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Reading the Comics Journal's 2004 special (their twice-a-year special issue appears to have become a once-a-year special issue), I was struck by a question that's been nagging at the fringes of my comics-crit consciousness for a while: what independent North American cartoonists are producing a substantial body of work right now?

By which I mean: who publishes new material regularly--substantial, serious stuff that's going to be staying in print for a while? Ten or fifteen years ago, there were a lot of answers to that question, and they've all slowed down drastically. Peter Bagge is doing very occasional reportage and a once-a-year Hate cash-in; Dan Clowes has finished one issue of Eightball in the last four years (supposedly another one's coming this summer); the Hernandez brothers are doing fairly intermittent issues of Love & Rockets and their own comics; Sim/Gerhard have retired; art spiegelman did In the Shadow of No Towers a few times but is otherwise sticking to illustration; Eddie Campbell, just as he seemed to be hitting a new peak, gave up his own magazine and is apparently working on a Batman graphic novel; Gaiman and Zulli's Sweeney Todd never even happened; Jim Woodring's barely doing any comics at all any more; ditto Scott McCloud... Chris Ware continues to eke out a page a week if we're lucky... Chester Brown, well, I liked Louis Riel a hell of a lot, but it's not like he's erupting with a new Yummy Fur every six weeks any more...

I'd figured: well, it's cyclical, new people will come and take their place. But when I really try to think of independent comic book artists who seem to have a really serious work ethic and are working toward books that I can, you know, recommend to people, I get... well, Carla Speed McNeil, definitely, and maybe James Kochalka (whose stuff I don't love nearly as much) and Paul Hornschemeier and Craig Thompson, but the last three have never put a serialization into the double digits (although admittedly Blankets could have). And there the list stops for me. (I know some people would include Scott Morse or Andi Watson.) Rachel Hartman hasn't published a comic in almost two years. Megan Kelso is brilliant (her comic in the Comics Journal special made me think of this in the first place), but it's going to be years before Artichoke Tales is finished. And so on.

What's weird about this is that it's clear that good, major comics projects, once they're done--and especially if there are a bunch of them by a single cartoonist--bring in money in something like perpetuity. Sim and Gerhard are retiring on the proceeds of the Cerebus books. The Hernandezes, between them, have something like twenty books that keep on selling. From Hell worked out just great for Eddie Campbell. McNeil is doing nicely with the Finder books, and so's Thompson with his. So why do so many amazing cartoonists only do the very smallest-scale work these days? I know that serialization in pamphlets is really hard to pull off right now, but it's also a lot more reliable if your pamphlets can come out on a regular basis...


Liz said:

It's funny that you should bring up the notion of comic artists who are consistently putting out quality work. I just spent the weekend not studying for my midterms but re-reading all my Strangers In Paradise trade paperbacks by Terry Moore. In my earlier comic-buying days, I used to excitedly rush home from the comic shop with a small stack of comics. Over the course of the past 15 (15?!) years or so I've tended to buy fewer comics so I'd always supplement my stack with a couple gambles on new authors. Last Friday I made my most recent trip to Jim Hanley's and walked out with 1 comic. I've never, ever done that before.

I'm sure that there will be another new young generation of comic artists out there that will make work that really resonates with a vast majority of people but there really was a little golden age of independent comics in the late 80's early 90's. Clowes, Bagge, Sim, The Hernandezes, Ware, Brown, the guy who did Reid Fleming, Moore, Seth, those people were doing incredibly unique things in comics and none of them were copying one another. In my humble opinion.

Anyhow, the most recent issue of Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore references three "scenes" from earlier in the series. That's what inspired the re-read. He's on issue number 80 now and it seems like he's just wrapped up one storyline so that he could move onto the next one. And it seems like he's still filled with ideas. He's one of those strange individuals who can create an entire universe and parcel out the information in tight packages that totally work on their own.

Terry Moore has been putting out an issue every six weeks. I loved re-reading the set. Maybe I'll lend you some when you're back in town.

But I really can't think of too many other artists out there doing volume of work this consistently. And what happened to all the great compilations. Raw, Blab, Drawn & Quarterly used to be AMAZING. What happened? There's got to be some kind of comics underground happening that we just don't know about yet. I hope so.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on March 27, 2004 12:35 AM.

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