A COMICA REVIEW BY:
Groundhog Day for Batman
I went to the talk How a comic is made at the London Print Studio yesterday. The talk featured creators from the gallery’s current exhibition, Comixmas: when worlds collide - Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal (Master & Margarita), Nana Li (Twelfth Night), Pat Mills (Nemesis, Slaine, Requiem) and Woodrow Phoenix (Rumble Strip) - and was chaired by Paul Gravett.
What I found even more fascinating than the creators’ discussions about their working practices (interesting as that was) was their take on the comics industry. According to the panellists, there are a number of ideological differences between the different comics markets: between Japan, Europe and the Anglo American market.
Pat Mills explained that in the mainstream UK/North American comics culture, characters exist primarily as brands. All other considerations (i.e. creative ones) must yield to this overriding corporate concern. Because of this, characters are consigned for decades to a Kafkaesque nightmare in which they must play out the same old storylines and emotions. Batman, as he swoops down on an enemy, is forced by his editors to think yet again about his parents’ death. It is an alternate Groundhog Day scenario in which it is the protagonist that can’t move forward as the years progress. These are some cases calling out for psychoanalysis…
With this commercial bias, it’s no surprise that the publishing conglomerates did everything they could to keep creators under their thumb. Pat said that it was long common practice for editors to remove the signatures of artists and writers from comic frames - thereby affirming their expendability in the face of the brand.
On the other hand, Woodrow Phoenix told of how manga has traditionally been creator- rather than character-led. While, of course, editors still put their own sets of restraints on artists and writers, characters are allowed to act out their mortal coil under their own internal imperatives. And that’s it too - characters have a mortal coil: they can get old and die. They aren’t in some eternal branded purgatory.
What the success of manga shows is that the Anglo-American model of character-as-brand isn’t the only way. In Japan, people from all areas of society read manga. It’s no surprise that this isn’t the case in the UK and US: by quashing the creative freedom of artists and writers you diminish the power of comics and limit its audience.