RUBBING THE LAMP                    


By Nick Krewen

Genies aren't just available to anybody, you know?

You can get them one of two ways: either by happening upon an ancient lamp that just happens to be nestled in the buried treasure you discovered while scuba diving off some obscure Mediterreanean coast, or when some desperate writer lets you run wild with your imagination and gives you the keys to change the world.

Pleading guilty to the latter charge, a poll of several high profile figures in the comics industry shared similar concerns about what they'd like to alter with the advent of the Millennium, on both a creative and commercial level.

"I just wish all kinds of success for myself," laughs DAN VADO, founder of Slave Labor Publishing.

"Just fabulous wealth -- people peeling grapes for me at lunch and daily backrubs by trained masseuses."

Well, while that would definitely inspire Vado's creativity, how about something a little more general?

"I'd like to see more experimentation with the comics artform," offers CHARLES BROWNSTEIN, editor and publisher of Feature Magazine who also serves as the programming director for Comic-Con International.

" Why not push the boundaries of the graphic novel? Why not really explore the parameters of non-fiction comics? Why not make one of a kind art comics or experimental narratives that take advantage of the web? Amazing work is being done in all of these areas and I think we're just seeing the beginnings of it."

That means changing perceptions: Ditching the Marvel/D.C. Comics/Dark Horse tunnelvision that superheroes are the Masters Of The Retail Universe and instead concentrate on other frameworks of ink-and-computer generated lifeforms.

"Across the board, I'd like to see comics created that reflect a sensibility of the general public," states BATTON LASH, writer and illustrator of Wolff & Byrd: Counselors of the Macabre.

"Superheroes are fine, but it's a limited audience. Readers tend to reflect their personal interest, and that could be anything from romance to personal stories. I just wish I could see the comics industry reflecting a sensibility that would attract more readers that wouldn't normally read comics, but check it out because the subject matter may be provocative."

Oni Press' BOB SCHRECK, who publishes Clerks, Jay & Silent Bob and GREG RUCKA's White Out  miniseries with partner JOE NOZEMACK, says his year-old company is doing his part.

"I'd spent many years at Dark Horse and Komiko, and when I looked out the window and started up Oni with my partner Joe, we said , `Lord knows, the last thing we need to do is another superhero book, because if you're having trouble getting that fix than you're having trouble getting out of your house.'

"What was in desperate need were good stories that had some wallop of emotion to them."

Schreck says his Oni Double Features series of mags tell the tale.

"Although they're small 30 page features, there's been all sorts of weird stories and different approaches. Most of what we're doing is reality-and-not-so-reality based, with a slight fantasy element to it. We've done some humor with PAUL DINI. Number 12 was partially Paul Dini, but number 13 he'll have every story in there, including the inside front cover. Most of that will be humor. "He's got a story called Jingle Bell  which is about Santa's daughter, who is a handful. So that's a wacky fantasy. Then he's got this thing called the Honor Rollers, a slightly autobiographical story of him and his friends in private school back in the '70s. "

Okay, that takes care of the creative side of life. Now how about addressing the issue of making a living, and that nasty thing called money that, gosh darn, seems to be the key to survival.

"I would change retail stores to become more pop culture oriented, says JACKIE ESTRADA, San Diego-based national president of Friends of Lulu, administrator of the Eisner Awards and editor of the Wolff & Byrd franchise she operates with her husband Batton Lash.

"They need to broaden their audience to go beyond their limited `fan boy' audience, change their product, change their image and anything else to get people to come in and not perceive that it's a boys-only club."

"I would wish for a more attractive retail environment, one that wasn't geared towards collectors," concurs Slave Labor's Dan Vado.

"Comic book publishers tend to look at the retail market as one big place, as opposed to a marketplace that's fragmented and serves different types of audiences. We have to think beyond the notion that all retailers are going to be able to sell all material.

"We need a greater variety of stores that are geared towards consumers

who aren't already consumers. Something attractive where people will walk in and browse, a cross between a Hot Topics store and a Toys R Us."

Batton Lash believes the responsibility shouldn't sit only with storeowners. He says the artists themselves should wake up and smell the cash register.

"Too many guys just don't understand what's going on in the marketplace," complains Lash. "They don't take the responsibility of going out, promoting their own work, and drumming up an audience."

But both Lash and Feature Magazine's Charles Brownstein are optimistic about the future.

"My wish is to see comics assimilate themselves into the mainstream American culture," says Brownstein. "I think that's already happening. You can't go to a newsstand without seeing a reference to comics. Whether it's a DAN CLOWES story in Esquire, a MARK CRILLEY write-up in Entertainment Weekly, or a Sandman focus in Publishers' Weekly, comics are all over the mainstream print media.

"Cartooning is all over TV and film. Now it's penetrating the internet. I'd like to see a world where comics are just another part of the cultural mix -- where cartooning is just another part of people's everyday lives."


-- Nick Krewen



©1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink



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