That’s the Spirit

I’m not going to try to pretend this is topical, or that there’s any sort of reason for me to bring it up at all. Sure, it’s the 26.5-year anniversary of the event, but that’s not exactly a round number. Suffice to say, it came up on social media recently when my old underground-comic compatriot, Chris Howard, dug up these artifacts from The Spirits of Independence tour that hit Manchester, Vermont back in 1995.

This was the high-water mark of a revolt in the comic-book industry that saw creators, new and old, shrugging off the shackles of the traditional publishers (especially The Big Two) to strike out on their own, handling all the business logistics themselves. Spurred on by Dave Sim of Cerebus fame, who had been doing it for years, comic creators took on the additional tasks of printing, soliciting, shipping and distribution. The premise of the movement was that there was no point in selling off the rights to our original creations to predatory corporations just so they could take care of basic bookkeeping. If we were clever enough to write and draw our books, we could handle a few more petty jobs and keep all the profits and rights for ourselves.

It was a good plan, ahead of its time, and petered out over subsequent years because it was a little too early. The publishing business was still in its analog phase, not so far removed from the days of the Gutenberg press. The digital age was several years away from exploding and making the whole process a lot easier on a number of fronts, thereby rendering traditional publishers largely redundant.

What was once the outlying Spirit of Independence has since become standard fare. Although I’m not working on any new comics, I’ve been able to take my old Longshot Comics graphic novels and redesign them for Amazon distribution. Now, instead of dealing with orders myself, it’s all print-on-demand, with Amazon fulfilling for me. All I need to do is advertise, and only as much as I care to. Same deal with all of my novels, which I write and design myself. There are no more print runs, no more crippling overhead bills, no more unsold copies rotting in a warehouse. It’s all been streamlined and made more efficient.

On the comic-book front, the old pillars of the business are crumbling. The Big Two, even with their billion-dollar Hollywood blockbusters, have been unable to hold down the fort on the newsstand. More and more creators have gone indie, with crowdfunding becoming the standard for their new books, all of which are creator-owned passion projects that look slicker than anything that’s come out of Marvel or DC in years.

I got out of the comic-book biz decades ago, when I felt cash-grab variant covers were killing the industry, and television writing opportunities opened up for me. I miss the shitshow sometimes, even when I hear just how shitty things have become of late. The close camaraderie of nerd culture doesn’t exist in film and television the way it does in comics.

But on to the nostalgia artifacts, presented here for posterity…

A spot check of the video reveals a familiar face at 35:40 shuffling through another stack of the original minicomic edition of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers.
An after-hours jam piece features the handiwork of the famous and infamous. My own Jane Doe of The Squalids is seated lower left.

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