Idiots And Savants

Posted by Dan Monday, June 26, 2006
***Retro A GoGo***

Intro:
This was a recruiting piece I did for SAVANT. When I stack it into the whole "Dan Traeger" cannon, I think it still reads okay. It definitely accomplished what I wanted it to, at least within my limited sphere of influence. I still really like the anecdotal part of this one.

******


IDIOTS AND SAVANTS
by Dan Traeger

A special note before I start on this tear. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Savant magazine and her editorial staff have nothing to do with this, other than the fact that they are, in this instance, serving as my own personal soapbox, which I will now proceed to stomp into toothpicks. All hate mail may be addressed to ruckus24@hotmail.com. Thanks.

Every Wednesday I make it a point to hang out and shoot the shit with Mark. This particular Mark is the owner and operator of Other Realm, the better of the two local comic stores here in Champaign\Urbana, Illinois. Mark and I have this long running argument about his not carrying minor Indy comics. For some bizarre reason, he thinks that a comic should actually sell if he's going to dedicate shelf space to it. I am of the opinion, however, that the damn things don't sell themselves. He should get up off his ass and stop pimping Marvel, D.C., Image, and Cross Gen, which all do a mighty fine job of selling themselves. I think he should start helping out the little guys who can't afford co-op advertising, massive four-color posters, and thirty pages in the front of Previews every month. The running argument seems to be having an effect on him. This Wednesday he had two entire shelves dedicated to minor independents.

I'm an activist by nature. I want my comic book store to stock more Indy titles, so I'm doing something about it. Mark can always count on me to buy at least one of anything interesting he takes a chance on, and he listens when I tell him what I like and what I don't like. It's a good trade off. My next project is to nag him until he starts shelving mini comics.

Included on these independent shelves were six copies of LITTLE WHITE MOUSE: OPEN SPACE #1, which he ordered for no other reason than that I asked him to. (That's putting it politely, but you get the drift.) This Wednesday was special to me because for the first time ever, he also racked a stack of Savant issues containing my Essential essay about LITTLE WHITE MOUSE. That's unusual because he rarely (and understandably so) gives up his limited shelf space. By Friday all six issues of LITTLE WHITE MOUSE: OPEN SPACE were gone, as well as about half the stack of Savant. For the better part of an hour I hung around on new comics day, talking with the regular customers, putting copies of Savant into their hands, and generally bullying them into buying off the new Indy rack.

That same day a young lady walked into the store. You could tell she'd never been in a comic shop before. She had that deer-caught-in-headlights-am-I-safe-here-look about her. Turns out she was a commercial art masters student, and she'd walked in thinking she might find some inspiration for her next project. Upon seeing row upon row of superheroes though, she almost walked out. Fortunately I was there. Don't get me wrong here, Mark genuinely does a good job of welcoming newbies into Other Realm, it's just that this happened to be new comics day, and he was kinda busy already being three places at once. So I spent ten minutes with her going over what she liked in movies, music and reading material in general. She left the store that day with BERNIE WRIGHTSON: A LOOK BACK, UNDERSTANDING COMICS, KINGDOM COME, and the SPIRIT ARCHIVES #1. She was looking a little green about the price tag she'd racked up until I remembered her mentioning an eight-year-old niece. With a nod of approval from Mark, I scooped a stack of POWERPUFF GIRLS comics out of his $.25 bin and gave them to her. The lady could not have been happier. I don't even work there, but damnit, it's my comics store and I want it to succeed. I think everyone should be reading and enjoying comics. I'm kind of an activist that way.

That is what activism means to me. You pick a cause and you do something to help out. It's one of the hardest things in the world to do, but when done right it can form a world superpower. For most of my life, the only tool I've had to help cater to my activist bent has been my big mouth. Now I get to add Savant to my bag of tricks. It's an online magazine that I can download in a PDF and print into something physical, something real. I regularly give copies of Savant out to lots of people, and some of them have also started printing copies, and handing them out on their own. I think of viral marketing as activism too.

At the urging of the editors, I've taken to writing for Savant over the last few months. It's a great place to share my thoughts about the industry, or my taste in comics with a lot of people I would otherwise never get to meet. I get instant feedback on Savant's Delphi forum, and I get to instantly explain or defend myself if I have to. Either way, we are all comic book fans and we are communicating. Once more we have achieved activism, grass roots activism even.

Lately, there's been some criticism that Savant is "repeating itself" or "preaching to the converted." Let me engage in a bit of activism here, and respond to these allegations. Maybe Savant is starting to repeat itself, but so what? Obviously nobody was listening the first time, so why not say it again. It is, in my opinion, a writer's solemn duty to say things over and over again in the vain hope that someone somewhere will finally fucking listen. Comic buyers still hide the fact that they read comics. They still buy shitty art and inept stories out of habit. They still buy enough of the most puerile crap imaginable to make shit like BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, TRANSFORMERS, and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE top sellers, while solid intelligent fare like LITTLE WHITE MOUSE, SHADES OF BLUE, and FINDER have to struggle.

Those of you who think that Savant has lost its focus need to get over it. In case you weren't paying attention, the activism part is incumbent on you. Savant is merely a tool; a weapon to help you fight the good fight.

Savant is by its very nature a magazine with an activist agenda. They are beholden to no corporation. Their editorial policies are still open enough that if I want to say, "Fuck You!" in print, it'll happen. They still have a toolbox full of things those of us with a shine for guerilla marketing can use. Most importantly, if you think Savant's stated focus is no longer being served by its content, fucking change it. If you think you have a better idea then what you are reading, write it up and submit it. If you're incessantly bitching about something, even Savant, in any kind of public forum guess what… You're a fucking activist! Come write for us, the editors would love to have you. They are always looking for new contributors and new ideas, but they damn sure won't find any if you don't raise your hand and add your voice to the mix. Trust me, you'll fit right in with the d├ęcor.

There's just this one thing I wish everyone would think about. There are an awful lot of idiots out there. People with no opinion or half formed, stupid opinions abound. Some of these people think that everybody owns a computer with Internet access. Some of these people are currently trying to recapture lost bits of their youth by buying predigested spew masquerading as comics. Some of these people don't realize that Savant Magazine is a healthy, dynamic paradigm. It changes and it grows so it's not always going to be the same. People say that the magazine doesn't have the same vibe it did back when it started almost three years ago, and all I can say to that is YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT IT DOESN'T; there's an almost completely different group of people writing for the magazine now. If it still felt and sounded exactly the same, something would be wrong. Savant has new writers now, and as far as I'm concerned, they all kick just as much ass as the old boys ever did. If we're smart, Savant will have new writers again and again and again, for as long as it's a going concern.

Savant is set up to preach the gospel of great comic books to the widest arena possible. However, it is up to you to be the activist. Savant is written and distributed by smart people who know the difference between a great story coupled with great art, and the primal urge to recapture one's youth. It's a chance to let those fuckers that hang out at the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble know how you feel about the fact that they snicker at you while you're reading BOX OFFICE POISON or MAUS.

If you think there's a problem with Savant, step up and help try to fix it. If you're not part of the solution then really you're just being part of the problem. The comics industry has enough of those to deal with, so quit being part of the problem.

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Dan
Im an essayist, critic, online blogger, short story writer and to borrow a descriptor from Peter David, "Writer of stuff." I love all things pop culture related: Music, Movies, Comics, Books, Politics... if you can label it I probably have an opinion about it, and I love to argue. All informed opinions are welcome here.
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