One day while working at Graphicly, a weird question materialized in my head:
This is a publishing company. Are we gatekeepers?
I didn’t think so. I did my best to pay equal attention to every kind of project that came through the doors. One of my favorite days at Graphicly was helping a Brazilian author publish his work, and the very next day, helping an author from Israel publish a comic book in Hebrew.
I quietly moved on from Graphicly after being let go, and now I’m happily working away in a totally different industry.
Yet, I never realized how weird and volatile the comics world could be until I moved away from it. I’m happy now in the new industry, except, I’m still mad about comics, because every week it seems like I watch the comics world implode a bit further. It feels like I’m watching my favorite football team run the wrong direction and then spontaneously combust before the touchdown. Yes, the touchdown for the wrong team. Yes, nobody wins.
Last week I checked in with the ever-tumultuous comic universe and discovered a story about sexual harassment involving Brian Wood and Tess Fowler. After a cursory lunch-hour glance at Twitter, it looked almost as if the allegations against Brian Wood happened yesterday, but in truth, after I dug deeper, I learned the events in question happened several years ago. No matter. It was still very sad to learn about this. Since all of this came out on the internet, last week, it almost feels as if the story is already buried beneath newer stories.
The details are vague. The feelings involved are clear as day: Basically, Wood suggested that Fowler would have a career opportunity if she accepted his proposition. That’s bad.
Now that we’re here in the future, far ahead of this event, what can we do? Fight on twitter? Reblog? Boycott? Make hashtags?
As artists living in 2013, we have a wonderful, even goddess-like opportunity to broadcast and get recognition for our work using technology. Now, more than ever, you don’t need permission or approval or a review from anyone to get your work into the world. If you’ve poured hours into a book or a mini, that book deserves to see the light of day without any strings attached. Even if the art isn’t perfect, and the writing gets a bit choppy, you’ll still get feedback. You’ll get better.
“But Becky,” you say, “it’s all about who you know! If I can’t get my work published by Marvel/Random House/ect I will die upon an iceberg of my own frozen tears because I will be marked forever as worthless!”
No. Here’s the secret I learned from working for three years in publishing:
You don’t have to earn permission.
All you have to do is be a real person making real art and hustling. You don’t even have to live in L.A or New York to be an artist who matters to people. That is the true gift of technology that we have with us today.
You’re a woman artist with skills? You’re a man artist with skills? You have a story to tell? Publish your book using Amazon KDP or iBooks, or do an awesome web comic using the free version of wordpress. Do a Kickstarter. Make a book with your peers. Heck, just make art with your peers. Share the credit. Find mentors, and if they creep on you, call them out and find a legit mentor.
Relationships will happen in art, but they never have to be abusive. Never. Fans will excoriate everybody and anybody. It happens when artists are doing something worth doing.
Does tech magically solve everything, then? Processers, tablets, and crowdfunding – armed with this, would Tess Fowler still walk up to Brian Wood’s booth with hope in her heart? Probably. Would he have still been out of line? Probably. In a boxing match between an iPad and 4,000 years of sexism, the 4,000 years of sexism still wins.
Tech doesn’t solve everything. Not at all. There are still gatekeepers in publishing, art, and entertainment. Yet, just think of how publishing has progressed: There used to be no printing press. If you wanted a letter written in most countries just 150 years ago, you had to talk to someone who could write. The other solution was to be part of a church.
There are still people who believe in publishing gatekeepers, especially in the comics world. But what is behind the gate? What is to be gained? Money? A small amount of fame or community? Readers (angry fans)? Will a story objectively matter more if the gate is opened?
What if you open the gate and it’s full of none of the above, and worse? It may not be super cool. Disney/Marvel/Big StudioX could always just take all of your characters and squeeze the life out of them.
The only option is to make your own world and remember to leave the gate open. Support other creators who have great voices. Be the mentor you never had.
See you there, space cowgirl.