plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Editor-Author and the Product-Oriented Approach

For someone who claims not to read company comics, I sure do like to talk about them quite a bit. You all know that guy who purports to not be interested in mainstream comics, but who seems oddly enough to know a great deal about them? Hi, I'm that guy. The thing is that I'm not uninterested as a matter of principle so much as I'm uninterested in a very specific way. That is to say that there is nothing currently available that I find interesting enough to get into, although there has been in the past and almost certainly will be in the future. I've been trying to figure out what it is that gets and/or keeps me interested in those kinds of titles, and it got me thinking about something that I guess you could call tangential to that subject, but something that's been nagging at me enough that I want to blog about it a bit.

It all started with a thread on the Comics Journal message board. Many of you may have read it or commented on it. It is the "Good 'Bad' Artists" thread. As the other nerds and I gushed about the hacks we love, stalwart craftspersons who could churn out the pages and do so with grace and dynamism nine times out of ten, it occurred to me that the comics that really captured my imagination as a youngster and later as a teenager were not so much the personal artistic visions of hotshot auteurs. Rather, they were the result of a product-oriented approach helmed by editor-authors who were interested in sucking in and holding onto readers, and who knew exactly what notes to hit in order to accomplish just that. It was formulaic dreck, and I couldn't get enough. And you know, in my more crackheaded moments, I sort of miss it.

See, the editors knew how to move the units. Focus on the issue. Sure, there was serialization, but things weren't so broken up into rigid arcs the way they are nowadays. There were main plots, background plots, long-term character arcs, and nothing was ever resolved all at once. Tying up one plot just forced one of the many background plots to the foreground (in, and I want to make this perfectly clear, the most ham-fisted and melodramatic way most of the time). Under the right editor, even the most pedestrian writer could produce a comic that, if not exactly a masterpiece, was a compelling read on a sustained basis. Hackwork that was comfortable with its hack-ness, if you will.

Nowadays it seems that such a thing isn't even an option, and I think that's a real shame. Now, I'm not an all or nothing sort of guy. I'd like to see an environment in which company comics could produce a whole range of work, including the personal vision type of comic. But come on. The personal visions of hacks, unfettered by any editorial guidance, are going to be a mess. Combine that with artists who basically set their own schedules and you've got what appears to me to be the bulk of the output of company comics today. Spelling and grammatical errors, plotlines that don't make sense, characters whose motivations change radically and inexplicably from one moment to the next, and story arcs that drag on and on for no reason end up being the result. These books need editorial guidance. They need to become more comfortable with their hack-ness. They could benefit immensely from being treated as mindless product. The personal artistic vision approach only works when the visions are good, and when the creators have the skills to back them up. Everyone else needs a good, benevolent but forceful editor to shepherd their product to some semblence of an entertaining, cohesive serial narrative. And where are those editors?

I'll cop to being pretty much out of touch with the bulk of what's going on in company comics right now, and simply ask that if anyone could suggest titles to me that embody what I'm getting at, that they please do so. I would love to read them. And I would love to review them.

These ideas have been kicking around in my head for some time, and I just wanted to get them down somewhere so that I can start to make sense of it all, and I'd love to know what people think so that I can come to some sort of resolution, even though it's ultimately useless. Anyway, as I've said, I welcome all reading recommendations. Thanks.

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