Sequential Underground #13 – Fleeting Pinups

Sequential Underground

The podcast by indie comics creators for indie comics creators gets opinionated!

First up, a quick project announcement: Dan’s Super Haters Guest Week debuts today! (NOTE: I’ll post a link to his first strip when it goes live later today. -Nick)

Onto the conversation… we discuss Pittsburgh’s Fleeting Pages — one-month indie book store project — and their submission process. And we drop a shout out to Bloomfield’s Big Idea book shop.

Then we talk about selling prints of licensed properties at comic book conventions. C’mon, you know who and what we’re talking about — the artists who show up at cons and only do pinups of Big Two characters. We talk about how it’s a legal gray area… and, of course, we make sure to express our strong opinions about it!!!

22 Responses to “Sequential Underground #13 – Fleeting Pinups”

  1. 1 Paul

    The only comic convention I visit every year is HeroesCon in Charlotte. My favorite part of that con by far is Indie Island, because that’s where I can find new stuff that I haven’t seen before. I spend most of the day in that part of the con.

  2. 2 nick marino

    I hear great stuff about Indie Island. My only complaint about it (which is really a personal business complaint and not a criticism of HeroesCon) is that you have to be invited to Indie Island. I totally get in some respects but in other respects I feel like that’s the Indie Island they WANT you to see… there’s not even an application process. So a creator like me — an underground indie creator, not an indie professional — has to purchase an overpriced Artist’s Alley table to set up at HeroesCon.

  3. 3 Phatman

    Excellent podcast guys. While I agree with your view of the way things “should” be, the convention circuit is over run with people doing this.

  4. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dinogeddon webcomics

  5. 4 Phatman

    Consider this: Why is is okay for some artists to sell prints and sketchbooks with characters that they’ve never worked on professionally as well? I can name a lot of guys who are exclusive to one company who are selling work of characters from other companies (that they have never worked for). The fact that they do this for a living versus as a side gig doesn’t mean anything in what is legal or not. How many guys sell sketchbooks with Hellboy or Star Wars stuff in them that have never worked for Mignola, Dark Horse, or Lucas?

    On Granito: Scumbag? Yes. However the energy going to attack this dimwitted amateur has never been directed as aggressively at guys like Greg Land, David Mack or Mike Mayhew who have been caught swiping other artists’ work for payment AND publication. Where’s the torches and pitchforks for these guys? I guess some low level nobody is easier to attack than guys stealing art for the Big Two.

  6. 5 nick marino

    @Phatman: Yeah, you’re totally right, and the reality is that no matter how much we want it to be different, that trend isn’t going to change soon… but I would love to see an attitude shift over the next couple of years, leading to people with original content and characters being the majority and setting the tone for shows.

  7. 6 kaylie

    while i pretty much agree with you guys, it’s weird, right as i listen to this i’m reading a book about the perils of being an artist, and the current chapter i’m on deals with the topic of how it can be tempting to “borrow” from other artists or pieces of art that came before, in hopes that you can recapture and manufacture the inspirational effect it had on you, but it’s ultimately impossible, because art encapsulates only a certain place, certain time, certain culture, etc., etc.

    i think Shawn hit the nail on the head with the idea that a lot of the artists that primarily or exclusively draw other artists’ or licensed characters is just that the artist and the audience have become so separated over time, that audiences pretty much only embrace that which is familiar and recognizable as a large group. kinda like how so many “innovative” artists were ignored or even shunned during their careers or lifetimes, but after having generations exposed to their work, they become famous and admired icons. when you’re looking down the barrel of becoming another “starving artist” statistic, unknown and alone, becoming semi-famous or at least earning enough to make ends meet by doing trite cheesecake fan art of Super Girl doesn’t seem that bad by comparison. not saying it’s the high road, being true to oneself and your potential as an artist, but just that i can understand why some artists would choose to go that route.

    i think it’s less about artists crimping someone else’s characters, and more about why there is such an apparent high demand for this stuff? i have friends that are great comic artists and have been both published by big names and self-publishing for years, but the only thing that’s really paying their bills is selling fan art. it boggles my mind as to why people are so willing to pay out tons of money just for a face or color scheme they recognize, rather than something that’s meaningful to them and to the artist. i’m very interested in how and why this huge gulf exists between artists and their audience, and why artists have become so far removed from the collective consciousnesses of society, and yet still so many people who aren’t artists long to be one.

    whew, sorry that was so long! :/

  8. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dinogeddon webcomics

  9. 7 nick marino

    man, so much heavy stuff in that comment, Kaylie… i dunno what to say! i don’t even have a sassy and/or playful remark.

  10. 8 shawn atkins

    I hear ya Kaylie

  11. 9 nick marino

    in some ways, i blame the fans more than anything else. it’s not like you can just be an apathetic comic book fan and still be involved in the hobby. you have to go to special stores, read dedicated blogs, etc. so i feel like if you’re already making the effort to seek this stuff out and you’re doing it for more than just nostalgic value, you owe it to yourself to be an educated consumer. and i don’t think that most fans, once coming to understand the business and creative dynamics of the comic book industry, would continue to blindly support corporate characters and licensed properties at the expense of the artists who breathe life into the material. so i guess what i’m doing right here is calling out those corporate zombie comics fans for being uneducated consumers (not in all cases, of course… but in a lot of cases).

  12. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Wet Moon comics

  13. 10 ross

    i have some stuff to say about this but i haven’t had time to sit down and type it out, because i know i’ll end up with another comment like when i wrote that term paper about crossovers. but i’ll be back!!!

  14. 11 Paul

    I agree with you Nick, but–I’m probably going to get cynical here, so maybe take me with a grain of salt–it seems like a lot of people have been taught to assume that only big corporate stuff is worthwhile. If it’s big, then it’s successful, and you only want to associate with stuff that’s big and successful. It’s why people love chain stores so freaking much. They let local color and local entrepreneurship die b/c they think it’s some kind of blessing to have the same damn stores that every other town in America has. The ad guys or whomever have done an excellent job of convincing people to buy into branding. Then there’s the social aspect. A lot of people go to cons now to hang out and be seen, and if you wear a Green Lantern t-shirt or dress up like Jean Grey, everybody immediately knows what you’re about, and you can shoot the shit about corporate comics with any schmoe you meet. I guess I blame the fans, too. ;)

  15. 12 nick marino

    @Phatman: For some reason, your second comment got spammed… but I fished it out. You raise good points all around. It’s sort of strange how in comics, it’s okay to play with all of the toys no matter who owns them. It’s like, “Oh you draw Superman? Why not sell some Spidr-Man drawings too?” though, honestly, the only thing connecting those two characters in a business sense is a shared industry. It’d be like a published novelist selling Harry Potter fanfic.

    But then again, in Japan, that’s an entire business — fanfic and fan sketches and fan products. So maybe in some ways we’re over-critical in the US… I dunno.

    @Paul: So you think it’s more about general corporate brainwashing than corporate comics allegiance?

  16. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dinogeddon webcomics

  17. 13 Paul

    Maybe it’s not brainwashing per se (okay, it’s certainly not literal brainwashing), but it’s something that’s in the culture. Where it came from and when it started I don’t know. But it’s an idea that what’s most popular is best–not best in terms of Art, but best because “everybody” likes it. I guess it could be populism as an artistic aesthetic, related to the political aesthetic? Maybe it’s not fair, or just not accurate, to blame that on admen; maybe they just take advantage of an attitude that’s already there.

    The allegiance to corporate comics could be a part of that thing. Comics also has collecting and nostalgia, so it’s not only that thing. It’s just something that I’ve noticed a lot over the years, since I tend to get a thrill out of eccentric or unusual things, and lots of other people don’t. I know it’s a matter of taste, and doesnt’ have to “make sense”, but I still try to figure out how it works.

  18. 14 ross

    Kaylie: i really gotta read that book you’re reading!

    i think there are a few things at play here, the first being the “realness” concept i’m always talking about, where people consider things that are more popular/bigger/historical more “real,” there’s an entry point and familiarity there that is really powerful, and i think that drives most of this phenomenon.

    obviously there’s the money aspect, where artists react to what buyers want because they gotta make a living, but another thing is that i think you guys are selling short both the artists who enjoy drawing these characters and the fans who love them, you guys get pretty disparaging about them and Kaylie even goes so far as to imply drawing and/or selling art of others’ characters as not being true to oneself and squandering artistic potential, and implying that a drawing of some licensed character can’t be meaningful to the buyer or to the artist. i don’t think the line between being true to oneself and buying into this fan culture to some respect is as clear as you guys are making it out to be.

    i’m coming at this as two things: a creator who is just as frustrated and confused by this phenomenon as you guys are and who knows his own characters are just as good as or better than any of that other stuff, somebody who’s frustrated that a personal drawing will never sell for as much as a licensed character thing and feels that impenetrability in trying to divert people’s attention away from Batman and X-Men; but i’m also coming at it as somebody who does feel genuine love for a lot of licensed characters and who loves drawing those characters and who would sure as hell pay another artist for a drawing of the Ninja Turtles or something, and i pour my soul into every Turtles drawing i do. i get that affection and where it comes from, even though it’s frustrating as a creator.

    i think people also dismiss the possibility and reality of great artistic achievement in commissioned artwork.

    the selling-of-fanart culture in comics in America is definitely weird and narrow and kind of dead-ended, but i think the fact that Japan has a really flourishing dojinshi/fancomic culture going on shows that it doesn’t have to be that way. it doesn’t have to be leeching off others’ work to make a buck or simply offering some “recognition glee” to fans or furthering this kind of Remix Culture we have going on. i think there’s a definite place for it and it can come from a genuine, sincere artistic place, it doesn’t have to preclude that just because it’s work of characters that aren’t yours.

    BUT, all that said, i still share the frustration and it’s totally annoying sometimes. ARGH.

  19. 15 Paul

    @Ross Fair enough. I will always mark out for Godzilla and Dr. Who, and I still read those Star Wars novels. To clarify: I don’t think people are wrong or dumb for liking licensed things, I’m just flummoxed at why some folks won’t give other things a chance.

  20. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Shadoweyes webcomics

  21. 16 nick marino

    @Ross: i feel like there’s so much i could discuss on this topic, and in the podcast i mainly focused on my disdain for the economics of the situation and the aspects of con culture that i dislike. but you know that there’s lots of licensed character stuff i enjoy, and especially in the realm of artistic achievement there’s a lot of licensed character work that i admire and cherish.

    but here’s the thing — i have great respect for artists like you that straddle both worlds at a con. you have your own product and sketches of your content, and you’ll also do sketches of licensed characters. just like Dave Wachter, who we mentioned in the show, i think there’s a certain type of artist that does both and does them classy.

    but then there’s the artist with a giant glossy banner covered with Witchblade and Wolverine and Mystique, and this artist doesn’t tell stories with those characters. in fact, most of the time, this artist doesn’t tell stories at all. this artist just sells licensed character prints at shows and takes commissions on licensed material. don’t get me wrong — this artist might be a great artist, technically speaking. but this artist is counting on the collector and fan mentalities to make money.

    while i think that the responsibility resides within the fan to look beyond for original and interesting material, i also think the responsibility resides within the artist to push fans to try new things. seriously, you go to these shows and you’d think that people are worshiping fucking Spider-Man like a god. cosplay, shirts, books, prints, sketches, posters, etc. and it’s this sort of bizarre, narrow focus that makes me abhor cons because it just keeps perpetuating itself and pushing aside individual expression — not necessarily individual artistic style, but it definitely devalues original thematic expression.

    @Paul: which leads me to my response to what you said. i’m the same way as you, as in i’m more interested in the new and unusual stuff i find at shows as opposed to prints of Batman. i mean, ideally, i’d like to be at shows that emphasize both equally (if not more on the original side) because i appreciate both. but i feel like most of the shows i go to, it’s either stuff that’s so unusual that it’s inaccessible (small press shows can be like this), or it’s stuff that’s so familiar in terms of content (licensed characters or depressing derivatives) that it bores me.

  22. 17 ross

    @NIIIIIICCKK: no, i agree, there’s definitely a kind of scuzzy feeling about artists who solely draw licensed character pin-ups at conventions and that’s ALL they do. i’ve seen plenty of them, and it’s not what i’m interested in personally, but i’m not sure there’s any aspect of responsibility there. responsibility to what? to what end? why is it the responsibility of the artist to push people to try new things? nobody’s charging them with that responsibility, it seems more like an artist’s responsibility is to do what they feel like doing, heh. same with the fans.

    and i’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice if things were different and i’m definitely trying to change things and would like to see things change. i hate the con/fan culture too, i’m bored with it, it’s not for me, i’m not the target audience or whatever, i can bitch all day long about how much i hate the Familiarity/Remix Culture going on, but i feel like you guys, rather than just saying “i don’t like this, it’s not for me,” are trying to attack people when you guys are simply just bitter since i know all of you have a stake in the game.

    that said, i myself am very bitter that people like Spider-Man instead of my comics, haha. i’m trying to make it here too, i hate that i can barely get people to pay me any money to do my own comics while i’d get big bucks drawing a licensed character. but i just can’t attack an artist for trying to make money and make a living in whatever way they want to; i guess unless it strays into offensive or damaging things, that’s a whole other topic, heh, but if we’re just sticking with people making money off Jean Grey pics then whatever.

    if i had to pick i’m more on your side of blaming the fans, but at the same time a lot of artists ARE fans, the line isn’t that clear, and most fans and artists are coming from the same basic cultural place, and i think that’s what needs to change. the culture itself, somehow. i’m not sure if even deluging the place with new original characters and stories would even fix that, there are plenty of new things that people get into and new stuff has just as much potential to suck. so i don’t know, i don’t know what the solution is. i guess those artists who only do pin-ups of recognizable characters would still be around even then, they’d just be drawing different characters.

    i don’t know, i don’t know why i’m defending this, heh.

  23. 18 nick marino

    i definitely agree that there’s no responsibility in a moral sense. i’m talking more about business ethics… and, again, not moral. it’s more like the economic ethics of running an art business that continues to evolve instead of stagnating and eventually decomposing.

    way i see it, it’s a akin to a comics retailer responsibility (or maybe moderation is an even better term than responsibility). as a retailer, if all you do is order lots of books with variant covers, mark up the price on those variants, and then sell them to the obsessive collector’s market, you’re not running a sustainable business. sure, in the short term it’ll pay. but because the foundation is essentially built on a collector’s gimmick (that only has value when the content underneath the cover has demand), it’s a weak foundation.

    the cover might be great art, but at the end of the day, the value behind comics is derived from the combination of story and symbol. fans may love the icons and symbols independent of any one single story, but those icons are worthless if emotion and meaning aren’t attached to them. and when these comics shows (which should be more accurately called fan shows) constantly cater to the symbol side and minimize the importance of the story, things begin to crumble.

    not to sound like a broken record, but everyone knows it happened in the late 90s (and many times before). and i think things are atrophying in that direction again when it comes to the convention business.

    maybe it’s a natural, cyclical progression of the business. but in my opinion, the stories are the things that make people want to remember the icons and art. the stories give meaning to the symbols. and while some of the convention-going pinup semi-pros are fantastic at making sexy versions of those symbols, what they’re doing is exploiting the meaning behind the image without actually contributing any of their own meaning to the legacy/story.

    i’d love to see them draw different characters — their own characters. i’d love to see them give meaning to their own symbols instead of expecting someone else’s symbol to give meaning to their art.

  24. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dinogeddon webcomics

  25. 19 ross

    @Nick: yeah, you’re right, i give up. :)

  26. 20 nick marino

    hahaha that was waaaaay too easy. did your weekend demoralize you?

  27. 21 Phatman
  28. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Free eBooks by Nick Marino

  29. 22 nick marino

    Seems completely illegal. Big time IP infringement. But whatever. I mean, I guess it’s no more illegal than an airbrush t-shirt store that draws Looney Tunes characters all-blinged out.

  1. 1 The Comics Podcast Network » Sequential Underground #13
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