Feb 1, 2013

I Asked my Home Star for a Penny and it Gave Me a Symphony Instead

I saw a twelve-story building pitch forward like a drunk and slam into the building across the street. And I saw it happen twice.

Her terror sang out and it found me. I didn't know who she was, but I rushed into the cloud of dust and debris anyway.

by Budi Satria Kwan

There are two ways to do indie. Two different approaches.

One consists in following the mainstream and working your ass off to break into traditional publishing, major news features, bestseller lists, what-have-you. I would call this "indie in name only." Not a criticism, but if you're looking for a patronus like, I don't know, Picador, then maybe you should avoid the "indie" label. For the sake of coherence. 

The other approach is all about swimming to the margins and blazing a new trail.

Comics in America have long demonstrated this dichotomy, so they will serve as illustration. You have your big players, like Marvel and DC, then the serious contenders, like Dark Horse and Image, who all fight nonstop for a slice of the superhero/movie franchise pie. 

Hot on their heels come smaller publishing houses who flood[1] the market with oversexed, hyper-muscled fare; heavy with sensational visuals, light on plot. To make myself clear, I'm thinking of  Avengelyne, Lady Death, or Pitt -- to name but three.

This is Lady Death. You may gasp.

Nothing set these titles apart because their creators were far more interested in pandering to (unintelligent) 12-year-old boys than they were in telling stories.

Image Comics, born of an exodus from Marvel, found itself in a position where it had to make a lot of money really fast, so they pandered, too. It doesn't take insider knowledge to realize this. Just flip through any early issue of WildC.A.T.S. or Ripclaw. Image Comics have now found greater prestige thanks to properties like The Walking Dead, but long before that comic came to the small screen, they had already begun to diversify. Among other things, they started publishing Jeff Smith's outstanding series, Bone.[2]

from Bone

Elsewhere, houses like Tundra Publishing, Fantagraphics or Kitchen Sink Press provided venues for challenging, experimental storytelling. A comic like Dave McKean's Cages, a supernatural/surreal mystery about cats and the true nature of the universe, wouldn't be at home with Marvel Comics circa 1993. 

from Cages

Rick Veitch's The Maximortal, a weird, psychedelic take on Superman, clearly did not appeal to mainstream audiences.

Cover to The Maximortal TPB

And then, lest I forget, there's the Flaming Carrot. Hard to define a target market for that one.

I know people on both sides of the fluid divide -- those who pursue mass, and those who'd rather lead a tribe. They are all doing what they know and what they believe in.[3]

My point is, visual artists (including comic-book creators) take advantage of creative independence -- their indie status -- to push back the boundaries of artistic achievement. They play with form and aesthetics; they find and develop new themes. What are you doing to break new ground? Can you still claim that a romance between a vampire and a werewolf who go to high school together is a deeply personal story you needed to tell? Are you writing "dystopian" YA because you felt it would be a good move, commercially speaking? Do you see yourself as a "content producer"? [4]

You, the indie author, you have no master. No need to beg for a stamp of approval. Are you writing as courageously as you can?

three meditations on pioneering work
(and the work of pioneering)

John Frame discusses what art means to him and the three pillars of artistic creation, head, heart and hand. You'll have to watch the video to learn what he's talking about

Three Fragments of a Lost Tale, stop-motion animation by John Frame (he also wrote the music for it)

Using the Sun to Make Music: An experiment in data sonification.

[1] I used to subscribe to a pre-order catalog. "Flood" is a gentle sort of word. Woody.
[2] Disney meets Lord of the Rings on acid. Read the color version if you want, but by all means, read Bone in the original black & white first.
[3] Whenever I get the urge to condemn someone for churning out garbage, I remind myself that we all need to make a living. And that I don't need to pay attention to crap. 
[4] In which case, go away.

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