AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUG MIERS
"The Asian cultures, by the very nature of their glyphic rather than phonic languages, have always been more appreciative of visual storytelling mediums. The hybridization of words and pictures comes more naturally to them. Comics evolved with a broader public demographic base and never became pigeonholed into a specific and exclusive genre".
Richard Marshall interviews Prophecy Anthology's Doug Miers
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3AM: Prophecy Anthology is interested in innovation and, in the publicity material, you talk about the way American comics are stuck in the superhero genre. Could you say a little about why you think this is the case and do you think the American comic scene can change?
DM: The superhero phenomenon goes all the way back to Superman, which created such an overnight craze in the 1930s that it redefined the genre to the point that, even today, superheroes are what most Americans think of when they think of comics. The stereotype was reinforced in the 1950s when the "Comics Code Authority" put the more mature EC line of comics out of business. Imprints like DC-Vertigo, Oni and Top Shelf are working hard to reverse this trend, but they're swimming upstream. (Marvel Max, by contrast, was a sordid joke.) Fans will only find this stuff in comic shops, and comic shops are still overwhelmingly superhero-oriented.
The only way to change the way most people think about comics is to create a new craze, something so big and so revolutionary that the literary community will be forced to reassess such preconceptions. We have to get comics out of the shops and into the hands of the millions of potential readers who would never venture into a comic shop. We have to develop comics for every demographic, and then get those comics into the hands of their target audience. The only medium that's come close to accomplishing this has been newspapers, but those comic strips are neither sophisticated nor particularly engaging, being confined to one-liner gags with little or no continuity between strips.
3AM: Do you think the American scene can change?
DM: Yes, I think the American comics scene can change, but I don't believe it will change fast enough to save itself, at least not within the direct-distribution comic shop environment. Whether Prophecy can make a difference remains to be seen -- our goals are extremely lofty, but we're aware of all the obstacles and we're working hard to overcome them.
3AM: Could you say something about why you think places like Japan have been able to be much more diverse and successful in their development of comics?
DM: The Asian cultures, by the very nature of their glyphic rather than phonic languages, have always been more appreciative of visual storytelling mediums. The hybridization of words and pictures comes more naturally to them. Comics evolved with a broader public demographic base and never became pigeonholed into a specific and exclusive genre.
3AM: What would you say are the things that make Prophecy different from the mainstream?
DM: We are courting different markets with different content. Those comic fans who want to read testosterone-laced tales of emasculated men and breast-augmented women already know where to get their comics. We hope to use new distribution outlets and strategies to level the playing field for all the other readers out there who don't realize comics they would absolutely love are already in print. They don't realize it because they've never gone to a comic shop, and wouldn't know what to look for if they did. Comics are simply another literary medium, as versatile and potentially diverse as prose or film. Comics can be designed to appeal to any and every kind of reader. The challenge is to make the potential readers break with their preconceptions and understand this.
3AM: You say that 50% of the writers are women.
DM: Ouch, I knew that bit of copy would be back to haunt us! Women are one of the terribly neglected demographics in the current comics industry, and half of our content is geared towards female readership, however the statistics have not supported us in this, and we've had trouble filling our quota of talented female creators.
3AM: Even so, do you think this will be a significant factor in Prophecy's approach? Should we expect a feminist strand to become apparent or do you think that women will just bring about a different emphasis to the storylines?
DM: Women are generally more open-minded than men, readier to embrace new trends and new possibilities. Women can take much of the credit for driving the Manga boom of recent years, having finally found a comics genre that doesn't demean their gender. But none of our stories have the male-bashing I associate with hardline "feminism" -- female creators simply bring a different (and of course more feminine) sensibility to their work.
3AM: Connected to this, do you think that it is because the American scene is so male that it is stuck in the superhero mould?
DM: When asked why the current market is so immutable, one need look no further than the retailers. Comic shop ordering and stocking has little bearing on what might sell in a perfect world, these guys order what they like, and these are the people who grew up collecting old-school superhero comics, so that's all they know. Then the process wraps around itself, they keep ordering the same kind of stuff that the same kind of customers comes in and buys (in smaller and smaller quantities, despite an endlessly proliferating number of titles). The retailers are male, the customers are male, the entire market is overwhelmingly male, and that's not going to change any time soon under the direct market dynamic.
3AM: Is this not the case elsewhere then?
DM: Yes, but not everywhere. Look at the Asian comics market.
3AM: Many people will say that comics are much more sophisticated now than they ever were. Writers like Alan Moore, for instance, can be considered great writers without having to apologise for writing comics. Is this something you recognise as being true and do you welcome it?
DM: Yes, but these guys are bringing all their considerable literary skills to bear on what? More superhero comics. I consider Watchmen one of the most brilliant comics ever written, but I wouldn't expect my mom to read it. By way of contrast, I gave Mom a box set of Maus for Christmas, and she loved it.
3AM: I guess this is something to do with the way comics are perceived by the reading public. Do you want comics to be more acceptable? Or will something be lost if they are no longer seen as slightly disreputable?
DM: We will always have disreputable comics for those attracted to such. What we need are more truly revolutionary comics, to show just how grand (or in some cases, just how disreputable) a comic can really be. There are no limits to creativity.
3AM: What do you enjoy about comics yourself?
DM: Ten years ago I read just about every superhero comic published by the mainstream players. Now I really only follow the creators (mostly writers) I respect. That means I'm down to about 5 comics a week.
3AM: How did you become involved in them both as a reader, and then as someone actually producing them?
DM: I read all the Marvel stuff when I was a kid. I thought I was too old for them in high school (but even then I read Heavy Metal, which at the time seemed more sophisticated to my sophomoric eyes than it does now). Then one of my frat bro's in college turned me on to a stack of Power Man and Iron Fist and I was back in the game. I opened a comic shop in 1993 (it's still there, Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale CA, though I sold it 3 years back).
I've been writing comics since the late 80s, first for Greater Mercury, later for Brainstorm and Avatar and other indies. I started my own Comics Conspiracy imprint in 97, and we're still publishing (look for Beelza Bob). Prophecy came about as the brainstorm of my friend and partner-in-crime Ken Morgan, and here we are.
3AM: Who were your early influences/inspirations?
DM: As far as comics are concerned: Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek. Bendis writes some good dialogue. Novels etc: Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, William S. Burroughs, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Chuang Tzu, Walker Percy, and of course Shakespeare (who taught me the lost art of tragedy).
3AM: Do you still enjoy reading them?
3AM: So who should we be reading?
DM: We've had the good fortune of finding some tremendous talent in Prophecy -- unknowns like Sam Chivers and Yuko Shimizu deserve as much readership as anyone working in this business.
3AM: One of the issues around comics getting a maturer image is that they deal with heavier issues and darker stories. And one of the things that you can't help notice, say, about the Japanese industry is the heavy sex and violence content. A lot of it seems like porn. Is this a problem do you think?
DM: Basically, the current direct market is trying harder and harder to appeal to its core readership, people who like dark and heavy, and one can hardly blame them for that. It seems obvious. Breaking out of that mould will be risky and potentially expensive, so it's hard to blame them for not trying. But it can be done, and one need not resort to pornography to do it.
3AM: I'm based in London, England. Do you think there's a difference between the British and the American scene? Which do you think is healthiest?
DM: Without a doubt, but I do not know the British scene well enough to comment.
3AM: What projects are you currently working on, and what are you hoping to do in the future?
DM: I've been sidetracked into screenplay writing lately, the market is much juicier and movie producers are far more open-minded, less narcissistic and less pessimistic than comics editors. Movies are much easier than comics to break into and find opportunities, as backwards as that sounds, it's the truth.
Upcoming comics projects include Prophecy, of course, as well as our new Beelza Bob color comic (Comics Conspiracy); Trench Monkey for next year (Comics Conspiracy); we just wrapped a 13 issue run on Generic Comics (also Comics Conspiracy); Hellina, Threshold and Jungle Fantasy (Avatar Press, but don't tell my Mom about these, they fall into that wretched "porno" genre).
A Top Cow editor has been making noises like I might get a book there, and not a superhero one, so that's a wonderful possibility.
The Exec (one of our older Conspiracy projects) has been optioned by Warner Bros., with the tremendous talent of Chris Nolan attached to direct, so we're very excited about that.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Doug Miers lives in a cave where he grinds bones to make his bread, much to the consternation of his lovely wife and daughter. He writes comics and books and screenplays and websites and lots and lots of emails.