Part Three: The Artist as Whore
Finally, I wanted to talk about something that just struck me as odd about developments of consumer culture with comic books (but undoubtedly other media as well.) On the drive over to the convention I talked with my friend (the “pretentious douchebag” mentioned in the previous post about the BMORECC) about the state of the comic book industry (long story short: it’s not good.) One thing he touched on was that they (meaning the major publishers) need to sell their brands more. As it is, people know big names like Batman, Iron Man, Superman, and X-Men but the knowledge of which are DC or Marvel properties–or even that such a distinction exists–probably isn’t present in the average movie-goer, TV watcher, or video game player (in other words, not comic book geeks). These days posited that people are very into brands and not individual product lines (e.g., people are all about Apple as a whole and not specifically the iPhone, iPad, or Macbook.)
In an unrelated discussion I talked about my philosophy on collecting signatures or meeting comic book writers/artists. I’m not interested in such an activity. As far as I’m concerned the extend of my relationship with a creator only goes so far as my willingness to buy the work they produce. I recognize that I’m in the minority with that view.
This all tied up nicely during the first panel discussion we attended, titled “Creating Your Comic/Manga From Concept to Publication” hosted by a husband and wife team of self publishers I had never heard of. One of the things that struck me was how a major part of selling their comic consisted of selling themselves. It wasn’t until they laid their lives bare through social media (Facebook, Twitter, and discussion forms) that sales of their comic picked up. Apparently the modern consumer needs to not only be sold on the quality of people’s work, but on the creators themselves. In short, the brand (the husband and wife) needed to be marketed instead of their work.
I really don’t have too much to say about the matter other than I think it’s a depressing development in consumer behavior. The first problem is the implication that the quality of the work is irrelevant in the consumers’ mind. Arguably, sales have always been a function of marketing–and never the quality of the product. It just seems silly that now you don’t even have to market the product in question. It also raises issues about privacy and relevance. Is there any logical reason that sales a comic book should be affected by how actively the creator Tweets about what they ate?
It also creates a problem of relevance. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card catch a lot of flack. You see, he’s very anti-homosexual. This is, to the best of my knowledge, not apparent in any of his fiction (none of his books that I’ve read, and even the complaints about him don’t mention homophobic elements in his stories) although he’s very public about it in essays. This has lead people to call for boycotts of video games and comic books he contributed to. When people are encouraged to buy a product based on who the artist is rather than the quality of their work then it’s valid to reject art for the same reason. Is there a limit to how that can be applied? Should an artist’s work be rejected based on their favorite movies, food, sexuality, politics, ethnicity, or religion? Once the artist has to sell himself more than his work, I suppose it becomes impossible for the consumer to distinguish between the two.
I can’t blame the artist, though. They need to earn a living. This is a problem created by the consumer.
The header image was taken from See Mike Draw. Funny stuff.