COMIC BOOKS: THE FORGOTTEN ART

Art, what does it mean? When most people hear the word ‘art’ they think of the visual arts such as painting and drawing. Some others will even extend this definition to include things like music, drama, pottery and the like. However, there is a form of art that is generally overlooked when it comes to being a form of artistic expression. That form is the comic book.

“They absolutely are a merger of artforms,” said Geoff Rousseau, co-owner of Sketchbook Comics. “The most closely related is probably movies and TV. It’s odd because they are usually seen as a higher form of art than comics. Comics are just realizing that they are not just for kids. When I was in highschool you didn’t tell people you read comics. You would get beaten. The go to media has been film instead.”

Film has always been an art form for the masses. Easily accessible, unlike theatre or music in many cases even though it is still considered a higher art. However, the comic book is just as accessible as film, if not more so, and it is definitely more versatile. Yet it remains far less popular.

“When you really get down to it, with comics you can do whatever you want,” said Rousseau. “There are no budget restraints, you don’t have to worry about anything. If your imagination can picture it, or more importantly your artist’s imagination can picture it, then you can do it. Because of that, comics can go beyond what film can. There are some things you just can’t do on screen, but in print you can do anything. The truth is that you can do anything you want in a comic because your ‘actors’ will always do what you want.”

Really the similarities between comics and film are astounding. Even the creation process is shared between the two forms. “From a writing perspective, a comic book is really just a screenplay,” said ‘Fearless’ Fred Kennedy, host for 102.1 The Edge as well as Teletoon at Night. Kennedy has also written and published many comics and graphic novels.

Growing and changing:
Over the years, the comic book industry has been changing and growing along with its fan base. As comic book readers shared their opinions on what their heroes were doing, the community of creators would listen. It created a form of art that is not only fan reliant, but also fan inspired.

“It’s interesting,” said Kennedy. “It’s very responsive to its fan base more than other forms of media are. I think that comes from the fact that you have conventions where even the highest level creators in the industry are talking to the fans face to face, every week. There are massive conventions all the time, so they are very in tune with their audience. Along with that, it is also getting more inclusive. You are getting less characters that are just white dudes who ‘have it so rough’. I think the thing that has changed most over the past five years is how inclusive it is now, both in the stories being told and in the people who are telling them.”

Connecting with the fans has also been improving since the introduction of the Internet. In fact, the internet might be the most significant change to the comic industry in recent years.

“It’s huge and it’s growing,” said Kennedy. “Because of the internet now, people can choose when they want to become a fan of something. Before, if you missed it, it was gone. Now if you miss the printing of a comic you can get it online whenever you want.”

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Kennedy suggested that the next big thing for comics will be a large scale comic book imprint that is exclusively published online.

“I think Comixology will become their own imprint,” said Kennedy. “They’ll start doing their own thing in the same way that Netflix is doing its own thing. I guarantee that when they launch they will change things to the same degree that Image did back in the 90s. They’ll probably pay a bunch of big name creators to make new books for them and they will also save money on the printing because t’s all online. It will have nothing to do with Marvel or DC, because they already sell those titles. This will be there own original thing.”

Whether or not this will be the next phase in the evolution of comic books or not remains to be seen. Either way, change is always on the horizon for the comic book industry.

It’s an American thing:
An intriguing part of comic books is that they are an intrinsically American artform. An artform which helped define a relatively new culture and provided a form of identity that they could rally behind.

“They are an American artform,” said Rousseau. “That’s where they really started. Yes there are throwbacks to ancient visual arts, but the reality is that comic books are an american artform. They are a modern american mythology. The Greeks had their gods, we have the heroes in comic books. It’s definitely a merger of artforms, and to produce a comic takes the work of many different artists at various stages of the production all working together.”

Although this primarily refers to North America, instead of the United States, it is also true that the industry is primarily controlled by our southern neighbours. The Canadian contribution to the industry is extensive, but has its limitations.

For example, Rousseau explained that although we have an abundance of creators and an increased number of conventions, we are still limited to only one imprint that produces comics. “We really only have one imprint, Chapter House, who now owns Captain Canuck. Sometimes book publishers will dabble in it as well too, but most imprints are out of the States,” said Rousseau.

“I would say that Toronto is an epicenter of comic book talent, even bigger than most cities in the states,” said Kennedy. “There is so much local talent here. It’s true that there are not as many people in the smaller areas of the country but they are still there. Yes there are more Americans in the industry, but that’s just because all the printers are in the U.S.. Here we pretty much just have Chapter House.”

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In addition to this limitation, there is a lack of Canadian comic book characters that don’t fulfill various Canadian stereotypes. Rousseau explained, “We have a handful of Canadian based characters like Wolverine and Captain Canuck, whose creator actually lives in Welland. The problem is that when we create a Canadian hero we seen to always fill them with canadian stereotypes and drape them in the Canadian flag. Alpha Flight, the X-men spin off, is a great example of this. Every character is some form of different Canadian stereotype.”

Although the comic book industry is heavily rooted in America, that does mean that its presence isn’t felt globally. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are comics, but most of the original comics from there are detective fictions instead of superheroes or science fiction.There is also, of course, the presence of manga from Japan, which has a huge presence around the world now. However, according to Rousseau, there is very little crossover between fans of american comic books and fans of manga.

“It’s odd, and I don’t know why that is, but it doesn’t happen as much as you might think since they are both comics,” said Rousseau.

We can take pride in the global popularity of such an important part of our arts and culture here in Canada.

Becoming the comic:
The comic industry in the past was made of entirely original work that required a lot of hard work to develop a fanbase. Although this is still very true for many modern original comics, there are now fast tracks to creating a popular comic book that didn’t exist in the past. Now, comics have also become intertwined with many other forms of artwork.

The best example of this today is the conversion of books and television in the comic book format. No matter the genre there is likey a comic book form of your favourite popular media. Anything from novels like The Dresden Files to movies like Back To The Future have been converted into comic books to capitalize on the ever rising populatity of the format and the endless possiblities it provides.

Another example of this is the abundance of comic book inspired video games which is something that gives hope for the future of the medium.

“They are doing an amazing job of grooming the next generation of fans,” said Kennedy. “There’s the Lego superhero games and there are tons of really good superhero cartoons that are creating younger fans. It’s awesome.”

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The rise of technology also provides questions about what the future of the format will really hold. More use of the Internet for media sharing is also shifting the attention from the monthly issues that imprints release to the much less frequent but far larger trade paperback format.

“I think it’s whatever you get introduced to,” said Kennedy. “I think that the older fans always want the monthly books. They want to hold it in their hands. The younger fans seem to want the Trade Paperback versions because they are so used to binge watching a TV shows on Netflix that they want to binge read the comics too.”

Becoming the Artist:
There is an abundance of fans who would love to be a creative mind in the ever-expanding comic world they love.

From a creator’s perspective, Fred Kennedy described the world of comics as “a horrible beast”. This is likely because of the hardships faced by many artists starting out in the industry.

Kennedy has been publishing his creations under his own online imprint for years and has earned not only a name for himself but also a new publishing deal through Chapter House and lots of experience in the industry.

Although not necessarily an enjoyable process, Kennedy recommends the experience to any upstarts in the industry.

“The thing is that if you don’t believe in yourself enough to put your stuff out there, nobody else will either,” said Kennedy. “You have to be willing to do the work and put your money where your mouth is.

If you don’t believe in yourself enough to put your own money down, no one else is going to do it for you. I self-published for four years. Sure, if I got an offer I would have taken it, but I still did it and I learned a lot from it. If you’re committed, commit.”

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For those interested in doing just that, Kennedy provided some advice. Not only do you have to be willing to pay to produce your own work, but you also have to be willing to pay the artists who work with you fairly. Artists should not be expected to work for free or for promises of fame.

Most importantly, Kennedy explained, “[creators should] learn to take criticism, because you aren’t as good as you think you are. It doesn’t matter how good your idea is if your execution of it doesn’t work well”.

This is also why a story is only as good as its art. When your art form of choice is a combination of other art forms, it takes the teamwork of many artists to create it.

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