A deadline-pressured Dirk takes up his entire post today with the title “Drama Queen Bickering” to respond to my comments yesterday. While my comments are assigned such classic TCJ buzzwords as “gobbledegook”, a “screed”, “bloviations” etc etc, to be honest, I couldn’t even figure out what Dirk was arguing, although we did find signs of his credo in this two graph sequence:
Aside from throwing a snarky riposte back at Heidi, I pretty much ignored this at the time, mainly because it made no sense. I had no BookScan numbers, so there wasn’t any “available evidence” to ignore: The folks at Nielsen charge big, big money for access to BookScan numbers, and so I have no choice but to work from charts that did not, in fact, corroborate Dark Horse’s unsourced claim. Moreover, Heidi seems to be under the impression that I believe it impossible for any Western graphic novel anywhere to outsell the topselling manga volume of the moment, a claim that I’ve never made, since it’s an unbelievably stupid notion.
Before we go any further, let’s take a moment and talk about that last bit. I believe that Western comics are generally ill-equipped to make the same appeal to the larger buying public as can Japanese comics. For evidence of this, I invite you to head out to your local Borders or Barnes & Noble, and count the number of shelves devoted to each variety of comics. It’ll likely fall anywhere between a 1/8 and 1/20 ratio between the two; as math goes, it’s a pretty simple figure to calculate. I offered my best guesses as to why this was so in an essay I wrote a year and a half ago.
That’s a stand we’re not all that opposed to, to be honest. We found “She’s Got Her Own Thing Now” to be a strong reality-based argument. When you look at the sales charts manga’s dominance is obvious over…oh let’s call them Occidental Comics. It’s lines like this that make us suspicious, however:
My argument on manga vs. Western graphic novels isn’t simply “manga rules, Spider-Man drools.” I believe that there are concrete, identifiable reasons why the former suceeds where the latter fails; that it’s entirely possible for Western comics to beat manga volumes at their own game, but that in order to do so, Western publishers and marketers are going to have to first learn said reasons in order to duplicate such successes in the domestic market — and that comics treated as product and produced by replaceable work-for-hire drones are always going to be at a disadvantage when compared to works produced by single creators or a single set of creators.
If you parse this, Dirk still seems to be saying that Spider-man “fails,” which would be a surprise to many people — Spider-man trades do respectably in bookstores, and very well in comics shops and they don’t sell at NARUTO levels, but neither does Love Pistols.
I’m all for a return in Occidental comics to accessible, populist work that is driven by a single creator’s vision. Obviously, Miller and Varley’s 300 is just such a work (which Dirk seems to acknowledge). My argument isn’t with that, it’s with Dirk’s knee-jerk reaction to anything which seems to imply success for Occidental comics vs. the manga-naut. His initial snark at Dark Horse and his defense — “I’m only a poor old Blogger! I don’t see Bookscan!” — is silly for someone who is assumed to have some authority for their comments. While I’m chided for being “well-connected,” I can assure you that when you are “well-connected” you can take a peek at Bookscan numbers when you need them.
As a blogger, I know we’re all on deadline and will be held accountable for our words only to the extent that we can explain ourselves better the next day. I’m guilty of plenty of knee-jerk snark myself. I’m actually far more in agreement with Dirk than he suspects — I believe manga can show us the way to accessibility. However, putting down Occidental comics success stories which actually back up your point is just defeating your own purpose. Or as Dirk puts it:
Likewise, if you’re going to get riled up when someone has the temerity to throw your cheap shots right back at you, you shouldn’t let it piss you off to the point where you lose track of the argument you’d been trying to make.
Amen to that brother! That’s what we say and we stand by it!
PS: this is not an anti-COMICS JOURNAL rant on my part, by the way. As some people know, writing for TCJ was my first professional work, and I have a lot of respect to this day for TCJ and everything Fantagraphics publishes. I can’t actually read TCJ these days because the tiny type is too small for me to read, but if I could I’m sure i would enjoy it a great deal.