Saturday In the Park (the late Weekend Pattering for December 17th, 2016)

Previously on Panel Patter

Cover of the Next Week

Tyler Boss's cover for 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank #4 is a very simple but intriguing cover.  There's just enough detail to suggest that these kids are standing by a wall but there's nothing too explicit or even deep about it.  The small characters pushed off into a bottom corner creates just enough mystery about them that you want to know what's up with this comic.  

4 Kids Walk Into A Bank #4 by Matthew Rosenberg, Tyler Boss and Thomas Mauer is in comic shops on December 21st, 2016.


** New Yorker artist Eric Drooker: A small giant in our midst (Berkleyside)-- Eve Kushner spotlights artist and occasional cartoonist Eric Drooker. Drooker's Blood Song and Flood are two of the highlights of Nineties' comics, visually strong books created with images that you just don't see in comics.
Drooker longs to maintain a connection to New York, so he enjoys working for the New Yorker. He has created more than 30 covers for the publication. The Dec. 14, 2015 cover, shown above — a comment on gun control — garnered considerable attention, showing a couple shopping at a superstore. Having found milk and hand grenades, they’re picking out a bevy of semi-automatic rifles. When Drooker first submitted the artwork, in 2012, the New Yorker rejected the piece. Then, after the San Bernardino shootings on Dec. 2, 2015, the magazine ran the cover immediately. By then, mass shootings had become the norm.

** “A Fair Bit of Alchemy”: A Q&A with Luke Howard (The Comics Journal)-- Rob Kirby interviews Luke Howard, cartoonist and instructor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT.  
Howard: There just aren’t enough hours in the day and a big chunk of energy and time is being eaten up by something that isn’t comics. So what’s the solution? Either make less comics, or work two full-time jobs – your day job and your comics job. For the time being I’ve gone down that second route. It’s rough, maybe not even sustainable in the long run. But there are things about my job at CCS that really keep the fire lit. My two years as a CCS student were the hardest and most productive work years of my life. As a faculty member, being around a tribe of young cartoonists that are going through the same things—pushing themselves to be stronger cartoonists with every assignment, and the constant flow of self-improvement—can be an incredible boon to my own productivity. And I think especially since I’m still relatively wet behind the ears when it comes to comics, being at the epicenter of an education system keeps me hungry for furthering my own education. Heading into my third year as a faculty member, I feel like I’ve almost been through four years as a student, if that makes sense. It’s funny, though, you mentioning that it seems like I’ve found my niche. That doesn’t feel all that true from my perspective. Not to say I haven’t been lucky to have the opportunity to make books with both AdHouse and Retrofit—maybe that is a niche of sorts. From my side of things it all still feels very precarious, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like maybe the next time I sit down to make a comic it’ll be like I’m 10 years old again, and what comes out on the page will feel unacceptable—the spell will be broken. I still feel a lot like Emma does at the end of that story, the future is unclear.

This and That

** Fantagraphics vs. Everyone (Part One) (The Comics Journal)-- TCJ has been running a couple of excerpts from Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean's oral history of Fantagraphics, We Told You So: Comics as Art.  Part one is here.  Part 2 is here.  I've spent a better part of the week skimming through the book so far and it's great.  It makes me wish that I was in Seattle, and that hardly ever happens.  If nothing else, the book is an important chronicle of Gary Groth and, by extension, Fantagraphic's impact and views on comics.

Gary Groth: We published the Paul Levitz memo in the Journal where DC’s option to buy Diamond was revealed. I remember talking to Larry Marder at Image about that, and basically he didn’t give a shit. I thought it would be a revelation to him, that he would step up and say, “No, we can’t let this happen and we have a tremendous amount of clout and we are going to keep at least two distributors alive,” and basically he, and I assume all the Image partners, for whatever reasons, when they had the option of either going with Capital or sticking with both of them, chose to go with Diamond and kill Capital. Dark Horse made the same choice. Capital clearly would have served as a perfectly acceptable distributor in the direct-sales market and a counterweight to Diamond. Diamond could not have offered Image anything that Capital couldn’t, and in fact, Diamond probably had to offer them less because they became a monopoly. But for reasons that will probably forever remain a mystery, neither Image nor Dark Horse elected to keep two distributors alive in the direct-sales market. So much for competition being an essential ingredient of capitalism.
The last Maakies! strip by Tony Millionaire (Dec 14, 2016.)

** All Hail Maakies! Tony Millionaire Ends His Stupendous Alt-Weekly Achievement After 20-Plus Years... (The Comics Reporter)-- Speaking of Tom Spurgeon, he has a thorough sendoff for Tony Millionaire's Maakies!, after Millionaire announced that he was ending the strip.
Despite the sturdiness of Millionaire's basic presentation, part of the effectiveness of Maakies was that Millionaire carved out an enormous space for self-expression within what in other hands might have been narrow thematic grounds. Some of the most memorable Maakies installment eschewed jokes for serious, even elegiac declarations: the lyrics to Moon River, a lowering of the sails for the author Patrick O'Brian in 2000. It was one of those deviations that led to his most useful structural ploy. Millionaire crafted a bottom-tier strip within the strip, an homage to the old Sunday-comics habit of including a supplementary feature. The bottom strip almost always indulged in straightforward joke-making.

Your Moment of The Future of Comics?

** 2017 may be a rough year for comics retail and the industry–or not (The Beat)
** Last Gasp Distribution shuts down, publishing to continue (The Beat)
** When Is A Merger Not A Merger? When It’s Desert Sky Comics (Bleeding Cool)
** Why Are The Comics Retailers Worried About Mass Store Closings? (The Beat)
** Two Comics Stores Close In Columbia, South Carolina –Punk Monkey, Heroes And Dragons (Bleeding Cool)
** Let’s Save Comics!!! More thoughts on new readers, Marvel attrition and DC cover prices (The Beat)

There's been a lot of digital ink this week about a bleak 2017 for comics, particularly for comic retailers.  The Beat and Bleeding Cool have been chronicling the retailer's point-of-view lately, putting a spotlight on failing and closing comic shops.  These stories are nothing new but as 2016 closes, these stories begin painting an ugly picture of the future.  And this future is caused by Marvel, DC, and the readers.

I'm a fan of comic shops (still proudly a "Wednesday Warrior") but I don't think I'm really a fan any more longer of the direct market.  It's a mechanism that developed in the 1980s that powered decades of great comics but in 2016, it looks more and more like a creaking structure that's only as strong as its strongest element, which historically has been Marvel Comics.  The DM is still the primary distribution system of comics although webcomics, Kickstarter and other methods of direct selling look like they could be the future.

So what is 2017 going to be like?  Are we going to lose a significant portion of our retailers as they close shop?  If you follow the Beat and Bleeding Cool, it looks like it.   And is that the worst thing?  Who knows?

It's funny in a tragic way that we're having this dialogue as superheroes and comics seem to be at the height of their penetration into popular culture.  Marvel movies are the biggest things even as the output of Marvel Comics seem to be connecting less and less to their usually loyal fanbase.  DC Comics and their movies have the perfect opportunity to strike but they can't get their act together long enough yet to really take a bite out of Marvel's market share.

But comics feel stronger than ever.  Image Comics, Dark Horse, Oni and Black Mask seem like they are all poised to really do something if only they could find that next great thing.  Alternate stalwarts Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly are producing some of their greatest work even as they've celebrated publishing milestones through two fantastic retrospective books.  And there are a ton of smaller alternative publishers like 2D Cloud, Koyama Press and Retrofit that are really revitalizing a unique aesthetic in comics.

This is just really your year-end reminder that comics are not DC and Marvel and are not the Direct Market.  While those are large portions of comics, and we all benefit when they function in a healthy manner, comics are so much bigger than the DM. Parts of comics may stumble and fall but there's so much more to comics that are found in other places than your Local Comic Shop.

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