AICN COMICS Q&@: superhero talks with Miguel Cima about DIG COMICS!!!
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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!
Q’s by superhero!
@’s by DIG COMICS’ Miguel Cima!
superhero here. Back in September of 2009, I reviewed the excellent documentary short by the name of DIG COMICS. If you want to check out that review click here. For more info on DIG COMICS, click here!
MIGUEL CIMA (MC): DIG COMICS is my one-man mission to get America to fall in love with the homegrown art form of the comic book. We are living in weird times when the entire North American comics industry can get its ass kicked in profits by a single Batman movie. Not only that, but at a time where the medium is exploding with genres, most folks STILL think that comics are a superheroes only affair. The full potential of the medium has waned for a hell of a lot of reasons, bleeding readership in the process, and I intend to turn that around so that all of our Picassos and Van Goghs do not go on unnoticed.
Well, it turns out that the creators behind DIG COMICS will be filming at the San Diego Comic Con this year in an attempt to expand their short into a feature length release. So I was able to chat with the director, writer and host of DIG COMICS, Miguel Cima, about how he’s planning to save the comic book industry from itself with his terrific little documentary that could! So without further ado here is my Q & A with Mr. Cima and the man we may all come to know as the guy who hopefully helped the comic industry regain its former glory!
superhero: So for those not in the know…what is DIG COMICS?
superhero: How did you get into comics?MC: When I was kid, I would see cartoons or superhero shows on TV, then later at a newsstand with my dad or at the supermarket with my mom, lo and behold, there would be comics of my favorite characters. The habit started at a young age, and after a brief death in my teens, was resuscitated when I discovered so-called “alternative” comics, which allowed me to discover more and more incredible works.
superhero: Do you remember what your first comic was?MC: Probably TARZAN, published by DC. Or maybe ANTEOJITO, an Argentine humor comic my dad would pick up for me at the bakeries in Queens. Never got too into that stuff; it definitely started in English, with heroes.
superhero: What do you think the comic companies are doing to help your cause?MC: I guess the push towards digital is a good step. But let’s face it, one thing they really need to do is spend money to create awareness, increase distribution and lower prices. Personally, I don’t see why they don’t spend some of the movie money made to get more of this sort of thing done. It’s a win-win because more comics readers means more movie goers and vice versa. I mean I got that TARZAN comic because I was watching the Johnny Weissmuller movies on TV. I’m sure a kid will do the same with Iron Man if you invest in placing the product somewhere kids frequent, like the grocery store, Target or even libraries.
superhero: How do you see digital/webcomics playing into your crusade? Are the iPad and tablet PCs game changers?MC: It’s funny, because obviously, they have to be, right? And yet one business model you often see is that once you get a readership going on line, you then publish the book because you know you have an audience. But then you have the reverse engineering which Marvel is doing by putting up material already published up there – which I think is great. Ultimately, it’s going to be a kid’s game. Kids will decide which way this all goes. Hopefully it will be a fair contest, where equal access is provided for all formats, but again, alas…
superhero: But I sort of see the “Digital Revolution” as a bit short-sighted in a way. It’s based on the assumption that everyone has access to a computer. Or that reading on a computer or tablet is sustainable in a raw material sort of sense. Sure, there’s less paper to be used and more trees can possibly be saved…but is there enough raw material to get a digital reader in everyone’s hands in the future? Part of the reason that comics took hold in the early part of the 20th century is because they were cheap enough for everyone who wanted one and they were everywhere. It seems to me that with a move to digital you’re removing that equation a bit…because there’s still a chunk of the population that doesn’t have a broadband connection believe it or not. Or poor kids who don’t have any access to a computer. Or what if the internet gets restricted in some way? Any thoughts on that?MC: Those are great points, but I think in the long run, computers and broadband will be like phones – everybody will have one. TVs were a luxury in 1950, now the only people who don’t have one are folks who take pride in refusing to watch! And short of state censorship, how can anybody restrict the internet? It’s such an engine for commerce; I mean, our society would have to be extremely strained or altered for China-style regimes to be in place. Of course, if we lose net neutrality, it might start costing more, but Marvel and DC at least would be in a position to pay those tolls. But your question on the economics of the situation is the bigee. I used to work in the music business, as it began its death throes, and what I saw there in the halls of one of the biggest major labels was plain: they were putting out shitty product and charging way too much for CDs. Everybody was blaming pirating and digital downloads, but those overpaid fucks had the gall to make retail for a new record $18.99 – you can get a DVD movie for less. In the meantime, every new act they broke was the same old formula of following a trend and if it didn’t break with mondo sales, no second chances. Artist development became a thing of the past. Neil Young and The White Stripes would have had no chance in this atmosphere. The comics industry can learn from this. Find a way to keep prices down, digital or otherwise. And start taking chances on newer, more innovative artists and writers. The main driver in the legacy titles are all these events, crossovers and forced rehashes. Where’s the excitement there? So whether the product is on paper or on a screen, you’ll be facing those same issues. The final verdict will be a visceral one: will the kids want to flip pages or hit the enter key? That’s a tactile thing, it’s an eyeball thing, it’s based on how those things make you feel. That’s the core. And since iTabs and Kindle and everything else are all in their infancy, we’ll just have to wait and see. But my guess is that in 10 years, these devices and internet access in general will be fairly ubiquitous. My fear is that delivery of actual comics may not even have the chance to compete. Since digital is cheaper to produce and deliver, there’s where the publishers will prefer to take their risks. That’s where you are seeing the strongest push to find new audience.
superhero: What are comic book companies doing to hurt themselves?MC: There’s a lot of monolithic business models out there that can restrict what type of audience you might get. I mean, I doubt Paramount or Universal would be as big as they are if they did only dramas or only comedies. The lack of diversification can keep readership stagnant. I also think there’s a basic lack of faith in the medium. Everybody is trying to monetize with licensing toys and movies – which is great – but the market for the root product itself is not as well nurtured. I wish I could see a huge attitude shift in that regard; I wish I could make some of these folks understand they are the torch bearers of a unique art form and not just widget makers.
superhero: What do you think of the price increases for pamphlet comic books?MC: Sure doesn’t help things. I mean, if I was 8 years old and had to shell out $20 for five comics, I might just take that money (if I could even scrounge it up) and buy a PS3 Greatest Hits copy of Spider-Man or something, you know? I wouldn’t blame the kids. Of course, price needs to come down, and of course the answer is to increase readership so you can boost ad revenue and lower the cover price, but alas…
superhero: Do you think it’s even really possible to lower the price of a printed pamphlet at this point? When comics first came out they were printed and reproduced on cheap paper with subpar production techniques…which helped keep the costs down. But anytime you mention going back to newsprint the big two are against it. I think that it’s the upscaling, or attempt of glamorizing of comics that may have hurt the industry in an odd sort of way. What do you think?MC: Again, it’s like the big label mentality. There’s egos and backroom deals and nobody wants to be the guy to take a chance. I for one find the older cheaper printing to be far warmer than the slick glossies that own the day. It’s a good thought and shit, if I ever get my dream comic company going, I might even try it! But here’s how you keep your costs down for real: ad revenue. And in order to increase those streams, you need MORE READERS. I cannot fucking say it enough. If I were the big two, that’s what I would be doing. Looking at a long-range plan where I would expect a loss for a while, but with gains in the end. I mean., if the average comic sold 50,000 copies instead of 12,000, you could triple your ad revenue and save the customer some moolah. But these companies are part of corporate giants. They hate uncertainty. They hate risk. The bottom line is everything. And they don’t really give a shit about readership because they have toys and video games and movies. The legacies have done their job. Unless some revolution occurs at the executive level, comics are either going to die a slow and painful death, or will be saved from below by new companies. All I can do is try and get some of these people of influence to listen to me. I think there’s still a huge chance for success to be had.
superhero: What do you think the future of printed comics will be?MC: That’s a tough call. I like to think that there’s nothing quite like holding a comic or book in your hand, but then, folks seem to be doing fine without holding albums and CD’s in their hands. But I have an experiment or two in mind for the feature version of DIG COMICS in the works which may help answer this so stay tuned…
superhero: What do you see as the future for comic book shops? Can they survive?MC: Yes, but they need to make themselves more valuable. I think part of the reason that most record stores went out of business is because so many were devoid of knowledgeable sales staffs, diversity and good prices. Retailers need to step up on the service side, cater to more than the usual audience, and provide discounts and sales (which most do for regular buyers anyway). And these have to be fun places. When a retailer doesn’t give a shit about his/her store, it shows, and the place is a bummer to be in. When such colorful products abound, it can’t be that hard to make a place appealing.
superhero: But don’t you think that there’s a danger of comic shops just being swallowed by large book retailers…which is what has happened to a lot of mom and pop businesses over the years? Succumbing to Wal-Mart and such. You don’t see the comic shop business model as a lost fight? Do you think that by advocating that comics be sold in more places (like Target, etc.) that it may hurt a local comic book retailer?MC: No way! Check it out. Collectors will always go to comic shops. They just gotta. The habit requires an awful lot of variety of titles, and these types of stores simply don’t have the capacity, the care or the knowledge. It’s like when I was a kid. My first 1000 comics were purchased at grocery stores, drug stores, 7-11’s and so forth. And it was a real pain in the ass. What happened if they sold out of SPIDER-MAN #203 and I had #202 and #204 and together they were a three-part story? I was fucked! Until I discovered the comic shop. There, all holes could be filled. Target and Wal-Mart, much as I hate them, can serve the same purpose, to get kids started. Now, not every one of them will become fanatics. But enough will to keep the culture alive, as was in the past. The bigger threat I see comes from Amazon. They can undersell everybody and they have everything. Plus their algorithms are accurate to a creepy degree. I have discovered a shitload of stuff based on their recommendations. And now that’s how people shop for music, right? Record stores have been decimated. There is an important difference, however. When you check out music online before you buy it, the delivery system is almost identical. That is, you can hear music through a speaker, almost the same experience as when you pop in a CD. Shopping for comics on line doesn’t quite translate as well. Nothing compares to holding one in your hand and giving it the old smell test before you buy it. But as I said, this is a visceral question. I love flipping pages. A lot of folks may prefer the “Look inside” function of Amazon. Of course, they won’t ever show you more than the first few pages, so who knows? That could be all the difference.
superhero: What role do you see for foreign comic book companies playing in the future comics market. Such as manga or the European comic books?MC: Essential. The manga market is already a huge hit with kids, and if the European style stuff can break through I foresee a very lucrative adult market growing. War comics, lusty thrillers, weird humor, historical adventures – you see a lot of this sort of stuff overseas, yet lacking in the big publishers here at home. So, yeah, in terms of new audience, this would help tremendously.
superhero: What do you think it is about American audiences that seem to make them so resistant to embracing comic books in general? Or do you agree with that statement at all?MC: Oh well, that’s easy. America has demonized the art form. That’s really it. It was fucking McCarthyism. The 1954 Senate hearings on comics and their “findings” that comics were harmful to children resonated through that crazy paranoid era to this day. Comics are for dummies, perverts and criminals – that was the message. It’s a symptom of our culture to take fear and turn it into misdirected blame and punishment, an unfortunate hangover from the puritanical roots deep in the national psyche. That resonance is finally starting to shake off, thanks in large part to the success of the comics-based movies, but the big publishers don’t know how to fill the void in the marketplace, or worse, they are too scared to take a chance on building that back up.
superhero: What are your plans for the documentary as far as expanding on what you already have done?MC: We’re going to start shooting the feature version in San Diego this July, with the great actor Edward James Olmos on board as Executive Producer. What’s kind of funny is it seems we will be in good company all of the sudden! There’s like five other comics docs getting shot there from what I’ve heard. I guess it can’t hurt that there seems to be a lot of interest in these types of movies right now, I just hope what we are doing will stand out from the crowd!
superhero: Yeah, but they don’t have Scott Shaw! working on their project. How did you get Mr. Shaw! to sign up?MC: We met in jail after…oh no wait, I can’t tell it that way. OK. So it’s 2006 and I want to make this movie. And I’m moping around the San Diego Con, trying to get artists and pros to be in my movie. I stop by the Sergio Aragones booth in an attempt to make contact with Mark Evanier, who I knew was something of a comics expert. Neither of those guys were around but the guy manning the booth pointed one booth down and said, “That’s the guy you really want to talk to.” Now I knew Scott’s work from CAPTAIN CARROT, but I wasn’t well versed in his career yet. So I talked to him as he was sketching a drawing – he never looked up – and he said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll be in your movie.” A year later, we interviewed him at his house. His whole family was there and they just welcomed me with open arms, just great people. Scott started showing off all this great original art to me, my jaw hanging open, and said, “Hey we should hang out some time.” Well now we’re best pals. I love the fucking guy. My gal loves him. Our cats and dogs love him. He’s the coolest fucking guy and I am more grateful that he is my friend than for all the incredible help he has given me. And I don’t know what Evanier knows, but Scott knows more about fucking comics than anybody ever. It’s insane!
superhero: Have you seen any of the other documentaries? How do you think yours will differ from theirs?MC: Yes! I mean, back in the day was COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL. That was a big deal because it was among the first to show off that late 80’s/early 90’s “revolution” that was happening (and later died along with Superman – who unlike the comic book audience, mysteriously came back to life). It’s a real classic; everybody needs to check it out. A more recent film I highly recommend is INDEPENDENTS by Chris Brandt. An excellent film that takes you by the hand around the world of the indie scene. If you aren’t into indie comics and are ready to give them a try, this film is a terrific primer. And it’s just really cool, no matter what you’re into. Chris has also become a friend and is actually now helping produce DIG COMICS! My cousin also sent me a copy of IMAGINADORES, a film about the history of Argentine comics – something I know nothing about, despite it being the land of my birth. Directed by Daniela Fiore. It’s another great film to watch, and the production value is astounding – very slick. It’s got subtitles, and man, there are some great artists down in Argentina. Next time I go, I’m gonna buy a ton of that shit. As for how DIG COMICS will differ, that’s easy. I am not making a documentary. I only call it that out of convenience. I am making a pure propaganda piece. I am not going to be objective, I am taking a side. I am on a mission and the best way to turn heads and educate people is through the sheer trickery of entertainment. Fellini said that cinema is an old whore, like the theater and the circus. Well, that’s exactly what I am doing. I am peddling my ass to find new Johns for comics. Yes, it will be fun, yes, you will have a good time, and yes, I hope to god you catch something – but not a disease! Instead, my hope is that DIG COMICS will cause you to be graced by the divine experience this unique medium has to offer. If I can trick you into making your life better by so casual a discovery as comic books, I will have done my job.
superhero: How did Edward James Olmos get involved with DIG COMICS?MC: My girlfriend Tiina Teal - who is actually the lead singer of the heavy metal band DETENTE (and they fucking rock! check them out at www.detenterna.com) - also happens to work at an entertainment company that does some business with EJO's son, Michael Olmos. Mike is not only a producer and director, he's also a comic book collector. Tiina put me in touch with him and Mike loved DIG COMICS. He showed it to his dad, and suddenly they were all on board. That first meeting was so surreal. I told Eddy, "Man, this means so much to me that you like my movie because I'm a huge fan of yours." He turns to me and says, "Well, I'm a fan of yours!" I almost fucking passed out. Eddy hadn't been a comics enthusiast, but he's very into worthy causes, and he was shocked by the state of the readership. As you may know, EJO is also really into educational and children's causes and he is very interested in the potential role comics can play in that way. Luckily, I've always had a great idea to devote a segment of DIG COMICS to a learning experiment with kids, and now it looks like we'll have a chance to do it. Olmos Productions has been backing me from just a few months after the short was done and they've been great partners ever since. Props and much love to the whole clan - Eddy, Mike, Mico, Rez and Bodie! It's a family affair over there and man is it a great feeling to have them on the team.
superhero: What are your plans for Comic Con?MC: Filming. A lot. I plan to sleep in August at some point…
superhero: Will DIG COMICS be screening at Comic Con this year? If so, where and when? Or where can people see DIG COMICS if they’re not at Comic Con?MC: Nope! Sorry! We are filming only this year. But be sure to tune in to the 201 1Con for the feature version! Anyone interested in screening it, though, can contact me through www.digcomics.com. We’ll work something out.
superhero: What does the future hold for you and DIG COMICS?MC: Well, the feature for one. Beyond that, I am hoping to be able to use any attention I get to work at ground zero of the comics resurgence that is already happening. My great hope is that the publishers and creators will see my cause as worthy and allow me to work with them to see about garnering some new readers out there and make the art form pedestrian rather than the little secret club of weirdoes it’s always seemed to have been seen as my whole life.
superhero: Why do you think you can save comic books?MC: I don’t know. Because I am Argentinean and we all have huge egos? Because I am a New Yorker and we all have big mouths? Because I just fucking care so fucking much about comics and it just pisses me off so fucking much that it gets treated like the fucking red-headed stepchild of 20th century art forms – unlike film, TV or recorded music – that I just can’t let this injustice go? I guess I’m ready to fight for the long haul to win for comics, and for the wonderful creators who make them for us, the respect they deserve.
superhero: Thanks Miguel! Again, if you want more info on DIG COMICS, follow this link!Discovered as a babe in an abandoned comic book storage box and bitten by a radioactive comic fan when he was a teenager, superhero is actually not-so mild mannered sometime designer & cartoonist, Kristian Horn of Los Angeles, California. He's been an @$$hole for three years. Some of his work can be seen at www.kristianhorn.com and check out his blog at www.parttimefanboy.com.
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July 18, 2010, 2:07 a.m. CST
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