10 November 2007

Comics, Children's Books, and the Self-Publishing Stigma

This installment of COMICS AND NON-COMICS WEEK turns away from form and back to a behind-the-scenes aspect of the two types of publication.

I quote Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics:

Self-publishing is a mark of mediocrity in the prose book world, but it's easy enough to do in comics--since there's only one distributor of note--that it's not just an acceptable first step but, in more than a few cases, a long-term career path.
And Michael R. Lavin at the University of Buffalo:
Unlike the book publishing community, the comic book industry accepts self-publishing as a respectable outlet for creative effort. Experienced, talented comic book professionals often publish their own work as a means of realizing their artistic vision without editorial interference from mainstream publishers. Most self-published comics are created using the same professional, high-quality production standards as titles from major publishers. Many have enjoyed long-lived commercial success and/or critical acclaim. In fact, some of the most original, exciting, and groundbreaking comics in today's marketplace result from self-publishing activity.
Self-publishing is a "mark of mediocrity" for non-comics only because so many mediocre books have been published by that route. I'm not sure why the situation would be different for comics, especially since that field offers plenty of egregious examples of self-publishing. But, as this column from The Book Standard notes, some of the field's best work also came to us by that route (including today's featured book cover, from the Bone series by Jeff Smith).

Wolk suggests that the dominance of Diamond Comics Distributors is a crucial difference, opening the playing field for all comics publishers. Maybe the cheap price of comic books (as opposed to paperback collections) makes it easier for customers to take a chance on a new title that looks promising. Maybe there's a better word-of-mouth network; fanboys do talk. Or maybe the nature of comics themselves, with their plethora of art, means that a quick look can distinguish the good from the mediocre.


Emily said...

I think the "one quick glance" is definitely an issue. (There's another field--music--where self-publishing has no stigma, and it doesn't take a lot of effort to tell someone who can play music from someone who can't.)

To me, one of the big issues is the reputation of insularity and narrow-mindedness of the big comics companies. I feel like there's a general perception that if you write a fantastic comic that's outside of the mainstream, you're going to have a hard time getting published. Whereas there's a lot more variety in the print book world and I feel like, if you write a fantastic book it will find its publisher even if it's a bit offbeat. Or maybe that's not true, but that's the stereotype--but it may lend some stigma to self-publishing prose.

J. L. Bell said...

That's an interesting view. Certainly there are fewer major comics publishers in the US than there are major book publishers, and most publications from the "big two" are in a narrow range.

But I can't help but feel that most children's-book authors would say that getting published by one of the major book publishers is just as hard. Maybe it's a "grass is always greener" situation. Hard numbers for comparison are, alas, hard to come by.

Anonymous said...

We self published our book,Princess Bubble. And have received national attention/media coverage.

But we have a message that was missing and needed. I believe the key is a million hours of hard work and passion!