How Comics Can Be a Force for Truth

Today I got caught up in a hashtag going around on Twitter.

#ComicsForward

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This stemmed from a post from Boom Studios CEO Ross Richie about the need to continue the comics publishing industry in new ways and in new directions.

I get asked a lot why I chose to focus on comics first at Follow Networks. The simple answer is that comics can literally do anything. They can tell any story, they can connect with multiple groups of people in multiple ways. They can challenge us, and they can also give us the easiest, most accessible stories that we’ll ever see.

In his post about pushing #ComicsForward, Ross mentions that our focus should be on making comics for everyone, and he is absolutely right about this.

It’s important to immediately identify that not every comic book can be for every person. Our goal should be to find the topics and the concepts and the ideas that will attract the people who haven’t found what they are looking for in comics yet.

It’s amazing to think of the range of stories that exist currently. From family friendly, all-ages stories, to the darkest, scariest adult horror stories, to something like Sex Criminals that both in title and content presents itself in a way that proves that something that some won’t like can be the most exciting, original story in years.

What the Comic Industry Needs

In order to push the industry forward, to gain new readers, to re-ignite the creative passion for others, comics have to be willing to do things that other mediums can’t, or just simply won’t do. We, as writers and artists and creatives and journalists, should be chasing stories that tackle hard issues, that challenge what we know as a society, or that truly show something real. Indie comic publishers have a very specific opportunity to grow audiences and create projects that can have a deep effect on people’s lives, while also giving people what they are expecting, an entertaining artistic experience.

Real-life is an element of comics that sometimes gets forgotten, and I’m certainly guilty of this. For me, every story starts with real-life, but quickly must find it’s hook, or it’s twist. Sometimes I think that I’m afraid to tackle real-life. There are certainly elements of my life that have been hugely influential, that have tragic and sad, that have been incredibly happy. Why then, as a writer, am I not mining that material to create real-life stories? I’m committing here to you now to write a real story. Nothing supernatural, no mystic twist, just a real-life story. I’ve toyed with the idea of a Mumble-Comic for a long time, and now is the time that we must chase those stories.

Hard issues is another area where I think comics really have an opportunity to both challenge people, inspire people, and also to shine as an art-form.  Maybe now is the time that we need to start looking for high-impact places where comics can stand-out. I look at the controversy behind American Sniper and I immediately think that somewhere, there is probably a writer and an artist who could present stories of that magnitude and show all the angles. There are so many hot button topics that we could address fairly and with truthful representation that other industries will only tell in a way that serves their current audience, or in a way that only speaks a certain group of people. This is a chance for us to real and hard-hitting and brave.

We also need to both challenge and express what we know. Parenting. Marriage. Divorce. Violence. Activism. Excitement. Opportunity. The lives we’ve had. The lives others have had. The stories we’ve heard our entire lives. Grit. Dirt. Filth. Shine. Brightness. Gray. Color. Morality. Science. Challenges. There is a place for all of those stories in our industry.

Finally, diversity. We need more of it. It’s something I struggle with, but it’s something that I now think about every time I sit down to write a story. We need more diversity. In the people we work with and the people we create on the page. I want to work with more female artists. I want to create characters from every possible background and from every race. What I need is a better understanding of people to do that, and that is something that I think we should all work on. Get to know people and learn about them. Care about who people are. Work hard to incorporate real portrayals of people from any background into your story. We can do better here.

What I want to focus on is being brave and accessible. Move awards season is always an interesting time to learn about the creative industries and to see what people are connecting to. The hard part is that as award season happens, the majority of people haven’t seen the films that are nominated, and by the time people get to there ofter an already-developed sense of how this film, or story, or performance, or scene, is supposed to make you feel. If we are going to challenge people and push new ideas and really try to connect with people, we should be trying to get people into these stories and let them experience them their way, and we should encourage positive conversation around these stories. Community for us is so important,  it’s the core of our entire attitude, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t trace all the way down to the way our stories make people feel at the end of the day.  I want to be apart of those conversations. I want to feel what others feel.

What I don’t want to do is get to a place where I feel like I have to write a certain type of story just to connect with a certain person. Those stories should be written because they need to be told and because they need to be experienced, not because we think we’ll be looked at better or more respected or we’ll get put up on some pedestal for taking risks. Bravery is telling a story because it’s important that someone hears it, at any cost. Not telling a story that you think will sell really well because it’s coated in controversy.

Focusing

Sometimes I get lost in the idea of the business of comics. With the launch of our community forum, the upcoming limited physical release of the complete Joan of Orca and the marketing that will accompany it, and the numerous projects happening that haven’t been released yet, the amount of time I’m spending focused on creativity and writing is extremely low right now, and that is a problem. When something sparks my creativity now, it’s simply hitting an Evernote doc immediately and waiting, sometimes for months, for me to re-evaluate exactly what that thought or concept was. The #ComicsForward idea has made me step back and wonder where I should really be spending my time. As a creative and an entrepreneur, I know that these stories won’t be seen without some focus on building an audience, but by focusing on new concepts, and really pushing boundaries, making comics accessible and brave, an audience will follow. It’s a tough concept to deal with.

For me, I want to spend more time reflecting on real-life and getting those stories down. I’d love to know what the idea has caused you to think about or question in your own work. Head over to the forum to discuss.

 

 

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