Feeling great, riding high after my return from Europe, and look what pops up in my Google news alert.
It's a hilarious podcast discussion from Comic Book Syndicate. Ten or so comic book fans gather in Detroit Comics, a mainstream store in the Motor City burbs. They're obviously regulars at the store and seem to know each other quite well. This week they offer their opinions on My Friend Dahmer.
Most of them have ever heard of me before, or have seen my work, or are aware that the book just won a friggin Angoulême Prize. Most of the group, in fact, hate the book…. giving it tepid 5s and 6s out of 10, with lots of "mehs" and shrugs of disinterest. One dude gives it a 3 and just thinks I suck in every way! Then they all proceed to talk about all the issues I raise in the story for an hour and a half, without really realizing they're talking about the very issues I meant to raise, or give the book the slightest credit for spurring that discussion. The podcast rambles a bit, especially when the pizza guy shows up, but here are the highlights (I was laughing pretty hard as I jotted these down):
"It was kinda boring overall."
"There was really no skill in the art or, really, the writing."
"The book is behind is behind its times (sic). It's not really significant. You can see this kind of thing every night on 20/20 or Nightline"
"He just kept repeating the same stuff over and over, the crazy behavior, and after like half the book it was like, OK, we get it."
"Do I really need six panels of some foot going crunch, crunch?"
"He was too late with this. I wish he woulda done this book in the Eighties or something." Note: Dahmer wasn't caught until 1991.
"The art was not good at all. I don't see any skill in the art. All I see is like high school level figures. It's a really bad imitation of art that's better. I've never even heard of him before this. Without the subject matter, how good a comics creator is this guy? Not stellar."
"Nah, he's much better than that other guy we've read a couple books of, the Death Ray guy, that Clowes guy."
"Glad we're doing a super-hero book next."
It's funny, because I was just trying to explain to some French comix dealers how US comic fandom is split into mainstream and indy fans, and how there's this yawning chasm between the two, which, from my observation, seems to be growing even wider. They were amazed by this. Superhero books have minimal readership in France, where comics are HUGE, although they have what they consider mainstream comics. It's just not long-underwear stuff. As far as I can tell, not being able to read French, their mainstream books are rendered more classically and are not experimental in style or format. The indy stuff comes more from foreign creators, although it's starting to impact French creators, just as the great French creators like Moebius and Tardi influenced a generation of US creators. Comix fans in France, however, read all kinds of books, and don't seem as Stalinistic about their tastes as US fans.
It's not absolute, of course, but, for the most part, in the US superhero fans look down on indy stuff and indy fans would rather have bamboo shoots shoved in their fingernails than read Wonder Woman or Before Watchmen. If you go to New York Comicon, all you'll find is mainstream stuff. If you go to SPX, you won't find a superhero book in the building. And then you have to toss Manga fans in there, who are altogether different.
It can get a little more complicated than that, because I still love a lot of the Marvel and DC stuff I grew up reading, and I know a lot of other indy creators do, too. Josh Bayer and I have had long exchanges about Jack Kirby and Herb Trimpe, for example. And, of course, there are folks who read superhero stuff who like indy stuff, as well. And then there are a few creators like Richard Corben who can flourish in both worlds. But yeah, for the most part, those worlds remain separate. Shouldn't be that way. Not sure why it is that way. But that's my observation.
This podcast discussion really drives that divide home. They didn't even know who Dan Clowes is!! I don't really mean that as a putdown. That's just the way it is here in the States (although I was truly flabbergasted by that statement). I couldn't cough up, say, the names of the top mainstream artists right now either. Not a clue. Totally ignorant. I'm guessing 75 percent of the mainstream writers and artists I wouldn't recognize and/or have never heard of. Not that I'm totally up to speed on indy creators, either. But I'm kind of a weirdo that way.
Is this a bad thing? Dunno. We're all reading comix of some kind, and the more the better. Obviously, this one group of mainstream fans think my book sucks. OK.
I'll let the Duder speak for me: