The comics industry is a tiny, incestuous little biz. At any given moment it can be riddled with a dozen different tempest-in-a-teapot battles fought in any number of letters pages and editorials. One of the favourite battlegrounds, where dirty laundry is aired, no holds are barred, and grown men fight like teenage girls — all teeth and fingernails — is The Comics Journal.
As the leading magazine about comic books in North America, The Comics Journal has long been published by Fantagraphics which is, itself, a well-known mill for alternative (and sometimes pornographic) comic books. How can a comic book publisher maintain its journalistic objectivity when covering an industry that includes dozens of rival publishers, you ask? Well, that’s easy. It can’t. But a conflict of interest is the least of our worries in a medium that disappears up its own ass more and more as each year passes.
“Blood and Thunder” is what the headline declares, “The Quebecois cartooning scene dukes it out in our pages. Yes, all of them.”
It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not far off the mark. Late last year, I was asked to sign my name “in support of” a letter to The Comics Journal refuting a recent article about the Quebec comics scene that appeared in their pages. Like so many articles that have run in the Journal over its long history, it smacked of one guy plugging his buddies and ignoring the big picture — the big picture being everyone else in the world who wasn’t his personal friend. I’ve seen this sort of thing many times before in many different publications (The CBJ is hardly alone in this “I’ll scratch your back if you suck my balls” approaching to covering what’s hot and what’s not down at your local comic shop). It didn’t particularly faze me, but it sure got up the nose of the authors of the letter. Being one of the ignored parties, I was among dozens of Montreal artists approached to put my name on what amounted to a petition demanding, “Hey, what about us?”
So I agreed. Not because I felt slighted by the article, angered by its narrow view, or insulted by not being mentioned. I signed because so many other notables had refused to. Why did they refuse? It wasn’t because they didn’t give a shit (which would have been a perfectly valid reason not to participate). It was because they were scared to.
In this aforementioned tiny and incestuous biz, they were worried about saying anything that might burn bridges, sever ties, or otherwise piss off somebody somewhere. And that’s what really irritated the hell out of me. Because, seriously, who cares? It’s comics. The vast majority of people involved in this latest silly tiff are self-publishers anyway. In that sort of situation, you can burn every bridge you cross, run over pet dogs with your economy car, and kick the walkers out from under grandmothers, and it won’t affect you, your business, or your income one iota. When you’re your own boss and nobody is your potential employer (and even if they were, they’d be offering you peanuts anyway) what’s to stop you from speaking your mind? Theoretically nothing. But in practice…
It’s times like this when I’m glad I’ve moved forward to much larger, wider-reaching mediums like film and television. Here, at least, with so much more money and exposure at stake, I have a valid excuse to maintain a cowardly silence about what I really think.