Thursday, February 12, 2009

Because Boxing is a Metaphor for Everything

For better or for worse, the “alternative” generation, and especially the alternative comic book, has been almost completely irrelevant to my comics life.
Say it ain't so, Joe! That was Leigh Walton in response to Diamond Comic Distributors' announcement that they're raising their order minimums ($1500 to $2500). I've never read serialized comics—only graphics novels, and only when the men in my life insisted on it—but for some reason I've always remembered this blurb from the back cover of Jimmy Corrigan: "Also winner of The American Book Award and The Guardian Prize 2001 (the consumer will note that these honors are generally only bestowed upon those authors who refuse to learn how to draw)." The future of alternative comics is something I have a remote but sincere interest in. So what does the news from Diamond portend? Leigh Walton again:
We’ll see fewer and fewer projects take the serial-comic-to-big-book format à la Maus, Black Hole, Box Office Poison, Local, Bone, From Hell, or Jimmy Corrigan. But the books will still come out, one way or another. Some of them will surely be underbaked, deprived of the reader feedback that serialization provides (but on the other hand, look at how many webcomics and newspaper strips have decayed into self-parodies, stunted by the shackles of constant reader feedback). Others will die stillborn, unable to find a publisher willing to risk a 400-page book on an unproven creator. Some will be published, only to find customers balking at dropping $15-20 on somebody’s debut. But, y’know, I think we’ll figure it out.
We may "figure it out," as Leigh suggests, but let's remember what happened when boxing (which I do know something about, unlike the comics industry) changed its distribution by switching to television. "In more normal pre-television times," said A. J. Liebling, "a fellow out of the amateurs would spend three years in four-, six-, and eight-round bouts in small clubs before attempting ten." When the amateur circuit dried up, it became harder for promising fighters to pay their dues; this meant lower-quality fights for fans, but it also meant more ring fatalities from dumb mistakes that seasoned boxers wouldn't have made. (If you've got your Boddy handy, see p. 319.)

In the end, boxing never did "figure it out"; no substitute for the amateur circuit emerged, and the new methods of shepherding young talent to the big time, though inferior to the old methods, stuck. I'm not sure whether this metaphor has legs—I'd be willing to accept that dues-paying is less important in comics, or that Diamond's recent tweak is less dramatic than the advent of television—but, to the extent that it does, it suggests that the predictions in bold above (emphasis mine) might come true, and stay that way.

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