With the January, 20 deadline looming for submissions to the 2008 Glyph Comics Awards, this sounded like a perfect opportunity to chat with Rich Watson, founder of both the comics news site Glyphs: The Language of the Black Comics Community, and the awards program.
I first learned of Rich via his mini-comics several years ago. As he branched out into journalism I found his reviews a valuable resource when trying to figure out what was worth my time and entertainment dollars, and his inclination to hunt down information about independent, non-superdude works was much appreciated. If you haven't, add his site to your reading list.
Full disclosure: I was one of the judges for the 2007 awards.
Why did you start Glyphs?
The truth is that I started Glyphs, my blog, because I felt I needed a career change, so to speak. I had been writing about comics ever since 2000 and while I had gotten some notice here and there, I flew far below the radar of most internet comics readers, even though I was writing material that I felt was very strong. I suspect a big reason why was that I tended to focus on independent comics, which the majority of Fandom Assembled couldn't care less about. But that's another issue.
It didn't start out as a blog, though. What's the history?
In 2004 I attended the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention for the first time, a con devoted to black comics and creators, and I was quite impressed by what I saw. Despite its diminutive size, there was a strong sense of camaraderie and support amongst the creators and fans. I appreciated that, and I also saw within it an opportunity. I had written about black creators from time to time before, but without any other agenda than to showcase their talent. Here I decided I would go a little further and make the coverage of black comics my business. So in 2005 I started Glyphs as an e-newsletter at first, and later as a blog, and I got more recognition for it than I could've imagined.
You've also helped draw attention to independent works.
Whenever I talk about the blog, I always like to stress that I see it as little more than an expansion of what I had been doing for years - writing about comics that may not be well known but could use a little more exposure.
Which brings up that other issue you mentioned. Why no love for the indies? Is that indies in general or black indies in particular?
Definitely indies in general. This is based on my experience both as a creator and a former retailer. Many comics shops don't carry a wide variety of indies, if they carry them at all; many fans are biased towards the Big Two for a number of reasons; and many indy creators work in styles and genres that generally don't appeal to fans raised on a single genre and a singular style (with slight variations) - and that's their prerogative. But there are indy comics readers out there who support this work and have for years, and I love them for it.
So, you attend the ECBACC in 2004 and leave inspired to help the geek tribe by providing coverage of black comics and creators. How did that turn into the Glyph Comic Awards?
Later that year, Maurice Waters, the event coordinator for the show, emailed me and several others, soliciting advice on how to improve ECBACC. I thought of an awards program. Maurice loved the idea and the Glyph Comics Awards were born.
With all due respect to Turtel Onli's show in Chicago, ECBACC has become the premier black comics con in America, and with good reason. Beyond providing a meeting ground for black (and non-black) creators, it's a show that educates, entertains, and makes people rethink what comics can be like - and I'm glad to be a part of that.
Was getting the GCAs off the ground harder or easier than you thought it would be?
Definitely harder. While there have been some publishers who have been extremely generous in submitting eligible comics, others have been less so, which is frustrating to say the least, given the fact that some in particular have made notable strides in recent years towards bringing in black talent and getting them wide exposure.
Then, of course, you have to get the word out.
And then there's the comics media. I've found that other comics blogs have generally been better in helping to spread the word about the GCAs than most of the major comics news sites. Perhaps this is because the bloggers usually aren't beholden to any particular publisher for support and publicity, like some of the major comics news sites appear to be at times. I'm not sure.
You're also going up against the Fandom Assembled default setting of !woo! !SUPERDUDES!
I find it greatly disappointing that as much as we say we want to expand the comics audience, to diversify it, to break out of the old stereotypes generally associated with comics, we more often than not fall back on our old bad habits and remain insular and provincial, catering to the same audience we've been catering to for the past quarter century. I'm not sure what it will take to change that - but I like to think that the GCAs are a step in the right direction. I hope, anyway.
Is there enough of an audience in the comics realm to support this type of award?
I think there's more of an audience now than there was twenty years ago. It has become easier to enter the field now than ever before, and hopefully, as the number of creators of color increases, so too will their audience - and in theory, once the corporate publishers take note of the bigger black comic-buying audience, they'll tailor their books to meet that demand. It used to be that the only way to become a success in comics was through the Big Two; now that's no longer the case. But the quality creators will need to be recognized in some fashion, and that's where the GCAs come in.
This is only the third year of the GCA, but have you any thoughts on how it has been received within the overlapping comics spheres?
I have been so very fortunate to have found the supporters that I have, and I'm immensely grateful to all of them. I want to make that very clear. If the GCAs are to grow, they'll need that kind of support. That said, I have gotten the criticism that holding an awards program for black creators is a kind of segregation. And frankly, I think anyone who thinks that simply doesn't understand or appreciate how much we've had to overcome just to have the chance to be on anything resembling an equal footing with white creators; to have black characters that aren't stereotypes; to have a black audience that'll not only appreciate good comics but demand better ones. I have absolutely no delusions about the impact the GCAs have made so far. I know the nominees and winners are appreciative and enthusiastic, but it'll take awhile before the GCAs are held in the same regard as the Ignatzes and Harveys, never mind the Eisners.
What factored into the decision to allow the work of non-black creators to be eligible for the award?
It just seemed like the right thing to do. There are quite a number of non-black creators who have been able to portray the black experience very well and I see no problem with honoring their achievements as well. One of the most important aspects of writing is having the ability to tap into experiences and situations foreign to oneself and present them in a believable way. It's more obvious in genres like science fiction, but even in something as simple as a romantic comedy a male writer needs to write women, and vice versa. This is no different.
Your judges have ranged from high-profile commentators like Johanna Draper Carlson, to scholars such as Dr. William Foster. How do you figure out who to snag?
I do make an effort to look for qualified, knowledgeable black judges, for obvious reasons, but not only black ones. Different perspectives, different viewpoints matter to me, and so I also think about things like: who are the quality women comics reporters and bloggers? Who outside of the industry has a good appreciation of comics? Which reporters and bloggers are doing good work but are not as prominent as others? Who's making strides towards promoting diversity in comics? Every year I've held the GCAs, I've been fortunate to have solid, well-informed judges and I expect that trend to continue.
You are also an indy comic creator. How does that background play into your approach toward both the GCAs and the news site?
Well, I haven't done a whole lot of comics work in recent years, but yeah, I was an active self-publisher during the 90's, and so that makes me more sensitive to the plight of indy creators. The Rising Star Award was made to specifically recognize the achievements of small publishers and self-publishers, and every year I'm always concerned as to not only how many indy books we get, but whether the indy creators even know to submit their books - and again, that goes back to the issue of media exposure. The next Kyle Baker could be out there somewhere, but if he or she doesn't know that they have a shot at gaining some serious exposure through the GCAs, then that's a problem we need to work on. I remember how excited I was when I got my first review, and that's a feeling I try not to forget.
One last thing. Cake or death?