[16 June 2009]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics comes 7 years after 1993’s groundbreaking Understanding Comics. In the 2000 successor, McCloud offers readers a new agenda; rather than look inward at the mechanics of comics, Reinventing Comics would look outward. How are comics received by its audience, and more broadly by society? Why, perhaps more than other media, does comics struggle with institutional recognition? What would it take for comics to be accepted legitimately as literature, and legitimately as an artform? But more than simply speaking about comics’ 2000 present, McCloud goes on to speak about the future. At the start of the 21st century, McCloud begins to think about the roles of digital production and digital delivery. Two ‘revolutions’ that he believes will shape comics in the coming century.
Removed by nothing more than a decade, McCloud’s cries for great institutional acceptance, for comics’ greater recognition as art and literature already seem to have been answered. Over the past decade, comics has come to assume a more fitting place in the national consciousness of popular culture. The Smithsonian Institute’s Book of Comic-Book Stories has been hailed by long-time comics evangelist and legendary comics creator Will Eisner as “a necessary introduction to the maturity of the medium”.
While comics has come to find a broader validation in the popular culture over the course of the past decade, one ‘revolution’ identified by McCloud remains dangerously antiquated. In “Negativeland”, the second chapter of Reinventing Comics, McCloud turns his focus on direct marketing and distribution.
Writes McCloud, That combination of narrow purpose and the primacy of technical skills leads to the breakdown of the creative process into its assembly-line parts. Most American corporate comics feature separate “writers”, “pencilers”, “inkers”, “colorists” and “letterers”. Thus a young artist with a compelling unified vision for comics will encounter the same response again and again. “That’s not what we’re looking for”… The readers are just as abandoned by the corporate system as the creators, despite the importance supposedly given to their hard-earned dollars.
But rather than demonize the direct marketing system, McCloud ends the chapter hopeful that it can change to better reflect the needs of both creators and consumers. But the final closing sequence is a stern warning. If direct marketing cannot change, it could easily be replaced by digital delivery.