One of the problems with comics, I think, is that even though Rob Liefeld is more or less gone, we work in /extremes/.
The first extreme we find in comics is what I like to call the "fanboy extreme." This is the extreme that gives us companies like ABC [Studios] and books like _Fathom Swimsuit Special_. In this extreme, art is so heavily favored over writing, the writing isn't even there (hence a pinup book). The story just has to be good enough to keep the book from being silent, and gives the artist an excuse to go nuts. This is the most popular extreme.
The other extreme, which DC validated with their Vertigo line, is what I like to call "the writing extreme." This is the extreme that all writers wish was the norm, that keeps John Ostrander employed, and that gave us tons of books in the eighties, like _Checkmate!_, _Vigilante_, _Suicide Squad_, and so on, that hoped to cash in on the popularity of people like Alan Moore. The "writing extreme" wins all the awards, has most of the critics on its side, and yet loses thousands of dollars a month for DC (Marvel duzn't even bother with this extreme much, after the failure of Epic Comics to prove that this extreme was popular).
Schmidty's _Peace Party_ is this latter extreme.
Credit where credit is due—despite his lack of insight into entertainment and how to make a living off of it, I have to admit, Schmidty can write. And not even to a tolerable degree mind you, Schmidty is genuinely /good/. His lines of dialogue are more clever than most of the lines of dialogue in most other comics, his pacing is straight, and the idea of opening _Peace Party_ with a Native American creation story was brilliant. You have to give the man his props—he knows how to write a comic. But I'm getting ahead of myself now, so let me just give you the 411 on the book.
Here's the summary: _Peace Party_ is the story of a couple of Native American (I'm guessing by their names) guys who, on a camping trip of some sort, stumble into two things: 1) a forewarning of the end of the world, a la Lee and Kirby, and 2) greedy capitalists mining Native American lands. Somewhere along the way, two of them get powers, and I imagine in the next issue, they'll be using these powers to stop the greedy capitalists, but that's later–-this story is worth reading becuz of the snappy patter (see, Khan can write "corny" too ;) between everybody in the book, and becuz of all of the ironic jokes by side characters, particularly this family of American stereotypes driving home from the movies or something like that. It's smooth, it makes sense, it is, essentially, well written, and I give it mad credit for that, becuz most of the minority based comics I've read simply can't claim as much. The art, as tends to be the case in the "well written extreme," is adequate, better than average, but not quite "eye-popping," which I guess facilitates the smoothness of the story. It's a good book, and if you don't know anything about Native Americans, you should definitely check it out.
Well, let me say more positive stuff first. The other thing we have to give this book props for, and which is the only reason I've even humored the possibility of trying to get along with Schmidty's dumb a** is becuz say what you want to about the man's ideas, he's doing everything we wish white folks would do. He has a whole /committee/ (sp?) of Native Americans helping him write it, donates a bunch of the money from _Peace Party_ to Native peoples, has tons of articles of interest /to/ Native Americans, job openings for Native artists—etc. In short, he's doing everything not only do I wish all white folks did with respect to cultures that aren't theirs, but a lot of sh*t I wish people of color would do for ourselves. Indeed, if there's one complaint I can venture this early in the message about _Peace Party_, it's my ages old inquiry about why we always gotta wait for the white man to give us sh*t like this instead of doing it ourselves. Dwayne McDuffie went above and beyond any of his peers in the industry, IMO, by giving us Milestone; and now Schmidty has gone way above and beyond anybody else of any other culture that I've seen in comics. Where are the Nation of Islam's comics, then? Where are other brothers and sisters banding together to produce this kind of stuff? And why can't we ever organize enough to do this sh*t? I wonder about that a lot, and this book—which is already my #2 of independent comics I've reviewed in this forum (_Iron Wings_ being #1; _Chocolate Thunder_ being #3) once again reminds me that the white man has better sh*t, and that simply shouldn't be, IMO. My memories of disappointment at seeing white artists in _Purge_ and _Prophesy of the Soul Sorcerer_ come to mind.
Okay, here's the but: _Silverstorm_ was as good as _Peace Party_ is. So is _Golddigger_. So are most of Avatar Press's "adult fiction." So was every _Comics' Greatest World_ title I read from Dark Horse. So was _The Good Guys_ from Defiant, as well as _Warriors of Plasm_. Notice anything about all of the above? Yup, they're all flops. Why?
The "writing extreme" is no better than the "fanboy extreme," when it comes to sales.
People, if you want to make money off of comics, look at _Shi_. Why did _Shi_ sell? Becuz it's not an extreme—it caters to both crowds. Indeed, one of the things I was thinking as I read _Prophesy of the Soul Sorcerer_ earlier today is that if Mr. Stanton wanted to make some loot, he and Blaine's next project should be a solo series for Detective Sanchez (and let Blaine help plot it!). Why? Becuz /she/ will sell. Make no mistake about it, no matter how good a writer or an artist you are, you need some kind of hook to get people into your comic. Great art is the easiest hook. Trading cards are another type. If you're a good writer, they'll stay. But having just good writing and art isn't going to work—kids aren't attracted by the "promise of quality," they're attracted by glitz. Substance beneath the glitz appeals to them, but only if they read the book.
Much easier said than done.
And while I'm at it, I'm not real clear on who the target audience for _Peace Party_ is, besides Native Americans. Schmidty has said multiple times that it's adults, but his stated lack of sex and violence in the frontspiece and relatively bland story suggests that it would have to be really juvenile adults, becuz there's not much else in there that would interest them, and the superhero concept alone seems silly in that context. (Remember, _Watchmen_ and _Dark Knight Returns_ were /full/ of sex and violence; _Crossfire_ featured a dead, nude Marilyn Monroe on an early cover; _Nexus_ was about an executioner, _Swamp Thing_ was horror, etc.) If it's children, again, kids are attracted by glitz, and this thing ain't all that "glitzy." So I think Schmidty will have to make some kind of change if he wants to move books.
But ultimately, I don't think that's Schmidty's goal. I think Schmidty just wants to write the kinds of comics /he/ likes, and have other people appreciate it. And if that's what he's looking for, then _Peace Party_ will probably provide it. A-.
Indian comics: Art vs. propaganda
Defining great American literature
The political in literature
X-MEN marks the spot
. . .
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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
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