Home Conventions The Big Tent was pitched long ago

The Big Tent was pitched long ago


I own a comic gallery, an art gallery in New York that sells comic art and stuff; the guy that runs the art gallery also runs a comic store and we do a lot of business in France. They understand Alex Raymond, they understand that he was a great artist, they understand Hal Foster and they understand comic art as real art and as a sort of interesting, goofy thing. And I am very much into comic art, and its place in society as a real art, because it is something that expresses the culture as strongly as any other art. What Uncle Scrooge McDuck says about America, about me when I was a kid, is phenomenal. It is one of the greatest explorations of capitalism in the American mystique that has ever been written or done anywhere. Uncle Scrooge swimming around in that money bin is a key to our culture. [Laughs]

— Geoge Lucas

“Rock ’n’ roll, or the Beatles, started as just sort of hillbilly music, just a passing phase, but now it’s revered as an art form because so much has been done in it. Same with comics, and I think same with video games.”

–Sir Paul McCartney

During Wings’ Wings Over America tour in ’76 the band was slated for three nights at the Los Angeles Forum and Kirby associates Steve & Gary Sherman set up a meeting backstage between Sir Paul and ‘King’ Kirby. Kirby gave Sir Paul & Linda a 14” x 17” pencil drawing featuring Magneto and the band. (Visit THIS website to see drawing.) During the concert Kirby and his family and associates sat near the front row and during the band’s performance of Magneto & Titanium Man McCartney dedicated the song to Kirby.

–Doc Lehman (See also The Kirby Museum.)

I know the San Diego Experience has long since receded into either our dreams or our nightmares, but one element of the aftermath has been nagging at the back of my mind, as much as I try to suppress it.

While people mourn the invasion and takeover by the Hollywood element and movies and TV, I don’t think the answer is making San Diego a comics and comics only show. First off, it never was a comics only show. Comics “conventions” or whatever you want to call ’em have always drawn big audiences of people from all professions, and I think this crossover is something very vital and key to the growth of comics, and even pop culture at large.

Sean T. Collins did a good job of presenting the “comics for comics” viewpoint:

If comics people want to party so badly, they should throw their own parties. Yeah, they probably won’t be as lavish as the studio soirees, but comics isn’t as big as the motion picture industry, so why would they be that big? I don’t see why comics folks should feel entitled to hang with the Hollywood types just because the Hollywood types have an overactive sense of entitlement. Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that.

Of course, hanging out with douchebags is high on no one’s to do list, but that isn’t the totality of what I was suggesting. Although I’m an extremely social person, my idea of a great party isn’t merely free booze and all the pigs in a blanket you can eat — it’s a place where you mingle with colleagues, aspirants and legends, and learn and grow from that interaction.

Comics in the US have struggled as an artform, historically, because of many things — a lack of critical rigor, a lack of adequate pay, a dearth of creator’s rights, the low self esteem of those working in the field due to all of the above. Up until very recently, (meaning the last decade or so) the phrase “comic book” was a reviewer’s shorthand for something that was juvenile and ill-formed, a film, book or TV show that was sub-standard.

But that wasn’t because the people making comics were sub-standard. Talented people needed to leave comics to make a living, as illustrators, animators, novelists. Others stayed on and eked out relatively modest livings given the eventual influence of their work and ideas. (The exception was strip artists, who were among he highest paid entertainers of the day.) If Jack Kirby had made the money he was due, he could have bought us all a sandwich.

I guess my point is that comics shouldn’t always exist in a vacuum, isolated from other streams of pop culture. I’m lucky to have met all kinds of people at comics conventions over the years, and some of the people I learned the most about comics from weren’t even cartoonists but artists and storytellers in other media; I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. The universal truths of art are just that, universal.

The earliest nerd-lebrities were people who brought something to the party and appreciated the chance to meet cartoonists. I think in my con report I mentioned (I hope I did) running into Bill Mumy, one of those early nerd-lebrities. Bill is not only a nice guy, and the star of one of the iconic TV shows of the Boomer generation, but a genuine comics lover, a writer, a talented musician, and a pioneer of absurdist music. In other words, he’s as far from a douchebag as you can get.

Filmmakers, animators, musicians, and writers have always been part of the Comic-Con experience and part of the crossover. Miyazaki-sensei is a director, yes, but he’s also a manga-ka, and just being exposed to an artist of his calibre is an experience to treasure.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a show like TCAF or Angoulême where comics take an intensive center stage and cartoonists convene in a collegial atmosphere is essential, as well. But in the marketplace of ideas, comics have always held their own, even when it wasn’t readily apparent. I look at that picture of Macca and The King as a picture of equals, not a mere comic book artist meeting a Beatle. The sharing of ideas and enthusiasm among different disciplines is part of what creates vitality across the board. At its very best, Comic-Con International is a place that fosters that, and it’s this mingling that I’m calling for, not big crazy Hollywood parties.

BTW, Spurge tracked down the art gallery owned by George Lucas, and writer Roy Thomas says more about it at the Star Wars site:

I had become friends with Ed Summer, bearded proprietor of the Supersnipe Comic Art Emporium, a comic book store on Second Avenue in Manhattan, just a couple of blocks away from our apartment on E. 86th Street. Ed was a former film student who often discussed with me a documentary he planned to make about such comic book luminaries as Jack Kirby, Carl Barks, and one or two others, and I occasionally gave him encouragement and advice over dinner or his shop counter. I also learned, somewhere along the line, that George Lucas was a silent partner of Ed’s — not in his comics store, but in the comic art gallery aspect of the Emporium. This news, of course, was not for public consumption, and I kept it secret. I was a big admirer of Lucas’ 1973 film American Graffiti (“Where were you in ’62?”), which at that time would probably have ranked in my list of ten favorite flicks; matter of fact, it would still rank fairly high.

The Hollywood/Comics crossover is nothing new. It’s just been warped to a new level by money and power. As long as there is mutual respect on all sides, it’s nothing to be resentful of.

And besides, the crossover is getting more and more exotic all the time.

[Photo from Tom Devlin’s con report, which even if you are sick of con reports is very much worth a look.]

[As long as we’re at it, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SDCC recap: The Annotated Tweets is also pretty funny. ]

  1. Y’see,…now, there ya’ go.
    Not in a vacuum.
    Just for the sake of saying it,…everyone is a douchebag to somebody.

  2. Great article… my Treo browser shows no byline, although I am a bit familiar with your gallery.

    Thanks for the info on Lucas… friends are amazed that Lucas had a comics store in Manhattan.

    Rod Serling wrote an intro to a B.C. collection, Barnaby and Pogo were appreciated by the literati, and Presidents Truman and Eisenhower hosted the NCS.

  3. “What Uncle Scrooge McDuck says about America, about me when I was a kid, is phenomenal. It is one of the greatest explorations of capitalism in the American mystique that has ever been written or done anywhere.”

    Lucas is right (of course) and he’s also put the finger on what’s killing modern comics (and American culture in general) — a lack of poetic irony.

  4. Where is the Lucas gallery? I’ve never heard of its existence.

    That Beatles Rockband thing (the Walrus’s quotation is from this week’s NY Times magazine coverstory) is extremely inspiring in its potentiality. I am no big fan of Rockband or video games per se, but it’s hard not to see what value the game medium is bringing to pop music– comics can benefit in the same way. Eyes wide open.

  5. Capitalism exists in Western mystique, not just American. That “love of money” and “root of all evil” business wasn’t written by Jefferson or even Adam Smith.

    And ol’ Scrooge would tell you himself that he’s a Scotsman.

  6. John, Scrooge is a Scots immigrant who arrived in the U.S. with just a suitcase and his lucky #1 dime (and he was quickly robbed of his suitcase), who worked hard, fought hard, became a multiplujillionaire, lost his family and soul to greed, and then recovered that soul and family late in life (eighty, according to Don Rosa).

    That’s not the American Monomyth (stranger comes to town, restores paradise), but it’s almost as good (stranger comes to town, discovers better life).

  7. If memory serves me:

    In the mid-late 70s, Supersnipe’s art gallery (whatever they called it) was a block or two west of Supersnipe comic store (mid-eighties/east side/Manhattan). The art gallery was small, and the one thing I remember was that they had the Frazetta painting (The Red Knight?) with the guy on his horse, pointing his sword down at the viewer, and I had never seen a Frazetta original, so this blew my kid mind (I still remember that they were asking $5,000 for it). It was common knowledge that Lucas (Who I think was in school with Supersnipe owner Ed Summer) was an investor in the place, as the people who ran the joint would talk about it (Summer is listed as associate producer on the first Conan movie). Later, they moved the gallery a block or two east, around the corner from the Supersnipe comic store (at which point the gallery had the FF Blazing Combat painting with the cigar chomping American sticking his bayonet through the Kraut). At some point I heard that the place got robbed – then shut down.

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