I’ve never been a serious reader of any of the Superman titles, but his death marked an important moment for me and my relationship with comic books. The year was 1992 and I was in my second year of college. I had been a pretty serious reader of comic books for several years, but by the fall of ‘92 I had cut down the number of titles I was reading for a couple of reasons. One reason was due to a lack of money needed to keep reading all the titles I wanted to follow (the rising cost of comic books is worthy of its own post). The other was due to feeling a bit self-conscious about reading comic books. The college crowd I was associating with tended to look down on anything that wasn’t ‘serious’ literature. I allowed their opinions to give me cause to doubt the relevance and value of comic books.
That changed while I was browsing the back issues at All American Comic Shop way back in 1992. Superman was dead. For a brief moment comic books were in the mainstream media, and some people saw the death of a superhero as a way to make a buck or two. While I was looking through some old issues and talking with the clerk, Kevin, a couple of people came in and asked if he had the issue where Superman dies? Kevin sold each of them the issue and they went on their way. I asked Kevin if they knew that the issue they bought was just one part of a larger story arc involving the death of Superman. Kevin shrugged his shoulders and said they, and a whole bunch of people before them, weren’t interested in the story. They just bought the issue thinking that it would be valuable someday. Kevin and I got to talking about the types of people who bought comics. He said that some people were primarily investors, not concerned with story as much as resale value. Other people were fans, more concerned with the value of the story being told than how much the issue would be worth in five years. We wrapped up the conversation by exchanging what we felt were some of the most important story arcs in comic book history and how they compared to the death of Superman.
After I read the books I bought that day I got to thinking about those people I associated with who didn’t think comic books were ‘serious’ literature. Those investors I saw at All American Comics shared something in common with my college associates. Both viewed literature as an investment of sorts. One looked to make a quick buck and the other looked cash in on some sort of intellectual superiority. Unfortunately the latter made this decision without thinking about the relevance and impact comic books have had on our culture. What was worse is that I allowed their opinions to influence me. I resolved that day to not let anybody give me cause to question what I read, and I’ve held true to that resolution for over fifteen years. Now if only could just do something about the cost of comics.
Advertising and Historical Perspective
Do you remember a time when there were advertisements for odd, wondrous, and absolutely need to have items in comic books? If you don’t remember that time you should know that X-Ray Spexs, Kryptonite Rocks, Switchblade Combs, and numerous other novelty items were sold through advertisements placed in comic books. If you are feeling a bit nostalgic for days past or are interested in comic book history then Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! by Kirk Demarais is worth a read.
Mail-Order Mysteries is a fascinating look into the world of novelty product advertising in comic books primarily from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Kirk Demarais reviews over 150 mail order items that promise all things from “Super Powers and Special Abilities” to “Better Living Through Mail Order.” Demarais breaks the reviews of the mail order items into sections that include: what the potential purchaser would imagine the item to be, what was actually sent to the purchaser, and an often humorous customer satisfaction review. Demarais also includes copies of the original print advertisements and photographs of the actual items for comparison.
There are many informative books about the history and importance of comic books (see my entry about Grant Morrison’s Supergods), but none that I’ve read address product advertising in comic books. Demarais’ book gives the reader some insight into who, according to advertisers, was reading comic books in the 60s and 70s. These readers were interested in “Super Powers and Special Abilities” such X-Ray Spex and Charles Atlas Fitness Programs to “Oddities” such as Sea-Monkeys and Venus Fly Traps. Mail-Order Mysteries provides a historical context of a time when print advertising was an essential component of comic books, and that advertising was a reflection of the demographic that read comic books.
Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! will provide a bit of nostalgia for some readers and an interesting historical perspective for any reader interested in comic book history. Demarais’ book is worth a read whether you are looking for relive days gone by or further your study of comic books.
Mail-Order Mysteries Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! (2011) by Kirk Demarais
“When you read a comic book, there’s a space between what’s happening on the panel and what you have to literally see in your mind. That’s not true of movies, where you see everything”
Does Medium Influence Experience?
Readers of comic books will often argue their preferred format. Some prefer going to the comic shop and picking out titles by hand while others like tapping the titles they want while sitting on their couches. Some readers enjoy the visceral feel of paper pages while other readers like being able to zoom with two fingers. Some like having a physical bookshelf of titles in their homes while others prefer a virtual shelf of titles they can always have with them on their tablets. All of these are valid arguments for either paper comics or digital downloads but they mostly center around personal convenience or some sort of sentimentality. The larger question I want to ask is: does the format influence the experience? Does the medium, paper vs. digital, influence individual reader’s experience with the book? Will one format have a greater and/or longer lasting impact on the reader than the other format? If so, why? I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.