2007 Year in Review, With The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald

Categories:  Interviews

Heidi MacDonald 
[Heidi with SPX’s chocolate fondue fountain–our vote for 2007’s classiest comic snack.]

Hey, remember 2007? Man, it feels like only yesterday. From where we sit, it seemed like a pretty solid year for alternative comics, seeing the launch of this here Website (and, as a result, the loss of significant portion of our free time) and, of course, the release of a slew of high quality books, as evidenced by our recent The Best Damned Comics of 2007 survey.

But how did this year fair from the vantage are more seasoned veterans of comics criticism? For an answer to that, a look into the industry’s near future, and a boatload of a poetically deployed mixed metaphors, we turned to the queen of comics blogging, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald.

When I was compiling the list of everyone’s top five, last week, there was an important question that I realized that I wasn’t qualified to answer. We’ve been doing the Cross Hatch since February, so I didn’t really feel qualified to do a full on comparison between 2006 and 2007. How do you think this year stacked up?

I think 2006 had more giant hits—Fun Home and Lost Girls, for example. There were more mountain peaks, but 2007 had a higher over all batting average, to wildly mix metaphors. There were more solid base hits up the middle in 2007. There were some excellent books that came out, but in terms of recognition and sales—business-wise—it was year that plateaued, perhaps. Actually, you can’t really even say that. It was onward and upwards. Manga sales maybe plateaued a bit, but otherwise, it was a very, very good year.

That’s something that I noticed when working on the list. With a few exceptions—a few books were mentioned three or four times—there were no real consensus across the board. There were no Fun Homes or Persepolises.

Right. I think Exit Wounds was one of the biggest hits, and I noticed that, in your thing, Fart Party got a lot of mentions.

It did, it did—from surprising places. Douglas Rushkoff is apparently a big Fart Party fan.

Yeah, exactly, and what’s interesting to me is that all of these books that are being mentioned are by women, but it’s not ‘the best comics by women.’ They just had such huge critical acclaim across the board. It’s just a phenomenon that that kind of divide has just been completely lost, except at Marvel and DC.

Is that a 2007 phenomenon, or is it something that’s been occurring for a few years now?

I think it’s been happening for a few years, but I think 2007 is definitely a big year. I hesitate to even bring it up, except that I’m busting with pride. I think that people are open to things and stories that don’t have to fit into these narrow pigeonholes anymore. And because that kind of material has an audience now, people are free to do and read what they want, basically.

It seems to go hand-in-hand with the fact that the underground is gaining more momentum. It’s also interesting, because the two books that I mentioned as the big critically acclaimed works of the past few years—Persepolis and Fun Home—are by women. Those were watershed books, and now you can feel these smaller works bubbling beneath the surface. Now it’s not strange at all to see women’s names across the board. This may just be something of bias due to the people that I cross-sectioned, but a lot of the small presses—smaller than Fantagraphics or Top Shelf—a lot of the mini-comics are getting widespread recognition.

Oh yeah, like Fart Party—that book was put out by Atomic Books, which I guess collected the Webcomics. And that’s another thing—I’m doing my own survey, which will be on The Beat, asking people what the big story was, and everybody said the Web, the Web, the Web. That’s really the elephant in the room, right now.

Clearly there’s been a lot of movement on the Webcomic front. How do you feel about Marvel and DC’s responses?

I think it’s a noble attempt by both of them, but the horses were out of their barn, and now they’ve gone wild in the mesa and are roaming free in herds of wild mustang. I think it’s an acceptance of reality. By the time you put this up, it’ll be old news, but I just saw that Virgin Megastore is closing now. They sold them all off to this real estate company. In Manhattan, there are really only one or two stores where you can go in and buy a CD, anymore. They really didn’t embrace the Web.

It’s great that Marvel and DC are getting into it. If they’d done it five or six years ago, people wouldn’t have gotten used to getting everything for free. That’s the reality that you have to deal with. Zuda, in particular seems to have an especially quirky intereface, but I know they’re working on it. I had some harsh things to say about it earlier in the year, but a lot of them look better now, and you can read them in Flash. They’re babysteps toward closing the barn door.

This is a grim prediction to be making, but do you see similar fates befalling the brick-and-mortar comic stores?

Not at all, because in the same period where record stores have suffered, there’s a little bit of impact in bookstores, but nothing like the wholesale slaughter of music stores. Music chains are a thing of the past. They’re keeping one Virgin Megastore open, here in Manhattan in Times Square, and it’s because it’s like a theme store. It’s like Bubba Gump Shrimp. It’s ‘what it was like when you went into a store to buy your music.’ But bookstores are still around. The experience of books is very, very different from the experience of music.

Part of that phenomenon is the fact that no one has come up with a great way to read comics electronically that doesn’t involve a computer screen.

Right. And I don’t want to be a luddite and say they’ll never do it, because they will. But right now, they haven’t, so we’re safe. But if I owned a bookstore or publishing company, I would certainly be investing in electronic delivery. They’ve had ebooks for ten years and they haven’t taken off, so that technology hasn’t found its magic bullet yet. And it may never. I don’t think the paper industry is going to go out of business.

What’s your big prediction for what 2008 is going to look like?

I thought that story about comics as education tools in The New York Times was very interesting. That’s been around for a while, and it’s certainly a very important thing with libraries, but I think we’ll see a lot more of that getting attention, because a lot more people are preparing material for that segment of the market. We’re basically at a period where the ideas of literacy are changing very quickly. We’ve achieved saturation in America with the laptop and desktop interface, but we can still move into phones. There was something very interesting said at the Anime conference a couple of weeks ago. They have much better phone capabilities in Japan and Europe. Not many people in Japan own computers, because the phones are so capable. It’s almost like everyone already has an iPhone. They don’t e-mail, they text. It’s a different kind of system.

In all, I think 2008 will be a year where people will be looking very hard at what literacy is and what comics are, more than ever before.

–Brian Heater

2 Comments to “2007 Year in Review, With The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald”

  1. jahfurry | December 28th, 2007 at 2:45 am

    great interview. been playing with google reader on my bberry and this baby just came up.

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