Alternative comics

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Alternative comics is term by which is defined a range of American comics which have appeared since about 1980, in the wake of the underground comix movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Typically, these are authored independently by a single creator; they are aimed at adult readers and are often formally experimental. The works in question have variously been labelled "post-underground", "independent", "small press", "new wave", or "art comics". Many self-published "minicomics" also fall under the "alternative" umbrella.

Alternative comics present an alternative to the "mainstream" comics which in the past have dominated the US comic book industry (such as the superhero-themed products of Marvel and DC comic companies). DC and Marvel comics are typically produced by a team of workers operating on tight deadlines: a writer, a penciler, an inker, a letterer, a colorist, and an editor. The subject matter and style of "mainstream" comics is in large part dictated by their publisher, who hires the personnel to produce the comics according to well established conventions of a genre. By contrast, alternative comics are often independently authored and drawn by a few (or even just one) creator and they are published when deemed complete, with little regard for regular distribution schedules. Where the content of "mainstream" comics is influenced by corporate managers attempting to maximize sales, "alternative" comics are often published in small numbers in any way the author(s) deem fit or based on what the author can afford financially as many alternative comics are self published. By being focused on the more specialized audiences, it often allows the production of material which may at times be found obscure or offensive by a general audience.

The term alternative comics has also been used to refer to comic books not published by one of the American major companies. The content of some of these comic books, such as those published by Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics and others, is not fundamentally different from mainstream super hero comic books. The term "alternative mainstream" may be used to differentiate these types of comics from "true" alternative comics.


[edit] From underground to alternative

The hippie counterculture, and the underground comix distribution system associated with it, had largely collapsed by the late 1970s. At that juncture, the artists who had emerged as part of the comix underground found it increasingly difficult to find publishers, and those who did continue to publish found that their audience had shrunk dramatically.

Two of the leading artists of underground comix addressed this situation in the early 1980s by starting magazines that anthologized new, artistically ambitious comics. RAW, a lavishly produced, large format anthology that was clearly intended to be seen as a work of art was founded by artist Art Spiegelman and his wife Françoise Mouly in 1980. Another magazine, Weirdo, was started by the leading figure in underground comix, Robert Crumb, in 1981.

Both of these magazines reflected changes from the days of the underground comix. They had different formats from the old comix, and the selection of artists differed, too. RAW featured many European artists, Weirdo included photo-funnies and strange outsider art-type documents. The underground staples of sex, drugs and revolution were much less in evidence. More emphasis was placed on developing the craft of comics drawing and storytelling, with many artists aiming for work that was both subtler and more complex than was typical in the underground. This was true of much of the new work done by the established comix artists as well as the newcomers: Art Spiegelman's Maus, much celebrated for bringing a new seriousness to comics, was serialized in RAW.

While fans also argue over the origins of self-publishing in the comics industry, most agree that Dave Sim was an early leader in this area. Starting in 1977, he primarily wrote, drew and published Cerebus the Aardvark, on his own under the "Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc." imprint. Sim is known for his activism in favor of creators' rights and his outspoken nature in regards to the industry. He often used the back of his comic to deliver "messages from the President", which were sometimes editorials concerning the comics industry and self-publishing.

The publishing house Fantagraphics, a small company, headed by Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, gave readers information about what independent comic books existed through The Comics Journal and also reprinted a number of historical comics that had fallen into obscurity. They published the work of a new generation of artists, notably Love and Rockets by the brothers Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez.

Alternative comics have increasingly established themselves within the larger culture, as evidenced by the success of the feature film Ghost World based on one of the best selling alternative titles, Eightball, by Daniel Clowes and the cross-genre success of the book Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware, a story that was serialized in Ware's comic, Acme Novelty Library.

[edit] Notable alternative comics

[edit] Notable alternative comics publishers (past & present)

[edit] External links

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