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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:









FULL BLEED 1:

NEEDLE IN THE CAMEL’S EYE

And where were we? Oh yes, that’s right. Co-evolution. I wrote this and this some three years ago, at the end of my tenure on the column of this name over at Broken Frontier. Man, was I tired of things by the time I got to the end of that. For the usual reasons: a mostly-volunteer site that was trying to make the transition to a professional site (which I guess they’ve done—I confess that I don’t read it all that often anymore), an editor that I wasn’t entirely happy with, and the burgeoning comics blogosphere. So I decamped for greener pastures, be my own boss, use a different voice, be a little more personal.

But even that got old after a time. And really, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be a comics writer and not a comics blogger. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but they can very easily get in each other’s way. There are folks who do both, but they’re generally better known for one or the other. And I know which one I’d rather be tagged with, so I more or less shut down comics blogging at my site (www.highway-62.com/blog for those of you taking notes), with the exception of talking about my projects when not writing them.

So why on earth would I volunteer to do something like this again? I’m not the best with deadlines (just look into my rocky tenure over at Dark, But Shining to see how many flew past me). I bridled at structure previously, believing all that claptrap about how “creativity just strikes me whenever and I’ll just follow my muse.” Yeah, that’s a seductive trap. It’s like an overstuffed chair baited with a fine tequila and just enough ice to cool it no more than ten degrees. What’s more, you trap yourself, and nobody knows how to do it better than you, know what I’m saying?

Sitting down to work is the best way to sit down to work. The work is your best distraction. Devotion pays itself, dig? Like, for instance, I’m working on a script for the second STRANGEWAYS storyline, called “Thirsty” (yes, it’s cowboys and vampires, as the first one was cowboys and werewolves) and I’d been hammering myself trying to come up with an apt visual metaphor to show how addicted our protagonist had become, so hooked on blood after his first hit. It just wasn’t coming. I cursed and howled and railed against the fundamental unfairness of the universe, wailing O WOE IS ME, WRITER THWARTED. I did a lot of things.

But I wasn’t doing The Work.

So instead of bitching about it, I sat down and wrote, working on the script pages leading up to that momentous scene. I wrote some more. And when the time came to face the dreaded PAGE 7 PANEL 1, it just came to me. And it was pretty sweet, just a couple panels and WHAM, it’s set. You know how far he’s fallen, wordless, from humanity to something lower. Because I did The Work.

You can see where this is going, right? Structure is your friend. Structure lets you direct the teeming maelstrom that your unconscious is connected to, letting you filter out all the noise (and believe you me, there’s noise aplenty issuing from the Ideaspace or whatever you want to call it.) Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it’s any good, doesn’t mean that you can elucidate it and bring light to the audience’s darkness. That’s a metaphor, folks.

Structure is what you’re going to hang everything on. And I’m not just talking three-act or nine-panel-grid or whatnot, but Structure, of the Capital S variety. You want access to that? Then you gotta give something up. Your energy, your thought, your time, your work. That’s what you willingly hand over in exchange. Sure, you can direct where that exchange leads, but you’re not in command of it. You can’t will work into being. But you can pound it out one key at a time. So I’m taking this opportunity to give myself a little extra weekly structure, giving vent to thoughts about comics in particular, the industry in general and the medium in only the vaguest sense.

You get what you give, and then some.

So yeah, structure. Not a bad thing. Trust me. Your boundless creativity won’t suffer for it. It’ll just change from a howling vastness to a chorus. Not that there’s anything wrong with howling vastness, you oughta hear some of my favorite records (start with FUN HOUSE by the Stooges or maybe TRAGIC FIGURES by Savage Republic). But sometimes a little coherency goes a long way.

My thanks to Marc for offering me a place to hang my hat for awhile. And thanks to Larry for being my number one fan.

So, what’s changed since FULL BLEED was away? Lots of surface changes, I suppose. Some folks have switched from DC to Marvel, some new indie books making inroads, more webcomics, a lot more weblogging going on (like so much you can’t keep up with it, so I don’t even try anymore. I mean, maybe if I was sitting at my old job, bored out of my skull all day long, I’d be on it, but as it stands, who has the bloody time?) There’s more emphasis on trades as opposed to monthly comics, that’s a good development (even if it has its own drawbacks.) See, the problem with comics isn’t so much content – we’ve gotten past issues of genre diversity, once we dig deeply enough, it’s presentation. I said it before, and I’ll continue to say it. Most people want a story without having to fuss about it. Trades fill this need quite nicely (particularly because single issues are written these days for inclusion in trades, not to stand alone – just look at the density of storytelling in comics overall from say even the late eighties until the early 2000s. It takes no genius to figure this out.)

It’s the presentation, the killer app so to speak, that we’re still fumbling around for. The content is there. Even if folks will endlessly gripe about their favorite subgenre not being represented (yet never actually represent it by say, writing in it and sticking their neck out), there is content to satisfy nearly any readership. We’ve managed to get people over their reluctance to look at sequential art/story content. The harder part will be adapting comics’ means to a wider audience’s expectations. The big companies know their markets. They’re, by and large, not interested in taking great effort to expand them (DC as a whole, not just the DC imprint) is better than Marvel in this regard. They are not perfect.

And retail delivery isn’t perfect either. There are folks who try very hard to improve it, but the fact of the matter is that in the last several years, there hasn’t been an expansion of the “average” Direct Market outlet. Individual stores might see rising profits, and that’s worth celebrating, but there’s still no more stores closer to the average potential reader than there were back when this column ended. Is that anyone’s fault? Most store owners have their hands full running the stores they have; asking them to expand the number of physical outlets may well be impossible.

Is it the publisher’s fault for not acting to expand their base audience? My impression (and I could very well be wrong) is that the big companies are far more interested in selling intellectual property than they are in selling comics per se. It’s a great big ego-boost. They can point at the movie screen and say “Hey, man! That’s us up there! GO TEAM!” But it doesn’t move comics out the door over the long haul. Or the medium haul. It doesn’t get more readers. But it does make it easy to sell toothbrushes, underwear, and flavored water. Hallefuckingluja.

You want more and better comics? Get more readers. Get more people actually able to support themselves with comic making by expanding the audience. You think that the Direct Market is a stagnant backwater (and I’ve been in too many good stores to agree with that assessment)? Then get out there and change it. Don’t preach to the converted about how you mocked the guy who runs that store that doesn’t even know your favorite publisher exists. Go out there and hand him a bundle of comics that explains to that retailer why they’re missing out. Educate them. You mock them and they’re just likely to tell you to jump in a lake when you ask them to stock your favorite indie.

Better yet, get three of your friends to go out and ask that retailer for said title. You want to make a retailer happy? Pre-order stuff.

Of course, I hate pre-ordering things myself. But that’s because a trip to the comic store for me involves nearly forty minutes of travel. Which is lunacy. I live in a well-to-do suburb that supports everything from a Wal-Mart to a goddamn Mercedes Benz dealership, a bunch of elementary schools and more strip malls than I can count. Don’t tell me that you couldn’t find enough readers to support a good comic shop (as opposed to the comic, er, manga, section of Borders).

Oh, maybe there aren’t enough readers to do so. Well, that’s the problem right there, then, isn’t it?

But yeah, the platform. We’re getting there. Twenty dollar trades are likely it. Ten dollar black and whites would be better. That covers teenagers anyways. Not kids quite so much. But hey, who needs to sell comics to kids, right? We’ve got a stable audience right here right now, right?

Right?

Matt Maxwell

Check out the trailer for Matt's STRANGEWAYS: MURDER MOON!:



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