Little did I know that New Mexico had its very own underground comics collective, 7000 BC
. The stated mission of the organization is to "provide opportunities for comics writers and artists to develop their personal styles and storytelling "voices," while promoting an understanding of the cultural significance of comic art through seminars and workshops". Pretty righteous stuff huh?
The variety of material available through the 7000 BC store
runs the gamut from Hospital Stories
, an anthology of of work inspired by hospitals and the medical profession, to Raised by Squirrels
"An espionage thriller series described by Newsarama as "The X-Files meets The Ultimates", and an anthology of erotic stories called Eroticon. The impressive catalog of local artists is made so much the better by the fact that most books are about $3. Just think, less than 1/3 the price to see the lamest incarnation of Indiana Jones at the movies-- plus more local indie cred than you can shake a stick at.
Need a little professional input in bringing out your very own inner Alan Moore or Daniel Clowes? In collaboration with the Albuquerque Library system 7000 BC has been conducting comics art workshops at libraries across the city this summer.
7000 BC will hosting comic art workshops for teens as part of the Albuquerque Library Summer Reading Program. There's one tomorrow (Saturday the 28th) at Wyoming Library, and another this Tuesday July 1st at Cherry Hill Library.
I interviewed 7000 BC's Bram Meehan
by e-mail to get the down low on the New Mexico comics scene, and to find out whether if the Watchmen movie
is going to be worth seeing.
How did you end up getting invited to do the library workshop?
Riann Powell, the Cultural Activities Coordinator for the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library, saw Strip: Undressing Comics (http://www.baaadasssscomics.com/2007/06/strip-undressing-comics.htm)
, the gallery show we put on at the North Fourth Art Center last year on the comic creation process. When she was organizing this summer's teen programs, she recalled it and got in touch.
How did 7000 BC get started?
7000 BC got its start through True Believers Comics and Gallery in Santa Fe. JettBOY, the manager at the time, and several friends had an interest in making comics. When TBCG hosted a 24 Hour Comics Day (http://www.24hourcomics.com/
) event in 2005, they discovered a number of people with similar interests.
It was a terrific opportunity for comics creators to compare techniques, offer support, and be inspired, and members quickly realized the value of banding together to gain wider exposure -- pooling resources to publish anthologies and to travel to and exhibit at conventions. From the beginning, outreach was to be an important part of the group's activities, and we soon started participating in and running educational programs.
Our monthly meetings now alternate between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and give creators a chance to socialize, show works-in-progress, make plans for our events, work on a group jam, and collect work for our monthly anthology string. June and July have turned into busy months for teaching, with events at UNM, Harwood, the Albuquerque libraries, and SFAI.
We welcome new members, and the latest information on our activities is always posted at http://www.7000bc.org
What is there in the way of a local comics scene?
We don't have a lot to compare it to, but we think it's pretty vibrant, especially considering the size of the population. We have more than two dozen members in Abq/Santa Fe, producing comics and/or involved in our programs. We often wind up meeting new members in the most interesting ways -- it's exciting to see the wide interest in making comics.
The work being produced is all different styles, all different genres. We encourage people to create the comics they want to, not to feel restricted by what comics "should" be or what's popular now. It's led to a diverse range of some pretty terrific work.
There are also a few professionals in the comics scene in the area.
I notice that the workshop is directed at teens, do you think that comics encourage kids to read more throughout their lives?
I'd certainly like to think so. A lot of teachers and librarians are now using comics to encourage kids who are reluctant readers -- which is terrific, especially if it turns them into lifelong readers. The combination of words and pictures is often less intimidating. I just hope that comics don't get shuffled off into a corner as a stepping stone to prose, but rather get recognized as a unique art form that communicates in its own way.
Does reading comics have the same value as reading a novel or the New Yorker
In a way, that's like asking if looking at a painting has the same value as seeing a play. They are distinct art forms that offer different things, each having their own strengths and weaknesses in how they convey meaning.
Understanding Comics (see below) really presents a powerful case that comics, with their interplay of word, picture, and imagination, offer a unique experience for the reader. Comics are suited to telling stories in a certain kind of way, and rely on an understanding and appreciation of art and design for their full impact. A good comic, well crafted, offers a rich, engaging experience -- as other art forms can.
Comics, like novels or magazines, can really be any genre -- there's nothing inherent to the medium that limits it to superhero stories. Talented comics creators are producing all different kinds of fiction and non-fiction, and even working journalistically, as Joe Sacco does.
Do you think with the rising popularity of comics and graphic novels is encouraging more adults to pick up comics?
We've had a lot of good experience with people over the past several years who have picked up comics for the first time, a lot of them women. These readers, for the most part, aren't interested in the "traditional" superhero books, with long form stories being popular. I think you're also getting a fair number of people who grew up with comics (and maybe abandoned them) are finding that there's now a broader range of subject and styles that suit their changed tastes.
But even though comics are more widely accepted and widely available outside of comic shops, I think there's still a stigma attached. Plus, if you're not used to the visual language, the storytelling conventions, the history and the like, it can be intimidating to get started.
Can you recommend any comics that have appeal both for teen and adult readers?
That's a bit tough -- like recommending any sort of story that will have appeal to both adults and teens.
First off, I'd point everyone to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It really breaks down what you're looking at and what it all means, and should assure adults that their kids aren't wasting time looking at picture books.
Personally, I'm following a few titles that I think are pretty extraordinary examples of the medium -- Scalped, 100 Bullets, and Criminal -- but I'd have a tough time recommending them to teenagers.
The recent run of Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon has been very popular and an enormous amount of fun, and I think would be ideal for parents who might've left the X-Men behind. In that vein, I'm told that all the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer books have broad appeal.
Jeff Smith's Bone is a wonderful all-ages story. I confess that I've only gone about a third of the way through -- I'm just waiting for the right time to finish.
I thought American Born Chinese was an amazing read, telling a story in a way that only comics could, and working on so many levels to do it. I've received conflicting reports of how it's received by teenagers, though.
There's always some older books, too; though they can be a bit dated in subject matter and grown into cliche. But Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's (especially Kirby's) work really defined the "language" of comics. Will Eisner's work on the Spirit and others also played a strong role in setting up -- and then breaking beyond -- expectations of what comics can be.
I've polled a few members who work with teenagers, and among their suggestions: Runaways and Pride of Baghdad, both by Brian K. Vaughn; The Arrival by Shaun Tan; Laika by Nick Abadzis; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik; Mouse Guard by David Petersen; Ghost World by Daniel Clowes; and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
Seriously, this list could go on for pages, and we haven't even gotten to manga or daily comic strips -- there are comics out there of all styles and all tastes. I'd suggest getting recommendations from the manager at your local comic shop (Scott at the Menaul branch of the Comic Warehouse, Jonathan at Planet X Toys and Comics, and Chris at True Believers are all friends of 7000 BC) or librarians, especially in the teen section.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that some of the finest examples of comics today, paragons of what sequential art can be, are available from the creators of 7000 BC.
Any pointers for writing your own comic (especially if your drawing skills are a little lacking)?
Don't let your (perceived) lack of skill hold you back. I can show you examples of some pretty amazing comics that are barely better than stick figures -- there's a visual language that can convey impact and emotion, even without the greatest drawing abilities.
But even if you never want to draw your own comics, you need to try, just to see how to make it work successfully. In writing, you're often taught "show, don't tell," and working in comics takes that to an extreme. It's different than writing a novel, even different than writing a screenplay, and the only way to really figure out how to write effectively for comics is to experience firsthand how the writing interacts with the imagery.
A good story is a good story, it's just that some different rules apply to how it's presented. Making Comics by Scott McCloud (a followup to Understanding Comics) offers a terrific way to get started.
Also, you don't get better by thinking about what you'd like to be doing -- do it, figure out what works, get better. And have fun. There's a strong DIY aspect to comics, and it's still possible to create and distribute your own work with a minimum of technology and investment.
With comics as the hottest thing in Hollywood lately, do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?
It's kind of difficult to say. More exposure for the characters and comics is good, but it's tough to see moviegoers becoming comics readers just because of the movie. They're two such different media that tell different kind of stories.
Mostly, it just seems that, with movies getting so expensive, studios want a guarantee of return. By turning to established stories and fanbases, they can still make a profit on their substantial investment. I think the popularity will peak, but movies based on comics have hit the mainstream -- beyond the big summer blockbusters, a fair number of recent movies, such as Road To Perdition and A History Of Violence, were based on comics as well.
Motion pictures have had a strong influence on dialogue and the visual style of comics in the past few years -- but a fair number of fans are, I think, rightfully concerned that some comics are just becoming pitches for a movie or TV show.
Are you going to see the new movie of Watchmen, even if it gets terrible reviews?
Still don't know. I'm definitely speaking for myself now and not for all of 7000 BC, but I think Watchmen is a movie that never needed to be made -- I believe the nature of the story was a perfect fit for the medium and there wasn't anything lacking in the comic, certainly nothing that left me wanting a movie to make it whole.
That being said, seems they're doing some good things with it -- like splitting it into a few different releases. The Tales of the Black Freighter story-within-a-story will be its own DVD, and I think there's another to come as well. And the stills that have been released look so darned good.
We'll see when the time comes.