‘Indie’, Friend or Foe?

DOES THE PHRASE ‘INDIE’ HINDER THE CREATOR IN THE LONG RUN?

“There is something magical inherent in the form of comics, in the experience of ‘reading’ a story in both words and images, combining the right and left sides of the brain, for an experience that amounts to more than the sum of its parts”. This was a passage written by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning, and as a reader, collector and foremost an indie creator, I could not agree more. However, overtime as an ‘indie comic’ creator myself I have begun to worder, if not only for myself but for all who choose to self-publish instead of perusing a career within the ‘mainstream’, does labelling myself a ‘indie’ creator hinder progression in the long run.

Definition:

Indie in the context of comics could be defined as a comic whose creators-maintained ownership and control over their material, and one who does not answer to a boss or shareholders who are looking closely at the sale figures.

Small History of Indie Comics:

Roger Sabin in his book Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels highlights that even though comics as we know them are a product of the 19th century there are examples of sequential storytelling that predates the ‘comic book’, for example cave art from 40,000 years old, the Trajan Column in Rome (AD 113) and the Bayeux Tapestry from Normandy (c 1100).

From satirical, propaganda, newspaper strips and what we know now as a comic book, Indie comics are no new thing.  People have been self-publishing and selling their books since the silver age and early bronze age (late 60’s and 70’s) of comics. Some of the most recognisable comics started as an indie book, for example Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning, who wrote the guide to the ‘Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK’exhibition held by The British Library wrote in regard to comics “like all mass media, comics not only reflect the ideologies of their times, they can also help to produce and promote ideologies, whether supporting the status quo or rejecting it. Reading between the lines, and between the panels, can become essential to understanding how different readers relate and respond to different comics”.

The main idea behind the indie movement was not only to break away from status quo of DC Comics and Marvel, but also to maintain the ability to tell new stories with new characters while retaining ownership of the work they created and not the publisher. It is possible to remain “independent” and work in mainstream if you can work for the right publisher for example Image Comics. Image was a company founded by creators for creators and intervenes on a minimal level during the creative progress, allows ownership of the intellectual property to remain with the creators and only really helps with distribution. Companies like Image are now more and more sought after, yes, the creator’s book might be published by a company, but to publish through someone like Image that does not step into the creative process and little to no control the final product, for that creator it is more about the distribution this company can offer. Something most indie books suffers from.

Does the title of ‘indie’ hinder the creator in the long run?

‘Indie’, meaning independent used as a title is now all but used as a marketing ploy in some cases like “Australian made” or “mum and pop store”. Eventually in some cases the word will lose the ability to garner any response and will possibly begin to work against the creator and the book.

When the #indiecomics is searched on twitter the predominate search result is stream of posts promoting the current projects on Kickstarter- a crowdfunding platform, so has the term ‘indie’ just become a buzz word that’s thrown around in the pursuit of sales or does it still hold meaning in an ever-growing market?

Based on three question survey, over eighty creators, comic store owners and collectors were tagged. With a reasonable number of replies I was able to gain some quantifiable data on the topic. One of the main questions asked, do you think branding your comic as ‘indie’ hinders or helps the book? Was answered by Peter Wilson, the Creator of Foes. Mr Wilson stated“Indie is a style that people seek out. It’s also a way of telling people you’re an auteur with a more niche style”. Mr Wilson elaborated “It may never attract as many sales as Batman but with the indie crowd that doesn’t matter”. Shaun Keenan who publishes a range of books under COMICS2MOVIES uses both indie and mainstream labels to his advantage. “For me I use both. When talking to a mainstream customer I talk about C2M as a publisher and the comics/graphic novels we offer” Mr Keenan continued to explain, “to people who know nothing about comics I talk about the story and don’t mention if it’s mainstream or indie and to those people who I know are indie fans I leverage that talking about the success our indie books have had. For me it’s all about knowing your market and how to sell not pigeonholing your work into one or the other”.

Upon further enquiry into the handling of indie titles, a second question was asked, do you think stores that carry books by ‘indie’ creators should mix them in and treat the book as a mainstream book? Mal Briggs, owner of Impact Comics in Canberra believes it comes down to where to draw the line and why just break out Aussie Indies? All Indies that don’t have regular distribution compared to others that do? “We’ve had those from all over the world. Stories are stories”. Mr Briggs elaborated on his stores sorting of indie stories “When racking trades and comics, we have small Aussie and indie sections, but it is always a problem, because we break out the kids stuff into the kids section, and the horror stuff into the horror section, and so many Aussies are working on big publishers… Racking Indies separately is carrying to a limited market”.

Mr Briggs posed an interesting way of looking at books, why label yourself and be grouped in a category that limits you, when being placed in the genre you create for will be helped by the more known titles of that genre. I personally would rather refer to myself and other creators as a comic creator or a publisher. I personally think ‘indie’ works against comic creators as suddenly your books value is lessened by the inclusion of the word indie, but ultimately is both up to the creator and time to tell if the phrase ‘indie’ will hinder them for the long run.

Further Reading:

  1. Sabin, R., 2005 [1996]. Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels. 5th ed. New York: Phaidon.
  2.  Gravett, P. and Harris Dunning, J., 2014. Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK. 1st ed. London: The British Library.

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