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Tales of Syzpense #4
The Bad and Good of Comics
Last week, IDW Publishing said goodbye to 40% of its staff. I worked with some of those people for a lot of years. The times when IDW was really firing on all cylinders are among the best years I’ve ever spent in my entire adult working life.
I left the company in 2020, and hoped that the shake-up that led to that departure, and some subsequent changes that followed, would at least help the place find some stability and continue to provide a functional working environment for the staff and its creators and partners.
At least for the outgoing two-fifths of the company, it no longer will. Many of those people deserve better and deserve to find new footing in this industry. You can read about the specific folk who were affected, as well as what they did and how to reach them if needed, in this article. And a bit more about the company’s current situation here.
I spent 17 years at IDW, and we all really built the place into something special. So I hope that stability is still forthcoming, but even more, I hope those affected can find new roles soon.
One of the things I’ve pondered since leaving IDW is what other folks have done when they’ve gone from holding key roles in comics, whether as staffer or popular freelancer, when the winds blow in other directions. The industry often turns an indifferent shoulder on people it previously celebrated, usually without much warning, so people are forced to pivot, usually before they’re ready with a plan for what to do next.
In just the same way there’s no one set way to break into the industry (well, beyond making a comic book, which is really the only sure way), there’s also no set way to stay in, either. I don’t know, it probably doesn’t make sense to ask a Roy Thomas or Janice Chiang or Shelly Bond what they did to keep at it when their primary role went away, since every year, the industry changes and all anyone can do is roll with the changes and be open to very different roles going forward.
I do think it’s something the industry doesn’t talk about enough. Comics are a solitary enough pursuit, and it feels like a greater support system for those who’ve been cast out into the wild would be beneficial.
Artist/writer Phil Jimenez and I talked recently about how it could be beneficial to create an anthology of some sort, offering various “comics’ survivors stories” to illuminate the various paths and strands of fate people have followed when their familiar journey came to an end.
But more than thinking about the survivors, I tend to try to push the negative business aspects out of my head by focusing on the reasons I loved comics in the first place: the creators whose work speaks to me in such special ways. The people who’ve made great comics for decades, not letting changing trends or different publishing personnel or varying distribution methods or uncontrollable outside factors keep them from continuing on as great as they’ve ever been.
Which means I’ve been thinking a lot about Sergio Aragones.
When Mad “Fold-In” (and so much more) great Al Jaffe recently passed, it got me thinking about the remaining Mad greats from its yesteryear high. There aren’t many still around and still contributing to comics. Angelo Torres is mostly retired. Dick DeBartolo is the online “Giz-Whiz.” But looming over all of them for me is Sergio.
It’d require far too much space beyond what any newsletter could realistically deliver to sing all of Sergio’s praises. He was and is the Mad “Marginals” guy; an artist considered “the fastest cartoonist in the world;” and best of all to me, Sergio is the creator of the Groo the Wanderer comic (a series Sergio launched in 1980 alongside co-writer/dialoguist Mark Evanier and letterer Stan Sakai. All three are still working on the comic now in 2023).
Groo has outlasted multiple publishers (it launched at Pacific Comics. It continued on for a brief moment at Eclipse Comics. It then moved to Epic Comics. None of which are still around. Groo then jumped to Image for a year and then onto Dark Horse, where the comic has had its longest run, upwards of 25 years now, and still going strong. If only there were a complete Groo library available in bookstores so everyone could check out the 200+ comics the team has created so far).
There’s something both satisfying and inspiring in knowing that Groo continues on. It’s the comic adventures of a brainless (but very skilled) barbarian and his dog as they wander ancient lands, wreaking havoc and running across a great many figures and situations that parallel our own reality in some really smart and biting ways.
Barbarian comics will never be as popular as superhero books, in the same way that humor comics will never take the place of super-serious super-fights. But Sergio ignores all of that and just keeps doing what he does and makes great, compelling, and comforting comics. He’s the AC/DC of comic creators, unaffected by trends and just fun speed ahead on the things he’s good at. If anyone in comics is a great beacon of hope for those wondering how to carry on in comics when everything changes, well, it’s Sergio.
Like I say, it’d be too lengthy to discuss all of his greatness in one piece but if you’d like to read more about him and his five+ decades of work, check out this recent The Comics Journal piece about Sergio by Tegan O’Neil. It really encapsulates his greatness in fine fashion.
In the meantime, here’re just a couple examples of what makes Sergio’s Groo work so engaging. Not only is the art detailed in all the best ways, but even in a cartoony book like this, Sergio’s costuming, environments, and weaponry seem to be well-researched and accurate, too.
In one more brief bit of comics mastery from a veteran, longtime DC Comics artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez recently unearth some pages from a “Founding Fathers” comic he produced for Penthouse Comix (no, really—the mag used to offer up some great comic-book bits, produced with top talents. So much so that it really wasn’t a lie when comic fans told you they just bought the magazine for the comic articles…).
The pages were never finished and the story left unpublished, but Jose stumbled across the pages after something like 35 years, and has started posting them here.
Even unfinished, they showcase everything Jose does better than just about anyone in comics: his mastery over posing, anatomy, and realistic-looking clothing and fabrics, as well as his ability to stage pretty much any scene in a compelling way, has always wowed people aware of his work.
Which isn’t enough people. Jose is an artist who never had *that run* on any massive-selling series — the kind of career-defining, legacy-making lengthy time on any one title, but he’s also never stopped making great comics. The industry has evolved around Jose but he’s never fallen out because he’s just that good. And because he too kept at it, honing his craft and making great comics, not outwardly affected by factors out of his control. Again, the veterans still have great comics to make and lessons to impart.
Finally, in Syzygy news this week, we’re finalizing the designs on the All Against All trade paperback, which collects the five issues, all the covers, and other bonus materials from the recently completed series by Alex Paknadel and Caspar Wijngaard. It’s something special — both the work those two did on the comic, and the additive touches that letterer Hassan Otsman-Elhaou and designer Ian Chalgren brought to the series. The book’s gonna be a nice one. It’ll be out in May at comic shops and bookstores of both the physical and online varieties.
Going forward, I plan to spend some on both new comic art and updates but also spend some time in the past, too: over the years, I’ve amassed a mountain of great concept and near-misses from various pitches that never quite came to pass and it’ll be fun to share some things that have very rarely, if ever, been seen.
And then I’ll also get into one of my pandemic obsessions, that of putting together rotating themes for my comic spinner rack. But of course, if there are other things you’d like to see, too, lemme have it. Thanks.
In 2021, a friend and I sold a new show to one of the big studios and streamers. We didn’t talk about it because who ever knows if these things will actually come to pass. But it got far enough to at least see us hired to write the pilot script. Which was in turn enough for me to join the Writer’s Guild as a provisional member.
Being a member of the WGA West was and is a huge thrill. The comic industry ‘s creators have no such guild and the protections they offer, so just knowing that there was a union out to help secure and protect writers’ rights is great.
The WGA went on strike today, in their push to secure a more equitable deal for the writers who are so instrumental in the creation of the shows that have driven streamers to such record profits. No one wants to strike. This strike will further hurt livelihoods that have already been adversely affected by the current paradigm. But it’s necessary for its members and for future members, too. They have my full support. I hope reason can prevail soon and not turn this into another protracted struggle.
There are lots of people covering this and explaining all the reasons why this strike is necessary but if you need just one person to help you parse all of this, writer John Rogers is as always as succinct and direct as anyone I’ve seen.