Happy New Year!
We’re starting off with something a little different this year. Usually I end the year with the best and start the next year with something dreadful. Instead of just excoriating an awful manga, I wanted to talk with you something very important – your own comics/animation ecosystem. The beginning of the year seems like the best time to think a little bigger and a little better about the space we inhabit in our own world.
Most fans understand (at least theoretically ^_^) that without comics creators or animators, they would not have anything to read or watch. Most fans also sort of vaguely presume that someone else ought to be responsible for the care and feeding of artists, you know, the company they do work for, or a rich patron or a day job or something.
As we actually know if we read a bit about it, comics, animation, songwriting, and pretty much every other creative endeavor pays peanuts, if at all. And the Internet gives everybody a chance to put their (or someone else’s) work out there, with the end result that the work itself has been almost wholly devalued. Which is what Scott Adams said back in 2010. But, like he said at the time – maybe it’s okay.
Right now is a terrific time to look at the full ecosystem in which we exist and start planning for a sustainable and thriving future. Obviously, this is true for the actual ecosystem you inhabit. But I’m not a life guru, today we’re just going to look at our nerdly world.
You probably have a job. A lot of us have jobs that are regularly demeaned and dismissed by people who don’t get the amount of effort that our work takes. Even ridiculously hard jobs like being a doctor – people bitch about how much money they make, not realizing that your doctor’s visit fee covers the salaries of a half-dozen people, the office space, equipment, and yes, the insurance and things you don’t feel like you ought to have to pay for.
Entertainment is created by artists, but also by their assistants, their editors, the art directors, the layout people, the printers, and web developers, sales people, delivery people, all the way down to the part-time bookstore employees who shelve stuff and the post office who delivers it. I know you know this, but I want to say it: If you have ever once thought “hey. I want to work in comics” you might also want to think about this – if everyone makes comics, but no one buys them – where does the money come from? When you buy something, you are contributing to a larger economic system that sustains those jobs and the people who work them.
So, let’s start with artist and writers – the folks who create the work we enjoy. This is the one piece of our fan ecosystem we might acknowledge. It seems like there are a lot of artistic grants, but very few people get the money they need to live and work on a daily basis. A creator can apply for dozens of grants – all of which take inordinate hours of work – and get nothing. Just as a creator can create a beautiful work and have no one want to buy it. But creating is their work. And we, as fans, can help. We can make sure we buy their work that is available, thus indicating to publishers and distributors and galleries and merchandisers that there is an audience who will pay money for this person’s work. This is the number one thing we can do to support creators. They get to hire another assistant, so they can put out more and better work, which means that they can get more pages done, for more magazines. They buy better tools, they buy food and heat and other commodities. No matter how much we love someone, we’re not helping if we ignore their financial needs. You can also support creators through their fundraising efforts, crowdfunding initiatives and buying creator-owned series. Every time you support a creator’s work, you are contributing to the greater ecosystem.
Another part of the ecosystem is what companies and stores we buy from and how we buy. It’s harder these days to support a local book or anime or comics store, there are so few these days – and, realistically, some of them go out of their way to discourage manga business. But there are still some good local stores and even a few online places that are a person and their employees. If you’re lucky enough to be near one, I encourage you to support local businesses. It’s good for your town, as well. There’s nothing at all wrong with using a conglomerate, but when you can walk into a store and get a smile and recognition for your purchases, it feels good – and it supports the local economy with taxes and jobs (and the taxes and spending that comes from those.) I’ve mentioned them before, but the Local Comic Shop I use is Comic Fusion. A friend of mine is a co-owner and they are pretty darn friendly. Online orders are welcome and you can call them and ask them to order anything. I get some of my manga and some comics through them. ^_^
Another part of our ecosystem to consider is the folks who write about comics – call ’em pundits, bloggers, journalists, opinion-makers, reporters, what have you. If you’re a regular here at Okazu, you’ve probably spent hours reading content created by myself and others. Hours of entertainment, rage, joy and infomercials. ^_^ The equivalent of time on TV would have a budget of millions. But folks who write about comics online fly under the radar. Everyone reads them, shares their news and content, but no one’s giving them a paycheck. They have to fly themselves to the events they cover, unless they’ve got gig with Publisher’s Weekly or CBR or other “large” site. These folks often take donations. Here’s my rule of thumb for this kind of thing: If you’ve used a source/read stuff on a site for more than 10 hours in the last month, consider throwing a few bucks their way. Back in the day, we all subscribed to magazines like Animerica and Comics Journal. Now, there are fewer magazines but a *lot* more (and often better quality) sources. For 2015 – if you can afford it – pick one site you use a lot, and consider giving them the cost of one lunch per month. McDonald’s tells me that a cheeseburger Happy Meal costs $4.89 in the US. (Why would anyone get anything other than a Happy Meal, duh~ Toys!). Let’s say $5/month to one slave to the computer keyboard of your choice. That few dollars will allow that journalist to get to more events, do more interviews and give you even more info.
I am not the kind of person who asks people to do what I will not. So to give you some ideas and let you know what *I’m* supporting in 2015, here’s a short list of the folks whose ongoing work I will be supporting through Patreon or other donation platforms. This does not include any crowdfunding projects I give to. In 2014, I gave to about half a dozen crowdfunded projects. I hope to do the same this year.
Sean Kleefeld’s Fanthropology – Sean has been writing about comics a long time, Like me, he’s neck deep in the creation and fandom of the things. He writes a balanced and empathetic blog on the fraught world of comics fandom and creators and all the many places they intersect. Sean is officially launching his Patreon campaign today and I have already pledged my Happy Meal a month to support his work. ^_^
The Comics Beat by Heidi Macdonald has been one of my go-to sources for (mostly Big 2) comics news for years. Heidi herself is a pleasure to speak with and her coverage is honest and timely, without the drooling sycophancy of many “comics” sites. (You know, now that I think about it, not one has ever accused comics/manga journalism of a lack of ethics. You want to know why? We’d all die laughing if anyone ever said that. The first person to recover their breath would order another round of cocktails and it would blow over in a second.) Anyway, Heidi’s been getting a Happy Meal’s worth of love from me a month for a while. Totally worth it too.
Rica Takashima’s Aliens in NY Art Project – I believe in this art project with all my heart. New York is a city full of aliens and Rica is telling each story, one at a time, with peekaboo boards, and comics and interactive art at events. Her project is taking donations through the New York Foundation for the Arts, and if you pledge any amount over $2 to her, at the end of the year you get her annual report. The first annual report was so good, the NYFA featured it in their annual report! This year’s report continued the story and made for some compelling, amusing reading. You’ll never look at the Statue of Liberty the same again, I promise. Read this again – Rica is drawing her annual report as a serial comic and it’s amazing. Even if you don’t get to one of her events, this is worth the price of a Happy Meal/month. You can see some of the pages and follow the project on the Aliens in New York Facebook page, as well.
One last note. When you’re done with your manga, graphic novels, anime and the like, don’t just throw them out. You local library might be able to use them – or sell them through their “Friends of the Library” foundations to support core services. (Remember in the beginning when I spoke about jobs that are regularly dismissed? Your local library has to fight like a banshee for the maybe 60 cents per person they get in local taxes. Not per person/per month – 60 cents per person/per year. Your local taxes do support the library, but very very little of it.) Most libraries love donations – if they can’t use it, they’ll sell it or just plain give it away. Do be smart – call them first and ask if they take donations – and give them stuff they can actually use. Your old hentai probably can’t go on the shelves. I stick to giving them YA manga. Sometimes I buy a comic with the specific thought that they’ll get it when I’m done with it. While you’re at it, if you want to give your library a small donation, you can ask them to put it towards a specific collection, although they can’t always guarantee that’s where it’ll go.
Of course, I will continue to support crowdfunded projects, buy as much anime and manga, live-action and novels and attend as many events as I can in the upcoming year as well. Because I want to support my comic ecosystem too!
If we each pledge one Happy Meal a month to supporting part of our ecosystem, comics, manga and anime will have a chance to survive and thrive. I believe 2015 is the year when we find that, when everyone pulls together, even the impossible comics economy is sustainable.