LOS ANGELES, CA – Among the chaos, noise, and excellent costumes at the very first Comikaze Expo, seven industry gurus assembled to share their knowledge of the world of comic books. The panelists and the panel-goers were surrounded by nothing more than a thin curtain, but the sound of the cacophonous convention did little to diminish the value of the lessons taught and the questions asked.
Bryan Daggett (Founder of WhyNotIndie.com?, Assistant Editor at ComicBookResources.com) moderated and introduced the panelists, which included: Dennis Calero (artist: LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, X-MEN: NOIR), our very own Andy Liegl (Editor-in-Chief/Founder: ComicAttack.net, manager of Collector’s Paradise in Pasadena, CA), Sam Humphries (writer: OUR LOVE IS REAL, FRAGGLE ROCK), Jim McCann (writer: RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN), Josh Fialkov (writer: I, VAMPIRE, THE LAST OF THE GREATS), and Chris Johnson (artist for IMAGE COMICS, TOP COW, AND ONI PRESS).
Dennis began by stating what was true for almost all of the guests: they started out doing indie comics. As a writer or an artist, it’s difficult to begin in the big leagues, so it’s necessary (and sometimes a preference) to put your own work out there in order to show The Big 2 what you can do. He emphasized the importance and the joy of creating your own properties, and he finds himself “jumping back and forth between indie and mainstream comics.”
As a retailer, Andy described himself as an “ambassador” to those who have an interest in comics. Regarding what is popular with who in the world of independent and mainstream titles, guys will usually get their girlfriends into comics by introducing them to indie books. Nine times out of ten they like what he recommends.
One of the reasons why indie comics may appeal to certain people is the freedom they represent. They don’t have to be diversely marketed toward young boys, teenage boys, and middle-aged men. Sam put it perfectly by calling it a “way to be a creator without someone’s permission.”
In a reality-shattering blow to the space-time continuum, Jim McCann revealed that he did not start in indie comics. He started at Marvel, alongside editors in the offices. He eventually got a job as a writer, and although he still loves his heroes in capes and tights, he decided to branch out. Surprisingly, he found some things in common between the mainstream and independent worlds. “In an indie setting, you’re on your own, but people are around you to support you.” Very much like a working professional in any industry.
Josh had some things to say on the subject, clarifying that even though there is a certain amount of cutthroat mentality, “the best thing about independent comics is the community aspect.”
Chris made a great musical performance analogy: “Playing on a smaller stage, there will be a lot less people that are going to judge you or fire you. Don’t treat it like a hobby, because it’s a passion.”
Accessibility is another advantage of working independently. “What we do is actually accessible,” said Josh. “Mainstream comics are completely reliant on the 100,000 to 200,000 people that read superhero comics.” So basically, people have more freedom to create what they want and not rely solely on their ability to write whatever character is popular at the time. It can be wonderful to see your creation become a product and make you a lot of money, but to see a bunch of corporate executives destroy your creation could turn out to be a fate worse than death. In other, less dramatic words from the mouth of Jim: “You don’t have to worry about people screwing up what you’ve done.” He doesn’t have to worry about someone using the other Dapper Men for lewd purposes, although Josh did make it clear that he would love to see a RETURN OF THE DAPPER MEN and a THE LAST OF THE GREATS crossover. He can only dream.
One of the best ways for modern comic creators to make a name for themselves is to network. Facebook and Twitter are really important, but in order to really make a lasting impression on fans, writers and artists need to interact with their readers in the real world. At Collector’s Paradise, where Andy works, there is an entire host of local writers that cyclically promote their work, and in turn, the store.
As an overview, nothing sums up the differences between mainstream and independent comic creating than Jim’s analogy: “Working for someone else is more…masturbatory, while indie is more like sex…or making love.” Apparently Jim boasted to Josh about saying the dirtiest thing he would ever say at this panel. Josh laughed because Jim seemed to quickly regret this on account of his changing “sex” to “making love” mid-sentence.
The comics industry can be a crazy thing. Whether one decides to stick to indie books, move up to the big two, or go back and forth, the main thing that will lead to success is persistence. A good creator has to be willing to write until they have carpal tunnel so bad that they’d be better off chopping off their arms and getting a prosthetic Darth Vader gauntlet. They should be determined to do sketch after sketch until lightning strikes the chain keeping them bound to their desk and transmutes them into a godless half-human, half-monster abomination that spews glorious art at each passerby. It can be a tough life, just like any other creative profession, but the rewards for both you and your readers will make the outcome worth it.
And hey, if these steps have been taken, and the spoils of victory are yet to be found… “Big. Beards.” -Josh Fialkov
All photographs courtesy of Caitlin Holland, Killer Cupcake Event Photography.