8 December 2023|Updated 14 Dec 23
I’ve had quite a rough year. Not the first rough year in recent years, to be sure. And then, too, at the same time, by no means an all bad year. Far from an all bad year.
Something I haven’t been able to do for a lot of the year is keep up with comics-biz podcasts. Only with fall, the last month or so, have I begun again here and there getting in episodes of a couple of the favorites, David Harper’s Off Panel and Publishers Weekly show More To Come.
I am going to mention, momentarily, a couple of items that have been for me more on the rewarding or uplifting side in the listening. But most on the brain at the moment is an interview Harper put up last month and I’m in turn just this week catching a bit of, which in uptake has been a comparatively somewhat less unburdening sort of experience. (Should say that I’m only about half-way through it. Should also say that Harper is consistently a fine interviewer in my judgment — this instance in that respect no exception.) The guest is someone about my age who’s done very well as a creator of comics and other media, and who’s made it happen, to boot, with solid ‘day job’ support in an unrelated profession, evidently well compensated. Someone who’s accomplished, that is, a version of life-path success it’d be very ordinary, among people of my generation with footing something like mine in economic, educational and cultural terms, to identify with. That for myself I haven’t accomplished anything of the sort doesn’t lead me to envy. Not anymore, at least, I don’t think. Everybody should have the kind of asset / income security and reputation this person does — yes, even people working in comics! — and one has to be glad for those who’ve attained it.
But man, I just can’t relate straightforwardly any longer to the smart-choices creative-striver individual attainment ideal Harper’s guest so strikingly represents. A younger me could thoroughly relate, could believe — 100%. The 50-something Paul Bowman now writing this cannot. What real well-being the guest has found, I can appreciate and wish for on anyone’s behalf. The path and the conditions for it actual in that representative case, on the other hand, register for me today as hollow, vaporous, a false object.
I feel at the same time more confirmed, if anything, in my sense of the firmness of the alternative sort of ideal I began fumblingly, erratically to turn toward a dozen or so years ago — the sort of alternative a post of three Decembers back still holds for me as a decent attempt, not the worst attempt, to say something about. Attainment on this contrary pattern is a beast, a real struggle — in my own life, heavy this year very distinctly. Sure do wish I’d found a way into tackling the cooperativist’s problems younger. But if it’s hard, at least it isn’t hollow.
In October I finally got to putting in application for membership in the Cartoonist Cooperative, launched early in the year, February or March. My application was approved! Much more stands to be said about this, and at present, circumstances being what they are with me, I’m not able to say an awful lot. I’m barely participating. Nevertheless, this new thing is fascinating development in an area I hoped, writing that post in December 2020, someday to see a flowering of among folks working in this field. I’m lucky to be on hand for it in any fashion so soon after.
Cartoonist Cooperative is the third co-op I’ve joined this year, as it happens. I mentioned the other two in a studio note late in summer. By a large margin the most directly significant of the three for my life is the first, ChiCommons. ChiCommons and what it indicates and illuminates are subject I’ll certainly be returning to. But it’s not my focus here. Nor indeed am I going to dwell much here on Artisans Cooperative, the second, though membership there probably does in certain more particular ways bear on how I’m thinking about the immediate topic.
My topic, immediate or not, isn’t so easy to pinpoint. In a sense, the topic’s comics and cartooning. In a sense, it’s business and labor. In a sense, it’s the space of democracy. I don’t intend in this post a drawn-out effort at weaving these strands together. Enough almost, rather, merely to string a few words together as I’ve just done and acknowledge, or assert, the mutuality.
Of interviews David Harper’s presented this year that I’ve managed to listen to, I think the one I’ve taken the best boost from is the September conversation with Jenn Haines, Guelph Ontario comics shop owner and current president of retailer association ComicsPRO (not, as far as I know, a cooperative organization in any aspect — just an ordinary trade group). Here in a single hour of talk you get a good picture, all at once, of a number of interconnecting interests in ecosystemic negotiation, in their localized, neighborhood-foot-traffic character particularly but in no way exclusively or reductively. Only so many people in the world might be able to give you such a broad but elemental, operations-oriented but reader-experience-sensitive view of trade in comic books, this lesser perpetually-edge-of-cliff constituent of the great international market in popular media, as it’s evolving today in North American context. Haines would be one, of course, and Harper provides her an excellent general-audiences platform for demonstrating it.
You’ll get a still more complete current idea of comics as site for converging economic and social forces if you also check out graphic-novel reviews editor Meg Lemke’s discussion of NY Comic Con, the following month, recorded with Calvin Reid for More To Come — where Jenn Haines is again a figure in action. (Jump to about minute 27 for Lemke’s segment.) Crucial to the picture’s rounding-out here is recognition of the vital part public libraries and librarians play in comics-trade flow market-wide.
This latter listen from PW’s comics crew gets soberingly political quick. I think that’s important, but I don’t want it to seem, if we notice here (not for the first time) the threat new right-wing recourse to public restrictions on access to media means, that it’s on this question essentially that I think the comics trade’s having in a serious way something to do with democracy hinges. What business and democracy have to do with each other in general is about a good deal more, in my judgment, than individual autonomy, expression rights and consumer access. But that’s matter that’ll have to be come back to in future posts.
update (dec. 14)
Should’ve waited a week to write this, maybe. (If I had waited, it would not have gotten written.) Harper’s annual ‘Three Themes’ episode, a highlight in his schedule of shows that I’d somehow managed to forget was coming, is up now. The conversation with first guest of the show’s three, Books With Pictures Portland’s Katie Pryde, particularly, is excellent appendix to September’s show with Haines. No rose-colored glasses here. Local comic-book retail is a tough business. But you’ll appreciate that the story unfolding, common effort undertaken by parties from diverse parts of an odd media sub-industry on which Pryde’s providing a window, is something to watch. (The Comics Metadata Standard project she refers to in discussion with Harper can be followed here: cometstandard.com.)
Let’s close with some fun stuff, why don’t we?
This year I learned that Farel Dalrymple has a YouTube channel. I really appreciate what he does with it. All his videos are concentrated process doses exactly 10 minutes in length. (Even then, I’m often listening more than watching. To actually watch video is generally sort of a luxury for me these days.) Here’s the latest, part of a series documenting creation of his ‘Robot Tod’ stories:
This year Chicago’s Daniel Warren Johnson (whom I hoped to get out to an October signing date at Challengers to meet, and sadly couldn’t work it in in the end) won an Eisner, but so far he’s not too much a star to drop doing weekly ‘Friday with DDubs’ streams for very small YouTube audience. Here’s last week’s, in which he’s sharing vignettes from a November Japan trip organized by Felix Lu, his art sales guy:
An Image title launched this year that I’d like to have a look at and haven’t yet managed to is The Sacrificers, written by Rick Remender, drawn by Max Fiumara, colored by Dave McCaig. This is a big enough deal that the #1’s impressive roster of variant-cover contributors includes no less than Mike Mignola. Regardless, I missed it entirely. I only learned about the title last month, via David Harper’s interview with Remender — another person of roughly my own age whose account of career success on the creative-striver program I find myself listening to with a certain numbness (and whose work I’ll confess I’ve never much followed, large reputation notwithstanding).
But here’s the fun thing about that. Back in spring, meaning — and in the end failing completely — to start getting myself into some routine of frequent refresh of the top-panel image for the front of this site as currently arranged, I drew this blue-gray pigeon — since removed from its homepage spot but in use in a couple of places externally, e.g. LinkedIn:
(A version of this posted to Instagram I captioned, at the time, ‘Upstanding citizen.’)
I probably don’t qualify as a real cartoonist by a lot of thoughtful people’s standards, but there’s a damn cartoon pigeon I drew for presumptively semiprofessional purposes. Anyhow, it amuses me that in this very off year, in a drawing here where nobody’s really looking, I seem to have sort of accidentally anticipated by a few months the reveal of a new bigger-budget Image project protagonist.