While the garden-variety, Derrida-toting, David Foster Wallace-quoting Columbian might instinctively turn up his nose at a medium of such dubious literary worth as the comic book, and might only deign to turn the pages of Watchmen for the ironic cache it yields, the New York Comic Con's debut presence at the Brooklyn Book Festival this year is emblematic of the renaissance that the city's alternative comic book underworld is experiencing. Beneath the NYCC tent was gathered a coven of artistic creators to discuss the electrifying new trends within the medium that are shattering the limits of what paper and ink can express. "Comics offer a synesthetic experience through words and pictures that no other medium can," said Brendan Burford, a speaker at the NYCC's first panel discussion of the day, in the introduction to Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays. The anthology, the product of a collaborative effort on the part of 17 artists, presents a series of first-person profiles, historical essays, and reportage pieces, including one intensively researched piece on New York's early graffiti artists. Veterans of the comic book field speaking at the Brooklyn Book Festival agreed that the industry is going through a state of flux, the likes of which it has never before experienced, and not everyone was optimistic. "I find it fascinating that superheroes are now popular in every imaginable medium—TV, film, video games—except for comic books, the very medium that spawned them," said Tom DeFalco, former editor in chief of Marvel Comics. "In past years, companies like Marvel could produce dozens of titles selling over 100,000 copies." Today, he said, one would be lucky to produce five. But while the traditional publishing giants of the comic book world have seen better days, the Internet is allowing for an explosion of comic creations online, many of them free. Present at the Festival were members of the web comics collective known as ACT-I-VATE, which publishes original material by a number of young illustrators, many of whom have gone on to sign major publishing deals. "By letting us post our creations live, for free, the Internet has given each of us the potential to cultivate a huge fan base," said Dean Haspiel, creator of ACT-I-VATE. While the NYCC's presence could be taken as the graphic novel's coming of age party, its entrance onto the literary stage, some artists continue to suffer the growing pains of a medium that is only slowly shedding the label of "low art." "It'll be great when nonfiction comic books and graphic novels aren't such a novelty anymore," said artist and writer Sarah Glidden. "It's time all the hype dies down and the format is just accepted as one of serious literary worth."
Columbia Spectator Staff