Tuesday, August 4, 2009

All Talk and No Pictures--2

The Con and the Big Con
A look at the blog of Irene Gallo, art director of Tor Books (http://igallo.blogspot.com/), brings into focus the fundamental changes the San Diego ComicCon has undergone since its long-ago El Cortez days. Gallo gives an enthusiastic catalog of deals made, dinners with clients and suppliers, and big upcoming projects. What's missing are the fans.

The ComicCon's model has morphed from dealers and fans to marketers and consumers. The Pros, as we reverently used to call them, appear not as individual creators enjoying a little hero-worship, but as suited representatives of commercial entities, be it Time/Warner/DC or Alex Ross Enterprises (or whatever the outfit was with the giant glitzy booth attended by slick three-pieced young men who weren't the artist). Long dead are the days when an unshaven Neal Adams sat behind a folding table and BS'd one-on-one with admirers!

Today the "Pros" are there to do business and the "fans" are there to buy stuff: books, trade paperbacks, limited edition prints, resin statuettes, videos, shirts, and especially tickets to the corporation's next movie.

Though I admit I miss the honest unscrupulousness of a dealer trying to fob a "fair" copy off as "near mint," I'm reluctant to blather on about this point because what I'm describing is simply the way things have changed in life as a whole. I don't like it, because I don't like the way America's national purpose has become the conversion of as many individuals as possible into undiscerning consumers with a built-in need to buy--and to keep buying--as much shit as possible.

Whether I like it or not, the mass market, the World Market, drives comics today just as it does every other entertainment medium. The entertainment industry suffers the same fundamental problem as corporate mass-market capitalism as a whole: the continued survival of a company depends upon the patently unusustainable model of constantly-increasing sales of increasingly-generic (and usually superfluous) products to a constantly-growing audience at an ever-increasing rate of profit.

Like everyone else I indulge in griping about the samness and often-low quality of the stuff out there, but I recognize doing so is foolish. As I've learned from the "grocery business," an attempt to meet the targets listed above on a global scale demands standardization and diminished quality. The best way to thrive--for a while--is not to adjust the product to the market, but to re-shape the consumer's tastes so that he or she demands the product that's easiest to produce. This includes the least possible variety and minimal localization. The entertainment industry, which 90% of the time means the American entertainment industry, has been working hard on this for over half a century, with considerable success.

American media, shows, music, fashion, story and character styles, and everything else have saturated the globe. Narrowing ownership of media outlets (TV, radio, print, Internet) aids the homogenization of audiences by training consumers from babyhood to expect a certain limited menu of content which the industry then delivers. Innovation and unique expression can only occur in a small-scale environment. That's why new ideas, be they stories, characters, or technologies, are usually created by individuals or a small group of people. The role of the mega-corporation is to acquire these successful innovations, reduce them to their most generic components, and feed the result to the world market.

One golden advantage of the small privately-held company is the luxury of saying, "this is big enough." The owner of such a firm may decide that feeding the family, providing for retirement and funding the kids' college is all he or she desires. As long as that standard is met the owner is satisfied and has no need to grow any bigger. Corporate entrepreneurs would gape at the suggestion that there could be such a thing as "big enough." As we said above the corporate organism's survival depends not upon profit but ever-increasing rates of profit. Enough can never be enough.

The Internet provides a way for creative individuals to get their stuff out without binding themselves to a corporation, and that's a great thing. It's disappointing that so much of the stuff they're getting out merely regurgitates what's already in the mass market. How many half-naked fighting anime dolls do we really need, anyway? But it's the best chance we have for interesting, personalized stories, providing we can find them. For now, the Web is the best way to sidestep the Big Con.

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