For a long long time, superhero comics were where creators would go to make their careers. They were the only show in town, and the reasons for that owe as much to technology as anything. Back in the days of pulp, money was made by selling vast numbers of comics to a diverse demographic. It was a numbers game based on access to printing presses and a wide distribution network, and breaking into that took more money than was available to many.
The other outlet for skills in comics was newspaper cartoons, the issue here being that there was a limit to the number a paper would carry. Again, you’re looking at the difficulty of getting into an industry where there’s no choice but to go through gatekeepers, in this case comics publishers and the syndicates who provided cartoons to newspapers across America. The same is broadly true of film and television: getting your voice across depends on convincing editors, producers and agents that you have the chops to do whatever it is that they’re farming out.
Thing being, in 2012 there’s no need to be limited to traditional channels to get your work out there and profit from it. Look at comics. While Marvel and DC continue to produce variations on the themes that they’ve been pedalling for decades now and manage to produce intermittently interesting results for a dwindling audience, the independent sector is growing. Image have produced a flurry of titles owned by their creative teams, who freed from the constraints of the superhero genre are telling anything from intelligent crime stories such as Sweets to pretty much uncategorisable successes like Chew.
Saga is the latest Image launch, the double size first issue out today, written by Brian K Vaughan, and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Even before the comic is opened, you’re presented with something you’d never get from Marvel or DC: a cover featuring a winged woman breastfeeding her baby, held by a man who’s evidently the father, who sports horns. There’s nothing remotely titillating about it, unlike 90% of the images of women you’ll see in superhero comics, which might even shy away from having a horned man on the cover for fear of scaring advertisers and readers with Christian beliefs. The only thing to be scared of is the realisation that there’s a wealth of creator-owned material out there to explore, whatever your preferred artform.
Fabulous though the opportunities presented by Image are – and they’re being embraced by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, tethered to the Big Two up until now; and the many-splendoured Grant Morrison – what if your work doesn’t appeal to them? Or say Image’s no-money-upfront policy means you and your collaborators are unable to make things work. There is still hope – and lots of it. Kickstarter is increasingly a viable way of getting projects out there, whether graphic novels or gaming accessories. By showcasing your concept to an audience who might connect with it, a real diversity of creative work is finding consumers who’ll pay for their entertainment upfront, and they’re buying into you as much as the concept you’re intending to delight the world with.
And you know what? If you’re afeared of the big bad world of asking people for money, put stuff out there for free. Ain’t nobody going to stop you, and you might just find an audience for…your music, your fiction, your cartoon guide to beekeeping. It’s all a question of what your motivation is. Guitarist Robert Fripp says that the concern of the musician is music, while the concern of the professional musician is business. If you’re financially stable and looking for a creative outlet, you don’t need to let money figure into any of this. And if you do want to profit from your imagination, then there are plenty of ways of making that happen, with people able to send money in your direction by Paypal. The only real question, assuming you have creative ambition and you’re not already aiming to do something to capitalise on the opportunities available is…what’s stopping you?