By Nancy Powell
Vita Ayala (Black Mask Studios), Ted Lange (Warp Zone) and Ronald Wimberly (The Prince of Cats) joined moderator Patrick A. Reed for a panel discussion on how evolving tools and technology have changed the face of comics, serving as a platform from which to launch new voices and new ideas. Central to the discussion was the theme of comics as an accessible medium, and the fact that all comics start off in some fashion as a do-it-yourself project.
When Reed posed the question why comics served as this accessible medium, the overwhelming consensus was that the medium served as the perfect form of expression.
Lange explained that “the combination of words and pictures in sequence” allows creators and readers to “look at things through a prism that hasn’t been fully explored.” Ayala elaborated on this view, citing that inferences between the panels convey a subtlety that is worth exploring: “It’s a conversation between creators and readers, but it’s also a conversation between readers.”
She notes that comics has changed the way she relates to books and scripts, describing this difference in terms of space and time, where comic panels provide a more intimate experience to enable a reader to see what creators felt at a particular moment. Ron Wimberly went on to compare comic accessibility to being “the baseball of the arts.”
The discussions centered on the DIY aesthetic, in which creators make do and create art with the materials they have currently at hand, pushing the limits of what that tool can do – be it BIC pens, white out or Sharpies. According to the panelists, the creative impulse to get stuff out there remains strong and creators will adapt whatever tools are available to have that voice heard. Also important to the DIY aesthetic is the idea of product promotion. Social media has led on this front, with Twitter as the platform in which to initiate dialogue about comics and art.
The changing tools of technology have played a huge role in promoting these independent and smaller comics. Most of this was due to the 24-hour Kinkos print-on-demand, later to be replaced by Tumblr and the emergence of webcomics. For example, Noelle Stevenson used the web to launch her own vision of the female anti-hero to great audience reception.
If there was any indication as to the successes such smaller press comics have had on the industry, one only needs to see the current bestselling displays. While American comics were defined as of the superhero genre, Reed stated that people like Stevenson have changed the face of comics, such that industry-defined standards like Marvel’s X-Men, which have traditionally controlled the visual space, but is now increasingly challenged by independent voices like Jeff Smith’s Bone and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile.
And this is all the result of writers and artists taking and going with their ideas, despite the resistance comic industry execs put up when proposals don’t meet their defined “comics” expectations. The panelists mentioned publishers like First Second, whose smart marketing has made a case for comics as an educational tool whose appeal expands beyond the superhero genre.
After all – if the creators make it, people will come.