Reverse Progress Part #1: B&W Dreams.
It's kind of funny.
Ten years ago, back when I was making fanzines at Office Depot, the idea of having a full size comic book, black and white with a color cover was an eventual goal of mine. A color comic was a pipe dream! I would spend months just staring at the black and white pages of Jeff Smith's Bone, Adam Warren's Dirty Pair (Pre-Fatal But Not Serious) or Dave Sim's Cerberus, and sitting in envious awe of the B&W newsprint comics with a color cover. Frank Miller's Sin City, Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise, of course TMNT, Issues of Dark Horse Comics presents... Hell I even remember when Dark Horse and Antarctic Press only published B&W stuff.
In many ways, a black and white was a dream of mine, more than a color book ever was. I never had dreams of drawing Spider-Man or X-Men. I never had that thought once. I drew too cartoony, I didn't draw realistic enough. I know it sounds strange to you guys now, but there was a time not even ten years ago that if someone drew in a cartoony style, they were NOT even considered a serious artist. Art Adams was about as cartoony as you could get and still be taken seriously. Your only direction you could go was the independent comic market. I had realized that from early on and I embraced it. I wanted to make my mark in the B&W Comics scene with my own book. Though color sells better, I loved the stark Chiaroscuro lighting, giving the book a strong film noir feel. Low angle shots, level camera play, making the book’s universe feel real in it’s depiction, with simply two shades. (Three if you used zip tone.) You cannot hide your flaws, like you could with color. In B&W they are out in the open and you better had whole heartedly embrace your flaws or just get better.
I mean, do not get me wrong. I love color and I have nothing but respect for a good colorist. I could draw a piece of crap (and if you’ve seen my art you know I can!) and I could had it over to my friend, Josh Burcham and say “Hey Josh, color this piece of crap!” And I am willing to bet that he’ll return it to me a day or so later, looking utterly beautiful, with color, lighting and shading that just weren’t there in the first place. A good colorist does so very much of the work in comics these days, I wonder if they may be more important than the artists themselves.
But all that aside, I LOVE B&W comics. Still do and always will. And I wanted nothing more than to have a book on the shelves along with the Independent greats.
But that was not likely to happen. You see, back in the day if you wanted a printed book made, you had to order them in large runs. The idea of Print of Demand had not been invented yet. So if I wanted a book, I would have to somehow come up with about a grand for a run of a 1000 books. And you know how much a grand is to a poor college student? It might as well be a million dollars. And then there's the issues with Diamond Distributions. In the past, there were a couple of distributors, including Capital City Distributions, which mainly harbored to the independent comic scene. But sometimes in the mid-90’s, Diamond became the primary source of distribution. All that's interesting, but I'm not an expert enough to debate and discuss it all.
So in the meantime, I made do making small independent black and white comic ashcans. (Ashcans is an archaic word for Fanzines. These are essentially a series of photocopies folded and stapled together, with a possible colored paper stock cover. Color copies were just too expensive to use at the time.) Me and my friends, we’d go to conventions and we’d sell them, usually for about a buck and make some connections and new friends. (Some of which I still see from time to time.) But as time pressed forward, we became a dying breed. Marvel Comics was filing for bankruptcy, comic stores were closing, and comic conventions were becoming more about getting the autograph of the guy who played the fourth Jawa than about buying comic books. Newer fans were more interested in anime and manga than comics, and the convention halls got filled with people who often spoke this very line: “I’m not here to buy comics.” (Which of course makes you wonder why they’re in the comic book artist alley?) The small press seemed to be a dying breed, because the comic fan seemed to be a dying breed.
Many of us became disillusioned or just simply “got too old for this.” About this time, the Internet was coming into prominence. Places like DeviantArt didn’t exist yet and someone with an Angelfire site was considered cutting edge. A lot of us moved online. And this was the new face of the independent comic scene. Webcomics and cartoons. Hell, me and Jason Moser had a pretty good 15 minutes of fame when we did a fan comic adaptation of the missing Beast Wars episode, Dark Glass, and Don Figueroa grew to prominence with his Macromasters web comic. And real web comics like Penny Arcade, PVP and Megatokyo grew and flourished in this new environment, while it seemed that the artist alley in the comic conventions became harder and harder to compete in. And understand that it became a competition there! It didn’t used to be like that. It is now. (I‘m not too sure I like it, by the way.) And eventually, comics started to branch out in art styles. Cartoonish and manga styles were considered acceptable by the mainstream at large. (In a way, the manga and comic fans sort of merged into one being, though I can guarantee you that most of them, to this day, would deny this with utmost vehemence! Fanboys are all the same, no matter the cause! Heh!)
Then came the day and age of digital printing, and a color book can now be made cheaply and for just about cover cost and with the internet and online stores, it can be mailed just about anywhere in the freakin' world, making Diamond unnecessary. With the internet you can spread the word of a project faster that you ever could, hoping to woo a comic store owner to order your book over the seventeen X-Books that were coming out that month that would sell better. It’s possible the small press has grown larger and more powerful than ever… And no one even noticed.
A few projects, comics, and side adventures later, I can have a full color comic book in print. That pipe dream actually came true! Eventually, technological advancements caught up to our needs and surpassed them. But you know what’s funny?
I never had that black and white book. I went right from one extreme to the other. And I can’t very well just print my upcoming Shadowgirls book in black and white. (The art would look very empty. It was drawn with the intent for color. Not to mention, my writer and co-owner may have a word or two to say about that!) I’m happy with my work on it, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But I can’t help but to feel I missed out on something. I think when I get done with Shadowgirls’ first miniseries, I’d like to do a small self contained 48 page B&W one shot. Using some Zip-Tone and some old school techniques. (Though I will still digitally letter the thing. But I’ll use the Whiz Bang font!) But considering how slow I am as an artist, that may be a while. It’s silly I know, to wish for less when you can have more.
But sometimes, that’s all you want.