Marc Alan Fishman: Looking For Comics, Found Nothing But Posters

Harley Quinn Deadpool Little PonyAhoy, mates. You’ll forgive me (or not, I don’t know how easily you get ticked off) if my post this week is a bit less meaty than my norm. My excuse: Thursday morning, on the way to the top of my stairs – a box of magic monkey balls safely in tow – my cat decided he’d prefer to be under foot rather than elsewhere. I decided that kittycide didn’t suit me. So, my other other option at the time was to return down the same flight of stairs from whence I came. Unluckily for me, my shoulder (and the hard ground/basement door) stopped an otherwise elegant descent. By the end of the evening, I’d have one less arm at normal usage then I’m normally used to. So, here I sit, in mild agony, pitter-pattering away for your enjoyment. But I (as per my usual) digress.

These past few weeks I was becoming quite excited over the notion of finding some indie comics to share with you after visiting Wizard World Chicago. And while there were indie titles to be had, my injury prevented me from really digging into the alley in a manner conducive with true discovery. So, my epic journey will have to take place at the next convention for Unshaven Comics – the Cincinnati Comic Expo in September. With all of that now covered, I can still share with all of you a trend I caught at Wally World that leaves me a bit perplexed.

In my few jaunts across the Artist Alley, my gaze could not travel for nary more than a yard before it was stricken by a 10 foot tall monstrosity packed from floor to tippy-top with poster-prints of every marketable pop-culture icon, in nearly any style you could think of. Seemingly every row was packed to the gills with pin-up Harley Quinns, macabre zombie Deadpools, or Whatever Anime Hero Is Hip This Week Mashed Up With Whatever Cartoon the Kids Dig. Perhaps it’s always been this way, or maybe the Universe saw my desire for small publishers and pelted me with prints instead. Or more likely, the trend is hitting its peak. And for great reason.

As I have detailed before, an independently produced comic book is rarely a profit-making machine… unless you have the capital to afford a large (1000+) print run and don’t mind sitting on a ton of product in between shows. Prints, on the other hand, can be produced in small batches, stored in any number of space-saving receptacles, and can be produced for less than a dollar a piece at nearly any reputable printer within earshot. Prints tend to run anywhere from $5 to $20 a pop, so you can safely do the math. More to my point, a poster of a well-known character sells itself. A comic of original art and concepts does not. If I were Steven Dubner of Freakanomics, this argument would be over. And for what it’s worth, I see that point loud and clear.

But as I said: this trend leaves me perplexed. As an artist myself, there’s a desire to show the world my take on a litany of licensed fare, sure. But at the cost of doing nothing but? Not a chance. To have ambled about the Alley and see dozens of visual artists all fighting for capturing the essence of someone else’s creation in their style, all in hopes of snagging profit doesn’t ring true to me. Even worse? When those would-be creators toss a few of their actual comics into a rack and shuffle it lazily some uncared for corner of their table… capped with a scrawled sign declaring “COMICS”. As a presentation, it makes the point clear: “Buy my sexy Poison Ivy and give me money. Oh, my comic? Yeah, it’s this other thing I do.” And there my friends, is the dark truth that kept me up all weekend. It could have also been searing shoulder pain.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against those who want to showcase their ability to produce a fine pin-up. Behind me sits a coiled pile of prints I’ve dropped coin for that proves that. But when it comes at the cost of people pushing their creativity, I draw the line. Or, more truthfully, I curse our industry. Creators making original books trying to find a way (yes, internet included) to be profitable… only to find their only money-making endeavor at the bottom of a pile of Doctor Who and My Little Pony prints (made without any licensing fee mind you) represent too much of our ilk. When the Artist Alley appears more like a swap meet of grey market wall coverings, we don’t elevate the medium.

All we do is dilute our brand, and hope to have “made table” instead of making something new. There’s nothing artistic about that.