On Kickstarter, suffering for art, and helping out

August 10th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Back in early July, Rich Johnston posted about a Kickstarter for Telikos Protocol. I thought it looked neat and I had a spare ten bucks, so I kicked ten dollars their way in exchange for DRM-free copies of their first three issues. They were a few thousand dollars short of their goal, but every little bit helps, right? Three hours later, I got an email update from their Kickstarter that began like this:

We are sat here trying to fathom quite what’s happened. We just don’t know how to react – we hit target after just 2 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes. We’re finding this tough to compute, but while we do that, some extra updates!

Three thousand dollars in three hours and they hit their goal. They wanted 9,500 and they got 50,119. They get to make a series of books that’s much, much better than they ever expected. On top of that, they get to make their book. That’s the most important part, I think.

I’ve contributed to ten Kickstarters thus far, supporting a wide range of comics from webcomics to Image comics to OGNs to Dave Sim’s digital efforts. Ten isn’t a lot of projects, but I feel good about it. I can afford that, and it’s nice to be able to help someone get their work done. Paying it forward, maybe — I’m blessed enough to have a steady job so that I’m not living on exceedingly thin margins. So I do what I can.

There’s a conversation going around comics internet right now about Kickstarter. Tom Spurgeon has a nice conversation going here. It was sparked by a post in which TCJ editor Dan Nadel said this:

-And finally, Kickstarter. Guess what? You don’t get to call yourself underground if you’re on Kickstarter. Guess what else? You don’t get to call yourself a publisher either; you’re just someone who pays a printing bill. Take pre-orders on your site. Sell your boots. Do what you have to do. But don’t go begging for money so that you can then give 5% of it to Amazon.com, which is actively trying to put you (!), and the stores you hope to shove this shit into, out of business. I’m all for raising money for art, but it would be nice if there was some sense of proportion. No one needs this anthology but it might do fine “in the market”. I’m so sick of seeing perfectly viable (viable, but not smart or interesting; viable) comic book projects on there. People can do what they want, but when you’re out there hustling dough for your movie-ready zombie-baseball graphic novel, or fucking Cyberforce, or your poorly thought through Garo book, you just look like a schmuck.

Just this morning I saw Sean Collins saying this:

The problem is, well, why on earth do you need to Kickstart a project in which 60 illustrators who (judging from the samples) draw in lush, inviting, commercial-friendly styles make pin-ups from someone else’s intellectual property, drawn from a show that’s so hugely popular with the project’s target audience that it could make its money back and then some during the first hour of SPX without breaking a sweat? If the project’s publisher had asked its 60 contributors to paypal her twelve bucks, that would have covered the $700 goal of the kickstarter right there. Indeed the modest amount being requested makes it more baffling, not less, since it’s undeniable that the zine could have been independently funded with a modicum of self-sacrifice, which again would no doubt be handsomely rewarded the moment the book went on sale. Instead, what we have is a project that’s made three times its goal amount with 18 days to go.

(the bolds in each quote are mine, of course)

and I have a real problem with this type of thinking. ’cause here’s the thing: life sucks. You can get sick once and find yourself under three years of debt. You can save money for two years and see it all wiped out because of something you couldn’t have predicted. You can live life exactly the way you’re supposed to and still find yourself directly behind the eight ball.

That goes for artists, too. A “sure thing” is a fake idea. It’s a cudgel for an argument. Any number of sure things flop and fail every single day, from a new Superman movie taking inspiration from the Christopher Reeve flicks to asking out a pretty girl who smiled at you on the bus. There is no such thing as a sure thing. This is true in life and it is definitely true in comics.

“Maybe you should sacrifice some! Maybe you should sell your boots!” is hilariously insulting. It assumes that the people involved haven’t already done so. It assumes that the people involved can afford to do so. If I wanted to launch a new website with robust content right now, or that podcast I talked about, I couldn’t afford to. I have a full-time job, a vaguely-lucrative part-time gig, and I couldn’t afford to do that. It’s a time and money investment that I simply cannot make right now, no matter how great an idea it is or how much money it might make if I take it to SPX or sell it door-to-door. I can’t afford it because I’ve got bills. I’ve got student loans. I’ve got a lot of things on my plate, and even carving out the time that needs investing for those projects would result in something slipping elsewhere. I can only do so much. I can only afford so much. And I possibly have more freedom than a lot of artists, in that I have a job that pays me every two weeks without fail. I don’t have to seek out freelance work like I used to.

Life is hard. It’s hard to make a living. It’s even harder to make a living as an artist. So I honestly, earnestly, believe that if I believe in something or someone, and I can help them along, I should do so. I don’t have a lot of money, nowhere near as much as I should, but I can spare ten bucks to help out an artist, even when I’m scraping to save money. Why not? I like them, I want what they’re doing, and so I do so.

I don’t think that artists should have to suffer for their art. If I’m interested in what they’re doing, and I can help out, I will. Joe and Jane Schmo having to max out their credit cards to print their comics is stupid when there’s an audience right there willing to kick in a few bucks to help get it done in exchange for a book or two.

“Well maybe the contributors should pay first!” is a stupid thing to say when every week some new artist learns the hard lesson of “never work for free.” If someone chooses to pay to get their art out there, sweet! That’s how people have been doing it, and I’m sure Visa will be very happy. But if I can help someone else keep their head out of the muck, to not suffer for their art and actually get a chance to love what they do before they burn out or whatever, then let’s do it!

I don’t know. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. I wrote this on my lunch break in a burst, brain to page. But I hate this “I got mine, so go screw yourself if you can’t afford to pay for what you want to do” mentality so, so much. It’s the grossest, annoyingest, Ron Paul-iest thing that has hit comics in a long while. You can help someone get their book made, at no extra cost to yourself, and help them not have to go through the pain of choosing between eating three meals a day and putting out their labor of love. I like that feeling, in part because I hope that other people feel the same way.

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before Watchmen: Star*Reach Classics #1

June 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I want there to be some kind of cute narrative behind my discovery of Star*Reach Classics 1 like there is for my introductions to Michelinie and McFarlane’s Amazing Spider-Man 316+317 (my first comics) and Miller’s Sin City: The Big Fat Kill 5 (my first adult comic), but there isn’t one. It was just a book I pulled out of a quarter bin six or seven years ago that I thought was really weird-looking and awkward and therefore must-reading.

I grabbed it for a couple of reasons. I knew and liked Jim Starlin’s work, especially his Adam Warlock-related stuff. I also knew of Neal Adams’s work, though I don’t think I’d had any direct experience with it beyond covers. I’m pretty sure I knew of Dave Sim, too, but I didn’t know that Cerebus was actually an important comic. It looked like a stupid talking animal parody book. So, hey, a quarter? For a book featuring art by one dude I knew I liked, one guy I figured I was supposed to like, and one guy whose name kept popping up? Why not? It turns out that Star*Reach Classics is a weird little time capsule of a comic, some of it great, some of it… strange.

Even though the vast majority of my experience with Starlin comes from reading Marvel comics, even today, I still have this really firm image of what I think his shtick is. There will be a battle between equal numbers, dialogue that’s as much a call-and-response speech as a conversation, amazing starscapes, ankhs, and at some point a close zoom on an eye. Sometimes the eye reveals the universe, sometimes the eye reveals a screaming skull. That’s Starlin in my head. It’s sort of funny how these things build up over the years and we place guys in these boxes. Sometimes it’s wrong. Sometimes it’s right.

“…The Birth of Death!” delivers, in terms of what I expect out of Starlin. “…The Birth of Death!” is a bedtime story delivered by a kid’s Uncle Mort (hey, something about that name…). Starlin remixes the Christian creation story, documenting the creation of angels, humans, immortals, and finally Death. As I was rereading this, I realized that it reminded me of nothing but “Night on Bald Mountain” from Fantasia. They both have that kinda dark and gloomy but still majestic and horrible feel.

I really like how Starlin draws the story. Instead of the bedtime story just being a framing sequence, with Uncle Mort’s words transitioning to captions instead of word balloons, Mort stays in the story every step of the way. His face, or parts of his face at least, is attached to every panel in the story. It’s a technique I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, but very cool. His expressions, from anger to awe, really sell the story, which is heightened in a space opera/high fantasy kind of way. Mort’s sneers and wrinkles elevate a basic story into something else.

I really like how Starlin renders God, too, as a pair of eyes (with ankhs, skulls, and the infinity symbol) floating in crowded space. It’s original and abstract enough to get across the idea of an ever present higher power. Some vague nudity in this one:

I think it’s notable that Starlin’s version of Death hangs out with two topless Conan the Barbarian looking chicks and holds some kind of weird squid-thing that he refers to as “the Dark Thing” in his hand. Starlin’s Death has the same kind of overwrought nobility that Dr Doom bears, but a physicality more fitting for a pulp hero. He’s the kind of villain that would drink wine out of a goblet, throw that goblet against the wall, and then casually bury an axe in a hero’s skull. He looks like he writes poetry about murders between murders, is what I’m saying.

In the end, of course, Uncle Mort is revealed to be Death, and the child he’s reading to is dead. A Longfellow poem and a pale child’s body close out the story.

There’s another story by Starlin in this one, “Death Building.” Was it Matt Fraction who said that the rise of Jim Starlin was the point when nerds discovered acid? Something to that effect, at least. Here’s the bottom two tiers from the first page of “Death Building”:

And here’s the last tier from the last page:

One thing that used to bug me about Starlin was that it seemed like he was always going back to the same well. I eventually got it. It’s not that he was out of ideas or whatever it was I used to think. It was more that he was interested in a specific thing, and working out his feelings about that on the page. Or maybe he was working out the various angles of that specific thing. I don’t want to assume anything about his feelings. Regardless, Starlin has spent a lot of time examining existence, from death to power to destiny and back again.

I like seeing people working out their thoughts in public. I’ve done a lot of it here, obviously. It’s like watching someone rub their chin and mull over a point in person. Starlin married his conundrum to his artwork, and the results are pretty great. It’s not going back to the well at all. It’s trying to solve a puzzle by recreating that puzzle in several different configurations.

There are a few stories in this issue. Starlin has another one-pager called “The Origin of God!” (I love that he uses punctuation in his titles so, so much) that’s just four panels long and pretty solid. Dave Sim supplies the four-page “Cosmix,” which is about suicide, criticism, and art, and still doesn’t manage to be interesting or particularly good. It has a last-minute stinger that isn’t really earned at all. (I just started watching Black Mirror, and the “Welcome To The Twilight Zone” moment in “Cosmix” is similar to a twist in the (pretty solid) second episode, but with a bit less brutal irony, maybe.)

The last story is “Flightmare,” with words by Neal Adams and art by Frank Cirocco, who I’m not familiar with at all, though he apparently drew an issue of Power Man and Iron Fist that I undoubtedly have kicking around somewhere.

“Flightmare” is pretty interesting. Its main thrust is about a man feeling frustrated with training women to fly commercial airliners, and yearning for days gone by. He travels through a series of dreamy sequences as he searches for peace. He sheds the woman, first of all, as he pilots a jet, because ladies these days, am I right fellas? But the jet moves “too fast to enjoy the ride,” so he transfers to a World War II-era P-51 Mustang, and then a biplane, and then… a giant naked blue woman? He’s naked, too, and he says that “This is the way flight was meant to be!” But look! Coming out of the sun! There’s that dastardly woman piloting… a giant naked blue man? So they have a big naked dogfight in their big naked airplanes, the lady shoots the male pilot down with hand lasers from her big naked dude, and then we flash back to reality and she gives him the finger guns, a wink, and a “Gotcha!” Sure. Okay.

It’s one of those stories where I can’t quite figure out if it has a certain point to make or if it’s just a fun lark. It’s pretty and fast-moving enough to get wrapped up in, but I don’t know if it’s about women’s lib or the futility of nostalgia or the cruelty of women or just some weird sex dream. But I liked reading it, even if I couldn’t tell you what Adams and Cirocco were trying to express. The craft and storytelling are really entertaining in a way that transcends the ambiguity. (Cirocco also draws nice airplanes.)

I like Star*Reach Classics 1 a lot. It’s the only one I’ve read, even after years of owning it, but it’s an interesting artifact. I say that I like ’70s comics the best, but that’s not really true. I like ’70s Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man, anything Heroes for Hire related, Doug Moench/Paul Gulacy, and Steve Gerber. There’s this whole other world of ’70s comics that I missed out on that — judging by Star*Reach Classics 1 — are probably pretty great.


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glamourpuss: striking a blow against misogyny!

January 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Dave Sim‘s fabulous, startling, and _____ glamourpuss magazine has taken a decidedly political stance in just its fifth issue! The eponymous glamourpuss has something to say and she isn’t holding back! Read on, but brace yourselves, because this is fabulously startling!

glamourpuss-issue5-01 glamourpuss-issue5-02

Oh my! Sadly, the brutality of the print industry strikes again. No, glamourpuss (the magnificent magazine) hasn’t been canceled, nor has glamourpuss (the fabulous fashionista) been removed from her lofty position. No, she’s just missing a bit of the latest development in the now-past presidential race:

Barack Obama made Hillary Clinton (wait for it) Secretary of State.

The nerve!

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