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Dig Comics launches Kickstarter campaign to promote comic books through documentary

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Dig Comics Press Release PDF download

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 5th, 2013
Press Contact: Corey Blake
corey@digcomics.com
WWW.DIGCOMICS.COM

FROM AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR MIGUEL CIMA

DIG COMICS

A DIG COMICS, INC. PRODUCTION

WINNER BEST DOCUMENTARY
SAN DIEGO COMIC CON
INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

Kickstarter campaign to fund Feature Film version of award-winning short to launch June 5th, 2013, seeking goal by July 10th, 2013.

MOVIE CHRONICLES QUEST TO GET AMERICA READING COMIC BOOKS

An ambitious Kickstarter campaign launches today, June 5th, 2013, at
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1880292100/dig-comics to raise at least $250,000 for a feature length documentary that will promote comic books to mainstream America. After years of meetings trying to convince Hollywood networks, studios and production companies that comics deserve the spotlight, filmmaker/raconteur Miguel Cima is turning to the people for help in financing. Embracing the underdog appeal of comics, Cima calls on the converted comic fans and professionals to come together in making real a project that hopes to benefit the comics industry.

Comic books, an American original like jazz and baseball, were once as widespread, respected and loved as cinema, music and literature. But over the last several decades, comics have lost over 90% of U.S. readers. How did that happen? And how do we turn that around?

In the planned feature film, Cima chases the trail of comics’ struggle through history, and reaches for new ways to get America to once again DIG COMICS.

Employing a lighthearted, fun-loving documentary style, Miguel exposes a new audience to the rich artwork, fascinating people and moving tale of comic books in America. Part Anthony Bourdain, part Michael Moore, Miguel shares his infectious passion with his viewers, while challenging people on screen and off with experiments, diatribe and stark images which will make people laugh as they cheer on for the cause of comic books!

BACKGROUND

Before a series of very public congressional hearings in the 1950’s, comic books were as ubiquitous and popular as movies and music. Demonized by politics and propaganda, the industry saw a steep decline in readership, compounded by a subsequent series of poor business practices which fractured distribution systems and erased market awareness for comics.

But during all those years, there have not only been unsung Picassos and Van Goughs working tirelessly in the field – a New Golden Age of comics is happening RIGHT NOW under America’s very nose. DIG COMICS will get these people recognized and turn on generations new and old to just what they are missing.

To get to the heart of the matter, DIG COMICS will start by traveling to New York – the very spot where the comic book industry came to life. It is largely a story of the children of Jewish immigrants during the turn of the last century, forging an art form literally with their own hands, impacting the world with some of the most iconic characters of all time. Still the home of the biggest comics publishers in America, DIG COMICS will speak to the people working in the epicenter of the comic universe to shed more light on where comics have been – and where they are going.

The story continues overseas in France and Japan, where comics culture is big business, and comics artists are treated like rock stars. Comic cons in those places dwarf the size and attendance of our own famous San Diego Comic Con. All this despite populations half the size of the U.S. and even smaller. What’s different about the comics culture in these places? How has history been kinder to them so far from their birthplace? DIG COMICS will take their cameras there and find out.

DIG COMICS – the feature film – is only the first salvo in a larger comic book revolution. Starting with the award-winning short, this ongoing project has captured the attention of many producers and luminaries including The Uslan Company, Edward James Olmos and Dark Horse Entertainment. Having pitched the project to dozens of producers, networks and studios, DIG COMICS has chosen Kickstarter to finance the next stage of the project, while building an audience towards boosting the next round of development.

Miguel Cima could not be more sincere in his quest and love for comics. As far as he’s concerned, DIG COMICS will only be successful if it helps turn around the audience decline and elevate comic books THEMSELVES – not just the movies, TV shows, toys and video games – to a place in our culture closer to movies, music, and books. The revolution has begun!!!

FEATURING:

Sergio Aragones
Peter Bagge
Stephen Christy
Dame Darcy
Anthony Del Col
Rick Geary
Gary Groth
James Kochalka
Erik Larsen
Paul Levitz
Jeph Loeb
Conor McCreery
Terry Nantier
Mike Richardson
Trina Robbins
Stan Sakai
Scott Shaw!
Jeff Smith
James Sturm
Carol Tyler
Michael Uslan
…and many more to come…

BIOGRAPHY
MIGUEL CIMA (Director/Writer/Host): Argentinean-born New Yorker, living in Los Angeles, Miguel is a graduate of New York University’s Film School. A seasoned world traveler, prolific writer and filmmaker, his original short version of DIG COMICS won Best Documentary at the San Diego Comic Con Independent Film Festival and was an official selection at 15 more: Cannes, Vancouver, LA New Filmmakers, and more. Miguel is a veteran of the entertainment industry having worked at Warner Bros., Dreamworks, MTV and on several films. His work has received positive press in The Los Angeles Times, NPR, Ain’t It Cool News, Comics Alliance, and many others. He has been reading and collecting comics since he was 3 years old.

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Dig Comics: No Tale to Tell

Guest columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

“Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” – Mark Twain,  author’s introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A couple of years back, I had the unenviable task of leading a discussion with a group of seasoned comic artists in which I was defending the position that sequential art does not need to follow a narrative. I was up against giants of the field like Sergio Aragonés, Bill Morrison and William Stout. What I proposed was borderline blasphemy to some in the room: that you can do something BESIDES tell a story with comics. And to make matters worse – I am not a professional illustrator. I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. But I am a student of art and I firmly believe that as with film and writing, the assumption that any art form is but a vehicle for “story” is wholly wrongheaded. Poets have proven this for centuries, using words not to convey a series of comprehensible acts with a summary resolution, but merely singing (or screaming) in strange places. The 20th century brought narrative in literature to its knees when the likes of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner introduced stream of consciousness prose. And I won’t even get into James Joyce. Non-narrative film is a bit more esoteric. Many people have great difficulty with the works of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Bruce Conner. I sure did when I was first exposed to them. But eventually, my need to challenge my mind and surprise my senses got the best of me. And so it is with comics.

Ghoulash by Sam Hiti

Sam Hiti is one of my favorite independent comic book creators. Diligently self-publishing everything from horror to far-out sci-fi, his rugged and expressive style is always an eye-grabber. With his sketchbook collection, Ghoulash, he offers a window into a period of inky drawings which seem grown from a series of mythic and hellish visions. He makes no pretenses as to any order in the images. Aztec gods, bizarre undead figures, voluptuous femme fatales, even the visage of John Rambo all flow from one page to the next, as if compiling some impossible-to-follow fantasy action film. I doubt Hiti would admit any reasoning for the sequence of the images, and surely they make no comprehensive sense as a “story” – and yet I can’t shake the feeling that not only do these pictures all go together VERY organically, I feel even more sure that there is, at least, an unconscious motive in the grouping. After putting it down, I definitely feel like I’ve been to a real place, that something happened, but it is ineffable. I am not a fan of most sketchbooks, they are usually meant for completist uber-fans or fellow travelers studying technique. What Hiti delivers here compels me to believe his psyche really was in this series of happenings, his hand drew it, and the whole block of pages together may as well be a slide show of a vacation to the darker parts of his mind. And I love it.

Do It Yourself Doodler by David Jablow

An altogether different sort of sketchbook – which may in fact be a very deliberate work pretending to be a sketchbook – is Do It Yourself Doodler by David Jablow (published by AdHouse Books this September). More lighthearted, this very interesting entry from last year is actually more of a game for your mind in the form of comics. Jablow’s formula is very simple: he issues page after page with the same female figure in the same position, resting on the same part of the page. The thing is, each page is a totally different scene. On one, our protagonist is floating in space, in another she is a cowgirl riding a bucking bull, on another, she is a riveter working on a skyscraper. If it sounds boring – it really isn’t. I rarely use the term “clever” as a compliment, but Jablow plays against our expectations very cleverly indeed, pranking us with his seemingly effortless jaunts around a static character. The result is a dynamic and fun journey through a pan-genre landscape of recognizable pop culture milieus, employing humor and graced with excellent draftsmanship. Jablow really has taken a rather mundane doodle and transposed it through the many worlds comics readers find themselves in so often. His is an enjoyable experiment, not the least bit pretentious, and with great reverence of the history of the art form for good measure.

Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days by Al Columbia

I save Pim & Francie for last because I hate talking about it. It scares me. No, that’s not right – it shakes me DEEPLY, to the soul, brings into the light the worst of fears. The great Al Columbia’s compilation of sketches – not to be confused with a sketchbook compilation – amounts to the graphic interpretation of nightmare. Not in the classical sense, mind you. There’s no particular situation, no old legend, no blood and guts. That’s not what nightmares are. Nightmares are those experiences where menacing figures you can’t understand stalk you, where the floor you are walking on dissolves like mist under your feet exposing you to the abyss, where a child’s idyllic image of the world has that one bit of corrupted stage prop, where the veil of reality becomes thin all too quickly, disorienting the dreamer instantly, dizzying, and all the while, death and worse is close behind. Your worst nightmares never make sense, you just know they are terrible. The visual information can’t add up, adding to the unknowable fear. Columbia uses exacting skill to take your eyes there. In one panel, children look out a window, where the background is in bold ink, but their legs and feet and the floorboards are thinly sketched in pencil. Which might not matter, except that something terrible is approaching the house and their only possible sanctuary is disappearing. A walk through the woods includes malevolent plants and flowers. A four-armed creature wielding knives with an uncannily seductive smile keeps popping up on random pages, often lurking too close to the children. That’s Columbia’s mastery. He knows how to take the symbols of comfort and joy – the kids, a smile, a flower – and put just the right touch on them to pervert the feeling they convey. His style goes a step further, employing the stamp of early comic strips like Thimble Theatre and The Katzenjammer Kids – even perhaps Buster Brown. The touchstone of that bygone era of early comics, where the magic was used to delight, makes the distorted landscape all the more terrible. What we end up with is a map of lost innocence, or perhaps a guidebook to just how terrifying the ignorant world of childhood can be. It’s a long book, and it offers no redemption or respite. Just like a nightmare, you have to awaken from it: it has to just end. It’s a true masterpiece from a genuinely disturbed mind and it shocks me even to recall it…

There are no stories here. You have to end such expectations if you wish to seek the next level of artistic consciousness. What is communicated in the end is something far more sublime than any narrative can deliver: experience. These works put you in a place with no guide but your eyes and mind. You don’t have the luxury of being told what to think, what to feel. You have the privilege of discovering something wholly other, relying on your wits alone. Folks like Picasso, Jackson Pollack, Van Gough and Frieda Kahlo did this for us in the realm of painting. I invite you to follow that same path which these great comics have laid out for us as well.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Dig Comics: Wednesday Surprise – Bizarro Depravity Edition

Guest columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, continues his series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

[NOTE: In this space from time to time, I will write about a Wednesday Surprise. What is that? It’s a comic that takes me to a new place in the comicsphere. Visions written and drawn to feed some starved part of my brain I didn’t know was there. I spend a lot of time and money to find these comics. When they hit my eyes, I remember why I still seek them out, why I don’t quit comics. If your consciousness could use some expanding from sequential art once in a while, you may like coming here. And now that you’ve read this, you won’t need to do so again. The same blurb will appear in this space word for word and after all – you won’t keep reading to not be surprised.]

If I may, please allow me to define a sub-genre which I think I may be making up: Bizarro Depravity comics. The simple definition is: sequential art employing elements of destructive and socially unacceptable behavior and imagery, meant to induce moral and/or philosophical confusion, and characterized by surreal narrative and/or rendering which is often disturbing, yet causes your mind to engage in new visual languages. That’s all a very fancy way of saying, these comics are really messed up, but in a smart artistic way, and the violence and antagonism encountered is meant to challenge your brain, not exploit your emotions. If you are still confused, I can’t help you, you’ll just have to check out the comics I’m talking about.

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 by David Hine and Shaky Kane

This week’s Wednesday Surprise was The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred, issue #4 (Image Comics). You really don’t need to read the previous series (the awesome surreal love letter to comics, The Bulletproof Coffin) or even the previous issues to “get” what writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane offer up here. As they explain in their foreword, they’ve simply taken 84 comics panels, cut them up, and laid them out in a non-linear narrative form. They even encourage you to start reading from any random point and progress in any direction you want. The result is a comic book with no rules, and yet a distinct and deliberate evocation for your mind. Each panel is an individual scene of nightmare, drudged from everything including pop culture, crime sheets, horror comics, sci-fi movies, junky novels, and childhood fears. Some of the panels are related and could be placed together for their own narrative. But why do that? Just like some fevered dream, time doesn’t need to happen chronologically here, logic doesn’t need to organize events, and control is out the window. Reading through the issue is like a breathless voyage through terror and our own worst thoughts. And reason won’t save you: it’s been purposefully eschewed here. It’s a funhouse ride through the rotten dregs of your soul, and a direct homage to William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch which is acknowledged both through the rather odd afterword as well as the “Where’s Waldo?” game of Burroughs references littered throughout. If you enjoy being deeply spooked and can let go of need for a conventional story, I recommend you buy this comic (and I would also pick up a copy of Shaky Kane’s solo work – Monster Truck – which is not quite as harsh or non-linear).

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4, page 5 by David Hine and Shaky Kane

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

So of course, this has me recalling some Bizarro Depravity Wednesday Surprise comics from the past that I’d like to share here with you. And we’ll stay clear of non-linear narrative by starting with the page-turner The Cabbie, by Spanish creator Martí (Fantagraphics Books). This complex reaction to Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver, and the Underground Comix scene from the ’70s and ’80s was cooked up in the post-Franco era in Spain. After years of repression, artists really let it all hang out, pushing boundaries of acceptability and subject matter. The Cabbie follows the tale of a pious, hard-working taxi driver who has a penchant for crime-fighting. His unwitting involvement in catching a crook draws him into the world of a poverty-stricken criminal family living in the slums by a sewer drain pipe. There’s no shortage of hookers, booze, knife fights, toxic sludge and murder in this landscape. And the deeper the Cabbie gets into it, the darker his own soul becomes – but maybe he had a head start. After all, what seems like a decent citizen on the surface turns out to be a fanatical weirdo who wildly drifts between great avarice and deep guilt, all the time projecting a veneer of decency. As for the depraved criminal family – they have a good side, too. They really care about each other – even if that means promoting robbery and prostitution to their children as an acceptable survival tool. Visually, The Cabbie throws stark classical comic stripping in your face, confusing your eyeballs with the expectation of a palatable Sunday funny page, all the while drawing you deeper into the madness and perversions found on the fringes of civilization. I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t an important influence on Kaz’s brilliant Underworld strip, which similarly takes us to the dark alleys and gutters of the mind – albeit in a far more humorous way. There’s no real laughs in The Cabbie, but it’s not really depressing at all. It’s just massively absurd and insane. I did laugh a few times, but in that “holy shit, this is fucked up” kind of way. But I have to emphasize: The Cabbie is a really good solid tale. There are no abstractions here, only a moral ambiguity which is probably far more real than most of us would like to admit.

Prison Pit Book One by Johnny Ryan

Back to being funny, Bizarro Depravity has a strong foundation in comedy, and perhaps the most extreme version of this in the last few years is Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit (Fantagraphics Books). Three volumes of this gratuitously gruesome humor book have graced my grey matter so far. In this work, Ryan essentially deconstructs the fantasy genre and superheroes at the same time. The story – a minimal prop for the action – is about a bunch of super-powered creatures from across the cosmos lumped onto a penitentiary planet which becomes a de facto gladiatorial arena for some very weird monsters. The grizzly battles are long and protracted – and uniquely violent. The trick is in the various abilities of the fighters. One gets its head torn off, only to have a much more horrific and deadly set of appendages emerge. Another monster gets eaten, chewed to bits and shit out – only to transform his fecal form into a corrosive blob that keeps fighting. Yes, every disgusting body part gets Ryan’s attention – and he makes a few up as well. Alien genitals, mutated orifices, it’s all limited only by Ryan’s thick imagination. His drawing style is far too funny to be disturbing, but what he makes you look at forces you to think about dismemberment, regeneration and excretion in a whole new way. It’s made for horror and fantasy fans, pressing you to re-imagine the traditional meta-human powers. Things like great strength, flight, fire, and telekinesis are amongst the familiar fare in Prison Pit – they’re just not the limit of things. Yes, it’s a venture into potty humor, totally immature and adolescent, so if you don’t think ass jokes are funny, don’t bother. But if you do, and you have a strong constitution, Prison Pit offers some of the most creative – and I MUST stress the term creative – blood-splattered, monster-filled, battle-ridden experiences in comics. And it’s damned funny too. But don’t confuse Ryan’s intent with a horror book like Crossed. While Crossed has its sick sense of humor as well, Prison Pit isn’t meant to give you night terrors. It’s just a smart and goofy guy finding a way to have some fun being naughty while making fun of the typical fanboy books which so many “adults” take so seriously. And like all three books here, it’s got its own distinctive place in the Bizarro Depravity genre.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Dig Comics: Dramatic Views of Nihon

Guest contributor Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, begins a new series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

I spend an awful lot of time and money getting to know comics I don’t know. I look outside of the mainstream to find hidden gems in this new Golden Age of American cartooning, digging into the small print runs of so many indy creators and small publishers. And of course, I always look beyond American borders as well. Logically, one of my first stops when leaving stateside comics traditions would be Japan. Manga is still by far the hugest market for comics on the globe, beating the tar out of the US market – about 5-7 times larger, depending on the year. But for some reason, I’ve always found it tough to get into Manga. For a while, it was a translation issue. Mass publication of Japanese comics into English wasn’t exactly commonplace when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. More available as I grew into my 20’s and 30’s, I just never found a lot of the content palatable. Young gals flashing short skirts fighting rapist demons seemed kind of creepy. And the goofy robot stuff just didn’t do it for me. It’s hard sometimes to sever aesthetic expectations, but I always do try. Fortunately, I think I have found my gateway drug to Japanese sequential art and it’s called gekiga.

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Translated literally into “dramatic pictures,” gekiga is the Japanese version of what we might call “alternative comics” in America. Only gekiga has a far richer and older history than the more recent wave of “serious” comics which came of age in the last 30 years – think Love & Rockets, Eightball, Palookaville, etc. The gekiga movement became robust in the ’60s and ’70s, and even at their peak, the alternative explosion never found nearly as many readers here at home as dramatic works did in the Land of the Rising Sun. Far from the convoluted mythologies and weird technophile bent of so much classical Manga, gekiga brings us some down-to-earth humanity which serves wonderfully to expand on my menu of great comic works. Luckily, there’s been something of a tear lately in bringing translated versions of some of the best stuff from the genre to English readers, and I’d like to share some of them with you here.

Leading the way for me has been an effort by the Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly who has been putting out various works by the great Yoshihiro Tatsumi – who was the guy who in fact coined the term “gekiga” in 1957. They’ve published various collections of his short stories, including The Push Man and Good-Bye. Populating these volumes are some of the most harrowing tales of human isolation, desire and loss I’ve ever read. Anyone serious about drama, this is your place. It’s as if John Cassavettes was doing comics, or maybe Lena Wertmüller. But if you really need a thick volume to chew on, try Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life – his epic 900-page omnibus autobiography, concentrating largely on his struggles to define a comic style in his early days, as well as an incredibly revealing look at his own perceived human weaknesses. Besides being great artwork and solid storytelling, this book also encapsulates a good chunk of the history of gekiga to boot.

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki

Another book published by D&Q is the powerful Onward Towards Our Nobel Deaths. This one comes from Shigeru Mizuki, who is actually best-known in Japan for his legendary yokai books about the rich mythology of demons and monsters from local folklore. In this volume, Mizuki draws from his experience in WWII as a soldier in the Imperial Army. This compelling work draws you into the day-to-day horrors of an abused, underfed and outnumbered platoon facing the subjugation of a marital culture which has little regard for enlisted men. Treated as so much fodder, Mizuki dares us to look away as we are engrossed in the insanity not only of war, but also of a cultish warrior tradition which favored suicide over surrender. As if to counter the seriousness of this work, Mizuki is also the subject of a top-rated soap opera TV show in Japan based on the autobiography of his wife detailing their marriage.

But perhaps my favorite gekiga reading to date comes to me from a publisher I only had the pleasure of getting to know at last year’s Comic-con, Vertical, Inc. And once again, this work comes from a guy best known for more traditional manga – the granddaddy of them all, Osamu Tezuka. This is the guy best known in America for Astro Boy. He’s a true legend in Japan, spanning not only the world of comics, but anime as well. A prolific pioneer, he was Japan’s answer to Eisner, Kirby & Lee and Walt Disney all rolled into one. And while there’s all sorts of genres in his purported 700,000-plus pages of comics, the one that caught my eye was called Ayako. This heavy tome reads like a postwar version of Anna Karenina. Just as worthy of Tolstoy’s humanity and sensitivity, Ayako is the tale of an aristocratic family trying desperately to hang on to its wealth, holdings and prestige during a turbulent and unsure time – all the while spending an incredible amount of time and resources hiding a VERY salacious family secret. I can’t say too much more without spoiling the surprises within, but this volume combines the human insight of the Russian masters, with a chapter-to-chapter structure worthy of Dickens. To say the least, this one is a page-turner, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Tezuka uses his mastery here to look into the ugliest aspects of human behavior as practiced by some very depraved people, all the while cuttingly criticizing class structure and the petty concerns of the upper-crust. I was truly stunned by this one.

Ayako by Osamu Tezuka

I’m hardly an expert now in gekiga, but I am certainly an enthusiastic convert. If you’re into great American creators like Carol Tyler and Craig Thompson, then do yourself a favor and cross the Pacific for a whole new world of discovery. I have to wonder – was gekiga an inspiration to many of our revered modern masters here at home? The tradition was so strong for so long before the alternative movement here at home, it wouldn’t surprise me. In any case, dramatic comics works are still far behind in terms of finding wide audiences in the US. We are still far too distracted by superheroes to take comics seriously. If the day were to come that sequential art were held in as high esteem as cinema is, whatever popular awards TV show that would become the Oscars of comics would be giving top prize to all sorts of gekiga – at least if they followed the Hollywood pattern of favoring strong dramatic works. But I’m not really being fair: these gekiga works are far superior to the sorts of films that win those awards, regardless of a common genre. Any serious dramatist would have a lot more to learn from these guys, by far.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

Dig Comics: Whither Inspiration?

Guest contributor Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, begins a new series of essays looking at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.

I’ve spent most of my professional life working on the business side of things. There’s plenty of “conventional wisdom” you will find repeated. One of the biggest refrains you will hear is “stick to what works” along with the time-honored “go for the lowest hanging fruit” admonition, which in some ways seems kinda, I don’t know – dirty? When you look at the comic book market in the United States of America today, you can be sure these same sorts of creeds echo wildly within the vaunted halls of the two corporations which control 70% of the market. Marvel and DC surely have been practicing this sort of stalwart capitalism approach to their respective properties long before Time Warner or Disney entered the scene. It’s been known for a long time that using the go-to legacy characters to frontline your product armadas is the surest way to keep the lights on. But what’s funny is that were it not for risk and a trust of the artist rather than fallback to formula, neither Superman nor Spider-Man would even be with us right now.

The well-known back stories for many of the greatest superhero characters is often the same. You had a flailing company or a starving artist simply FORCED into innovation by intense need. You can see the creators of old gumshoeing their way from meeting to meeting in New York, overstuffed portfolios in hand (loose pages bursting out the sides), wondering if they’ll have to paint a barn next week just to make rent. Or you could take the legendary image of the furniture being repossessed from the publisher’s office as a handful of geniuses tap the inner depths of their creative spirit and issue forth entire mythologies to be as enduring as Aphrodite and Gilgamesh, saving the company from ruin in the same stroke. The bean-counters could never have made any of these true-life tales happen: a trust of the artist to really innovate was necessary.

Gilgamesh cries for comics

Sure, in the scenarios above, there’s this element of desperation, of necessity being the mother of inspiration. But funny enough, one of the most successful purveyors of modern mythology actually used success to fuel an ever-evolving artistry – and his most important role wasn’t as an artist. Walt Disney was far more the manager behind the scenes than an animator. And he had true vision. Rather than make every single movie after Steamboat Willie about Mickey Mouse and his little gang of friends, he always was sure to promote new properties, worked on by new artists who would take his company to the next level. That tradition has largely stayed alive to this day in the company. Of course, Mickey still makes the company a lot of money. But every couple of years, we have whole new worlds introduced to us, be it Peter Pan or Dumbo during Disney’s lifetime, or Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story in the more modern era. I doubt that Disney could have grown significantly had it stayed perched in one little pantheon of never-ending and continuous characters, relegated to one genre, targeting just one audience group. Such a business model would even contradict “conventional wisdom” – don’t ya think?

Lois Lane cries for comics

Well, by now you know my punch line – this is PRECISELY how Marvel and DC do most of their business. The scheme is simple: keep pimping the capes to the same aging comics fans and call that an industry. I guess it works in terms of market share. But it’s a losing game in the long term, as seen by the ever-declining readership much lamented these past 15 or so years. Not that they need to worry much. I mean, are Marvel and DC really comic book companies any more? One may not be blamed for pondering that perhaps now, they are more brand managers for licensing carefully crafted empires based on the iconic rosters of the beloved in their respective stables. All the continuity and/or reboots are meant to keep the base calm while experimenting with how to manage which character’s evolution to ensure the greatest market share possible. As such, we face another often-lamented paradox, Marvel and DC are what’s keeping the comics business alive, even while they sort of ensure a decline due to inbreeding. After all, Superman, Phoenix, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and so on can really only “die” so many times before anybody even paying a little attention realizes, this industry has been reduced to running on transparent gimmickry, offering less and less as time goes on by way of a compelling story or revolutionary art. In the long run, this will turn into a huge net loss of readers, if not an overall decline of the industry itself.

Rather than seem pessimistic about the future of American comics, I would make the simple suggestion that all of you who are either long-time comic book fans losing interest in the stuff coming out, or those of you interested in comics but can’t cut through the impenetrable pitfalls of pointless universe continuity, try to find comics ELSEWHERE. There are plenty of them. There are so many great creators out there working hard, I blush in the embarrassment of riches we have at hand. There is a whole world out there of fantastic stories and art just bursting to be noticed and superheroes are just the beginning. There is horror, drama, humor, history. There is high art, surrealism, crime thrillers, and political commentary. Comics are just like the movies and literature and TV and music – there’s ALL SORTS of different types of stuff out there. There are artists who belong on museum walls next to Van Gough, Picasso and Rembrandt. There are entire publishing companies dedicated to giving singular artists the opportunity to realize unique visions, banking on the creative drive, rather than simply handing out operating manuals for 70-year old characters. Innovation is not dead, and it doesn’t need to rely upon – nor be deterred by – economic considerations.

Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire

So what’s my point? Well, I wanted to expose a problem, the decline of comics readership in America, and towards fixing that problem, I have a set of requests.

First, I would ask all my fellow long-time comics fans to leave their comfort zones and support alternative comics companies, artists, writers, and especially GENRES. It’s so odd: a film buff is likely to see all sorts of movies, yet the comics fan by and large sticks to just one paradigm – guys in tights beating each other up. When you go to the movies, you are as likely to watch The Lord of the Rings, Harold and Kumar, and Inglorious Basterds as you are to see Thor, Green Lantern, and Iron Man. So start small – check out some other fantasy books, some humor comics, maybe even a war story. Move that loyal weekly dollar from demanding the same crap over and over to a fresh surprise every Wednesday. I’ve been doing it for years, and it’s been richly rewarding. And yes, I still buy superhero comics from time to time, so I am not saying go cold turkey, just cut back and try some spinach for once, humans cannot live on Twinkies alone.

Second, I would ask anyone remotely interested in giving comic books a try, but are turned off by the likes of Wolverine and The Dark Knight to seek out alternative comics. Where to find them? Well, that’s easy if you know where to look. Starting small, I would visit the websites of comics publishers that aren’t Marvel and DC. Don’t know any? Here’s a small sampler to start with: Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Top Shelf, First Second, NBM, Archaia, BOOM!, PictureBox and Gestalt all come immediately to mind. Just looking at the list now, I see human drama, history, vampires, alternate superheroes, kids comics, true crime and even licensed material from the worlds of TV, film and literature. You could also try your local comic book store – but try and find the largest, best serviced one in your area (most “regular” shops won’t even carry a lot of this stuff, just the supes). Also, if you like what you see on the publisher’s websites, you can use Amazon’s suggestion generator to find comics you may also like.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent by Brubaker & Phillips

My last request is to Marvel and DC. For god’s sake, would you just make comic books again? Would you let more new artists create more new worlds and use your considerable resources to reach out to more new readers? Would you please end the superhero fan regime? Yes, there are exceptions to your practices. DC’s Vertigo line has offered a plethora of non-superhero works by some terrific artists. And Marvel’s Icon line has allowed some established artists to really strut their stuff unconstrained by the machinations of the superhero continuity. But great works like Jeff Lamire’s Sweet Tooth and Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’s Criminal aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes. Yet they should. Fostering works like these will manifest an image of a company to be trusted with the innovative choices it makes, just as a major studio can be a seal of quality come Oscar time. Take some chances, ladies and gentlemen of that world – act like the superheroes whose temple you worship upon. Cultivating an environment of inspiration is not just a great thing to do for the world of art, it will also turn out to be good business.

Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.

New Filmmakers and Anthology Film Archives want you to Dig Comics

Director/host Miguel Cima shows a kid Fantastic Four comics for the first time, after seeing the Fantastic Four movie in theaters

The award-winning documentary short Dig Comics, which I helped produce, is an official selection for the New Filmmakers Summer Fest 2011. It will be making a rare screening at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City this Friday, July 1st, at 6 PM. D0n’t miss this opportunity to see this spirited call-to-arms for Miguel Cima’s mission to get America to dig comics again. It includes interviews with writer Jeph Loeb (Batman, Heroes), Scott Shaw! (Oddball Comics), Dame Darcy (Meatcake), and several Los Angeles comics retailers. There are also unique experiments with people on the street to get them to discover the magic of comic books.

Dig Comics won Best Documentary at Comic-Con International’s Independent Film Festival and was an official selection at Festival de Cannes, the Vancouver International Film Festival, Bumbershoot and other film festivals. There have also been special screenings at Meltdown Comics with special guest Edward James Olmos, and Jim Hanley’s Universe with a special panel made up of Marvel Comics VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, comics creators Andy Helfer and Danny Fingeroth, and Graphic NYC’s Christopher Irving. The documentary has been written up by the Los Angeles Times, Ain’t It Cool News, and Comic Book Resources, among others.

For more on Dig Comics’ progress, check out my page for it here (although I need to catch up on some more recent events).