The Future of the Comic Book Industry As We KNEW It: “When You Can’t Save The Cat”

In this latest reprint of my old-old-old blog posts, again circa 2014ish, I discuss the future of the comic book industry (as my generation “knew” it) & compare it to a dying foster kitten. Enjoy, Kids!

I had a foster kitten who was given to me by my vet very sick and no longer wanting to eat. He was abandoned by his mom, was too young, too small, too skinny, possessed multiple infections, and had a low expectation of survival.  

And I kept trying to feed him, but he clearly did not want to eat. He didn’t want, or respond to, the medicine and dozen other daily interventions to save his life. When he did move at all, it was to slowly trudge to any spot in the house that was cave-like, dark, and private. Intuitively, I felt he just wished to die in peace. 

And that was it, really—he didn’t want to be saved. One could say: “He didn’t know what was best for him, that’s all; all creatures want to live. You just needed to try harder.” 

But I’m telling you: he wouldn’t move, he wouldn’t lift his head up, he wouldn’t swallow. We took him back to the vet to get evaluated, and he was given a 50/50 chance he’d even survive the next few days. 

Towards the very end I just said STOP! to the nth attempt to get him to eat—food all over his face from not opening his mouth—and put him on my chest, which was at least a place he seemed to respond to positively (with a weird half-click which was his version of a purr).

Within several minutes, his heart stopped beating and he was dead.

I think we can try and try, but we can’t save everything. We have good intentions, we have wishes. We intervene. We visualize something better. But life is, ultimately, for the living. We had two other cats, one who was doing OK but would always need a little extra care herself because she was unusually small. So as tragic and sad as my foster kitten’s death was—life had to go on.

I was trying to contextualize the last 20 years I’ve been in the comics industry, as an editor, blogger, and writer. Especially in the last ten years, I’ve been very concerned about industry issues like discrimination, harassment, lowering wages, worker’s rights, and so on. These have been issues I’ve written about over and over again, in every possible way I could think of.

Ill be blunt: I dont think any significant change or reforms will be had in this industry in its current form. 

Like the kitten, I don’t think the mainstream comics industry as a whole truly wants to “save” itself in terms of reforms or true lasting diversity. It’s a cute kitten, sure (I mean, who doesn’t love Deadpool)…and I still feel a lot for it. But there is too much of a subconscious “I’d rather die than change” sentiment. There is still too much of a resentment of intelligent, confident women. There is still too much of a xenophobia regarding POC. There is still too much of a tolerance for homophobia despite lip-service to the contrary.

And, frankly, there are just too many people willing to tolerate and overlook a whole host of abuses and violations—including an ever-shinking wage base for freelancers—in order that they may continue to work in their “dream job.”

Collective bargaining doesn’t hold a candle to a person who wanted to write Spider-Man since they were five. And it’s easy to overlook a physical assault at a convention or a POC being warned by a “higher up” not to get too “uppity” when the watchword of the day is, “cause ‘trouble’ and never work here again.”

All the idealism that had pushed me forward regarding reforms in this industry since 2006 is summed up by that poor dead kitten who had to lie in my fridge overnight in a pizza box before I could bring him back to the vet. It’s a damn shame, I feel awful, and I tried. I visualized that kitten growing up to be a full-grown cat over and over again. But it was not meant to be. Perhaps the mother cat who stopped feeding it knew something I didn’t; had a greater sense of understanding about the nature of life than my own sappy sentimental self.

I think of an artist friend I talked to recently, who told me she was so happy to be out of the mainstream industry so she didn’t have to support people and entities that went against her own personal ethics. And frankly, I think of the open letter Ellen Pao wrote on ReCode today, announcing that she was giving up her discrimination case and “Moving On”:

“I have a request for all companies: Please don’t try to silence employees who raise discrimination and harassment concerns. Instead allow balanced and complete perspectives to come out publicly so we can all learn and improve. I and many others are eager to hear more stories being shared by women and minorities. I turned down offers to settle so I can keep telling mine.”

Pao also wrote that the massive online abuse she received also took a large toll on herself and her family, and now she has to concentrate on what is important.

Is she a “quitter?” Is my artist friend? Should they have kept trying to feed the kitten and keep it alive? If an industry and its main demographic treats you like an anathema based merely on what you represent (whether that’s a strong woman, “the Other,” an activist for worker’s rights), at what point do you leave it to its own impending irrelevancy and stop fighting?

The future of Comics is in two halves:

1) Completely unregulated publishers with poverty rates and zero worker protections—the “you should just be thankful you are in such a fun industry” gambit. There will be plenty of “fan-freelancers” to fill these ranks for low wages and complete willingness to overlook abuses, and fly-by-night publishers making creator-owned teams “pay” to print their own books.

2) Publishers like the Big Two who have been by then completely absorbed within their parent companies. The oversight provided by the parent company will provide some extra benefits for workers, including a higher base-wage and more legal rights; but this work will be more and more like doing screenplays and storyboards for the studios.

I’m loving option 2 more and more all the time. I love introducing the comic book format to people outside the industry and that is where I get the majority of my work. 

But I can’t save that cat. It’s been ten years, and I have to let that cat go & live life.

***

2021 Update: Well, the shit just speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I’m freakin Nostradamus. Where is my psychic 1-800 phone line?

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