Dennis O’Neil: Make Room, Make Room!
The room was large and dim, the food tasty, the entire evening pleasant. We were at this year’s Eisner Awards Banquet, held annually at the San Diego Comic Con International as a venue for presenting the Eisner Awards, named for the man who probably deserves to be called comic books’s greatest practitioner and used to honor people who have made outstanding contributions to Will Eisner’s chosen province. We saw and were glad to see some folk we hadn’t seen in years – decades? – and that was nice.
And I learned something about this quirky enterprise that has kept me fed and clothed for…what? – close to 50 years now?
I won’t keep you in suspense. What I learned was how diverse comic book publishing has become. Oh, back in my younger days I occasionally read what some termed underground comix and way back in 1995 I was honored to be mentioned in the thank-you section of Howard Cruse’s superb graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby. So yeah, I knew you didn’t have to wear a costume, have a double identity and devote your waking hours vanquishing evildoers to get your picture in a comic book.
But I didn’t realize, until the Eisners, how much comics had diversified. I’m guessing that because the direct sales market provided a place for interested parties to go and buy comics creators who saw the form as hospitable to much, much more than tales of fantasy-adventure realized that their work could be seen and even sold and sat down and did that work. And readers did see it and did buy it and all that helped comics to be recognized for what they had always been, a communications medium and – whisper this – an art form.
So there I sat, back to the dining table, looking at a stage flanked by two large screens on which were projected images of comic book covers. The fantasy-melodrama writers and artists were well-represented: no surprise and maybe cause for belief in a just universe – people should get what they deserve – but not the only game in town. All those storytellers with their pencils and inks and computers, not interested in derring-do as subject matter, but attracted to panel art as a narrative form, a means to do what has been done for tens of centuries by those with a need to shout and sing and scrawl and tell their stories,
For comics, it’s been a long climb from trash lit to respectability, from flimsy magazines a kid with a whiff of rebel bout him read behind geography books to the mainstream and – ye gods! – respectability. I’m not sure how I feel about that respectability, but my fellow celebrants at the Eisner Awards seemed to be handling it just fine.
A good chunk of the diversity represented at the Eisner Awards is not found in comics shops. It’s driven by the book trade publishers, who have to sell to the general public, not just 100,000 comics fans. Although the university publishers market is usually under 10,000 a title…
The other engine: the Internet. No longer must one read the Comics Buyer’s Guide weekly, or communicate by fanzine. One can go online and discover, buy, and read interesting comics.
The common denominator: the geek diaspora. Guys like me who don’t work in comics, but love them, and sneak them into our day jobs as librarians, booksellers, journalists, movie makers…