FAN ABOUT TOWN – An Indie by Any Other Name Is Still an Indie… Or Is It?

Mark Andrew Smith and "Indie Comics"

Mark Andrew Smith and “Indie Comics”

Mark Andrew Smith, the co-creator and editor of the Image anthology, Popgun, instigated some online chatter Monday when he released an open letter decrying the use of the term “Indie Comics” as a perjorative.

Smith, a onetime Californian (he attended UC Santa Barbara before moving to Phuket, Thailand) has been creating comics almost exclusively through Image for the past nine years, authoring the recent Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors and the upcoming Sullivan’s Sluggers, so he certainly speaks from experience. Here’s the statement in full, courtesy of the fine folks at Robot 6:  HERE.

Food for thought, no?

While I appreciate any effort to level the playing field between the Big Two and Indie Comics (are these bad words, now?), I wonder if this argument suffers from a bit of oversimplification. To say that all comics are just that – “comics” – is well and good, but how do we account for differences in quality? I’m not talking about the quality of the art or storytelling. I mean the actual production quality of the books themselves – the paper, binding, layout, and design.

Look, I obviously love independent books, but I’ll also be the first one to tell you that some of them are just shoddy print jobs from Fed Ex Kinkos with little thought, effort, or money put into the planning and execution of the actual finished product. On that front, the majors have a bit of an advantage over us, since you can expect their books to be printed on quality stock and with less typos. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Marvel and DC’s content is better than ours, it just looks prettier. And in a visual medium like ours, that slick appearance can often lead to a customer trying out a new book over a well-meaning, yet homely, indie title.

I am also curious what everyone else feels about Smith’s claim that this is not a matter of “Us Vs. Them” because, from my view, there does seem to be more than a passing cognizance of what the other side is working on behind closed doors. Sure, we here at proselytize Image, Valiant, and self-published works to no end, but we’re also familiar with mainstream events like DC’s New 52 and Marvel’s Avengers Vs. X-Men events, at least in the broad strokes. I believe this mutual knowledge (or industrial espionage, if you will) goes both ways. How else do we explain the fact that Marvel and DC’s talent departments routinely poach talent from breakout Indie books?  Just look at Justin Jordan of Luther Strode fame, who is now writing Team 7 for DC.

The one point I can easily get behind, though, is Smith’s assertion that we should stop referring to Marvel and DC as the “Big Two.” I mean, Indie creators have enough to deal with, right? Let’s not make it a self-defeating prophesy by making it sound like the other guys are bigger than us, too. Smith leaves it open as to how we should refer to them. “Corporate Comics”? “Parent-Company Comics”? I don’t know. What do you think?

And that takes us to the main thrust of Smith’s opinion piece – the word “Indie” itself. Not to be glib, but is this similar to how minorities warn against ghettoization when their members adopt derogatory terms into their own vocabulary? Or is it really a matter of “owning” the label as a form of self-empowerment?

Me? I like the term “Indie.” It makes me feel cool and rebellious, like I should be wearing a leather jacket and chewing on a toothpick. Plus, it would be a real bitch for Dale to change the name of this website now…


Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards.  On his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both. 

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  1. Posted June 22, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    I (as in mine and my sister’s indie company SillWill Studios) have no problem with being called ‘Indie.’ I’ve never seen it as a derogatory term in the least. Actually, for me, I feel more proud–sort means I’m doing it without a huge ‘backer’ (Disney, Warners) propping me up. It’s not a politically incorrect term in any way, so, no, it doesn’t not need to be changed in my view. Does it imply we are ‘less’ than Marvel or DC? Only in the most obvious ways (less money, less notoriety, less corporate employees, less number of film//Tv projects, etc …) but not in the most important way–that we, as indies, have as much right to be a part of the comic book industry as the big two. Yeah, I have no problem calling Marvel & DC the big two either. These are all just short forms and nothing more. Again, at least for me.

  2. Posted June 22, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I essentially have 2 problems with Mark Andrew Smith’s desire to not us the term Indie.

    1 – it’s like trying to call a car a plane. they are both forms of transportation, so why not call the car a plane? cause it’s a car. some cars even have wings but it’s still a car. Indie comics are created by independent creators, they are what they are.

    2 – it’s like trying to argue that racism no longer exists in America and that we can all just call each other Americans. Nope. The playing field is not equal. Many Americans still act on their prejudices and that makes it harder for others to succeed. Indie comics is the exact same way – there is a single, weighted distribution method for comic books across the United States and the system is weighted because as a general notion, fanboys/girls have generally unfounded prejudices toward indie comics which means it’s harder to sell them books.

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