Posted: November 20, 2003
'Spider Rocket' (LJOFFRAIN@aol.com ) & I have corresponded on the determined self-annhilation now ruling America's comic book field. I was surprised to learn that this situation has its counterpart in Spider's country. This, his own essay on the subject,written specially for inclusion here, follows.
*THE DEADLY SIDE OF FRENCH COMICS HISTORY* by Spider Rocket
There's been a few french comics pioneers before WW 2. France is the land of the most brilliant geniuses but also the land of the ugliest indifference, it could be a symbiotic function. Like in America, comics have been matching here with the press until their fall in the 80's. 

The first dynamic start in publishing was, with an american famous comic character, not Superman but Mickey Mouse. He gave his name in 1934 to the weekly "Journal de Mickey" before being stopped by the anti-american nazi "culture" to come back in  1952. Meanwhile, some publishers were courageous enough to print a few american comics.  But some colours of ink were missing, that's why, out of the blue, the Phantom had a red outfit instead of the regular purple one. American pages couldn't arrive sometimes, that's why the young Albert Uderzo, who would later become a star with "Astérix", created some nice "Captain Marvel Junior" pages. But most of the magazines were not respecting comics so you wouldn't have find more than one comic page inside.

Then a couple of crazy guys from Lyon, Pierre Mouchot and Marcel Navarro, started to publish cheap black and white comic books right after war. But the people thought that you had to be from the lowest class and mentally weak to read this. No time to enjoy, censorship attacked in 1949. A law to protect the young readers was created this year. It still exists in our days and you'd better respect it!

During the 50's, the belgian publishers were doing better: professional stuff, colors, funnies and adventures. But reading comics was like doing drugs, you'd  better hide yourself. On the other hand, there was enough different titles and not many authors so you could have made a lot of money by doing this job. At that time, comics were only for kids and organized like restrooms: some for girls and others for boys.

In the 60's, things changed very slowly. Marcel Navarro started to publish marvel super heroes in the late sixties, it was super exciting for the readers, even if it was printed in two colors. But the censorship freaked out by seeing violence everywhere! That's why these comics always had most of their elements erased for decades. 

But at the same time, the saviour of the french comics world started to fight: René Goscinny was with the "Mad" team from New York in its earliest days. Back in France, he took every risk by publishing young hippies, who became the french kings of the comicdom, and classic comics by the best professional artists. They were both published in "Pilote", perfect name, that was a weekly for the youth that the adults started immediatly to steal from their kids. He wrote "Astérix", "Lucky Luke" and more mighty series that were the first ones to be respected by the medias. Just by treating comics with respect, he made them become "adult".

In the 70's,the ungrateful but talented hippies from "Pilote", trying to "kill the father", created "Fluide Glacial", "Métal Hurlant" and many more titles. You would find hardcover books and comics magazines, weekly, monthly, any size, black & white or colorful, cheap or fine, american, french, italian, spanish, porno stuff for truck drivers and cute stuff for the innocent kids, boys and girls, political, funny, serious, action, adventure, fine art, religion, 
western, horror, history, poetry, sci-fi, EVERYTHING. And more than this: millions of readers! No marketing, no advertising and no other promotion but the total disrespect from the institutions and the old ones. This was the best time, I was a teen and I chose to become a comics professional. My parents and my teachers yelled at me but it just made me more passionate. The 70's were the golden years.

Then arrived the sad and cold 80's. René Goscinny died during his first medical check-up so Big Brother could do his job very well. I was in Angoulême [site of the biggest comics festival-MK.] when mister institutional Number one, the president of french republic, François Mitterrand made his speech. To show how left winged he was, he declared "the art of comics is an official art". A good instinct made me feel bad. So what did the publishers do? Art! "Pilote" became a tasteless thing with intellectual pretension for the "mature" bourgeoisie, the magazines were all losing their 
identities, everything was focused on the most expensive hardcover books. You would have find some limited and signed editions, cartoonists started to draw stuff for rare silkscreened prints, you would have see their ugly faces on TV and then they started to say what a hell it was to be a lazy rich artist. The magazines died because of their emptiness and the audience could not afford this hype expensive stuff. They would rather rent video tapes.

But you could suddenly find comics art schools. When I think of my teachers who hated comics so much... I must admit that every ex-comics student that I met had a high-level of technique. But most of them had no desire, no ambition, well, no talent. They are not doing comics anyway, there is no room for them and TV cartoons are a better job. 

You could also see the rise of comics museums and fine exhibitions in respectable places, some real treasures of original artworks are collected and preserved. But how many pages are you able to read when they're framed on a wall? Most of the people never enter a museum anyway.

In the 90's, it was okay for a small minority who could publish without readers by having money from the ministry of culture. Some of these comic books are brilliant because they don't have to respect commercial rules. But since their creators claim themselves independent, I would rather see my taxes spent for schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, many publishers went bankrupt and it was the game of who buys who. Every publisher was crying that the comics didn't sell while releasing tons of useless comic books. Then began the kingdom of the turnover and the dictatorship of the marketing.

Today, "Titeuf" from Switzerland invades the environment, millions of sales, TV cartoons, video games, toys, advertising... Same for "Kid Paddle" from Belgium. Only stuff for kids, the same kind that has been refused since 20 years! No one answers in the publishing companies. Every one is afraid to lose his job and the shareholders are no editors at all. The publishers don't even care about comics because that's not the level where their business is working. 

So now the ministry of culture doesn't give money anymore, you have these different possibilities as a french cartoonist, your talent does not matter, it's just a question of opportunity:
-You are an outcast, your wife is going away and your children don't understand why their daddy was such a looser. Rest In Peace.
-You are teaching how to do comics to kids but to make money, you have no time to create comics anymore. And you've got concurrency. Say goodbye to happiness.
-You are a super hypocrite and you're doing comics for advertising, forgetting your talent to be adaptable and you can become a new irresponsable rich asshole if you don't forget to destroy the concurrency.
-You signed an agreement! Look at it, the price of the comic page is the same it was in the 70's! Then throw the dice:
*The release of your book is cancelled. You can not understand,it's business.
*Your book is released but no one can find it. You can not understand...(see above.)
*Your book is released, easy to find but no one buys it. No promotion, no press. You can not understand...(see above.)
*Your book is released, easy to find, has a good promotion and makes good sales. It won't be reprinted.  You really can not be sure that you will have an agreement for the second one. You can not understand their business when they don't understand it themselves.
*You'd better sign twelve agreements per year if you love your wife and your children. Too much work? Forget your dream and go to the employment agency.
*Teaming with other professionals? Really? YOU'VE GOT IT! But you'll never find a partner in this mess. Everyone is selfish, paranoid and egoistic and from now on, you know the reasons why.

It's time for the french comics world to open his eyes and watch the real world. I begin to have new hopes by communicating with the right guys all over the world but the situation stays hard: Big Brother is watching you but can not read comics, too many words. Big Brother hates comics. Je dis merde à Big Brother! Gardons espoir !

*EPILOGUE*
[Spider now responds to my remark about the US comics market being (for the type of books I enjoy) "finished ", and  to my question: "I don't suppose things are any livelier anywhere else? ($)."]


 
...I agree but maybe that's what they want us to believe.  Aren't they hiding something they know about $? From here, I've never seen so many titles in our american comic shops, so many different publishers, so many licensed products like action figures, tv shows and movies. In french comic shops, it's funny too: 2 or 3 series are huge sellers but there's never been so many different publishers and this never ending wave of new releases before. These publishers are often going bankrupt fast or are bought by their concurrency. But they wouldn't exist if the comics market was really finished. It looks just like the gold rush!!!

There is no real market but there still are "customers". They don't know who these customers are, what they want, but they try to get their money. We have this strange thing called marketing that invaded publishing in the 80's. It destroyed the market. Before that, these mysterious customers were called readers and they weren't so anonymous. René Goscinny, but also Stan Lee or William E.Gaines, knew what meant the difference between a market and a readership: the readership shall always be considered first or the market can not exist. We need editors. But now that the european graphic novel format seems to be the choosen one, writers and cartoonists can and have to be their own very talented editors. 

That's why I dreamed of teaming with you as I also think that you could bring something new to a non-american publisher. And I wish that I could work for an american publisher for the same reason.

And now that comics are supposed to be recognized as art -it's not so true- you can create any kind of artwork. Because this is true,

official art or not, most of the best artists of today are hidden in the comics world. It's a strange cultural time warp: "step into the future back to the roots". That's what the Sci-Fi Western artshow curated by Sunny Buick in San Francisco was all about. [See illustration on letters page-MK.]Sunny did the smart thing: she's living and working in Paris, France. 

I hope that you'll see what I mean: our national cultures are treasures while our national business is killing us. The international business is on since a long time and the international artworld doesn't reply. The international comics world has to wake up and take a good look outside, without fear. Et voilà tout, non?

COPYRIGHT 2003 BY SPIDER ROCKET
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