Saturday, April 08, 2006

Everybody's doing it

Aguirre-Sacasa: Playwright's Path Is via Comic Books

The New York Times offers a profile of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, playwright and scripter of Sensational Spider-Man, Nightcrawler, and Marvel Knights 4. The article is a lot more accurate than the vast majority of comics-related features in contemporary newspapers, and worth reading. (The above link is registration-free thanks to the magic of RSS feeds.) One of the quotes that caught my eye:

"One of my comics is read by more people — around 70,000 — than will see my entire run at Manhattan Theater Club," Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa said. "That puts things in perspective."

The worlds of theater and comics have some interesting similarities. Both were wildly popular and significant mass media at one time...and both are now reduced to a niche market of "true believers" and cater to this insider audience, while the general public is being priced out by ever-increasing cost of entry. I can personally remember a time when a comic book that sold a mere 200,000 copies would be considered an abject failure and cancelled immediately; these days, 70,000 is a success story. And of course, both theater and comics as mass entertainment have been succeeded by other media competing for space in the consumer's wallet. It won't be too long before the idea of going to see a movie in an actual cinema seems as exotic and unlikely to the majority of the public as going to a play does now to that same group.

And too, both comics and theater are now produced by people who are driven by their irrational, passionate love for the medium rather than by people looking to reach the widest audience or hoping to make big bucks. I say this as an observation, not a value judgement: I'm not trying to say whether this is a good or bad thing.

There's also a whole other trend related to this of the major comics publishers seeking out and lauding writers from other fields -- novelists, playwrights, television producers and film directors -- as their new major stars. There are definitely good and bad aspects to that trend. It lends a little second-hand glamour to the tawdry industry of comics publishing (but it's always a bad sign when you have to borrow your glamour from somewhere else). It offers the chance of creative cross-pollination with more literary values and techniques enlivening the comics narrative form (but in practice these outsiders write very derivative and retro comics, referring to obscure stories they remember from their childhood and trying to write like the full-time comics writers they idolized; meanwhile the only literary innovation in comics comes from full-timers like Alan Moore or Grant Morrison). It brings professional writers accustomed to having their creator rights respected over to shake up the plantation mentality of Marvel and DC (but then they surrender their rights because massa is willing to let them write actual comic books at last! -- see the whole flap over Omega the Unknown for a particularly grisly example).

From another angle, this quote tickled me:

As it happens, Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa's family history is not without its own heroes and archvillains. His great-grandfather Juan Bautista Sacasa played a pivotal role in the Nicaraguan civil war in the 1920's and 30's and was kicked out of the presidency when Anastasio Somoza GarcĂ­a (his nephew) seized power. Now Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa's father, Francisco Aguirre-Sacasa, is running for president of Nicaragua in the November election.

There's something cool about the son of a Presidential candidate pursuing his dream of writing comic books rather than working on his father's campaign or getting involved in politics, don't you think? If only our current President had stayed with his dream of managing or owning baseball teams instead of going to work for his daddy, he'd be a much happier man today.

1 comment:

  1. Juan Bautista Sacasa was my great grandfather and the father to my beloved grandmother Maruca. Why have I never met these other Sacasa's??I guess I should visit Nicaragua.


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