Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Comics Revival!



Jack Chick, the beloved and notorious evangelical pamphleteer, believes that souls can be won for Jesus through the ministry of the humble comic book. He understands that cartoon drawings printed on newsprint and held together by staples possess an almost magnetic power. You have likely seen Chick’s comics, left mysteriously by the faithful at bus stations, roadside casinos, public toilets, and laundromats. While waiting for your clothes to dry, you happen to notice, say, The Only Hope or The Death Cookie -- You read it and are never the same -- You Believe. How is it that something so ephemeral can be so transformative?

The Buenaventura Press shares Chick’s missionary zeal (if not his orthodoxy), feeling deeply that there’s something special about this folksy format -- it’s not just another ‘content delivery configuration.’ Addressing young cartoonists, Adrian Tomine recommends that they ‘Start out small. I know it's tempting to take that big book contract the first time it's offered, but it might be better to hone your skills in a less ostentatious venue.’ What ‘venue’ is ‘less ostentatious’ than the comic book? Think of the great artists who began there, aided by appearing in a format beneath notice, one that allowed them slowly and carefully to perfect each of the many disciplines (writing, drawing, lettering, acting, costume design, etc.) that together we call ‘cartooning.’ Think of Art Spiegelman’s Maus or Daniel Clowes’s Ghost World, visionary comic book stories first and only later bookstore-friendly graphic novels.

It’s ironic that the rise of the graphic novel is hastening the demise of the comic book, when the former is just a long version of the later, sans staples. But what respectable store wants to stock flimsy pamphlets with a limited shelf life and low profit margins, when it can proudly sell a sturdy, substantial Graphic Novel (a comic legitimatized by a binding and high price)? While mainstream comics (the kind featuring super-powered, lycra-clad buffoons) limp painfully toward their death, decades past their mid 20th-century heyday, economic forces threaten to kill ‘alternative comics’ (the kind released by Buenaventura Press), whose discriminating followers brave trips to the seedy part of town to purchase them in ‘specialty shops.’

Unconcerned with fleeting trends or the material conditions of the market, the enthusiasts at the Buenaventura Press have their eyes fixed solely on the aesthetic merits of the comic and the artists they publish. Emanating from the grimy yet luminous cartooning mecca of Oakland, California, the BP is engineering a Comics Revival, a modest yet bold endeavor to revivify the comic book. They might be foolhardy to think they can overcome the economic downturn, but BP’s business savvy, undergirded by a fervent, almost religious idealism should give us hope that the form we love will continue, and perhaps even flourish.

***

At the appearance of these humble pamphlets, town after town, and city upon city shall awaken out of their lethargy, night organizations for reaching the great masses shall be extemporized, as if by magic; and better still, the quickening impulse of the cartoon shall be imparted unto myriads, so that multitudes of readers shall be converted within the space of a few years, and cold hearts shall be fired with a burning desire to know the Comic Book.

{The above is a 'press release/ faux manifesto' I wrote for the Buenaventura Press's Comics Revival; they will be publishing a number of pamphlet comics in the coming months; see here . . .]

5 comments:

Isaac said...

It would be incredibly awesome if Buenaventura was able to publish these comics so cheaply that they could be left around to be found, like Chick tracts.

The odds are against it, I know.

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