We Are a Tribe

| May 7, 2012 | 2 Comments

A tribe is defined as  any  aggregate  of  people  united  by  ties  of  descent  from  a common  ancestor,  community  of  customs  and  traditions, or adherence  to  the  same  leaders. This weekend reinforced the idea that we, the greater comics community, are a tribe. And a fine one at that.

This past Saturday, our tribe celebrated one of our better traditions: Free Comic Book Day.  All across the country (and beyond) comic book shops hosted events and gave away hundreds of thousands of free comics.  I got to spend some time at two such events, first at Larry’s Wonderful Comics in Lowell in the morning, and later at the big FCBD festival in Rochester, NH, organized by Jetpack Comics.  Both events had a lot in common: smiles, excitement, and a shared interest and enthusiasm in comics, art, and storytelling.  Free Comic Book Day is one of the great reasons to be a part of our tribe.

I had an opportunity to spend the hour and a half drive from Larry’s Comics in Lowell to Jetpack in Rochester with fellow creators David Peterson (Mouse Guard) and Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore (Luther Strode.) I’m sure our conversation would have bored an outsider to our tribe to death.  We chatted about what we’re working on now and what we’ve done in the past, about the minutia of price points on prints and what to charge for sketches, and about being clueless in our teens about the proper paper to work on to create comics and the problems that caused.  Again, if you’ve never created a comic, practically nothing in this conversation would be of interest to you.  But there is something affirming about talking to fellow creators about their creative background and process.  So much of creating is a solitary affair, there’s something great that happens when a group of creators get together and talk about the assassin characters that they created when they were twelve.  (And we ALL have an assassin character we created when we were twelve.)

Later on in the day, I had the opportunity to chat for a while with a big comics fan and collector. He brought his entire family out to the Free Comic Book Day festival and they all had a great time.  He was interested in hearing more about THE RED TEN and really liked what I had to tell him about the book…so much so that he bought one of everything I had on the table! He spoke with reverence about The Walking Dead run he’s been trying to put together for years…it’ll still be a few years before he has them all. Again, it struck me that the collector gene is another part of our tribe’s DNA.  Comic fans, on the whole, LOVE the medium, and want to do what they can to support it.  The fact that a lot of money exchanged hands on FREE Comic Book Day is a testament to that.

With the advent of digital comics and magical tablet devices, some predict the comic shop’s days are numbered.  But here’s the thing…WE ARE A TRIBE.  And Tribe’s NEED a place to congregate.  And as long as there are great shops out there…Shops like Larry’s, and Jetpack, like Double Midnight Comics in Manchester or Alpha Comics in Calgary or Maximum Comics in Vegas.  Hell, as long as there are shops like the ones on this list out there,  the industry and the LCS will not only survive, but thrive.  A sense of community is one of the fundamental needs of human beings, and shops that foster that are going to be just fine.  The fact that some 3,000+ people came from as far as two states away to the small town of Rochester, NH for Free Comic Book Day is a testament to that.

Now, our tribe is not always spoke of by tribe outsiders in glowing terms.  While the terms “Comic Book Nerd” and “Geek Culture” have taken on a less then derogatory term in recent years, it still does marginalize our tribe.  And hey, sometimes we DESERVE a bad rap…too often we tear down instead of build up (see fanboy message boards.)  Part of that is simply the fact that most of have read thousands, maybe tens of comics in our lifetime, and every time we open a book, we’re secretly hoping to tap back into that magic that made us fall in love with the medium.

It’s also why we’re so damn skeptical when our beloved medium crosses over to “mainstream” media…the last thing we want is for something we love to be ruined by “outsiders.”  But another thing this weekend affirmed for me…when someone gets it right, our tribe will be effusive with praise for it.

I must have heard a variation on “God bless Joss Whedon” thirty times this weekend.  Because Marvel’s Avengers GOT IT RIGHT.  And when you get it right…our Tribe responds.  (And the rest of the world follows, too…record setting $200 million US open, anyone? Joss Smash!)

We are a tribe that WANTS to celebrate great work.

I saw that in the long lines of folks excited to get a copy of that gorgeous Archaia Mouseguard FCBD hardcover signed by David Peterson.

I saw it in the excitement of the crowds talking to young creators like Moore and Jordan who were blown away by their breakout hit, and CAN NOT WAIT for Legend of Luther Strode this October.

And I saw it in just about every face of everyone whose path I had a chance to cross on Saturday.

We are a tribe.

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Category: Columns, Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.

Comments (2)

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  1. Steve Colle says:

    Before going any further, I have to ask: Calgary where? You mentioned Alpha Comics and I know we don’t have one here in Calgary, Alberta. Where is this “Calgary” you speak of so reverently. AND HOW DARE THEY STEAL OUR NAME!!!!!

    (They’d better not have a Calgary Stampede as well, or STEVE smash…)

    I completely agree. We ARE a tribe. It’s funny. My wife and I had a garage sale going on that day and for some reason, even though I didn’t have comics for sale, some gentlemen older than myself at 44 started talking comics. More than likely it was the Batman ARKHAM ASYLUM video game T I was wearing that started the conversation, but they didn’t even mention the game. It was straight to the Caped Crusader himself and his beloved dark adventures within the comic pages that became the quick topic of conversation. One mentioned Arkham Asylum as a book he had just purchased and I got all excited. I had bought the hardcover by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean ages ago and had to sell it to move out here from Montreal (along with some sadly missed 3000+ comics), so I wished beyond wishing to revisit my old friend. It was for naught. It was a mini-series in extremely bad condition, but hey, he was happy. His companion and I shared some found memories of BATMAN: The Killing Joke at the height of the speculators market in the early ’90’s and how, when I worked at a comic specialty shop, one customer bought 200 copies of the first printing. The price shot up! Then a second printing came out, and a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. Holy shit, did that first one go below its original cover price?!? Yeah, it did. Most recently a new printing that Brian Bolland colored himself has appeared to make it eight. But y’know what. I still have that first one and treasure the storytelling, both in the way it was written and in the incredible uses of scene-to-scene transitions (not to be confused with Scott McCloud’s approach to the term) of parallel images (where pre-Joker’s wife tells him he’s good in the sack and makes her laugh, then the scene switches to him in the present standing in front of the motorized clown in the booth), symbolic images (where the gangster planning the heist tears the leg off of the crayfish and the scene turns to Barbara in the hospital bed, explaining that her legs are now useless), and similar backdrop (where the new Joker laughs hysterically climbing out of the water and the scene turns quickly to Commissioner Gordon, naked in the cage, surrounded by the diminutive circus freaks). I use it in my teaching on a regular basis.

    In the program for the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo here at the end of April, the program mentioned geeks, but it wasn’t just comic geeks, but rather horror geeks, sci-fi geeks, Star Trek: TNG geeks, Harry Potter geeks, etc. All in all, we are entertainment geeks looking for the next big breakout medium in which to sink our teeth into. The fact that comics aren’t simply about super-heroes anymore (THANK GOD!) means we may just have that cross-over interest. I know my personal goal with my book “WE’RE BREAKING UP!!” (Visual Storytelling In Comics, That Is) is to teach readers and non-readers (as well as creators, of course) how to read deeper into the meanings of techniques used to convey the story, similar to how Yannick did in his most recent column.

    We ARE a tribe, and I think very soon, we’ll be getting even bigger.

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