Like many, I was at first thrilled when the Academy Awards introduced a Best Animated Feature category. Quickly that enthusiasm faded. I realized that the industry, for decades unable to understand animation, had at last decided to label it a genre rather than what it actually is: a medium. To play devil’s advocate a moment, I can understand where the confusion comes from. In order to make films accessible to the broadest number of people, film-makers are often forced to shoot for the middle. And while there is enough variety of subject matter in live-action film to keep the medium from being flooded with filmic clones, animation has a much smaller pool of films budgeted per studio. And thus many, many animated films follow the same formulas. Indeed, MOST films follow the same formulas, and the only animated films to deviate tend to be those on the fringes; the Waking Lifes and the Triplets of Bellevues; that play to art-houses and independent theaters but are rarely seen by the majority of the public. It therefore makes sense that the Academy would look at that which is highest profile and most accessible; the Shrek franchise, Disney princess movies, Pixar’s latest adventure; and conclude that animation is a genre.
My fear is that the indie-comics movement is running the risk of being similarly pigeon-holed. There has been a resistance to genre comics (fantasty, sf, horror, super hero, etc.) in the indie scene while web comics tend to be viewed as a separate thing entirely. Indie cons are flooded with autobio comics and non-fiction, the narrow range of story that the term “indie comic” has increasingly come to be associated with.
Right now, at this very moment in comic’s history, book publishers are scrambling to tap into the recent swell of comic-popularity. For really the first time indie creators are being courted en mass. But these same publishers are struggling to understand comics beyond what Marvel and DC produce. And so far their solution has been, as with the Academy Awards with animation, to treat indie comics as a genre. They are opening comic-specific imprints to publish comics under rather than simply publishing them under their parent name.
Like it or not, these big publishers are the gateway to a broader readership. If we define ourselves into a corner, or let them define us, we will forever be trapped in an artistic cul-de-sac. The indie community needs to embrace a broader range of storytelling to avoid this serious pitfall; storytelling that goes beyond auto-bio and non-fiction.
This is, of course, my elaborate way of introducing the two comics we’re going to be looking at today: Zach Giallongo’s The Birds in the Bushes and Nate Powell’s Cakewalk/Bets Are Off double feature.
The Birds in the Bushes is a stand-alone story in the universe that Giallongo has been painstakingly constructing in his epic fantasy series Grune (www.zackgiallongo.com). The story employs the same lush line work as that of his other books, as well as the same quality of writing. The author has a talent for imbuing even the most ancillary characters with personality and many of the antagonists in this book could have easily been relegated to the status of “thug #4” in less capable hands. Continue reading