Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bryant Park Reading Room - Cartoonists Under the Trees

"20 years ago, this type of thing [a comics panel in Bryant Park] wouldn't have happened. Look how far we've come."

Danny Fingeroth moderated a panel today in Bryant Park. Called GRAPHIC NOVELS AND COMICS FROM EVERY ANGLE, it featured a reviewer (Heidi MacDonald), a graphic designer/editor (Chip Kidd), an editor/Marvel head (Joe Queseda) and creator (David Mazzucchelli).

They all spoke beneath a statue of Dodge, who looks like this (see pic), except with a pigeon on his head. As Miriam would say, just a dirty pigeon.

Miriam and Peter will add to this --- but I felt that the panel was incredibly refreshing and raised several interesting points. Having the mix of Marvel/a critic/ Pantheon/ Mazzucchelli really enriched the conversation.

One of the panel's themes was the current popularity and increased visibility of comics in mainstream culture. All four of the panelists agreed that what we're seeing is the generation of kids who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s who did not feel ashamed about comics, or that they were just for kids, have brought their outlook to bear on our current culture. There's a "critical mass of standalone work" out there at a time when there's also a strong and receptive audience to it. Hence, "the hot new sensation that's sweeping the nation" idea.

Chip Kidd said he found it interesting how people think of comics as a genre, when it's really just a medium. Gesturing to himself and the other speakers, he laughed and said having a comics panel is the same as having a "movie panel" then hastily added, " .... not that I have a problem with this panel!" But you could have a whole panel just about one type of manga, and that would be a good discussion.

It would be nice, in thinking of the future, for people to start thinking of comics the same way they think of novels or films - as a medium. Chip Kidd would like to see the creators respected and known the same way Spielberg is. It's a question of helping to educate people about it.

One of the most interesting points discussed (according to Miriam and me) was how manga attracted such a wide audience. Someone stood up and asked why manga was so popular with young adults and Heidi took the question. She said she sees manga as being the new Archie & Veronica*. Kids today relate to manga in ways that they no longer relate to Archie. Manga has a lot of teenage romance, teenage angst, teenage drama. Teenagers love the world-building that goes on in manga, and it's very consciously displayed. For instance, there's tons of details about fashion in shojo or all this information about how a peculiar universe works. Manga is capturing an audience that American comic books have pretty much neglected/ignored: children. And also, girls. Girls are a huge audience that comics abandoned.

Another panelist took up the theme. In the 1980s, DC made the conscious decision to stop making comics aimed primarily at children. The manga that's coming over is geared towards young adults.

Joe Quesada spoke about working at Marvel. (Miriam noted, this is the guy who saved Marvel). He said one of the main goals he had when he began working there was to start a graphic novel backlist at Marvel - they didn't have one when he started. Also, there were some things about the relationships Marvel had built up with their creators that he felt needed some serious repair --- you got guys like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman saying they'd never work for Marvel again. He wanted to change that, and put more "focus on creators than character and more on story than stunt." He wanted a more creator friendly shop.

Quesada also said that he reads and responds to about 90% of the mail he gets. That's pretty great. He said he tries to answer everything as honestly as possible. You know, because if you give someone the runaround, they can smell that, and it's just not a good idea.
Marvel's got a long tradition of talking directly to fans, which started with Stan Lee. He said he definitely can't do it as well as Stan could - Stan could take 30 or 40 words and make a fan feel part of it, but at least he does his best to respond to everything he gets. The fans are the people who are "paying my rent," he said, he wants to keep a relationship with them.

Someone asked Chip Kidd about Twilight...

Asked about readers who only tend to read one kind of comic, or readers who read many kinds of comics, all the panelists said: both kinds exist, but what matters most is good content. Heidi pointed out that with manga, you have to read the book backwards, a huge hurdle in introducing something to the market, but the content was strong enough that people went ahead and did it. You can have someone who only reads literary comics, but if there's a superhero comic that's really, solidly good, he/she will read that. Quesada re-emphasized how important good content is. His job is all about taking characters and keeping them fresh and interesting - putting them in situations that make the reader want to know what's going to happen next. Sometimes fans send him emails asking why'd he change a character, they liked him as he was, and he'd respond they need to change. If they stay the same, that's just boring. You need good content to keep your readers.

Chip Kidd talked with David Mazzucchelli about ASTERIOUS POLYP. Mazzucchelli said he always, always was interested in writing comics. He started out concentrating on just doing the art side of things because that's the way he could get into Marvel. "I didn't have the skills, I didn't have the stories." And then he did - so he wrote POLYP. He also laughed and said he wanted to clear up the "David Mazzucchelli working for 10 years" on Asterios Polyp. 10 years ago, he came to his editor with an idea for it, and then after 10 years, he finished the book. But it was never, for 10 years, each day, Mazzucchelli slaving away on AP until it was done!


Someone asked about the recession.
Joe Quesada: "I'm not going to say that comics are a recession proof industry ... but I think of them as too small to fail." Look at Marvel - 10 years ago, it was bankrupt. Now it's doing pretty well. He did say that the impact of the recession and perhaps the mood of the country might be reflected in some tonal shifts in Marvel stories.
Chip Kidd, who works for Pantheon, said their business model is kind of, publish good stories and cross your fingers. Heidi and Joe did discuss how in recessions, a lot of people want good entertainment. Movies and comics are relatively affordable ways of getting that. Escapism, fantasy, etc. it all helps.

Then there were questions about the FUTURE.

"IN THE FUTURE .... There will be comics you can TASTE!" But seriously, they don't know, and Joe Quesada is contractually obligated not to say what's going down in the Marvel Universe. He did say that they have everything pretty much locked down a year and a half before it comes out, like Civil War, etc. 2 years, they have an idea, but things can change. 3 or 4 years, it's fuzzier.

They did mention the Internet and how technology was going to change the medium. It's fascinating that since the 1980s, when people talk about the next 5 or 6 years, they allow a huge amount of space for the changes to come. Reading comics on the Kindle, for instance, or an Iphone. Motion comics are already a real thing -- and Marvel is doing Spiderwoman - the first time they're doing something specifically for the motion comic (before everything existed in paper form and was translated). In Japan, people already read novels on their cellphones - maybe that's something that will happen. At Marvel, which just developed their own movie studio, they put out a lot of paper titles in one year. If there are clunkers, they lose thousands of dollars. If they put out a movie once a year, and it fails, they would lose millions of dollars. Joe Quesada used this business example to show why there would continue to be a demand for paper comics, even with animation and movies in the picture. That way, once every 3 or 4 years they can put out a movie of a well established character, like Iron Man.

On the internet and message boards and critiques, they discussed JK Rowling and how people would say, oh Harry should get together with Hermione or Ron should date Hermione and she responded to it, but then went and did her own thing. Going with your gut creates more success, and the internet can be a huge distraction from that.

Libraries are buying comics more and more. Think of them as a rising market.

Chip Kidd on BAT MANGA! and translation. The way that worked, a Japanese-American translated the Japanese, and then Kidd went and translated the translation. For example, for whatever reason, there was this tendency in the manga to underline everything.
"There's a panel where Robin is standing with Batman and saying, 'THIS DANGEROUS SITUATION IS REALLY BECOMING DANGEROUS!' which I changed to 'WHOOOA!' And there's another panel where the reader is looking over Batman and Robin's shoulders as Clayface busts through a wall in front of them. Robin says, 'CLAYFACE IS BUSTING THROUGH THAT WALL!' which I changed to 'WHOOOA!'"

Miriam and Peter - please add more to this as you see fit.

All in all, a really enjoyable panel. All involved came across as very relaxed, nice people. Lots of things to think about! -- Andrea

* I totally agree with this. I picked up a BETTY AND VERONICA from my childhood and read a story about how Betty's family lightly mocks her when she sulks at home while Archie takes Veronica out. Then, something screws up the date and Archie comes along to take Betty out for her turn with him. Transplanting 1940s dating to 2009 makes Archie seem like a real bastard.


I'll leave the summary to Andrea and share my note book instead. On the left are notes from Joe Quesada about how he rebuilt Marvel out of the ashes of fiery bankruptcy. On the right is Chip Kidd as an owl.

Maybe I should mail it to Joe.

Another note: I hated the comparison of Manga to Archie Comics! Ah, makes me angry! I understand why you would make the reference (the audience is/was the same) but other than that, nooooo! Most manga is thought out (apart from the gag strips) and really builds the world, Archie is dry and uses the same situations over and over until they lose all meaning but to make me want to hurl.
Not saying all manga is the fruit of the gods, but come on, it's way better than Archie ever was.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed ---- and you are much more knowledgeable about manga. The one good thing about Archie was the clean style. However, even that has gone a bit downhill.

    I will admit I did collect Archie's when I was 5. Until I discovered Batman.

    - Andrea