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BAKER'S DOZEN for 05/05/2004
Fields of Gold
Why Comics Journalism Matters, both Now and Later
An essay by Bill Baker
Carrie Nodell, a truly remarkable woman, adoring wife of Marty [creator of the Golden Age Green Lantern and Pillsbury Doughboy] Nodell and the matron of loving family filled with happy children spanning several generations, passed away recently, leading me to ponder both the lives and legacies of those who've gone before us ... and lost opportunities. That's because Carrie, a simply wonderful woman who I had the happy experience of knowing for over ten years, and I had talked on numerous occasions privately about her and Marty's life together, how she tried as hard as she could to help him further his career in all the big and small ways good and loving spouses do. And last year we'd even talked seriously about getting all of that down on tape someday ...
And now I'll never speak with that dear woman again, and the entire world -- not just our small, familial comics universe, but America and the world at large -- has lost a piece of real and living history. That's a deep and irreplaceable loss -- one which pales in comparison to the loss that the Nodells are feeling, to be sure, but a defeat for civilization and humanity writ large nonetheless.
All of which leads to my finally setting in stone [or the pixel equivalent] of truths which underpin everything I do in Baker's Dozen -- a basic outline of those personal truths which, in fact, underpin all of my journalistic endeavors, if truth be told.
A mission statement, if you will.
The problem is, though, I've already written it, and the good folks at Sequential Tart published it a while back.
The good thing is, that doesn't stop me from reprinting a version of it here, now, to serve as a sort of late primer to not only what I do and why I do it, but who I am, as well. I hope that it helps shed some light on those subjects, as well as to the method behind my madness, if you will. I also hope that you will, along with myself, Justin and the rest of the WFC crew, keep Marty, Stu, and the rest of the clan Nodell in your thoughts and hearts in their time of loss.
[Readers should bear in mind that this piece was originally written to appear in the context of the Sequential Tart website; Barb Lien-Cooper and Jen Contino are comics reporters, regular contributors to that fine site, among many other outlets, virtual and otherwise.]
Fields of Gold
Why Comics Journalism Matters, both Now and Later
An essay by Bill Baker
This one's all Barb Lien's fault. Blame her.
I've been asked to consider doing a "Redirected Male" column before, and really did mean to write it. [And I will do it, Jen, honest!] But life and work continually conspired to prevent that, so it was just one of those items on my mental "to do" list, one which was put off by the more pressing matters of meeting deadlines and paying the bills.
Then Barb and I started an email correspondence, during the course of which she asked me if I wanted to do one of these columns. But that's not what really prompted me to finally take action. Rather, it was a phrase in one of her notes that stuck out, and made me want to talk out loud about an idea that's been rattling about in my head for about a year now, one that I've not been able to share with anyone in any coherent form before.
That particular phrase, a variation of which I've probably used several thousand times in conversations myself, was Barb's admission that "I consider myself to be a comic book journalist, even if the phrase might be seen as an oxymoron." And it was seeing that phrase in cold type which literally caused me to stop reading, sit back and say aloud, "Whatadamnminute!"
That's because there's something that's really easy to forget these days. It's a fact that's often lost in well intentioned yearnings for the "heyday" comics experienced a decade, or even several decades, past. It's of such a magnitude and perfect obviousness that all the aficionados and even those of us who work in the field each and every day, whether of the superhero or alt bent, don't see that it's right there in front of us. It's something that's gone almost universally unacknowledged and generally ignored by all except for a few geniuses, like Will Eisner, and those others who are shaken out of their torpor by the sheer, sudden impact of a simple realization:
We're in the midst of a deep and rich and wide ranging new Golden Age of comic arts, the happy recipients of the fruits of a veritable sequential arts Renaissance, that's going on right here, right now.
No, seriously. We are, and it's happening whether we notice it or not. But that doesn't mean all's well.
Artistically, the biz has never been stronger. Eisner has even noted that this age stacks up against, if not surpasses, the fondly remembered heyday of classic illustrator-cartoonists which was headed up by the likes of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Milton Caniff.
Yeah, he said that. And he's right.
Commercially, though ... Well, the state of the industry leaves a lot to be desired, and there's surely some real volatile times to come. But still, the essential makings of a real and widespread public and commercial acceptance of the graphic narrative are all in place. All we have to do is consciously use the tools available to build our new permanent home in the larger entertainment matrix.
Which is where Barb and I, Jen Contino and Joel Meadows, and many, many others all come into play. Because there's a real opportunity here, right in front of us, that almost everyone is ignoring. Being the greedy bastard that I am, I plan on making my full use of this trend before all's said and done. However, also being the bleeding heart, simple minded bastard that I am, I simply cannot help but spill the golden beans. Which breaks down thusly...
"If there's a new Golden Age of comics going on, there will be a real need for knowledgeable, skilled reporters to cover it." Which inevitably leads to another startlingly obvious idea; "If that's the case, then why shouldn't there be a Golden Age of comics reportage going on, as well?"
The answer's enough to give grown folks pause, and cause all good fanboys 'n' grrls to faint when the full weight of the implications hit home.
But first we have to stop thinking of ourselves as "just comics reporters". Because we're not. Well, at least not "just" comics reporters. Meaning that we have to claim our rights as legitimate journalists. And I believe that we'll be able to assume our rightful places not just because we're reporting on the art and commerce, but also because we're covering the artists themselves. And that last part's important.
See, all the facts and figures, the scripts and art pages, the monthlies and the most elaborate collected editions, all of these artifacts will still be out there in five, ten, twenty -- hell, a hundred-twenty years from now. But where will the folks be who created those stories, and those who helped them do it, or who hired the creators and oversaw their work, or did any of the thousand and one jobs that surround each comic? What about those stories, aren't those important as well?
Hell yes, they are. Terribly so.
In point of fact, all of these folks' personal tales are incredibly important, even central, to understanding how and why they create the kind of art that they do, and they all should be recorded for posterity. And soon, because if it's not done now, it'll all be lost. And then what will our descendants think of us, when they go to study the Second Golden Age of Comics as part of their core curriculum other than, "freakin' idiots!! They knew Millar and Morrison and Moore and ... and none of them wrote down what these guys and gals thought, did and said? Our ancestors, they must have been idiots!
"That, or dead drunk all the freakin' time!"
It's the same reaction I had when I found out that there is no solid proof that anyone actually named Shakespeare wrote those plays which bear his name to this day, or even that he existed and played for pennies upon an open and relatively bare stage in Elizabethan England. And you know what one of the main reasons for this dearth of info arises from? Well, it plays out like this ...
In his day, Shakespeare was generally regarded as an awful, commercial hack. A writer of low brow comedies and sentimental tragedies. A maker of mere dreck and fodder for the mindless, uneducated masses. The common wisdom then was that, "Shakespeare? That's shite fit only for the groundlings!" But, Ben Johnson? "Now there's a playwright worth his name ... and the Nation's Poet, to boot." So we know a fair amount about good ole Ben. But poor Will? Who would want to know about his life, his times, his very thoughts and utterances, much less his working methods? No one, that's who.
Or so the accepted wisdom of the day went.
And there's your lesson and mine in a nutshell, if we'll take it. We can ignore all these fine folks who create comics at our own risk, or record their thoughts and experiences for our mutual benefit, and to help them secure their small part of posterity. And I firmly believe that this work is not just important, but needs to be undertaken with all due speed. We're literally loosing the lifeblood of our beloved art form, along with much of its history, each and every day to natural causes and attrition. And each and every loss is -- quite literally -- a tragedy, and utterly irreplaceable.
So, I intend to prove that our collective descendants are right about only one thing, at least. I might have hoisted a few, but I'll also have recorded as many meaningful conversations with as many of these worthies as I possibly can before I shuffle off myself. It might not be a glamorous life, or make me a fortune, but I truly believe that it's a job worthy of the best efforts of any man or woman willing to take it on. And that we'll all be the richer for it.
After all, if we can't take the time to just sit down and talk with someone about their life, if we can't put aside our concerns for a few moments and learn more about their life's work, then what's all this pen and ink and paper worth in the end, really? What are we worth, really? If it really is true that "a picture's worth a thousand words," or that "a story read is worth far more than the paper it's printed on," what then does that say about the worth of those very artisans and journeymen who imprinted those ideas upon paper? Wouldn't those folks, their experiences and knowledge, be priceless?
And wouldn't that make us more than "just" comics reporters? Wouldn't that makes us the bearers of rich and varied treasure fit for the common man, as well as kings, queens ... and the ages?
I know what the answer is, with a certainty and faith I've known but a few other times in my life. Now it's time for you, too, to decide what all this paper and passion is worth. And then act on it, or not.
Me, I'll be listening to those tales of wonder and horror, triumph and loss. I'll be mining and bearing gold for us all to profit by, until it's time to go.
It'll be back to our regular programming next week, folks. Honest. If you have any comments, criticisms, suggestions or witticisms to share concerning this or any of Bill's past columns, don't hesitate to share your opinions with him and the rest of his readers via the WFC Boards. Until then, take care of yourselves and your families.
<< 04/28/2004 | 05/05/2004 | 05/12/2004 >>
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