To the Studio! Comic Book Artists: The Next Generation and the Occupational Imaginary of Comics Work

Benjamin Woo

Everyone knows that comics—or, at least, properties based on them—are big business today. But, like creative labor in general, the work behind this success is often misunderstood by the general public and even by many dedicated comics readers. The average fan of North American comics, for instance, probably knows that Siegel and Shuster, Jack Kirby, and other writers and artists were denied—or signed away for significantly less than their value—ownership of characters that have since generated billions of dollars for media conglomerates. They may know that some creators have ended up in penury, since the freelance model of work does not provide health insurance or pensions. But, then again, they may also know that some creators (John Byrne or the Image founders, say) made millions in royalties and that others successfully licensed their creations for television, film, and merchandising. Similarly, many fans probably have ideas about what the day-to-day working life of a comics creator is like, but the accuracy of these ideas varies widely. Do they imagine spending hours with pencil and brush at a drawing table or working on a Wacom tablet with Photoshop or Manga Studio? Do they think of attending editorial

B. Woo (H)

Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 189

C. Brienza, P. Johnston (eds.), Cultures of Comics Work,

Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-55090-3_13

summits and postconvention parties or of frantically photocopying, folding, and stapling minicomics late into the night?

In this chapter, I want to explore one example that brings to light some popular assumptions about comics work, a recent documentary produced for AT&T U-verse Buzz, Comic Book Artists: The Next Generation (TNG). This 30-min video profiles the artists occupying a shared studio in Toronto. In boosting these artists’ accomplishments, the documentary also provides a rare glimpse into the working lives of comic creators. While acknowledging some of the sacrifices they make, this picture of the life of a comics pro is overwhelmingly positive, portraying comic book artists as the rock stars of the new, geek-friendly entertainment industry. In describing these particular creators’ careers, TNG constructs an image and imaginary of what success means for comics creators and how to achieve it. This occupational imaginary is not, however, without its contradictions.

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