“Put my clarinet beneath your bed till I get back in town…”, Tom Waits, ‘Tango Till They’re Sore’
I’m a couple of hours from now, I’ll have some time in hand and I’ll reread Hell & Back, a Sin City love story. Specifically I’ll want to read Wallace’s trip that happens around chapter 6 (chapter 7?) because I believe very strong that this is the very culmination of a project that Frank Miller earlier in his Sin City series. Not in the original series of Sin City yarns, those very first episodes that were published in Dark Horse Presents. But a project begun in Family Values, a project about independence, and about freedom.
The freedom here isn’t necessarily the usual kind of freedom we imagine from this period in comics history. Very shortly after Miller penned those very first Sin Cities, the episodes that would eventually be collected into the sleek, luscious volume, the Hard Goodbye, top tier Marvel artists would break out on their own to establish Image Comics. Titles like Spawn, WildC.A.T.s, Youngblood and later on Witchblade and the Darkness would leverage significant commercial success. It seemed just as we were beginning to see the first generation of internet millionaires (“I remember when a million was a million”, Tom Waits croons out on his triple disc album Orphans), we would also begin to see comics millionaires. That was the very first time the idea seemed a plausible one, an achievable one.
But the dream of that quickly died.
From Frank Miller’s Hell & Back
Equally quickly replaced by the idea that the very first generation of creator-owned IP’s that brought such immense and immediate financial success to their owners, might also, realistically be the last to do so. Frank Miller meanwhile (as they say in comicbooks), was undertaking a very different kind of evolution. Not only the political (lowercase p) and economic evolution of stepping out of the shadow of the Big 2 comics companies (DC and Marvel) for the very first time, that same evolution that the Image cofounders were undertaking, but creative evolution of attempting a very different kind of comic.
There’s an extent to which, for all its groundbreaking newness, Image played it safe. They did so, by giving us what we knew, what they knew. That first generation of Images were produced by a generation of artists who learned their craft while at Marvel and DC. And they gave us some very familiar tropes and conventions. Capes and costumes. The kind of superhero-paneling that they’d perfected while at the Big 2. The storytelling and narrative structures that amend to the format of the 22-page, monthly comicbook.
Miller’s project with Family Values, the first Sin City graphic novel, is exactly the breaking away from that definitive, often limiting, structure. Family Values is one of the most sincere experiments in marketing the novel format of the “graphic novel” to a mainstream comicbook audience. And as such, it represents a creative leap on Miller’s part, and a creative evolution. It’s the Frank Miller we remember, very much at his creative peak.
While I’m talking to Rob Salkowitz about his June 10-released Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture my mind drifts exactly to Frank Miller at the peak of his creativity, and to Family Values. Rob attempts rarely before seen—a business book that’s relevant for readers and enthusiast of popculture, and a popcultural book that’s instructive to business analysts. He talks openly about how his passion as a comics fan engaged him to undertake this project. And how his profession as futurist and business analyst allowed him the tools to interpret and describe the very crossroads of flux the comics industry now finds itself in.
And he speaks openly about his fears. Did he miss either of his audiences? Both? It’s a beautiful human moment in the conversation, a moment none of us really got to see with Miller—the artist alone in his studio. And it’s a moment laced with dramatic irony. I read the book cover to cover the weekend prior to the interview, so I know the experiment’s worked. I know the business concepts and methodology are easily accessible to a popculture audience. More so, they’re essential to evolving a deeper understanding of the stakes.
As I write, the easy Fall pacing of Tom Waits’ “Hang Down Your Head” turns over to the more Winter-moody intonations of “Time”, the ninth track on Rain Dogs. It’s an album from 1985 that remains culturally relevant today, and remains as young and as vital as Bad As Me released by Waits just last year. And as I finish this piece, I begin to wonder just a little myself, could exactly this turning from one song into the next be as coincidental as it seems? And could there really be a more perfect album to run as soundtrack to Rob’s book?