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Tandra Page 955, October 28, 2007

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I was on the radio program The Gathering Storm this past Friday as the second half hour guest to discuss my Anti-Jihad web site and comic strip. As it happens, I do not consider Tandra the Web Site nor Tandra the Picture Story to be an Anti-Jihad feature, but that is how it was sold when I signed up to be a guest on the show. As I made clear in the conversation, Tandra is larger in concept than simply Anti-Jihad. I consider Tandra as essentially an exercise in American entertainment. Any instructional or educational value that is included with the story is just bonus material.

That said, Tandra is an American story with American heroes with all the philosophical baggage that implies. Put another way, my heroes are self reliant protagonists who take charge of their own lives and take responsibility for their own actions. This does, of consequence, set them at opposite with any religion or ideology that advocates submission as a required essential. Submission and a sense of self reliance are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum and is the effective reason Islam is incompatible with the American virtues.

But the philosophical underpinnings of the Tandra Site and the Tandra feature is not the consideration that is on my mind this week. What holds my interest is a comment made by the lady who was apparently the co-host of The Gathering Storm when she made clear she had never read comic books and had no experience with them. My reply to her was that she is in the majority and has lots of company. Most people in this country are totally unaware comics exist. If they are aware of comics characters, it is by virtue of Hollywood product relating big screen adventures of Superman, Batman, or Spider-man. People have generally no first hand knowledge of the source material for these properties.

An E-mail from a comics trade publication was in my electronic mail box this weekend bragging comics sales are up for the third quarter in 2007. Such encouraging information could be good were it not for the fact the news of increased comics pamphlet sales come amid a generation long slump in sales for which the best selling comics title today sells in numbers that would have resulted in cancellation of any title with those numbers a generation back. The sad fact is any minor spurt in comics sales comes as a minor increase at the bottom of the sales chart and not toward regaining the massive numbers required of a healthy industry.

Defenders of lackluster comics sales will argue times and technology have changed and comics titles face a greater variety of competition than back in their glory days. Whereas comics racks were once to be found in every candy store, pharmacy and five and dime in the country, comics are today found primarily in the several thousand comics specialty shops nationwide. In my small town, there are simply no comics displays available. I could not go out and buy a copy of Superman in my town if I wanted to, and a basic fact of sales is people do not purchase what they cannot find.

Newspaper comics availability is of a similar consideration. At the peak of their popularity, there was high adventure to be found in the comics section of the daily newspaper. Newspaper editors were made aware comics features sold papers. Today, if a newspaper runs a few comics it is as a public service and the comics available are of the gag-a-day variety.

Again the excuse is comics face stiff competition from a variety of sources, competition that simply did not exist a half century ago. Certainly competition exists for money that might go to purchase a comics title, but an objective examination of the facts will strengthen the argument comics were not killed off by more sophisticated entertainment options. Rather comics committed suicide and abandoned the field to other entertainment options by default.

Newspaper comics features give the most obvious example of comics giving up and fading away to allow other forms of entertainment to fill the vacuum. At their peak, newspaper comics sold big and made fortunes for their successful creators. Millions of people read comics and could hardly await the next installment to find out what happened to their favourite hero. Movie stars and heads of industry read the comics as well as politicians and average Americans. Even the President of The United States was known to call up the creator of his favourite comic strip when the tension became too intense and ask how his hero would survive the latest crisis. But producing a comics feature is at bottom line hard work with no time off for good behavior. The comics feature must appear on schedule without fail with no time for vacation, sick leave or death in the family. Producing a successful feature is also demanding on the creative side. One who produces a successful adventure strip must remain in top form and at the peak of his powers without letup. Such sustained creativity and innovation can be exhausting, but nothing less will satisfy a demanding public.

But many comics creators believed they could cheat their readers and get by with less than their best effort. It was tempting to ease off on the work load by hiring assistants to produce the feature, then to gradually relinquish the feature to the assistant and pass time on the golf course rather than at the drawing board. No one would notice a minor decrease in quality. The feature still appeared with the proper by line. But the public did notice and more and more fans decided they did not need their regular quality time with the feature of choice and the feature slowly lost the market the creators had already abandoned.

Comics pamphlets suffered in the same manner and for a different reason. They became locked into trademark dictated formula and Superman did not change his underwear for over fifty years and he kept dating Lois Lane but never developed to the next stage. Comics pamphlets froze themselves in formula, then began to try to regain their departing audience with shocking development after shocking development. But shocks do not build a loyal fan base and comics vanished from the mass market to struggle for existence in a small selection of specialty shops.

I am asked why I have chosen to market Tandra as a comics feature when every authority knows the American Comic is a dead and abandoned form. My answer is that I recognize comics have been handled so badly the conduct of the handlers is nothing less than criminal. I understand one of the two art forms that is truly American has been betrayed by incompetence and sloth. But no matter how poorly comics have been served by practitioners and custodians, the form itself remains vibrant and unique as ever!

Only the form of comics, that unique marriage of words and illustration, allows a single creator to put before the reader a world fully realized in words and image. Movies and television, the closest approximation to comics, are a committee project too big and expensive for the single creator, but comics are the perfect one man show allowing one man's vision to be set unaltered before his audience.

From creator to audience true and unaltered, that is comics and that is the reason Tandra exists as it does.

Next week; Tandra Page 956 titled A Sticky Situation

See ya then,

May the sun always shine on your parade.