Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Here is something neat I realized today: most of the great comics authors are alive, and accessible.

I realize this may be a silly thing to say, and it probably needs some clarification, but my basic point is this: most of the authors of comics that speak to us on a meaningful level are still alive, breathing, at least somewhat accessible and probably still creating. And how cool is that?

Yes, of course, a lot of fantastic comic authors have passed: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Will Eisner... basically the guys that, if you take a course in comics as a medium, you will learn about right away. And there is no denying that these folks and more from their era are incredible talents. But I'd venture to say that their work is, pardon the pun, not as "alive" for us as that of more modern creators. Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Craig Thompson, Marjane Satrapi, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Chris Ware ... just a brief, brief list of the industry's "big names" who are still around and working for us as we speak.

This is really strange when you compare comics to any other art form. The jump my mind first makes here is to rock and roll. Even with my more modern and sometimes not-mainstream tastes, there is at least one death in the music industry that has significantly affected me, and that is Freddie Mercury's. The music of Queen is so important, so "present" to me that every once in awhile it truly hurts me that Freddie isn't around to share his gift any more. And over in the prose world, well, the medium of the novel has been around so long that there's probably a better chance your favorite authors are dead than not (Orwell? check. Nietzsche? check. Milton? check -- and yes Milton is technically a poet. So sue me). But if I was to take all the comics that have affected me in a serious emotional way--all of their writers would still be alive. All of them.

I feel like I need to mention here that this is not really true of comics artists, and the most glaring exampe of this to me is Jack Kirby (who, yes, was a writer too, but it's his art that I really love). How cool would it have been if the King could have ever worked with Grant Morrison, for instance? In fact it seems like a fair amount of the really impressive comic artists are no longer with us... there I would put folks like Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Mike Sekowsky... the giants of the golden and silver ages. It is strange that I connect the titans of comic art with the golden/silver age, but its best writers with the contemporary period. That is probably the subject of a whole other post. For now I will just say that I suspect quite a few comic readers probably feel this way, and leave it at that.

Back to the topic of writers: beyond the point that all these great comic authors are alive, I want to re-state that a good number of them are accessible to folks like you and me. Going back to my rock and roll example, the odds of me actually getting a personal message to, say, Bruce Springsteen, is astronomically small. The odds of getting a response are even less. I think this is true of the prose world as well; I adore Chuck Klosterman but I don't see myself ever getting to engage in a meaningful dialouge with him simply because I'm not sure how I would get in that situation. Yet, when it comes to comics, I can pop on Facebook or MySpace and friend most of these amazing writers... and some of them will even write to you! And failing that, there are always conventions, signings, etc. that give you at least a little face-to-face time with these folks. Or there are e-mail addresses, or even snail-mail addresses, that might elicit a response. Or ... well, you see what I mean.

I guess my point here is that all us comics fans are really quite lucky. See, I kind of have this feeling that at some point soon (maybe a decade?) graphic novels are going to explode in popularity, primarly as their acceptance in the classroom/library world continues to grow. But right now, graphic novels are a relatively new and niche art form, and only in the past few decades has a lot of really fantastic work been done in it, especially on the writing end. And this timing is fairly fortuitous for us, because it means that there are a lot of quality artists who still have the time and ability to talk to the fans who really care to get in touch with them (this is not a luxury most rock stars, for instance, have... where would they find the time?). And frankly, I feel like this is something we should take advantage of--not to the point of obsessive fanboy stalking, of course, but, hey, why not write to your favorite creators online? Even if they don't have time to respond, I'm sure it's nice for them to know that their work has had a positive affect on you, and this is whether they work for the Big Two or if they're an indie cartoonist. This is something I have been trying to do lately and it hasn't let me down so far. And I'm not sure how much longer we as a fan community will be able to do this so... sink your teeth in now, guys!

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