With San Diego Comic-Con just days away, the monstrous metroplex between Los Angeles and San Diego has begun to fill up with the best, brightest, and most legendary comic book creators in the world.
Last night, independent publisher Black Mask Studios and The Nerdist assembled a panel of Black Mask’s most notable creators past and present, along with newly minted Black Mask contributor and comic book industry legend Grant Morrison.
The panelists included Black Mask Publisher and co-founder Matteo Pizzolo, Morrison, and writers Matthew Rosenberg, Magdalene Vissagio, and Kwanza Osajyefo. Rosenberg was among Black Mask’s first collection of creators, having been among the writers who contributed to the publisher’s first title, the Occupy Comics anthology. Vissagio is arguably Black Mask’s most prolific creator, having contributed her writing talents to her own work on such titles as Kim & Kim and Quantum Teens Are Go. She also served as editor on Katy Rex and Fabian Lelay’s Jade Street Protection Services. In her time on stage, she leaned heavily on her need to rid herself of the pretense of achieving “genius writer” status and just have fun.
PUNKS WITH PERSPECTIVES
Set alongside the smoky punk aesthetic of the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, the crowd of around a hundred people listened raptly as host Ben Blacker put the panelists through their paces, with topics ranging from the nitty-gritty of the pitch processes which led to their books being greenlit by Black Mask to what TV shows have currently captured their attention.
Listening to the creators speak, there’s a sort of smart-ass, rebellious streak running through all of them, an innate desire to challenge authority in whatever form they might find it. Whether that authority manifests as an editor or a moderator doesn’t seem to matter. The message is clear. “You think you’re in charge, but you’re wrong. We are.”
Despite that, every answer and anecdote betrayed a certain reverence for the form of comic books, their history, and their icon which is almost palpable. They all have their childhood favorites and could (and will) tell you about their seminal moments.
The diversity of those moments provided a clue to what is leading Black Mask to ever-increasing success. There is no single editorial vision, no mandate from corporate bean-counters intent on satisfying shareholders with increasing dividends. There is simply Pizzolo’s original vision of creating “art with a message.”
Black Mask not only doesn’t shy away from controversial issues in the pages of its “funnybooks”, they seek out creators who choose to confront them directly and overtly. Rosenberg, speaking about the goals behind Occupy Comics, said that the mission was one of “challenging readers and challenging us as creators to tell stories that we wouldn’t have gotten to tell anywhere else.”
That mission was no more clearly explained than by Kwanza Osajyefo while discussing his series Black, “People are doing this because they have a story to tell.”
What that story consists of depends almost entirely on what the creator is attempting to express. Morrison, in particular, stated that his creative process depends on his ability to translate the experiences of his own life into metaphors which he then inserts into the stories he writes. It seems to matter little to him whether the characters who serve as avatars for his catharsis are his own or pop-cultural icons with which he has been entrusted.
“Its just always about whats happened in my life and how you can translate that into metaphor, how you can reach out and touch other people and resonate with their own experience. That’s all I’ve ever wanted”
THE NEXT GENERATION OF COMICS IS INDEPENDENT
On the whole, the diverse perspectives on display among this collection of creators was a wonder to behold. There was none of the corporate stewardship one sees among the bullpens of DC and Marvel. These are not people looking to become gentle caretakers of brands. They are people looking to shake things up. The fact that not one of them could agree on what the future of the comics industry or even the forms the medium will take in the future speaks volumes. Black Mask is not a publisher with a perspective, but a publisher which creates avenues for different perspectives. The contrast to corporate comics was clear and refreshing.