Monday, September 29, 2008

Letter To Shannon Smith

Hi Shannon,

Thanks so much for dropping me this note; your words are encouraging, and give me a lot to think about.

I wanted to also apologize for taking so long to sit down an read your mini-comics until now. I appreciated very much the fact that you took the time to send them to me. To be frank, the last several months -- oh heck, I would say ever since MoCCA Art Fest in the Spring -- have been really really crazy for me. I put too much on my plate, and I also was developing concerns and questions regarding my blog and my role in comics.

I had seen hostility to my blog radically increase -- though I still had a lot of readers and fans. But the hostility got to the point where I was receiving not only death threats but had people I hardly knew obsessively follow my blog and tear it apart on a regular basis on other forums. It got really tired, and took up too much of my time. Coupled with that was an increasing pressure to be more mainstream, to "network," to angle myself in a certain way. Marvel never asked me to do that, for which I am grateful. But the pressure was there from certain places, including simply myself.

And I just burned out from all of it.

I believe life is short -- even if you are relatively long-lived, life is still short. All we really have is our integrity, and our ability to touch other people's lives for the better. We touch other people's lives by being true. We can never touch lives by being fake, or using false sentiment. The problem I have with some mainstream comics is that the writers are either just mechanically providing want the readers want (or editorial dictate demands), or they are so overworked that even with the very best of intentions, some of their books by necessity get phoned in. What gets produced are books that don't make people think, that simply retread the same tropes over and over again.

What I think is so important about books like yours is that they *are* real. They come from a real place. And as such, they have more of the ability to touch other people's lives than a whole stack of the latest offerings from the Diamond catalog.

To an extent, I think the comic companies realize this whole thing about *realness*. They want to achieve again that rawness that Frank Miller had on Daredevil and Alan Moore had on Watchmen. But look what happened to these two artists, after 25+ years in this industry. They both ended up hating passionately mainstream comics. One continued to take their paychecks and piss all over their properties in spite, and one retreated in disgust. I think both endings are sad. I don't think they were necessary, but I understand where they came from.

It's only realness that will redeem and prolong this industry. Yes, the backlist provided by Miller and Moore is lucrative. But what are the new classics -- you know, *real* classics, not the "instant" classics that are proclaimed from comic book covers. "The Dark Knight," to an extent, was *real*. But the inevitable clones of "Dark Knight," both in the movies and on the comic stands, will probably not be. Will we see the stands clogged with this sort of stuff? Will this be another situation like in the 1990s, where there was so much prefab soulless stuff?

That's why it's important that you continue to create your comics. Not just for your own satisfaction and well-being, but because without that spark that comic creators like you provide -- hundreds of you, from your homes, from the hearth of your own deepest creative intentions -- this industry would become inbred, banal, and ultimately irrelevant.

Again, thanks so much for reading the blog, and for sending me the mini-comics. I read all of them during lunch, and enjoyed them very much

Val :-)


  1. Thanks Val. I replied to the email before I noticed it here so I won't repeat myself but, thanks!

  2. Very nice letter, lotta wisdom-filled words of encouragement there. Hope she continues to produce like she is and doesn't become the next victim of hack syndrome.

    (P.S. I believe the line want they want should be what they want, right? Sorry...I'm an editor, can't turn it off. :P)

  3. Show us the mini-comics! If they're that inspirational, I think we could all stand to see them!

    And it's good to see happy Val up and about again!

    Speaking of, you know that comic that I keep telling you is coming soon that I'm going to send to you as a review copy? It's being released on October 1st. ^_~ I'm trying to grab the PDF to get to you as a review copy before the actual thing comes out, but it may end up happening after the release, but I'll still get it to you. If Watchmen was about deconstructing superheroes and making them "real," then this comic, Revolution of the Mask, is about reconstructing them and making them fantastic again.

  4. There are lots of creators like Shannon out there, just waiting to be found. The creative future of comics lies not in the big companies but in the small press. It's made by the people who still photocopy and staple their own comics. It's there that you can find honesty and integrity when you can't find it on the new comics stand every Wednesday.

    And there will always be toads who want to silence the voices that they don't like to hear. With our economic system poised to fall to the earth in flames, these toads become even less important.

  5. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Hey, Val... just a quick note. I've been following your blog for a while now. I'd like to think that you have the life that I might have had had I zigged instead of zagged at a cetain point in my life. (NO! Not the sexual reorientation surgery...s heesh.. :-) )

    Reading your blog recently (and only your blog.. the comments, while I am sure many are interesting, most turn me cold and therefore it's not worth my time...) anyway, I've noticed that you are getting more and more disheartened (for lack of a better word) about the industry.

    My advice? Chill out. Ignore the haters. Remember why you are doing this. To have fun and earn a buck (literally?) Be yourself. If people don't like what you are posting, they can find a different web site to entertain them, I am sure. Don't cave to anyone pressuring you. I like your blog just the way it is.

    Columbus, Ohio

  6. I've been reading your blog for a while now, mostly anonymously. I think you rock. I don't always agree with your opinions, but damn, I highly respect the fact that you put them out there.

    It's funny that in the last three posts, sandwiched in the middle, is the "Which Blue Beetle" thing. There's a reason Steve Ditko disappeared from mainstream comics. Probably the second most influential creator of the "Marvel Age of Comics!" and many comics fans hardly know who he is. He had opinions.

    Anyway, I'm not sure what my point is. I'm an old guy. A stereotypical, overweight, underachieving middle-aged fanboy. I don't think comic books are better now than they were when I was a kid. I don't think Shooter's new take on the LSH is in any way as good as his original run. We've lost our innocence -- and with it, a good portion of our creativity -- and nobody seems to give a damn.

    I enjoy your blog and sincerely hope you don't let "them" win.

    Saw your arm off. It's what you do. More people should do it.

  7. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Val, as a fan I'm just curious about these death threats. Are these just dopey, tough talking (but likely harmless) guys saying "die in a fire!" on a message board or are there scarier, more stalker-ish incidents?

  8. In my case the she is a he wolverine. No biggie. I've ran into that my whole life. The funny thing is, my wife also has a unisex name. Jeri.

  9. I'm glad someone was able to give you the words you needed. Your words are needed too. Keep fighting!

    (And I am so buying some of those mini-comics.)

  10. NEVER let the cowards win.

  11. Great letter. I checked out Shannon's site, too. Really cool. People shouldn't overlook artists making mini-comics, especially since there may actually be more of them than there are mainstream hacks.

    And speaking as a former issues blogger who ran away to hackdom when the bickering got me down... Val, you've inspired me to start putting the opinions out there again.

    Shannon's inspired me to start working on my own comics again, too.

  12. Although I'm still going to post stuff deconstructing old comics in silly ways, too.

  13. I'd also like to know the nature of them, since I'm sure you can report them to the police and get their ISPs tracked down.

  14. Anonymous12:21 PM

    Keep on writing your blog. I love your thoughts and opinions, especially when they differ from mine. ;)

    George T.

  15. Val,

    You're writing about comics online and you are writing comics professionally.

    I really enjoy your columns - apart from the ones where you're martyring yourself.

    Your work and the nature of what you are writing is challenging and thus invites comment.

    You need to get a thick skin, turn off comments or get offline. Understand that people are people, that the internet breaks down natural barriers of etiquette, that idiots have broadband too and that just as you can get hurt by comments made about you - that other people can get hurt by comments too.

    But the "woe is me, let me write about Blue Beetle instead, see if you like that" is really grating for people who visit this blog to read, well, you.

    Imagine if one week, LITG was "someone on the DC boards said I sucked, right then, here's a piece about why Mary Marvel is just super instead of industry gossip, see if you like that!"

    The "journalism experiment" was as close as I ever want to get to that kind of thing...

  16. Never expected to see something about mini-comics (or Shannon Smith for that matter) on here. Pleasant surprise.