Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Recent Reading

Several of the interviews in the 30th anniversary issue of The Comics Journal (#277) deal with the question of diversity in the comics offered by publishers; two struck me as particularly focussed.

The first was with Diana Schutz, someone who has been working in comics for close to thirty years. She's presently a senior editor at Dark Horse Comics, overseeing primarily creator-owned titles. (She's interviewed by Dirk Deppey.)

DEPPEY: ... I'm wondering if it's possible to build a market at this point that features a wide variety of material ...
SCHUTZ: (Sighs.) This is something that Dark Horse has struggled with, in terms of publishing across the board, from adventure comics to more sophisticated, more literary graphic novels ... I mean, at the end of the day, it comes down to good stories . ...

I mean crunching out comics on a monthly deadline and attempting to create literature under those kinds of commerical constraints — the deck is stacked against you, you know? You have to meet deadlines. A new script has to be written every month. It has to be penciled by one person in one month, inked by another person in another month, and lettered and colored — and certain editors at some companies apparently have a vested interest in keeping those freelance artists from talking to each other! Of course you're not going to produce literature under those circumstances!
I'd like to see more focus on story — at the snooty end of comics (laughter), I'd like to see better stories as opposed to "Oh, I'm just going to diddle myself with my art and talk about my bathroom habits for the rest of this book." I'd like to have more entertaining stories. I prefer to read something that's more demanding of me as a reader.

La Perdida, for instance — it's recently come out in book form, so it's very present in my mind. I think La Perdida is exactly where I'd like to see the comics biz move. It's beautifully drawn, it's a solid, involving story, it makes a very well thought-out use of the medium, and it has the potential to open doors to far more readers than the comic-book set. ... Far too much of what I see at that end of the spectrum really doesn't have good story. ...

Superheroes will stifle this marketplace if they continue to dominate, I think, but by the same token, I don't want to see the genre abolished. I loved superhero comics when I was a little girl, now I love work like La Perdida, and a healthy market makes room for both and everything in between.
The second interview was with Dallas Middaugh, the Associate Editor of Del Rey Manga (a division of Random House). Though I don't think I'm comfortable with the stark boys like this, and girls like that formulation he uses at the end of this excerpt, I do think he is onto something when he contrasts American and Japanese comic publisers.

MIDDAUGH: Look, I think superheroes are a perfectly valid genre for comics, but the fact remains that only so many people are going to be interested in reading about them. I mean, let's take a story about someone finding a magic ring. In manga, the story would focus about how the ring changed that person's relationships, how it affected his life, and how his everyday circumstances would be different — and there would be adventures, too, but that necessarily wouldn't be the primary focus of the story. If it were a Marvel or DC comic, the person would find the ring, make a costume and go out to fight supervillains, and that would be the main focus of the story...

Naruto is a story about ninjas and fighting, sure, and boys like that, but it's also about the relationships between the characters — who likes who, whether or not they're cooperating with one another, that sort of thing — so there's enough personal interaction to attract girls to the story, too. And Naruto isn't the only kind of story you'll find in the manga shelves; there's lots of different kinds of stories, and what you see coming out of American comics can't match that.

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