This, right now? This is the real Golden Age of comics, and that makes me very happy.
If you’d asked me about the ideal future for comics, 25 years ago, as I was learning about the medium and the industry, preparing for my own foray into it? (Part of my secret origin is that before I fell in with a bunch of people who were making comics, and got excited about doing them myself, I really didn’t know much about them!)
Or if you were a fly on the wall for the conversations between me and my friends about what comics could and should be?
Or if you’d distilled all the Usenet and message board debates over what was wrong with comics, and what would make comics better, not just for us frustrated independent comics readers and creators, but for everyone?
Well, you wouldn’t quite have today. But today is about as close to that dreamed-of future as I think the real world could be reasonably expected to get.
I started writing my monthly comics reviews on Skiffy & Fanty without much of an introduction or statement of principles, beyond opening my first column with these two brief paragraphs:
Welcome to my new comics review feature here at Skiffy & Fanty. Every month, I’m going to use this space to shine a spotlight on SF&F comics (including print comics, graphic novels, and webcomics) that I believe deserve more attention from SF&F readers.
Because Saga and Squirrel Girl are freaking amazing, but there’s so much more out there to love!
This was a distillation of a lot of thoughts I’d been having, but its particular genesis was me going on, as I do, on Twitter, about how many, how good, how rich, how deep the freaking bench of science fiction and fantasy comics is right now, and how not enough people in SF&F fandom knew about them.
Then Shaun Duke suggested that, you know, I could help solve the problem by writing about it for this website he might happen to know about, and well, you can see how that turned out.
It’s true: the issue now isn’t not having enough great comics — it’s discoverability. Having so much good stuff to read that it’s challenging to find it all is a pretty great problem to have, if you have to have a problem, but it took a long time to get here!
In the early 1990s, the market was dominated by what were often called the mainstream, or Big Two superhero publishers, DC and Marvel. It was painfully hard to try to break into that market with comics that weren’t from those publishers, and about their established superhero properties.
But we knew in our hearts, those of us who were creating and reading other kinds of comics, that there was a larger audience out there, or rather, lots of audiences. Audiences for all kinds of different comics, if only we could engage with them.
Then, Vertigo happened, Image happened, and a speculator boom happened, and there was a surge in self-published comics, then the speculator bubble popped and the distribution channels collapsed and the market imploded, and comics in bookstores happened, and manga went mainstream in North America, and webcomics happened, and the graphic novel market happened, and Kickstarter and Patreon happened…
A whole heck of a lot happened. To get into it even superficially would be a long, long story, and not all of it is joyful, so it’ll have to be a story for another time, but: we were right, there were more comics readers out there. And things changed.
The overlapping evolutions and revolutions in North American comics ushered in almost exactly the world that my friends and peers and I, in our years of beating our heads against the wall, trying to find a way in to a Marvel-and-DC-focused, direct-market-of-dedicated-comics-shops ecosystem, had been hoping to see.
The changes brought in more young people, more women of all ages, more people of colour, more people from all across the range of sexual and gender identities, as readers, creators and publishers. It brought diversity of all kinds, at first most noticeably through a breadth and diversity of content, as stories that weren’t about superheroes and supervillains not only found a place in the new, bigger market, but in some ways came to dominate the market.
The New York Times decided in early 2017 to discontinue its Graphic Book Best Seller lists, but before they did, here’s what was on those lists:
- January 17, 2017 Best Sellers – Paperback Graphic Books
- January 17, 2017 Best Sellers – Hardcover Graphic Books
What an amazing breadth of material. Some superheroes and some licensed works and tons of YA and MG and memoir and yes, science fiction and fantasy! What an amazing breadth of creators, too.
So yeah, this is the Golden Age, or at least a Golden Age, of comics. There are comics for almost everyone, and almost anyone with access to the internet, and/or a library card and/or the disposable income to buy books can take advantage of that.
This is the bright future, full of possibilities, that we dreamed of twenty-five years ago. It’s not a utopia — there will always be problems, and always more to do, and more progress we need to work towards — but it’s better than it was. It’s better than ever.
And you’d better believe that gives me joy.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge that Toronto, and the land it now occupies, where I live and work, has been a site of human activity for 15,000 years. This land is the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat and Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. The territory was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. This territory is also covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Today, the meeting place of Toronto is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island. I am grateful to have the opportunity to live and work in the community of Toronto, on this territory.