Robot 6

John Allison comes out swinging with his Indie Comics Manifesto

Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, and Giant Days webcomics impresario John Allison is throwing down the gauntlet. In his “Manifesto for UK Indie Comics in 2010″, the cartoonist offers some very blunt advice for aspiring comics creators, on everything from content to format to fandom to your personal demeanor as a creator. As is the case with most comics manifestos, there’s stuff in it I applaud, stuff in it that’s somewhere between a nasty rude awakening and a much-needed kick in the pants, and stuff that makes my skin crawl.

For example, I am generally speaking a diary-comics skeptic, and thus point #7, “Diary comics: stop it,” strikes me as advice potentially worth heeding, especially for new cartoonists looking for a way to channel their energies. On the other hand, point #3, “Make comics for people who don’t make comics,” though it sounds like a good enough idea, basically writes off vast swathes of the medium’s best work:

Why is anyone other than your comic making friends and a few select interested parties going to read an art-damaged visual tone-poem about the inside of your psyche? Learn how to engage and entertain people. It’s a profoundly useful skill.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read plenty of engaging and entertaining art-damaged visual tone-poems about the inside of cartoonist’s psyches.

Elsewhere, Allison argues against living in expensive cultural capitals like London because your financial situation will take time and energy away from actually making comics, and drops the hammer on print:

6. Making pamphlets is ridiculous

Comic book pamphlets are largely read by ageing comic book fans looking for a monthly fix. Generating two such booklets a year is not medicine enough for anyone. Don’t fetishize the object, it is part of another era. There are now many better ways to reach an audience.

Love it or hate it, something tells me this manifesto will have no problem finding a wide audience. Read the whole thing.

(via Kate Beaton)



Sean, I’d be interested in hearing an example of a “best work” written off by the make-comics-for-people-who-don’t-make-comics” point. I’m not trolling, I’m genuinely trying to think of one and can’t. At least, not a GOOD comic, you know?

Driven by Lemons by Josh Cotter
A Sunset by Kevin Huizenga
Asthma by John Hankiewicz
Prisoner on Hell Planet by Art Spiegelman
The End by Anders Nilsen
Heroin by Gilbert Hernandez
Babel by David B.
Minnie’s 3rd Love by Phoebe Gloeckner
The Blot by Tom Neely
Pim & Francie by Al Columbia
Capacity by Theo Ellsworth
Where Demented Wented by Rory Hayes

Remember, this article is aimed at indie cartoonists in the UK, with a focus on making money (in the career sense). Out here, unless one is lucky enough to be syndicated in the daily papers (e.g., The Guardian, The Daily Mail, etc.), there is absolutely no money to be had in making comics. So by saying ‘Don’t make comics that only other comics people will “get,”‘ he is really saying, ‘Don’t expect to earn £££ from making comics that only other comics people will “get.”‘ It’s all well and good to make the next ‘Blankets,’ but unless one wants to have a few quid to buy the next takeaway, it’s probably best to make comics that reach a wider audience. THEN do the ‘art-damaged visual tone-poem’.

As a newbie cartoonist in England, I’m finding it very difficult to make any money in selling my comics & illustrations on paper, much less getting people to read my website. Come December, I will be making and selling Christmas cards at a local Christmas Market Stall, even then I don’t expect to earn much.

It seems that England just doesn’t care too much for cartoons or comics these days. What’s worse is that, unless you are in the big cities like London, there is very little in the way of moral and technical support. Thank God for the Internet, or I’d have nowhere else to go to receive constructive criticism. From what I’ve seen online, all the best cartoonists are coming out of Canada, which has inspired me to move back to Toronto the first chance I get. Until then, however, I’ll have to try and make do out here.

Sean, you really think those comics aren’t for people who don’t read comics? I’ll grant that come of them are complex or challenging, but I’d also say that a lot of them–especially Babel and The Blot–are even BETTER for people who don’t read comics.

It’s one of my very favorite of John’s points, the stop-preaching-to-the-choir thing. I think a lot of comics, both artsy and superhero-y, suffer from this kind of thing, and I think it’s (largely) stultifying.

My SECOND favorite of John’s point was the anti-diary comics thing, which I agree with 100%, even despite my own predilection with diary comics this year. Autobiography without some POINT is just the laziest approach to telling a story. Mine included.

Oh wait I think I see what you’re talking about, less a “comics for comics-makers”, and more just the visual tone-poem thing. Still, I think all the examples you listed are examples of comics either made for a larger group than a small circle of friends and peers, OR are of such quality that they transcend ideas of audience or intent. I suspect John’s talking more about overly esoteric comics, where the “visual tone-poem” element is more a cover for shoddy ideas and technique than anything else.

“Oh wait I think I see what you’re talking about, less a “comics for comics-makers”, and more just the visual tone-poem thing. Still, I think all the examples you listed are examples of comics either made for a larger group than a small circle of friends and peers, OR are of such quality that they transcend ideas of audience or intent.”

All of that is accurate, but the provocative nature of manifesto-writing led Allison to conflate “visual tone-poem” with “inaccessible junk you shouldn’t waste your time making because no one wants to read it except other people who make comics like that.” Obviously if you define your terms so that you’re exclusively talking about crap comics, then yes, people shouldn’t make crap comics, but that’s cheating. I think it’s pretty clear he’s arguing for more broadly accessible work as a general rule and not really making exceptions for less overtly crowd-pleasing work regardless of its quality.

There I disagree–I think he’s exhorting UK comics-makers to get serious and get screwing around with pseudo-comics because they’re easy to make and their friends all seem to like them. I thing–and to be clear, I’m guessing, just pure guessing–he’s less looking to smear paint all over the entire comics industry and more just trying to light a fire under a specific scene.

Having said that, I think it still applies to comics more broadly, speaking for myself. Whether it’s my own work or the work of a lot of people I know, or even the larger, broader comics world. Lots of arms-calling needs to happen there too, and not of the “I don’t like how that Green Lantern trailer looks” variety.

Oop, above that should be “QUIT screwing around”. Shows how smart I am.

There’s probably something to be said about the scene-specificity of the thing, you’re right, and that would likely mitigate against some of his more sweeping statements.

I feel like I’ve left typos all over this comment thread, like Tobias Funke’s blue smears around the Bluth family model home.

I never thought this little post would get so out of hand. I thought five people making comics in the UK would read it and maybe it would shake them up a bit. The points I’m making are very specific to things I see in our national scene and some of the harsher ones I made concern things like art comics and diary comics that need phenomenal chops to do well and make interesting, that look on the surface “easy” to young artists because they appear to lack a traditional narrative structure.

I thought it was better to say less rather than more, but I’m the last person who would dispute the beauty and strength of any of the books mentioned upthread, particularly David B, whose work I adore.

Hi John–Thanks for commenting! Once I got to thinking about Dustin’s comments I suspected this was where you were coming from. The perils of manifesto-ing!

Diary comics: I have a mixed relationship with these. In many cases I read them because they are the only works available from a particular cartoonist. They’re not bad across the board, but even my diary-comic-friends know that I have a far lower amount of interest in that sort of material than I do in everything else. I read diary comics because I like the cartoonist, not because I want to know all about their daily life.

Comics-for-people-who-do-comics: I do comics and I think about them all of the time, but these sorts of things sort of misfire with me. When I was in college and shortly after, I was much more interested in superficial formal trickery and magic, but now that stuff just comes across as a cover for not having a solid idea, combined with the inability to work together with a partner who does. I mean, some of that stuff is fun or clever, but I’m pretty much over it as a “thing.”

The more you work on comics, the more you realize that comics are harder than you ever imagined.

I started keeping a Dairy Comic in sketch books that I never intended to share. It was more of an art exercise, a drawing discipline that would ensure that I was physically drawing something every day (since my daily job that pays the bills causes me to spend too much time designing and illustrating on the computer).

I only started posting it on the net when many of my artist friends, who I shared the occasional Diary comic with, encouraged me to make them available to more people. I was reticent to do this, since most Diary/Journal like comics I read in the past never had much of a narrative, and didn’t grab my interest.

Even when I was drawing these comics just for myself, my intent would always be for there to be some point to each comic. To include some sort of conclusion to each comic, rather then just a slice of life.

Either way, I’ve found it a great way to keep the drawing muscles in shape with this daily exercise.

I refuse to give up pamphlets! I will hear none of it!

Everyone should stop making diary comics and start making dairy comics.

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