Community & Indie Comics
"Stop calling the indie comics industry a community. It's not. It's an industry."
A very talented and creative comic creator whom I have a high respect for said these words to me a few weeks ago and lately it's been stated by other creators I know as well. In one sense, I completely understand and agree with this statement. The comic book industry, be it mainstream or independent, is a business. It runs on money and it is about entertaining others. You can't argue with that. In many ways, creators are in competition with each other because of this, however friendly or unfriendly as it may be. You see this in the boom of crowdfunding campaigns, to web comics, all the way up to the top of the main stream big two. You're fighting for others' attention and their hard earned dollar to tell a story that you believe in and think needs to be heard. There is no denying that the comic book industry, indie included, is not a community as a whole, but an industry.
However, I want to nuance this a tad. As I said before, I believe the above statement to be true. But does that mean that there cannot be community in this industry? By no means. Nor am I suggesting that this is what my colleague meant. I am saying that it is on us to create and cultivate a community within the industry. The thought of the comics industry as just being a business that we clock in and out of (if one ever does actually clock out) and have co-workers and collaborators, but not actual friends who support one another, not for networking schemes, but because they genuinely want to see that person succeed, makes me cringe and honestly it makes me worried. I'm worried because I'm afraid that this is where indie comics begin to look more and more corporate (maybe not in budget, but in mentality). I'm worried we may be in danger of losing the indie spirit of comradery and replacing it with bitterness and paranoia that is found in so many corporate settings.
So what do we do about this? Won't people still screw you over? Won't people still try to use you to gain attention for their project and move on, ghosting whatever "friendship" they pretended to have with you? Unfortunately that answer is, "yes". But I would suggest that instead of creating a wall around you to shield you from further hurt, learn from those experiences and let that create wisdom and discernment inside you that will point you to other creators in this industry who are not this way. Let it point you to a true community and tribe that you can call your own, have your back, support you, and be a cheerleader for you. "Surely that type of community doesn't exist.", you say. And I would completely understand the skepticism behind that statement. But I can assure you that real communities like this actually do exist. And I'm a part of one.
The last year and a half was a doozy as all of us know. And during my long pause at home, I stumble upon a man in a fez who did a Facebook Live/YouTube show 3 times a week called "Nevermind The Furthermore". That man's name is Brian K. Morris. It's essentially what a call-in-show is on the socials. Brian introduces the show, gives a shout out to the sponsors and then dives into the comments that people have been leaving (sometimes an hour in advance), reading promotions for books and comics and other projects that people are working on. When I started watching this program over a few weeks I was merely a spectator. I didn't know any of these people and they all seemed to know each other pretty well, so I didn't say much or anything at all. Until I realized that a lot of these folks didn't actually know each other personally (meaning a lot of them hadn't met in person more than once or twice, if at all) but met online in a similar way that I was meeting them. So I jumped right in. I had a comic to pitch and I enjoyed the topics that would come up so I started talking about my book, my podcast, and banter about whatever topics we were all talking about. It was fun and it was good medicine for the time we were in. But the further I went on with this group and got to know the individuals, the more I began to realize that this group of people was what I was missing in my profession of creating comics. It wasn't a group that was merely interested in what they could take from each other. But they were more interested in how they could rise together, genuinely supporting one another along the way. It then made perfect sense when I found out that this group calls themselves The Rising Tide Network.
I'm a Christian and grew up in the church. The church has a lot of dysfunction, believe me, that's no secret, but one very important thing I have learned from my years of following Jesus and being a part of a church community, is that community (real community) is a necessary thing if you're going to flourish as a human being. To shut out other people entirely is a dangerous endeavor that will have lasting consequences. Trust me, I know it can feel great to bask in the sweet rays of isolation when you've been hurt by others. Or even when you've been the one doing the hurting. I've been there before, I'll be there again. But eventually, that isolation takes its toll and affects not only your mind, but your soul as well.
That's what we're fighting for here. Not only the soul of one's self, but the soul of the industry in which we call home. Some would argue that this industry never had a sense of comradery or community and I would understand that opinion, but wouldn't that then be even more important for us to cultivate community in this place and do our very best to transform it into something that is welcoming and supportive? I'm no fool, I know that a utopian industry is not attainable. Yet, we are still called to use our gifts and our talents to light up the darkness and make this world a better place. And one solitary light does not do much good in a dark world.